Author notes: thanks to the reviewers and to the people reading this story. I am always interested in opinions on what I write. I hope you will enjoy this chapter. NB: this contains some spoilers for the Wrath of the Immortals campaign set on Mystara.
“I know I have something in here,” said Morgan.
Buffy was raising a rather intrigued eyebrow as the tiefling looked for something in her backpack. The problem was the slight discrepancy between the small pack’s size and the length of arm currently in. I need one of those.
“Out of curiosity, Morgan, how much can this bag contain?”
“It’s a small model, which means around two hundred pounds. The good thing is that whatever you put in it, the bag’s weight is always fifteen pounds. There are some catches tough.”
“Nice… what kind of catches?”
“The most evident one is to not put things that can pierce the bag into it. The folded space of the bag collapses and you lose the content. Here it is!”
She took out a package and started to unwrap it. It was a shirt of chainmail with nicely crafted rings that gave a bluish sheen.
“I never wore armor, Morgan… well only a leather tunic when training with Viviane.”
“It may not have been a good idea on your world, but here… people will think you are sensible rather than barmy for wearing it while planewalking. This chain shirt is light armor and it’s simple to wear.”
Buffy took the garment. Shape-wise, it was a t-shirt, but it weighed probably a little more than twenty pounds. Which is probably half of Viviane’s armor… let’s try.
Putting the thing on was not difficult but she quickly realized a problem. The chain shirt had been done for someone bigger than her.
“Too big I fear.”
“Just move a little, the shirt is magical and it will adapt to its wearer.”
More and more intrigued, she moved her arms, feeling the sleeves adjust; the chain links shrink to hug her petite figure.
“Most magical armors and clothes have that feature and it’s bloody convenient, I’ll say. Here, let me help you… we have to make sure nothing starts to chafe.”
“Thanks for lending me this but... why don’t you wear it?”
“One word: noise. My current studded leather is quieter and protects just as well thanks to a better enchantment. I just didn’t have the time to sell that chain shirt yet.”
Buffy completed her traveling gear, arranging the weight of her weapons and backpack. It should do… but I will probably be very sore tonight.
She knew that she was still a little stronger than she looked, perhaps a little more than she had been as a regular human cheerleader. Elves were just built slightly differently, their strength needing less showy muscles than humans. Guess I’ll get used to it.
She followed Morgan as the Storm Riders gathered in front of the inn. As usual, Ergyl took point and they reached the stairs leading to the ground, Viviane and Morgan closing the march, which left her in the middle with Neti and Mandor.
They were rather silent as they walked through the forest. She didn’t mind. She felt… something, like a shadow on her heart. She felt some relief as they left it on their right. Here… where the trees are darker and strands of old web hang from the boughs. The place from where the spiders came.
“The elves won’t tell about it, Buffy,” whispered Neti in her ear, “but this is Llolth’s Grove, where she resided before the Seldarine cast her out to the Abyss.” Sounds like the story about the Christian Devil except with spiders rather than fire and brimstone… will have to compare some notes with Neti, but not here, not in this shadow.
They walked quietly but quickly, often searching the shadows under the nearby trees for anything unnatural. Buffy was feeling a strange mix of emotions. A part of her was worrying about the eventuality of a fight without her Slayer powers. The other was weeping that the taint of this part of the woods could not be fully cleansed.
Finally, the company reached a place where two trees entwined their branches to form a kind of arch. Buffy felt something, like a shimmering at the corner of her eye that disappeared when she tried to focus on it.
“It’s all right,” said Neti who had caught her tries to see the phenomenon better. “You’re sensing the portal. It’s something planars – people born on the planes – like us can do. Primes can’t, at least not naturally.”
She was about to reply that she was born in California and therefore a ‘prime’ when she remembered. Her current body was planar, being born in Arborea, and it was what counted.
