Beyond the Pale
Plunged into darkness, Christian felt greatly out of sorts when suddenly the warmth of the sun played across his face and arms. It was a gentle touch, quite unexpected as moments before he been sitting in the basement of Philip’s parent’s home. However, a blood curdling scream shattered those pleasant but somewhat muddled thoughts.
“Oh my God! What happened to me?” An obviously female voice screamed once more, followed by loud sobbing.
In his wildest imagination what Christian expected to see next was not what was presented before him. Sitting up, he found his friends, or what he assumed were his friends scattered about a stone floor. One part of him acknowledged that they were the same people who moments before had been sitting with him at the gaming table; another part was in total disbelief.
Looking a few years older than his normal sixteen years, Stephen lay on the ground next to him. Wearing the black and silver robes of an Imperial Incantist, the High School student looked up at his brother in disbelief.
Brett knelt down next to his brother, his face full of worry. Encased in partial Dragoon plate armor, the pre-law student bore a strong resemblance to an English Civil War officer of cavalry. Like his brother, he too looked older by at least a decade. Christian’s friend had obviously taken an age disadvantage allowing him to obtain better starting equipment. Although both Brett and his brother appeared to be older, they looked essentially the same, unlike the remaining party members.
Kathy, or what Christian assumed to be Kathy, lay spread eagle on the floor across from Christian. However, the stylish young woman who had accosted him in Phillip’s garage was gone, replaced by a giant of a man. All about the warrior lay the instruments of his trade, small throwing axes and a couple of javelins; but it was a massive battle-ax that stood out. Dressed in the double mail hauberk of a northern ice barbarian, the former woman now sported a face full of whiskers. The new Huscarl did not stir and from the sound of the loud snoring was obviously fast asleep.
Like his girlfriend, Corey too went through a radical change, his gender now matching his Archon character sheet. Unlike her normal six foot three self, the new Corey could easily be mistaken for her younger sister’s twin. With her dirty blond hair cropped short, the new priestess was dressed in the white and gold trimmed robes of a maiden of Sylia. Although she might look it, the priestess was not totally helpless, being well armed and armored. Like most of her adventuring sisters, she wore a reinforced leather cuirasse and wielded a small deadly looking spear. Realizing that it was Corey who was sobbing, Christian sprung to his feet.
Pointing to the sleeping Huscarl , Christian stepped towards the sobbing priestess. “Sandy, can you check on Kathy while I see to Corey?” Christian found Sandy’s new appearance not surprising in the least. Although she still looked like his longtime friend, with small pointy ears and almond shaped eyes, she was obviously no longer human. Eyes full of panic, Sandy grabbed Christian’s command like it was a lifeline.
Relief filled Christian’s face as Sandy moved to Kathy’s side. Now much less worried about the young Sylph, Christian knelt down right in front the sobbing priestess. “Corey?”
“What’s happening to me?” Corey continued to rock back and forth sobbing. As it didn’t appear she was going to stop crying, Christian did something that in a million years would never thought about doing. Reaching over, he wrapped his arms around his friend and held her close. Immediately, Corey began to struggle then settled down realizing who was holding her.
“What just happened to us?”
“Really?” Corey body shuddered. “Crap. It’s like a story out of one of our gaming magazines."
Christian gave a small laugh, then said the first thing that came to his mind. It might not have been the most appropriate question but Christian couldn’t help but blurt it out. “What’s it like?”
The priestess sat back; looking up; she wiped her eyes with her sleeves. “What do you mean what’s it like?”
Christian flushed with embarrassment; obviously this was not the time to ask. “Sorry, nothing.”
Frowning, Corey shook her head. “You know you’re an idiot.”
Reaching over to poke Christian in the left obviously very female breast, the priestess of Sylia gave a small smile. “You’re a girl too.”
Brett paced back and forth in front of his gaming group. Thankfully, for the most part they had settled down but for some unknown reason were now looking to him for leadership. Why they did, he had no clue. Sure, at the gaming table he made decisions but that was in the safety of Philip’s parent’s basement. Any decisions today were more than likely going to impact their actual survival. If they worked together, hopefully they would make it out alive but even that seemed unlikely.
