It was a perfect encapsulation of Tessa’s life. She’d been given a literal ‘key to the kingdom’. And it was broken.
“If we’re going to take him out of her we should be doing it now,” Lisa said, tugging at Tessa’s sleeve.
Tessa knew she was right. Broken though he was, David Kralt could still be useful to them.
It just galled her to save him them.
In her world, he was fantastically wealthy. At least by game developer standards. He’d traded on the fame won through releasing “Crypts of Blood”, one of the early 3d fantasy dungeon crawlers. Later accusations had claimed that he’d stolen most of the source code and art assets from two (former) friends, but it had taken long enough for those to surface that Kralt had already made his millions, sold his personal tabletop campaign for millions more, been brand-associated with the “smash hit MMO” [Broken Horizons] and taken up the sort of lifestyle generally reserved for moderately successful rock stars.
Never in all that time had he faced any consequences for his actions, and once again he was going to get to skate away without having to exert any effort or change his behavior at all.
“Fine,” Tessa said at last. “He’s going in the bag though.”
For a crucial moment, Kralt didn’t seem to understand what she meant. That worked out well. Tessa was able to scoop him up from his chair a moment before it crumbled into motes of light without any resistance.
He had a moment to squeak in protest as she shoved the blue slime drop he called a body into her [inventory] pack.
“I don’t think there’s any air in there,” Aptomos said, bouncing his green slime drop body towards the door.
“Do slimes need air?” Tessa asked.
“No,” Aptomos said. “Just the occasional bit of water and a sufficient level of ambient magic.”
“Then he’s staying there for now,” Tessa said. “Are you the one that led us in there?”
She turned to look at the room after they stepped through portal door. The last pieces of the illusion tumbled away leaving only an emptiness beyond the darkest night.
Something told her to close the portal door and she did not question or argue with that impulse.
“I am,” Aptomos said. “I thought it was important that the All Seer not stay hidden with the state of the two worlds hanging in the balance still.
“Wait, you know about Earth too?” Lisa asked, kneeling down to be on a more even level with Aptomos.
Tessa followed her lead by taking a seat on the floor. They needed to keep moving, but before they did that they needed to decide if they wanted Aptomos to come with them or not.
“I do,” Aptomos said. “I’m from there.”
“How is that possible?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah. Slime’s aren’t a playable race,” Tessa said, shifting her vision slightly out of focus and finding the shadow of a man suffusing the green slime drop’s body, must like Kralt’s human form had.
“I wasn’t a player,” Aptomos said. “Or, sadly, I wasn’t logged in on my player account when [World Shift] went live.”
“Not a player? Then you were a [Game Master]?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah. ‘Were’ being the operative term there unfortunately,” Aptomos said.
“Oh wow! BT said something about that didn’t she?” Tessa asked and wracked her memory.
Their arrival to the [Broken Kingdoms] had been only a day ago, if Tessa’s sense of time wasn’t totally scrambled, but it felt like years had passed.
“She said she couldn’t do things like teleport us around because they’d lost one of her coworkers when he tried to use his GM powers,” Lisa said.
“That would be me,” Aptomos said. “I’m glad Marcus made them stop using system command too. Uh, Marcus is our supervisor.”
“I know,” Tess said. “We talked to him too. How did you wind up here though? As a slime?”
“And what’s your real name? It feels weird calling you a slime name,” Lisa said.
“I’m Ashad Khan. You can call me Aptomos if you like though. It’s the name of my favorite character in my friend’s home brew D&D game. He’s a sorcerer who can polymorph at will, and he’s always going around in these cute forms. And you’re not interested in hearing about my character. Right. Where were we?”
Tessa was a bit curious about the tabletop version of Aptomos, but she had to admit it probably wasn’t the right time for that sort of thing.
“What happened after you vanished from the call center?” she asked.
“Oh, right. I wound up here, except I was kind of burning up,” Aptomos said. “I had this super evolved view of what was going on. Like I could see everything, but it was so much more than my brain could handle.”
“I think I can guess what that was like,” Tessa said.
“Also I didn’t have a body and that felt really, really weird,” Ashad sad. “It was like I was omniscient and that omniscience was doing nothing but telling me I was in danger from everywhere and everything.”
“So you turned into a slime?” Lisa asked.
“It was what was available,” Ashrad said, ripples in his tear drop body suggesting a shrug. “I needed something small, so I could get away from the light that was tearing me apart, and this was tiny enough that when I squeezed in here I left all the rest of that stuff behind.”
“What happened to it? Do you know?” Tessa asked.
“I don’t know,” Ashad said. “That was all too big to be a part of this world. I think I left it somewhere else, but I don’t think that ‘somewhere’ is anywhere in the [High Beyond] or even in the [Fallen Kingdoms] in general.”
“Ah well, probably better that I not have the temptation to pick up another god soul again,” Tessa said.
“A what?” Ashad asked.
