Morning came as a delight, an experience that Tessa found as unfamiliar as it was joyously welcomed.
“Good morning,” Lisa said, brushing Tessa’s hair with and waking her up fully in the process.
It wasn’t a bad way to wake up at all.
“Good morning,” Tessa said, looking around the small [Tea Shop], pleased to see that no disasters seemed to be imminent. “Did you get any sleep?”
“Some,” Lisa said. “I woke with the sunrise though. It wasn’t bad. It was nice getting to watch you.”
Tessa almost turned away and hid her face. It was sweet and endearing that Lisa had seen her sleeping, but also embarrassing too. She’d just knew she’d been drooling or snoring or something terribly undignified.
But that didn’t seem to matter.
Lisa was still close to her.
Still running her hand through Tessa’s hair.
Still a little more beautiful than Tessa could quite handle.
Especially laying cuddled in an actual bed together.
They’d scavenged the aforementioned bed from the [Great Hall] as well as some makeshift curtains to keep the daylight out, but the [Tea Shop] was still pretty bare. A small empty space was nice though. They could do things with that.
The thought of setting up a place together sent a little thrill down Tessa’s spine.
Even if the effort wouldn’t make sense.
They were leveling quickly and the ramification of that had occurred to her as she was falling asleep the night before. With her last conscious thoughts, Tessa had observed that what they were building here wasn’t invested in the location, or the people of the town. They weren’t tied to [Dragonshire] and, probably, never could be.
It was nice to have a home of course, and nice to have friends and acquaintances in the places they’d been, but [Dragonshire] wasn’t a place for [Adventurers] to set down roots. In time Tessa and her party would need to move on to where the next great challenge was, and that meant leaving behind the safe places like this, so that they could help make other places safe too.
“Ready to face the day?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah. Far more than I should be,” Tessa said. “We didn’t sleep that long did we?”
“I don’t think so. It’s not even mid-morning yet according to the clock in m HUD,”Lisa said.
“That’s what I thought. But I feel great,” Tessa said.
“Well, it was Pillowcase who took all the physical abuse last night, right?” Lisa said. “How’s she doing?”
“Well above optimal,” Pillowcase said. “I think when we change from one body to another any lingering physical damage is left behind. I’m not sure the same would be true of psychic or spiritual damage though.”
“That’s interesting,” Lisa said. “Lost Alice feels stronger and better than ever, but we think that’s a result of the leveling we did. All of our stats improved, so we’re stronger, tougher, smarter, basically just more now. You didn’t level in [Void Speaker] though, did you?”
“Nope. All of last night’s experience went into [Soul Knight],” Tessa said. “I think I’m comparing how I feel now with how I used to feel when I woke up on Earth though.”
“There’s a wide gap between our memories of waking up on Earth and waking up in a Consortium duty berth,” Pillowcase said.
“And, you know, waking up with you,” Tessa said and was rewarded for her observation with a kiss.
“I should let you have breakfast,” Lisa said when she pulled back.
Tessa’s stomach growled in agreement.
“I could kill a stack of pancakes, but that’s probably asking a bit much isn’t it?” she said.
“Maybe not,” Lisa said with a delighted smile. “Rip and Matt are up already, as are a few of our new recruits!”
“Oh yeah! Recruiting! You know I kind of forgot that was one of the reasons for the party last night,” Tessa said. “Did you get any of the crafters to sign up?”
“If you were in Pillowcase’s body, I’d have you check the guild roster for [Second Stars] yourself, but since you can’t I’ll save you the anticipation,” Lisa said. “Yes. We got crafters. Specifically we got half the crafters who were in the [Great Hall] last night. And about two dozen full parties. We’re up to over three hundred people in the guild now.”
Tessa needed to breath. Her body was still human enough to require air. It simply forgot that for a long moment.
“I’m pretty sure I just had a brain glitch,” she said. “I could swear I heard you say our guild has three hundred people in it?”
“No glitch,” Lisa said. “We’ve got a small army of ‘friends’ now.”
“Friends? Oh. Joy. I’ve always been such a social creature,” Tessa said, wondering if it was too late to flee screaming into the hills.
Maybe a friendly [Cursed Walker] would do her a solid and devour her whole. That would be better than trying to play cat-herder for three hundred people. Much, much better.
“That expression is the exact same one I made when I noticed our guild roster this morning,” she said. “After some thought though, I don’t think it will be that bad.”
“I mean, I’m sure you’re right,” Tessa said. “It won’t be that bad. It’ll be much worse. Guilds of that size are like gravity wells of drama! We’re going to be spending every moment of our day settling the stupidest of arguments and breaking up fights that neither sides wants us involved in.”
“Normally, I would say you are one hundred thousand percent correct,” Lisa said. “But we happen to have a genius in our ranks.”
Tessa was certain that was overselling whatever idea someone had come up with. Large groups of people fought. It was a rule of nature it seemed. Even small groups were all but guaranteed to have drama from time to time, but with only a few members the lines of communication could be kept open to help resolve whatever issues arose.
At least as long as everyone still wanted to stay connected.
Echoes of her guild disintegrating splashed on the shores of Tessa’s memory.
They hadn’t been a large guild.
And they’d been close.
She’d loved them. Even the annoying ones.
And that hadn’t been enough.
