Some thresholds are perilous to cross not because of the danger which lurks beyond them but because of the opportunities they offer. Lisa was too staggered by the sight of the library beyond the magic portal to process that thought, but Lost Alice’s reflexes were fast enough for her to grab hold of Tessa’s arm before Tessa could stumble through the door.
“You’re seeing this too, right?” Tessa asked, waving her hand at the cosy scene before them.
“Books, coffee, nice lightning? Yeah,” Lisa said. “Should any of that really be in a place like this?”
Tessa took a step back and finally glanced back at Lisa.
“There’s a slime in there,” she said, gesturing to one of the chairs near the table where the coffee had been laid out.
Lisa hadn’t noticed that at first, nor had Lost Alice. Even with being low level still, basic slimes didn’t register as a threat. Typically slimes filled the role of a cute collectible or odd pet but Lisa had never found them particularly appealing. None of that changed the fact that there was, indeed, a slime waiting for them inside the room.
At roughly the size of a basketball, with a body made of blue jello, it would have been hard to determine what the tear-dropped shaped slime was doing. It was the addition of lighter indentations in the shape of big, wide eyes, little eyebrows, and a remarkably expressive mouth that made it clear the slime was watching them and waiting impatiently for the two of them to enter.
“This screams trap, doesn’t it?” Lisa said. It was phrased as a question but she was certain she knew the answer already.
Doors to magical chambers didn’t tend to fly open when random people walked by them unless the point was to lure those random people to their doom.
“I think you just described this whole place,” Tessa said.
“Yeah, I guess the Ruins are a dungeon.” Lisa had known it was perilous venturing into them but, as with many terrible decisions, it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
“I was thinking more the world in general,” Tessa said. “That slime’s not normal.”
“Not normal how?” Lisa asked. It smelled like a slime, at least as far as Lost Alice could remember. It wobbled like one too. Even the fine details which made up its ‘face’ seemed to match other slimes. If it was an illusion, it was an exceptional one.
“I don’t know. It just looks off,” Tessa said and then started forward. “Let’s go find out.”
Lisa could have stopped her. She was faster and stronger than Tessa, but more importantly, Tessa would listen to her.
Walking into the room was a bad idea. At the least, it would delay they from reuniting with their friends, and if the trap was meant for higher level characters they might never manage to escape it at all.
But Tessa’s voice held a certainty Lisa hadn’t often heard in it. Her partner knew something, maybe not yet consciously, but if that was enough to get Tessa to walk into some new and strange hell, Lisa wasn’t going to let her deal with it alone.
“What are you,” the slime said as they crossed the magical threshold into the [Library Primordial].
“You can talk,” Tessa said.
Lisa was surprised to find the two glaring at each other with the slime apparently so focused on Tessa as to be unaware of the presence of a [Vampire] in front of him. Tessa still knew she was there though, as witness by her reaching out and threading her fingers through Lisa’s without taking her gaze off the slime. Lisa was touched by the gesture until it occurred to her that Tessa was probably trying to hold her back as much as seek comfort in her touch.
“What are you.” The slime was hardly in a position to be imposing. It was blobbed onto the chair and, presumably, capable of little more than bouncing to the floor. It’s tone suggested a far more imperious mindset than the body seemed capable of supporting though.
“Hmm, I wonder if these books are real?” Tessa asked, lifting her gaze from the slime to take in the endless stacks of books around them.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” the slime said.
“And you’re not supposed to be able to talk,” Lisa said.
“Do you know who I am?” the slime asked as though it were impossible someone wouldn’t be familiar with him.
“The coffee’s probably not real either,” Tessa said. “That’s a shame.”
“Aptomos sent you,” the slime said. “Where is he? I am going to melt him down to sludge.”
“I don’t think so,” Tessa said, returning her gaze to the slime. “You need us.”
“You have no idea who I am, do you? I’ve never needed anyone. Now where is Aptomos?”
“You’re Dav’kralthrax,” Tessa said. “Also known as David Kralt.”
Lisa recognized both names and drew in a sharp breath, despite [Vampires] not particularly needing air.
Dav’kralthrax was a figure from the deep lore of [Broken Horizons]. In the backstory of the game though, he wasn’t a slime. He was the [First Dragon], born from the [Primordial Chaos] before the world was forged, or perhaps he was the [Primordial Chaos], the mythology of the [Fallen Kingdoms] was intentionally sketchy on the subject.
His fire was supposedly responsible for casting the stars into the sky and kindling the fledgling sun.
For all his vaunted place in the mythology though, Dav’kralthrax didn’t appear in the game at all, and had no items or areas which related to him. In theory that was a result of the lore which spoke of Dav’s destruction prior to the forming of the [Heavenly Kingdoms].
In reality though, Dav’kralthrax wasn’t reference in anything beyond the oldest development materials because the [First Dragon] was the avatar for the game’s original lead developer.
David Kralt. The man whom Egress Entertainment was contractually required to credit as the designer of [Broken Horizons] despite the fact that he’d been “moved to other projects” after the first year of development, four years before the game even launched, and who had contributed nothing to its growth or popularity thereafter.
What had been a simple trek to meet up with their teammates a bit early had been a frantic rush to reach them before tragedy could overtake them. Jamal wished he could be surprised by that.
