Preparation was the key to success, which worried Tessa. Lost Alice, Rip Shot, and Matt Painting all looked like they were prepared, with new (if low level) spells, armor, and weapons. Their earlier battles had let them take the first few steps towards forging themselves into a real team. As a team, they’d even checked in with Aimethia and Zibby, who’d returned with a gaggle of lowbies in tow and a reasonably detailed map of the area, including the dungeon they’d discovered and towards which Tessa and her party was traveling.
All of that was great.
It was only Tessa herself who wasn’t ready as far as she could see.
Her armor was fully repaired, her new spells selected, and she’d even organized her pack so that the [Dram of Vitality] healing potions they’d found were within easy reach if she should need them.
Nothing about her kit was out of order. All of the chaos was inside.
Hey, Pillowcase, she tried telepathically whispering to her “other self”, wondering if she could speak with her subconscious (or whatever Pillowcase was) more directly. The words she whispered simply appeared in her private chat log though, the same as if she’d spoken aloud to herself, except in this case no one else could hear her. At least as far as she knew.
Are you going to step up when we get into the thick of things again? Tessa knew she wasn’t going to get a response but as a sort of walking meditation, it seemed like a reasonable method getting her head in order.
I don’t know what we’re going to be facing, she said. I don’t know if whatever skills I get from you are up to handling anything more complex than the centipedes.
She thought back to the fights at the farm. They should have been terrifying. Centipedes as long as she was tall were both disgusting and vicersally disturbing. They were weak by comparison to other monsters, but they’d still hurt her, and for all that the pain of their attacks was diminished due to Pillowcase’s Clothwork body, being chewed on and slashed by monster was scary and more painful than anything she’d run into as an Earthling.
She burned to talk about her concerns with someone. Well, with Alice in particular. Rip and Matt were proving to be solid and dependable, but the last thing they needed was for Tessa to fill them with anxiety and second thoughts.
Alice probably could have handled it, Tessa guessed, but there too the question hung before her; was dumping a load of concerns on Alice really going to do her any good?
Tessa remembered going into a new dungeon as a healer many times. There were so many things which could kill an adventurer and new dungeons could blindside even the most skilled of healers. It wasn’t a great feeling knowing that your party was counting on you to save them and that in many cases you could but only if you saw problems developing soon enough to react to them, and in some cases you just weren’t fast enough.
There were deaths which every healer would agree were not their fault. The person who decided that lava was a great thing to stand on while fighting? Typically they deserved the burning death which awaited them. Those were in the minority on a decent team though. Most of the deaths on a decent team were ones where a healer could say “if only…”
The last thing Alice needs is me dumping my problems on her too, Tessa whispered to Pillowcase.
She knew what her role needed to be. She was the one who’d boldly declared that they should head for the dungeon. She was the inspiring one. The hopeful one. She was the voice of confidence, urging them onwards to dare something new. She was the one they could depend on.
Until she wasn’t. That was what worried her. She knew from too many unpleasant experiences, both in game and in real life, that merely having a positive attitude wasn’t enough. You could try to believe in yourself as much as you wanted and if you weren’t ready for what faced you, all the forward momentum you tried to create would just make it hurt worse when you fell flat on your face.
But that had to be her private pain to deal with.
If she didn’t hide it away, if she revealed that she was the weak link in the group, she’d be sewing doubts and fears which the others shouldn’t have to carry for her.
Better that their bravery, and calm, and peace not be sacrificed to deal with her anxiety.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m getting the jitters, Alice whispered to Tessa telepathically.
Alice had looked so calm and in control that her words were like a planetary collision, sending Tessa’s thoughts reeling off into entirely unforeseen orbits.
What part is bothering you? Tessa asked, her imagination pouncing on the idea that Alice had noticed how weak of a tank Tessa was and had grown rightfully concerned about Tessa making the kind of critical mistakes the party couldn’t recover from.
What would it take before they gave up on her, Tess wondered? Another total party kill? Or would they press on until one of the deaths turned permanent after a [Hound of Fate] caught one of them? Who would it be? Alice? That would be bad, but Rip or Matt would be even worse.
It’s been a long time since I healed at low levels like this, Alice whispered. I don’t have any of the skills I’m used to, and these mobs are nuts. We beat the centipedes but they had abilities like a mob twenty levels higher would have. And they don’t attack in a set rhythm. They fight like real creatures. Probably because they are real now. I just…I just don’t know if I can keep you all safe like I’m supposed to.
Tessa’s thoughts went whirling so far beyond the grip of any gravitic hold she had on them that she let them fly free.
I know what you mean, she said at last, letting honesty set them both free she hoped. I’m not enough of a tank. Not just my build, but me. Even with whatever combat daze Pillowcase give me that seems to carry me through these fights, I can feel all the mistakes I’m making. And there’s probably a ton more I’m not even aware of.
