The deep reaches of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] were a far cry from the sunlit glades and shadow dappled forests Starchild had grown up in. Being encased in stone was a new and not entirely pleasant experience. Being surrounded by deadly monsters though was par for the course.
“If we run into anything let me move ahead a bit,” Glimmerglass said. “I don’t have any good enmity tools, so we’ll have to let the mobs face aggro me and hope we don’t have too many peel off to pick on you.”
“That works for us,” Pete said, speaking while Starchild considered her options.
“If there are any stranglers who aren’t too overleveled, could you leave those for me?” Starchild said.
“Oh, yeah, we could power level you up a bit as we head back,” Glimmerglass said. “You’re a [Druid] though right? Could you just pick targets off from range while I quasi-tank them for you?”
Starchild shook her head and gave a short laugh. “No. My circle had a somewhat unique training regime. We specialized in melee combat.”
“Really? That’s neat. I haven’t run with a melee [Druid] in years,” Glimmerglass said, delight wrinkling the corner of her eyes. “So do you have [Devouring Thorns] yet?”
“Not yet,” Starchild said. “That’s in about five levels. For now I have [Thunder Oak] and [Might of the Bear], as well as [Hickory Skin].”
“I remember those!” Glimmerglass said. “Ok, new plan then. Let’s have you lead.”
“I can do that,” Starchild said, wondering how she’d be able to handle things if they ran into a large pack of monsters.
Glimmerglass was a healer, which was all well and good, but against a large party of more powerful foes, any spell with a cast time could come up short since the time between being fine and being completely dead was sometimes measured in fractions of a second.
“Are you sure?” Pete asked, speaking privately within their shared mental space.
“So long as we don’t run into the [Formless Hunger], Glimmerglass should be unkillable, so in the worst case she can simply clear out the mobs who were too strong for us and then resurrect me.”
“I know dying’s not particularly fun for you though,” Pete said and Starchild could hear the gentle undercurrent of concern for her in his voice.
“I can handle it,” Starchild said. “And I’m sure Glimmerglass won’t let us fall easily.”
Dying was a part of adventuring, but Starchild had discovered that she and her [Inspiration] didn’t experience it the same.
Pete described it as a sudden feeling of disconnection. Like he’d been unplugged from his observation point. Not especially unpleasant, just worrisome since there was a brief period where he couldn’t hear her voice. It was being a ghost which ‘freaked him out’, though he attributed that to fear of the [Hounds of Fate] as much as anything else.
For Starchild, dying was no different than it was for anyone else. When her health hit zero, the pains of her body vanished and there was a brief moment of disorientation before she rose from her physical form into her aetheric one.
Being a ghost was annoying because of the limitations, but those were easy enough to fix by simply finding the nearest [Heart Fire]. As for the [Hounds of Fate]? She’d never felt the aura of menace from them that the other adventurers she spoke to had.
“You can leave the [Hickory Skin] buff off,” Glimmerglass said. “I’ve got you covered there. [Star Titan’s Resistance]. [Cloak of the Heavens]. [Starfall… no wait, that’ll count as an attack from me and nerf your xp. [Heart of the Dawn Star]. There we go. Those aren’t the best damage shields or regeneration effects but third tier buffs should still be plenty potent for this place.”
Starchild watched as a damage shield ten times larger that her entire health pool wrapped her in a defensive field. In her chest a gentle gold light gleamed, pulsing healing sufficient to restore her to perfect health once per second.
“I’m pretty sure something could decapitate me and I would heal to uninjured before my head left my shoulder,” Starchild said marveling at the magic which infused her.
“Possibly? Let’s not test that out though,” Glimmerglass said. “If it looks like you’re getting overwhelmed, or if something with nasty status effects shows up, or you just feel like you need help, I’ll wade in and burn everything down.”
“If I’m going to lead, how far ahead should I go?” Starchild asked.
“Let’s stay side-by-side,” Glimmerglass said. “If I get some of the aggro that’s fine. As long as I don’t hit the mobs, you should get full credit for anything we defeat.”
“This is going to be pretty boring for you, isn’t it?” Pete asked.
“Not at all,” Glimmerglass said with a bright smile. “As a healer, it’s my job to keep the party standing so that they can grow stronger. I’ve always liked doing stuff like this since the ‘keep them standing part’ is so easy and the rest of the part usually levels up so much faster than normal.”
“I am glad you’ve joined us,” Starchild said as they set off down the hall in a direction which ran in the opposite direction from where they wanted to go. Because of course the proper direction to go in the dungeon was going to be the least convenient one possible.
“Yeah, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but I’m glad with how it worked out,” Glimmerglass said.
“I’m not sure I understand exactly what it was that brought you here?” Starchild said. “I mean the god soul you were carrying explains how you had the power to get here, but I don’t understand how you wound up arriving right when we needed you most?”
“I was sort of trading favors with myself,” Glimmerglass said.
“You mentioned something about you and Pillowcase being the same person?” Pete asked. “Was that because you were smushed together by the god soul?”