Ergyl twisted two twigs to form a circle and threw it in the arch, before hurrying through the shimmering curtain that had suddenly appeared in the empty space between the branches. Buffy would have liked to stay and observe but Neti and Mandor ushered her quickly through the passage, followed by Morgan and Viviane. She quickly understood why as the curtain disappeared shortly after Viviane exited it.
The forest on this side was… it was similar to one in Arvandor but at the same time like a pale shadow of it, a cheap imitation with trees that, while they would have looked imposing in any Earth forest, were just not as vibrant and majestic.
“The portal was far away. Perhaps three hours,” said Ergyl.
“This end of the portal is not stable. It travels in the forest,” said Morgan. “Our ever-so-laconic ranger says we still have to walk for a while to reach Sylvania.”
Buffy took in the explanation like the many others she had been given in the last days. Even if several of her former school teachers back on Earth had another opinion, she was far from idiotic. The Slayer was to blame, but only partly. Before it came to curse her life, cheerleader mall princess Buffy had little interest in obtaining perfect scores. Here, with a brand new brain that seemed even sharper than the old one and a lot of motivation about learning how to live in that new world…
They walked for a while and, suddenly, Ergyl tensed, making a gesture with his hand that she had been told to mean: ‘danger around, be aware’. She saw them then, around twenty shaggy men in coarse furs and leathers. The next thing she knew, she dodged an arrow on pure reflex and drew her sword as the men charged their group, howling.
Buffy parried a new blow from her adversary. The bandit wasn’t very skillful with his sword but he had a huge psychological advantage on her: he was human.
Killing vampires and demons wasn’t a problem for her but humans… Giles had taught her that human evil was not for her to sort out. Thankfully, she wasn’t as indoctrinated as Kendra, who had considered that all demons were to be purged. No, not all demons… all non-humans.
Would that mean her now that she was an elf? Or Ergyl? Or Morgan? Had Giles been wrong? Was it just Watcher knowledge that was too limited, even compared to the little she had learnt since she had been dragged in the Outer Planes? Or was it something more nefarious, to make her adopt a mindset based on deliberately flawed knowledge? She felt suddenly dirty.
She concentrated on her adversary. Even if it was, maybe, poverty and despair that had initially forced him in that way, the man had chosen to become a beast. From the lust in his eyes, she guessed what he intended to do with her if he managed to overpower her. It was not something she wanted to consider, not when she was still recovering from her stay with the Baatezu.
She had tried to disarm him but he was a little too good for that and all it had won her was a blow that the chain shirt thankfully mostly absorbed. Feeling something break in her soul, probably one of the few pieces of her innocence that were left, she modified her stance, abandoning pure defense.
It had been just in time as the bandit was receiving some reinforcements. She felt a wave of cold in her back, probably coming from one of Mandor’s spells. She didn’t have time to look. They were now four against her, having perhaps guessed that she was the company’s junior and wanting to use her as a hostage. Well… junior will show you how she can fight. I’ll never be a slave again!
She took advantage of a hole in the bandit’s defense, slashing his guts through the coarse leather of his armor. A parry and her sword danced around his guard, piercing his throat. She blocked the horrified reaction her conscience was screaming to her. She would angst once her enemies had fallen.
She dodged by less than an inch, probably receiving a graze on the back of her neck but noted that the bandit that tried to flank her had overextended himself, leaving a big opening that she exploited with a lateral strike. Blood, right out of the severed femoral artery of her adversary, splashed on her. He fell, screaming while she continued to move, evading the slashes of the men’s crude blades.
Suddenly, one of her adversaries fell, his mouth foaming with something green that ate his flesh. Morgan, coming from the back, had artfully stabbed him in his armpit, her enchanted dagger filling one of his lungs with acid.
The fourth one was not faring any better. Four bolts of energy looking like small swans pierced him, leaving her with just the necessary opening to finish him. She hesitated, but Morgan didn’t, cutting his throat in an expert move.
“Not too bad but you hesitated too much… got it. It was your first kill,” said the tiefling.
