The drop of candy in Balegritz’s hand didn’t seem like the sort of thing that could change the world. His world maybe, poisons and drugs could come in packages that small easily. The whole world though? That seemed like a lot to ask from one little candy.
“So this is a [Mana Charger]?” Illuthiz asked. “I expected it to be glowing like a sun with how you described it.”
“That’s during the tempering period,” Hammy Burglar said. “We had to design special eyewear to make working with it possible.”
“That was after we blew up three batches because someone couldn’t see what she was doing,” Vinyard said.
“Anyways, the point is, we manage to create a Tier 1 [Mana Charger] with the ingredients we found here. Simple stuff too,” Hammy said.
“Stuff that should be available everywhere,” Vinyard added.
“It makes the argument that this world was designed as an [Adventurer’s] playground more believable,” Balegritz said.
“I agree, disturbing though that idea may be,” Illuthiz said. “Explain again, in detail, how this will confirm or deny your hypothesis that we possess magical aptitude here which we lacked in our home realm?”
“It’s fairly simple,” Hammy said. “There was a mechanic in the game version of this world called [Overcharging]. It was put in for complicated reasons and never fully explored and well utilized. If we’re right and you have magic, the [Mana Charger] should trigger that state in the person who consumes it. If the subject doesn’t enter an [Overcharged] state then they either lack any inherent magic, or it’s a sufficiently small quantity that it’s likely they couldn’t do anything with it regardless.”
“Can you explain the [Overcharging] state?” Illuthiz asked. “What other effects does it have on the subject?”
“You wind up glowing from the excess magical energy that you generate,” Lost Alice said. “Primarily from your hands and your scalp.”
“Without injury or does the radiation generate heat or cause other complications?” Illuthiz asked.
“The glow is magical, so there’s not really any noticeable heat that accompanies it,” Lost Alice said. “For an [Adventurer] there weren’t any long term impacts to it, but its hard to say if that would hold true for anyone else.”
“[Adventurers] don’t keep records of their conditions over time?” Illuthiz asked.
“Oh, we do,” Lost Alice said. “But we also tend to die a lot.”
“But then you come back,” Balegritz said. “Oh, I see the problem. When you come back it’s not in the same body as the one that died is it?”
“Sometimes it is, but even then, the [Heart Fire] fully restores it, which could be rectifying any long terms and subtle issues that might otherwise crop up.”
“Is it wrong that I want to dissect one of you,” Hermeziz said. “I mean, not without your permission, but there is so much to learn inside you!”
“I’m willing to bet there are already [Adventurers] who are doing that,” Lost Alice said. “In the world we come from, doing an autopsy on yourself isn’t exactly possible. Here? All you need is someone to stay alive who’s good with a knife while you talk through through it from the ghost lands.”
“You’re aware that isn’t supporting the argument that the [Mana Chargers] are safe for the subject to consume?” Illuthiz asked.
“We’d be lying if we said this experiment was without risk,” Lost Alice said. “And I refuse to do that to you. You need to know everything we do about what’s involved so you can make an informed decision.”
“I must be getting soft in the head, but you almost have me believing that you really mean that,” Hermeziz said.
“There have been some horrifically messed up experiments done on people in our world,” Lost Alice said. “Most especially people who are different, or just in the minority. I will literally kill or die to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes here.”
“You are not a fan of ‘progress at any cost’?” Illuthiz asked.
“There’s no point in trying to get to a brighter future faster if we turn ourselves into monsters to get there.”
Composing an email to yourself wasn’t supposed to feel like asking someone out on a date, but Claire still had butterflies in her stomach as she checked over the short note that she’d composed.
“I don’t think you’ll have anything to worry about,” Tessa said. “But if you’d like, we can hang out for a bit to see if Wrath Raven decides to answer right away.”
“No, that’s okay,” Claire said. “I don’t want to hold up.”
“You are not,” Starchild said. “We’re curious about this too. And it’s not a chore to spend time in your company.”
“Thank you,” Claire said. “But I know Tessa and Glimmerglass are both in high demand at the moment.”
“My next power leveling session isn’t for another hour,” Glimmerglass said. “Most of the former lowbies are training at the [Chapel]. It’s safer and faster. The nuns are only insisting they get actual combat experience in so that they’re not overwhelmed the first time they go into a dungeon after they out level the nun’s training.”
“And I’m working on guild stuff as it comes up,” Tessa said. “I’m kind of surprised at how little of it there is in fact. I’d expected to get deluged with stuff to handle, but the parties are mostly just handling their own business by themselves. I guess people weren’t looking for someone to tell them what to do, they just wanted to know that other people would have their back.”
“That doesn’t sound like the people from our world very much,” Claire said.
“I think we’re seeing what happens when people are put in a tough situation but are given the tools and strength to fix it themselves,” Pete said.
“It’s more than that,” Tessa said. “People, Earthlings, form social groups around leaders. If there’s no chief, we make one, even if the people who wind up in charge are often sorely unsuited to it. I think we saw that happen with the guild too. Except instead of abandoning their old social groups, the bonds within the different parties held firm. The guild exists to give those parties a space to exist in together.”
