Plane shift can drop you up to five hundred miles from your intended destination.
This time they land in some woods, at sunset, near a remarkably flat and smooth path that looks like a lava flow or something.
They walk in to the Motel 6. It looks relentlessly expensive. Plate glass everywhere and a carpet with a lot of fine detailing and glossy surfaces made of something unfamiliar. Mahdi quietly cleans off their shoes before they step on the carpet, even though it looks like some other guests have recently been less cautious.
"Hello," he says to the proprietor. "We'd like a room for the night." And he puts several large unfamiliar gold coins on the counter.
"I realize that probably sounds very silly if you don't know what a vampire slayer is. Or even if you do. Um. I work in tandem with the Council of Watchers and the US Government, but neither of them, like, pays me, or anything? But I think you should stay until my friend gets here, we might be able to get you home or something."
In his experience vampires are almost always sneaky! He doesn't say this. In his experience vampires are also not fought by little girls.
She still hasn't seen very much of what they're capable of, and was impressed with what she did see. They can probably fight their way out if the friend turns out to actually be an enemy, maybe even if the friend turns out to actually be a lot of enemies.
And there's no good way to ask about whether clerics of good gods are frowned upon here, or to convincingly establish that his isn't if they don't follow Abadar here - no, wait, there is.
"Is that a holy symbol?" he asks her, gesturing at the symbol that matches the one atop the Methodist temple.
"Suspicious of us. Weirdly sexist, except maybe not 'weirdly' because I guess most societies are probably more sexist than this one. Religious, at least fairly serious about it. Not up on state of the art vampire containment methods. Kind of confused.
"I don't think we have any reasons to believe they're bad, though. Just - way stronger than us and kind of culture shocked."
"Hi! I'm sorry, I'll let you go in a second. I just wanted to say that if you run into any more vampires, could you please, like, hit them in the head really hard until they pass out, instead of dusting them? We're trying to see if there's any way of fixing them, and they can get over radical head trauma, but we can't get them back if they're dusted."
"Oh, sorry. Gary Gygax is the guy who created Dungeons and Dragons in the seventies, and because the games feature magic there are a bunch of people who think that they're a gateway to witchcraft and Satanism or whatever, even though the magic in them is mostly just, like, 'my magic user casts fireball' or whatever? And Dennis and me just used the AD&D classes for differentiating between magic types because they were, like, handy memnonics, or whatever, not because we thought it was actually referring to anything real, but given everything else we know about the world it is I guess not literally impossible that Gary Gygax knows something we don't."
They do hot water! Any temperature you want between hot and cold, actually! There are very few places in Osirion where one can enjoy that luxury, and not for two gold pieces.
They shower. They fool around in the shower. They sit on the floor of the shower laughing and talking.
They accidentally turn on the television. They are so impressed with the television.
They sleep in shifts.
By the morning he likes them a little better. In the morning he listens to Fazil prepare his spells. It's not exactly like he's talking to somebody but there is another presence, enough of one to make him stop listening lest he annoy it.
An hour later he's there to meet them when they walk out. "Hey. Karen and I thought we'd buy you breakfast and ask some questions. Is that all right?"
Their guests are in fact fairly awed by IHOP.
By daylight they look stranger and more obviously out of place; Hagan is wearing leather armor, and Fazil is wearing very finely made chainmail and all three of them are wearing hand-stitched clothes and elaborate foreign jewelry. They eat a lot of food, very contentedly.
"Clerics are chosen by their god because he sees in them either the habit or the potential to act in a way that advances the god's goals in the world. For my god, that's people who deal justly with others and work hard at valuable things and serve their country; for another one it might be people who spread the god's teachings aggressively, or people who help the desperate and needy, or people who fight evil, or there are evil gods who want their clerics to spread evil and give them power for doing that.
Paladins are somewhat similar, but they largely advance the interests of their god through fighting their god's enemies, and they must commit themselves to a code of conduct stricter than those typically implied just by following a god. All paladins are lawful, but you could be a lawless cleric of a lawless god."
