Dawn was broken. The sun was well above the horizon. People were scuttling about, dealing with the practicalities of life and the worries which had been put off the previous evening. The smell of a rich melange of different breakfast choices wafted through the air and the melody of an impromptu troop of [Bards] provided a welcoming tune. Despite all that though, Tessa and Lisa didn’t appear back at the [Great Hall] until their friends called out to check on them.
“Overslept a bit?” Obby asked as she offered them both bowls of steaming hot porridge.
“I didn’t think we needed to sleep at all?” Kamie Anne Do said.
“We don’t,” Lady Midnight said. “Not physically at least. [Adventurers] health regeneration seems to be the same awake or asleep. The psychological impact of sleep loss is less well understood or measurable though.”
“Well, I know I feel a lot better this morning,” Rip said. “It’s like closing my eyes and dreaming for a bit wiped about a whole layer of fuzz that had been building up around my brain without me even noticing it.”
“Running in sentry mode did the same for me,” Matt said.
“After what we’ve been through in the last couple of days, I’m surprised any of us were able to sleep at all,” Tessa said.
“I don’t mean to suggest that yesterday’s events were minor or typical,” Starchild said, “but I believe your native aspects are more used to dealing with that sort of stress.”
“Yeah, the sides of us that come from this world are used to monster attacks, and magic, and running into an impossible thing or two everyday,” Obby said. “I’m just glad we got the night off.”
“Most of the people here did,” Glimmerglass said. “There were a number who stayed up to make plans, or watch over us.”
Tessa marveled again at hearing Glimmerglass’s voice ‘for real’. She sounded different than Tessa did. The pitch of her voice was shifted and her intonations weren’t quite the same, but the cadence of her speech was so very familiar.
And it was more than her voice that was familiar. Tessa had spent six of the most formative years of her life traveling the world of the [Fallen Kingdoms] at Glimmerglass’s back.
They were the same person, she’d seen that and felt it when they’d been joined together with the god soul, but it also felt appropriate somehow that they walk the world in separate bodies. Sort of?
Glimmerglass had always been more than ‘plain old Tessa’, even when every word she spoke came from Tessa’s mouth and every action she took was Tessa’s direct choice.
Without needing to ask, Tessa knew that Glimmerglass had been one of the ones who’d foregone sleep to watch over the others. It was how she’d always played Glimmerglass and, on reflection, how she’d been choosing to act since she arrived in the [Fallen Kingdoms].
“Thank you,” she said, on a private channel to Glimmerglass.
“We should talk when you have some time,” Glimmerglass said. “I have some so many questions and I think you’ve got a better sense of what’s happening with all this…strangeness.”
“Shame we’re not still sharing thoughts,” Tessa said. “Or would that make it weirder?”
“I don’t think so,” Glimmerglass said. “If anything this is what feels weird. I feel like I’m supposed to hear your voice in the back of my head all the time and talking with you is like writing letters from one side of my brain to the other. Slower, more deliberate, and missing so much context.”
“That’s my fault I guess,” Pillowcase said. “If I wasn’t in the mix, Tessa probably would have been merged in with you instead.”
“I saw that in her thoughts, I think? Was there a bit of guilt over making a new character rather than coming back to me?” Glimmerglass asked.
“I think that falls under ‘it’s complicated’,” Tessa said.
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you did, assuming that had any effect of our current situation,” Glimmerglass said and even without a shared mental space Tessa knew what she meant.
“Yeah, if you’ve been ‘real’ this whole time, then what did the choices I make in the game really mean?” Tessa asked.
“They may have been navigational, for lack of a better word,” Pillowcase suggested. “The Consortium has catalogued many different worlds, and one of the difficulties in cross dimensional travel is calibrating a pathway to a stable destination when there are many variations in timelines and dimensional resonances. It could be that there are a nigh infinite number of variations on the [Fallen Kingdoms]. Tessa’s choices may have simply been a matter of connecting to a specific variation where the both of us existed.”
“So there’s an infinite number of both of us that she picked from?” Glimmerglass asked.
“And an infinite number of hers,” Pillowcase said. “The alternative, and I do not have much information loaded on this, just enough to act as a surrogate pilot in the case of catastrophes, is that out of the infinity of variations, only a small set of them are ‘real’, with other, similar variations of timeline collapsing into the ‘real’ one if their probability of occurring is less than the one which we ultimately observe.”
“I think for the sake of our collective sanity it’s probably best if we just assume that we’re all real and any choices I made in ‘making you’ match who you really are by wild coincidence,” Tessa said.
“Agreed,” both Glimmerglass and Pillowcase said together.
“I still have a ton of questions though,” Glimmerglass said.
“You still with us?” Lisa asked aloud, bumping Tessa on the shoulder.
“Like about that,” Glimmerglass said privately
“Still here, sorry for zoning out there,” Tessa said. “Did I miss anything?”
“We were just talking about the things we need to tackle today,” Lisa said. “Seems like some of the big ticket items are already being handled.”
“Cool, which ones?” Tessa asked.
“We nominated Olwina and some of her folks to go talk with the townspeople,” Obby said. “We figured talking with some nice normal people might be a good start to help the locals get used to the idea that they have new neighbors.”
“We sent a few adventurers with them too in case the townsfolk weren’t feeling very neighborly,” Lady Midnight said.
“Calm ones I hope?” Tessa asked, visions of the sort of mayhem [Adventurers] tended to get up to dancing through her mind.
