Getting used to it... a little
Author notes: Thanks to the reviewers and I hope you’ll enjoy this chapter. For those who don’t know Planescape, I read a funny quote recently about that. Someone (unfortunately I don’t remember who) said something along the lines of “Planescape: Dungeons and Dragons… directed by Terry Gilliam.” For some aspects regarding mission planning, you may also relate it to Shadowrun.
Hope I can find a way to repay them… I don’t like relying on charity. That probably means go adventuring with Viviane and the others.
She finished lacing the leather sandals on her feet. Like the breeches and tunic, they were rather coarse, probably something out of the bargain bin. Hope I won’t end in some kind of chainmail bikini like in those fantasy drawings… don’t think so. Viviane’s armor might be pink, but it’s… sensible. She was even wearing a helmet.
The paladin wasn’t wearing her plate mail now, but only some tight brown leather pants and boots with a loose white shirt which were probably her version of casual. Buffy rather envied the woman’s delicately toned body coupled with what some would have called a typical ‘Irish redhead’ beauty… and included a fairly generous chest. At least as an elf, I have an excuse for the petite and fragile-looking thing. How would Xander say it? Perhaps something like: she looks like if Gabrielle and Xena had a daughter together…
She winced as she felt tears coming, thinking of the friends she had left behind in Sunnydale. When she was hiding in Los Angeles, she had numbed herself with mindless routine and her time in that hell dimension called Acheron had kept her rather occupied with pain. Here, on the contrary, old memories seemed to surface with ease. She had to keep her mind occupied, anything so that she did not think about the past. She felt Viviane hugging her. It felt nice, in a ‘big sister’ kind of way.
“You’re thinking about what you have lost?” asked Viviane.
Buffy quickly nodded, barely holding back her tears.
“It’s all right. You went literally through hell, you have the right to be sad,” she continued.
“I… can we do something? I don’t want to stay and brood.”
“Yes, we can. Just come to me if you want to talk, right?”
They went out of the room, Buffy following Viviane through narrow halls carved in the wood. Carved? She let her hand follow the texture of the wall and… It’s not carved. It was… made to grow that way… like the village of the Wolfriders in Elfquest.
She looked with awe as she got outside. The trees were impossibly tall and wide, putting sequoias to shame, with leaves of a green that just seemed too vibrant and houses built among the boughs. The sunlight filtered through the upper foliage in just the right amount to leave the place in an agreeable shade. She looked down the balcony she was standing upon, to the ground several dozens of meters below.
“Viviane, how did you say this place was called?”
“We’re in the realm of Arvandor, on the plane of Arborea. This place is a village called Greenbriar where we have friends.”
“Sorry to sound like an idiot, but… what’s a plane?”
Viviane smiled gently.
“You’re not an idiot Buffy…”
“Nope,” said a sarcastic voice from behind, “just what the people of my hometown call a Clueless.”
Buffy turned to look at a smirking Morgan. The demon girl had a kind of ‘biker bad girl’ vibe. She looks a little like Cordelia… well if Cordelia had horns, a black cat tail and blood red eyes… also Cordelia wouldn’t be caught dead in black leather studded with green metal.
“It’s not that bad,” continued Morgan. “Clueless is always a temporary state.”
“Let me guess… either you learn or you make a… fatal mistake?”
“You’re learning… To answer your question, a plane is short for plane of existence. Each plane is a world with its own rules. Viviane, how about we get her to Talia’s so that she can make her some proper clothes?”
The paladin nodded with an air Buffy had often seen… on Giles when he humored her antics or those of one of her friends. Again, she felt grief rolling in her like… Is it because I’m an elf that everything is so…
“Let me guess,” said Morgan, “you’re wondering why you cannot control your emotions?”
“This is Arborea. Let’s just say that the place makes people passionate. Just let it flow, fighting against it is no use.”
“It obviously makes you even more sarcastic,” said Viviane.
“Might be… or it might just be my natural talent. Anyway, it’s this way.”