Lisa must have seen the turmoil roiling in Tessa’s expression because she put a hand on Tessa’s arm to reassure her.
“No. Really. I think this will work,” Lisa said. “We’re not going to be a real guild. Not like in the game.”
Tessa paused her downward spiral to try to take in how that could be.
“Usually guilds have a leader, or a group of leaders who everyone’s supposed to turn to to resolve difficulties. We’re not doing that,” Lisa said.
“We’re not? I thought the other’s were hellbent on making us the guild leaders though?” Tessa said.
“Oh, they are, but Rip had an ingenious idea,” Lisa said. “She basically asked what a guild is and what it does. And ultimately, it’s just a communication channel.”
“And a shared set of resources, like a [Guild Hall] and the [Guild Bank],” Tessa said, starting to see where the idea was heading.
“Right. The [Guild Bank] is a prime example of where [Guilds] can go horribly wrong,” Lisa said. “People go nuts when someone steals from the [Guild]. So you know how we’re going to get around that?”
“Hmm, not ‘no [Guild Bank]’. People would hate that too,” Tessa guessed. “Oh, I know, no ownership of the contents!”
“Right. Anything you put in there is fair game for anyone to take for any reason,” Lisa said. “Because there really is no [Guild]. It’s just a method of stay in touch as a greater community. Instead, for the close knit groups that most people join a guild hoping to find, we can use [Alliances].”
[Alliances] capped out at three full teams, so twenty four people, though for a lot of modern day uses, people ran content with partial [Alliances]. That was still plenty for fights to break out, but Tessa could see what Rip had been thinking.
It was pretty clever.
In the game, [Alliances] couldn’t function as long term groups, despite being nicely sized for that purpose, because when someone logged off they also left the [Alliance], so the only method having a persistent [Alliance] was for everyone to stay logged in at all time. In the world they were living in though that wasn’t exactly going to be a problem.
“So any drama that boils up will be isolated to the [Alliance]?” she said and knew that was wrong the moment she spoke the words.
“Oh, I’m expecting problems to spill out all over the place,” Lisa said. “The key though is that whenever people are unhappy, they can just leave. If they cool down and change their mind, we’ll welcome them back. Unless it’s something that’s actually serious. Then we can ban them from the guild itself. That part will be on us, or me if you want. I have no problem with the idea of perma-banning jerks from the group. As far as I’m concerned, if it dwindles down to just our team, I’m fine with that, but I’m guessing that after enough jerks get booted people might get the hint and chill out to some extent.”
Tessa reflected on that for a long moment.
“It’ll still be a disaster,” she said. “But maybe a manageable one? If we have to make an in-group vs. out-group division, and we will unless we’re willing to tolerate and enable objectively terrible behavior, we’ll be sowing the seeds for a large scale conflict between ‘our friends’ and ‘the jerks’.”
There was a part of Tessa that wanted everyone to like her and quailed at the idea creating a large group of people who wished her ill.
Countless examples of partisan conflicts from Earth’s history shouted from history classes and documentaries and social media posts about how horrifically bad “us vs them” feuds could get. With [Adventurers] in the mix the blood would never stop running either.
Or it would. If the [Hounds of Fate] were brought into the mix.
Engender enough hate and people could, no, would, arrange scenarios where one of their own died to draw the [Hounds of Fate] in so that the moment they killed you, the Hounds were there, ready to carry you off before there was any chance of making it to a [Heart Fire Shrine].
Tessa could see it so clearly. The cruelty and malice was too real, and would be especially prevalent in the people they would be most likely to make enemies of.
She couldn’t handle that. Not worrying about her own safety like that and definitely not worrying about Rip or Matt or Lisa.
That future can be avoided, Pillowcase said, a core of determination rising up within the words. And if it isn’t, I’m the one who will handle it.
Pillowcase offered Tessa three visions of what might lay ahead of them.
In each one, she saw them kicking people from the [Guild] who’d done something bad enough to warrant it. A group gathered around the ostracised person, of other people who’d been kicked out and those who still supported them, and together they formed an antagonist guild.
In the first vision, there was animosity that could be diffused through each group simply going in different directions. The world was large and there was plenty of room for a wide variety of people in it.
In the second vision, Tessa saw the animosity diffused via reconciliation. If she made a mistake in ostracizing someone, she knew she had in it in her to make amends. And if she wasn’t able to facilitate a reconciliation that was needed, she had new friends who could. Lots of new friends.
As that vision played out, Tessa saw something else. Something hiding away and disengaging could never do.
She saw herself standing for something that mattered, and she saw how that could change the world. If she had the courage to make sure that unacceptable behavior had consequences, she would be reviled and hated by the people she enforced those consequences on, but not by all of them. Not forever.
People could change. She’d seen that, but that often took a wake up call and a reason. Like the consequences of their action coming home to roost. And even if she couldn’t be that wake up call (which she knew was a long shot in the best of cases), it was still worth standing up for the people she believed in.
She’d never been a [Tank] on Earth, but things were different here and in Pillowcase she’d found a piece of her soul that she’d never known she’d hungered for as strongly as she did.
And then there was the nightmare, this vision Tessa had been crafting for herself. The future that lead to outright war that descended to the cruelest, most inhumane of depths.
And that’s what I’m for, Pillowcase said.
She’d been made to be a monster, and she could be monster again, and, sometimes, even monsters had their purpose.