One nice thing about being full was that Lost Alice didn’t feel like devouring the comparatively frail woman who was nestled in her armors. Lisa appreciated that, and appreciated that no matter how strongly she leaned into being Alice, her ‘vampire instincts’ would never force her to harm someone she cared about. It was still nice though to feel the soft warmth of Tessa and not be distracted with thoughts of “Yum”.
Well, not “yummy blood” at least.
“How long do you think the others will be content to sit tight for?” she asked, not wanting to know the answer, but aware that it was something they had to take into account.
“Forever and ever,” Tessa said, a tired, dreamy haze blanketing her words.
After what they’d been through, Lisa would have been fine with that. Her body might have been healed but Tessa’s radical restoration procedure hadn’t included a dose of amnesia to help Lisa forget what losing a limb had felt like.
“Or they’re already on the move,” Tessa said.
“I can’t see any of them on the local map,” Lisa said. “But I think I saw the area they got blasted to on the one we got from Vixali.”
“Do you think they’ll try to head for us?” Tessa asked, turning in Lost Alice’s arms as though to rise.
Lisa didn’t hold her back. Much. The little tug was just meant to indicate that she didn’t need to move right away. It wasn’t Lisa’s fault that she wasn’t used to having the strength of a vampiric adventurer.
“We could let them find us I guess,” Tessa said, only slightly crushed up against Lost Alice.
Alice repressed her sigh and relaxed her arms so that Tessa could escape if she wanted to. Tessa didn’t seem entirely happy with that, and made no move to get away.
“We probably shouldn’t let them do that,” Lisa said, frowning at the thought of the kind of trouble Rip and Matt could get up to by wandering randomly through a dungeon.
“Not after all this,” Tessa said. “And not with the Hunger still out there and growing.”
“Could you tell how fast it was expanding?” Lisa asked, a chill creeping into her knees and knuckles at the thought of encountering any more patches of sentient static.
“I think we can circumnavigate it,” Tessa said. “And I don’t think it’s going to try hunting for me again.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be able to hunt you in the first place though, was it?” Lisa asked. “I thought it was supposed to be something like a zone of damage, not an actual creature.”
“It wasn’t even that to start with,” Tessa said. “The thing we first encountered in [Sky’s Edge] wasn’t even real, if that makes any sense.”
“It really ate that town, so no, it kind of doesn’t.”
“Picture it like something from another game,” Tessa said. “The [Fallen Kingdoms] have a lot of things in them but they don’t have Pac-Man. He’s not ‘real’ here, according to the metaphysics of this world. If he shows up anyways, there’s this friction with the rules which make up this place. It’s like this reality doesn’t have capacity of hold a two dimensional infinitely hungry yellow circle that can be killed by ghosts, so it glitches out, and none of the regular rules for creatures wind up getting applied to it.”
“So the Hunger is from somewhere else? Can we kick it back there?” Lisa asked.
“That’s the hard part. I don’t think it’s ‘from’ anywhere. I think it’s more like an untethered concept. Or maybe all that’s left of a reality that doesn’t exist any longer.”
“That’s pretty esoteric. How could you know that?” Lisa had wondered what had happened to Tessa after she vanished from Pillowcase at [Sky’s Edge], she just wasn’t sure if it was something Tessa could easily talk about.
“I think it’s from my class?” Tessa sounded like she was trying the explanation out to see if it fit. “I’m not clear on how I got it, the class that is, but I think it’s supposed to be able to deal with things like the [Formless Hunger].”
“You can fight it now?” Lisa wasn’t sure if she was overjoyed at the idea of the Hunger being defeatable, or terrified at that though that Tessa would have to be the one to face it. Possibly alone.
“Not yet,” Tessa said. “I’m still a baby [Void Speaker]. I don’t think I have any attacks yet. And it’s probably still got a huge level advantage on me. But maybe someday? Yeah. I think if I can hit the level cap, a max level [Void Speaker] should be able to deal with something like that.”
“We need to get you to a power leveler then,” Lisa said. “Maybe we should head for Glimmerglass first?”
“I think it’ll be easier for her to reach us,” Tessa said. “Aside from the Hunger, nothing in here should be too dangerous for her.”
“The smart play might be to let her collect all of us,” Lisa said, not unhappy at the prospect of needing to wait for a rescue in this particular case.
“I could live with that,” Tessa said, “But you know Rip and Matt won’t sit still for that long.”
Lisa wanted to protest, but she saw too much of herself in Rip to honestly contest Tessa’s claim.
“Lady Midnight could keep them safe,” Lisa said, trying a different, and somewhat reasonable tack.
“I know,” Tessa said. “But I want to do it.”
Lisa had to admit defeat in the face of those small words.
“So do I,” she said and helped Tessa rise.
“Thank you,” Tessa said. “I’m not sure how safe we’ll be, but I’ll try to do what I can to help, ok?”
