Chapter 1: Introduction
After Aziel had left the house without saying exactly what he was going out to do - which meant he had taken one of those jobs he knew would upset the human if told - Samuel set about getting ready to leave himself. Putting his twin blades in their sheaths, zipping up his hoodie and pulling on his leather jacket effectively concealed them. After that, he headed for the front door. He planned to go to the supernatural-friendly bar nearby, to see if anyone needed his assistance or heard of any jobs he could take on. Most there were aware of his moral standings, and would let him know if anything that would catch his interest came to their attention.
Opening the door, he walked through and... was not where he expected to be.
The hunter blinked, confused why he wasn’t seeing Aziel’s perfectly maintained front lawn, but a city street. He covered his eyes with his hand, groaning.
“Alright. Which Fae did I catch the attention of this time? I’ve been laying low lately, gods damn it!”
Alarm bells rang out into the night, and Aurael jolted from his bed, running out the door with cowl raised before he was even fully ‘awake’. Ahead of him, his party also ran past - adventurers, like him, who had reacted immediately to their city’s cry for help. Directly ahead was their springchild bard, redheaded and fair skinned this time of year. Aurael smiled beneath his mask, but before he could call out, the smaller male glowered over his shoulder at him.
“Business time, Elensar. No means no.”
Aurael sighed, shrugging before reaching down to adjust his supplies. He didn’t bother to look where he was going; he knew this inn well enough to traverse it in full darkness if he had to.
And yet, when he turned the corner at the end of the corridor, there were no stairs - no common room filled with adventurers, spilling out into the streets to answer the call. Instead, his foot reached nothing but open air and bright, blinding light.
He fell, and in a disorienting flip that struck him with vertigo, crashed directly into another person.
As soon as he felt himself being shoved over by someone, Samuel used said momentum to his advantage reflexively, throwing his would-be opponent to the ground. In a movement made quick and smooth by years of practice, he drew his twin blades, putting the shining silver one - Dugr - to the throat of the individual he was now straddling. The glistening black - Feigr - was poised to make a second strike, should the first prove unsuccessful in its attack. Both blades were covered in runes and sigils, and were mirrors of one another, aside from color. They whispered in his mind, as usual, begging to be dressed in the pretty blood of whoever was deemed a threat. They wished to Sing. They wished to Dance.
Luckily, Samuel was quite used to their pleas, and was able to push their tempting words to the back of his mind to focus on the situation at hand. Though his immediate thoughts surprised him. Oh, fuck. He’s hot. To which a bit of warmth appeared on his cheeks. That wasn’t a thought he’d ever had before, and certainly not in a situation like this. Something about the tall, lean form beneath him just… seemed super attractive.
’What is this reaction? Why are you stalling? He is an enemy, not attractive,’ Feigr said, confusion and anger growing. ’Stab him, make him bleed, dress us in the colors of his blood…’
’This is not like you,’ Dugr murmured to Samuel, more calmly than his twin. ’Keep your mind clear. This could be a trick of some kind, one we’ve not seen before. Be on your guard, boy.’
“Please tell me that was an accident,” he said, looking down at the man he had pinned beneath him. “I really don’t want to have to fight anyone today.”
The person seemed disoriented, silver eyes blinking and squinting up at him. He was dressed head to toe in black, the only part of him actually visible being around the eyes, where pitch black skin and silver hair peeked out from beneath his hood. Single-handed crossbows were strapped to each leg, and a pair of thin, curved blades in lacquered sheaths twisted awkwardly under his right hip. He made no move to go for them, however. Instead, he raised his gloved hands slowly - a universal symbol of non-aggression.
“F’sarn taudl," he gasped, forcing air into his lungs.
Samuel had no idea what language that was. It wasn’t something he’d heard before, but that wasn’t really saying a whole lot. Lots of supernaturals - which this individual seemed to be, at least to him - spoke their own languages, none of which the hunter was capable of speaking or understanding himself.
Whoever this was probably hadn’t meant to do anything to harm him based off of his reaction to being thrown and pinned. Samuel relaxed his tensed muscles some and sheathed his blades. They protested until his hands left them, knowing that they weren’t about to be used right then.
“My bad,” he said, getting up and stepping back a bit. He held out a hand to the man still on the concrete, and offered an apologetic smile. “You just surprised me, is all. Lots of weird stuff all at once. I was leaving my friend’s house and then found myself here. Thought it was a Fae messing with me. Now, though… Not so sure. They usually show themselves by now.”
Hands stayed where they were for a long moment as Aurael processed the sounds he was hearing. A human language, and very similar to the one his party spoke. An apology, it seemed, and it was with some hesitance that his gloved hand took hold of his assailant’s(?).
Still, rather polite of him to sheathe his weapons. He wouldn’t have known many others who would have done the same.