You’re doing just fine there, Alice said. Trust me, I’ve run with plenty of bad tanks, and you’re not one of them. I’m glad we fell in together.
Alice’s words were the ones Tessa should have been longing to hear, and they did fill her heart with a measure of joy but they didn’t magically banish the doubts from her head.
Thanks. I think it’s a mark of how good a healer you are though that I haven’t made any terrible mistakes yet. I mean, I know you’re limited in what you can do, but your support has made everything so far so much easier. I’m glad to be with you too.
Tessa had been thinking of how Alice’s healing had kept the fights so much calmer than they might otherwise have been, but as she said the words she saw that they applied to far more than that.
Having another player, one who was experienced and who was a contemporary rather than younger like Rip and Matt, or older like Aiemethia and Zibby? That had made a world of difference both to Tessa evaluation of their chance of success, and more importantly to her emotional well being. With Alice in her party, Tessa’s world felt a lot less scary. Tessa’s words said more than that though and as they echoed back to her, they sounded far more intimate than she’d intended them to be.
But not necessarily more than she meant.
Which was a problem.
Alice had a girlfriend already, and, however attractive both Alice the vampire character and Alice the human ghost might be, Tessa knew she was definitely not recovered enough from her own disaster of a dating life to be contemplating romance again.
So what do we do? Alice asked, and for a moment Tessa felt like Alice had read her thoughts. Do we turn back? Or find something else to grind on for a while? Neither one of those feels right, does it?
Tessa breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever madness was playing around in the cotton balls that made up her brain, it hadn’t been apparent to Alice. That was perfect. Better to put those kind of thoughts off till later, and by later, never would fit the bill nicely.
No, turning back doesn’t feel right at all, she said. I think we need to do this dungeon. It’s probably the only way we’ll get over these jitters.
Yeah. Part of me knows that. Part of me thinks that part is out to get me killed though. Alice said.
Tessa repressed the urge to give Alice a hug. It was the mode of comfort she’d picked up from her friends, but among people in their mid-twenties things tended to work differently than for people in the early teens. Somehow even emoting a virtual hug seemed too intense with both of them walking so close together as they marched into the foothills of the mountains beyond the plain [Sky’s Edge] lay on.
Part of me agrees with both parts of you, Tessa said. And part of me still believes in what I said originally. We’re ready for this, and in the long run it’ll make us safer.
Well, more powerful at least, Alice said. I’m not sure if being able to go to the higher level zones and get mixed up in end game stuff eventually is going to be ‘safer’ exactly.
Safer than getting mixed up in it at level 1 anyways, Tessa said.
The [Wraithwing] attack had proven that the real [Fallen Kingdoms] they’d been plunged into did not care about playing fair when it came to setting up encounters. That line of thought led to a chilling end point though.
In theory the toughest monsters in the game were safely tucked away at the ends of the most remote dungeons in the game. In the game they were content to remain in their throne rooms, or atop their piles of loot. But what was stopping them from deciding to go for a stroll? Maybe stop by a the local tavern or the nearest walled city? Say with all of their minions from the dungeon in tow?
Who, exactly, would be able to stop them if they decided to eat the aforementioned tavern or city? High level adventurers? Maybe. But what was the chance that there’d happen to be some nearby? Especially ones who were willing to fight and die over and over as typically happened when fighting a mega-boss in a new environment?
Worse, how many high level adventurers would be lost in a fight like that? [Heart Fire Braziers] weren’t indestructible, and a smart foe would make them a top priority, leaving dead adventurers with fewer options for escaping the jaws of the [Hounds of Fate].
We need to get to the level cap as fast as possible, Tessa said as grim scenario after scenario played out in her mind. Well, maybe not literally as fast as possible, she added, I’m still on board with the ‘no killing people’ rule.
Good, Alice said. I’m still a bit worried about what’s happening with your ‘Pillowcase’ personality. It sounds like the start of a disorder.
I get that, Tessa said. I guess I’m not worried because it doesn’t feel like I’m losing control. It’s not exactly deliberate either. More like when I need that side of myself, its there. Kind of like putting on a mask to be braver.
You said Pillowcase has different memories than your Earth life had though right?
Yeah, and they feel real too, Tessa said. I don’t know how to explain that. It might just be something I’m making up, like writing backstory for a character in an RPG as I need it.
It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we’ve run into today if it turned out that they were real though, would it? Alice asked.
No, it wouldn’t. Probably wouldn’t even make it onto the Top Ten list for today.
So far they seem like a good thing, Alice said. Just keep an eye on it ok? Even if you’re able to keep a handle on your character, Matt might run into more trouble if its the kind of thing that can get out of control.
I would never get out of control. My whole purpose is to help keep things under control. It’s what a tank does, Pillowcase said.