Buffy nodded quickly, too occupied avoiding puking.
“Look at them,” said Mandor, holding her from behind. “You did nothing wrong. If you didn’t stop them now, they would have attacked a farm or other less skillful travelers a little later. I know, you come from a country where the law is strong and people probably discouraged to make justice themselves. But here, adventurers like us are too often all that stands between those dregs and peaceful peasants.”
“Mandor is right,” said Viviane. “Even if we had captured them and handed them to Sylvania’s authorities, they would have been hanged.”
“And Constable Hiller would probably be grumpy for giving him more paperwork,” said Morgan, a rather sardonic smirk on her lips. “Ouch! Eh, Neti, what was that for?”
“For being borderline insensitive, darling,” said the priestess that had just slapped the rogue on the back of her head.
Buffy smiled faintly, distracted from the brooding that was worming in her mind. She had noticed how the two women behaved around each other and wondered once again if they were more than friends.
“Thank you, all. I… I will be okay. Let’s just get away.”
“There is unfortunately one last thing to which you should get used,” said the wizard. “Remember what we discussed about resources.”
She nodded, less hesitantly than before though. Sometimes, she had regretted that vampires – well the vampire of her world – turned to dust when staked, including their wallets. Various demonic fluids too often conspired to strain her clothing budget.
“The spoils of war,” she said, feeling another part of her innocence die.
She heard Sylvania long before they exited the woods and actually saw the town. It wasn’t big, only a thousand permanent residents who settled in a circular clearing. But they make noise like they were ten thousands…
Yet… this was good noise, the noise of joy and non-stop parties where a crowd of humans, elves and bariaurs laughed and played together. She heard songs in many languages: Elvish, Greek and even some in a language she estimated to be ancient Egyptian as it felt like the one Neti used for her spells.
She followed the others through the winding streets looking with interest at the hodgepodge of architectural styles. Here, it was a small pagoda that sat beside a house made of revolving cogs, while on the opposite of the street a log cabin of the likes she had seen in documentaries about Canada neighbored a building in the shape of a wooden boar.
But, all she wanted now was to bathe and rest. Even if Mandor had used his magic to wash the blood from her body and clothes and Neti had healed her scratches, she felt unclean and her muscles ached more than enough to need a good hot bath. She heard her companions hail some of the people they met, a lot of them wearing the same symbol as Viviane did on her cape’s clasp. She remembered that it was the symbol of a kind of club the paladin belonged to: the Society of Sensation. Buffy answered a few pleasantries when the others, mostly Morgan or Viviane, presented her to their acquaintances. She hoped her air of tiredness was sufficient… well to be fair she had little doubt about it. Her new body was a lot frailer than her Slayer augmented one.
Finally, they reached a house on the edge of the town that… She remembered having seen similar buildings once, before the divorce, when Hank had taken the family on a trip to Europe and they had visited that fairy tale castle in Bavaria.
The house was a big three-story place with whitewashed walls laced with wooden beams, a roof of terracotta tiles and small windows. It was prolonged on the back and one side by a wall of stone that enclosed a garden. She thought that the shade of the cherry trees would be really comfy, particularly with the fountain she was hearing.
“Do you like it?” asked Mandor.
“Yes… it feels cozy.”
“Thank you, I… well it’s not that imaginative as I based my design on a Gasthaus I used to go near Ritterburg. At some point, I guess we just got sick of spending our time in inns and wanted a place that was ours, so I built this. The interior has influences from all of us, though.”
“How… magic, right?”
“Magic. I’ll show you how later.”
“Have to go see someone,” said Ergyl. “I’ll come back later.”
“Take care, friend,” said Viviane.
She followed Mandor inside. She had expected small rooms but was instead finding herself in a large common area that seemed to occupy most of the first floor and included a bar in an angle. The style reminded her more of some Victorian adventurer club, with upholstered armchairs near a huge fireplace and mementoes from all around the worlds. On a second look though, the statue of Bast, small altar included, was probably here for genuine religious reasons rather than simple decoration and the various weapons hanged on the walls were not simple trophies, but made to be easily retrieved, just in case.