“So you’re telling me this isn’t some weird virtual reality game? This shit is for real?”
Brett cringed as she continued. The loudest member of the part was obviously Kathy, whose appearance and mannerism no longer matched the name. Already in a terrible mood because of the gender change, the Huscarl was totally crushed when Corey screamed as he tried to comfort her. The pain and anger were still obviously written across his face. Who knew the ramifications of having a fury based warrior in the party. At the gaming table it didn’t seem to matter. Hopefully, Kathy would be able to hold his anger in check and turn it towards something more constructive.
With an androphobic priestess and a barbarian with anger issues in the party, Brett decided he really didn’t want the responsibility of leadership. “Kathy…”
“Call me Eric; I sure as hell don’t look like a Kathy anymore. I named the character after my cousin who also has a temper so it’s as good a name as any. ” The warrior gave a humorless smile.
The Huscarl nodded. “OK, for now let’s skip how this happened. Why here? Why didn’t we appear in a city or town? Why are we in the middle of freaking nowhere?”
For some unknown reason, instead of being gated to one of the Imperium’s major cities, the party found themselves sitting in the crumbling ruins of a forgotten temple on a windswept hill. Ruins like these were common beyond the borders of the Empire, the remains of an ancient civilization that flourished long ago.
Brett noticed that while Eric talked, he did not take his eyes off of Christian. From the way the Huscarl was staring, there was little doubt in the large warrior’s mind where the fault of their current situation lay. On the other hand, his brother was staring at Christian for a totally different reason. Somehow upon being turned into a girl, his longtime friend was now even more beautiful. With long silver hair, standing taller than most of the men, she definitely had a regal air about her.
“We know as much as you do.” Sandy sighed. “Unless someone found a map in their backpack, we are as lost as you are.”
“OK, then explain why this happened.”
“As we have already said before...Eric, none of us here knows why this happened.” Christian shook her head in frustration.
“But you wrote the words on the scroll.” The mailed warrior said accusingly, not for the first time.
“Nothing more than made up words.”
“Then it’s his fault.” Leaping up from the ground, the mailed warrior strode forward, planning to grab Stephen by the scruff of his neck and shake the answers out of him.
Before he could come to his brother’s defense, to Brett’s amazement, Christian intervened. Jumping to her feet, she stepped right in front of the charging Huscarl . “Stephen did nothing, Eric, now please sit down.” Everyone was amazed including the almost raging warrior that the command actually worked.
Suddenly feeling very stupid, Eric turned to Stephen. “Sorry, you’re new to the game as well.”
“I don’t understand any of this either.” No longer facing an enraged warrior, relief filled the young man’s face.
With Christian standing in the center of the party, Brett realized he had seen her in a similar outfit before. With a heavy rapier at her side, dressed in black scale leather armor, she was the spitting image of a woman in a painting that stood in Christian’s study at home. Long before the current group formed, Christian and Phillip gamed with another group. Unfortunately for the party, one adventure turned rather ugly.
“Christian, why do you look like Lorelei?”
Deep inside the ruins of a forgotten temple, the group had fought through numerous difficult encounters. After a magical trap teleported the party, they found themselves lost, low on spells, out of healing supplies and dragging two dead party members around. Making another wrong turn, the party ran head long into the boss of the dungeon. The high level necromancer and his entourage of undead knights made quick work of the already tired party, resulting in a Total Party Wipeout. (TPW) Christian was the spitting image of the woman in the painting named “Lorelei’s Last Stand”.
It was Christians turn to look embarrassed. “Because, I’m her daughter...well my character is anyway.”
“That’s not fair.” Corey, who hadn’t spoken a single word all afternoon, whined.
The rest of the group, including Eric broke out in smiles.
“Why isn’t that fair?” Stephen asked.
“Because Christian’s new PC now has all of her old character’s belongings. Philip never allowed me to do that.”
Brett smiled. “Christian, how many pages of background did you write for this character?”
