Near inexhaustible stamina seemed to be one of the benefits of being a [Vampire], or maybe just of being an [Adventurer]. Even after besting their first real dungeon, complete with near total party kills, running out of magic at several bad moments, and getting to personally “healer tank” more than once, Lost Alice’s body still felt charged with energy. Maybe even more than what she’d gone into the dungeon with.
“So is it weird that we’re going to be working with the dungeon boss rather than, you know, killing him?” Rip asked as they walked back through the forest towards town.
Lisa caught a branch that slithered out like a snake to trip them into a twig filled bough that could easily have been mistaken for a mouth.
Or maybe that wouldn’t have been a mistake.
Around them, shadows shifted and the gnarled, distorted trees waited with the patience of centuries for an unobserved moment to strike.
“I think our definition of weird may need some updating,” Lisa said.
She released the branch she caught and then covered her hand with the magics of the [Withering Grasp] spell.
It wasn’t an attack, or a threat. It was a notification, since she had no interest in damaging the tree monsters yet, and a threat was something that had the possibility of not being carried through on.
The rustling of the branches as the tree swayed back and away from the thin path through the words communicated its understanding of the message clearly too.
It was a living peril, but one that was designed to menace the sort of [Adventurer] that Lisa and the others had been when they arrived in town, not the ones they’d rapidly grown into.
“I don’t know if our approach was all that unanticipated,” Tessa said. “Grimsnarl had a reason for being where he was, wasn’t actively attacking the nearby NPCs, and was willing to listen to reason. Those aren’t the hallmarks of your typical ‘kill on sight’ dungeon boss.”
“I thought we were supposed to get all kinds of good loot from the dungeon though?” Rip asked.
“I’ve got about a dozen pieces of magical armor and weapons in my bags,” Lady Midnight said. “I think we all wound up with about the same, didn’t we?”
“Give or take a few, I’m pretty sure we did,” Obby said. “Though I think I know what Rip means too. We got a bunch of stuff, but most of the pieces weren’t useful replacements for what we already have. For which we have Feral Fang to thank.”
“She’ll be happy to hear how we’re making out with it,” Pete said. “And she said if we wind up with any extra low level, unbound loot, she’s got people who can use it.”
“We can put together matching sets when we get somewhere safe,” Tessa said. “That’ll make it easier to send this stuff through the mail.”
Lisa sighed at the idea of helping bank roll newbies. She’d been firmly against it once upon a time, but over the years her opposition had mellowed, then fallen away completely as her view of the game switched from being a competition and a proving ground to an awareness that people should probably be playing primarily for fun, and that the low level grind frequently worked against that.
And there was the small point that undergeared people were in serious and real danger.
Living in the the world of the [Fallen Kingdoms] had changed so many of her priorities, and so many of her capabilities too. Despite all the new realities that confronted her though, Lisa didn’t feel like she was losing herself.
Even without the magic, even without her [Vampiric] qualities, even without the strange new dimension that Lost Alice brought to her identity, Lisa was living a life completely unlike the one she’d lead before. She could so easily imagine crumbling in the face of that much change. Simply shutting down because there was more to deal with in their new world than she could handle.
Maybe that was still coming too. Maybe once the wild ride they were on slowed down the trauma would come and she’d crumble then, falling apart the minute her lizard brain decided it was safe too.
But she didn’t think that would be the case.
Because she wasn’t alone.
Her team could have left her. They could have found someone else to be their healer, or even just given up. They didn’t have to follow her.
It had only been a few days, and they’d been intense and stressful ones. Lisa knew that tended to produce intense and unstable bonds. It was too short a time for them to really be friends.
So they could leave still. Discover that outside of their current shared moment of hardship they didn’t really work together as a group. Or that for as warmly as they felt about one another, their lives called them in different directions and they had to part.
Lisa was used to that. People came and left a guild all the time. And they came and left her life all the time. Even, she had to admit, people that she loved. The possibility of losing her new friends wasn’t what scared her, and for the first time in far too long, the possibility that they might stay didn’t frighten her either.
Tessa’s hand found Lisa’s and warm cloth fingers threaded through cool [Vampiric] ones.
Oh yes, letting people in had advantages, and if that came with risks, Lisa felt like she’d gained something in the last few days that made those risks seem like ones she could face.
Not love. Love had made her so cowardly before.
Squeezing Tessa’s hand, Lisa stepped into the sunlit field outside the forest. She was weaker in the daylight, but so much stronger with her new family beside her.
Who she loved. She couldn’t deny that. Didn’t want to. Didn’t need to.
But who, more importantly, she felt safe enough with to place her trust in.
Lisa had never been much for religion, but looking at the people around her, she thought she understood what faith really was, because even at her weakest, she knew they’d be there for her.
