Tessa felt like she was tap dancing around the edge of an endless abyss. The shock of seeing a dialog appear in her normal vision, or more accurately, the shock of seeing proof that she was far from normal anymore, hadn’t been enough to send her tumbling over the edge into madness.
On it’s own it wouldn’t have even come close.
But Tessa had been through a rather intense couple of days.
She could forgive herself for being pretty wobbly.
Heck even if everything else had been unremarkable, hearing someone she liked say they liked her back would have left her spinning and off balance for a while.
Rip’s question wasn’t in that league. It wasn’t even intrinsically concerning or surprising. The simple answer to ‘can a monster join a guild’ was ‘no’. Monsters weren’t people. They weren’t even individually distinct. Most were generic copies of the same critter type like “Sand Crab] or [Hell Raptor]. The few named, and theoretically individual ones, like [Lashferelle the Forge Lord] still weren’t singular entities, since a dungeon party who fought to the center of the [The Forge of Sorrows] would encounter their own version of Lashferelle regardless of how many other parties were fighting their own versions of the final battle.
But that was what was true in the game.
“Who would like to join the guild?” Tessa asked, a suspicion rising from her bones that the answer would be different for the prospects Rip had found.
“You remember Baelgritz, right?” Rip said. “We ran into him and Illuthiz and Hermeziz.”
“And they want to join an [Adventurers] guild?” Lisa asked.
“They were curious if it was possible,” Matt said.
“Normally no,” Lady Midnight said. “Or at least it wasn’t in the game. Guilds were for players only.”
“I have a feeling things will work a little differently here,” Tessa said.
“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “I tried typing in Baelgritz name and nothing came up on the invite screen.”
“Try again, but do it from the search window,” Tessa said. “Don’t search for him directly though, just do an area search for ‘all’. That should show [Adventurers] and any other creatures we’ve encountered and know about.”
“Six years you haven’t played with this interface and you still remember that?” Lisa asked.
“Our tanks never wanted to make parties, so I always had to send out the invites and then promote the tank to leader once everyone was assembled,” Tessa said.
“I’m not complaining, I’m just impressed,” Lisa said. “Oh, and it worked. I can see him and invite him. If we want.”
“Why did you have to do it like that?” Matt asked.
“I’m guessing his name isn’t ‘Baelgritz’, not exactly,” Tessa said. “That’s probably close but it’s like ‘Olaf’ and ‘Ölaf’. We simplify the one with the umlaut when we type on American keyboards but the game client could be picky about the difference sometimes. I know we don’t have keyboards here, but I figured something similar might be happening.”
“I am glad you understood how to correct for that,” Starchild said. “It does leave us with the question of if we want them to be in the guild though?”
“We’ve talked a bit about adding crafters, this would be a big step beyond non-leveling [Adventurers] though, so we should put some thought into it,” Lisa said.
“I think the first question is whether anyone is definitely opposed to the idea,” Tessa said. Sheknew that trying to have a reasonable discussion when someone had already definitively made up their mind was an exercise in futility.
Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case.
“I’m okay with it,” Rip said.
“Me too,” Matt said. “They’re nicer than they look. And they’re Science Nerds, which, you know, is cool.”
“If they would ally with us, I would welcome them,” Starchild said.
Tessa wondered how Pete felt about the situation. It had been a while since he’d spoken through Starchild. He wasn’t the next to speak though.
“I have a concern, but it’s not about them joining us,” Lady Midnight said.
“What’s that?” Rip asked.
“I take it you ran into them while you were out exploring?” Lady Midnight asked.
“We’re still in town,” Obby said, “But we’re poking around the outskirts. They had the same thought as us in terms of finding trouble before trouble decided to sneak up on us.”
“They’re not particularly high level though, right?” Lady Midnight asked.
“No. They were doing their best to manage in the starter dungeon we found them in,” Obby said.
“Do they know how dangerous that is for them?” Lady Midnight asked.
“They do, but Illuthiz and Baelgritz think there’s a lot here that they can study,” Matt said.
“And Hermeziz just seems to be crabby because he’s worried about them,” Rip said.
“He’s worried about them?” Matt asked.
“Yeah, can’t you tell?” Rip asked.
“Uh no?” Matt said.
“Look at them. Bael and Illu are both like an inch away from that plant and what’s Herm doing?”
“He’s been complaining at them non-stop since they started,” Matt said.
“Yeah, but look how close he is and how he’s keeping an eye out on everything they can’t see,” Rip said.
“So he’s just scared to be out here?” Matt said. “I mean I can’t blame him.”
“He’s not scared,” Rip said. “He doesn’t have his weapon drawn, and he’s not bothering to check the angle the other two can see. He trusts them. He just doesn’t trust what the world might do to them.”
“That’s a good enough argument for me,” Obby said. “These three might look like demons, but they’re good people.”
“Were you worried that they might need our protection?” Lisa asked.
“Not that specifically,” Lady Midnight said. “I don’t think any of us would mind watching over people who were in danger. I was more concerned that they might want to join us so they could follow us into places they really shouldn’t be going.”
