It was time to get moving. Tessa knew that, but she really didn’t want to. Not when the alternative was to stay where she was, wrapped up in Lost Alice’s arms.
“It sounds like we’ve got a plan,” Lisa said, addressing the others on the chat line as much as Tessa who was close enough to hear her actual voice.
They were still more or less sprawled on the ground of the room they’d been blasted into. A tiny, but surprisingly well lit cavern which had definitely been carved by someone with a plan for the space. The door at the far end was proof of that.
The closed door.
Tessa suspected that would be a problem, but it was a problem for a Tessa who’d decided to give up on Lost Alice’s soft and chilly embrace and that Tessa clearly had her priorities scrambled so she deserved problems like that.
“It’s not a great plan, but it’ll should keep them out of trouble. Hopefully,” Lisa said, limiting that comment to the private channel she shared with Tessa.
“It’s weird that I’m starting to think of Rip and Matt as our responsibility isn’t it?” Tessa said, giving voice to the thought as it stumbled to the forefront of her exhausted mind.
“Probably,” Lisa said. “But I’m doing the same thing, and compared to everything else that’s happening I’m not sure adopting a pair of lost little fledglings really even cracks into the ‘Top 100 Strangest Things I Did Today’ list.”
“Now I’m picturing Matt as a little duck inside that armor.” Tessa laughed, needing the moment of levity more than she’d known.
“That would be adorable. Sitting in a little chair, with a little headset on, tapping buttons with his bill,” Lisa said. She hadn’t pulled her arms away yet and Tessa saw no reasons to bring this fact to her attention.
“Oh god, I’m going to trying to peek inside his armor every time we see him now,” Tessa said, shaking her head.
“What is in there?” Lisa asked.
“Gears I think?” Tessa said. “Pillowcase is full of enchanted fluff basically, and I think that sort of thematic construction is how all the [Artifax] are put together.”
“Was it weird being filled with stuffing?” Lisa asked.
“It probably should have been, but that was what Pillowcase had always known and since it felt normal to her, it felt normal to me. How about – I wanted to say ‘being filled with blood’ but I want it on the record that I realized how stupid that was before the words left my mouth.”
“You probably meant ‘being a vampire’, and it’s pretty much the same I think,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice has been a vampire for a while so she’s used it. Mostly. It’s a little weird for her still, so I get that too.”
“I’m glad it’s not too freaky for you,” Tessa said. “This place is hard enough, but at least whatever mind-body magic we got whammied with seems to be handling acclimating us pretty well.”
“So is this your real body? Or, I mean, is it Tessa’s real body. I know the other one was Pillowcase’s real body. Sorry Pillow,” Lisa said.
Tessa looked at her hands and glanced down her chest and legs. Everything seemed more or less what she was used to seeing in the mirror. She even had on one of her nice T-shirts.
Except it wasn’t the one she’d been wearing when she was drawn into the [Fallen Kingdoms].
Neither were the sweatpants the ones she’d been wearing. She had a similar question about her socks but they were non-descript enough that she couldn’t be sure.
“Yeah, this is me,” she said, feeling just a bit self conscious in the arms of the artistically perfect vampire.
“I like your shirt,” Lisa said, pulling back at last to get a better look at Tessa.
The shirt in question had a top line which read: “1,000,000 HP” and a line below it in much tinier print which said: “(not really but it scares the literate monsters)”.
“Thanks,” Tessa said, not sure how to read the vampiric gaze which seemed to be drinking her in. “I don’t think it’ll do much to stop any of the monsters here though.”
“Yeah, these robes I’m in are probably a ten times as sturdy and I’m still a ‘squishy’,” Lisa said. “Do you have anything else you could equip? You’ll need some shoes if nothing else.”
“I don’t think so,” Tessa said and reached over to the bag which was hanging at her side. “I didn’t get a chance to pack I’m afraid.”
Reaching into the inventory bag was weird and unsettling and so far below getting blasted out of existence that Tessa wasn’t even consciously aware of how strange it felt. Her hand plunged into the extra-planar space and came back with a pair of sturdy boots in her exact size as well as a tunic, breeches, and cloak which was almost as soft as Lost Alice’s embrace.
“Where did you get those?” Lisa asked, running her finger down the intricate stitchwork on the cloak’s collar.
“They were in the bag, and, they’re mine. Like, I can feel they’re bound to me already. But I never had magic clothes before?” Tessa said, worried for a moment about what sort of contract she might be agreeing to if she put on her new garb.
“I think these are really only for you too,” Lisa said. “I called up the stats on this cloak and the only class that can equip it is ‘[VS]’.”
“[Void Speaker]? But that’s not even a real class in the game?” Tessa said.
“Apparently it is now,” Lisa said. “And maybe it was before too?”
“What makes you say that?” Tessa asked, feeling the comforting heft of the tunic. Even without seeing the stats, she was sure the fabric, or more precisely the spells woven in it, would protect her from lesser forms of damage. Things like minor claw attacks, peasant arrows, machine gun fire. The easy stuff.
