Few things motivate [Adventurers] more than the lure of cool new loot. Tessa knew that, so she’d known how people would react to the news that there was a low level raid encounter in nearby. She also knew how they were going to react to the next thing she had to tell them though.
“Rip, put your bow down,” she said. “We can’t get started on leveling just yet.”
“Aww, really?” Rip kept her complaint from descending into a full blown whine but her pout was unmistakable (if also adorable on a Tabbywile’s face).
“Ah, right,” Obby said, offering Rip a sympathetic frown and a bop on the shoulder.
“What’s the problem?” Matt asked, after casting a glance at Rip that suggested they’d had a hasty discussion of their own.
“The big one’s that the mobs we need to farm to get up to level 20 only spawn at night,” Lisa said.
“The good news is that they’re all [Undead],” Tessa said.
“That’s good how exactly?” Lady Midnight asked. “I don’t think we have any [Plague] cures yet, do we?”
“Did I hear someone ask about [Plague] cures?” Mister Pendant said, wandering over to join their impromptu group.
Tessa flashed him a smile and gestured to an open spot beside her as she scootched closer to Lisa to make room.
Somehow neither cuddling up to a [Vampire], not inviting a [Skeleton] to sit near her struck Tessa as odd or concerning. If anything, Mister Pendant joining them was a reassuring addition to the group since it meant they could probably count on having access to the staggeringly large stockpile of items he’d managed to save from his shop.
As for the [Vampire] beside her, Tessa felt reasonably sure that Lisa’s presence had been one of the few things that had kept her sanity together through the ridiculous stresses they’d both been under. And, Cuddling up with the woman she could finally admit she was more than crushing on felt like the best spot she could imagine occupying in any world.
“Plagues are a thing the [Undead] do?” Rip asked.
“Some of them,” Pendant said. “Moreso the fleshy ones. Not much room for disease when all you’ve got is bones and magic.”
“The ones who haunt the barrows and hills outside of town should be fleshy, if I’m remembering the screen shots right,” Tessa said. “But, unlike our esteemed friend here, they’re not sapient, and they should be too low level to carry the [Plague] effect.”
“Ah, [Cursed Walkers]?” Pendant asked.
“Yeah, have you run into them before?” Tessa asked, glad that someone else had some familiarity with them, especially someone who might know the real story behind them rather than simply their game stats.
“They’re a nuisance,” Pendant said. “Like a bunch of locusts, but bigger, and harder to eradicate.”
“Are they like bug zombies or something?” Rip asked.
“More like people zombies,” Tessa said.
“Not people,” Pendant said. “Some [Undead] retain their awareness and will. Others are no more than clusters of [Death Magic] bound together by curses or sorcery or the linger malice of the people who’s resemblance they’re cast in.”
“What spawned these ones?” Lady Midnight asked.
“These [Cursed Walkers] arose from a ‘great betrayal’, according to the lore,” Tessa said. “When the Titans came through, there was a force here, a small army I guess, who were meant to protect the town’s people. As [Vaspe Breath Stealer] was rampaging in this direction though, the army came up with a new plan; they setup pickets around the town in the dead of night so the residents would act as trapped bait for [Vaspe] while they marched away as fast as they could.”
“Wow, that’s pretty low,” Rip said.
“It didn’t work out so well for them though,” Tessa said. “[Vaspe] traveled a lot faster than they expected and it followed the weather patterns rather than cutting a straight path across the countryside. So they basically marched right into the Titan and their train led it right back to [Dragonshire].”
“I feel bad for the grunts who had no idea what was going on,” Lisa said.
“From the lore, there were soldiers who stayed behind to fight for [Dragonshire], so at least some of the army knew what was going on. Well, knew and objected to it,” Tessa said.
“What happened to them?” Matt asked.
“They died too,” Tessa said. “The [Titans] were god-tier enemies. I don’t think the actual game mechanics would have supported it but the story goes that the ones who stayed slowed [Vaspe] down long enough for some of the townsfolk to escape though.”
“Their fate after death was doubtlessly better than the betrayers,” Pendant said. “But you needn’t worry about any of them. Nothing in the living world can bring suffering to those who have passed beyond.”
“Speaking from personal experience?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I don’t believe so. You’re not dead are you?” Starchild said. She was regarding him with a searching gaze.
“You are quite perceptive honored [Druid],” Pendant said. “I have never been dead, nor have I ever lived. At least by some definitions of living. As you see me now is as I have always been.”
Tessa wondered if that was because he was an NPC in the game but it occurred to her that all of the other NPCs seemed to have lived full lives rather than being created ex nihilo as they appeared in the game.
“Also he talks right? Zombie don’t talk,” Rip said. “Or do they here?”
“[Zombie Lords] and other higher tier versions can,” Lisa said. “The dev’s used that to put story dialog into dungeon encounters. I can’t think of any of the more mindless ones who could though.”