The three girls traveled through suspended catwalks made of entwined wines, away from what she guessed now as being some kind of inn. Buffy was taking in everything she was seeing, knowing that information coming from comic books and old legends would probably be… inaccurate.
Tough a little smaller in average than humans, the elves from Greenbriar were definitely not of the Santa variety. Wearing mostly brown and green, they seemed to be part of the forest, just as their houses merged harmoniously with the trees. Beyond that… it was also a simple village of foresters, even if she doubted that they did any lumberjacking here. Lumberjacks probably better stay away from Arvandor… If the trees don’t kill them in self-defense, they will end up riddled with arrows… If the trees don’t kill them? Okay… let’s file that with the other bits of random knowledge popping in my memories.
For a part of her, a part that she guessed was born very recently, the place felt… good, homey even. She clutched on that feeling, even if she knew that it was her new body’s instincts speaking. Even if it was… fake in a way, it was better than the numbing despair that had almost swallowed her in Los Angeles. She looked as Morgan exchanged some jokes with a pair of hunters coming back, a dead deer tied to the branch they were both holding. Before the Slayer, she would probably have found hunting gross, not wanting to think, like too many Westerners, about where the meat she ate came from. Since then… she didn’t hunt to eat, only to protect her community of predators, but she understood the need. She also doubted that the elves hunted more than they needed.
“Morgan… I will probably sound clueless again but… the elves don’t mind that you’re…”
“A tiefling? It depends, but given that I’m travelling with Miss holy pants here, they guess I cannot be that bad. Besides, this village had a kind of spider problem a while ago. We solved it, so we’re local heroes.”
She wondered for an instant about how getting rid of spiders, even the poisonous kind, would make people heroes. But now that she thought about it, she was in a ‘fantasy’ world.
“How big were they?” she asked tentatively.
“Very good,” said Morgan smirking.
“As high as a horse and thrice as wide counting the legs,” said Viviane, making a disgusted face.
Buffy shuddered. The nearest thing she had encountered in her career as the Slayer had been the giant praying mantis that tried to eat Xander after posing as the biology teacher. But she had only been human-sized.
“Icky… that’s common here?”
“More than the people here would like, because of… a certain place. I will not tell about it here. The villagers don’t like it.”
She wondered if the people here were in the same kind of denial as the ones in Sunnydale but another of those ‘random’ thoughts went through her mind. The place wasn’t forgotten and its danger well-known, but you did not darken a nice sunny day by speaking about those things unless absolutely necessary. I suppose it’s elven common sense settling in…
They reached a house and Viviane opened the door, making a small bell ring. Buffy looked at the many cupboard and shelves, all full of various merchandises. She immediately thought about the general stores that you saw in western movies.
“Hello, Edariel,” said the paladin to the elf standing behind the counter. “Is Talia available?”
“Good day to you, Viviane. Yes, she is in the back. I suppose it’s for your friend?”
“Yes. Please meet Buffy,” she replied while putting a hand on the former Californian.
“You have no need to be shy, Buffy,” said the shopkeeper in elvish. “We Sylvan Elves do not care too much about propriety, unlike some other… groups of our people. Also, Greenbriar is used to strangers, as we are the nearest safe stop to the portal to the Outlands. Please follow me.” Outlands… probably another of those planes.
She went in the back of the shop, meeting with an elf woman that felt, like the shopkeeper, somehow old to her. It was strange as neither of them did look old in the way age touched humans. There was just something about how they moved, subtle feature changes that told of centuries passed. Sh… I didn’t realize. I’m an elf too. I…
“I’m sorry if I don’t look very elven to you, but…”
“We know,” said Talia. “The Storm Riders brought a sick human to Synda, our druid. A little later, the human’s body was burnt on a consecrated fire and a young elf girl that nobody ever saw put in her bed at the inn.”
“The Storm Riders?”
“This is how your friends call their group. I don’t know why, though, but Mandor… well he is an Aasimar and his name means ‘Man of Thunder’. Some of us joked that his fondness for ice magic was in fact done to annoy some Asgardian ancestor of his.”
