Sometimes, if you’re patient, life drops the perfect circumstances into your lap. Rip hated being patient, but she had to admit that getting to show off her new abilities in an appropriate setting was well worth the wait.
“Is it okay that its just the four of us?” Aegis Eyes asked, justifiably nervous from Rose’s point of view.
With the sun setting, the outskirts of town was not a terribly safe place to be. In a few minutes, the dead would rise from their unmarked graves to wander ceaselessly looking for foolish living souls to consume.
That Rose had led them to a spot well beyond the outskirts and where there would definitely a few of the mid-tier undead present could be seen as something other than the wisest of moves.
Rose, however, was not a fool, nor did she have particularly poor impulse control. In her own estimation at least.
Proof that was the fact that she’d checked in with people she trusted before bringing her small party out in a potentially perilous situation.
“Four’s somewhat optimal it turns out,” Rose said. “As weird as it sounds, the world still works a lot like it did when it was just a game.”
“A smaller party means fewer bad guys spawn,” Jamal said. He’d been part of the conversation with Tessa and Lisa.
“Normally, we’d all be the same level, so all we’d need to do is look for any area where the monsters were just a little stronger than us,” Rose said. “In this case, since we’re mismatched, we’ve got a little more flexibility.”
“You’ll get experience from fighting things a lot stronger than you, and we should be able to keep you pretty safe in the process,” Jamal said.
“Are we going to be able to do anything though?” Makes Emm Dead asked.
“Not at first,” Rose said. “You’ll want to hang back and observe for the first few fights, until you’ve leveled up a bit and the mobs won’t one shot you.”
“I’m not loving the idea of being ‘one shot’,” Aegis said. “I’m a tank though, so shouldn’t I be immune to that or something?”
“Technically we all are,” Jamal said. “In the game there was code to prevent a single attack from killing you in one blow, no matter who it was from.”
“But the developers still wanted to make some bad guys that level of scary,” Rose said, repeating what Tessa had told her a lifetime ago, “So some ‘single’ attacks come with a big burst of damage and then an overtime effect. So you don’t technically die in one shot, but the half second or so you get to live with a single point of health left isn’t really much different.”
“So much for being a tank then I guess,” Aegis said.
“Oh, you could tank the hell out of the low level stuff that’s out there,” Rose said. “Believe me, Pillowcase, our party’s main tank, was tons burlier than we were right out of the box.”
“If you want, we could do this with monsters that are more appropriate for your level,” Jamal said. “We fight the giant bug things up in the [High Beyond], but I know there’s got to be something like that down here too.”
“Uh, I’ll pass on the bugs,” Aegis said. “Dead guys is bad enough, but at least I don’t have to feel bad about killing them again.”
“You wouldn’t feel bad about those bugs either. Especially not after the first time they killed you,” Jamal said.
“You do know you’re not making this sound at all appealing right?” Makes asked.
“It won’t be that bad,” Rose said. “One of the reasons I wanted to use these guys was that they’ll level you up pretty quick, but the other was because you’ll get to sit the first few fights out. Matt and I should be able to handle the monsters with no problem. When you’re ready, you can join in and help us. Just having you there will increase how quickly we can take things down. If you feel yourself freezing up, go ahead and freeze. You can take whatever time you need to work through it.”
“We won’t really be doing you any good if we do that though,” Aegis said. “And I may not get any better.”
“Maybe not,” Rose said. “If all this just keeps sucking for you, that’s perfectly fine. We can go back to the crafting circuit and see what [Enchanting] is like. All we’re trying to do here is let you ease into the whole “fighting [Adventurer]” thing at a pace that’s comfortable for you.”
“You know, you’re the first people who’ve said anything like that,” Makes said.
“You need to meet the rest of our party then,” Jamal said. “We got all that from them.”
“Before that though, let’s see if any of this works,” Rose said. “I think the first of the [Undead] should be rising up in about a minute or so.”
“Oh, before that then real quick,” Aegis said. “What should we be watching for. Specifically.”
“Our jobs are pretty different, so you don’t need to watch exactly what Matt or I do,” Rose said. “You’re not going to be able to do the same things, and you don’t have to. What you want to look for are the things that matter for everyone. Things like positioning – where Matt and I move in response to how the monsters move. Try to imagine yourself in the battle with us and ask yourself questions like ‘where would I want to stand to make sure I stayed in melee with monsters’ or ‘where could I move that would pull the bad guys into a good spot for everyone else.’”
“Watch the monsters too,” Jamal said. “Thing will be different when you’re in there and they’re reacting to you, but if you watch where they go and what kind of patterns their attacks have, you’ll be a lot more ready to take them on once you feel comfortable with trying.”
“Oh, and the most important thing,” Rose said. “When we do something that looks, let’s call it ‘suboptimal’? Call it out. We’re still learning this stuff too, so it probably is something boneheaded and we can use the help on correcting it too.”
