‘Sitting on the bench’ gets a bad rep Tessa decided. She’d been able to stow Pillowcase’s armor away and was lounging on one of the spectator’s seats watching Sister Cayman provide the same sort of instruction to Sister Hecte as she had to Tessa. The spectacle of the combat was far more amusing to watch from a position where she wasn’t being dunked in the water every few minutes, but the real joy was feeling Lisa leaning against her in relaxation.
Pillowcase’s cloth skin was several thousand times less sensitive than Tessa’s vastly more fragile human skin, but Tessa’s enjoyment of being in contact with Lisa came less from the tactile pleasure it provided and more, far more, from the the sheer joy of Lisa’s existence.
Pillowcase had no reference point for being drunk on love. [Clothwork] didn’t have biological imperatives towards procreation, or any threads in their design to capture an understanding of emotional connections. As far as the Consortium was concerned, bonds between soldier units were handled under the auspices of the command and control spells which ensured their troops loyalty.
Delving back into Pillowcase’s memories yielded a treasure trove of surprises though. She’d never been in love and she’d certainly never dated anyone, or been physical with another sapient being outside of combat exercises, but she had developed crushes. Lots of them.
Where romantic love was something that existed between people, a sharing each person gave part of themselves to, crushes only required a single, yearning heart. The Consortium was able to suppress unwanted behaviors in their troops, but the loyalty spells hadn’t been able to touch the deepest corners of who Pillowcase really was.
And so she’d loved. On her own. From afar. But even bound up in every sort of enchantment she’d loved.
“Resting with you like this is a balm to my soul,” Tessa said, though for Pillowcase the feeling was even more true.
“I just wish this wasn’t so fun,” Lisa said. “I want this to be super boring so it will feel like it’s lasting forever.”
“Fun does seem to go by too quickly doesn’t it?” Tessa asked, thinking blissfully back to the ‘fun’ they’d had before she switched back to Pillowcase’s body.
It was very good that [Clothwork] couldn’t blush. Vampires could though and Tessa spied a delightful reddening of Lost Alice’s features.
“Maybe we should have more fun in our lives,” Lisa whispered. It was a private telepathic channel, but the whisper still made Tessa’s knees buckle.
So it was good that she was already sitting. Flopping onto the group as the result of a conversation that was inaudible to everyone else would have been weird even for her.
“Now?” she asked, a unexpectedly large part of her hoping for an affirmative.
“We shouldn’t,” Lisa said. “But god is it tempting.”
[Clothwork] stomach’s didn’t come equipped with butterflies, and yet Tessa discovered they turned out to be capable of spontaneously producing butterflies by the bushel with the right prompting. The right, lovely, [Vampiric], sensual prompting.
Like, for example, the soft hand that was tracing a path down from her ear to her collarbone.
“You have no idea how much I want to run to the [Heart Fire] and change back right now,” she said.
“You have no idea how much I don’t want to even let you get that far,” Lisa said and then sighed. “But the others will be here in a few minutes.”
“And I should probably stay with Pillowcase’s body until we’re done with questing for the night,” Tessa agreed, releasing her excitement and accepting her current fate.
“Something to look forward to then, right?” Lisa said, her voice less sultry but still wonderfully warm.
“Something to fight for,” Tessa said. “I feel like it’s getting easier and easier to forget we’re doing dangerous stuff here. Or, not forget. More like…”
“Like ignore?” Lisa said. “I think I know what you mean. It’s not confidence exactly. I’m still deeply aware of how tiny our powers are compared to nearly everything in this world, but the idea of running into an [Elder Sand Worm] or something doesn’t seem as frightening as it did when we landed here.”
“Denial maybe?” Tessa asked. “We’ve run into some awful stull and survived it so far, well most of the time, so maybe that’s making it easier to pretend the threats aren’t as bad as we rationally know they are?”
“I didn’t get a degree in psychology, but it sounds fine to my layman’s ears,” Lisa said. “Maybe not super healthy, but at the moment, I’ll take it.”
“Huh, you know, that’s an interesting idea,” Tessa said.
“What? That we should indulge in unhealthy behavior because this whole situation is ridiculous and we’ll snap otherwise?” Lisa asked.
“No, although maybe, I mean what’s healthy in one environment may be terrible in another right? Adapt and survive and all that. What I meant though is that there are a lot of people who played [Broken Horizons] and who had all sorts of backgrounds. We’ve lost contact with our Earth, but there’s still people here with skills that you’d primarily find on Earth rather than in the [Fallen Kingdoms].”
“Skills like counseling and therapy,” Lisa said as she made the same leap Tessa had.
“They’re probably already working with the people they know, but there are hundreds of thousands of players. The vast majority of us will probably never run into them. But they could help so much if we could find one!”
“I’d be afraid of them being swamped with work, but metal health isn’t something I’ve heard anyone else talking about,” Lisa said.
“Our world could use a lot of work there,” Tessa said. “Though to be fair, at least we have psychologists, and counselors, and an entire profession devoted to it. When was the last time you saw a psychiatrist in a game who wasn’t the ‘crazy evil villain’?”