“We might be able to protect them in a dungeon, but that’s a lot to hang a ‘might’ on. They don’t get second chances if we’re wrong about that,” Tessa said.
“We could leave that to them, and to Yawlorna,” Rip said.
“With how excited they are by a funky looking weed, there’s probably a good chance they’d wind up trying a dungeon on their own too,” Matt said.
“Or, we could bring them back samples to work with,” Lisa said. “So they wouldn’t have to go into the kind of crazy danger [Adventurers] can handle.”
“I could see that being appealing to them. Or at least to their boss,” Lady Midnight said.
“So does that affect your feelings on them joining the guild?” Lisa asked.
“Oh, I don’t have any problems with that,” Lady Midnight said. “I just wanted to make sure they weren’t getting into something that’d be dangerously over their heads.”
“Which means we only need one more vote,” Lisa said.
“Whose?” Tessa asked.
“Uh,” Lisa said and poked Tessa in the chest. “You get a vote too.”
“Oh, right, sorry, I’m used to being the one collecting the votes. I’m okay with them joining, but I think we’ll want to run it by Yawlorna first. I don’t want her to think we’re poaching her team away from her.”
“Probably good to have that as a group discussion with all of them present,” Lisa said. “Nothing secret, no hurt feelings, everything on the table in terms of what we can and can’t do.”
“We may want to include the crafters we have in mind to ask to join too,” Starchild said. “I gather what we are constructing will not be a very typical guild. People should have a chance to know what they’re signing up for.”
“Should we do that soon so other people don’t snap up all the good crafters before we can?” Rip asked.
Tessa’s pulse quickened at the idea. Competition for resources was something games had differing stances on. Some made it a foundational aspect of play, pitting players against each other for everything from gathering herbs to accessing housing. Others took a different approach and made the game’s resources accessible only through cooperation.
[Broken Horizons] lived in the middle ground between those extremes but there was one resource no game could make freely available – other players.
“No,” Tessa said. “We can talk to the people who look like a good fit and let them know they’re welcome to join us. If there’s someone who’s really dedicated and they want to team up with another group though, that’s fine. We brought a lot of people through the gate from the [High Beyond] but we’re still a small community here. I’m sure there’ll be drama between the groups that form, but the friendlier we try to keep things, the happier everyone’s going to be.”
“It’s not uncommon for people to switch guilds a few times when they’re starting out too,” Lisa said. “If we want someone, we’ll do a lot better letting them know that and then respecting their choice rather than trying to pressure them to join us when they’ll be unhappy to be in the guild.”
“We talked about having a celebration tonight, didn’t we?” Rip asked. “Should we ask them all then?”
“That would give us a chance to see how well the people we have in mind seem to get along with each other?” Tessa said.
“We’ll want to plan for a reasonably short run into the fields then,” Lisa said. “If we spend too long hunting the [Cursed Walkers] everyone will be asleep when we get back.”
“There’s also the [Blood Fire] if we wanted to try that still,” Tessa said.
“We probably should,” Lisa said. “Assuming our injured people don’t turn into zombies before the party’s over.”
“Are we pushing things too far there?” Rip asked.
“Glimmerglass thinks we have some time,” Lady Midnight said. “I wouldn’t say the subjects are exactly stable, or that we have a good understanding of the pathology but based on how our healing spells seem to be interacting with their infections, it appears that we’re holding them where they are.”
“I suspect that will change if the main body of the [Hungry Shadow] manages to get through the gate,” Tessa said. “In that case though, we’ll probably have a lot more to worry about than people being zombified.”
“If they’re infected can the infection spread?” Matt asked.
“It hasn’t shown signs of spreading yet,” Lady Midnight said.
“We’ve got a theory that it’s a long term status effect,” Lisa said. “If that’s true, it may be that only a [Hungry Shadow] can inflict it.”
“Of course if the end goal of the status effect is to turn the victim into a [Hungry Shadow] then the problem can become exponential as quickly as it can convert people,” Tessa said.
“If the Shadows are offshoots from the main creature, that they’re not getting worse might be a sign that the [Hungry Shadow] is too busy to try to possess them at the moment.” Obby said.
“We’ll have to hope that it stays that busy for a while then,” Tessa said. “I doubt our first trip to the [Blood Fires] is going to give us a [True Panacea] or anything like that.”
“With how the last few days have been going?” Lisa asked. “I’d believe anything at this point.”
“With how the last few days have gone, I’m thinking we’re more likely to come back with a whole new and exciting [Plague] of our own,” Tessa said.
She was joking.
“Is it okay to invite Bael, Illum and Herme to the party at least?” Rip asked. “Cause I kind of already did.”
“Nope,” Lisa said. “Now you’re going to have to break their hearts and tell them they can’t come.”
“What!?” Rip said.
“God you’re gullible,” Lisa said. “Yes, of course invite them. That’s what we should all be doing. If you’ve run into anyone who seems like they’d be a good fit with the rest of us, tell them to swing by.”
“We’ll have free loot and prizes to give out too!” Obby said.
Tessa could see the snowball starting to build and clung to the hope that it would roll up a bunch of good memories rather than rolling over them all and flattening them like disaster pancakes.