“No,” Glimmerglass said. “Tessa, and Pillowcase, and me, we’re all sort of the same person. Just in different places? I saw more of that when we were together, and it made more sense then. Right now though? It’s a little jumbled. I can’t call up what a day of programming was like for Tessa, but I know that she works in a cubicle that she hates and writes code that no one is ever happy with even when it does exactly what they asked for it to.”
“And you know what a cubicle and programming are,” Pete said, turning the words over as his spoke them.
“They sound like things from Tessa and Pete’s world,” Starchild said.
“They are,” Glimmerglass said. “But can’t you tell that too?”
“I don’t think we’re like you,” Starchild said. “Pete doesn’t feel like a part of me.”
As beds went, a cot in the medical tent was certainly better than a bed of nail. Nine out of ten adventurers would attest to that. For Hailey though, it felt comfier than a bed of the softest down.
“Let her sleep,” Mellisandra said. “She’s been through a lot.”
“We’re supposed to take her to [High Command] though,” Damnazon said. “Like, right now.”
“I thought she was done with sending them the info they needed?” Mellisandra said.
They were both trying to keep their voices down, but BT’s ears were supernaturally acute. She could ignore them if she needed to, BT had a lifetime of zoning out so her senses wouldn’t overwhelm her, but Hailey knew she needed to stay alert no matter how tempting sleep was.
“I think this for something else,” Damnazon said.
Hailey could guess all too easily what Niminay was thinking. It was one of the reasons she had drifted off to sleep.
“No worries, I’m up,” she said, suppressing a groan as she rolled out of the cot and bid the promise of sleep a fond farewell.
“I’m sorry, did we wake you?” Damnazon asked.
“No, I was just sorting my thoughts out,” Hailey lied. “They were a bit scrambled before.”
“Oh, good,” Damnazon said. “We need to head out then. The folks at [High Command] want to talk to you.”
“They could do that on a secure channel,” Mellisandra said, frowning at the incongruity of [High Commands] request.
“I think it’s less about them talking to me and more about making sure I don’t talk to anyone on the other side,” Hailey said.
“Why would they be worried about that? You put yourself through hell to get to us,” Mellisandra said.
“Ah, just like the first circle. It could have been a lot worse,” Hailey said, saying a silent prayer for Tessa being there when she needed her. Just like she had been so many times before.
“The point is, you proved your loyalty, more than almost any of the rest of us have,” Mellisandra said. “Unless you’re possessed or something, there’d be no…”
Mellisandra’s voice trailed off as her own words showed her what the problem was.
“No reason for me to share what I know with the Consortium,” Hailey finished. “Except possession is a thing in this world, and so are a lot of other methods of coercing knowledge out of someone. If the Consortium even learned what I revealed about them, they’d be able to reclaim a huge advantage.”
Mellisandra was watching her, peering into Hailey’s eyes, and gasped as she saw the deeper problem lurking there.
“But you know about more than the Consortium, don’t you?” she asked.
“If I fall into the Consortium’s hands, they might be able to learn everything I know about you. All of you. On the whole planet. Where the defensive forces are deployed. What their strengths are. Which of the Greater Entities would be open to their overtures,” Hailey said.
“We should have gotten you somewhere safe hours ago,” Mellisandra said.
“The problem is that there’s nowhere which is perfectly safe,” Hailey said. “I’m too high value of a target for the Consortium to hold back on spending resources to acquire me. My best defense up till now was obscurity.”
“Does that mean someone knows about you now?” Damnazon asked.
“I don’t think so,” Hailey said. “If your [High Command] thought that, they’d have had you kill me.”
“What? No they wouldn’t,” Damnazon said. “We’re not the bad guys here.”
“Of course you aren’t,” Hailey said. “But if I was in ghost form the Consortium would have a lot harder time finding me. We haven’t seen any of the adventurers getting attacked while they were ghost running.”
“No, but the [Hounds of Fate] have been out in numbers greater than we’ve ever seen before,” Mellisandra said.
“True, but they’re still not coming too near to the [Heart Fires],” Hailey said. “If things look bad, I’m going to need to you to let me ditch my gear and then hit me with a max charged [Annihilation Tempest]. I don’t want any traces of this body around for the Consortium to play with.”
Mellisandra was silent for a long moment, her gaze again searching Hailey’s face, and her lips set into a hard frown.
“I can do that,” she said. “But only if you tell me too.”
“I might not be able if they capture me too quickly,” Hailey said. She could picture so many scenarios where a professional mercenary team could disable her and snatch her away before anyone could fight back. Given BT’s capabilities that would be a supernaturally difficult task, but the Consortium had resources potent enough to match BT’s skills, and their coffers were much, much deeper.
“Then we’ll rescue you just as quickly,” Damnazon said.
Hailey started to object to that, but closed her mouth before the first discouraging word could leak out.
She was BT as much as she was Hailey. She knew how heroes worked. They didn’t get where they were by taking the safe plays. They looked at whatever situation was before them and made their own odds.