“My gratitude for your graciousness,” he replied, still somewhat hoarse as his breathing stabilized. Allowing himself to be pulled to standing, he gave a nod before adding, “I doubt my party would have been so kind in a similar meeting.”
Moving carefully, Aurael tucked a hand into his cloak and pulled out a pair of dark glass lenses set into tightly wrapped wire. He was relieved to see that they hadn’t broken - an emotion that could be seen in the set of his shoulders before he donned them. Immediately, the pain of daylight eased, and he tugged his hood forward to complete his defense. “As to our predicament, I am as unsure as you. My race may be called fey, but I assure you, I had no hand in this.”
Now that the spots were beginning to clear from his vision, the man before him took shape. Shorter than himself by quite a bit, and stockier - not uncommon for a human. He had a boyish charm despite the clear martial ability, however. Aurael would freely admit that, and frankly found the combination rather intriguing. However, there were quite a few things more immediately important than the disheveled young man before him grumbling about their predicament.
Namely… what in the Realms was this place? Aurael considered himself far traveled compared to many in his homeland, but nothing had ever looked like this. Shielded by the smoky lenses, silver eyes gazed in wonder at the towering buildings he could see in the near distance, long ears pricking up under his hood at the sounds of some sort of mechanical device -many of them- moving just beyond the quiet lane on which they found themselves. Even the nearby shopfronts, while more akin to those in the more advanced human settlements he’d visited, were unusual in both architecture and decoration. Everything seemed to be muted shades of stone and brick, of steel and glass, and despite the lack of color, he found himself enthralled. This was the same blue sky, the same yellow-white sun… but this world was not his own.
“I’m Samuel.” The introduction snapped him out of his daze, and the black-clad man turned to his companion, once more guarded but slowly easing as the human continued, “It’s nice to meet you, though… these weird circumstances kinda put a damper on things.”
The easy smile and laugh were honest enough. This man meant him no harm, as strange as that seemed. Normally, those who were close enough to see his features (in broad daylight, no less) reacted less than favorably. Perhaps he had no prejudices against drow.
“The pleasure is mine,” Aurael answered smoothly, crossing one arm over his chest and bowing slightly before straightening once more. “I am Aurael Elensar, of the House T’puuli-Alti’ui. I apologize for my rather… rude entrance.”
There was a small smile to his tone; affected, yes, but it was a habit to charm his way into a favorable situation when he could. Apparently it worked this time as well, as his companion simply waved off the contrite statement. “Not a problem; I’m sorry for throwing you around like that. I can be a bit jumpy, sometimes.”
“No doubt.” Amusement had returned to the cowled man’s tone, and once more, he looked around. He was used to being transported places against his will. A hazard of his profession. Despite that, evaluating one’s surroundings for threats was second nature. “Fortunately, it seems as though we have come upon a place where such vigilance is- at the moment- unnecessary.”
“TRUTH. We could have ended up in Faerie. Or a pocket dimension surrounded by Shades. Or any number of very unpleasant things.” Samuel shuddered, a shifting of shoulders that hinted at more strength than was readily visible beneath his strange clothing. Rather than continue that line of thought, however, Aurael lifted his gaze to the human’s sheepish smile, feeling one of his own try to match. “Anyway, now that we’ve got that out of the way… any idea what we do now? How to figure out where we are, or get back to where we came from? I left my phone at the house again, so I can’t really use it to find our location on a map or call anyone for a pickup.”
Aurael stared at him for a long moment, watching the shifting of hands as they dug through pockets and repeatedly came up empty. He had no understanding of what some of those words meant, and the use of the localized dialect tripped him up briefly. Perhaps the item he spoke of was a specialized magical device from his world - there were many things beyond his ken in the drow’s own, so it seemed plausible. Whatever a ‘phone’ was, however, it sounded like a useful device. “Not immediately, no,” he replied instead. Best not to tip his hand. “Given a week, perhaps, however my skills are not that profound.”
“Yeah, that’s fair.” The human gave another laugh, dusting off his hands after his fruitless search. “Well, the other option is magic, then. I know it’s rude to ask and all, but being that you’re clearly not, uh… like me, do you happen to have anything to help? We might be able to contact my friend, if you know a good communication ritual.”
Once more, he shook his head. Aurael had no magical ability at all. Those resistances afforded by his race, yes. However, spellcraft? Beyond his power, even when it came to the nigh ‘universal’ spells afforded to his people. “I am at a loss there as well, I fear.”
Samuel sighed. “Alright. So magic is out, and neither of us have phones. Great.”
Aurael couldn’t blame him for the frustration - he felt it as well. “The best that I can tell you at this moment is the current hour,” he offered, tone dry but humored. A squinting glance up at the sky told him the needed information, yet something felt… off. “It is one hour past midday, however… I cannot accurately determine why that is.”
