[Pottery] wasn’t for Rose. Her vases were arguably similar to what a vase should be, but she had the suspicion that if she’d simply left the lump of clay on the spinning wheel there was a reasonable chance random air currents could have done a better job that she did.
“I think I’ve made a hockey puck,” she said, holding the blob of sagging clay up for the others to see.
“It’s got a strong artistic statement behind it,” Aegis Eye said. “I hear it saying ‘working with mud sucks’.”
“It’s still better than mine,” Makes Emm Dead said, holding up a ‘vase’ which had somehow turned into a bowling ball at the end of the bat.
“Ouch. I thought you were making a frame for a fish tank?” Jamal asked.
“Yeah. It went a little off course,” Makes said.
Aegis and Makes were among the over half dozen people in the party that’d scooped Jamal up and dragged him along on the “crafting tour” of the city. All of them were lower level than Rip or Matt, most substantially so, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for anyone.
Inside the city, they were safe, at least to a reasonable degree, so the need for levels and spells and fantastic abilities was greatly reduced.
From what Rip gathered, most of the party were younger players. People like herself and Jamal who’d been lured in by the [World Shift] expansion and found themselves in a strange new world that everyone else seemed to know a lot better than they did.
“We figured going out and getting killed was a bad idea, so we stayed in [Sky’s Edge] until the Consortium came by and blew the place up,” Aegis had explained when Rose asked her why they hadn’t gained many levels yet. “We did some fighting in the whole escape through the dungeon thing, but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m terrible at it. My brain just turns to mush and I freeze up.”
“I know. We’ve fought a ton so far, and new fights always leave me feeling clueless,” Rip said. “It does get easier with practice though. I think part of it’s our bodies gaining levels and part of it’s just familiarity.”
“Probably,” Aegis said. “It’s what a lot of the others say too. I don’t know that I really want it to become familiar though. Does that make sense?”
“It does,” Rose said though it was something she’d stopped worrying about a long time ago. “It feels like you’ll lose a part of yourself if you go all in on killing stuff, right?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Aegis said. “Which I know is stupid. Everyone else here is trying to level up like crazy, right?”
Rip thought back to the first fights Pillowcase and Lost Alice had led them too. It felt like a lifetime ago. What stood out for her was how intent both Pillowcase and Lost Alice had been on making sure the experience didn’t mess her or Jamal up. They’d offered reassurances, provided warnings, and made it crystal clear that if combat leveling was something either Rip Shot or Matt Painting turned out to be uncomfortable with, they wouldn’t have to do it and could remain in the party indefinitely.
“Hey, it’s not stupid,” Rose said. “Our [Guild] moms made it part of the charter that all levels are welcome in the guild, whether or not the person every intends to level again.”
“I am glad you’re here,” Jamal said. “I’ve been trying to tell her that. Makes has been trying to tell her that. Everyone is trying to tell her, it’s fine to work on stuff other than killing things.”
“Says the guy who’s really good at killing things,” Aegis said.
“I am definitely not good at killing things,” Jamal said. “Ask Rip. She outpaces in damage in every fight. The only people I consistently beat out are the [Healers].”
“And me,” Aegis said.
“And me,” Makes echoed.
“We don’t know that,” Jamal said. “You haven’t even been trying yet. For all we know, the moment you two get serious, you’ll blow past all the rest of us and start hanging out with all those ‘end game players’ we keep hearing about.”
“I think the real question is whether they want to get serious at all?” Rosse said. “I know people here are crazy eager to ‘power up’, but it’s fine not to. There are like a billion max level [Adventurers] out there, the only reason to become one of them is because it’s what you want to do. If you don’t though, there’s tons of other stuff you can do, or be. Like all this!”
Rose was mostly quoting from a speech Tessa had given them, but it wasn’t until she looked around that she really understood what Tessa had been saying.
Levels and powers and all the things that came with being an [Adventurer] were great but there really was more to the world. The [Cooks] who made them the amazing food, the burgeoning prodigies of crafting that she saw around them, even people like the [Nuns] they’d trained with. [Adventurers] focused on the dangers in the world, and that was important but there was more to lands and peoples around them that the perils that lurked in the shadows.
Rose could see how the life around her could draw someone in. Looking over at Jamal, she could see the happiness radiating from him that said it might not just be ‘someone’ who got drawn into the promise of a peaceful life.
“Maybe we do,” Aegis said, the whisper of an uncertain pause in her words.
“We didn’t really have anyone to run with before,” Makes said. “So, you know, it didn’t seem like a great idea to go off on our own.”
“Do I detect the sound of someone who’d like a little bit of safe and easy leveling to get their feet wet with it?” Jamal asked and threw a glance over to Rose.
He knew what her answer would be. He knew she’d be thrilled to take care of someone like Tessa and Lisa had taken care of them.
But he still checked anyways.
Because that’s what best friends do.
That there was red tape involved in releasing a vast and terrible evil from its semi-eternal prison didn’t particularly surprise Yawlorna. She’d worked with bureaucracies her entire adult life. If they’d had pre-set forms in place and a dozen different, and conflicting, specifications for how the forms were to be filled out, she might even have wondered if she was back home already. In place of all that though, there were [Signatories] who needed to be consulted.