"Oh. Well almost everyone on our plane who dies goes to one of nine afterlives. They're sorted based on the characteristics they displayed and nurtured in life. Lawfulness is the habit of following the rules; not necessarily the laws of your country, though it's really helpful for your lawfulness to follow the laws of your country, but also the code of your religion, the terms of your agreements, your word, when you give it, and so on. And then goodness is about the willingness to serve others and protect the vulnerable. The good afterlives are mostly nice places to live, and the lawful neutral afterlife is a good place to live - arguably better than the good ones, since it's meant to be home to far more people - and then the other afterlives are mostly bad. So people care a great deal about where they're headed."
Parts of it are not exact? But an alignment system that sorts people on good and evil and law and chaos, that's a concept that's in Dungeons and Dragons and as far as I know nowhere else?
"So these, like, alignments, you sort everyone into good and evil and lawful and chaotic and then refer to individual people as, like, lawful good, or chaotic evil, or whatever?"
Sigh. "We have a moderately popular, like, tabletop game that involves a world that uses a lot of rules like the ones you're describing. It's supposed to be fictional but I'm kind of suspecting the creators of somehow gaining knowledge of other dimensions. Which isn't even that weird, it's just, like - I don't have any recognizable fictional franchises to communicate the appropriate level of surreality to you."
"We'd mostly like a much more comprehensive explanation of how your magic works, where it comes from, how you use it, and what it does. I can - I guess bring Dennis over this afternoon to ask more questions? He is sort of arguably the closest thing we have to an expert on this specific strain of weird stuff. As far as what would interest you, uh... do they have movies where you come from?"
"Oh, no, there's like a bajillion others, I just don't really want to throw you at any of them until you have more context on this dimension and we have a better sense of your abilities. I guess maybe we should put together some kind of crash course on important things to know about Sunnydale and Earth as a whole."
" - well. There are sort of a lot? Um - don't attack anyone and don't - just don't touch anybody without permission, say, and don't walk in the streets until somebody's shown you how to cross them safely, and don't steal anything from anyone, and if some guys with blue uniforms and gold or silver badges come by just, uh, do what they say and we'll sort whatever it was out later? And probably err on the side of not doing any magic at people for now, since I don't know what magic stuff to warn you not to do." She looks at Alex. "Am I forgetting anything obvious?"
"Don't make an enormous fuss about the existence of women, that's not a law but it'll make you stand out and might get you into trouble. Even with permission don't do extended touching of people in public. Wear clothes. Don't flash the gold or any weapons - again, not a law, but it'll attract trouble."
"Cool. And then if you guys are good I will go ahead and pay your bill and let you eat however much more you're gonna eat, and then I guess we'll see you guys this afternoon. Don't spend the entire day in here, and you don't need to clean up the table or anything when you're done, the waiter'll take care of it."
You're not wrong, I just don't mind being impolite to them.
They get in the car.
Fazil does all their talking because in his world being chosen by your god gives you credibility, other people will mostly trust you and expect you're playing fairly and so on. I don't think he's in charge, exactly. Their going theory is that you're - some kind of nobility? That there's some kind of title of vampire slayer and accompanying magic, which you might be concealing or might just be in line to inherit or whatever - and I'm deferring to you for that reason and the local government will too. Not wildly far off, considering how little they have to go on. They spent a bizarre amount of time thinking about how you might magically bind your bodyguards to not - they're really really hung up on the gender thing -
They need more power to go home and they think fighting things will let them get it. I'm not sure how.
That is so weird. I guess I can see parts of where they're coming from? But man.
If Gary Gygax is a warlock, and if we assume he's accurately reporting on how things are in some other dimension - in D&D you gain experience by fighting things. This isn't unique to D&D, lots of video games use a system where defeating enemies gives you a certain amount of experience points and after a certain amount of experience points you level up and gain new abilities. Pokemon is like this too. I assume it's an abstraction of something realer that makes more sense, but it's possible that they do need to get into fights to gain access to more spells, somehow.
