It should have been cruel to have the possibility of a path home appear only to turn out to be a dead end and Lisa had the sense that for many people it would be. There were parents among the [Adventurers] who had been cutoff from their children, lovers who’d been split apart across the divide between the worlds, and people who were terrified of the world before them being real rather than a safe collect of pixels for them to play with.
Not everyone was resigned to their fate either. There were plenty of [Adventurers] both high level and low who were trying all sorts of things to find a path back. So far as Lisa knew though, none of them had yet succeeded.
Even the idea of access the beta server had been tried from what her friend Cease All from her original guild had said. There was no established means of hopping between the servers though – that had always been an admin level function – but the [Fallen Kingdoms] were nothing if not littered with gates and portals and rifts to different times and places given how much the devs liked to use wild and inconsistent settings as part of their expansions.
That her kid sister had been the one to find the right gateway was more alarming than surprising. Rachel would attract all sorts of the wrong attention if it became common knowledge that she’d come from the beta server and knew how to get back.
Beyond that though, Lisa found that she was far more interested in the question of whether Deadly Alice, Rachel’s character was present but suppressed or whether Deadly Alice was actually as nonexistent as Rachel claimed.
The question of getting back home was interesting in an academic choice but with the possibility seemingly off the table, Lisa felt more relieved than anything else.
Going back to her old life was something she knew she should be striving for. It was the responsible thing to do. It was what was expected of her. It was the grown up thing to do.
The voice inside that cast those words at her weren’t her own. They belonged to all the people who had ever told her that she loved was worthless. Games didn’t make you money, so they were frivolous. Activities suitable for children. As an adult she was supposed to hussle. To always be striving to get ahead.
“Making something of herself” had been a battle she’d fought her whole life, and she’d internalized enough of the arguments to believe some of them.
Living how she wanted to wasn’t practical. She did need money, which meant plugging into a game (or, realistically, several games) 24/7 wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t even have been healthy if she’d won a lottery and been able to forget about money.
At the same time though, she couldn’t accept the idea that something’s value came only from what it could be exchanged for.
What she was doing in the [Fallen Kingdoms] didn’t matter to anyone on Earth. It wasn’t helping her get ahead, or pay off her debts, or win a new career for herself. But it was still important.
Lost Alice was important. Even if she no more exceptional in the [Fallen Kingdoms] than Lisa had been on Earth.
“I think a good long talk is in order,” Lost Alice said. “But I wouldn’t guess you have the patience for it. Also, we probably want to speak somewhere we won’t be overheard by a [Vampire Queen].”
She waved at Vixali who’d been sitting in silent contemplation as Lisa and Rachel held an equally silent telepathic conversation.
Vixali’s eyes widened in surprise but she recovered quickly, offering Lost Alice a gracious smile and a small nod.
Rachel was more surprised by the revelation, a full body twitch running from her head to her toes.
“You may have the room if you desire privacy,” Vixali said.
“My thanks,” Lost Alice said as the [Vampire Queen] departed.
That didn’t mean Vixali couldn’t listen in on them, but Lost Alice wasn’t concerned. Vixali understood the power balance between the two of them and had reigned long enough as [Queen] to know not to press an issue that might anger a larger and less destructible predator.
“You sounds different now,” Rachel said.
“This is how I always sound,” Lost Alice said. “But, it’s not a part of me you’ve seen often, or ever before I suppose.”
“Why are you playing at that? Stop pretending and be yourself!” Rachel’s eyes were glossy with tears but in place of heartbreak there was anger.
“Rachel, my sister,” Lost Alice said. “This is myself. I can be many things. I’m this, now, because I need the knowledge I have from this life to evaluate the sort of [Vampire] you’ve become. And also, it annoys you, and Mom’s not here to tell me to stop.”
Anger turned to confusion turned to long standing sororal aggravation.
“Stop it,” Rachel said. “Just be yourself. This is serious. Stop joking around.”
“It’s not a joke,” Lisa said. “This is me. All of it. Another me. Not the one you grew up with, but me all the same.”
“But you can’t be an actual vampire. That’s just something you made up!” Rachel said.
“I am aware,” Lost Alice said. “My existence as ‘Lost Alice’ matches far too closely to the fiction I as ‘Lisa’ created. This whole world is riddled with that problem. Everything here matches what someone on Earth imagined, and the things that don’t are largely extrapolations from the things that do. Consider this however, the stone floor you’re standing on is no less solid because someone imagined it first. The smell of the cooking fires from above carries scents that neither of us ever experienced on Earth. Even the pain we feel when we fight is inarguable. This isn’t a dream, or a delusion. What we’re experiencing has the same solidity and weight as our experiences on Earth. For all practical purposes, where we are and who we are is as real as where and who we were.”
“But this is just a projection,” Rachel said. “Except you said your body disintegrated. But if it did that there’d be nothing to project from. You’d be dead already and the dead can’t linger here. The [Daemon] said that too.”
“So I’m neither alive nor dead,” Lisa said. “Sort of fits that I’m a [Vampire] then right?”
