Being dead wasn’t any more fun the third time, Tessa decided. The gray mist, which had felt so wonderfully creepy when she’d first seen it, struck her as annoying obstacle and (most likely) a cheap hack by the level designers to cut down on the amount of work they had to do.
“Are you folks ok?” she asked on the party’s chat channel. Being dead was irksome but being able to continue communicating with her team made it slightly more bearable.
“Yeah,” Alice said “That was a hell of a flip. I didn’t know tanks could move like that?”
“It seems easier to move Pillowcase now that I’m inside her skin,” Tessa said, and frowned at her ghostly and all too human appearing form. She probably didn’t need to be reminded of what she’d looked like before, especially since she definitely wasn’t a human in her current state. It was a bit of extra salt in the wound, a reminder that she wasn’t really the badass [Soul Knight] Pillowcase appeared to be. All she really was could be summed up in the body of Tessa Moore, who’s most badass accomplishment was getting up for work after two hours of sleep one night.
On the plus side though, her team was safe. She knew any number of tanks who would have counted that as a win.
“Uh, speaking of moving around in Pillowcase’s body,” Rip said. “You’re kind of…”
“Blown to bits,” Alice said when Rip seemed unable to find the right words.
“Yeah, I pretty much expected that,” Tessa said. “I don’t hear the [Hounds of Fate] yet, but I should probably get going back to town to revive before they show up. Will you folks be ok while I’m gone?”
Tessa wasn’t looking forward to the run, but she was looking forward to getting eaten by ghost dogs even less.
“Probably, but hold up a sec,” Alice said. Tessa caught a glimpse of Alice through the gray, searching for something in her pack. A moment later, a piercing blue light broke through the mist, revealing Alice’s pale hand holding a gem which blazed with light.
Tessa knew exactly what she was looking at and reached for it without hesitation.
The sensation of the light flowing into caught her breath in her throat.
She was warm.
So deliciously warm.
In her veins, life burned with the flames fury, casting the misty gray aside to reveal a kaleidoscope of color. The memory of the pains she’d suffered rolled backwards, not being forgotten but transforming from the onset of agony to it’s relief. Strength and vitality beyond any she’d ever felt before pulsed through her body as each mote of light coalesced into a new, fully restored form.
When her vision cleared she was standing beside Alice, her hand resting where Alice had been holding the [Heart Fire Gem] a moment earlier.
“Woah! What are you a phoenix now?” Matt asked.
“Aww, I wish,” Tessa said. “I’d get killed all the time if so. That felt great!”
“Huh, interesting,” Alice said. “The lore never mentions what using a gem feels like.”
“Can I try?” Rip asked.
“You’d have to die wouldn’t you?” Matt asked.
“It’s not really dying if you can come right back from it,” Rip said.
“No, but it is expensive,” Tessa said. “I’m hoping you got that gem as a subscriber bonus?”
“Yeah. They start you off with a stack of them if you’ve been on as long as I have,” Alice said. “They’re not super expensive either, but probably best not to waste them. It didn’t look like [Sky’s Egde] had any in stock.”
“Thanks for using it on me,” Tessa said, noticing that her equipment was all stowed in its normal places on her, despite having been blown in every direction across the field.
“Thank you for being a convenient test subject,” Alice said, with a smirk. “Looks like the binding magics on your gear works too.”
“The what now?” Matt asked.
“There’s a whole lot of simple charms people use in the [Fallen Kingdoms],” Tessa said. “One of the basic ones is a small binding enchantment which keeps your gear with you. So as soon as I rezzed all the things that I have marked as being in my inventory came back to me.”
“So no one can ever steal anything here?” Rip asked.
“Not exactly,” Alice said.
“Yeah, there’s limits on how much you can have in your inventory so anything else you’ve got isn’t covered,” Tessa said.
“Also, the bindings aren’t that hard to break,” Alice said. “And there’s the superhuman level of skill people can develop to consider. A good thief can snatch a twenty pound sword off your back and you won’t notice till you go to draw it.”
“Stealing things out of your pack is a bit tougher though,” Tessa said. “You’re the only one who can access the stuff in there.”
“Most of the time,” Alice corrected her.
“True, if someone kills you they gain limited access to your pack, so you can lose stuff you’ve got stored. That’s why you put all the really valuable stuff in the bank.”
“I didn’t see a bank in [Sky’s Edge],” Rip said.
“It’s too small of a town,” Alice said. “Lowbies like us don’t have anything that qualifies as ‘really valuable’.”
“On that note, did we get any good items from the Lasher?” Tessa asked.
“Some gold from it and the bugs,” Alice said. “Oh, and check the treasure pool.”
Tessa opened the temporary extension of her pack’s inventory space which held the valuables the party had looted from the bodies of their fallen foes. Items within the treasure pool could be claimed by anyone on the team and transferred to their personal storage, with conflicting claims being resolved via a random roll.
