The ‘neighbors’ didn’t turn out to a pitchfork wielding mob. Tessa was pleasantly surprised with that turn of events. That they were uniformly built like professional body builders possibly shouldn’t have been surprising, but it did scramble her thoughts a bit.
“That guy looks like he belongs in an anime,” Matt said in the team chat.
“And that lady looks like she could crush my head like a walnut with that biceps,” Lady Midnight said.
“I kinda hate this place,” Lisa said. “I mean, there is no way there’s a gym within a hundred miles of here, and I will guarantee they are not eating the sort of diet that gives you ripped abs like that.”
“Gotta love magic right?” Obby said.
“Yeah, cause magic hard bodies never cause issues for the rest of us real people.” Tessa rolled her eyes and poked her abdomen. She knew she looked fine. Not exactly svelte, but she was fine with that. Most of the time. It was a teensy bit harder looking like a normal Earth woman when literally everyone else in the world had physiques designed by world renowned artists.
Lisa traced a soft, wandering line down Tessa’s spine before wrapping her arm around Tessa’s waist. As silent gestures of support went, it was wonderfully reassuring. That it also revealed to anyone who was paying attention what had apparently been clear to everyone already was a nice extra.
“Who will we have speak for our group?” Starchild asked.
“Not me,” Obby said. “The last time I tried to lead a guild the results were…let’s just call them cataclysmic.”
“It should be Tessa,” Lady Midnight said. “She’s not a ‘regular human’ but she’s the closest we have to that among the [Adventurers].”
“I don’t think these people need a ‘regular human’ to relate to,” Tessa said. “Maybe if we had a Greek God or two to spare?”
“Let’s see what they’re like,” Lisa said. “Kamie said they wanted to meet all of us. Maybe we don’t need a leader.”
Tessa was glad for the reprieve, but she had a sense that it wouldn’t last.
“Ah, there they are! We thought the [Grand Hall] was still empty for minute there,” a woman who was easily seven feet tall said.
“Sorry there,” Tessa said, speaking first less because she had any interest in leading than because everyone else was somehow standing a half step behind her and she felt too self conscious to stay silent. “It seems like the [Great Hall] has a bit of dimensional weirdness going on in it still.”
Turning back she saw that the base layer for the [Great Hall] still looked empty, at least when viewed from outside the [Main Gate].
It occurred to her that the townsfolk were being rather polite. Waiting in front of the gate seemed somewhat unnecessary when the gate was more than half off it’s broken hinges and, to all appearances, an empty courtyard waited beyond it.
“It’s not the only place like that around here,” the giantess said. “You all really just sauntered in and setup shop in there though didn’t you?” It sounded like an admonishment until a smile broke across her face like tectonic plates parting and she added, “You all are just as wild as Olwina said you were. Incredible.”
“Yeah, [Adventurers] have some odd ideas about the sort of places we call [Home],” Tessa said, taking the giantess’s proffered handshake.
A part of her had expected to need a healing spell from Lisa once the handshake was done, but Daisywine, as the giantess introduced herself, was far gentler than her size and physique suggested.
Introductions were made between Tessa’s party and the dozen or so townsfolk who’d come with Daisywine.
“There are other [Adventurer] parties inside too,” Tessa said. “As well as some other, less conventional, guests.”
“Like the [Vampires]?” Daisywine asked, nodding towards Lost Alice.
“They’re different than I am, but yes, we have a [Coterie] in residence, including a [Vampire Queen],” Lisa said.
“Probably no worse than the things that wander the hills at night,” Cowl, one of the townsfolk who seemed to be Daisywine’s second in command, said. His shrug was echoed by the other townsfolk.
Tessa was baffled by their nonchalance until she consider exactly what sort of people would be inclined to move to a deserted town that was surrounded by the undead and a forest of evil mayhem.
“We have some of their people with similarly irregular backgrounds,” Tessa said.
“The other notable group is the [Shadowed Starstalkers],” Obby said.
“Never heard of those,” Cowl said.
“They’re living shadows who drain life energy from others to continue their unnatural existence,” Obby said.
“Huh. Do they like chicken?” Rivermoore, a townswoman who seemed to be a cook of some sort, said.
“Believe it or not, they prefer centipedes,” Obby said. “We went to the edge of the forest last night and they were practically salivating at getting to munch up the bugs in there.”
“Bugs?” Tessa asked.
“Eh, it kind of makes sense,” Lisa said. “In terms of biomass, insects have a lot more ‘life’ to offer than any sapient species could manage.”
“I’ve got a cellar or two I’d be more than happy to have them clean out then,” Daisywine said.
“They’ll be glad to hear that,” Obby said. “I had to talk them down from heading off on their own last night three different times. They thought people here would have problems living near them.”
“Well that’s just not the [Dragonshire] way,” Daisywine said. “As long as somebody’s not looking to make trouble for the people who are hear, we’re happy to have them around.”
“So you don’t mind that we’ve setup shop in the [Great Hall]?” Tessa asked.
“Not at all,” Daisywine said. “If you want to settle on this side of the river you can be our guests.”
“What’s special about this side of the river?” Rip asked.
“You haven’t run into the ghosts yet?” Cowl asked.
“I thought those were all out around the barrows?” Lady Midnight said.
“I think he’s talking about us,” a glowing, transparent woman said.
