Breakfast-turned-lunch had been as excellent as promised. It turned out that where Rip was orders of magnitude stronger as a fighter, the [Cooks] who’d spent a similar amount of time and effort working on their craft had progressed just a wee bit as well.
“Is it wrong that I feel like I could run two marathons back to back?” Rose asked as she and Jamal wandered out of the [Great Hall], leaving behind what had been a mini-continuation of the party from the night before.
“I don’t even need to eat, but whatever magical engineer made it so [Metal Mechanoids] could get energy from absorbed food? They’re incredible, beautiful people and I love them,” Jamal said.
“Check out your stats,” Tessa said.
She and Lost Alice met them at the gate out into the city, and Rose was struck by how comfortable they looked with each other now.
Early on, in the distant pre-history of ‘a few days ago’, there’d been a lot of tension in the group, though most of it came from external sources. No one could really believe what was happening too them, and (quite rightly it turned out) no one felt even a little safe.
When Pillowcase and Lost Alice had invited her and Jamal to group up, Rose’s only thought had been that being part of any group at all would be better than stumbling along alone.
Especially after the object lesson in peril the original [Wraithwing] attack had been. Everyone else had kind of lost their mind, but New Mom One and New Mom Two had held it together and managed to fight the indestructible horde of death birds. At least for a little while.
Rose was joking when she referred to her party leaders as their “New Moms”. She knew she couldn’t escape her real family that easily.
It didn’t mean it wasn’t nice to pretend though.
And Tessa and Lost Alice didn’t seem to mind them too much.
If anything, they seemed willing to treat Rose and Jamal as real human beings so easily that Rose wasn’t entirely sure they hadn’t mistaken herself and Jamal for Rip Shot and Matt Painting.
Which would be an easy mistake to make. Rose herself wasn’t entirely sure where the line was between her two identities. She was Rip, sure, a young woman, a Tabbywile, an [Adventurer].
But she was also a teenage girl, a human, and an average, unathletic high school student with an amazing best friend and zero interest in romance or sex.
Of the two choices, Rip seemed like the clear winner of who she’d want to be at any given moment.
And yet, most of her thoughts were centered on herself as Rose.
It wasn’t really a mystery why either.
Rose was Jamal’s friend. As Rip, Matt was a solid teammate and one she’d stick up for and protect just like she would anyone else, but it was Jamal who really knew her.
And so she wanted to be Rose.
“We were thinking to do take another run at the dungeon tonight,” Tessa said. “But we wanted to check with you two first.”
“With us?” Jamal asked.
“We all leveled up a few times in there,” Lost Alice said. “I think we’re all level 34 now right?”
“Yeah, we both hit that,” Rose said, wondering where the conversation was going.
Were they going to ask if Rip and Matt wanted to retire now that they’d gotten strong enough to defend themselves in a pinch?
Were they going to suggest that Rip and Matt sit out because of the mistakes Rip had made?
Were they going to tell them that they’d hadn’t leveled enough and so they’d found some other, higher level, [Adventurers] who wanted Rip and Matt’s spots?
Rose’s mind swirled like a hurricane gathering force as she fought against the terrible ideas that kept popping up.
Tessa and Lost Alice weren’t like that.
She could trust them.
Except that had always been a mistake before and the mere thought of ignoring her fears sent a fresh shiver of terror through her.
“With new levels, come abilities,” Tessa said. “And ‘in the middle of battle’ can be a rough time to get a handle of them.”
Tessa’s voice and expression were light and reassuring, which set off all sorts of warning bells in Rose’s head. No one cared to make things sound okay unless they were about drop a boot on her.
“So we were thinking we’d practice a bit with ours first,” Lost Alice said.
“Our friendly neighborhood battle nuns offered to let us practice with them again, now that we’ve got some new tricks to show them.” Tessa said.
“And we thought you might like to join us?” Lost Alice said.
“Or, if you had plans already, we could hold off on the dungeon run for now and help some of the lowbies we’ve kind of left behind work on building themselves up,” Tessa said.
For a long moment Rose’s brain sort of shorted out.
They weren’t rejecting her?
Wait, they want to do something with her?
They even looked sort of nervous? Like they thought Rose and Jamal wouldn’t want to spend every waking moment with them?
Being thrust into a fantasy realm and merging memories with an alternate aspect of herself had been less jarring than embracing that thought.
“I think we’d love that,” Jamal said. “Uh, going with you I mean. For training. We could do the helping thing too. Or the dungeon. I…we don’t have any plans yet.”
“Oh! Good!” Tessa said. “I think you’ll get a lot out of the training sessions. I don’t know if they have any [Dream Spinners] there but at low levels a lot of the abilities are similar so they’ll have some great feedback on opportunities to look for and problems to watch out for.”
“That they’ll get to beat us to a pulp demonstrating a lot of what they have to teach is probably all the payment that they really need, but Tessa and I were figuring we’d drop a tithe on them to cover our whole party,” Lost Alice said.
Because of course that was how they thought.
Rose let Rip take the reins for a bit.
