Moving like lightning came with some rather noteworthy challenges.
“Oh! Oww! My nose!” Rip complained through the blood that was gushing from her face.
“Ouch. Yeah. Maybe watch for stone walls?” Obby said, holding out a [Healing Potion] for Rip to take a swig from.
“I could see the wall just fine,” Rip said. “It just looked a lot farther away and then blam it was all up in my face. Literally.”
“Interesting. You’re not getting any kind of time compression effects to go along with the speed?” Obby rubbed her chin, as though working out how that fact might fit into some greater puzzle.
“I don’t know,” Rip said. “I might be, but it’s not even close to enough to make steering easy if so.”
“That’s not terribly surprising under the circumstances I guess,” Obby said, gazing into the long distance.
“What circumstances?” Rose asked, relaxing from her combat footing and allowing Rip to fade back.
“Oh. That you’ve just unlocked the ability,” Obby partially lied. “It makes sense that you wouldn’t have perfect control over it yet. Not until you develop familiarity with it and it gets a chance to progress to different forms.”
“I guess that’s how the other abilities tend to work too right?” Rose asked. “That’s why a lot of early powers were “Lesser” this and “Minor” that?”
“It gives room for them to grow, which is an effective reward cycle,” Obby said. “For new players it also helps keep things simple to prevent them from being overwhelmed.”
“I think they failed that about as hard as they could with all this cause I don’t know if I could feel more overwhelmed if I tried,” Rose said.
“Did you want to talk about it?” Obby asked.
“Nah, it’s okay,” Rose said. “This is more fun.”
“I’m glad you were willing to try it out,” Obby said, “I think there’s a lot of people who’d lack the courage.”
“I don’t know if it’s courage really. I just want to be able to do cool things,” Rose said before looking away and adding . “And I thought you’d be a good teacher.”
“Thanks for your faith,” Obby said. “I don’t get a chance to this much.”
“Teach people stuff that didn’t exist in the game?”
“Teach people things in general,” Obby said. “It’s usually my wife who goes for that approach.”
“Oh wow, you’re married? Is she a player too?” Rose asked, a twinge of guilt shooting through her at the thought that they might be keeping Obby away from her actual family.
“We’ve played a lot together,” Obby said. “Sometimes apart too, but I don’t know, I feel like I spent far too long alone before we met, so it’s just more comfortable being with her than not.”
“Are you going to try to get to her after we gain a few levels?” Rose asked. “Oh, or is she coming here?”
The latter prospect was a lot more exciting and for a brief moment Rose let herself imagine what it would be like to have another high level player like Glimmerglass around to let them take on impossibly tough foes.
Except if that was the plan then why was Obby trying to make Rip stronger?
“Oh, sorry,” Obby said, watching Rose’s expressions flicker from bright shades of delight to soft hints of despair. “She’s not in the [Fallen Kingdoms].”
“You’re cut off from her?” Rose said, guilt replacing her more selfish emotions. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Obby said. “I know she’s fine, and she knows I’m fine, and we both know we’ll be back together before too long.”
“Uh, how?” Rose asked. “Does she have an account she can use to get in here? I thought all of the people playing had been sucked into the game already?”
“There’s still a pretty big percentage of the logged in players who haven’t been drawn to the [Fallen Kingdoms]. Not as many of the lowbies like us since with all the fun that we had in the [High Beyond] most of the [Adventurers] there got hit by at least one death.”
“So your wife isn’t a lowbie then?”
Obby chuckled at that.
“You could definitely say that.”
“So she’s not in danger of getting killed then?”
“You could also say that.”
“How will you be together again soon then?” Rose asked.
“Because it won’t take forever for this situation to be resolved,” Obby said. “There are the greatest minds on two worlds working on sorting things out.”
“I thought the Consortium was this intergalactic evil empire or something though? They’ve got to have a lot more than two worlds worth of brainpower right?”
“The [Consortium of Pain] isn’t the core problem we’re facing,” Obby said. “They’re scum, sure, but they’re the kind of scum we’re build to deal with. Even if they send in an [Eradication Fleet] intent on wiping out the sun and all the planets in this system, that’s still a threat we can face. And odds are if they try that, we’ll wind up with an [Eradication Fleet] as a part of our permanent defense force.”
“You’re more worried about that [Hungry Shadow] thing aren’t you?” Rip asked.
“I’m worried about what the [Hungry Shadow] was before Tessa got ahold of it,” Obby said., “The [Hungry Shadow] was the limited, more real version of the thing it was when found it in [Sky’s Edge].”
“I guess I understand. I remember how horrible that thing felt,” Rose said. “But Tessa was able to beat it, right?”
“She was,” Obby said. “It survived, but what she did have us some real hope. That’s why I think we need to as strong as we can be.”
“It’s going to come back, isn’t it?” Rose asked. “She was able to hurt it, and it’s not going to be able to leave that alone. It’ll come for her, and it’s going to bring enough of those zombie to tear her to pieces.”
“No,” Obby said. “It’s going to try that, but it’s not counting on us. Next time, it’s going to be our turn to teach it a lesson.”
Conducting experiments on the boundaries between life and death was an area fraught with ethical risks. Generally, research studies that were even tangentially related to studying the mechanics of a sentient beings passing required rigorous review in both the design and implementation stages. Test subjects needed to be thoroughly vetted as part of the process and despite all of the work invested, it wasn’t uncommon for the results of the study to vary enough that no conclusion could be drawn from them.