She thought about what she had seen of the mage… Sure he was tall, on the platinum side of blond and with a body that she guessed fit without being really muscled. With his ponytail, he would probably be quite at home among the Californian surfers if he worked on his tan, except for two linked details that made him stick out just as much as Morgan. He was… beautiful in a disturbingly perfect kind of way, with deep blue eyes that seemed impossibly vibrant. It was as if he was more real than what surrounded him.
“I’ll leave her with you, my nightingale,” said Edariel, “but… Buffy, Talia and I raised enough children to give you some tips on how to be… more elven.”
Buffy started to sob. Since the Slayer came into her life, all people except for a few friends had been cold and distrustful. Even her parents had at first committed her to a mental hospital rather than supporting her and when her mother finally had to acknowledge the truth, she had been told to renounce to Slaying or never come back. It had been a little better in Los Angeles, the owner of the dinner she had been working in showing a little kindness, but she had to wonder how much of it was to guarantee her efficiency at work. But here, total strangers offered her help or rather a whole new life… just like that, because it was the good thing to do.
She felt Talia hugging her and starting to sing. It was beautiful to her ears, reminding her that elvish was just made for singing. The song told about the founding of an old realm and how people were stronger when they stood together but Buffy did not really care. She just wanted to be hugged, to feel wanted.
“How about we take those measurements?” asked Talia after a while, still in elvish.
She stood while Talia proceeded and noted down some things.
“I wanted to ask,” said Buffy. “I noticed I’m the only one with green hair here. Do you know of which… ethnic group I am?”
“Except for your hair… you look like a high elf, those of us that are the most prone to travel and mingle with other races. Now, as your body was formed of the essence of Arborea by the reincarnation spell, I think that a little bit of another species went in the mix, maybe a Ghaele.”
“What’s a Ghaele?”
“Ghaele are the knights-errant of the Eladrin… what do you know about Celestials?”
“You mean Angels?”
“Angels, or Aasimons, are only one kind of them, messengers and servants of the Powers, the gods if you prefer. The Eladrin are a race of Celestials native from Arborea, creatures of goodness and freedom. The Ghaele fight evil and tyranny in many places, maybe even on the world of your former life, for they veil themselves to mingle with mortals.” Powers… makes sense. A way to say ‘they’re in charge’ without involving religion. Wonder if the Powers I know and hate are… No… goodness and freedom, that sounds like Robin Hood. The Powers thrive on rules and they never intervene directly like the Eladrin do.
“Is there a Celestial race that’s good but… with a lot of rules?”
“Yes, that’s the Archons, who reside on Mount Celestia,” said Talia with a sigh. “They are… to quote Morgan: ‘Archons don’t have a stick up their asses, they define the thing.’ The Archons… see the big picture but they too often forget that the picture is made of people that will suffer for their ‘greater good’. The Eladrin like them only slightly better than the Tanar’ri. The Tanar’ri are Chaos Fiends whose goal is to defile and destroy.”
“You know a lot of…”
“Not that much. On the Prime, this might be knowledge that only priests and wizards bother about but here… they are our neighbors.”
Talia got some clothes out of a crate. It was typical garments she had seen on the villagers but she was not about to complain, not when she depended so much on charity.
“Hmm… This should do, only some retouching to do. Can you try these boots?”
She removed her sandals and took the knee-high brown boots in her hands. It was not really a style she was used to but her mall princess reflexes quickly kicked in. She let her finger run on the leather. Quite supple and finely crafted… yet I bet it’s made to run in the forest. Back in LA… and counting the ‘artisanal work’… I don’t even want to think about the price. I guess it helps when you have centuries to perfect your art.
She put them on. The sole was rather thin but it actually felt good.
“Hmm… Talia, sure they fit but…”
“You are worrying about the price, right?” asked the elven woman, smiling.
Buffy nodded quickly.
“Those are good boots but they are not worth that much, at least not here…”
“I wonder… do Viviane and the others go out of their way to help everyone? What did I do to…”
“They help, but not everyone. You did something that impressed them.” What could I… I was just a prisoner like any… no, not like any other. Even with all the torture, I didn’t yield… I held because what they did was just physical pain and Angelus had already done far worse to me… In all honesty, I must say I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer. The only question was to know what would have broken first: my sanity or my resolve.
