Tessa wasn’t expecting an answer to her question. Part of her wondered if she’d thrown it out there just to see what kind of reaction she’d get. Another part though was quite serious about pitching herself back in a hellscape. She worried about that part, seeing a pattern in her behavior stretching back to well before she wound up in the [Fallen Kingdoms].
“You know, no one has ever asked us to drag them to the [Blood Fires],” Steelarm said. “I suppose we’d have to give it a try to discover how it would play out. Since I’m not sure why we weren’t able to drag any of your there last night, I wouldn’t suggest pining any hopes on it working tonight, but my troop and I are certainly willing to give it a try.”
“Come on now Steelarm, she wasn’t serious,” Daisywine said and searched the [Adventurers] around Tessa for backup on that assertion.
Tessa couldn’t fight the smirk that bubbled up onto her lips. Her party knew her too well at this point to mistake her for lacking sincerity.
“She’s not kidding?” Daisywine said as she saw the pained expressions on the faces before her.
“It’s not even the first time she’s done something like that,” Rip said.
“At least this time she’s didn’t jump in and then warn us,” Matt said.
“You’ve been to the [Blood Fires]?” Steelarm asked.
“Nope,” Tessa said. She’d heard of them, more info absorbed from reading about the Beta test, but since they’d been listed as a ‘future development zone’ she didn’t know much beyond their name and a brief description of the zone.
“Then why…?” Steelarm seemed as perplexed as Daisywine.
“We have some people who were injured before we escaped from the [High Beyond],” Lisa said, “We think the [Blood Fires] might be able to heal them, assuming it’s possible to get there and back without being burned to ash.”
“I don’t think the [Blood Fires] are intended to act as a healing spring,” Steelarm said.
“We don’t need the fires to restore wounds or injuries,” Lisa said. “We can manage that part on our own. What we’re expecting to have trouble with is a corruption in the wounds our people took.”
It was strange to think of the [Sky’s Edge] townfolk as ‘their people’, but Tessa couldn’t dent that it seemed to fit.
“We have some [Antidote] vials if you need them?” Daisywine said.
“This isn’t exactly a poison,” Tessa said. “Before we left the [High Beyond] we found a creature that was capable of converting people to mindless minions under its control. That’s part of why we all fled down here. Unfortunately some of the townsfolk from [Sky’s Edge] were injured in the last battle we had with it.”
Tessa saw both Daisywine and Steelarm grow apprehensive at the news they were hearing. It wasn’t surprising in Daisywine’s case but seeing a ghost get worried made Tessa wonder if her frame of reference might have been knocked a little askew by her recent experiences.
“They’re not showing signs of zombification yet,” Lady Midnight said. “They’re also haven’t regained consciousness though and they have a couple of troubling status effects that we haven’t been able to dispel yet.”
“Are they a danger as they are?” Daisywine asked.
“There’s no sign of the status effects spreading, but we have people keeping an eye on them constantly to let us know if that changes,” Lady Midnight said. “They’re also quarantined. The status effects seem to be the result of the bites they received, but we’re isolating them for now as though it were an airborne contagion.”
“Do we have hazmat suits here?” Tessa asked.
“In this case we’d be using PPE’s back on Earth, but since we lack those, we’re using [Metal Mechanoids] instead,” Lady Midnight said.
“Oh, should I be helping out with that?” Matt said.
“No. We have enough people to cover all of the shifts already,” Lady Midnight said. “We need to keep the exposure rate as low as possible.”
“And delete the status effects before they transform into something much worse,” Tessa said.
“That does sound like a noble cause,” Steelarm said. “A word though on noble causes? Sometimes the price is a lot higher than you want it to be.”
Tessa considered how much of Steelarm’s personal experience that bit of wisdom carried. Being stuck as a ghost forever because she chose to do the right thing and defend a town seemed pretty unfair.
Pretty unfair and great fodder for a quest to put right.
Not that they were at that point yet, but the idea settled into the back of Tessa’s mind for future review.
“It sounds like the [Blood Fires] are something we won’t be able to pursue until tonight at the earliest,” Lisa said. “That means we might find another answer before then.”
“You sound like you’re okay with this?” Tessa asked Lisa on their private channel.
“I don’t mind you taking risks,” Lisa replied privately. “I just don’t want you taking them without me.”
“Don’t worry, I learned my lesson in the [Sunless Deeps],” Tessa said, struck once again by how lucky she was to have Lisa watching her back.
“I suppose we will see you tonight then,” Steelarm said and then shook her head. “It feels so odd to say that without the intent to menace someone.” With a shrug, she disappeared as noiselessly as she’d arrived.
“We should get back to work too,” Daisywine said. “Just wanted to stop by and say ‘hi’ to the newest citizens of [Dragonshire].”
“Thank you,” Starchild said. “I hadn’t thought of us like that yet.”
“If you need help with anything, let us know,” Lisa said. “[Adventurers] do a lot of work beyond monster-slaying and trouble shooting. We even have people who are decently skilled crafters.”
“Olwina was filling us in on all that,” Daisywine said. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty that needs doing in [Dragonshire], so I’m sure you’ll be hearing from us.”
With a few more general farewells, the contingent of [Dragonshire’s] residents departed back to the east side of the river, while the [Adventurers] wandered off into the town or back into the [Great Hall], except for Tessa’s team who lingered outside the gate.
“That could have gone a lot worse,” Tessa said as she took stock of the town around them.
Broad daylight revealed a greater extent of the weathering and neglect the town suffered from, but it also showed signs of the life [Dragonshire] had once held.