“Hey, if we find more of the [Disjoined], let me be the first to engage them ok?” Rose asked on their private channel.
“If we find more [Disjoined], I thought the plan was to out run them?” Jamal said.
“It is,” Rose said. “But you’ve seen how our plans have been going.”
“Ok, fair enough,” Jamal said. “But what do you mean ‘let you engage them’? Why wouldn’t we both blast them to bits?”
“If they’re going to come after someone, it should probably be me,” Rose said.
“Cause [Archers] are tougher than [Dream Spinners]?” Jamal said with a laugh. “We’re both squishy as hell.”
“Yeah, but I can move faster,” Rose said.
“How? We both run at the same speed,” Jamal said. “Well, sort of.”
Rose was definitely moving faster than the baseline run speed all of the adventurers seemed to be able to maintain.
“I picked up a couple of movement abilities,” Rose said. “I can use either one for a quick escape if I need it.”
“Wait, when did you level?”
“I didn’t.” Rose was moving through the cavernous passageways at a full run so Jamal couldn’t see her face but he still felt like she was shyly turning away from something.
“How did you pick up a new ability then?”
“My class changed.” She said it like it was a minor bit of trivia, which screamed at Jamal just how important it was.
He checked her entry in the party list and saw that she still had the same bow icon beside her name, denoting her as an [Archer], but when he pulled up her stat sheet he saw she was indeed telling the truth.
“What’s a [Lightning Archer] and how did you…oh god, wait, you didn’t?” Jamal knew exactly where her new class had come from with a moments thought but even knowing that he had no idea what it might mean for her.
“It’s a really cool class!” Rose said, her excitement bubbling out of her.
“You made a deal with the [Lord of Storms]? What did you have to give them?”
“Nothing!” Rose said a tad too quick. “Well, nothing specific. I just have to believe in them. You know, to like, feed them god energy.”
“You’re worshipping a living thunderstorm who we met one time?” Jamal asked. It didn’t surprise him all that much. Rose wasn’t adverse to cheating when she had to win. The thought that there was any actual devotion behind her pledge to the [Lord of Storms] seemed ludicrous though.
But then so did the fact that they were in a fantasy world, and he was joined to a mechanical man with a soul.
With his soul.
The part of Jamal’s brain that processed theological questions was so overloaded by everything around him that he knew he wasn’t considering even the simplest implications of it all but, despite that, the idea of saying prayers to a deity from a game seemed deeply weird.
“It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of rules,” Rose said. “I’m just kind of making it up as I go. I figure if I get something wrong, I can just go ask them.”
“Except they packed up their stuff and bundled themself away in some pocket realm that no one can reach for a thousand years,” Jamal said.
“Sounds pretty godly to me,” Rose said.
Jamal frowned. She didn’t usually tease him about religious stuff.
“Not that they’re a big G ‘God’,” Rose said hastily. “I’m not taking this that seriously. The way I look at it, the [Lord of Storms] is one of the creators of this world. They’re probably the avatar of one of the original designers. That doesn’t make them all knowing or all powerful, but it does mean that they can act like a patron, kind of. So my job is to remember that they’re real and alive and part of the world.”
“Aren’t they dead though?” Jamal asked.
“Do dead people talk to us?”
“Does Lost Alice count?”
“No. She’s not dead. And she better stay like that,” Rose said. “And anyways we’ve been dead here. It’s not the same.”
“Yeah, nothing is,” Jamal said, thinking of the whirring gear noises he made as he ran, trying to keep up with Rose, Lady Midnight and the [Lightning Serpents].
“You are,” Rose said.
Jamal laugh briefly enough that the chat log just showed an emoji.
“This is what I normally look like to you?” he said.
“No, not that. Obviously,” Rose said. “I mean you. The real you. You’re still as awesome as you’ve ever been. Now you can just blow people up with spells too, which is even cooler!”
“You’re still you too though,” Jamal said.
“I don’t think so,” Rose said. “I feel like I’m a lot more like Rip Shot than I used to be. I could never be this brave without her.”
“Wait, have you ever met my friend Rose? Maybe looked in the mirror? Cause she’s like the definition of bravery,” Jamal said.
Jamal had never understood why “you cry like a girl” was considered an insult, mostly because he’d seen Rose cry and knew exactly how bad an idea it was to drive it her to tears. She was his best friend. She was a kind and wonderful soul. God help you though if you made her cry. All her restraint and mercy flowed right out with her tears.
“I think I always had her with me,” Rose said. “She’s the me who can handle stuff like this. I just didn’t use to be able to call that part of me up so easily.”
“And I didn’t use to be able to hold my focus as well,” Rip Shot said. “Being aware of my ‘Rose side’ has definitely made me a better [Archer].”
“You sounded different there,” Jamal said. “Are there really two of you?”
“No,” Rip said and Rose continued, “This is all me.” Rip switched back in for “it’s just a matter of who I focus on being at any particular moment.” Rose finished up by asking, “Doesn’t Matt talk to you?”
“Not like that,” Jamal said and felt a strange ripple pass through gears.
“He hasn’t needed me to yet,” Matt Painting said.