“No talkers among the [Cursed Walkers], I’m betting,” Tessa said. “According to the beta-tester there are no particular quests and storylines around [Cursed Walkers]. It was one of their complaints about the new starting area if you get here early. Basically just a bunch of mindless grinding to do till you hit the interesting bits. On the plus side though, there are a few different varieties of the [Cursed Walkers] though. Well, plus side for them. That may suck for us.”
“Not as much as waiting is going to!” Rip fidgeted with her empty bowl of porridge, but didn’t look like she was going to race off and do anything foolish.
Tessa decided to keep an eye on her anyways. She all too well how deceiving looks could be at that age.
“How about the dungeon?” Lady Midnight asked. “Do we know what we’ll be facing when we get in there?”
“We’ll want to tackle it in exploratory mode,” Tessa said. “We should be able to get the layout and mob spawns from the players who still have a connection back to Earth, but there was a plotline in the dungeon about a calling station that had opened communications with the [Consortium of Pain] and led them to this world. Since they’re already here I don’t know if we’ll encounter that or if things will have changed.”
“Oh, yeah, speaking about that,” Kamie said. “We’ve kind of lost contact with Earth.”
“We’ve….we’ve what?” Tessa asked as she felt one of their far too few safety lines snap and flutter away.
“It happened around the time we came though the portal I guess,” Kamie said.
“What about the other players here?” Tessa asked. “We can still communicate with them right?” She turned to Lisa for confirmation. “You talked to the Cease this morning didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Lisa said with a quick nod.
“We’re good with the other players here,” Kamie said. “It’s just the ones back on Earth we can’t reach.”
“Does that mean we’re drifting farther away from them or something?” Rip asked.
“It means we’re on our own for the time being,” Obby said. “Fortunately, between Tessa and the people who played in the beta and are over here, it looks like we’ve got a lot of the critical information we need, especially since, like she says, what’s out there might have changed from the beta.”
“BT’s here too,” Glimmerglass said. “The team I was with was safeguarding her while she transferred information from your world about the Consortium and everything that was in the game version of this world.”
“That’s gotta be part of why things went well for our side last night,” Tessa said. “Maybe we should try to link up with her?”
“Cambrell said they were going dark with her,” Glimmerglass said. “She’s too high value a target to leave our where the Consortium could get her.”
“Or most of the [Fallen Kingdoms] either,” Lisa said. “It’s not like they’re usually super chummy after all. Once the Consortium’s invasion is over, it’ll be back to the same rivalries and backstabbing as always.”
“I wish I could be there to help protect her,” Glimmerglass said. “She tends to need it.”
Lisa cast a glance over to Tessa.
“She was in my old guild with Glimmerglass. BT liked to play chicken with the bottom of her health bar in the quest for the best dps she could get,” Tessa said.
“I always took it as a sign of trust,” Glimmerglass said. “At least when I wasn’t certain she was doing it to drive me completely mad.”
“And they gave someone like this all the information in the world, literally, why exactly?” Lisa asked.
“I don’t think that was the original plan,” Glimmerglass said. “I think BT kind of forced it on them.”
“Given that she somehow jumped into here with the GM permissions active on an account that wasn’t a GM account? Yeah, that sounds like a BT type of play,” Tessa said. “I’m sorry I dragged you away from her.”
“Eh, I’ll probably do more good here,” Glimmerglass said. “There’s at least a thirty percent chance I would have strangled BT to death for whatever she’s planning to do next.”
“It’d be nice to know what that was,” Tessa said. “Are we plugged into what the [High Command] is telling people to do at all?”
“I have a contact link for them,” Glimmerglass said. “Since we’re not in an active combat zone with the Consortium and no one has forces deployed in our area we’re supposed to either sit tight here or make arrangements with a guild we’re associated with to connect with them and supplement their forces.”
“I talked with Cease about us joining up with the [Army of Light],” Lisa said. “They’re onboard with having us, but all the people we have left got pulled back in for the new offensive against the Consortium. Cease thought they could spare some people to help us out but I didn’t them want to go into any fights short staffed, so I told her to hold off on organizing anything until things settle down.”
Tessa knew that part already but looked to the others in case any of the guilds they were part of on other characters might have volunteered to send help.
“It is the same story with Melissa’s guild,” Starchild said. “She and the other crafters were able to create equipment sets for us with their portable crafting stations, but they’re shepherding a large group of civilians, as well as harrying the Consortium forces. That seemed like a full enough plate to Pete and I, so we discouraged her from sending anyone here, the same as Lost Alice did with her guild.”
That seemed to be the common consensus. The people who’d made it to [Dragonshire] weren’t unimportant, they were just in a secure enough position that resources had to be directed elsewhere. Tessa could agree with that appraisal but it still left her feeling exposed and alone.
“Well, the good news is, we’re no more alone than we were in the [High Beyond],” she said.
“Oh,” Kamie said, tilting her head as she listened to an internal message. “Turns out that’s definitely true.”
“What’s happened?” Tessa asked, expecting a disaster to be unfolding.
“Battler and Grail are outside the [Great Hall],” Kamie said. “Seems like our new neighbors would like to meet us. All of us.”