It was a small thing, the dialog hanging in the air in front of her, just a tiny aberration from her expectations of how the world worked. In the face of the other thing she’d seen and been through, one little square of light with a simple question should have barely even registered as a blip of strangeness, shouldn’t have evoked even an awareness of being unusual, much less left Tessa frozen in wonder and disorientation.
“What is it?” Lisa asked, seeing Tessa’s bone deep confusion.
“I don’t know,” Tessa managed after a moment.
Her hand was frozen halfway to the dialog, an unconscious reflex to click the ‘Ok’ button having carried it that far before her mind fully grasped what she was seeing.
“That’s something I would see,” Pillowcase said, her voice purely internal as Tessa scrambled to make sense of what was in front of her. “But…”
“But I don’t have your eyes,” Tessa said, answering herself and added on the party chat line for Lisa’s benefit. “I got the Guild invite.”
“It popped up in front of you?” Lisa asked, her eyes narrowing immediately in understanding.
“It’s still hovering there,” Tessa said, her hand unfreezing enough to gesture at the little scale of light.
“Isn’t that what it should have done that though?” Rip asked.
“It doesn’t sound like it,” Matt said.
“Not if she’s still an Earthling,” Lady Midnight said. “How are you feeling Tessa?”
“Good. Fine,” Tessa said. Existential dread wasn’t an unreasonable thing to be feeling, right? She didn’t voice that part but she didn’t need to Lisa read it in her expression.
“You leveled up,” Lisa said, putting a comforting hand on Tessa’s shoulder. “I wonder if that includes a passive ability that lets you see what would have been system messages?”
It made enough sense that it gave Tessa the lifeline to cling to that she needed. She hadn’t [Fractured] from reality again. There was a plausible reason that her silly human eyes were seeing things no silly human eyes should be able to.
Tessa wasn’t sure if the reassurance allowed her heart to start beating again, or if it allowed her heart to slow down to the point where should could tell that it was still beating.
“I really wish I could see my stats,” she said, shaking her head. A glance over at Lisa showed not to the reassuring expression she’d expected but a ghost of concern. “I’m okay though, really. I’ve been thinking I’m probably not exactly an Earth-standard human anymore for a while now. It was just a bit surprising to have it confirmed like that. I guess my Denial passive ability is stronger than I thought.”
She forced a grin onto her lips, which was made a touch easier by the pleasant lack of any special effect around ‘denial’. The last thing Tessa wanted was a supernatural ability based on that.
Lisa nodded but the ghost was still haunting her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Tessa asked, switching to their private channel.
“You sure you’re feeling okay now?” Lisa asked. “Any time you need to fall apart, I’m here to catch you okay? That’s part of the deal, right?”
“Yeah. And the same for you too, okay? I think we’re both due about a dozen freak outs each, and that’s just for the stuff we’ve run into since we woke up,” Tessa said.
“Good. So. How are you feeling?”
Tessa was about to say ‘Fine’ again but she stopped herself. ‘Fine’ was a rote response. It was what she was expected to say when people asked about her. Don’t trouble anyone with your problems. Don’t be a bother. Keep all the turmoil and mess that was in her head safely locked away from everyone else, because no one had time for her problems. Not when she was supposed to be helping them with theirs.
“I could be better, I think,” she said, each word more terrifying than the last, each one potentially too much of a demand, too ugly for Lisa to continue loving her.
“Even that much of an understatement is that frightening to admit?” Pillowcase asked, and from her perspective, Tessa felt vaguely ridiculous at her own worry and fear.
Lisa wasn’t going to hate her if Tessa told her the truth. Sure, spiraling around the same problem constantly could get tiresome but there was a wide gulf between that and letting Lisa see what was really going on when she was outright asking to know.
“I know I broke something, or lost something when I became a [Void Speaker],” she said, still on the private channel. The others wouldn’t condemn her for her feelings either, but sharing with Lisa was about as far as she could force herself to extend her trust in that. “I don’t regret it. Or at least I’m happy that I’m back here, and I still feel like ‘me’, like the ‘Tessa’ I’m familiar with being. And having a class? That’s really cool. And a new, special class? I mean, that seems awesome right? It’s supposed to be amazing. I’m all special and stuff and I shouldn’t complain.”
“But it’s scary isn’t it?” Lisa asked. She took Tessa’s other hand in her own, lacing their fingers together and holding it up to Tessa’s heart.
“Yeah,” Tessa admitted. “Very.”
“That probably shows that you’re more yourself than you’re feeling at the moment,” Lisa said. “Picture if you were totally gungho and couldn’t see anything wrong with become a god-tier [Void Speaker] as soon as possible. If you didn’t have any thoughts like the ones you’re having, would that be you or just someone who was, I don’t know, ‘inspired by’ you I guess?”
A real smile crept onto Tessa’s face. On the one hand, being defined by her fears and weaknesses didn’t sound terribly great, but on the other, that her fears had a purpose, were a sign that she was fighting to be herself? That made them a lot cooler than she’d given them, no, given herself credit for.
“Thank you,” she said. “You…that was what I needed to hear. Or needed to remember. Being afraid is okay, isn’t it?”
“Being you is okay,” Lisa said. “Afraid, excited, sad, whatever it is, if it’s you, it’s all good.”