“Fair point. I’m guessing [Clerics] generally fill that role here, but they don’t exactly have a Cure Mental Wounds spell to work with.”
“Maybe Glimmerglass could help us get in touch with one?” Tessa said. “She was working with Penswell during the big battle, and, I think, is still reporting in. She should have a channel to any global efforts the players apart from the fight with the Consortium.”
“Worth a shot. My guess is that a lot of those efforts are on hold until the Consortium’s invasion is sorted out. If we were higher level, we’d probably be getting drafted to help too.”
“Worst case we could get an update on how things are going I guess,” Tessa said.
Lisa giggled, and Tessa shot her a quizzical expression.
“Sorry, I was just picturing us getting hooked up with a substance abuse counselor and having to sit there going ‘Hi. My name is Lost Alice and it’s been 20 hours since I last drank blood.’ Probably not that funny, but it seemed silly in my head.”
Tessa heard the echoes of emptiness in Lisa’s words. It wasn’t being a [Vampire] that bothered her. It was what being a [Vampire] had led her to do.
Lost Alice was a killer. All [Vampires] of her bloodline were. The actions a newly risen [Vampire] undertook when the world was nothing but a bloodrage and they couldn’t form coherent thoughts couldn’t be held against them though.
Lisa, however, had killed of her own volition.
Mikonnel had been a traitor to the [Fallen Kingdoms]. He’d be holding the two of them captive in the [Sunless Deeps]. He’d planned to do horrible things to them. The world was no poorer for his loss. And she’d been ravenous.
None of that kept the choice she’d made from weighing on her though.
And nothing Tessa could think to say would change that.
But maybe she didn’t have to.
“I mean, you could have made it two hours ago instead,” Tessa said. “I did have liters and liters of blood to spare then. Now you’d have to be content with fluff.”
“Eww, I don’t want to drain my girlfriend,” Lisa said, that gloom that had wrapped around her forgotten at least for the moment. “And you do not have liters of blood to spare. Don’t even lose one if you can help it. You need your blood.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tessa said. “I’m just saying that I don’t mind the idea of being a tasty snack.”
Lisa stared at her for a long moment.
“Oh my god. Seriously? That’s the line you went for?”
Tessa tried to waggle Pillowcase’s eyebrows and knew she was failing miserably. That was okay, cheesy pickup lines delivered with both full and absolutely no sincerity had a magic that transcended facial expressions.
“I should bite you for that, but then you would win!” Lisa said, incensed at the unfairness of it all.
“I’m clever like that,” Tessa said. “I’m kind of hoping we can find a child counselor though.”
“Feel like regressing a few years?” Lisa asked, her words honeyed with sarcasm.
“Not for me,” Tessa said glancing over towards the door where the rest of their party was finally arriving.
“Ah, yeah, them,” Lisa said spotting Rip and Matt at the forefront of the procession. “That could be pretty good. Assuming we can talk them into it.”
“Lead by example maybe?” Tessa said. “I don’t mind sitting on a virtual couch and talking about all the stuff we’ve been through. Or, I guess, in a virtual support group circle?”
“Given the circumstances, I’m guessing the support group model would probably work the best,” Lisa said. “It might even be something we could just do with the whole party even before we find an official counselor to lead us.”
“That’s a good point. We could do an ‘after action wrap up’ with the whole team and try to make sure everyone feels comfortable enough to talk about the deeper stuff that’s bothering them.”
“Right. Make sure everyone knows they’re not in this alone.”
“Not even our space demon friends I guess,” Tessa said as Baelgritz, Illuthiz and Hermeziz came in at the end of party’s train.
They didn’t burst aflame the moment their feet touched the chapel’s floor, which Tessa took to be a good sign.
A better one came a moment later as Mother Graymourn stepped forward.
“Hail travellers!” she said. “The [Sisters of Steel] offer welcome to all who come with goodwill and brave hearts”
She addressed the gathering in general but the bow of her head at the end seemed to be directly most clearly towards Illuthiz.
“I think our…friends are here?” Rip said, pausing as though paging through several options on how to describe Tessa and Lisa.
Tessa waved, catching their attention.
“Yes. They’ve had quite a good sparring session already,” Mother Graymourn said. “If you’d care to join us for a round too, we’ll be resetting our arena shortly and you’re welcome to stay for that.”
“I really want to see the nuns vs demons battle,” Lisa said privately.
“It does seem kind of iconic doesn’t it?” Tessa asked.
“That and I’m dying of curiosity to know if Baelgritz’s crew can actually level,” Lisa said. “I mean what would they even level to? They don’t have classes like ours. Would they gain one? Would they rank up in species type to one of the bigger demon types?”
“I’m going to bet they can, and they’ll just get better stats, no species change though,” Tessa said with nothing to support her guess beside her personal sense for how she’d design things. “It’ll be fascinating to see though either way though.”
Baelgritz seemed to have a similar thought and raised his hand like a student requesting permission to speak,
Which Tessa remembered he sort of was. Yawlorna had described her crew as effectively a bunch of grad students who she’d taken along on a research trip that went horribly, horribly wrong. Despite his appearance, it finally clicked for Tessa that Baelgritz might be even younger than she was.