Down the eastern side of the hill the [Great Hall] sat on, a small plaza remained, circled by a half dozen houses. Flowers of several varieties competed with each other to bloom to greater size and more vibrant color.
Downstream from the wide bridge they crossed the night before, there was another, smaller bridge fifty or sixty feet away. It was in worse shape, with a three foot section missing at its midpoint, but the ornamental carvings on the side of the bridge and the posts where it was secured to the land were beautiful even from the distance Tessa stood at.
What most caught her eye though were the [Dragon Birds] that were playing in the sky and dashing into the river to snatch unwary fish. In place of scales, they had feathers in a kaleidoscope of colors and they moved with a grace that suggested pure weightlessness. Tessa was enthralled by them for a moment, drinking in the proof that there was wonder in the world as well as terror.
Some of her team however were still a bit spooked from their encounter at the gate.
“I almost shot that ghost when she showed up,” Rip said.
“Probably wouldn’t have done anything though, right?” Matt said.
“It might have,” Lisa said. “Steelarm had a health bar. That’s a sign that something can damage her.”
“Not me,” Rip said. “Or, I mean, I’m not going to be the one to shoot first and ask questions never.”
“That’s a good maxim to live by,” Lisa said, with a nod towards Tessa. It was a point they both agreed on as far as Rip and Matt were concerned.
In an ideal world, the two wouldn’t be anywhere close to a combat environment. That wasn’t an option in the [Fallen Kingdoms] but they could at least ensure neither Rip nor Matt had to make the choice to turn an encounter deadly.
“We should probably see what the rest of the town’s like,” Obby said waving to the hills which were dotted with buildings. “I’m not saying that it’d be good to know the layout in case we have to fight a giant battle here, but…”
“But given how things have been going that’s not exactly an unlikely event is it?” Tessa said.
“Between the Consortium, the [Hungry Shadows], the undead from the barrows, and whatever’s waiting in the forest, we’re sitting in the middle of a lot of crosshairs aren’t we?” Lady Midnight asked.
“I don’t think so,” Tessa said as a new idea took hold in her mind. “I know it’s tempting to think that there’s a whole world of problems lined up against us, but look at who we really are. In a word of demi-god [Adventurers], we’re swimming around at the bottom of the barrel. If the Consortium sends troops against us, it would have to be by accident, and the other [Adventurers] are drawing more than enough aggro to prevent that.”
“The [Hungry Shadows] were specifically after you though,” Rip said.
“It sent forces after me, but it had to have been focused on the Consortium forces up there too, otherwise it wouldn’t have had control of the soldiers it used as puppets,” Tessa said. “Plus, if it was worried about what I did to it, the fact that I ran away from the [High Beyond] to a place I can’t get back there from may make me seem like much less of a threat.”
“The undead and the forest dwellers haven’t been mass attacking the town yet either I suppose,” Lisa said. “They may get mad when we start messing with them, but it didn’t sound the like [Cursed Walkers] could formulate plans all that well?”
“Not according to the lore at least,” Tessa said. “If we see different then the lore’s wrong, but a mindless foe really shouldn’t be forming up in ranks against us.”
“So, are we really safe then?” Rip asked.
“Safe is probably too strong a word,” Tessa said. “We should still take care here. It is a different world, and there are definitely nasty things in it, but letting our paranoia run rampant could mess us up pretty bad too.”
“My suggestion then is that we take a walk,” Lisa said. “I know some of the other people are checking out the town, and if we split up we can check on them, or, maybe beat them to any of the treasures that were left behind when the town fell.”
“There are treasures here?” Rip asked, hopping off the short stone wall she’d perched herself on.
“It’s a ‘hybrid zone’, right?” Lisa said. “That means the devs had an open door for throwing in treasure chests, or mini-dungeons, or unique encounters. We just need to poke around and see if we can find any.”
“Why didn’t you lead with that!” Rip said, as she grabbed Matt’s hand and began pulling him off down the road to the south.
“Do we know where the [Heart Fire] is yet?” Tessa asked, suppressing the urge to run after the two kids.
“Yeah, there are two in town,” Obby said. “One’s in the basement of the [Great Hall]. The door was cobwebbed over but it’s open now.”
“And the other is in a chapel on the east side of town,” Starchild said. “It is quite easy to find. There’s a large aviary behind it where they are raising the [Dragon Birds].”
“We’ll be careful!” Rip said on the team channel since she’d already dragged Matt too far away for normal speech to carry.
“They are totally not going to be careful,” Lisa said, audibly for the rest of the team hear.
“Should we follow them?” Tessa asked.
“Nah, leave them to me,” Obby said. “If something comes up I’ll step in and give the rest of you a shout.”
“I’m guessing you’d like to get a closer look at the woods?” Lady Midnight asked Starchild.
“I was considering that, yes,” Starchild said and took Lady Midnight’s proffered hand, leaving Tessa and Lisa alone together once more.
“I think I love our new friends,” Lisa said, offering her hand to Tessa
“It seems almost anticlimactic at this point to tell them we’re…” Tessa stumbled for the right word. They hadn’t needed to put an official label on what their relationship had become when it was just the two of them.
“Together?” Lisa suggested.
“That works,” Tessa said, feeling like adding the word ‘forever’ would be a rather nice thing too. A saner bit of her knew it was still a trifle early to be thinking like that, but she couldn’t deny either how she felt or that it was a nice image to hold on to.
“Shall we go off and have our own adventure then?” Lisa asked.
“Get in trouble on purpose with you? Why I would like nothing better!” Tessa said. Anxiety tried to scream that she would regret those words, but for a change Tessa felt like she wasn’t smaller than her fears.
Bad things would come. Bad things already had. She could survive them though.
She was an [Adventurer].