Things didn’t work out quite as expected. Tessa didn’t know why that surprised her, not after everything else that had happened but as she tried to pick herself up off the dusty floor several important things occurred to her.
First, she was laying face first on a floor which was made of rough, purple-black earth rather than the pristine and polished white construction of the finished areas of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. Before she could work out how she’d been displaced from the [Heart Fire] her team had been gathered around, or where she’d been displaced to, she noticed a more immediate bit of information.
She couldn’t get up.
She wasn’t paralyzed, there was simply a human sized body sprawled over her back.
A somehow chilled body.
It didn’t take conscious processing for Tessa to understand that bodies weren’t meant to be cold like that. Not if they were still living at any rate. The thought made Tessa flinch and then flinch again harder when the body let out a groan and started to move.
Some part of her knew she should be able to throw an attacker off with relative ease since body weight didn’t increase with level and she wasn’t being specifically grappled. Even as a relatively low level [Clothwork], she possessed the ability to lift significantly more than her own body weight.
Except, of course, she wasn’t a [Clothwork].
She was human.
As human as she’d ever been on Earth.
But she was very definitely in the [Fallen Kingdoms].
“Oh, hey, my leg’s back,” Lost Alice said as she rolled off of Tessa and looked around the room they were in.
The double take that she did when she saw Tessa laying there in the flesh instead of Pillowcase was far briefer than Tessa’s.
“Tessa?” Lisa asked. “Are you ok?”
“My health’s full,” Tessa said. “Probably.”
She was seeing the [Fallen Kingdoms] only as they were. There were no special overlays or informational elements in her vision. When she pinched herself it felt like the mild pinch it should have. When she breathed in, a faint aroma of mint mixed with the scent of freshly turned loam.
Living up in Pillowcase’s body had been unfathomably different but since it was what Pillowcase was familiar with, the experience hadn’t seemed strange or unnatural. Feeling the air of the [Forgotten Kingdoms] filling her ordinary human lungs though brought with it a powerful sense of disorientation.
“You look like you’re healthy from what I can see,” Lost Alice said. “You’re, wait, what’s a [Void Speaker]?”
Tessa had turned and sat up without thinking about it, but as Lost Alice eyed her carefully, she noticed how close they still were.
She was lost, on an alien world, with a vampire.
That should have been scary, but the last piece of that was unexpectedly reassuring.
Memory battered Tessa like a club and she jerked her gaze down to check Lost Alice’s leg.
Her perfectly normal, perfectly healed leg.
Tessa let out a breath Glimmerglass had been holding since they found Alice and Pillowcase desperately struggling to survive the [Formless Hunger].
“I think [Void Speaker] is my new class,” Tessa said. “I think I leveled in it too.”
She didn’t have the heads-up display to check but intuitively she knew it was true.
“I thought you were a [Soul Knight],” Lost Alice said confusion and worry tussling in the background of her gaze.
“That’s Pillowcase,” Tessa said.
“How did you change back to human?” Lisa asked.
“And can you still switch like you were doing a minute ago?” Lost Alice added.
“I don’t know,” Tessa said, and then Pillowcase spoke through her, “And I don’t think we can change back. At least not at will.”
“You were switching so freely though?” Lost Alice said.
“We were holding something which could break the laws of this reality,” Pillowcase said. “I think it was responding to our memories and personalities directly.”
“What about the other one? Glimmerglass?” Lost Alice asked.
Tessa paused and called out to her other self.
Tessa? You’re still there! Thank the gods! Glimmerglass said. Where are you?
I don’t know, Tessa said, but we’re with Lost Alice and Lisa. Where are you?
Speaking telepathically came intuitively. It wasn’t surprising in a sense. Tessa had been ‘speaking’ like that for…how long? A day? That seemed impossible but it sounded vaguely correct too.
Deep in this dungeon somewhere, Glimmerglass said. Starchild is with me. I don’t know where the others are though.
We should check the party’s chat line, Pillowcase said. Hopefully, destroying the god soul didn’t scatter any of them into the [Formless Hunger].
It hadn’t. Tessa wasn’t sure why she knew that, but she did. It was like she could still the party list and the status of the people on it.
“Glimmerglass is still here in the [High Beyond],” Tessa said, “but she’s back in her own body. Have any of the others contacted you yet?”
“No, but that blast may have knocked them senseless still, let me check,” Lost Alice said.
Less than a moment later, Tessa heard Rip’s voice speaking in her mind on what she knew was the party’s chat channel.
“We’re ok, Jamal got knocked around but he’s still in one piece and Lady Midnight took a bit of damage but she’s healing herself up now,” Rip said.
Tessa noted that ‘Jamal’ was most likely Matt Painting’s real name but chose not to bring attention to it. The slip up was a sign of how concerned Rip was and until they were back together and Tessa could see for herself that Rip was okay, she had no interest in worrying the girl more.
“Check your maps and see if you can find common areas, or areas we’ve been through,” Starchild said. “We need to find how spread out we are.”
“What shape is Alice in?” Rip asked, ignoring Starchild’s words for the moment. “Is her leg okay?”
“I’m fully recovered,” Lost Alice said. “No more unhealable injury, no more pain, and I’m not even hungry. I think I gained a level or two in there too.”
