In the daylight, [Dragonshire] hid its particular brand of menace surprisingly well. Tessa wasn’t fooled by the pleasant, peaceful vista before her, but she did appreciate it. It was relaxing to at least pretend she was in a lovely environment, enjoying a lovely day, with the woman she…
“How much trouble do you think the others are going to get into?” Tessa asked, soaking in the joy of entwining her fingers with Lisa’s.
Lost Alice’s flesh was usually slightly chilled to Tessa’s touch. Usually but not always, and even when it was, there was something refreshing and electric about the contact. Not that the reason was necessarily a great mystery. It had been months since Tessa’d broken up with Crystal. Or since Crystal had broken up with her (Tessa had to admit that the latter was the more accurate retelling of events). Months that she’d been on her own, slogging back and forth to work, and growing far more touch starved than she’d been aware.
A worried thought passed through Tessa’s mind that Lisa might not be in quite the same place, but the firmness with which she grasped Tessa’s hand chased that idea away immediately.
“The kids have Obby to look after them,” Lisa said. “So they’ll definitely be getting into trouble, but probably nothing that they need to be bailed out of.”
“Midnight and Starchild seem reasonably sensible, so we probably won’t need to worry about them either I guess,” Tessa said.
“We could say the same about Kamie and her team since they managed to level and survive on their own just fine in the [High Beyond],” Lisa said.
“And the other [Adventurers],” Tessa said. “But we’d be wrong.”
“Completely wrong.” Lisa nodded and the mirthful sparkle in her red eyes mirrored the one in Tessa’s.
“We’re all going to die aren’t we?” Tessa said, swinging their clasped hands in a carefree rhythm which Lisa allowed.
“Several times,” Lisa said. “We should get a dead pool going.”
“First [Adventurer] to bite it?”
“And the first team to wipe completely. No. Wait. That’s a bad idea,” Lisa said, shaking her head.
“It would totally turn into a contest wouldn’t it. Who can die of the stupidest cause first.” Tessa guided them across the river, jumping in time with Lisa to clear the five foot gap of the broken bridge.
She wasn’t athletic. Or she hadn’t been athletic before. [Adventurer] Tessa though could do a casual five foot long jump without thinking about it or quickening her stride at all. The likelihood that she was going to be brutal killed, several time, sucked. The rest of being an [Adventurer] though? It wasn’t too bad, it turned out.
“So did our common sense not make it over from Earth with us?” Lisa asked.
“I mean, that’s just them right? We’re not going to fall into any silly traps or go poking our noses where they clearly don’t belong,” Tessa said before a broken storm cellar door on one of the houses at the end of the lane they were walking down caught her attention. “Oh! We should go in there!”
Lisa pulled up short and searched Tessa’s face with a bemused expression on her own.
“Okay. You’re joking. I can see that. The smile lines around those cute eyes are dead giveaway,” Lisa said.
“Aww, you think my eyes are cute!” Tessa said and gave Lisa a much too quick peck on the lips before moving to nibble on her earlobe and whisper, “But you know I kinda want to go in there for real too right?”
“You’re incorrigible,” Lisa said, sighing with her eyes closed. “And a bad influence.”
“Yay! That means we’re going!” Tessa said, drawing back to try to read Lisa’s expression.
“Yes. And did you notice the important part of what you just said?” Lisa asked.
“The ‘we’ part right?” Tessa said.
“Exactly,” Lisa said. “I don’t mind taking chances – reasonable chances – as long as they’re with you.”
“I’m not going to leave you behind again,” Tessa said and fought back to the urge to add ‘I’m not going to leave you ever.’
Her crush being reciprocated had left her falling hard. She knew she was basically drunk on a love cocktail at the moment, and her rational side wasn’t putting the brakes on it at all because she was loving each of the sides that she saw of Lisa and Lost Alice. That was fine, delightful even, but the voice of experience told her that extravagant promises or gestures weren’t really needed in building a relationship.
All she needed to do was give Lisa the truth. About who she was. How she felt. What she wanted. She knew the rest would sort itself out, even if it wasn’t always easy to believe that, or live up to what she knew.
“It’s…it’s okay if you do,” Lisa said, her hand changing from a pleasant chill to a deeper cold. “I…it’s okay if you need to leave sometimes. I get it.”
The pain that had bubbled up beneath the Lisa’s facade was still easy for Tessa to make out. And she had a fair guess as to its source.
“Hey, if I need to leave, you’ll know why,” Tessa said. “I can promise you that at least right?”
“Yeah,” Lisa said, with a nod.
But she wasn’t convinced.
Because of her ex-girlfriend.
Tessa wanted to smack the woman for hurting Lisa like she had, despite (or perhaps because of) Lisa’s protestations that their breakup had been her fault.
“Thanks for trusting me,” Tessa said, and gave Lisa’s hand an affirming squeeze.
“What?” Lisa asked, confusion nudging remembered sadness to the side a bit.
“You didn’t have to say that you liked me,” Tessa said. “Thanks for trusting me enough to let me in. I know we basically met by accident, so our chances of being right for each other were probably dismal, but I glad you were willing to give me a chance. I just hope I don’t mess it up.”