“This is a [Heritage] piece,” Lisa said. “They introduced those to the game a few years ago. It’ll grow with you as you level. It’s basically the best stuff you can wear until you hit the level cap.”
Tessa knew that was good news, but the implication that there was someone else who held the [Void Speaker] class before her seemed ominous. She was only just learning what she could do and she’d already fractured a god’s soul off someone. What might a max level [Void Speaker] be capable of?
The blast from the [God Soul] had propelled Rose and Jamal and Lady Midnight upwards. It was strange though since even with as high as they’d been shot – and to Rose it felt like they’d been thrown a mile or two upwards – they’d still landed within the confines of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]. What was stranger was that the stone and earth they’d been blasted through showed no signs of being affected by their passage.
“So did things like this happen in the game version of [Broken Horizons]?” Rose asked.
“Things like what?” Lady Midnight asked. She was fishing around in her inventory and came out with a small milky orb after a little searching.
“The [God Soul] thing,” Rose said. “And the [Formless Hunger] and all the stuff we’ve been running into.”
Rose waved her hands to take in the world around them, but her thoughts were centered on the [God Soul]. She’d felt the power that Tessa had held and she had a clear and specific idea of what she would have done with it.
After saving Lost Alice of course.
She couldn’t fault Tessa for that.
Lost Alice had to come first.
But if she could have maybe only used half the [God Soul] to heal Lost Alice? Rose shivered at the idea of what the [Lord of Storms] could have done with half a [God Soul].
Live again maybe? Even if it was only for a little while, that might have been enough to inspire the belief required to bring them back to life all the way.
“Yeah, we’ve had things like that before,” Lady Midnight said. “Not a [God Soul] specifically, but the high end gear gets pretty esoteric. The developers weren’t shy about hyperbole early on and with each expansion they had to add stuff that was that much more powerful than what we’d gotten in the previous one.”
“So we could find something like a [God Soul] again?” Rose asked, wheels turning in her mind to slot in the “[Ruins of Heaven’s Grave]” and the fact that they’d already met a god with the possibility that any further deific artifacts were likely laying somewhere relatively nearby.
“My other character’s an archer and she’s got a [Bifrost Bow],” Lady Midnight said. “When she needs to go somewhere she can summon a literal rainbow to teleport her there. And one of her arrows is called [Ra’s Wrath] which is, basically, a nuclear bomb. The flavor text says is strikes with the ‘fire of the sun’, which means a big ball of nuclear fusion.”
“How would you ever fire a thing like that?” Jamal asked.
“It’s got a limited area of effect,” Lady Midnight said. “Anything inside the area gets nuked, but if you’re standing two inches outside the area you’re fine. Also it’s only usable in cutscenes or for scripted events, so it’s basically just a mechanics cheat. Otherwise you’d be able to grief other players a little too easily.”
“Where do you get that?” Rose asked, her eyes alight with the prospect of being able to nuke enemies with her bow.
“One of the second tier raids, [Well of Infinity],” Lady Midnight said. “It’s one of the 64 man raids though and competition for the loot is ridiculous. I had to grind that one for a year and a half before I was able to get a drop. God, the stories I could tell about that whole mess!”
“Why don’t you?” Jamal suggested. “We’re supposed to wait here for the others to show up right? Might as well learn what the game was all about. Some of that stuff might still be true in this place.”
“Well in that case you probably want to hear about the technical stuff,” Lady Midnight said. “What kind of tactics we used and that sort of thing. All the guild drama ‘s hopefully a thing of the past.”
“Why would it be?” Rose asked.
“Because now what we’re doing actually does matter,” Lady Midnight said. “Raiding in the game was an exercise in perseverance, basically trading your time to gear up your character so you’d be judged as ‘worthy to hang with the cool kids’. Here though? I’m all too happy to let the cool kids throw themselves in the meat grinder fights.”
“Is that what the other players are doing now?” Rose asked.
“A lot of the ones I know,” Lady Midnight said. “Well, a lot of the ones I like. I know there’s a bunch who decided to scamper off and do their own thing. And a few who just didn’t want to fight at all, which is fair I think.”
“Yeah, this isn’t what they signed up for when they logged in, is it?” Jamal said.
“I mean, it kind of is, though, isn’t it?” Rose asked. “If I’d known I could log into a real fantasy world, and be like this?” She gestured to Rip Shot’s whole body. “I would have dove in here as soon as I could click the mouse!”
“Yeah, but some of them probably have jobs and stuff,” Jamal said.
“And bills,” Lady Midnight said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to pay my rent with gold pieces.”
“So why go back?” Rose asked.
“We’ll have to, won’t we?” Lady Midnight said. “Or…”
“Or we can stay here,” Rose said. “I know Rip wouldn’t mind us staying together. Her and I that is. We were made for each other.”
“Same for me and Matt,” Jamal said.
“What about your families though?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I’m thinking we’re going to adopt Lost Alice and Pillowcase,” Rose said. “And anyone who else wants in.”
“It’d be nice to have a good family for a change,” Jamal said.