Nominally the [Signatories] were the world powers that had been affected by Xardrak’s various schemes. They all held a bounty on him for the damages he’d caused and all needed to acquiesce to any disturbance of his prison.
“The silly thing is none of them did any of the work in subduing him,” Glimmerglass said. “Most of them have high level servants they could have gathered to do what we did, but none of them were willing to risk losing their major resources. So we did all the work, and they swooped in to ‘safeguard’ the [Prison of Eternal Ice].”
“When you say ‘we’, do you mean your guild? Or all the [Adventurers]?” Yawlorna asked.
“Not all of the [Adventurers], but a lot of us,” Glimmerglass said. “Xardrak built his fortress in a layered area and figured out how to project himself into each layer. We spent weeks destroying shadow copies and layer illusions of him – each of which could call on the real Xardrak’s powers as a note – before we finally reached the real one.”
“That seems like an unimaginable amount of power for one person to hold,” Yawlorna said. “Is he not limited to the [Level Cap] you spoke of earlier?”
“The [Level Cap] is unique to [Adventurers],” Glimmerglass said. “Other creatures, though thankfully few of them, can surpass the cap and become far more powerful than any single [Adventurer]. At least in terms of measurable might.”
“Is there another metric that matters?” Yawlorna asked.
“There have been exceptional [Adventurers] who’ve stood toe-to-toe with foes far more powerful than themselves and won. Repeatedly. It’s a fairly common test for [Adventurers] to attempt – trying to solo an opponent who’s capable of wiping an entire [Raid Group].”
“Common to attempt, not common to succeed I take it?”
“No, success is not common at all. But how long you can survive, how much damage you can do, how well your healing can keep pace with the damage being dealt, all of those can be very enlightening, and hard to discern outside of otherwise foolish tests like that.”
“Is that what the [Signatories] will believe we are attempt to do in contacting Xardrak?” Yawlorna asked.
“I didn’t think that would be the wisest approach to take,” Glimmerglass said. “The dispatch that I sent was phrased as a request for gathering research data from Xardrak without releasing him, since at the moment, putting him back in the bottle could provide unfeasible given how tied up the [Adventurers] are with the Consortium.”
“Ah, you told the truth then, how interesting.”
“Occasionally it’s a useful thing to try,” Glimmerglass said. “As a surprise for people if nothing else.”
An impending meeting with the [Evil Overlord] of the [Consortium of Pain] was the kind of thing that should have occupied a rather large chunk of Hailey’s thoughts.
That she’d forgotten about it entirely was somewhat atypical, even for her.
“Would you repeat what you just said,” she asked. “I’ve added Penswell to the channel and I think she needs to be aware of this.”
“Oh…OH! Uh, hi Penswell, umm, nice to meet you?” Tessa said.
“We’ve already met,” Penny said, a trace of amusement in her voice.
“True. You’ve worked with me as Glimmerglass. I just couldn’t recall if you’d spoken to this side of me before.”
“I gather the distinction between the different sides of each [Adventurer] can vary from one to another,” Penny said. “In your case though I believe you were fairly close with your alternates?”
“In an ‘its complicated sense’, yeah, that’s correct,” Tessa said.
“I also gather the present conversation between Hailey and yourself is related to that subject?” Penny said.
“You gather correctly,” Tessa said. “We were discussion how, in the game-version of this world, each of us had more characters than just the ones we are bonded to now.”
“I believe that’s fairly common, correct?”
“More so than not,” Tessa said. “There were various reasons in the game to have multiple characters, but a lot of players did so just to experience the world in different ways. Or because they wanted to be able to fill different roles if their friends or guildmates were missing something. Like a healer, or a tank, or a particular flavor of dps.”
“It seems that those alternates are not a part of this world however?” Penny asked.
“That’s been the experience of everyone we contacted,” Tessa said. “Or rather almost everyone. I’m an obvious exception since Glimmerglass is in her own body, independent from Pillowcase and I. For a while, I thought that might be due to an odd and somewhat indescribable experience I had in the [High Beyond], but just recently, one of my guildmates received a message from one of her alternates who wants to meet with her.”
“I see. If you’re not unique, then its possible, or even probable, that the other alternates exist in the world and are simpling lacking or unaware of the bond with their [Inspirations].”
“I was able to confirm with my guildmate that, like me, her alternate didn’t show up on searches or any guild lists when she looked for her,” Tessa said.
“Which means the standard methods [Adventurers] use for locating people would be failing to locate their own alternates,” Penny said. “So it may be that all of the alternates exist in the world too.”
“And most of them will be without [Inspiration],” Hailey said. “So there may be an order of magnitude more [Adventurers] who could be recruited to the world’s defenses that we just didn’t know to look for. But that’s not why I thought we needed to talk to you.”
“An army of [Adventurers] ten times larger than the one we have wasn’t reason enough to contact me?” Penny asked.
“Oh, it was,” Tessa said. “It is. But it’s possible we could do even better than that.”
“You have my attention,” Penny said and the air in room grew noticeably heavier.
“[Broken Horizons] isn’t the only game that many of us played,” Tessa said. “If we’re connected to the real people who match our characters from that game, then its possible we’re connected to the people who match our characters in those other games, if any of them are as real as this world is.”
“If Tessa’s right, we can do more than give you an army to match the Consortium’s invasion force,” Hailey said. “We could match the entire [Consortium of Pain] and more.”