Tessa felt like she was soaring as she tumbled backwards into the new bed that awaited her and Lisa when they returned to the Tea House much later in the evening than they’d planned.
“Should we really be taking gifts from the crafters who joined the guild like this?” Lisa asked, eyeing Tessa’s prone form with a mixture of suspicion and longing. “We really don’t want to make our guild into a cult of personality.”
“It’s so comfortable,” Tessa said. Her human body was nowhere near as sturdy as her [Clothwork] one, but she was still leagues more resilient than she had been as a cube potato. She could have slept comfortably in a rocky field with a hurricane blowing and yet the soft and supportive mattress beneath her still felt like heaven.
“How did they even make it so quickly?” Lisa asked. “I mean, I haven’t leveled a crafting skill in a while, but I never made anything this nice without months of effort.”
“So so comfortable,” Tessa flopped over, burying her face in the freshly made covers.
“We really aren’t going to be giving it back are we?” Lisa asked, sounding like she was already quite resigned to the idea.
“Comfort!” Tessa said into the covers.
She felt Lisa standing at the side of the bed so she reached out blindly to grab Lisa’s arm and draw her down onto the bed as well.
“Oh, that is nice,” Lisa said, sinking down into the covers.
“Soft” Tessa said, giving Lisa a one armed hug to make it clear that her focus had shifted.
“Okay, we can keep it.”
“Yay. Also, I think it’d be insulting if we didn’t,” Tessa said, rolling onto her back. “The big thing, if we want to be fair, is that we make sure no one in the guild is missing out on stuff like this.”
“Ugh, that sounds like work. I think I just want to melt here. Forever.”
“We could do that,” Tessa said. “Just bliss out for days and days.”
“Until some monster overruns the town and eats us,” Lisa said, rolling to prop herself up on her elbow.
“Isn’t there a battle that’s like that? Where you get eaten by a giant worm of something and you have to fight it from the inside?”
“There’s five or six fights like that. I don’t even want to know who they had in charge of those encounters, cause they were all super gross.”
“Well then, we’ll just have to get out of bed,” Tessa said. “Eventually. Someday. I think we’ve earned some downtime though.”
“Yeah, we probably have. Still problems to solve though.”
“Lots of them. Our potential zombies are still unconscious.”
“And we’re nowhere near the level cap.”
“And we need to make sure the guild’s not devolving into a mess of drama for lack of leadership.”
“And there’s the whole quest for getting home again,” Lisa said with a sigh.
Tessa hesitated a moment before responding.
“I think I know how to do that,” she said.
“What? The quest?” Lisa asked.
“No, get us home, or back to Earth,” Tess said. “I think it’s something I’ll be able to do once I hit the level cap. Or maybe even a bit before then.”
Lisa smile and narrowed her eyes, waiting for the punchline of the joke.
“Wait, are you serious?” she asked.
“I can’t see my class features when I’m like this, but I was thinking about what you’d said about how I might get some really unusual powers as I level since [Void Speaker] wasn’t a part of the game originally.”
“Okay, but what suggests that you’d get the ability to do that? I mean the Earth doesn’t even have magic like this place does,” Lisa said.
“It doesn’t have magic that you or I know about,” Tessa said. “But it has something. Before I was drawn over here, I watched my body evaporate into motes of light. That’s not something the physics we know should allow. If you convert a human body’s mass to energy you do not get a beautiful stream of glowing dots. You get a crater the size of Jersey.”
“That…I guess you’re right,” Lisa said. “I thought that was just the magic of the [Fallen Kingdoms] leaking into our world or something though.”
“Maybe it was,” Tessa said. “But even if it’s just that, it means there should be a magic bridge or stream or something that can connect the two, and that feels like the kind of thing that a [Void Speaker] would be able to call on.”
“You don’t sound entirely happy about that,” Lisa said, studying Tessa’s face with concern.
“I’m all kinds of things about the whole idea,” Tessa said. “I don’t know if I even want to go back, and regardless of that there’s the question of what about other people? Even if I decide I want to stay here, shouldn’t I still try to develop the ability if I can so people who need or even just want to go back can?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Lisa said. “I don’t think it’s on you to fix all of the problems in the world. Especially since we don’t even know what those problems are, or what fixing them might cost you.”
“I know, but I still feel kind of guilty about thinking like that. Which might be problem all on it’s own.”
“You shouldn’t have to feel bad for wanting to have your own life,” Lisa said.
“It’s not that,” Tessa said. “It’s…I just wondering how much of what I develop is driven by what I’m focusing on, or what I’m trying to develop? I think a lot of what a [Void Speaker] is, I somehow created when I came back from wherever I [Fractured] myself off to.”
“So you’re afraid that you could get the power to send us home, but might not if you don’t want it enough?”
“Basically,” Tessa said. “I think we can shape what we become here, which is great, unless I wind up shaping myself into is a selfish monster.”