If Tessa had felt superhuman before, Pillowcase’s body left her feeling godlike.
“There’s literally no effort to this,” she said, lifting her chin to the makeshift pull up bar Lisa had arranged. “Can we try making this harder?”
Tessa took a half moment on hearing her own words to shake her head in wonder. It wasn’t that surprising though. If workouts had ever been this easy, she wouldn’t have hated them with the passion of a thousand burning suns.
Or may that was just the trauma of her Phys Ed courses speaking.
Considering it honestly, she probably wouldn’t have spent a lot of time on workouts if she had a body like Pillowcase’s because what would be the point? For a person made of cloth, getting ‘ripped’ was generally a bad thing.
Plus it wasn’t workouts that increased her strength.
“Hmm, you’re level 15 now and probably at least three times stronger than you were as a [Void Speaker]? Maybe more since [Soul Knight’s] are a melee class?” Lisa wasn’t really speaking to either Tessa or Sister Acroghast. She was lost in an analytical trance that Tessa had seen (and experienced) several times when a programmer was working on a complicated bit of code.
It was neat to see that physical therapists could get into a similar headspace.
Or maybe that was just Lisa.
“Climb on,” Tessa said.
“Uh, what?” Lisa asked, shaking her head free from her thoughts.
“I want to see if this will get any harder,” Tessa said. “Climb on my shoulders and we’ll see if I can do these with both our weights. It’s that or Sister Acroghast can help me out. That platemail looks nice and heavy after all.”
Lisa rolled her eyes at the suggestion that she’d allowed the armor clad nun to glom onto her girlfriend.
“Stop if it feels at all painful,” Lisa said, putting her arms around Pillowcase’s neck. “We don’t need to pulling a muscle. Or tearing your stuffing or whatever [Clothwork] do.”
Lost Alice’s added weight was noticeable, though not enough to make Tessa feel like she needed to stop. She knew she was somewhere over two hundred pull-ups and felt like she could do another two hundred easily.
“You’ll need some proper equipment if you want to do any real training,” Sister Acroghast said. “We’ve got some that should be fine for a level 15 melee fighter, but I know most of you [Adventurers] prefer to build yourselves up following your own paths.”
“This isn’t so bad,” Tessa said, referring only in theory to the physical exercise. The fact that a loving [Vampire] lady was literally hanging on her arm was rather more central to her thoughts.
“You’re not getting tired?” Lisa asked.
“I don’t think I ever could,” Tessa said. She wasn’t great at flirting. She knew that. And it was sort of unnecessary with a girl she was already with, but that was also when she felt the most comfortable trying it.
Sadly, Lisa’s response to it was to hop off Tessa’s back, and gesture of Tessa to stop, which Tessa did somewhat grudgingly. She’d never had much physical strength before and getting to revel in it was too glorious an opportunity to pass up.
“Then I think we’ve run as much the test as we need to,” she said. “Thank you for indulging us Sister.”
“It’s been fascinating,” Sister Acroghast said. “We don’t normally see people come in and change their entire species. Not to mention that I haven’t seen any [Clothworks] up till now. She seem to be quite well made.”
“For all their faults, the Consortium does demand quality in their elite troops,” Tessa said.
“It’s surprising they tossed you away so easily?” Sister Acroghast.
“The commander of the mission wasn’t exactly talented,” Tessa said. “His replacement managed to almost overwhelm the world in about a day rather than losing spectacularly in a single great big battle where they had the element of surprise and the option of orbital bombardment to support their effort.”
“But from the reports we’ve heard, those victories seem to have been overturned as well,” Sister Acroghast said.
“We heard about that too,” Lisa said. “Apparently there’s dissension in the ranks over a change in leadership.”
“Now that you mention it, that strikes me as weird too,” Tessa said. “They had magical mind shackles on us when I fought. It was why all of us fought at all in fact. The Consortium is very aware that people do not like following their orders, and they’ve had a long time to work out measures to ensure disobedience doesn’t affect their bottom line.”
“Perhaps some of the troops they brought aren’t under magical compulsions?” Sister Acroghast asked.
“It is a lot more troops than they used the first time,” Lisa said.
“In theory that shouldn’t matter,” Tessa said. “The protocols were clear that all troops were expected to show unquestioning obedience and the only ones who weren’t subject to a magical compulsion to ensure it were the ones with a long history of willing compliance.”
“So all of their armies are magical slaves?” Sister Acroghast asked.
“Not all, but a large portion,” Tessa said. “It’s horrifying beyond words, but there’s other things they do that are so much worse the plight of their troops tends to be forgotten.”
“We’re not going to forget it,” Lisa said, her hand on Tessa’s arm easing tension Tessa hadn’t noticed she was carrying.
She thought of the other [Clothwork] soldiers she’d served with as Pillowcase. The memories were so different from the ones she held as Tessa but the longer she was in Pillowcase’s body the more vivid they were in her mind’s eyes.
“I’m hoping we don’t have to see them any time soon,” Tessa said, images of what a fully equipped squad of the Consortium’s elites could do if they were set loose in [Dragonshire] painting nightmare scene after nightmare scene across the landscape of her imagination.
“Well, if you do, you’ll want to ready for them,” Sister Acroghast said.