Huh. They want to take our stuff back to their world and sell it but that seemed pretty harmless. Last night they briefly had a conversation about whether they could just stay here - they were really enthusiastic about hot water - but they concluded they couldn't because of the women.
They're planning to lie to us about what they're capable of but only by a little bit. Understate it so that if we try to kill them it's harder than we expect.
I'm not entirely sure? - summarizing uncharitably they were generalizing from you and some foreign countries on their own planet to conclude that no one here is worth marrying or can be trusted to have their husband's children? But it was really just a throwaway couple of minutes of conversation, I could be missing something.
Oh, I guess if you definitely wanna marry someone someday you'd probably wanna do it with someone who had the same cultural norms and stuff as you.
- I am morbidly curious what I did that means that all women here are unmarriageable but this actually doesn't matter at all and I should stop thinking about it.
The grocery store is a kind of enormous building with rows and rows of shelves. Most of the shelves have boxes on them with text, but a lot of the boxes also have pictures - this is cereal, this is tea - and the produce area is straightforward enough. There's also a frozen foods isle with pizzas and corn dogs and TV dinners and ice cream.
"I think that's because they have the magic drain and Dominate Person and that can turn sour for a party very fast if they're not prepared, rather than because the vampires we've heard of are necessarily different than the things we fought. We had Protection from Evil up, they aren't accustomed to clerics, we got a little lucky."
"Detect Magic lasts a bit more than five minutes, and lets me see magic things within sixty feet. At first you just notice they're magic, the way you might notice something is a light source; when you study it you can pick up more than that, like how powerfully magic it is, whether it has multiple enchantments on it, and what schools of magic they are. People with a lot of experience looking at magic can sometimes identify the specific spell."
"Nice to meet you. People specialize in learning different kinds of magic, or different nonmagical schools of combat. People get better at arcane magic over time, and while getting better at magic is pretty linear, people talk about reaching the level where you get good enough to cast more advanced spells, so that you can compare one wizard to another."
"The spell lists have overlap, but a bunch of things have been changed in ways that don't even especially make it a better game or make it more plausible with existing narratives? But they're close enough that it's clear it's talking about the same spell? They're just - really puzzling changes, sometimes."
Her mother's in a dark but not pitch-black cell, with dirty stone walls and a dirtier stone floor. She's chained to a wall. There are rats nipping at her bare feet. Her feet have chunks of flesh taken out of them.
"Hey Zales," she calls, "Mom's in hell, you wanna see for yourself?"
"Any person, dead or living. I only prepared it once today and can only prepare it a maximum of twice in a day. It fails around thirty percent of the time for a caster like me in a world like mine, and could fail more or less here. It's less likely to fail if they're in a bad afterlife, because when it fails it's because of their subconscious will and people in bad afterlives have...less of that."
"We paid like seventy bucks for IHOP, sit-down restaurants are kind of pricey. I - don't know how to measure passage across the world but I guess between two hundred and five hundred to fly to China, depending on how you time it? Treatment of an illness depends, some stuff that used to be deadly we can now prevent forever for a couple dollars, and some things we spend hundreds of thousands treating and sometimes the patients still die. House in a city super depends on the city and the house, I think anywhere from, like, a hundred thousand dollars to a million or more? We don't, uh, do slavery, that is not a thing. A new car is like twenty thousand, maybe?"
She starts doing more math on her paper.
"Okay, if we count in terms of how many shirts you can buy with it and not how much gold, one of your gold pieces is like three and a half dollars, as opposed to the sixty-five dollars it is if you count in gold. - you should probably sell some of your gold if you're gonna be here for a while. Like, I can't tell you how to live your life, but people like gold."