The silver haired beauty made a face. “I think it’s about ten thousand words, give or take. Also I didn’t exactly get all of her belongings, Corey, remember she died along with her party. Mostly I got her debt.”
“Debt? Now that doesn’t seem fair either.” Corey made a pouting face.
“With Imperial taxes pretty high, it’s an incentive to adventure, as I do own her estate and lands.”
Brett nodded; he remembered that Lorelei was a Baroness or some other type of nobility. As Philip, their Game Master was not about to drop high level items into a low level campaign, Christian would have made sure that there would be some advantages and probably not without some resources. “So you’re some type of noble?”
“Baroness Isabelle, illegitimate daughter of Baroness Lorelei of Northridge currently out of favor with the Court for speaking out against certain unpopular Imperial decrees.” Stephen spoke slowly, now giving Christian a totally different look. “Oh sorry, that was weird,” Stephen sat back, his eyes opened wide in surprise.
“Are you ok?”
Stephen looked up at his brother. “How did I know that?”
“You’re an Incantist, that’s how.” Sandy didn’t look particular happy.
Brett frowned. Her reaction to his brother was unfortunate. With Sandy dressed more like a pirate than a wood-elf, he acknowledged that it made sense, as unlike most fantasy worlds, Sylphs were ocean going people. In small fast war ships, the massive Royal Fleet of Queen Celebil appeared off Imperial shores two hundred years ago. After several long decades of vicious warfare, the Imperium reluctantly allowed the Sylph race to settle among several inhabited island chains. Even today, the Imperium and the Royal Sylph Court did not exactly get along.
Reaching for her friend’s hand, Sandy said. “Isabelle, I think that’s a beautiful name.”
Christian smiled. “I thought so, too.”
With the group breaking up a number of hours earlier with little accomplished, Sandy sat on a particularly large outcropping of rock overlooking the party. Convinced that their current situation was the Incantist’s fault, the Sylph absentmindedly fingered one of her throwing knives while looking down at the sleeping form of Stephen. Although she didn’t know why he would do such a thing and for what purpose, a part of her refused to trust him.
The Sylph perceived only one person trying to do something constructive. While the others lay on their bed rolls, Isabelle stood on the other side of the ruins facing a chain of snow covered mountains. Quickly crossing the ruins, Sandy could feel her cast another spell. Everyone was surprised when they discovered that Isabelle was a Pathfinder. What a strange class, a jack of all trades they took a little bit of every profession. It was considered the ultimate dungeoneer class; however it was difficult to play correctly. Putting her High Priestess aside, Isabelle said she wanted to try something different for the low level game as she had never played the class before. She also realized it was easier to call Christian by her character’s name. For some reason she found it difficult to call her Christian anymore.
Leaping from stone to stone, Sandy landed softy right behind her friend.
“Couldn’t sit still, huh?” Isabelle said without looking back.
Sandy grinned, not surprised that a Pathfinder was able to hear her soft footfalls. “Not really…too restless. So how are you?”
“I was going to ask you the same question.”
Sandy smiled. “You first.”
“Complete.” Turning around, Isabelle laughed, her face lighting up in a smile; then it turned sad. “I shouldn’t feel that way considering our current circumstances.”
“I know but I’m still happy for you.” Reaching up, Sandy hugged the silver haired beauty. She had to keep herself from giggling; in the other world she was a little taller.
“Still, I am worried about some of our companions, especially Kathy and Corey.”
Sandy nodded; Corey appeared to be having an especially hard time. It was difficult to tell with the Huscarl other than perhaps he was even angrier. “Hard enough for Corey being a girl, to add to the problem, she is also terrified of men.” Sandy shook her head, what a ridiculous disadvantage. “Won’t this be an issue if she needs to heal one of the men?”
Isabelle stepped back but still held the Sylphs hand. “I don’t know. We need to speak to Brett about our concerns as well.”
“Why bother he is only interested in Stephen.”
“Sandy, you know that’s not true.”
The Sylph corsair only shrugged. “So Baroness, did you find anything interesting?”
“This place is warded. That’s why we haven’t been interrupted by any wandering monsters.”
