Fishing was a peaceful activity. Unlike the din of battle, it allowed one to simply relax and take in the sights and sounds that were otherwise all too easy to overlook. The quiet harmony of it was what had drawn Melissa to dedicate a rather monumental amount of time to becoming a [Grandmaster of All Waters] in the [Fallen Kingdoms].
It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy adventuring too. She would run any dungeons her guild was interested in tackling, and grind away seasonal quests or loot drops for rare but interesting items. When left to her own devices though, she was happy to login, find an out-of-the-way body of water and proceed to play the rather simple fishing mini-game for hours on end.
She tended to “zone in” when she fished, not drifting off into a mental haze, but rather allowing the world around her to melt away so that only Feral Fang’s world filled her consciousness.
Waking up in the [Fallen Kingdoms] hadn’t been all that disorienting for her as a result. It had been surprising certainly. Watching a body that she’d never been particularly comfortable in fizz away in a shower of white light only to wake up wearing one that she’d more or less hand designed had been a delight, as had feeling the twinned memories of ‘Melissa’ and ‘Feral Fang’, cozily taking up space in her mind, each as accessible as the other.
Where the people around her had been distressed to various degrees and at a loss for what to do, Melissa had known immediately where she was and what needed to happen.
Feral Fang and three of her guildmates had been running one of the early dungeons from the previous expansion, in part to kill time, and in part to gear up one of the newer players while Melissa waited for Pete to finish making his character so she could power level him up.
Only later did she learn that there she couldn’t have made it to the [High Beyond] with clearing one of the new dungeons first, so Pete would have been waiting a week or two before Feral Fang’s guild could put together a successful run. That turned out not be an issue though, since the devs shut down access to the dungeon they needed and then all thoughts of running max level content vanished when the [Fallen Kingdoms] become joyously, wonderfully, terribly real.
“You know, I feel a little bad hanging out here,” Jestrix said. The nominal leader of Feral Fang’s team gestured to the night shrouded glen where a few hundred people had set up camp.
Above them the stars blazed brighter than any Melissa had ever seen on Earth. Some of them were old guideposts, constellations the developers had put into the game which changed throughout the game year to reflect the lore of the world. Melissa had learned their patterns and invented a few of her own as she whiled away time drowning various bits of bait in search of the rare and legendary catches hiding in the world.
It was because she knew the patterns of the stars so well that she was able to see the new arrivals for what they were. Silver gleams from the hulls of nearest parts of the Consortium’s forces. They were part of the terrible reality before Melissa but from a planetary distance they at least held the illusion of beauty.
“I’m ok with it,” Melissa said.
“I am too,” Jesterix said. “But, I mean, should I be? Shouldn’t I want to be out there? Fighting the good fight?”
“I’ve seen you fight the good fight plenty of times,” Melissa said. “Or do you not recall when you and your 110lb noodle arms got all up in that evangelical guy’s face at Pride?”
“I recall that if you weren’t there, he and his army of rabid pamphlet wavers would have flattened me,” Jesterix said.
“Well, I was the one he called a ‘lady boy’, so I couldn’t exactly let you get pummeled alone,” Melissa said.
“That’s what I mean though,” Jesterix said. “In our world, where we don’t have unbelievable magic powers and an inability to die, we didn’t hesitate to step up when we needed to. Here though? Here we’re not really doing anything.”
“I’m fishing,” Melissa said, casting another worm to a soggy end.
Jesterix put her hands on her hips and frowned.
“You know what I mean. We could be out there on the front lines.”
“We could be,” Melissa said. “These people have been safe so far. We could probably abandon them, leave them in this strange and otherwise undefended place, trusting that it’s isolation really will be better protection than the homes we took them away from and head off to go seek glory and xps.”
Jesterix looked like she was struggling between Daisy’s impulses towards selfless heroism and Jesterix’s calculated self-preservation.
Melissa didn’t have that problem. Some of the other adventurers didn’t seem to have much connection with their character. For Melissa though, her bond with Feral Fang went beyond ‘connection’. There was no line between them, no difference in their voices, no gap in perceptions or thoughts.
When Melissa spoke, it was with Feral Fang’s voice, and Feral Fang’s experience, and Feral Fangs desires, in a large part because Feral Fang had always been an aspirational version of who Melissa really was.
Melissa knew she’d done a few brave things, and Feral Fang had been a manifestation of the desire to do even more. Melissa had found a measure of peace with herself once she was able to be honest about who she was to herself and her family, and in Feral Fang she’d been able to sink into that peace be it in the serenity of fishing or the thrill of a pitched battle.
Feral Fang was always what she was, and she was always what Melissa had hoped to be, so when the two met, there was no wall between them, no distance to cross, and no lack of understanding to bridge.