The sun was in the right position for such, and judging by the apparent weather and angle of the heavenly body, it was autumn in a northern land. Or was it? As insane as it seemed, ‘north’ seemed to move. Not drastically, but enough to notice. By tomorrow, it may well be on the other side of the city. Or not exist.
That thought was incredibly unnerving.
Samuel’s voice once more intruded on the anxious thoughts. “Well… if there’s no better idea, we could just pick a direction and see what’s out there. Better than standing around doing nothing.” Clearly, the human was a man of action over deliberation, and as he pointed down the lane, Aurael fought off the disquiet of the ‘moving north’ to return his attention to where it belonged. “How about that way?”
“I have no objections.” With a nod, he fell into step with his companion. If he could obtain a visual bearing, he should be able to find his way around by landmarks alone. Having no frame of reference, moving with a partner was preferable than alone. Especially in broad daylight. Staying with Samuel seemed vastly safer than attempting otherwise.
Not wanting to end the conversation there (as more information was more often better than less), he asked softly, “Is your home realm much like this? For mine is… not.”
Aurael wasn’t afraid. But concerned? Absolutely. And while his body moved with a relaxed, fluid grace honed by years of training on top of his race’s own nature, his voice betrayed the emotion clearly. Fortunately, either his companion didn’t notice or was polite enough not to say anything.
“For the most part, yeah. Cities are cities. Similar feels, even if the buildings and people are different.” Leading the way out of the alley, Samuel continued, “I’ve been to a couple of different realms, but this isn’t like any of the others I’ve been to except for the normal, mortal one I’ve been living in. For instance, the fact that I can breathe is a big indicator. Even the air in places like Faerie is a magical construct, and therefore… I can’t use it.”
That was certainly an odd predicament, one that Aurael had never come across before. Finding someone who was unable to use magic was common enough. Those who actively repelled it? Far less so. At least this place was similar to where the human had come from. A bit of disconnect, perhaps, as he learned his way around, but there was something to be said for fitting in. Given the disparity of their appearance and dress, that would likely prove more difficult for himself.
But who knew? Perhaps this place was like his city, if… different. Likely there was some flexibility if the inhabitants were simply thrown here by capricious forces beyond their control.
“Anyways, uh...” Silver eyes glanced over as Samuel continued, catching the shake of his head before the earnest smile beamed up at him. “What realm are you from, if it’s nothing like this?”
Aurael lifted an eyebrow, amused. Apparently that was enough for some sheepishness to appear in the human. “Sorry. Can’t really tell what you are, what with your face being covered and all.”
“My homeworld is known by scholars as Toril,” he answered, sidestepping the question of his race entirely. Even if this man knew what his hair and skin color were, he hadn’t reacted like many other aboveground races. Others might not be so ignorant, so he needed to be careful. “Though, more specifically, I come from the lands of Faerûn, and my people live in a small woodland community. However, even grand cities such as Waterdeep do not compare to this place. I have never seen so much glass…”
He trailed off, musing softly as his gaze continued to shift over the world around them. Glass was expensive where he came from, and took expert tradesmen to create it with any degree of usability. To see it everywhere simply felt… magical.
It took half a step for him to realize Samuel had stopped. When he turned, confused, the shorter man was giving him an equally bewildered expression. “Uh… like the world in that game I saw people playing in that bar that one time? ‘D&D’, or whatever it was called?” he asked.
There was a long pause as the drow struggled with that information. “...Vel’bol?”
Game? A game? Deendi? None of these words made any sense, either in or out of context, and his use of his birth language in an unknown location proved it. It took a moment for him to recover, and when he did, his words were once more under his control. “I… I do not understand. Game?”
“Yeah, a game,” Samuel confirmed. “People pretend to be elves and dwarves and wizards and stuff - characters they’ve created - and then play in a game set in different medieval fantasy worlds. I remember them saying stuff like ‘Faerûn’ when they were discussing the game, at least, when I was watching a group play in a bar.” The man grinned, an expression that would have been charming if this all weren’t so very bizarre. “It looked like fun! They were fighting a band of gnolls while protecting a caravan to Nashkel from some mines. They had all these little figurines of their characters spread out over a map. It seemed like a good time! Could never convince Aziel to play with me, though.”
Fantasy. Pretend. Game. His world was… just a game? A source of entertainment, or leisure, to people from Samuel’s world?
Distantly, his thoughts filled in the gaps in information: where the location was in the greater world, the creatures spoken of, and even what could possibly be delivered to the small (and mostly human) town from said mines deep in the nearby mountains. He even briefly wondered if the gnolls had been hired- in what sense they could be- by one of the chromatic dragons living within the range to steal said cargo for their master’s hoard. As an adventurer himself, these things were simply common knowledge. Basic facts, for those who traveled the wide world, doing what he and his party did.