That was on Yawlorna’s homeworld.
For the [Fallen Kingdoms] all she needed was a set of notebooks and a few of her crew who were willing to pitch in and help with interviews.
“When you said you were planning to study what death looked like on this world, I was worried things were going to be a bit bloodier,” Glimmerglass said.
“Anywhere else, it would probably have to be,” Yawlorna said. “Which, I should note, is why basically no one on my world is allowed to setup a study like this.”
“I’m not sure I see what the harm in asking questions could be?” Glimmerglass said.
“It’s not that asking questions is harmful, it’s that to get a population of people with the experience to answer questions about the process of dying, you generally need to kill a fair percentage of them yourself. And then bring them back.”
“I recall from Tessa’s memories that restoring the dead to life is not common on her world. I gather the same is true on yours as well?”
“There are short windows of time after some of our bodily functions cease that we can be revived,” Yawlorna said. “Outside of that, or in many different cases of injury, death is irreversible.”
“I’ve spent so long as an [Adventurer] that reality seems so distant,” Glimmerglass said. “But the same is true for many people here. Anyone without the [Soul Wakened] trait really.”
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to change that,” Yawlorna said. “Or at least understand why the trait manifests as it does.”
“If I know [Adventurers] as well as I think I do, I would guess you’re problem will not be a lack of data, but rather a surplus of it,” Glimmerglass said.
“Always better to know more and have to guess less,” Yawlorna said. “Sorry. One of my professors said that at the start of every class and the damn saying stuck in my head.”
“It’s not a bad sentiment,” Glimmerglass said. “Though I find the more that I learn, the more questions I wind up with.”
“This definitely seems like one of the those research projects,” Yawlorna said. “We’re probably not even asking the right questions in this round.”
“But until you ask something, you can’t begin to understand what is it that you don’t know you don’t know,” Glimmerglass said.
“We have some questions you’ll want to add to that list,” Kamie Anne Do said, a strange green mist seeping from her clothes.
Hailey didn’t mean to ruin people’s days, but sometimes being the bear of bad news was part of the job she’s unwittingly signed up for.
Not that it paid anything.
Or that she had any actual responsibilities.
Or people to report to.
Despite the fact that it involved being stuck on a world in the midst of an apocalypse, Hailey had to admit that the other facts pretty much cinched her current position as the best job she’d ever had.
“Is there any evidence to suggest that the [Hungry Shadow] is capable of reaching Earth?” Penswell asked over the telepathic channel she’d opened when Hailey pinged her with an urgent request.
“According to my friend, its abilities are inherently undefined,” Hailey said. “It changed several times over the course of their encounters with it in the [High Beyond].”
“That’s good,” Penny said.
“Really? Cause it doesn’t sound good to me.”
“Good that it hasn’t demonstrated any capacity for hopping from one world to the next,” Penny said. “We can’t rule out that it’s capable of such, but our current situation suggests it hasn’t developed that capability yet, and that means we have more time to work with.”
“How would we know if it had gained the ability to world hop?” Hailey asked.
“Our situation with the Consortium will change drastically the moment it gains that ability,” Penny said. “Right now, the [Hungry Shadow] is battling the Consortium’s forces. It has gained a substantial degree of control over them but there are still hold outs. If the [Hungry Shadow] gained the ability to absorb another world’s resources, I do not believe it would be able to resist doing so, and we would see the remaining Consortium forces emerge triumphant. And then of course, resume their conquest of world.”
“Would that be a favorable result for the [Fallen Kingdoms]?” Hailey asked. “It seems like we’re better equipped to combat the Consortium than we are a reality breaking possession monster like the [Hungry Shadow].”
“Weighed purely on their own capabilities, that’s true,” Penny said. “But the situation is more complex than that. As it stands the [Hungry Shadow] and the local Consortium forces are depleting each other’s reserves, placing them both in a weaker state than they would otherwise be. That’s almost the best case we can hope for. Any change from there short of mutual annihilation is one we will need to act on immediately.”
“After the infighting I saw around [Wagon Town], I can’t believe the member nations of the defense force will be eager to wage a war on behalf of another world entirely,” Hailey said.
“They won’t be. In fact they’ll refuse summarily and won’t listen to arguments to the contrary,” Penny said. “Which means the only forces we’ll have available will be the [Adventurers], who are likely to be fractured on the issue as well.”
“That seems kind of dire?” Hailey said.
“It is, and it will get worse,” Penny said. “But we do have a resource none of the sides are accounting for, even our own.”
“Please don’t say it’s me,” Hailey said which drew a laugh from Penny.
“You have already delivered us our salvation,” Penny said. “Anything else you can do for us I count as a miracle.”
“I can’t promise any miracles, but I am all in on this, so I’ll do what I can,” Hailey said. “And I know that’s true for my friend and the people with her too.”
“And if that included working with the former leader of the Consortium’s forces?” Penny asked.
To which Hailey was speechless for a long moment.
Nothing in the game documentation suggested an event like that could occur. As far as Hailey knew it was actually impossible given how the sides had been coded.
On the other hand though, maybe that’s where their hope for victory lay, in meeting an impossible foe with impossible allies?
If nothing else, she was sure it would be a memorable encounter.
Assuming anyone was alive to remember it at all.