She didn’t know it, but if there was a natural antithesis to the [Disjoined], Melissa Bookman was the living embodiment of it.
With Penny at least asleep, Niminay let herself finally relax. It had been an awful day. Too much destruction. Too much death. Too many lost battles.
But it could have been so much worse.
The [Greater Powers] in the world were still at rest, either because they wished the defenders of the [Fallen Kingdoms] to expend their forces against the new invader, or because Penny had requested that they keep their powers hidden from the Consortium for the time being, or, in several cases, because their power was tied up with their dominion and outside their lairs they were no stronger than any of the individual adventurers who were already fighting.
It was only a matter of time until that changed and the battles transcended the mortal struggles the [Fallen Kingdoms] had seen over the last several days to become clashes which rocked the heavens.
Niminay, like the other adventurers of her stature, could contend with gods made flesh, but those fights always came with a cost, and defending anything but herself during them was rarely possible.
If anyone could prevent those catastrophic battles from occurring though, it was the woman who lay in her arms, snoring adorably away. The woman who, if Niminay knew her, and she did, was probably literally dreaming up the solution to their problems.
And yet people didn’t see Penny as the hero she so clearly was.
And not because of her unique [Skills], endless depth of knowledge or supreme analytic capabilities. Those were the tools she used, but what made Penny a hero in Niminay’s eyes was what she used them for.
Penny didn’t strive to simply win. Anyone with an ounce of cleverness could win a difficult battle. What Penny fought for was a specific sort of world. One that was kinder and more compassionate than the one she lived in each day.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t painless. Sometimes, it wasn’t even possible. That didn’t stop Penny, and that was one of the many reasons that Niminay had, in the quiet corners of her heart, pledged herself to Penny in this life and any they could find beyond it, whether they’d had a wedding or no.
Still it would have been nice to make it official.
She did say if I brought down the Consortium flagship we could get married on the bridge? Niminay turned the idea over in mind, savoring the challenge of it.
She couldn’t ‘win’ Penny with a grand gesture. The only way to be worth of Penny’s love was to be given it freely and to reciprocate it in kind.
That said though, grand gestures did have their place.
For example, announcing things clearly to the rest of the world.
Also, in this case, clearing up some free time for a honeymoon by eliminating the main pile of work on Penny’s desk.
It wasn’t really possible to take down the Consortium’s flag ship of course. Niminay knew that. It was far too heavily defended. And kept well out of range of any strike team the defenders of the [Fallen Kingdoms] could send against it. And surrounded by enemy ships even if Niminay could manage to take it over.
Niminay couldn’t stop nibbling on the idea though.
The flag ship would house the [Supreme Commander] of the Consortium’s forces. The same [Supreme Commander] who Penny was worried about being a ‘smart foe’.
Niminay knew how Penny thought. Labeling someone a ‘smart foe’ meant that they were at least roughly on Penny’s level, which was a terrifying thought and an even worse reality.
The only benefit to having a ‘smart foe’ that Niminay could see was that it meant the enemy had a target of oversized value. The [Supreme Commander] was able to use the Consortium’s forces to a far greater effect that a lesser leader could manage, accomplishing a world wide invasion with armies smaller than one the first one which they’d crushed and thrown back decisively. To do so though required an insight of the forces involved and a complexity of thought which no lesser leader was likely to be able to do duplicate.
Eliminating the [Supreme Commander] would not only remove the force multiplier which they provided to the Consortium’s forces, the entire operation might fall apart as their replacement struggled to understand even the basics of what their predecessor had been planning.
Niminay knew Penny had considered this already. Probably from several thousand angles. That there wasn’t a strike force already formed to get the job done meant that the most brilliant mind Niminay knew had decided it was an unfeasible strategy.
In any other situation, Niminay’s respect for Penny’s brilliance would have convinced her to drop the idea there, but Niminay knew a little about the limits Penny placed on the plans she adopted.
Penny loved Niminay. Niminay knew that, and she knew that meant Penny would never send her on a mission that wasn’t possible. By preference, Penny didn’t even like sending Niminay on missions where she was likely to lose, which Niminay could appreciate both in a person sense and a tactical one.
When Niminay viewed herself as a resource, she knew that she was more valuable being utilized in battles where she would emerge unscathed. She could be the deciding factor in dozens of fights, as she had earlier that day, but only if she wasn’t disabled or captured by an enemy she wasn’t able to deal with quickly.
What Penny didn’t plan for though, and would never plan for, was that Niminay was more than a resource, and more than the woman who loved her utterly.
Before she’d been anything else, Niminay had been an adventurer, and in her soul she always would be.
And what did adventurer’s do when faced with impossible odds?
The impossible of course.