Most of the items waiting in the pool were the typical filler pieces from the monsters they fought. There were several doses of a weak poison from the Centipedes, a few assorted body parts similar to the [Rat Tails] Pillowcase had to collect for her intro quest, and, down towards the end of the list, a [Chain Shirt] and a pair of [Iron Leggings].
They weren’t phenomenal armor but they were definitely preferable to the complete lack of armor Pillowcase had to work with in the fights she’d been in.
“Nice! Anyone mind I claim those two?” she asked. No one else was set up to use either piece but years of party etiquette had drilled into Tessa head the importance of checking with her team anyways.
“Nope, go ahead,” Alice said. “The tougher you are the better it is for all of us.”
“Yeah,” Rip said. “Imagine how things would have gone if there’d been a second Lasher there?”
“There will be,” Alice said. “That thing gave us trouble, but it was basically nothing compared to the kind of things we’ll wind up fighting if we continue on.”
Tessa watched the two younger party members to see how they reacted to the news now that they had a sense of what fighting was actually like.
“How much worse does it get?” Matt asked.
“We had one Total Party Kill here where we all died,” Alice said. “On a typical night for a new raid at max level you can expect to TPK at least a dozen times an hour until you work out all the mechanics.”
Tessa wasn’t sure if Alice was exaggerating or not. Her experience with max level raiding tended to be with groups who weren’t at the forefront of tackling hard content. Her groups were usually a raid or two back behind the leaders, working to implement strategies that other people had already worked out before them. Even that could be brutally hard and lead to repeated deaths but within more reasonable limits than every five minutes.
“Can you get enough of those [Heart Fire Gems] to cover that many deaths?” Rip asked.
“By the time you get to an end game raid? Yeah. They’re pretty plentiful by that point,” Alice said.
“That doesn’t sound too bad then,” Matt said.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we need to worry about that,” Tessa said. “And the difficulty should ramp up in stages as we go.”
“Maybe,” Alice said. “Even the actual game wasn’t always great about making sure the challenge fit the characters who were undertaking it though and we’ve seen there’s either bugs with this expansion or the mobs just don’t act the same as they did in terms of sticking to level appropriate places.”
“Factoring that in will probably mean more deaths, but we can hedge against that too,” Tessa said. “Take this field for example. In the game we probably would have bypassed it and headed on to the dungeon we heard about. The Centipedes aren’t worth much experience at this point and the items they drop don’t have much value.”
“But they’re not particularly objectionable to fight, or dangerous. Yeah, we might as well just farm them, shouldn’t we?” Alice said.
“If this was a brand new game, I’d say trading speed for safety might be a mistake, but there’s so many people who are at the level cap now that I don’t think we gain anything by rushing at this point,” Tessa said.
“So, we keep fighting bugs?” Rip asked. “What do we do when we need to train up?”
“Train?” Tessa asked and checked her character screen.
[Soul Knight Level 3 Achieved!]
[Artifax Trait: Regeneration gained!]
[Trait: Forged Soulbond gained!]
[Skill: Jumping gained!]
Tessa turned to look at the others and saw they’d all leveled too.
“What is this ‘Forged Soulbond’ thing?” Matt asked.
“Must be something new?” Alice said. “Did anyone else get something like that?”
“Yeah,” Tessa said, her mind racing. “That wasn’t in the class write-ups from the beta. Rip did you get something like that?”
“No. I just got Archer stuff, and some improvements to Dexterity, Agility, and Perception.”
“Perception?” Alice asked.
“Yeah, it says [Skill: Combat Perception] gained. Isn’t that an Archer thing too?”
“Not typically,” Tessa said. “I’ve never heard of the [Jumping] skill I got either.”
“That’s not a great sign,” Alice said. “One of our big advantages was supposed to be that we know the game system here.”
“We still do,” Tessa said. “I got the Strength and Endurance stat increases I was expecting at level 3, so it’s not all different. There’s just more to it.”
“Could it have been another new system that the developers put in to the new release?” Rip asked. ‘Like that stuff with the hidden quests?”
“I think they would have tried to sell it more,” Tessa said. “The hidden quests thing my GM friend talked about are something you want to keep secret by its very nature, but this is something people would notice almost immediately.”
“Think we can get in touch with your friend to check?” Alice asked.
“Worth a shot,” Tessa said and sent a message to *GM Burnt Toast*.
The reply came back immediately. The GM’s were still experiencing higher than normal request volume and so petitions for their attention “are shut down until further notice”, which Tessa took to mean “shut down forever” given the circumstances.
“We’re still on our own,” she said.
“Yeah,” Alice said, looking back at the team. “I checked with Cease All and the dungeons to give access to the [High Beyond] are still offline. They can’t get here until they figure out another option.”
“Can’t just fly up here on gryphons I guess,” Tessa said. Flying mounts had been added about halfway through her time in the game, but had come with numerous restrictions to save development time.
“Apparently not, though they did try that,” Alice said. “I guess the air starts getting realistically thin far below where we’re at. They didn’t even get close before they had to turn back. ”
“So still no rescue from other corners, meaning we’re on our own for a while more,” Tessa said.
“Sounds fine to me,” Matt said.