Lisa blinked a few times and then ducked her head. When she looked up it was with a soft chuckle on her lips.
“If you keep talking like that, I’m liable to take you back to that tea shop and just ravish you, you know,” Lisa said.
“I mean, I’m not exactly opposed to that, like, at all,” Tessa said. “But we would miss out on some potential loot?”
She gestured with a nod of her head towards the storm cellar door.
“Ooo, fantastic sex or new loot? This really shouldn’t be such a hard choice should it?” Lisa said, light humor returning to her tone.
“There’s always fantastic sex to celebrate new loot?” Tessa said.
“Loot which can buy some better accommodations than a bedroll and an empty tea shop floor? I like this plan,” Lisa said.
“Speaking of plans,” Tessa said. “Should we have one? For the cellar I mean.”
“I think it starts with ‘peek inside and see what’s down there’,“ Lisa said. “No sense working up strategies before we know what we’re dealing with.”
“At least we won’t have to do a mapping run on a cellar,” Tessa said.
“You did those too?” Lisa said.
“All the time.”
“And, let me guess, you put all the data together and formed a plan around it for your group because no one else could be bothered to right?”
“Yep. All the time.”
“And then, when you tried to present the plan, everyone would argue over it and come up with their own ideas based on superstitions and guesswork?”
“Are you sure we didn’t have the same parties?” Tessa asked. “But no. That’s not possible. I’ve seen your plans. They’re sensible. They’re based on observations and reason. Or in other words they don’t even vaguely resemble the plans my guild would cook up.”
“Even BT? She seemed like she had a clue,” Lisa asked.
“She was the worst!” Tessa said. “Okay, not the worst. The worst were the guys who felt the need to contradict everything I said no matter what evidence I had to support what I was saying. BT was just terrible because she seemed to think I had the power to heal us through anything and that insane risks were the only risks worth taking.”
“Oh dear,” Lisa said, sarcasm dripping from every word. “I can’t imagine what partying with someone like would be like.”
“Oh ha ha,” Tessa said, and pulled Lisa closer.
“To be fair though, I know exactly what you mean. Patience in team members was rarer than legendary drops from the first day I started playing.” Lisa said.
“What was it like then? What got you into [Broken Horizons] to begin with?”
“Niminay,” Lisa said. “I’d been reading fantasy books for a few years at that point. I got into them because I was into faeries big time as a kid for a while. Then I saw a game, a fantasy game, with this beautiful girl on the cover and on the back they had screen shots of the characters you could play and there were girls there too. It was like the books I was reading but for me.”
Tessa laughed as they walked down the lane towards the storm cellar.
“I remember reading so many articles on that,” she said. “No one expected [Broken Horizons] to take off like it did and everyone was wondering how it was possible. I think it was, what, like a year into the game’s release that EE published the first census and people discovered that ‘oh my god, girls really play this too!’. It was like the idea was unheard of at the time.”
“Yeah, I loved the people that tried to concocted crazy ideas about how it was all based on how romanceable the game characters were. Like if girls were playing it, it had to be because we were swooning over someone.”
“Well sure. Everyone knows that girls only want to find a man, right? We couldn’t possibly be as interested in adventure and camaraderie and overcoming challenges as a boy would be.”
“I used to feel bad about maining a healer for that,” Lisa said. “People pegged it as being the ‘girly’ role for some reason.”
“I worried about that too for a bit, but Glimmerglass is a badass. And, really, half the reason she wound up as my main was that no one else was willing to play a damn healer!”
“Or was even halfway capable at it,” Lisa said. “I tried to let other people do the job, but I would nearly put my head through monitor when they let the rest of us die.”
“Yes! It was like, even on a melee character, I’d still carry healing potions to chuck at people who were staying injured for too long!” Tessa said.
“I had a healer quit the team because, and I quote, ‘I wasn’t letting him do any healing’, and this was while I was on an [Elementalist]!” Lisa said.
“But potions have a longer cast time than any healing spell?” Tessa said. “What the heck was he doing?”
“I have no idea! He was standing in place, staring into the void of space, not moving, not talking in chat, and not casting anything, just letting the team die as we earned him xps and loot. It drove me absolutely nuts at the time, but I’m over it now. Mostly.”
“Is it considered lady-like to want to throttle people like that till the stupid’s been choked out of them?” Tessa asked.
“I think Miss Manners suggest a clean, quick kill,” Lisa said.
“I’ll keep that in mind if we ever run into the guy here,” Tessa said.
“Speaking of healing though,” Lisa said. “Let’s see if we can get away without needing any here if possible, okay?”
“I’m onboard for that,” Tessa said. “I think I can borrow some of Pillowcase’s skills if we need but I don’t think this body is as rugged as a [Clothwork] one is, even with my new levels.”
“Let’s not put it to the test,” Lisa said.
“Stealth it is,” Tessa said, as she peered into the dark recesses visible through the cracks in the storm cellar door.
And from the darkness below, two fiery eyes stared back at her.