That Lost Alice found Tessa’s new ability delicious should have been unsurprising. A [Vampire] appreciating someone who could transform into a refillable blood bag was a rather obvious point of appeal. That, however, wasn’t at all that intrigued Lost Alice.
Blood was simply nourishment, and while Tessa certainly qualified as delicious in that sense as well, Lost Alice was far more than a blood drinking monster.
She was also Lisa, a veteran of countless raids, and someone far more clever than Lost Alice typically had the need to be.
“How are you doing that? Does there seem to be a cost?” she asked, try to observe the moment of transition from flesh and blood to [Clothwork] as closely as she could.
“I’m not sure yet,” Tessa said, slipping from [Clothwork] back to human between one blink and the next. “I just focus on which part of myself I want to be and I kind of slide from one to the other.”
“Without the fire? You’re not burning inside or anything are you?” Lisa asked.
“I…You know, I wonder if I am?” Pillowcase said, before shifting back to Tessa and settling in her human form. She leaned back a bit, her gaze evaluating Lost Alice as though she was seeing something for the first time. “I think we all are.”
“Can you be more specific,” Lost Alice asked. There were several unpleasant but still plausible interpretations of what Tessa has said and clarity seemed to crucial if they were going to try to exploit the ability.
“We talk about people having a ‘spark’ or an ‘inner fire’,” Tessa said. “It’s usually a metaphor for someone’s mental state, but there’s a real truth in it too. The spark of life, the energy inside us? It’s literally energy, whether we’re [Human], [Vampire], or [Clothwork], and like any fire, we burn and we change things.”
“That still sounds mostly metaphorical,” Lost Alice said, dubious at first but then beginning to see where Tessa’s thoughts were going. “But it is born out by the fact that we can all respawn from the [Heart Fire].” Things began falling into place quickly the more she thought about them. “There has to be some commonality to our existences. Some foundation we all rest on.”
“I think I’ve been looking at this all wrong,” Tessa said, her gaze going distant. “I was trying to crack the level 70 cap here, and I’d hoped to be able to crack the level 99 cap for [Adventurers] in general. That’s not what we need though. We don’t need to become gods. It won’t help!”
She bounced up onto her toes as ideas seemed to pour into her.
“Yeah, you sort of proved that one with empirical evidence,” Lisa said, wondering when ‘my girlfriend ascended to godhood and then came back’ became a footnote in their lives together. “How’s that related to our inner spark though?”
“Sorry. I’m kinda jumping around a bit here,” Tessa said. “Let me back up and go through it step by step so you can tell me what I’m missing.”
“Should we bring the others in?” Lisa offered. She was happy to be Tessa’s sounding board but she knew having multiple perspectives could be helpful too.
“Yeah. Or. No. Not yet,” Tessa said. “You can poke holes in my ideas faster than they can, and then we can go over it again for a second pass with everyone else.”
“Okay. Let me hear what you’ve got then,” Lisa said relishing the challenge before her.
“We start with [Heart Fire] being able to revive any of us,” Tessa said. “We know it’s a remnant of [Divine Power] so it’s capable of anything, in a sense.”
“That checks out with what we’ve seen you do with the god stuff you’ve gotten your hands on,” Lisa said.
“That’s the next step in the logic chain,” Tessa said. “I’ve held the power of the gods. Which is ridiculous. Even in the game, they never did anything as out there as just give us admin rights. That would be a disaster. So how is that possible that I did anything with the power I got, you know rather that just being burned to ash?Am I a super special snowflake with magical ‘chosen one’ powers. Huh, cool, ‘chosen one’ doesn’t have the weird ‘special term’ sound effect. I think we knew that though?”
She shook her head and continued.
“Sorry, getting off track. The important bit is, I don’t think I have any special gift for using [Divine Power]. I’ve definitely been lucky in gaining access to it a few times now, and my [Void Speaker] abilities seem to make it a little more accessible, but in terms of actually using it? There’s nothing directly applicable in my [Void Speaker] toolkit. But maybe there doesn’t have to be.”
“Oh! I see where you’re going. We all use [Divine Power] don’t we? Every time we respawn from a [Heart Fire]. We can literally carry it in our hands back to our bodies,” Lisa said.
“Exactly! At this point your magic can even replicate the effects of a [Heart Fire Spark] with one of your resurrection spells. We call it magic, but it’s every bit as powerful as the [Divine Power] that we’ve had access to since level 1,” Tessa said.
“But real [Divine Power] like the stuff you’ve had can do a lot more than just resurrect people,” Lisa said.
“And so can your ‘magic’,” Tessa said. “In fact, since the same [Mana Potions] can refill you, me, and any other spell caster, there’s an argument to be made that all magic is fundamentally the same.”
“So you’re saying I could in theory cast one Pillowcase’s spells?” Lisa said.
“Nope!” Tessa was beaming at that, which was a little puzzling until Lisa thought about it for a moment more.
“We can’t because there are other limits in place,” Lisa said. “The magic can do anything but we can’t. We’re limited. By our levels. By our spell selection. Even by our gear.”
“Right! And, that’s what’s been saving us,” Tessa said.
“Because our limits keep us grounded?” Lisa said, trying out the idea to see if it fit.
