An army marched through [Dragonshire] and Tessa was at its head. For as much as she was the one who knew where they were heading though, the idea that she was ‘leading’ the horde of people behind her seemed laughable at best and utterly terrifying if she gave it more than a second’s thought.
“Nothing I was stitched with is going to be much help here I’m afraid,” Pillowcase said. “They built me as one of the elite units but we were never intended for command roles.”
“That’s okay,” Tessa said. “Yawlorna, Gray, Vixali, and Olwina are the real leaders here. I’m just a tour guide basically. Everyone’s moving along with us because the four of them said it was what we should do. No one’s looking to me for anything important.”
“Except for the part where the four of them, not to mention the other [Adventurers] apparently think your advice is worth following without any major discussion or questions,” Pillowcase said.
It wasn’t something that Tessa wanted to contemplate much, but it was one of the worries nibbling at the back of her mind which is why Pillowcase wasn’t letting her ignore it.
“Are we going to need to cross the river?” Lisa asked, speaking for a change on a channel with the leaders of the various groups rather the private one she shared with Tessa.
“Yep. I’m trying to get us to one of the bridges that looked like it was still in good shape,” Tessa said.
[Dragonshire] wasn’t exactly a maze but the streets hadn’t been laid out in a grid either. For the most part they varied between wide avenues with room for two carts to pass each other, and small alleys between two and three story dwellings. The houses had seen better days – most had signs of fire damage, or large holes in places, with roofs that were crumbling from harsh weather and lack of repair.
In the distance, the part of the town where the restoration efforts had been focused looked to be a different story, but Tessa didn’t think walking a band of vampires, demons, and sapient shadows up to the restored houses and waking up the townsfolk in the middle of the night was a wise idea. Better to meet them when the meeting would come as less of a surprise and everyone was as well rested as they could be.
“Will moving water be a problem for your people?” Lisa asked, glancing toward Vixali who was walking closer to Lisa than Tessa would have preferred but not quite close enough to punch.
“Really?” Pillowcase asked, or perhaps it was Tessa admonishing herself. The desire to do violence to Vixali was as unreasonable as it was ill-conceived. She could admit that. She could accept that. Some part of her was still going to pop the [Vampire Queen] right in her fangs if Vixali tried to make a move on Lisa though.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Vixali said. “Unless something is lurking in the water which finds beautiful people delicious?”
Tessa tried to remember the official lore for [Vampires] in [Broken Horizons]. There were different bloodlines with different restrictions and abilities so it was a challenge to determine which, if any, of the standard [Vampiric] weaknesses applied in any given situation. Running water had shown up a few times though, usually as an excuse for why the [Vampires] were confined to one area of a dungeon.
“The river is supposed to be safe,” Tessa said “I’ll go across first to check it out.”
Lost Alice grabbed her by the shoulder.
“Just. Why,” Lisa said. It wasn’t even a question.
“Uh.” Tessa didn’t have a great answer for that, so she struggled to find a bad one. “Everyone’s following me, so I should make sure our path is safe?”
“Obby, could you come up to front with us for a bit?” Lisa said, switching to their party chat.
“Sure, what’s up?” Obby asked.
“We need a tank to check that the bridge up ahead is safe,” Lisa said.
“Oh yeah, good idea!” Obby said and pushed through the few ranks of [Adventurers] and townsfolk who were following the closest behind the lead group.
“Err, right, we have real tanks with us now,” Tessa said on her private link with Lisa.
“You seriously didn’t remember that did you?” Lisa asked.
“I mean, it’s been a busy night,” Tessa said, knowing it was a poor and inaccurate excuse. Even in her boring, Earthly, human life, she tended to try to handle things herself rather than bother anyone by asking for help.
Which was weird because in game she’d always been happy to form parties and focus on playing just her role. As a Healer she’d never tried to take over the tank’s job.
At least not while the tank was alive.
And doing their job properly.
But, to be fair, sometimes the party needed someone to stand in front of a rampaging monster and the tank sucked at hold hate and healers could at least heal themselves and…
“I’ll go with you,” Glimmerglass said.
Because of course she would throw herself into peril too.
Not that things that would be perilous for the rest of the [Adventurers] could even scratch her armor, but it was still an embarrassing mirror to gaze into.
Glimmerglass caught Tessa’s eye as she walked past and gave a little shrug. They weren’t sharing thoughts directly like Tessa and Pillowcase were, but they were still closer than even twins could dream of being.
“Is the [Great Hall] going to be big enough to hold all of us?” Lisa asked, gesturing back at the flood of people behind them.
“Once we’re over the bridge and at the top of that next hill, you’ll see it,” Tessa said. “In the screenshots from the beta, it looked like something between an aircraft hanger and an amphitheater. Plus it’s got storerooms beneath it, so we can move some of the people down there if we need to.”
“I hate that this is something we need to consider, but is it in a defensible spot?” Lisa asked.