Tessa had seen apparitions materialize in front of Glimmerglass hundreds of times in the game. Dealing with it in real life was a different matter though.
“I stopped up from striking her,” Pillowcase said. “I don’t think she means us harm. If she turns hostile, I believe I can lend you [Lesser Spirit Drain] though which should prove effective against her.”
Tessa relaxed at that thought. [Soul Knights] made rather excellent counters to angry spirits, and, from the reactions of the townsfolk, Pillowcase seemed to be right about the ghost woman’s intentions.
“Hi there Steelarm,” Daisywine said. “How goes the nightly hauntings?”
“Could be better,” Steelarm said. “Doesn’t seem like we can drag any of these people to the [Blood Fires].”
“The where now?” Rip asked. She had her bow in her hands, but hadn’t raised it. Yet. Apparently her Rip Shot side had made the same evaluation as Pillowcase had.
“The [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “It’s where we have to drag the living that we catch wandering around in the town at night.”
“Why?” Matt asked.
“It’s part of the [Task Left Undone],” Steelarm said. “We have to purge the taint of [Vaspe Breath Stealer].”
“We’re not a [Titan],” Lady Midnight said.
“No, but the living may carry the Breath Stealer in their lungs, can’t they?” Starchild asked.
“That’s what they told us,” Steelarm said.
“I thought the [Vaspe] guy was dead?” Rip said.
“They were gods, kind of,” Lisa said. “You know, sort of how the [Lord of Storms] is ‘dead’?”
“Dead can mean a lot of different things it turns out,” Steelarm said.
From the ghostly armor she wore, Tessa had a guess as to who she was and why she’d died.
“Being a ghost isn’t always a curse, is it?” Tessa asked.
“It’s not the greatest things in the world,” Steelarm said. “But I suppose I can’t complain.”
“Are ghosts normally like this?” Rip asked on their team channel.
“They can be,” Lisa said. “There’s plenty of ghostly quest givers out there, though usually they don’t threaten to drag people to other realms.”
“I don’t get any of that,” Matt said.
“Ghosts are usually bound to the material world for a reason,” Tessa said. “Either a cursed holds them there or they choose to remain to fulfill some purpose. Standard ghost stuff. The [Blood Fires] sound like a place setup to burn off any trace bits of [Vaspe] that survived his destruction. Always tough with gaseous types to be sure you got all of them after all.”
“Okay, so why drag the living there?” Matt asked.
“Probably because the land itself was purified of [Vaspe’s] essence, if not the mundane poison he carried, when he was killed,” Starchild said. “Living things can incubate spirits and other living things though, so if [Vaspe] escaped inside of a living host, he might bring them back here to collect any scraps of power he lost.”
“But they can’t carry us off?” Rip asked. “Why?”
“Don’t know, and it looks like they don’t either,” Tessa said.
“Well it sounds like you all will make great bedmates then,” Daisywine said. “And this doesn’t violate our agreement at all, does it?”
“It’s not much of an agreement,” Steelarm said. “But, yes, my people won’t try to cross the stream if it happens to run low. We were bound here on purpose. If we try going anywhere else, I honestly have no idea what would happen to us.”
“I suppose if you find us here after dark though?” Daisywine asked.
“Then we will definitely drag you to the [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “Sorry, it’s all part of why we’re hear. We don’t get to chose stuff like that anymore.”
“You said you couldn’t drag us to the [Blood Fires],” Lisa asked. “Who did you try to spirit away last night?”
“All of you at one point or another,” Steelarm said. “And the other [Adventurers]. And the [Vampires] and the regular folk you have in there. Though maybe calling them ‘regular’ is a bit off the mark in this case.”
“Not the Shadows?” Obby asked.
“We don’t really see shadows,” Steelarm said. “Or did you mean some type of creature?”
“They’re probably invisible to you,” Obby said. “Don’t worry, they don’t have lungs either.”
“Then they shouldn’t need purification,” Steelarm said.
At the mention of ‘purification’, an idea popped into Tessa’s head.
“Not to derail things, but could you tell us more about the [Blood Fires]?” she asked. “Do living people survive being pulled into them or is it more of a ‘burn everything up to be sure’ sort of deal?”
“We don’t get to see what happens to people who fall into the fires,” Steelarm said. “I’d like to think that they’re okay though. It seems like a lot of effort to go through just to kill someone.”
“But we’re safe from them, right?” Rip asked.
“Unfortunately, that does seem to be the case,” Steelarm said. “Not that we have anything against you. It’s just that it’s been a while since our existence has had any particular purpose and eternity is looking like it’s going to be very boring.”
“We might be able to change that,” Tessa said. “For a little while at least.”
“You have my undivided attention,” Steelarm said.
“Mine too,” Lisa said on their private channel. “What are you thinking?”
“We have the people who were injured by the [Hungry Shadows],” Tessa replied privately. “We all know they’re going to rise up as zombies or something worse, right?”
“With how things are setup here, that does seem pretty obvious,” Lisa said. “Oh, I see, you’re thinking we can use the [Blood Fires] to bake the [Hungry Shadow] out of them?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Tessa said. “If it’s safe.”
“Ok, possibly a workable solution,” Lisa said. “How are we supposed to figure out if it’s safe or not though?”
“So, Steelarm,” Tessa said speaking audibly again. “Do you think you could give us a tour of the [Blood Fires] if we went along with you willingly?”