The sky was alight with shooting stars and far too distant fire flies. For those trapped in burning ships in the void of space it was a rather catastrophic period, but for the [Adventurers] watching the display from the ground, it was quite lovely.
“Today wasn’t a bad day,” Tessa said with a gentle sigh.
She was back in her human body and Lisa’s hug around her waist was all the confirmation she needed that her feelings were shared.
It wasn’t dawn yet, that was still well off, and the post-power leveling session party was still in full swing. As it turned out, Tessa’s team hadn’t been the only ones to gain a few levels by the end of the day. None of the rest made out quite as well as they did, which was largely thanks to Glimmerglass’s help, but everyone who’d ventured out into the unknown had made it back, almost always richer and stronger for their daring.
“We’re level 30 now.” Lisa didn’t sound like she could believe it, which Tessa could more than relate to.
In the game, getting to level 30, especially with a power leveler helping them wouldn’t have been that incredible. It was just grinding – fairly mindless work with little risk before you got to enjoy the real game.
By contrast, their night had been anything but mindless despite the risk of dying being similarly low. With Glimmerglass as a backstop, they’d been free to relax and focus solely on the roles the team needed them to play.
They hadn’t been perfect. There’d been plenty of mistakes and plenty of miscommunication.
But they’d been learning.
Learning what they could do, learning what they couldn’t get away with, and learning to trust.
Trust was always the hardest one, since it went beyond believing the rest of the team cared about you. Trust on the battlefield meant understanding each others intentions and capabilities.
Tessa knew Lisa would sacrifice a lot to keep Rip and Matt safe. That was easy to rely on. Knowing how much Lisa was capable of doing before things went bad enough that Glimmerglass had to step in and sort things out though? That took a lot of trial and error.
The Spacers (Tessa had decided that calling them ‘demons’ was biasing her perceptions of them and she didn’t like it, hence the new term) had experienced the same thing as well but to a greater extent. Baelgritz tried to play tank for his mates and Yawlorna fretted over all of them but as the night wore on it grew visibly easier for them to rely on Obby and Tessa and Lisa and Lady Midnight to keep them safe so that they were able to fully cut loose. They still weren’t as comfortable with the group as Rip and Matt were, but spending several hours in life and death struggles with the [Adventurers] by their side had won some respect even from Hermeziz, grudging though it might have been.
“We were supposed to do something else tonight, weren’t we?” Tessa asked, searching her memories of a very busy day.
“We were going to try something to help the people who got bit by the [Hungry Shadows],” Lisa said. “I checked on them when we got back though. They still seem stable. So we might be able to tackle that latter.”
“That’s good,” Tessa said, enjoying the pleasant lassitude of the late hour and being at the party’s edge, alone with someone amazing.
“I’ll probably need to gear up for that too,” Lisa said. “We got a nice pile of loot but the stuff Feral Fang sends us is going to be a lot better.”
“Yay for high level sugar mommas,” Tessa said, raising her glass as a toast.
“Says the lady with her own personal one,” Lisa teased.
“Glimmerglass might be me, but she’s also her own person, I’m not taking any of her gold or even asking for it unless I have to,” Tessa said, a brief thought flashing through her mind at just how weird that sentence was.
“Didn’t you send gold to your alts when you were playing though?” Lisa asked.
“Sure. Starting out poor sucks,” Tessa said.
“Isn’t that what Glimmerglass would be doing?” Lisa asked.
“Sort of? I guess? I don’t know. I just like the idea of her staying as rich as she can,” Tessa said. “I stopped playing for so long and it robbed her of getting to max level and having all the good loot she should have.”
“Have you talked to her? I am one hundred percent certain that is not how she sees it,” Lisa said.
“That’s because she’s the nicer side of me,” Tessa said.
Lisa chuckled and turned to look at Tessa.
“It’s adorable that you believe that,” she said, and snuggled in closer.
She was touch was mildly cool, as it seemed [Vampires] generally were when calm and relaxed. Despite the night air being somewhat chilly, Tessa didn’t mind though. She’d never been a fan of freezing, but despite knowing that the air was a bit crisp, the temperature wasn’t bothering her.
Nor was sitting on the stone wall outside the [Great Hall] with no more padding than the tunic and breeches she had on.
“Are we changing?” she asked. “I mean, more than just leveling up?”
“We’d have to be,” Lisa said. “Even without being both Pillowcase and Tessa, think of what you’ve been through. And not just that, how different is your life at the moment that it was last week? Is anything the same?”
“Well, I’m probably fired now, but, to be fair, I really hated that job, so that seems like a total win, even with things trying to eat me here.”
“Good things are changes too,” Lisa said. “I miss my family, and I thought this place was going to be nothing but a nightmare after the [Wraithwing] attack, but, if I’m being honest, I think I’m happier here and now than I’ve been in a long time.”