“Yes and no,” Tessa said. “One of the early quests for the players was to refurbish the [Geat Hall] itself and part of that was to finish repairing the walls around it’s courtyard to make it more secure. It was hard to see from the hill we landed on, but I’m betting the walls still have great big holes in them. It’s better than nothing, but if the Consortium comes calling I doubt it’ll hold out long.”
“How do you remember all this stuff?” Lisa asked. “You didn’t play in the beta right?”
“Nope, I just kept up by reading a lot. I only reinstalled [Broken Horizons] for the first time in six years maybe an hour or so before we met,” Tessa said.
“Wow, that is some just the worst timing,” Lisa said.
“Or the best,” Tessa said and then glanced away, afraid that she was being too obvious in her flirting. And worried she wasn’t being obvious enough.
“It seems our Intellect stat drains away at moment’s like this,” Pillowcase said, observing clinically what Tessa was all too painfully aware of about herself already. “Once again, I can’t offer much help. The entirety of my experience with relationships lies in your memories.”
Lisa bumping shoulders with her shook Tessa about of her inward spiral, as did Obby’s report that, “the bridge looks fine, water’s clear and empty too.”
“We’ll go ahead and make sure nothing unpleasant has moved into the [Great Hall],” Glimmerglass said on the general leadership channel, an offer everyone seemed grateful for.
“That one is much more powerful than the rest of you,” Vixali said.
“Yeah, she’s been adventuring for years,” Tessa said. “We’ll see if any of the other [Adventurers] at her level can get here to help the rest of us catch up.”
“There are more like her?” Qiki asked, stepping out from behind Vixali.
“A lot of the [Adventurers] on the surface are her level or higher,” Tessa said. “She was retired for a while.”
“And there are foes who can challenge her and those like her?” Vixali asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. The Consortium has been sending in armies of them,” Tessa said. “And there’s plenty of things in the [Sunless Deeps] and the other high level zones that out level her. By a lot in some cases.”
“That’s…we will take that into account,” Vixali said.
Tessa didn’t need to delve deeply into her intuition to see that the [Vampire Queen] was starting to appreciate the scope of the wider world they’d entered. In the [High Beyond], or at least within the section of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] that they’d operated in, the [Vampires] were close to the top of the food chain in terms of power.
In the [Fallen Kingdoms] though, there were tier after tier of creature who were more powerful to extents that Vixali couldn’t begin to imagine until she experienced some of it.
If Tessa got to chose though, neither Vixali, nor any of the rest would get to experience any of the higher level foes the [Fallen Kingdoms] had to offer. All of the refugees from the [High Beyond], human or otherwise, had been through too much to put them through any more.
They crossed the bridge taking care to send only a handful of people across at a time. Despite being intact, the bridge was still old and no one wanted to be the unlucky soul who broke through it and was swept away in the river. The caution slowed them down, but the night was brightly lit by the far too large moons hanging overhead the rest of the town was quiet so there wasn’t a sense of hurry or dread pushing the crowd to stampede over the river.
“This could be a nice place to take moonlight walks once it’s fixed up,” Lisa said.
“The running water doesn’t bother you either I take it?” Tessa asked.
“It leeches away a bit of magic,” Lost Alice. “Nothing significant though. And the view is lovely.”
Tessa noted that Lost Alice was not gazing upwards at the stars when she said that. The night felt very warm for some reason.
They really needed to talk. She knew it was true, but also knew that the middle of formerly abandoned town and surrounded by a few thousand people was neither the time nor place for that particular conversation.
“What happened to the god soul that you picked up by the way? I noticed it wasn’t glowing your hands when we got here,” Lisa said.
“It’s what I made the portal out of,” Tessa said. “Once everyone was through, I let it fizzle out into the void.”
“Wouldn’t it have been useful to hold onto?” Lisa asked.
“I can’t hold those forever,” Tessa said. “And I was afraid of what the [Hungry Shadows] would do if I left the portal open.”
“Nothing good,” Lisa said. “Do you think we’ll have problems with the people they injured?”
“Probably,” Tessa said. “We still had to rescue them though.”
“Agreed. If Glimmerglass can’t remove whatever corruption the [Hungry Shadows] left in them I’ll have to see if I can get any of my guildmates out here.”
“I might be able to fix them too,” Tessa said.
Lost Alice narrowed her eyes and searched Tessa’s face, probably looking for some clue as to how dangerous this would be.
“Safely,” Tessa added. “I might be able to fix them safely.”
“And how will you know that it’s safe?” Lisa asked in a flat and even tone.
“I’ll have Glimmerglass watch over my while I try?” It hadn’t been Tessa’s original plan, which was to simply take a shot at removing magic whatever the [Hungry Shadows] had left in their victims, but it seemed to be enough to satisfy Lisa’s concerns.
“This isn’t all on you,” she said. “We’re in this together.”
Tessa knew she was referring to everyone in their vast entourage but the from how Lost Alice reached out and took her hand it seemed like she’d intended it as a much more personal declaration too.