Isabelle smiled warmly, laying the other hand on one of the fallen stones. “I think it was a holy place. It still holds some power.”
“Is this really Mercia?” Sandy reached over to touch the same stone, feeling something deep within the rocks as well.
“Yes, I think it is but how I know this I’m not sure.” Isabelle wasn’t the only one with new knowledge running around inside her head. If asked Sandy could explain the difference between a brigantine and a barque, as well as where to look in a merchant ships hold for hidden treasure. She could also open any locked chest that might hold that treasure.
“Do you know where we are now?”
Not answering the question, the silver haired Baroness asked one instead. “What do you remember about your first adventure?”
Sandy smiled. “I remembered how excited you were that I agreed to play.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. What do you remember about the actual adventure?”
“Nothing really.” Stepping back, she looked towards the mountains. “What are you saying? You do know where we are don’t you?”
The Pathfinder nodded.
With a stick in hand, Isabelle drew a rough map of their location. “Ultimately, Pathfinder magic is about discovery. There is a reason why Incantists always have one by their side and why legions never leave the capitol without them.” The rest of the party stood quietly as she continued on with her explanation. “We are at the start of the Black Water Valley, which runs northeast to southwest along the Skollis Mountain range,”
“So how does that help us?” Eric grumbled.
“Well unless I am wrong, Isabelle was just about to explain that.” Brett, now Owein, commented as he knelt down drawing a line in the dirt. It was not lost on anyone that everyone was now calling each other by their character’s name. “You think that the tower might still be there?”
Isabelle smiled. “You remember the adventure?”
The Captain of Dragoons chuckled. “I never forget an adventure. However, how do you plan on activating the gate?”
“It should still be active; if not then that’s why we have an Incantist.”
Everyone looked at Sayer, once Stephen, who only shrugged. “How?”
“I’m hoping, Sayer, that once we get to the tower you will remember.” The Pathfinder said with a smile. Isabelle was somewhat sure that if pushed she might be able to figure it out, but the Incantist definitely needed to feel useful. She could tell he was having problems holding it together, even with his brother at his side.
Elisa bit her lip. Like the others, Corey felt compelled to use her character’s name. “We did this before right?”
Dacie once Sandy nodded. “The Archivist the party does a lot of dealings with, he gave us some sort of wand to active it last time right.” The ancient gates, are dangerous to use, but if the proper incantations are known could literally take you across the world.
“Correct, but now we have an Incantist, so he should be able to at least get us closer to a major city.” The consensus of the party was to speak to find and speak to an Arch-mage or a High Priestess about their predicament.
“Let's say against all hope we manage to find this gate, where will it take us?” Eric turned to Sayer who stepped back
”We should appear in the summoning room of one of the Incantist’s Black and Silver Chapter Houses.”
“Just great.” Dacie shook her head in disgust.
“Fine, so…Baroness if we are unable to find this tower of yours then what?” Eric scratched his beard. The thing was beginning to bother him. How in anyone’s imagination did one deal with the thing?
“We walk back to the Empire.”
Owein almost choked. “That’s a long way home, Isabelle.”
She nodded. “A hundred leagues at least.”
“How far is a league?” Sayer was afraid to ask.
“Three miles.” Elisa laughed.
Looking totally disgusted, Eric commented. “That’s one hell of a walk.”
“So what do we do now?” The Incantist looked around, worried. “It’s going to be dark soon.”
“You and Isabelle should strengthen the wards.” The Captain of Dragoons ordered, without looking up from the map.
“Why? Aren’t we already safe with the wards the Baroness spoke about?” Eric looked down towards the forest below.
Isabelle rolled her eyes; was there a reason Eric continued to insist on calling her by her character’s title?
“Because there are creatures that hunt in the night that we are ill equipped to handle.” The priestess of Sylia explained. “Isabelle, I will join you after I am done with my prayers. There is an ill wind blowing tonight.”
Sandy/Dacie Corsair ; Sylph
Authors Notes: A special thanks to djkauf for a little elvish editing. If you like the story please leave a Kudos, if you have the time I would love to hear from you. Thanks to all for reading! - Elsbeth
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