Tessa breathed in the moment, letting the feeling spread through her and suffuse her cells.
“Yeah,” she said. “Me too. I know there are a lot of people that’s not true for. I’ve heard some of the other [Adventurers] talking about needing to get home, and I hope they can. For me though, if we’re trapped here forever? I shouldn’t want that, but I kind of do.”
“It feels like it’s too good to last, doesn’t it?” Lisa asked. “Like the Matric is going to spit us out, or Aslan’s going to give us the boot from Narnia any minute now.”
“I say we team up with the White Witch,” Tessa said.
“If she’s Tilda Swinton then, uh, yeah, obviously,” Lisa said.
Out on the barrow downs, Tessa heard a wolf howl. Probably a [Werewolf]. They hadn’t pushed deeply enough into the rolling hills to find anything significantly higher level than themselves, since there wouldn’t have been any award when Glimmerglass was forced to step in and wipe them out. Tessa knew that stronger and scarier monsters were waiting for them though.
“This definitely won’t last,” Lisa said. “But that doesn’t mean that what comes next ,and what comes after that, and so on, and so on has to be a step back. In fact I don’t think we can ever step back.”
She sounded hopeful at the idea, which helped Tessa read her meaning.
“Even if we were to find a gate or something back to Earth, we won’t be the same people we were, will we?” Tessa said.
“I don’t think so. I’m picturing going back to do physical therapy and knowing that a place like this exists. Even if I did, life there would look so different to me. I can’t imagine fitting into it anymore.”
“If we brought Lost Alice and Pillowcase back, I think just having their perspective would make things radically different too,” Tessa said. “And if we got split apart again? Just knowing that there was parts of myself in each world? I mean, I remember longing to play the game and that was when Glimmerglass was just imaginary. How could any job on Earth seem more important than whatever monster Pillowcase was facing? Or the people Glimmerglass was keeping alive?”
“Yeah. And that’s from our Earthly perspective. I know as Lost Alice, I’d be sad and worried about how Lisa was doing pretty much all the time. Earth’s as terrible a place as here and Lisa’s missing a lot of the advantages that Lost Alice has. And, okay this is weird and ridiculous, but I feel lonely even thinking about being apart from myself like that.”
“Count me in for being weird and ridiculous too then,” Tessa said.
“And what about us?” Lisa said, leaving the question dangerously open ended.
“We’ll change too I guess,” Tessa said. “If I’m not who I was when we met, then I probably won’t be who I am now forever either.”
“And the same’s true for me,” Lisa said. “Which is scary. I like this. I don’t want it to change.”
“I like this too,” Tessa said. “But I think I do want it to change. I don’t think we’re just becoming different people. I think we’re become more. I feel like I’m still myself, both my Tessa self and my Pillowcase self, but that by having both of those perspectives I’m seeing more of who that is and who I can be. And I like that. And I think, or hope, that the same can be true with us.”
In the back of her mind, a marriage proposal floated around but Tessa shooed it away. Falling in love was an incredible thing, but rushing things was the fastest method of falling out of love that she knew. Far better to savor each moment and draw together naturally, being aware of the good and the bad than to pretend there would be no problems ever and that everything was perfect.
“Now that, I’d like,” Lisa said. “And if we do wind up getting booted back to Earth, that’s something that doesn’t have to end. Even if we’re far apart.”
“I’m unemployed as far as I know. I see no reason why we’d need to stay farther apart than we are now.”
Lisa smiled. “And we could always get closer.”
The little squeeze she gave Tessa suggested all sorts of fun, but neither were quite ready to move from their perch.
“Should we look for a house?” Tessa asked, her gaze settling on the night darkened building of [Dragonshire].
“Moving in together. I guess we are going to get close.”
“Well, there is the whole ‘we’re also homeless now’ thing, but I was mostly thinking it would be nice to grab a place before all the nice spots are taken,” Tessa said.
“That might not be a problem,” Lisa said. “We know the [Great Hall] is an instanced area. It’s possible the houses on this side of the river are too.”
It was a strange thought that they could live in the same house as another group and yet each be living in their own versions of it, but it was somewhat par for the course for the [Fallen Kingdoms].
“And yes, I would love to look for a house with you,” Lisa added. “Though we probably want to bring the others too if we want to make it a base of operations for everyone. Or, I guess we could stake a claim on the tea house we were in last night. It was small enough that it could be just for us.”
“I definitely want to have a space for just us, but you’re probably right about bringing the others along. I haven’t been paying attention to how the recruiting efforts have been going, but I don’t think we’ll need a massive guild hall or anything.”
“But having the kids around at least would be good,” Lisa finished, completing Tessa’s thought perfectly.
Another shooting star passed overhead, but the problems it was caught up in were far away and no part of Tessa’s world.