“So you’re thinking people want neighbors basically?” Claire asked.
“Allies might be more accurate,” Tessa said. “Or ‘connections’ is probably even closer. Being a group of four or seven or eight against the world is exciting, but living with excitement all day, every day is hard.”
“Many of us have lost our familiar connections too,” Starchild said. “[Druids] are often solitary people, but even so, we are rarely alone. The others of our [Grove] and the lives which are entrusted into our care form a web which supports us. For me, those were lost before all of this started, and without all of you, I would be lost in solitude too.”
“I wonder how the solo [Adventurers] who were higher level are doing?” Claire asked. “We all got together easily enough because we were low level. What would a level 60 do though? They can’t hang out with the high levels, but there’s nothing for them in the lower areas.”
“Nothing except friends and emotional support,” Pete said. “I’m not saying all of them would grasp that, but I think even the most ‘lone wolf’ of sorts has a decent chance of feeling the need for some companionship in a world this dangerous.”
Claire wasn’t sure about that. She’d met plenty of people who had no need to be around others. She’d been that person somedays herself.
And, no matter how antisocial the Earthling might be, there was their [Adventurer] counterpart to consider. In [Broken Horizons], soloing was possible, but grouping was more rewarding by an order of magnitude.
She was wondering when, or if, she might hear back from Wrath Raven when a bird circling high above them caught her eyes.
She’d written back to Wrath saying that meeting sounded great and asked her when it might be possible given how disrupted the world was.
Her answer, it seemed, was arriving on wings as black as soot.
With unhurried grace, the bird descended, tracing a narrowing circle around the spot where Claire was sitting.
When no one moved away, or drew weapons, the bird descended faster, spiraling in with the urgency of a hunter that had spotted its prey.
An instant before it touched down, a swirl of feathers passed around it and in its place stood Wrath Raven, the [Berserker], towering over Lady Midnight.
Ruling over others wasn’t difficult. Certainly not. Vixali had been born to the role after all.
Or reborn to it.
Yes, that sounded appropriate.
She was the Chosen Queen of the Vampires, insofar as her [Sire] had chosen to turn her into a [Vampire] and then chosen to ignore the fact that she had the desire to end his wretched existence for the entire time it took her to build up the means to meet her desire.
At the time she hadn’t been able to understand how dense he’d been. She’d believed she was being subtle, but in hindsight she’d left so many warning signs of her intentions that he would have to have been willfully blind to have missed them, and that was simply unthinkable for someone with the resolve to become [Vampiric Royalty].
Or so she’d thought.
After dealing with her subjects over the decades though, Vixali had developed a fine understanding of her [Sire’s] inattention.
She often wondered if he was laughing at her from whatever burning pool his soul was plunged into.
Surveying the scene before her, the wondering ceased.
He was definitely cackling with laughter from beyond his unhallowed grave.
“Have you reached a decision Your Majesty?” one of the [Adventurers] asked.
She was tempted to tell them to fight to the death and the last one standing would be admitted to her court, but for [Adventurers] the prospect of death was meaningless. They would all happily butcher one another just for the thrill of one of their number gaining official status as Vixali’s subject.
“Tell me again why you wish to swear fealty to me?” Vixali said. She was certain she wasn’t going to understand them.
“Because you’re so hot!” one of the [Adventurers] called out from the back of the small crowd around her.
Vixali amended her previous thought. She could easily understand them, she just didn’t want to.
“And that should concern me why?” Vixali asked. It was unlikely the man would be able to puzzle out why his words didn’t elicit the response he desired, but Vixali held out hope that someone in the crowd of hopefuls would understand.
“We could get blood for you?” another [Adventurer] suggested.
“A creative offer,” Vixeli said,because offering a [Vampire] blood was something no one else had ever thought to do, “but not the answer to my question.”
“They think being your subjects will make the other [Adventurers] think they’re ‘cool’ for having you as a patron.” The [Adventurer] who spoke didn’t have the same mania in her eyes as most of the others. She hadn’t appeared to Vixali’s left only by virtue of the fact that she was still hidden in the shadows.
Even from [Vampiric Eyes].
Which was an interesting feat.
That she’d spoken silently was intriguing too.
“You have a different reason though,” Vixali said, replying along the telepathic channel and tuning out the prattling of the other [Adventurers].
“You’re very perceptive,” the shrouded [Adventurer] said, standing to Vixali’s right when she did so..
“And you are quite elusive,” Vixali said. “An excellent [Assassin] unless I miss my guess?”
“An [Assassin] yes, though not a particularly notable one.”
“Excellent [Assassins] rarely are.”
“I bow before your wisdom [Vampire Queen].”
“But not in fealty, I believe,” Vixali said, her curiosity a blessing that washed away the irritation embodied in the other [Adventurers].
Here was someone worth leaving Qiki’s bed for.
“No, I don’t think you want me as a subject and more than I desire someone else to take orders from,” the [Vampiric Assassin] said.
“But there is a [Boon] you crave?”
“Yes. I wish to know if you have made my sister your vassal. You would know her by the name Lost Alice.”