Stepping through the portal between the [High Beyond] and the [Fallen Kingdoms] wasn’t what Tessa expected. So many other portals in games involved nothing more than walking from one point to another with no more difficulty than crossing from one room to another. From what she’d seen of the people who passed through the portal in the [Vampire Queen’s Throne Room], the portal to the surface world was no different. And perhaps for them that was true.
But Tessa wasn’t quite the same.
The single step which took her through the open stained glass window and left her standing in the [Fallen Kingdoms] crossed through a void far grander than the gap from the ground to the satellite moon.
There was no air in the void she walked through, nor any sense of up or down. Stars hid behind an all concealing darkness, vaulted away from the attentions of things which would devour their light.
Things which could see Tessa. Things which existed to consume material beings like her. Things that were…afraid of her?
As Tessa passed through the void of shrouded stars, she felt like she was falling upwards, descending into a fathomless sky with no ground to ever break her fall.
But that wasn’t possible.
She’d seen the far side of the portal. She knew people had made the journey in no more time than it took to finish a single step.
There was no air around her, but her lungs didn’t burn and her sweat didn’t boil.
The void couldn’t touch her.
She reached out and felt, more than saw, the creatures lurking in the emptiness draw away.
She was safe from the void.
But it wasn’t safe from her.
“Enough of this,” she said, speaking without breath or sound. “I’ve got somewhere to be, and someone to be.”
And her footstep fell onto solid ground.
Around her, the world came into focus as last.
The [Fallen Kingdoms].
“My home,” her heart said, and she wasn’t sure if it was Tessa’s voice, or Pillowcase’s, or Glimmerglass’s which spoke. Maybe all of them.
In the distance she saw the [Wind Shred] mountain rising, their peaks gleaming brilliantly in the light of the full moons. They were miles distant, and stood to the west when Tessa was used to seeing their other side looming in the east, but the sharp sawtooth pattern which thrust into the sky like the maw of some continental beast was unmistakable.
Around her the land rolled away into a curious motley of buildings. The town, as much as it could be called a town with the shape it was in, was bordered on one side by wide rolling fields to the east which were dotted with ruins and barrow hills. On the other side, separating the town from the [Wind Shred] mountains, a dark forest loomed, it’s trees bent into unfamiliar and twisting shapes which the moonlight barely revealed.
A fast flowing river broke from the forest, curving along the winding banks the town was laid out on, with several bridges crossing the swift waters as it ran though the western side of the town. Some of the bridges were even still intact, though all seemed to be suffering from the same long weathered damage as the rest of the town.
Or most of the rest of the town.
Looking down from the one of the highest hills, Tessa saw that the wide circle of ritual water basins they’d arrived in looked to be in a much better state than the town as a whole was.
Several buildings on the eastern side of the town had been repaired as well, not a few of which had smoke rising lazily from their chimneys.
“Where are we?” Lisa asked, moving to Tessa’s side through the crowd which was milling about and spilling out to fill the circle of water basins which ringed the hill they’d arrived on.
“[Dragonshire],” Tessa said. “It’s one of the new areas they added. I read about a lot about it and I figured it would make a good arrival point. Especially since it’s still night here.”
“We thank you for that,” Gray-of-Endless-Mist said. “The light cannot kill us but it is terribly unpleasant.”
“I’m not a fan of it myself,” Lost Alice said. “But it poses no particular dangers.”
“Does it not?” Vixali said. “You are something special then.”
“Perks of being an [Adventurer],” Obby said.
The crowd around Tessa felt stifling. There was plenty of room for people to spread out but they were clinging close together. And there were too many of them. Tessa was sure that the crowd she’d seen in the cavern where they’d assembled the refugees had included as many people as were filling the hilltop.
“It’s okay,” Pillowcase said to herself, a calm settling over Tessa’s heart as her perspective shifted. “We collected stragglers as we were moving. And maybe there was some layering going on in the cave?”
“We should get inside,” Tessa said. “The encounter rate is always higher at night.”
“Isn’t this a city zone though?” Lady Midnight asked. “There shouldn’t be encounters here should there?”
“We’re sort of a walking World Event,” Obby said. “We might be the encounter other people run into.”
“There’s that and [Dragonshire] is a new sort of town,” Tessa said. “Again, assuming anything here is like it was in the game, this place should be a ‘hybrid zone’.”
“What’s that mean?” Rip Shot asked.
“Towns and cities are usually ‘no combat’ zones,” Obby said. “Some events can suspend that though.”
“For example, attacks by invaders from beyond the stars,” Glimmerglass said. “Just to name a completely unlikely scenario.”
“Aside from special cases like that though, habitation areas – cities and town basically – usually have various means of protection which keep random monsters from wandering in and eating people,” Tessa said.
“Also, [Adventurers] are [Peace Bonded] in most cities, which keeps us from fighting there too,” Lisa said.
“Since we can be as bad as the monsters, or worse, sometimes,” Kamie Anne Do said.
“Check your stats here though,” Tessa said. “Notice a distinct lack of [Peace Bonding]?”