“Sorry, Talia… I prefer not to talk or even think too much about the place I was.”
“I understand. I saw your former body and the state it was in.”
Buffy swung the wooden sword to meet Viviane’s, feeling the shock in her arm and regretting, just a little, her vanished Slayer strength.
“Not bad, but your old body was a lot stronger, wasn’t it?” asked the paladin.
“Yeah… it’s… something I lost, but I’m not unhappy about it. Too many downsides coming with the package.”
“I guess that’s quite the story but I won’t force you to talk about it, Buffy. For the matter at hand, let me show you how to deflect force rather than meet it bluntly. It also makes wonders for your weapon’s longevity.”
“I… I have more experience with axes but… Nobody seems to use them here.”
“Hem… yes. Many elves dislike axes for two reasons. The first is because it’s a lumberjacking tool and the idea of cutting a tree is abhorrent to them. The second is linked to a race well-known for using them: the Dwarves. The Dwarves are… not bad people, but their lifestyle is very different from the elven one. Most of the time, the two races just despise each other.”
Viviane got behind her, correcting her stance and moves. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how to fight. The problem was that what her two Watchers taught her had been tailored to Slayer use and she missed strength and speed to use that style effectively. Still, she was making rapid progress and usually didn’t have to be shown a move twice.
Training with Viviane was a real pleasure for her. The paladin was probably only a few years older than her but her moves spoke of a training that started during childhood, though not as mindlessly repetitive as the one Kendra received. I wonder how the Slayer that was awakened after she died will do… A thought for later.
“Viviane, when did you start to train?”
“I was four… My father is a member of the Purple Dragons, the main knightly order of the kingdom of Cormyr. He taught me the way of the sword so that I did not feel left out compared to my older brothers… even though he probably planned to marry me for political reasons.”
“Arranged marriage?” asked Buffy as they continued to fence. “Isn’t that…”
“A reason for noble girls to envy commoners sometimes? Definitely. I didn’t want to waste away in a loveless marriage, so I ran away and finally joined the Order of the Ruby Rose.”
“Does that mean that you are… chaste?”
Viviane raised her hand to stop the swordplay exchange while she started to giggle uncontrollably.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“Sorry… You remember that I told you I swore to protect love and beauty? Sune Firehair, the goddess I serve, is the goddess of love and beauty. This means I am not only allowed to have lovers, but encouraged to. Even one-night stands aren’t an issue as long as I’m honest with whoever I share my bed with… meaning by that I will tell my bedmate that we’ll just share pleasure for tonight, without any further promise. Moreover…”
She took a ring in a pocket and threw it to Buffy, who caught it easily. It was rather plain, probably bronze with several strange characters in a language that she thought she had seen in one of Giles’ books.
“The characters are draconic and it’s just a small enchantment that you can find for cheap in Sigil. It makes the bearer sterile as long as it’s worn.”
“You have magical contraceptives?”
“Interesting word… From what you told, there is not much magic on your world and you rely more on machines, right?”
“Are all your machines built for war or sacred purposes?”
“No… thankfully… I see: you’re saying that in a world with common magic, you find magical solutions to everyday problems.”
“Yes. It was not the case in Cormyr… Wizards on my world have mostly that ‘don’t squander Mystra’s gift’ attitude. It was quite the shock when I met Mandor, who comes from a ‘magic is a tool’ culture.”
“And here in Arborea?”
“Among the planes… everything is possible Buffy. In some places like the city of Sigil – Morgan’s hometown – you will see the ‘tool’ opinion while in Olympus, another realm of Arborea, you cannot cast a single spell without invoking the Olympians or the nature spirits and sometimes making offerings to them… but dusk is coming and we have better getting back up to the village.”
“We’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Yes, for the town of Sylvania in the Outlands. That’s where we live between two missions.”