She felt too good to be falling apart inside all of a sudden but that’s what was happening nonetheless and she was endlessly grateful that Rip was put together differently enough that she was able to carry on without letting that show.
“Hey, just the girl I was looking for! And about to go training too! This is perfect.” Mom Three, or Obby as everyone else called her said, catching up to the quartet of her teammates as they wandered down the roads toward the chapel. “Would you mind if I abscond with Rip for a bit? I’ve got some ideas I want to try out with her.”
“Oh, I could do that instead then,” Jamal said.
“Nope,” Obby said. “This is something special just for Rip. At least if she’d willing to take a chance on some unusual training?”
Having someone who was roughly twice your size and looked remarkably similar to the iconography of an [Unholy Fiend] from your world’s mythology sit down beside you and place their hands on your badly injured body was, Yawlorna observed, probably not the least scary thing that one could be forced to endure.
That the badly injured [Farmer] wasn’t screaming out in terror was a testament to their bravery.
Bravery which Yawlorna was forced to note had wound them up in their current predicament.
“Did the [Boar] sneak up on you?” Glimmerglass asked.
“No, I saw it just fine,” the injured woman said through gritted teeth.
“Why…?” Glimmerglass started to ask.
“I thought I could earn my keep here if I brought in some [Meat] for the [Cooks],” the [Farmer] said.
“You didn’t have…” Glimmerglass began again.
“Of course I did,” the [Farmer] said. “It’s a matter of pride. Can’t be freeloading forever.”
“You didn’t have to take on something that tough,” Glimmerglass amended. “There’s plenty that needs to be taken care of here and in town. There are acres of land that no one is working at all, and plenty of other stuff you can do that will be at least slightly less painful.”
“Oh. Uh, I see,” the [Farmer] said. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem. You’re giving my apprentice her a chance to see how strong her magic really is.”
“Should I begin casting?” Yawlorna asked.
“Yes, but take it slow. Go with [Lesser Healing Touch] to start with,” Glimmerglass said.
“Even though I’m not having problems with [Healing Stream]?” Yawlorna asked.
“Trust me,” Glimmerglass said.
With a shrug, Yawlorna began casting as she’d been instructed to.
Working magic was still unbelievable to her. She’d never imagine how simple it was one that first dam of understanding broke.
She guessed that Glimmerglass was going to have her practice a few dozen times with [Lesser Healing Touch] before repairing the woman’s injuries completely with one of her own spells.
Yawlorna had barely dropped a single mote of magic into the [Farmer] though when she sat up, a look of wonder and joy shining from her.
“I’m better!” she said. “All the pain? It’s gone? I’m not even punctured! And I feel so good!”
“I think you leveled up,” Glimmerglass said. “Tell me, have you ever had the urge to go on an adventure?”
Hailey was helping rebuild [Wagon Town]. Tessa was doing some stuff with her guild. The majority of a planetary mass separated them. Despite all that, they were closer than they’d been in more than half a decade.
“Once things calm down and we get the [Teleport Gates] back online, I am so coming out there to power level you up to the cap properly,” Hailey said.
“We’ve been doing pretty good with leveling on our own,” Tessa said. “You might be surprised where we get to before the stuff with the Consortium settles down.”
“Okay, well that was just an excuse to come out and meet your new girl anyways,” Hailey said.
“I could add her to this channel if you want?” Tessa asked.
“Noooo! No no no!” Hailey said. “We should meet properly. Not randomly over a chat line.”
“Uh, didn’t we meet everyone in game ‘randomly over a chat line’?” Tessa asked.
“Yeah, but it’s not a game anymore is it?” Hailey said. “These are all real people we’re dealing with now.”
“As opposed to before, when it was just real people behind a computer screen?”
“It was real with some people before,” Hailey said. “If you murdered someone in PvP though, you weren’t killing them for real, and you weren’t really a blood enemy of theirs.”
“But for people in the same guild?”
“Even there. Some people were more real than others,” Hailey said. “I knew you, we talked, we hung out, we did things together. So you were real to me. The guy who joined our guild for two days and raided the bank when no one was looking though? Basically a demon in my eyes.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not healthy, but I remember hating him enough that I can see where you’re coming from,” Tess said.
“I am serious about getting you leveled up though,” Hailey said. “This place is much too dangerous for even the high levels in some spots, especially the new areas. I don’t want to see you get eaten by some mid-level nobody when a day of decent grinding could have left you invincible to it.”
“We should work out something like that in general for all the lowbies,” Tessa said.
“There’s a lot of lowbies in the world. Believe me, I’ve seen the analytics,” Hailey said.
“I wasn’t thinking of trying to power level them all personally,” Tessa said. “More like setting up something so that people who don’t have guilds, or don’t have ones with anyone high level left in them have somewhere to turn to get setup with a high level player who can help them out.”
“There’s going to be people who hate that idea,” Hailey said.
“There’s people who hate every idea. The difference in this case is that there’s something out there that we’re going to need every possible [Adventurer] at max level that we can get to have a chance at standing against.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me tell you about what we ran into in the [High Beyond]. You might want to find somewhere to sit down though.”