“Thank god.” Rip’s relief was palpable despite the entirely cerebral nature of the conversation.
“No one else if hurt, right?” Obby asked. “I think I got blown into my own little area. I’m not seeing anything familiar or any of you on the map.”
“Are you still in the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]?” Matt asked.
“I don’t think so,” Obby said. “The location tag is calling this the [Oubliette of Quiet Thoughts], but it’s not very oubliette-ish. Lots of elbow room and I’m not alone here.”
“What’s there with you?” Rip asked.
“I’m not sure,” Obby said. “I’ll let you know when I find out.”
“Can you solo them though?” Rip asked.
“I mean it’s that or die trying right?” Obby asked.
“Don’t die!” Rip objected.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got better things to do here than die for good,” Obby said. “I’ll catch up with the rest of you in a bit.”
“We can keep an eye out for an entrance to the Oubliette,” Lost Alice said.
“Can I ask what exactly happened there?” Lady Midnight. “And, Tess? Pillowcase? What was that gold thing in your hand?”
“One of my friends, BT, is connected to someone who was a game master in your world,” Glimmerglass said. “When she came here, I think the world tried to give her something like the soul of a god since it was the closest thing to the game master capabilities my world could come up with.”
“BT was glitching like one of the [Disjoined], so I broke the god soul off from her since it was more than anything that was a part of the world could handle,” Tessa said.
“But you were able to control it,” Lady Midnight said.
“Barely and not for long,” Tessa said.
“How did you save me with it then?” Lost Alice asked.
“I told you there was risk right?” Tessa asked.
“You did,” Lost Alice said, pulling herself up from her slouch to a proper sitting position.
“The [Unstable Rent] was consuming all the magic we could throw at it and dumping the power out, I guessed, somewhere beyond the world,” Tessa said. “I happened to need to return the god soul to somewhere outside the bounds of the [Fallen Kingdoms] and it seemed like something big enough to plug even a rent in the fabric of reality.”
“So you smashed it and let the energy of a god close a wound about twelve inches square?” Lost Alice asked.
“More or less?” Tessa said.
Vampires move quickly. Tessa knew that but hadn’t appreciated that it meant their hugs were essentially unavoidable.
Not that she had any interest in dodging.
Cold skin or not, Alice’s embrace still melted a fear that had frozen Tessa’s heart the moment she knew Alice had been hurt.
She couldn’t hug Alice back with superhuman strength so she settled for clinging to Alice as tightly as she could.
“Thank you,” Lisa said. “Thank you so much.”
Tessa could hear how much the wound had hurt, how frightened Lisa had been. The damage it had done wasn’t just to Lost Alice’s body. It had been eating away at both of them, and if they’d died, Tessa wasn’t at all sure either would have left a ghost to respawn at the [Heart Fire].
Pulling back enough to meet Lost Alice’s gaze, Tessa wanted so very badly to admit the feelings which were hammering away inside her chest. There were three tiny words that would have done the job, but about a million more that clamored to come along too. From “I know your already involved with someone” to “you don’t owe me anything” to “please don’t leave if this is too much, I so happy just being with you.”
Tessa thought, or hoped, or imagined, she could see the echo of those words in Lost Alice’s eyes too, but before any of them could be spoken the spinning world kept spinning.
“I think I see where we are,” Starchild said. “We were blown deeper into the dungeon but we’re still in the area we’d been exploring before, just a few levels below the one’s we’d reached yet. We can probably head back and meet up with the other adventurers.”
“We’ll be safe enough,” Glimmerglass said. “This area looks like it caps out around level 20, so I can tank and dps everything we run across.”
“We’ll be okay too,” Rip said. “We don’t have a tank, but Lady Midnight can keep Matt and I healed while we blast everything from range.”
“No!” Tessa said. “Let us come to you. If you run into anything tough it’ll get to you before you can bring it down and if it goes for Lady Midnight she won’t be able to heal anyone.”
“Ok but are you a tank too?” Rip asked. “The party menu says you’re ‘Tessa’, not ‘Pillowcase’.”
Tessa paused, and was forced to consider the limitations of her newly returned human body. She certainly couldn’t withstand a beating like Pillowcase, and even with a new class, she wasn’t going to holding aggro and self healing and staying tactically calm and aware like a proper tank had to.
And she was still much lower level than the rest, so even if she did everything right, the math underlying the cosmos wasn’t in her corner.
“Wait for us anyways,” Lost Alice said. “Worst case I can help Lady Midnight heal and we can trade off heal-tanking the mobs.”
“And maybe I’ll be able to work out how to get Pillowcase back by then,” Tessa said.
Or perhaps I can lend you my skills? Pillowcase suggested.
Do you know how to do that again? Glimmerglass asked. Because if so I could lend some of my spells too.
I don’t yet, Pillowcase said, but it’s giving me something to work on.
“Ok,” Rip said. “But if monsters come we’ll have to fight them.”
“In that case, unleash the wrath of heaven on them,” Obby said.
“Agreed,” Tess said. “Anything messes with, do whatever you have to.”
“Unless it’s the [Formless Hunger],” Lost Alice said. “Then run. As fast and as far as you can.”
“Is that thing still here?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Yeah, and it’s still growing,” Tessa said.