“It’s going to take a long time for that to be true,” Tessa said. “The Consortiums elites can go toe-to-toe with the highest level [Adventurers] out there.”
“Which is why you don’t fight them toe-to-toe,” Sister Acroghast said. “Come along to the afternoon sparring session and I’ll show you what I mean.”
“Seems like an odd place to learn how not to fight, but I’m game,” Lisa said.
Tessa shot her a quizzical expression.
“What? I’m not melee fighting class. Seeing how to win a fight without needing to stab someone myself seems like a great idea to me,” Lisa said.
Tessa had to concede the argument made sense, so she followed Sister Acroghast back down to the corridor to the [Chapel’s] central room.
The wooden poles which had simulated a dense section of forest had been cleared away. In their place three long beams of thick wood were suspended over a pool of murky grey water.
“That wasn’t there before was it?” Tessa asked.
On the far side of the room the [Sisters of Steel] were emerging from the residence wing on the far side of the pool and collecting the practice weapons they’d left in the racks there.
Bubbles in the pool gave the water the appearance of boiling stew broth but Tessa didn’t feel any heat radiating from it.
“It’s part of the magic of the chapel,” Sister Acroghast said. “The central chamber here is built from [Malleable Space]. It can be whatever the [Master of the Keys] wishes it to be. Within reason of course.”
“There’s a monster in there.” Pillowcase’s guess was more than a passing through. Threat evaluation was one of a tank’s primary duties, and she’d been given plenty of training across a wide variety of potential battlefields to teach her what to watch out for.
“More the simulacrum of one, and not a particularly dangerous one at that,” Sister Acroghast said. “This is meant to be training after all.”
“Training for what though?” Lisa asked.
Sister Acroghast cast a quick wave to Mother Graymourn who was helping one of the other nuns put on a gorget. Mother Graymourn nodded and gathered up a box full of armor before walking blithely over the middle plank of wood. That she did so without looking down, or slowing her pace noticeably told Pillowcase all she needed to know about how familiar the senior nuns were with this practice arena.
“What happened to the other one and who’s this?” Mother Graymourn asked, nodding towards Tessa as though she were a newcomer.
Which she supposed she was.
“We’ve met already. I’m Pillowcase, this time in Pillowcase’s body,” Tessa said. “This is what we wanted to see the [Heart Fire] about. Or one of the things.”
Mother Graymourn blinked in surprise, cocked her head to get a different look at Tessa, and then shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s good look, but can those arms hold a sword?” she asked.
“Give me one and we’ll find out,” Pillowcase said.
Tessa wasn’t that cocky.
Except for all the times when she was playing and she felt like she was at the top of her game.
Of course with Pillowcase’s eyes, she knew she had to be a little careful.
[Dragonshire] was a level 30 town for the most part according to Tessa’s research on the beta. There were quests and challenges which would take a character to higher levels – up to 50 if they were willing to tackle the full extent of the local dungeon and grind for a while – but most of the town’s folks were either noncombatants or topped out around level 30 so that the [Adventurers] could grow beyond them.
Sister Acroghast however was level 55, and Mother Graymourn was level 60. Not near the level cap but both eminently capable of wiping the floors, the walls, and most of the ceiling with a level 15 [Soul Knight].
Not that they would in a sparring match.
Generally, after the first couple of expansions, [Broken Horizons] hadn’t forced the players to waste time on battles that were scripted to be unwinnable or set against impossible foes. When the storyline called for a thing like that to occur, the game would insert a cutscene instead, so the player could at least watch a nicely rendered movie of their character receiving a colossal butt kicking.
Tessa hoped she wasn’t stepping into one of those.
Pillowcase found she kind of didn’t care.
“Is that for me?” Pillowcase asked, gesturing to the box full of armor.
“Yeah, but it looks like you’ve got your own,” Mother Graymourn said. “Does that have any [Retribution] style enchantments on it?”
“Not yet,” Pillowcase said. “If there’s anyone in town who could put one of those on though, I’d love to meet them.”
The popularity among tanks of an enchantment which damage anyone who damaged you with a melee attack wasn’t hard to explain. At low levels though the availability of magic like that was extremely limited.
“Can you swim in it?” Mother Graymourn asked.
“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Pillowcase said. “I could probably manage long enough to climb out of that pool though.”
“And you know where the [Heart Fire] is, obviously, I think that’s all we need right?” Mother Graymourn asked, glancing over to Sister Acroghast.
“We should probably fill them in on the rules for this type of sparring,” Sister Acroghast said. “And Lost Alice will need some armor as well I believe?”
“I’m good with my own stuff too,” Lisa said. “These robes have their own enchantments, and I’ll need to learn to compensate for them being weaker than the metal stuff you all wear.”
Tessa was about to protest that Lisa should be able to stand safely behind Pillowcase, but stopped herself.
They’d already seen multiple scenarios where Pillowcase wasn’t able to keep Lost Alice free from harm. Pillowcase would always want to protect Lost Alice, but Tessa didn’t need Lisa to be helpless and dependent on her.
In her heart, Tessa wanted Lisa to be as amazing as she could be, wanted to always hold her up and never hold her back, and it was the tiny seed of faith that no matter how far Lisa went, and how little she needed Tessa, she’d still choose her, still want her for who she was right now, just as she was, that promised to bloom into the love Tessa had spent her whole life longing for.