“This world seems to map GM powers to fragments of deities,” Tessa said. “BT, or Hailey is probably how you knew her, she came here too. She was in her normal regular character but she had her GM powers stuck to her and I kind of ripped them out. Since they were slowly killing her. The god soul was pretty fun to use, except for the part where it was killing me too.”
“How did you do that?” Ashad asked. “You look like you’re just a normal human. In fact how do you look like a normal person? You’re not even close to one of the game models. Are you human?”
“I honestly don’t know anymore,” Tessa said, looking at her left hand and noticing it shaking more than fatigue and stress could account for.
It should have been disturbing to be spending time with a talking skeleton. If nothing else the question of how something without lungs, an esophagus, a tongue or lips was making sound in the first place upset Yawlorna’s inner researcher. It could can been a speaker she admitted. Placing a small one in the skull, maybe on the rough of the mouth, would have been simple enough.
Except she knew that wasn’t how Mr. Pendant was speaking. He didn’t need any of the organs associated with speech any more than he needed muscles to move or connective tissue to keep from falling apart.
Yawlorna was tempted to ask him for some of that magic. A nice spell to help her stop falling apart sounded wonderful.
“Your people seem to be mingling successfully with the townsfolks,” Pendant said, offering Yawlorna a tin cup filled with some pungent liquid.
Yawlorna half suspected the cup was poison. The scent suggested it strongly.
She took it and took a short pull.
She wasn’t immune to poison, but with how her day was going a little chemical debilitation didn’t seem that undesirable.
“We’re explorers,” she said, fighting back a cough at the fiery burn which followed the drink’s passing. “Meeting new people is what my crew signed up for. A quarter of them have their final thesis papers dependent on it.”
“I’m guessing those folks weren’t happy to be holed up in the lower levels where you’d setup your base?” Pendant asked.
“Not at first,” Yawlorna said. “Then we met some of the things that live here.”
“Lost a few of them?” Pendant asked. There was no accusation in his voice. If anything Yawlorna felt like he was speaking from a shared experience.
“More than few,” Yawlorna said. “Too many.”
Pendant offered her a refill with a compassionate nod. Yawlorna took it.
“Folks here haven’t had your experience,” he said, “but they’ve had their own losses. I think it’s good you’re here.”
“So that we can all fight and die together?” Yawlorna asked. She knew what they were faced with in terms of the Consortium’s forces. Their encounter with Kremmer’s Razors had shown her just how overmatched they were by the Consortium. She couldn’t imagine facing foes like that even if everyone in the cavern around them were trained combatants, and she knew that less than a quarter of them were.
“No, no. If it comes to fighting, we’re probably doing something wrong,” Pendant said. “It’s good to have you here for a much more important reason; you’re different.”
“Do you think anyone’s noticed?” she asked, her voice all liquid sarcasm.
Yawlorna and her people looked nothing like the [Humans], [Elves], [Void Goblins], and [Artifax] who made up the prior population of the [Last Refuge]. To her, they looked like a freakish amalgamation of nightmares, twisted, stunted, proto-people.
To them, she looked like a [Demon]. Horns. Crimson skin. Tails. She was a monster, something the alien world she was on apparently recognized? Otherwise it wouldn’t have a preset classification for her. Or an automatic marking as an enemy of people she never met.
“I think you being different is reminding the people of how that’s not a bad thing,” Pendant said. “When you walked in here more than a few of them made themselves real small. Some even went for their weapons. Nobody drew though and do you know why?”
“Because they’re afraid we’d eat them if they tried?” Yawlorna asked.
“They’re afraid they’re going to be eaten, but not by you,” Pendant said. “When they looked at you what they saw was ‘hey, that’s not one of those Consortium troops that destroyed our town, or the [Disjoined] people who turned it into a giant monster’. To them, you looked like someone scary and, right now, they’re all wishing there’d be someone nice and scary on their side.”
“I don’t see that going well for us long term,” Yawlorna said. “Once they get done being scared of the Consortium, assuming any of us survive, my people will be next on the bonfire.”
“That’s one future,” Pendant said. “A lot of other bad ones just like it too.”
“Not much to look forward to then,” Yawlorna said.
“Maybe not,” Pendant said. “Which means its up to us.”
“What’s up to us?” Yawlorna asked, wondering if the surprisingly tasty beverage Pendant was sharing with her was clouding her thinking. It barely burned at all anymore when it went down. Was that a good sign?
“If you don’t like the future that’s setup for you, then you make your own instead,” Pendant said.
“I don’t think it’s that easy,” Yawlorna said. She wasn’t drunk. That bothered her. Being drunk would have been nice. Or miserable really, but at least she could have blamed it on the alcohol. This? This was something else. This was…healthy?
“Oh it’s the hardest thing in the world,” Pendant said. “Plenty of chances to fail. You’re basically guaranteed to fall short of what you really want even if you do succeed on some level.”
“This isn’t much of a pep talk,” Yawlorna said.
“You don’t need a pep talk,” Pendant said. “You just need what they needed.”
“What’s that?” Yawlorna asked.
“To know you’re not in this alone.”