“Yes, so this counts as a [Wilderness] area?” Starchild asked.
“Not exactly,” Tessa said. “It’s still a city, but see how it’s only been partially rebuilt? The lore here goes that [Dragonshire] was wrecked years ago during the [Titan’s Rage].”
“That was from one of the first expansions,” Lisa said, snapping her fingers as an old memory returned. “I remember they knocked out a lot of the places where they had buggy but cool quests and channeled us into new areas with a lot of ‘kill ten rats for their tails’ type stuff.”
“Right. [Dragonshire] wasn’t one of the places they actually got rid of – I don’t think anyone wanted to go near the old code for the places that actually were in the game and got trashed – but it’s lore ties into that era,” Tessa said. “It was destroyed by the [Titans] and now, in the [World Shift] expansion, people are just starting to come back to it. Including the new arrivals from the [High Beyond], i.e. us, for who this is meant to be one of the starter cities they can choose to begin their adventurers in the [Fallen Kingdoms] at. Assuming of course that you don’t decide to go to one of the usual mid-level zones, or just hop in a dungeon with friends and get power leveled to the cap.”
“So why is it a ‘hybrid’ zone?” Rip asked.
“They wanted to bring back the idea of more event-driven quests,” Tessa said. “So things can happen right in town that affect and are affected by the quests [Adventurers] do in the surrounding areas. Heck, reclaiming all the busted parts of the town was meant to help new give new players a focus for what they were doing up to about level 50 I think.”
“That makes sense,” Lisa said. “At 50 they can start doing the early delves in the [Sunless Deeps].”
“That’s also the level cap for a lot of the major city areas,” Glimmerglass said.
“Does this place have a level cap?” Matt Painting asked.
“The rebuilt areas should,” Tessa said. “I think it was supposed to start at 25 when players first arrived there. Based on the quests you did and how restored your version of the city got, the cap would rise in five level increments up to 50 eventually.”
“We’re not exactly close to 25 at the moment though,” Matt said.
“That’s not going to be either a.) a problem or b.) true for very long,” Glimmerglass said.
“Perhaps not for you,” Yawlorna said. “My people, and I’m guessing all of the other non-[Adventurers] here though don’t ‘level up’ like you do.”
“That’s part of why I wanted to bring people here, rather than dumping us into a major city,” Tessa said. “This place is mostly a wreck still, so the lower level cap should still be in effect.”
“Meaning whatever beasties are lurking out there in woods, or in the tombs under those hills, won’t be too much of a problem to handle,” Lisa said. Tessa smiled, cheered that they were rather effortlessly on the same page.
“Not as long as we stay together,” Obby said, glancing over towards Gray-of-Endless-Mist.
“We have no issue with that,” Gray said. “This is a new land. Our hungers will need to be sated but if there are enemies of all it would be wisest to devour them and leave those who can coexist with us safe and secure.”
“I probably need my head examined, but I agree with the talking shadow,” Olwina the Blacksmith said. Several of the other people from [Sky’s Edge] were hovering around her, apparently content to have her act as the spokeswoman for the refugees from the town.
Tessa glanced around and saw that the crowd had spread out a little bit. Most where sitting down, and breaking out food they’d brought with them from the [High Beyond]. A few, mostly the children, had even fallen asleep. The only thing none of them seemed interested in doing was leaving the rather illusory safety of the circle of water basins.
Or perhaps it wasn’t the water basins which defined the zone of safety.
Over there was a Balegritz entertaining a group of townspeople from [Sky’s Edge] with a story of how Yawlorna had saved them when they were crashing into the [High Beyond].
And just beyond him, Battler X and Gale Force were talking with a group of [Adventurers] Tessa hadn’t seen before. Their armor marked all of them as low level, and two of them were [Artifax], so they definitely came from the [High Beyond] too, but they looked at home here. Or at home together.
A memory rolled back over Tessa’s mind. Meeting new players in a new area before undertaking new quests. Those moments didn’t always turn out well. Disaster always waited for the unprepared and the clueless, but even some of the disasters had led to really nice friendships.
It wasn’t the water basins which gave people a sense of safety. It was each other.
“Okay. New plan,” she said, causing the heads of everyone around her to turn towards her.
“We have a plan now?” Kamie’s smile teased Tessa in the universal [Adventurers] acknowledging the disasters they were manner.
It felt good.
For six years, she’d cut herself off from [Broken Horizons]. She’d gone out and tried to be a regular person. Tried to live a regular life.
But regular had meant, denying this part of herself. Regular had meant accepting a life focused on doing what some nebulous concept of “people” thought was the right thing. Go to work, make money, put the company first, and do things that mattered in the real world. Be a success or you’ll starve.
But she’d starved anyway.
What she needed wasn’t a better job, or a higher salary. What she needed was what was all around her.
The chance to make a difference.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said. “Let’s get everyone together. The townsfolk probably have no idea what to make of us. There’s the [Old Great Hall] over on the west side. It’s supposed to be the first building that the [Adventurers] repair and from the beta footage I saw, it’s enormous. There should be plenty of room for all of us to settle in and start making a new home here. Together.”