Even at a low pain setting, Stoni did not find being killed by terror hounds at all pleasant. Being slain by mercenaries with spears several minutes later was over quicker, but it was still an experience she did not wish to repeat. She was immensely relieved that her subsequent character was again within Star Town.
"Nice that I'm not being sent around the world," she muttered as she checked herself over. Even though this was an entirely different body, it was hard to escape the recent memories of inhabiting a body with painful holes in important parts. She tried to distract herself by noting and contrasting her latest body's features. The previous one was a very fair-featured woman well into adulthood named Tania Zadora. She was of what Stoni thought of as average height, and was primarily a seeker of knowledge and wisdom, not strength. That had not helped against the mercenaries, leading Stoni swiftly to the next mission as a character named Hana Lun. She was now a shorter and younger woman with much darker features.
My hair and skin are darker; I don't know about my eyes. Granny V's were grey and her granddaughter Tavvy's green, but I never got to see any of my other characters'. I wonder, can players customise their eyes or is it entirely based on what character they pick? Now I'm curious.
To complete the contrasts, Hana was a Messenger, a character class focused first on Muscle and secondly on Mystique. Stoni preferred the Mind-centric characters, but allowed that Muscle was of more relevance when fleeing elements of the blockade around Star Town.
But now I'm actually in Star Town so I'd rather be smart than fast. It's as if something is mocking me specifically.
There was nothing she could do about that, so she checked her surroundings. She was in a quiet residential district of the town. It was populated by small wooden houses, which were served by a one-horse gravel road. "What was Hana doing here?" she muttered as she eyed the houses' cheap construction and the narrow vegetable garden between each. A fragment of the character's memory welled up in her mind: she'd delivered packages to three of the houses. "Ah, a basic quest. She's a newly-played character and is younger than Tania, but her skills are all Good rank or better. That doesn't line up. Oh, right, keeping a character's existing skills costs extra. Her class abilities are mostly at Good too, so that must have carried over from being a pre-player character too. For a price, I assume. But I don't need to assume. ALI, is that correct?"
"Of course it is. So, now what?" She thought she would ponder her next move, but was interrupted.
Hana remembered that it was only a fifteen minute jog from the post office to this particular residential zone, so an hour seemed like overkill. She would have time to spare, and felt that time when she wasn't running for her life was a gift she shouldn't waste.
I'll get kicked out of this body as soon as I complete the quest, so if I want to do anything else I need to do that first. I think I should take a side trip to find Coda and company, to tell them about my latest encounters with the blockade. There's no guarantee I'll be in Star Town again in my next character or any soon after that.
Pleased with that decision, she set off at a pleasant jog for the centre of the town, specifically the council chambers. The further she travelled, the better the quality of the street and the houses lining it grew. The rudimentary hovels of rough-cut logs were replaced by smooth timber and eventually stone. The houses gave way to shops and stores, putting her back in territory familiar to Lira. She considered checking for Coda's group in some of the clothiers, but decided enough time had passed that such a search would be fruitless.
The town council chambers were in a single-storey structure of grey painted stone. Its width made it look lower than it really was. It was fronted by a row of neatly kept garden beds. The centre of the building featured an impressively large double door in a rich dark brown, and spaced out on either side of the door were pairs of tall, narrow, arched windows with a slight blue tint and stark white frames.
A pair of beefy guards with well-polished armour bracketed the door, holding long halbereds. "You're that messenger, Hana," the left guard said in a sweet and welcoming voice. Stoni had not expected such a voice from a guard on duty, but realised Hana recognised the woman. Not just as a guard, but as a friend in real life. She didn't remember any specifics of anything outside VIVID, just that Hana had greeted her friend before looking for delivery jobs.
"Hi Marsha, you know it's me."
"That's Watch-Captain Marsha to you," Marsha said with a wry grin. "I suppose you're about ready to be shot of this place now that you've got a feel for your new character."
"Yeah, something like that," Stoni hedged.
"Well it sounds like you'll be stuck hanging out with me for a while longer. No one's been able to get out alive today and there's been steady reports of some sort of blockade."
Hana smiled at that perfect opening. "Actually that's why I'm here. I've got a report of mercenaries with spears, and another of terror hounds. Is Coda's group inside? I heard they were planning to come here after they collected money and clothes."
"Yes, they came through about fifteen minutes ago. I think they're planning a diversion for an escape attempt. Some players are already trying to get the word out IRL but it's likely the local lords will wait for the word to reach them in-game before acting, to avoid angering Berrentan."
"The patron deity of staying in character, right," Stoni remembered. "Well I'm not much for combat but I can bring them information."
"Oh I'm sure you can do more than that," Marsha encouraged. "You'd be perfect for taking the message."
"Uhh..." That took Stoni by surprise. "I'd love to help out, but I can only stick around for about forty minutes. And I'm meant to turn in a completed delivery quest before then."
"Not a lot of players around here pick Messenger as their starter class, but there's bound to be someone else," Marsha said with gentle understanding. "Regardless, there's bound to be some way you can help out and the rewards will be worth more than your delivery job. There's no benefit to being paid if we run out of supplies supporting too many players. You'd better get in. Rikard, the door!"
The other guard didn't take kindly to the order. "Why do I have to—"
"I opened it last time, and I out rank you. Hurry along, Rikard."
Rikard rolled his eyes and got about opening his side of the double doors.
"Thanks, I'll probably be back in a bit," Hana said as she stepped through.
"Second door on your right is where they're meeting," Marsha called after her.
"Thanks!" Hana found the specified conference room and quietly stepped inside. She quickly recognised Coda, Bindiby, Vil, Garthol, and Robin.
She also recognised the older woman standing at the front of the room and addressing a group of town officials. She hadn't seen that woman before, but she had been her. Natalia Plinth was here, and Stoni had a feeling her intentions weren't in Star Town's best interest.