And people prepared a role for themselves and acted out… what he did for a living?
“But you’re… you’re from there, huh?”
“Yes,” Aurael answered softly, shaking his head as the sheer enormity of the situation threatened to overwhelm him. “I must be. But how, I wonder…”
It had to be some kind of magic. A realm gate. A dimensional door. A being that could see other worlds. Something that made his world not just a fantasy, a fiction. There had to be. He was here, after all. Perhaps… a being that has lived through my world.
He took a breath to calm the thoughts, suppress the memories. “...My apologies. It is a startling revelation.” Surveying Samuel’s clothing, he then gestured to his own. “Is my appearance unacceptable to a society such as yours?”
Samuel also gave the drow a once-over before shrugging. “I think you look fine,” he said with a grin. “People go out in all sorts of things, so what you’re wearing shouldn’t be too much of an oddity. And even if people do think you look a bit strange, we could just explain it away as there’s a convention nearby or something, and you’re just in costume.”
As they turned another corner onto a busy street, however, it appeared that such a concern was completely unfounded. The city they had stepped into was absolutely filled with nonhuman entities - some races and beings that Aurael recognized, others that seemed not quite right, and more that were completely alien. Motley inhabitants, coexisting without care. No doubt the pair of them would blend in quite well. After a moment of staring, Aurael shook off the shock, determined to get such reactions under control. There would be plenty of time for processing and planning later.
“That seems unnecessary,” he replied instead, injecting a bit of dry humor to ease the mood. Not that the persistently cheerful human seemed to need it at all. “However, the question now becomes if we are to stay here indefinitely, or if there is a way to return to our own realms.”
“Do you think we should ask someone where we are, or just keep trudging?” Samuel asked in return, turning around to walk backwards so he could look up at the taller man. “I don’t think we’ll raise too much suspicion, if we do end up talking to someone.”
Aurael sighed and shook his head. This was a common enough problem for many novice adventurers. Fortunately, he was not a novice, and had no patience for such. He reached an arm out into the crowd as they walked by, clasping a thin, vaguely toad-like person in a lab coat on the shoulder. “Pardon me,” he asked the startled alien. “We are new to this city. Do you know where we can find more information about this place?”
“O-oh! Well,” they replied, “Introductory Services will provide much of that. They are located in the main square, along with the Department of Employment and Housing, and should have all the information required for furthering your stay. However, I do believe they are closed today - government holiday.”
“Thank you.” The cowled man released the white-jacketed individual, returning his gaze to Samuel as they hurried down the street once more. “It seems we have a few days.”
There was a restless twitching towards the sheathed daggers that put Aurael on edge. He managed to keep that hidden as the human spoke, however, despite the frown that finally replaced his sunny smile. “Yeah, but a few days to do what?”
“A few days until this welcoming guild opens, I presume,” the taller man answered, nonplussed.
“Do we have a reason to stick around? I, for one, don’t like the feeling of this place, and neither do my… friends.” The pause seemed strange, but Aurael didn’t give voice to the oddity. He was more concerned with the agitation he sensed clearly from the young man before him. “If at all possible, I would like to figure out where we are, and how we can get back to where we came from. We can’t just sit around and do nothing.” Samuel shoved his hands in his pockets, continuing, “Or, at least, I can’t. All of that sounded very ominous to me, and just waiting for this Introductory Services thing kind of feels like the wait before what you know is going to be a gruesome battle.”
The imagery amused him, and the dark elf gave a smile behind his mask. Seeming to realize he’d been chattering away, his companion bit at his lip before adding sheepishly, “Or is that just me?”
Rather than saying anything reassuring (as he’d found such things were often tactless or condescending coming from him), Aurael simply gestured down the street. “We should continue to move, then,” he said instead. “After all, we have three things to procure, if we are to be gathering intelligence and waiting for long: water, food, and shelter.” He ticked the items off on his hand as he spoke. “Cities generally have housing facilities with all three available, though finding desirable accommodation is often expensive. Thus, we will need a way to exchange our currency for this world’s, or hope that it has some way of compensating for otherworldly economy.
“As you are more… familiar with cities akin to this one, I trust in your judgement for such things,” he finished, splaying his hands in a gesture of acquiescence.
Apparently, that was the right thing to say, as Samuel gave him a slightly more relaxed smile. “Well, I appreciate you not thinking I’m crazy for feeling that way, at the very least,” the human answered, tone once more cheerful as he looked about. “As for necessities, I’ve lived off the land before, as well as on the streets of cities. I’m sure that we can find the things we need, even if our money is no good here.”
Aurael nodded once more. “Just so,” he agreed.
The pair then walked off, heading purposefully in a new direction. When one didn’t know where they were, anything was better than simply staying lost.