“Even if I become some weird, otherworldly thing from beyond time and space?” Tessa’s relief let her switch to teasing-mode, but listening to herself she saw she wasn’t just being silly. She remembered the [Formless Hunger] and knew that the trauma of dealing with it was still something she was processing.
“I’m a blood drinking fiend of the night,” Lisa said. “I kinda can’t picture anything you’d become that I wouldn’t want to hang onto.”
“I’m going to try not to become too much else,” Tessa said. “Being Pillowcase and Tessa is enough for now I think. I mean, I barely had a handle on being ‘Tessa’ and I had 26 years as her to work on that. I probably need put some more work into who I am now before I try to change class to [Cosmic Horror].”
Both she and Lisa heard the sound effect around [Cosmic Horror] and blinked.
“Really?” Tessa said, wrinkling her nose in irritation. “That’s a thing here too?”
“I think we can file that under ‘Not Our Problem’,” Lisa said. “At least not till we’re at the level cap, and maybe not even then. We’re still going to need a ton of the high tier raid gear before we’re really competitive there.”
“Ugh, that’s right,” Tessa said, memories of the raids she’d fought as Glimmerglass flooding back into her mind. “That’s going to take forever to get through, if it’s even possible with actually living in the world like this.”
It wasn’t uncommon for the mechanics of the raids to require add-ons to manage, things that could warn the player when special attacks were coming, or help coordinate a small army of 64 [Adventurers] better than voice chat could manage.
“It not only would need to be possible, we’d also have to find a group to run it with who’s willing to take us along,” Lisa said. “Most of the raid zones are locked off but Cease All said AoL probably wouldn’t be running them anyways, even if the Consortium wasn’t an issue. No one wants to try anything that hard when getting dipped in lava or melted by acid actually hurts and can kill you.”
“Uh, so is Tessa going to join the guild?” Rip asked on the party channel.
Tessa blinked and noticed that the dialog was still hanging in the air in front of her. Lisa had moved in close enough that the window was hovering in front her chest.
“Definitely,” Tessa said and tapping the ‘Ok’ button right over Lisa’s heart without extracting her hand from Lisa’s.
Guild: Second Stars Formed!
Status: Guild Founder Achieved!
Rank: Guild Master (Shared)
Guild Management interface enabled.
Tessa suppressed a squeak of surprise. She’d heard those words in what she knew in her bones was the voice of the system.
“So we can talk on this channel now too?” Rip asked, and Tessa felt a subtle distinction to the sound of the words in her head.
Intuition really shouldn’t have been able to identify that as ‘guild chat’ but she knew it was anyways.
“Apparently so,” Lisa said. “Once we get some more people invited, this will be handy for keeping us all in the loop on what’s happening and for just chatting in general.”
“It looks like we can mute it if we need too,” Lady Midnight said.
“I guess that’s good if some of us want to talk all night and other people want to sleep, right?” Matt asked.
“Organization level channels are also good to silence when you’re working on a task that demands more focus,” Starchild said. “Exploring a dungeon for example.”
“Or if the guild goes off on a tangent you’re not interested in,” Lady Midnight said.
“How will we know if something important comes up though?” Rip asked.
“It looks like there’s a Guild Master channel,” Lisa said. “THIS PROBABLY GOES OUT TO EVERYONE.”
Her telepathic voice wasn’t louder, not precisely, but it did demand attention the same as a loud shout would.
“Okay, not going to use that one again unless we need to,” Lisa said.
“It’s definitely an attention getter,” Obby said. “I’m guessing you have controls to mute us too?”
“Yeah, either individually or globally,” Lisa said. “In AoL, we’ve usually used that during guild meetings. If you’re muted by an officer or a [Guild Master] you can signal us to remove the mute effect. It’s like raising your hand, though for big guild that’s still a pain since you can have five hundred people listening and fifty of them put their hand up every time a question comes up.”
“Hopefully we’ll have that problem someday,” Obby said.
“Aside from the Cooks we talked about earlier, were you planning to go on an invite spree?” Lady Midnight asked.
“Not a spree really,” Lisa said. “I thought we’d invite Kamie and her group since they seem pretty cool.”
“No arguments here,” Obby said.
“Beyond that though, I was thinking we’d be selective,” Lisa said. “I know Lady Midnight and Starchild’s first party didn’t work out so well and it seemed like some of the folks there were a bit toxic? If that’s fair?”
“Quite fair,” Starchild said.
“Toxic and a couple of them were just bad players,” Lady Midnight said.
“I’m okay with growing slowly too,” Obby said. “We don’t need to be friends with everyone in the guild, but everyone should be able to respect everyone else.”
“Having similar goals and interests, or at least one’s that don’t conflict, is probably worth focusing on too,” Tessa said. “The Cooks may not be into leveling up or dungeon crawling, which means we don’t have room for people who think everyone needs to help them level up and run dungeons with them.”
“Yeah, if people have that mindset, they can setup their own guilds and we can coalition with them, assuming they’re not jerks otherwise,” Lisa said.
“What if we find a monster that wants to join us?” Rip asked.
It sounded like a perfectly innocent question, except for the part where Tessa knew it absolutely wasn’t hypothetical.