I mean, I dunno that it's the wrong call? But your government friends said no on that, right, so I feel. like we should give them a heads up first. And this does seem like a kind of volatile way to break it, even if I'm sure the hellmouth and the - whatever makes it hard for people to process the supernatural would dampen the effect somewhat. It's not like there isn't a magic shop in town already.
"I think you cannot give out loans without a lot of permits. I am not sure what the legal limitations on magical healing are but several churches claim to do it and people around here mostly don't believe them. - actually that might not be true in this town specifically but in general California is a moderately godless place."
"Oh! Right." She flips to a different page in her notebook. "So Earth is the planet you're on. The country you're in is called America, and it's about the richest nation on the planet and likes to think itself one of the freest, although I guess that's a matter of opinion. The state you're in is called California, and the town you're in is called Sunnydale. Sunnydale was built on a portal to hell, and as a result it pulls a bunch of weird nonsense to itself on a routine basis, including vampires, magical disturbances, possessing spirits, zombies, and probably a bunch of other weird stuff we don't know about. Should I stop for questions on that."
"Anyway, I don't think it's been an active portal for a really long time. It's, like, dormant. Like a volcano.
I guess it's probably important to explain how to interface with society but I'm kind of unclear on which things I should assume you know already. Are there any specific things about interfacing with society that you'd like to know."
"We keep tabs on weird stuff, and if necessary we make it stop disrupting life as we know it. Me and Faith are vampire slayers, Wishbone is a fifteen hundred year old expert on most things magical and mystical, Father Michael is a priest, Alex is... more experienced with weird stuff than I am and training me to get better at handling it. Angel is a vampire who's had his soul restored. Dennis is actually just a random high school student, sorry Dennis."
"Lawfulness is about your willingness to hold yourself to rules - your society's rules, or your god's rules, or the code of an organization you've committed yourself to. Goodness is about your willingness to make sacrifices to help other people, mostly, though there are some details that are important."
" - look, there's not actually any reason to expect that our people are going to your set of afterlives, I feel like someone would have noticed that, even if we don't have reliable access to dead people. We'd have to do more scrys to be sure of anything. There's also no reason to hold ourselves to detect alignment's moral sensibilities; we didn't do it before and we don't have any particular reason to believe that whatever their universe wants people to be is precisely the thing that we ought to be, even if there's overlap in concepts."
She looks slightly pained. " - I should have explained before. Okay. You follow the sidewalks until you get to the points where the streets intersect, and then you cross one street at a time, not going across diagonally. And yeah, at small streets you look both ways. At big streets, the ones that have lights, you wait when there's an orange hand light and cross when there's a white light that looks like a person walking. This doesn't make it possible to easily walk from one end of the town to the other, but it does mean you can ever get anywhere safely. For longer trips I think we'll have to teach you how to use the bus system."
"That sounds plausibly okay, assuming we're talking about a flying carpet, but we'd have to teach you to obey traffic rules and those are somewhat more complicated than walking rules. I - have no idea what the legality of flying a carpet that looks like a car on the roads without a permit is but I expect it's kind of sketchy."
"Sorry, I realize it's very hard to get around without one. I wanna talk to people who know more about - stuff. And - I'm not sure you guys have fully processed what it means that people mostly don't believe in magic, or at least believe that no one else does? It means that right now, the vampires, the demons, they have to operate covertly to maintain their element of surprise. And that limits what they can do, a lot. If you start doing things that mess with that presupposition - and to be clear it would take kind of a lot, we think there might be mind-affecting magic capable of keeping people from recognizing the truth - but it's possible that the masquerade could shatter, and it's possible that that leads to open warfare, and maybe we win, but maybe we don't. So if it's gonna happen we want it to happen strategically, not because you guys did something random to save thirty minutes of walking."
Then they can watch Men in Black.
She honestly considers it disappointingly low on the scandal meter. No sex scenes at all. But hey, it's a movie, and it's fun, and there are aliens and massive government conspiracies, and she is in theory supposed to be wowing these people with the wonders of modern technology.