With no one was poking or prodding him, Balegritz should have been happy. The life of a lab rat, while scientifically useful, was never one people waxes poetic about. With the strange tingle of the [Overcharged] condition and the glow that accompanied both faded away, Balegritz should have been delighted. Especially since there was the prospect of reading tomes from strange and foreign lands, written by the actual denizens of those lands. If he could have ordered up a choice for how to spend his day, that would have ranked a solid number five on his Best Possible Ways to Spend a Day.
“It looks like your back to normal now, how do you feel?” Lost Alice asked, lingering a few steps behind the others as the impromptu party marched towards the library on the other side of town.
“Fine,” Balegritz said and then caught himself. That was a terrible answer. Far too little data for anyone to work with. He was glad Yawlorna wasn’t around. She wasn’t one of his professors, but he had a similar relationship to her as with them, and he’d hate to disappoint her just as much as he’d hate to disappoint them. “Sorry. I seem to be in acceptable condition. The aftermath of the [Overcharged] effect is as you described. I have no new injuries and no sense of systemic damage. Muscle capacity seems unaffected, as does mental acumen. The tingling sensation faded in proportion to the luminescent glow’s reduction, and no loss or gain in skin sensitivity is evident in its wake.”
Lost Alice smiled.
“Your doctors must love you back at home I’m guessing?” she asked.
“Doctor’s on my world typically cultivate a detached persona. It’s meant to engender trust by requiring them to speak in a purely factual manner, but I think many of them simply have poor interpersonal skills and have convinced the rest to cover for them,” Balegritz said.
“Your world and Earth don’t sound terrible different, the physicality of their native species aside that is,” Lost Alice said.
“There are certain convergences common in sapient species,” Balegritz said. “Especially ones like ours who are adapted to similar environments.”
“I suppose that’s true. For all that we appear different to each other, we both breath the same air, enjoy roughly the same gravity, and can withstand similar, or at least overlapping, ranges of temperature and pressure.”
“There are many on my world who would be horrified at the notion that you and I are more similar than divergent,” Balegritz said.
“That sounds familiar as well,” Lost Alice said. “I suppose that part of the population serves some purpose as well?”
“None that I’ve ever been able to discern,” Balegritz said. “At best they serve to act as a filter I imagine. Like a disease. Organisms need to adapt to diseases and develop defenses against them or they perish. So too societies and the toxic elements that spawn within them.”
“So have your people managed to find an answer to that?” Lost Alice asked.
“It’s a work in process,” Balegritz said.
“Again, that sounds very familiar,” Lost Alice said. “If we ever manage to find a path to the Earth, I’m becoming more convinced we should bring you all along.”
“I doubt you’ll be able to hold Illuthiz and Hermeziz back,” Balegritz, less happy with the idea than he would have expected.
“You’re more undecided about the prospect I gather?” Lost Alice asked.
“No. I’d want to go to,” Balegritz said. “I’m sure there’s a plethora of things we could learn from your world as well. Though, to be honest, we’re all going to have our names on so many papers from the work we’re doing here that I doubt we’ll ever need to publish anything again once we return home.”
“Will you miss it? The academic pressure to compete?”
“Not in the slightest. This trip was supposed to be a great opportunity to get a bit ahead on the publishing curve. I was supposed to come back with one paper all to myself almost guaranteed, but the real expectation was two. I’ve written the precis for thirteen so far, and none of them are overlapping what the others are studying.”
“I gather our latest discovery won’t cause as large of a impact then, comparatively speaking?” Lost Alice asked, keeping her pace unhurried to match Balegritz’s.
He wasn’t intentionally falling behind the others. He just didn’t want to bring them down with his strange negative mood.
It was safer to talk to Lost Alice somehow.
She was probably a third his total mass and able to lift maybe half what he could and yet she was stronger than anyone else in their little group.
Or at least that’s what it seemed like from watching her lead the combat team they’d been a part of.
“It’s pretty big, even given everything else we’ve discovered,” Balegritz said. “I’m glad you came to us with it. We’re very lucky.”
“I can’t be sure I’m reading the emotional cues properly,” Lost Alice said. “So I’ll ask instead of assuming; are you saddened by some element of it?”
“No, of course not,” Balegritz said. “It’s wonderful that we may possess more capabilities here than at home. It’s astounding to think we may have possessed them all along, and unfathomable to think what would happen if we discovered how to unlock them in our home realm as well. We would literally be the founders of a new age. That’s so large that none of it seems even slightly real, and yet here we are, staring the undeniable in the face.”
“So you are untroubled then?” Lost Alice asked.
“I am…I am not untroubled,” Balegritz admitted.
“Do you know what it is? And is it something you can share?” Lost Alice didn’t clutch his shoulder in support. It would have been impractical given their height difference, but she stopped herself well before that. Giving Balegritz the time and distance to find his own answer without the pressure of unasked for support.
“My mates are happy,” Balegritz said at last. “Happier than I’ve ever seen them. Despite everything we’ve been through. I should be joyful. I want their happiness to continue. I do.”
“But something’s missing?” Lost Alice guessed.