“It’s not funny!” Rachel said.
“It’s not,” Lisa said. “It’s perplexing, and confusing, and…ultimately, not that important.”
“How is you being dead not important?”
“Because whatever the answer is, I’m not gone,” Lisa said. “I’m here. I can eat, and drink, and love, and still make a difference for the people who need me.”
Rachel looked at her askance.
“You can what?”
“Make a difference, I can..” Lisa started to say but Rachel cut her off.
“No. Before that. You can what?”
“Uh? Eat? Drink? Oh! Love. Uh, yeah, umm, that,” Lisa said, unsure that she wanted to share anything at all about Tessa with her sister.
It wasn’t that she had any reservations about Tessa. It was simply that Lisa had poured out her heart to Rachel in whining about her past relationships. It was embarrassing and while Rachel had always offered love and support, she also hadn’t been shy about pointing just how terrible most of Lisa’s girlfriends had been for her.
“Wait. Seriously?” Rachel looked more put out than upset.
“This probably isn’t the best time to talk about that,” Lisa said, since they were, technically, still in the [Vampire Queen’s] court.
“Oh my god! You did!” Rachel said aloud, unable to hide even a shred of her surprise. “Have you told her yet? Or are you going all undead stalker…again?”
“What? I’ve never…” Lisa began to protest before cutting herself off. She’d had a vampire-phase and the less Rachel reminded her of it the better.
“Let me guess? She’s a [Vampire] too? Oh no, it’s not the [Vampire Queen] is it?”
“No! No. Tessa is a normal human woman,” Lisa said. “And, a [Clothwork]. Sometimes. When she’s Pillowcase.”
Rachel just gapped, seemingly unable to process any of that.
“That’s not what’s important now though,” Lisa said, trying to bring the conversation back around to the critical questions.
“You’re dating a ragdoll? Or you want to date a ragdoll?” Rachel asked, completely ignoring Lisa’s attempt to change the topic. “How does that even work?”
“Before I answer that, ask yourself if you really want me to go into graphic detail on my sex life?” Lisa said.
“I…you know what, you’re right. I thought all of this was weird, but that…that is a bridge too far,” Rachel said.
“Good. Then if we could get back to talking about you for a minute?” Lisa asked.
“What about me? I’m the only one in this whole world that makes any sense,” Rachel said.
“Are you though?” Lisa said. “You said you logged into your character on my account on the beta server, right?”
“Yeah? That’s not new, I did that for like a month straight while you were at work.”
“Right. Notice the important element there – ‘while I was at work’. I’m not at work now, so how were you able to log into my account, when it should have still been running on the computer in my apartment?” Lisa asked.
“I don’t know. It didn’t give me the ‘already logged in’ message I usually see if your already playing. Maybe you got automatically logged out when you got pulled in?” Rachel said.
“I don’t think so,” Lisa said. “The GMs were still able to message us and appear in front of us even after we got drawn in. The GMs on Earth that is. They still saw us as logged in on their end.”
“Okay, so then it was a bug. You can’t tell me, with all this, that a login error would be the biggest bug they had with this release.”
“Fair point,” Lisa said. “Was there anyone else on the beta server with you?”
“Yeah. A lot of people. All projections like me as far as I could tell.”
“But you couldn’t tell that I was different?”
“I mean, you seemed different, but then everyone here does, so I thought it was just a beta vs live server thing.”
“Maybe. Or maybe it’s because the beta server can be accessed, for whatever reason, by people from Earth still, where everyone here got drawn in because their character’s died or their connection was severed. Was there anything else different about the people on the beta server?”
“Not really,” Rachel said. “I mean a lot of them were speaking Mandarin, but they were talking about the same things as everyone else there. Basically how we were supposed to rescue the people we knew who got trapped.”
“Huh. That’s weird. The beta servers are in California. Plenty of Chinese-Americans there, but I wouldn’t expect them to be speaking in Mandarin anymore than we do?”
“I know, Mom would have been so happy,” Rachel said. “I don’t know if they managed to get anybody out either though.”
“How did you managed to cross over? I mean into the beta server in the first place?”
“I told you, I logged into Deadly Alice. There was a gateway icon in the start town. I clicked on it and that pulled me in here. I clicked on it again and I was back at my desk. It wasn’t exactly hard.”
“And when did you meet the [Daemon] who told you what the rules were?”
“He found me. Like one of those quest NPCs that comes running up to you as soon as you get close enough to their spawn area.”
“And you were still in [Sky’s Edge] in the [High Beyond] right?” Lisa asked.
“What did he look like?” Lisa asked, a cold worry growing in her gut.
“Pretty weird. I think the graphics department hadn’t gotten around to putting his final skin on him yet or something so he was just a human shaped blob of darkness.”
“Did he seem [Hungry] at all?” Lisa asked, her nerves balanced on pin tops.
“Yeah. That was one of the tags on his character info,” Rachel said, staring as Lost Alice went even paler than her usual self.