“Because they keep us real. Because they keep this world real,” Tessa said. “Let me take another step back there though.”
“I don’t think you need to,” Lisa said. “I think you’re right. The game-like rules we live under here are as much a part of the world as gravity or the boiling point of water.”
“And they’ve already saved us too!” Tessa said and Lisa knew exactly what she was thinking of.
“The level capped area in the [High Beyond].” Lisa remembered the fight with the [Hungry Shadow] in the crystal garden vividly.
“Yep. When I held the [Divine Power] from the [Demon’s] bindings, I knew we were trying to break the level cap, but I didn’t use it for that. When we hold the [Heart Fire Spark], we can use it to recreate our bodies from nothing more than the idea of what we were, but we never remake ourselves at higher levels, or as different races, or classes. And when the [Hungry Shadow] was trying to destroy us, it still couldn’t manage to manifest itself as a higher level threat than the area we were in allowed for.”
“It was bound by the same limits we were,” Lisa said. “But I thought it was something infinite, or more than that. Something that couldn’t be bound. Not by anything?”
“It was. It *was*!” Tess said, emphasizing the last word. “When we found it in the [Ruins of Sky’s Edge], when it was just a big lake of static? I think it had already started to become something there. It had a position and an appearance? Sorta? It was the giant corrosion in the world, but it was ‘in’ the world. And everything it did from there, just brought it further and further into the world.”
“But it did wipe out a whole Consortium task force right? And took over all their spaceships?”
“Oh, it was definitely still at least partially beyond the bounds of the world,” Tessa said. “Even this last time when I fought it, it broke through [Divine Edicts] – new laws of the universe basically – like they didn’t exist. But I think that’s because they were new. They could be discarded and there was no harm to what was real. Take away levels though and this world becomes something very different from what it was. So different that I don’t think it would still be this world anymore.”
“Which means we can’t break the level cap,” Lisa said. “We need it. Desperately.”
“Yep,” Tessa said. “I think that’s why my trying to create a [Void Speaker] power to get rid of it, or side step the level cap wasn’t working. I knew it wouldn’t do what we need. Being able to level as high as we wanted would never be enough to save us against a literally infinite foe. I think I’ve been stopping myself this whole time!”
“You know, in retrospect, I’m kind of happy that endless grinding is not how we can fix our problems,” Lisa said.
“Yeah. Can you imagine if it had worked and we had to tell people ‘okay, you’re level 99, we need you to grind up to level 99 million before we can tackle this boss monster.”
“There are people who would do it,” Lisa said.
“That they haven’t already figured out how to should probably have been my first clue that there was something fundamental preventing it,” Tessa said.
“That does leave the question of why monsters – some of them anyways – are able to raise their levels past the cap though?” Lisa said. “Are they just glitching out? Is that what a [Disjoined] state looks like on something that’s not a person?”
“Huh, that is a really interesting idea,” Tessa said. “I wish we had one of those mobs here. I think I could gain some kind of sensory ability that would…hmm, no, wait. I think I can guess the answer already.”
“Yeah, maybe. Can you check with Cease and see what the highest reported level the ‘Level Up’ mobs have gotten to is? I’ll check with BT and see what the new ‘highest level’ foe was,” Tessa said.
“You think they’re still capped, it’s just a higher cap?” Lisa asked.
“Hopefully. We know no one has the new raid gear yet since the raids were closed down and fighting the top tier of new raid mobs always requires progressing your gear through the new tiers. So the massacres the high level [Adventurers] are reporting wouldn’t have to indicate limitlessly leveling mobs. They could easily just be rising to the new mega-boss tier cap,” Tessa said.
“That would make a disturbing amount of sense. Except the part where mobs aren’t supposed to be able to level at all,” Lisa said.
“Except when the world changes,” Tessa said. “During an expansion, mobs in an area can change and grow to deal with level of the [Adventurers] who’ll be questing in the zone.”
“This expansion was called [World Shift] too,” Lisa said. “What if it wasn’t just about us shifting to be here, but [Broken Horizons] itself shifting to deal with the things that were tearing it apart.”
“Yep and if that’s true, then we should be able to find some evidence for it,” Tessa said. “All we need to do is look for how the ‘Level Up’ mobs react to things like the [Hungry Shadow].”
“You know who would know that?” Lisa asked.
A minute later they were back with the team and the [Demons].
Ten minutes later they finished explaining their idea to everyone, which resulted in several nodding heads of agreement, from the team and the [Demons] alike.
“Let me get Penny on the line,” Glimmerglass said.
Lisa watched their party’s chat line and saw ‘Penswell’ join it a moment later after Glimmerglass’s ping reached her.
“Penswell, we’ve got a theory about the leveling monsters but we need some info to confirm it. Do you have a moment to go over it?” Tessa asked.
“I’m sorry,” a static filled voice cackled. “Penswell’s not here, but I’ll be happy to take a message.”
A horrid sound ripped through Lisa’s ears as the space around her twisted and tore.
“In fact, I’ll be happy to take you.” A man composed of nothing but static had appeared in front of them from the ruins of the fabric of space behind it, and it was already reaching for Tessa faster than Lisa could bring any of her spells online.