With that, Rip drew her bow and knocked the first arrow of the night, as the dead began to rise.
Even in the face of global armageddon, there were some jobs that didn’t get a day off.
“You’re not cleared to enter here.” The guard towered before them, taller in his armor than even Yawlorna, which was something she’d grown unaccustomed to during her stay in the new world they’d discovered.
“Not yet,” Glimmerglass said, the scene apparently failing to inspire any sense of awe in her. “I knew we’d be a bit early, but I thought it’d be a chance to check in and see how things have been going.”
“The situation here is nominal. No incidents to report.”
“Oh come on Blakely,” Glimmerglass said. “I teleported us a thousand leagues to get here. I know the prison’s doing fine. I wanted to see how things were going with you?”
“My apologies. There is an unverified personage present. Protocol dictates socialization is not allowed when a potential enemy might be present.”
“She came with me Blakely.”
“A sign you may have been compromised.”
Glimmerglass sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“That’s fair. I mean, she’s not, and I haven’t been, but this is Xardrak we’re talking about, so you can’t really know that.”
“Should I leave?” Yawlorna asked, puzzled over the direction the conversation was taking.
“No, definitely not,” Glimmerglass said. “You’re the researcher here. I wouldn’t know which questions you would need answers to. I just need to get you some official credentials, so you can be recognized here.”
“I believe I can help with that,” Niminay said, appearing in a shimmer of light which marked one of the higher end portals being used.
“You can?” Glimmerglass asked.
“Penny caught wind of this line of research and has some huge idea forming in her head, so she wanted me to make sure you got the answers you need.”
“She thinks our inquiry will tie into something larger?” Yawlorna asked. “Did she say what that might be?”
“She did not,” Niminay said. “She didn’t even say she was putting together a big idea, but once you know her long enough you can see it in her eyes pretty easily.”
“That’s a shame,” Yawlorna said. “If I knew what she was looking for I could tailor our questions better. This is largely an exploratory operation as it is. I don’t even know if this Xardrak will have the first inkling of what I need to know.”
“I think that’s probably part of her plan,” Niminay said. “Penny always tries to be careful about biasing the sources she’s dealing with. My guess is she trusts you to ask whatever questions she needs answers to on your own.”
“But we’ve never met,” Yawlorna said. “How can she trust me with something like that?”
“That’s a Penny thing,” Niminay said. “You may not have met her yet, but there’s a decent chance she knows you better than you know yourself.”
Hailey was crestfallen and it had only taken seven words to do it.
“We can’t risk their safety like that.” It was all Penny had needed to say for the wonderful dream of meeting up with the versions of her from other worlds to come crashing down.
“What do you mean?” Tessa asked, though Hailey suspected she was already figuring out what Penny had meant.
“Your idea is amazing,” Penny said. “But we are faced with an enemy capable of suborning an entire fleet of starships. We know that [Adventurers] seem to develop a resistance to its corrupting effects. Some of you at least. But there’s no guarantee people from another world – especially people who aren’t merged entities as you both are – would have that ame resistance.”
“But…” Tessa began and fell silent. There were too many contingencies to work through with the idea of their otherworld selves being vulnerable to the [Hungry Shadow].
“Believe me, it is a tempting avenue to pursue,” Penny said. “You’re right that being able to call in forces from other worlds with previously unseen abilities would be shift the entire field in our favor. If they proved to be vulnerable to corruption though we’d be dooming ourselves and them.”
“Maybe it’s something we could save as a last resort then?” Hailey suggested, unwilling to let the idea fade away so easily.
“Definitely not then,” Penny said. “If we lose the struggle we’re in, we need to at least make sure that the thing that defeated us ends here too. Opening a door to another world will make us Patient Zero for a multiversal plague otherwise.”
“She’s right,” Tessa said. “I was so caught up in the idea of seeing all of our other selves, I didn’t really stop to think it through.”
“That’s why we turn more than one mind to working things like this out,” Penny said. “I make the same sort of mistakes, I’m just spared from enacting them because I have so many of you helping me. And don’t get me wrong. You’ve still brought me a game changing revelation. That there are more [Adventurers] out there, idle and waiting for the [Inspirations] who we can reconnect with each other? I can do so much with that.”
“Will it be enough though?” Tessa asked.
“It’s more than I had before, and I was determined to make what I had work. This gives me a better chance of that coming true,” Penny said. “More than that I can’t promise though. Our position has greatly improved but we are facing a threat beyond any sense of scale we’ve yet dealt with.”
“If only we could put a health bar on that damn Shadow,” Hailey said. “Give it a health bar and a level and we [Adventurers] could definitely kill it. Hell, give it some loot drops and we’ll beat each other up, racing to do it first.”
“Huh,” Tess said. “Maybe that’s exactly what we need to do.”