She heard footsteps coming from the stairs and soon discovered a human male that reminded her of another part of their European tour: the one in Venice. He was a man perhaps in his late forties, dressed mostly in black, but rather like… yes, some kind of butler.
“Signore, Herr Baron,” said the butler, bowing with elegance. Yep… Italian version of Alfred in Batman.
“Buffy, allow me to present you Bertuccio, an old friend.”
“Your Lordship is too kind… I am merely an old servant of the Schwanstein family.”
“You’re too modest, Bertuccio,” said Neti. “Is there enough hot water ready?”
“Of course, Signora, the steam circuits are charged. Herr Baron, should I also prepare your bath?”
Buffy did not really hear the rest of the conversation the wizard had with his butler as the other girls dragged her further in the house, soon going down one level and arriving in a place where they started to strip. It was… really different, with soft lights coming of glass spheres and walls that looked… Arabian. From the way the others were behaving, taking towels… she knew just as Morgan opened the door and she heard water. It was a steam bath, a Turkish Hammam like she had seen in some of the paintings her Mom had in her gallery. Mandor said the others influenced the place… Well that’s a nice addition.
She stripped and joined the other girls. A few minutes later, she sighed of contentment as Neti explained her she got the idea from the time she spent among the djinns in the Elemental Plane of Air… while giving her the best massage she had ever received.
So this is a wizard’s laboratory. It’s tidier than I thought.
Buffy wasn’t exactly sure of what she expected, maybe more bubbling cauldrons or some kind of haphazardly piled up junk. Instead, everything was sorted and filed with what, given the name of the wizard owning the place, she wanted to call German efficiency. It was set in the sub-level three of the house and had heavy stone walls that reminded her of a bunker. The various machines, that she would have found more at place in Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory than in Merlin’s, completed the picture.
“Morgan is often teasing me about my tidiness, saying that for someone supposedly free-spirited I can be very ‘ruly’ in the laboratory,” said Mandor while he gathered some ingredients from a locked cupboard.
“I guess it’s only common sense… eh, no need to have things explode in your face more than necessary.”
“Quite my point and one my mother stressed quite forcefully while teaching me the basics of alchemy.”
“Your mother is a wizard too?”
“Was in fact,” he said somberly.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
“It’s nothing. Well… as you told me your story it’s only fair that I tell you mine… A few years ago, there has been a great war between two empires on my homeworld. Glantri was allied with the Empire of Thyatis against the Alphatians. To keep things short, things went horribly wrong. A Glantrian archmage called Etienne d’Ambreville used a magical doomsday weapon to sink the continent of Alphatia and… Glantri suffered a lot from the retaliation. My parents were among the many victims. I needed a change of landscape, so I came to the planes, Bertuccio following me with all we could salvage of the ruins of Schloss Schwanstein. He considers me the Baron, even if our fief has been destroyed and its remains probably given to another noble.”
“You don’t… want to return one day?”
“No. I was never really popular with the Prince of Aalban. There is also too much to see here and… well maybe one day, when I have enough power, I will rebuild Schwanstein, but as a demiplane, a pocket universe if you prefer.”
“Yes… but enough of this,” he said while mixing some of the reagents in a beaker.
He put the mixture on a thing that looked like a nineteenth century version of the Bunsen she had seen used in chemistry class, back on Earth. The liquid started to bubble softly, going from brownish to pale yellow.
“We have a few minutes until this is ready. In the meantime…”
He reached a cupboard and took out an ornate wooden box. Inside was a finely crafted lyre, with incrustations of marble and gold.
“This is a Lyre of Building, a very useful magical instrument.”
“How does it work?”