“Yes, but I don’t know what.”
“I’ve been unhappy when those around me were overjoyed,” Lost Alice said. “I’ve wanted that happiness for them, but part of me, a part it’s easy for me to dislike, wanted that happiness to come from me. I was sad, that I wasn’t the one bringing them that joy. That I wasn’t good enough for them to make them happy like that.”
“How did you stop feeling like that?” Balegritz asked.
“I didn’t,” Lost Alice said. “I don’t have the self confidence when it comes to believing I’m worth loving to cast aside feelings like those. When that happens, I know now to try to be open to it and accept that I’ll feel like that. That doesn’t mean I need to act on the feelings though. It just means that I acknowledge that they’re real and if I want to share in the joy my loved ones are feeling, I need to consciously make space for that joy too.”
“That sounds difficult,” Balegritz said. “It’s been successful for you though?”
“It’s a work in progress,” Lost Alice said with a shrug.
Lady Midnight wasn’t large enough to drag a [Berserker] Wrath Raven’s size around the city, but fortunately they didn’t need to go far, and Lady Midnight’s touch seemed to have a strangely calming effect on Wrath.
“Tessa! Glimmerglass! Do you have a moment?” Claire called out when she saw the two sitting in a small garden together.
“I need to leave in a few minutes to shepherd another group of low levels on their first live combat operation, but you can have me till then,” Glimmerglass said.
“I’m due to check in with the Nuns too, but they won’t mind if I’m a few minutes late,” Tessa said. “What’s up?”
“You two met under odd circumstances, right?” Claire asked.
“Everything in the last week? Four days? I don’t even know anymore, has been weird circumstances,” Tessa said. “But yeah, I think that describes it.”
“Somewhat less weird for me,” Tessa said. “Invasions from beyond space aren’t exactly a daily occurrence, and meeting one’s soul in another body is rather unheard of, but I gather my world has more ‘exciting times’ than most others.”
“When you met, do you remember if you believed the other was really out there? You especially Glimmerglass,” Claire asked.
“I…I don’t recall exactly? That was a somewhat blurring moment, for lack of a better term,” Glimmerglass said.
“And I wasn’t necessarily ‘real’ for a little bit there,” Tessa said.
“Did you call for her?” Wrath Raven asked, addressing Glimmerglass before turning to Tessa, “And did you answer?”
“Yeah. I did,” Tessa said.
“And, I think I might have too,” Glimmerglass said. “I don’t know that I understood what I was doing, but looking back? I think I was reaching out to something familiar when I called to you.”
“Why is that important?” Tessa asked.
“We think that’s what we’ve been missing with our alts,” Claire said. “Wrath was able to find me despite every sensible test saying that I wasn’t here, or wasn’t real.”
“Felt not thought,” Wrath said. “Believe in her, like she believed in me.”
“That’s…that’s fantastic,” Glimmerglass said.
“It’s more than that,” Tessa said. “It’s a game changer. There are so many more of us than we’ve been thinking were out there.”
“Think bigger,” Claire said, mad delight sparkling in her eyes.
“More than a game changer?” Tessa asked, confused for a moment before the light bulb went on. “Oh my god. It is. Maybe. No. It can’t be like that. Except it can’t be like this and it is like this.”
“I shouldn’t be confusing myself this much, but at least the other parts of me seem to be puzzled too,” Glimmerglass said. “Though I still feel a step behind.”
“I’m sorry,” Tessa said. “Claire might be right though. This isn’t just something that will change the scenario we’re dealing with. This could change the worlds. All of them.”
But for the conversation they’d just shared, Vixali would have sworn the woman she was speaking with was Lost Alice. The same eyes, the same blood, the same deadly, delicious stillness.
“Twins?” Vixali asked.
“Of a sort,” Lost Alice’s twin said.
“You needn’t share your past,” Vixali said. “But you will answer the question of why you need a meeting with your sister arranged when it would be so very simple to discover her whereabout on your own.”
“You would protect her from me?”
“I would protect myself from her,” Vixali said. “When we first met, she spoke with a regal will. Since our flight to this safehold, she has grown considerably more potent.”
“You fear her?”
“A [Queen] fears no one,” Vixali said. “She, however, is more worthy than every [Adventurer] who drown my hall in sad pleas and insipid jests.”
“I seek to do her no harm. She will not recognize me as I am though, and, as you say, she has grown phenomenally more powerful than I.”
“You’re concerned you’re appearance might lead to strife? Wouldn’t she know you as a sister though?”
“I am not sure. I don’t believe she’s aware that she has a sister. Not in this world at least.”
“You know her from another realm? The one the [Adventurers] speak of? Dirt? Soil? No! Earth?”
“The story is complicated in the telling, and I would have her be the first to hear of it.”
Vixali caught a hint of nervous flutter.
So, whoever they were, and however much they appeared to be Lost Alice, there were differences.
A [Vampires] life was many things, and at least half of them were boring.
Vixali had to see this mystery unravel.
“Then I will make the arrangements you request and we shall see whether acceptance or violence awaits. It will be delightful!”