“Battler and Grail are pretty steady,” Kamie said. “They’ll get Olwina and the others out of there if things go south, but it sounds like Olwina’s just chatting nicely with the locals, so maybe we’ve got nothing to worry about?”
“Let’s see how the locals react when they meet the rest of us,” Lisa said.
“Did you tell them about our idea?” Tessa asked.
“Not yet,” Lisa said. “I wanted to you explain it to them.”
“Is this going to be one of those ideas we like, or one of the ones we have to tie you up before you run off and try it for yourself?” Rip asked.
“Hey! I don’t have ideas like that,” Tessa said.
“You jumped into a hole to hell with no backup,” Matt said. “I feel like maybe Rip and I should be going out to find some good solid chains now maybe?”
“No! I mean, it’s not like that,” Tessa said, and added privately to Lisa, “Can you believe these kids?”
“Yeah,” she replied, “who could believe they’ve been paying attention that well! I guess there is hope for the youth of today.”
Tessa glared at her before continuing on out loud for the rest to hear.
“This isn’t a dangerous idea,” she started. “Or not as dangerous as it could be.”
“Great intro, I think I’m onboard with the chains idea now too,” Lady Midnight said.
“You people, I swear,” Tessa said. “I should run off and solo this, just to show you.”
“You are not doing that,” Lisa said, joking but also clearly not joking.
“Doesn’t mean she won’t try,” Matt said.
“Aww, come on,” Rip said. “I want to hear what it is.”
“Thank you Rip,” Tessa said. “We can duo it if everyone else is too scared to go.”
“I’m in!” Rip said.
“You don’t even know what it is,” Matt said.
“Yeah, but even her bad ideas work out okay,” Rip said. “Haven’t you noticed?”
“I still want to hear what the idea is,” Lady Midnight said.
“A dungeon!” Tessa said gasping out the word before anyone else could interrupt her. “There’s a dungeon hidden in the forest over there.” She waved vaguely towards the west.
“A safe dungeon?” Starchild asked.
“A level appropriate one,” Lisa said.
“Right. Hopefully,” Tessa said. “From what I read about the beta, this was meant to be the one of the new ‘starting towns’ for the players who’d hit level 20 and left behind the [High Beyond]. There were quests in town, but since the devs knew some people liked playing dungeons more than questing, they included a ‘training dungeon’ around the starter towns to help teach new players how to handle the abilities and grouping and boss mechanics and all that stuff.”
“I see one problem we will face,” Starchild said.
“Yeah, none of us are level 20 yet,” Lady Midnight said.
“I am,” Obby said. “Well, level 22 to be accurate.”
“And I’m just a bit over level 20,” Glimmerglass said, vastly understating her actual level which had somehow reach 90 since Tessa had played her last. Apparently destroying a fairly large force that was occupying a city was good for a lot of experience.
“So Glimmerglass can go in a clear every thing out for us?” Rip asked, not sounding terribly enthused by the idea.
“She could but I don’t think we need her to do that,” Tessa said.
“I’m more than happy to,” Glimmerglass said. “It’s basically no effort for me and no risk for you.”
“I know, and that’s why I think we want to put you to a different use if you’re up for it,” Tessa asked.
“Safety net?” Glimmerglass asked, her thoughts not all that far off from Tessa’s even if they didn’t share the same mind space.
“Exactly,” Tessa said.
“What does that mean?” Rip asked.
“We still need to level up to the point where we can begin to tackle the dungeon,” Tessa said. “That’s going to mean patrolling around and looking for enemies that we can handle. Glimmerglass can help with that by taking out any of the mobs that are too high level for us to deal with.”
“Could she just kill the wandering monsters for us?” Matt asked.
“I could but you wouldn’t have a chance to learn you spells and abilities as you gained them,” Glimmerglass said. “If I help you indirectly, you’ll earn more experience per fight too, so the leveling will go a lot faster.”
“There’s a few problems with that approach still,” Lady Midnight said. “First, we need to find mobs of the appropriate level.”
“The barrows to the east have us covered there,” Tessa said. “They’re supposed to be a spot where [Adventurers] who missed out on gear in the [High Beyond] could farm for a bit to be ready for regular play, so they’re filled with level 10 to 15 monsters.”
“Some of the [Adventurers] aren’t even level 10 yet,” Kamie said.
“Yeah, I know, some of them didn’t want to risk dying again and so they stayed in [Sky’s Edge],” Tessa said. “I think we can offer them a new choice though. Once we get the [Great Hall] repaired a bit, it’ll become a no-combat zone too, so they can stay here as at least a partially effective measure of safety. For the ones who do want to try leveling though, the rest of us can act as safety nets for them.”
“Like we’d kill the monsters for them so they level up?” Rip asked.
“At least for the first few levels,” Tessa said. “By the time they hit level 10, we’ll want to have them engage too so they can learn how to use their stuff, the same as we’ll be doing, and after that they’ll probably be able to start working in their own groups, and maybe even helping other people level up too.”
“And eventually we all take on this dungeon together?” Matt asked.
“Not the dungeon, exactly,” Tessa said. “The dungeon in the beta was an instanced area. So when we go in, it’ll be only as a single party, with each party that enters being shunted into their own version of the dungeon, with their own monsters, traps, and rewards.”
“At least until we hit the end,” Lisa said.
“What’s at the end?” Rip asked.
“A level 30 Raid Boss,” Tessa said. “And we’re going to need everyone we can get pitching in for that one.”