“The basics are simple. Thirty minutes of play allow conjuring forces that will realize the work of hundred men in three days. It is however a taxing task and playing longer becomes increasingly difficult. Moreover, any mistake in the tune will reflect as defects in the construction. As for the exact mechanics on how the lyre does that… this is something we will discuss later, if you decide to learn magic.”
He looked at the softly bubbling solution and added a small spoon of purple salts.
“I will need a drop of your blood,” he said, giving her a small knife that he had just passed through the flame of the ‘Bunsen’.
She took it and cut her finger just enough to let a drop of blood fall in the mixture that quickly started to give off a faint green light.
“Thank you. This reaction confirms you have Eladrin blood. It’s only a trace, but enough to develop sorcerous magic.”
“You say sorcerer and wizard as if they were two different things.”
“Yes… the power we harness, arcane magic, is the same and many of our spells are identical. However, the whole way we acquire our spells is different. As a wizard, I prepare spells… it’s like casting them halfway, only omitting a few words, that we sometimes call keys, to complete the formula so that I can unleash their power quickly. I have access to a wide repertoire of effects but in the end I can only prepare a handful of them, so I have to guess what I will face.”
“On my… former world, there are people who can use magic by casting for a long time using complicated rituals. Can you do that too?”
“Anybody with the knowledge and correct ingredients can, but ritual magic is tedious and errors can be lethal. Prepared spells have securities so they don’t risk backfiring. Sorcerers now are more… instinctive. They only learn to harness magic in a handful of ways, but they can repeat any effect they know as long as they have the energy to aliment them. For them, the spells they know are forever ‘prepared’.”
“How… will I know what I can do?” asked Buffy, knowing she was about to take another sharp turn in her life.
“Some things will come instinctively as you grow in power. Other will have to be learnt and trained. I know enough to help you on those matters.”
“How do we start?”
She was sitting in the lotus position on the pentacle Mandor had drawn, searching for her center. Suddenly, as the magic infused in the magical symbol beneath her suffused through her body, she started to feel it… To her surprise, there was not one possible source but several. Still a complicated girl…
She felt a familiar tug trying to draw her consciousness towards something dark and feral. She quickly barricaded that way with metaphoric walls. She knew all too well where it went: to loneliness and despair. All that she accepted to keep from the Slayer was that little experience boost that helped her adapt, things like how to wear armor or use many medieval weapons.
She felt another tug, this time feeling like something clear, made of pure light. It was probably the Eladrin blood Mandor had detected, coming from the fact her elven body was made of the essence of Arvandor. It would make her fit to claim what Mandor had called a Celestial Bloodline. But, after that fight in the forest, remembering the human blood now staining her hands, she did not feel worthy. She had to find another way, between light and dark.
Between light and dark… an image from her childhood came back. Before adolescence and even before she started to fancy ice skating, there was a boy she liked to hang out with in elementary school. Maybe her life would have turned differently if that geeky boy called Leonard had stayed in her school… but that was not the point. She remembered using his telescope to look at the stars, how passionate he was when telling her about Armstrong’s first steps and how they played as if they were ‘up there’. It was something pure, something she had forgotten.
An echo rang through her very core as she remembered the hands of an elven lady dressed in moon beams guiding her soul from her broken human shell to her elven body. She knew her name: Sehanine Moonbow, Daughter of the Night Skies, Goddess of Moonlight.
She opened her eyes, looking at the night sky that had replaced the ceiling of the laboratory. She heard the voice of Armstrong saying how small he felt, how he could hide the Earth with his thumb. Shooting stars started to fall on her, dancing around her as their flickering light sealed the Slayer and the Saint and her magic settled.
She fell, exhausted, feeling magic ripple through her body. She would have to work to master that power of course, but not tonight. Mandor lifted her in his arms and Buffy Summers, apprentice Starsoul Sorceress, just cuddled against his chest, feeling nice.
Minor points of D&D rules, probably of no interest if you’re not a gamer:
- I always houserule that reincarnation affects mental abilities
- Mandor is the one who took Leadership in that adventurer group