Buffy was sitting on a bough, above the village and looked at the stars. The evening had been… nice and she had enjoyed to see that her appetite was back to normal, which meant that she did not have to suffer of that furnaces Slayers called metabolism. Nice food, some light mead and… songs, so many songs. I’ll probably miss TV in a while but for now, that was nice.
She had quickly discovered that her night vision was still as good as when she was a Slayer, perhaps better to see things at range. She had tried her luck with a bow earlier in the day. It had been a first as she normally relied on crossbows in Sunnydale, as they were easier to conceal and required less skill. It has not been too bad and… it felt somehow right.
“May I?” asked a voice from the side.
She turned her head to see Mandor that was somehow… standing on thin air.
“Levitation spell,” said the wizard, smiling, as he sat beside her on the wide bough. I am not as good a climber as you, Buffy but… I have my ways. I wanted to talk about some little things.”
“Though initially human, your former body has been magically altered. It has been rather tricky to see under all the curses laid by the baatezu, but I can only wonder how it happened to you.” To spill or not to spill… that is the question. Better be honest rather than have them believe I’m scheming something.
“I was… a kind of champion. Fighting evil creatures on my world but… I was only fifteen when it happened to me, Mandor.”
“Was it your choice?”
She started to talk, about how she discovered that she was the Slayer and fought Lothos, about Sunnydale and the Hellmouth and ended with her flight to Los Angeles and how she stumbled on the Baatezu’s operation. Mandor did not interrupt her but she could almost see the gears turning behind those blue eyes, sorting the information, collating it with what he already knew. It felt good however to have… someone who just listened to her.
“So… before you ask,” said the wizard, “I think the Powers behind this ‘Whistler’ are everything Free Leaguers like me despise. I’ll tell you more about the League later. You see, I have nothing about people choosing that kind of life of their own free will, like Viviane did, but forcing that on young girls… a duty of that kind is just a fancy name for slavery in my opinion and the Powers of Arvandor probably think the same. Also, this ‘balance’ of them seems seriously… unbalanced in favor of Evil.”
“I wanted to ask… you seemed surprised when I described vampires.”
“The vampires I know about are a lot more dangerous than the… thugs you described. Yours seem more like a kind of ghoul but it may be because magic is rare on your world. Only this Drusilla seemed to approach the power of a true vampire.”
“This means yours have all psychic powers.”
“Yes. A charming gaze, the ability to change into bats or mist… they have many abilities.”
“I guess that explains why I was so lame against the Baatezu…”
“A Cornugon is no meek enemy, Buffy, but a war machine few can oppose. This was why we timed our operation with great care, knowing the number of guards would be reduced to a few Barbazu and Spinagons.”
“Which means intelligence… how?”
“Though this mission allowed us to fulfill noble goals, it was commandeered by… someone not very nice. Estevan, one of the high-ups in the Planar Trade Consortium wanted the operation closed down and gave us the necessary information. He didn’t tell us why but we took the mission.”
“It’s… mercenary work?”
“Yes. It’s perhaps a bad thing on your world, but here… it’s just… usual. We were hired and we did the job properly, helping as much as we could while… well I suppose you know something about resources and their lack.”
She nodded, remembering the waitress job she had taken not to starve and to keep some kind of shoddy room to sleep.
“How does Viviane…”
“Like all paladins who make it to the planes, she learnt that the intransigence paladin orders like hers are so fond of on the Prime just doesn’t work here. You can’t eradicate evil and sometimes you have to work with demons because that’s what cosmic balance needs. The Powers themselves know that and are usually a little more lenient about whom their servants associate themselves with. So…”
“So… you know I was never paid to be the Slayer… and I don’t think Kendra even received pocket money from the Council. I think I can be a little selfish… I have a last question. Talia told me I maybe had Eladrin blood.”
“Not enough to be an Aasimar like me if that’s the case, but maybe enough to give you sorcerous powers. There are tests I can do once we are home. If that’s the case, would you like to develop them?”
“Before… I would probably have told you that Buffy and magic are non-mixy. Now… I think I would like that.”
Note to my fellow gamers: I have put some character data here.