“You saved me from a monster from beyond time and space, you’ve already ‘helped’ more than anyone else possibly could,” Lisa said. “If we run into something, let me handle it. You just stay focus on saving yourself for a change. Understood? Lost Alice may only be a healer, but we’re not about to let any of our loved ones get torn to ribbons when we can just heal tank it instead.”
Lisa saw a flash of surprise pass over Tessa’s face before Tessa clamped her jaw shut and responded with a silent nod and a barely suppressed smile of absolute delight.
Jamal was following Rose. They were supposed to stay put and wait for the others to find them but that plan had gone out the window the moment the [Lightning Serpents] had appeared.
Jamal wasn’t surprised. Rose was involved. Plans general didn’t do too well when she was around, and since coming to the [Fallen Kingdoms] she’d been more herself than ever before. Almost like “Rip Shot” was the elemental version of Rose-ness. Or maybe just what Rose had always wished she could be.
He couldn’t say quite the same thing about Matt Painting. The idea of being a steam punk style clockwork spell caster hadn’t exactly been a roll he’d been dying to play. Although since they’d likely ‘died’ as far as their earthly lives were concerned, he had to admit that being Matt Painting, [Metal Mechanoid] and [Dream Spinner] wasn’t bad as an afterlife.
He wondered what his Imam would have said about that line of thought. Probably something insightful. Jamal hadn’t had much time to learn the faith he was trying to practice but in the short time he’d been able to seek out an education he’d been drawn to the simple clarity and kindness he’d been shown. He still wasn’t sure anyone had all the answers, but support and acceptance had been too rare in his life to not have an impact when they were offered freely.
Which, he knew, was why he was trotting along after Rose. They’d been friends forever. Without her, he was pretty sure he have had some kind of breakdown already. She’d been there when his dad had been killed in a stupid car accident, and she’d still been there years later when his mother had started dating again.
If there was anything Jamal was thankful for it was that he was much better at choosing his friends than his mother was. Rose respected him and care about his well being and was never violent.
Or at least not violent towards him.
Rip had proven that Rose was more than capable of high quality violence when the need arose. Somehow though, blowing up giant monster bugs didn’t feel like real violence. They weren’t people at all and they were intent on nothing except tearing Matt’s party apart. If anything blowing them up felt cathartic.
That was probably part of the reason it felt so strange to be jogging along with the [Lightning Serpents]. To Jamal and Matt’s ears, it didn’t sound like they could talk at all. They only made burst of sound that sounded like sandpaper being dragged over steel. Despite that Rose was happily carrying on a conversation with them as she jogged down the corridor the [Lightning Serpents] claimed would lead them back to where the refugees from [Sky’s Edge] had gathered.
“It’s not uncommon for characters to earn fluency in different languages,” Lady Midnight said. “But that’s usually with the other playable races. I’ve never heard of someone talking to monsters before.”
Without missing a beat or turning from the half dozen electrified snakes who were scuttling along with their heads at her shoulder height, Rose said, “They’re not monsters. They just don’t normally find many non herpa-forms who they can talk to.”
“Herpa-forms?” Jamal whispered on a private channel.
“Snake people I guess?” Lady Midnight whispered back.
The [Lightning Serpents] had rolled into the small area Rose, Jamal and Lady Midnight had selected as their ‘camp’ and before anyone had started their combat animations, Rose had been all up in the middle of them, chatting like they were old friends.
Apparently they were fleeing from the [Formless Hunger], much like everything mobile in the areas it had invaded. When they found that a “bipedal” could talk their language – or the “language of the storm”, Jamal wasn’t exactly sure what that meant – they were delighted to take her offer of protection and company.
They knew the dungeon’s layout, and the adventurers were better fighters so it seemed like a good match for a traveling party.
Aside from the part where they were doing the exact opposite of what they’d agreed to do, but Jamal reasoned that Tessa and Alice would be fairly forgiving if it meant they were all reunited sooner and with some new allies.
And hopefully none of them were snake-phobic.
“Think we should tell the others about this?” Jamal asked Lady Midnight privately. He already knew what Rose’s answer would be, but getting a second opinion seemed like a wise move.
“Maybe when we’re closer to camp, or if something starts to go wrong,” Lady Midnight said. “They don’t have our precise location anyways so there’s no need for them to worry yet.”
“Yeah, the last thing we need is for anyone else to run into a trap or the Hunger trying to get to us.”
Sometimes Jamal felt cursed. It was like whatever universe he was in, there was always some force that was out to punish him for whatever he said. He knew it wasn’t true. He knew people weighed negative events more strongly than positive ones, and correlations were mistaken for causation because people really wanted to believe they were more in control of their lives than they ever could be.
All that said though, it still sucked when, immediately after he talked about running into a trap, they did.
One moment they were jogging down a corridor and the next there were [Gloom Moths] all around them, wings fluttering everywhere as dozens of them descended on the surprised party.
Jamal brought his arms up to cast a spell and took a mouth to the face, completely disrupting his casting.
There were too many of them.
He wasn’t going to be able to get even the simplest spell off.