You are born into your world to save it by your Maker, are severely assaulted by his Adversary before your Maker even thinks you are ready to know anything about it, spend a couple of decades searching for this Adversary who massively outclasses you, and what is your reward when the world is saved? Your Maker says, "What? You're sentient? Want another job?"
When the reward for the new job is to bring family and close friends into the 'sentient' category, thus assuring continued existence, Amanda and Danyil accept. Their mission is to be dropped into another of the Maker's worlds, learn why the vampires are dying, and determine if the condition will spread to the other supernatural creatures. Oh, and the Maker will only give some general background on this world; he doesn't want to bias their assumptions.
No problem. Two high powered psions against a world of several billion people; let the world tremble. Sure it will.
Chapter 1 - Un-Veiled
Blackness faded as the Veil pulled back, leaving us standing in a new world. Not that I realized that, of course, as I was currently trying to remember who I was and just why I was standing out in the sun. My head felt like a vast empty cavern and that I was lost in it. A moment later there was a bright blue flash from a jewel on my chest, hanging from a chain, and the cavern began to fill up with me, as my memories came flooding back in a confusing swirl. A few moments of vertigo, my mind stopped spinning, and I knew who I was and that I was now in a world I had never seen before. A small crackling noise caught my attention and I saw the jewel on my necklace turn to powder and drift to the ground.
In the back of my mind, I caught a feeling like that swirling flood coming from my husband, Danyil. His eyes were closed as that filling sensation continued on much longer than it had for me, though it seemed as though it was slowing. I suppose it takes longer the first or second time you experience having a lifetime's experiences forced into your mind. This was my third time, or sixth, depending on how you count them.
My first four, though, had been simultaneous as I experienced a Mind Weed attack after my twelfth birthday. I had barely survived, both physically and mentally, forcibly receiving the equivalent of four, full adult, lives into my mind. Both Danyil and I had voluntarily accepted the life experiences of a millennium old mentor years later. For a moment, I thanked the Maker for such a loving man as Danyil, who could accept all six of me without complaint.
The filling sensation stopped, Danyil took a deep breath, and slowly opened his eyes. Smiling at me, he said, "That will never be a popular way to travel between worlds." A fairly typical bit of Danyil's humor that I could quite agree with. "The shielding seems to have worked, after all." He looked down at his jewel, now unlit and colorless. He started a little as it suddenly cracked into dust and fell out of the pendant.
I grinned back at him and asked, "Did you doubt it would?"
"Well, it is my first time to travel between the worlds. All we had was some theory and a few hints from the Maker as to how the Veil operates. We are, after all, the first travelers to do it on purpose instead of being snatched at random. How do you feel? Memories seem complete?"
I took a moment for a quick mental check. "I'm not sure if I would know if anything small is missing. All six of my lives seem to be here and I don't sense any gaps. Running down the weekly practice list, all my psionic Talents seem to be available, though I'll actually have to test them later. I guess I'm me, all present and accounted for. How about you?"
"About the same. It will take a while for me to match up my mental index with my library, however. Most of that is going to be specific to our world, anyway, so I'm not too worried if a little is missing." He gave a small sigh. I could sympathize a bit. I 'merely' had five previous lives filling my head. Danyil, however, had a memory that almost never forgot and was filled with entire libraries of books he had scanned plus the life memories of Eldest Bran. Much good most of that would be in this world, though.
And thinking of this world, my attention returned to our immediate surroundings. As dramatic as our arrival had felt, we had apparently not had any audience to appreciate it. We were standing in something like a courtyard of a small brick building and next to what looked like a very wide road, though this 'road' only existed for a thousand meters or so; I could see both ends. Along the length of this larger road were a series of small buildings, all alike and very plain. The courtyard appeared to be some sort of concrete, a small door was visible on the side of the brick building and was labeled, 'Entrance'.
Well, I guess that was the clue to our next step. According to the Maker, our first vict…I mean, our first contact for local cultural knowledge would be found in this 'terminal' building. "Danyil, doesn't 'terminal' seem a bit ominous as a place of first contact?"
Danyil chuckled. "It means the end point. In this case, for this world's smaller flying machines. Our contact is merely a clerk in the local equivalent of a coach storage business."
"Flying machines? Magic or Artifact?"
"Probably Artifact since the Maker said technology dominates magic in this world. I expect we are going to have to search hard to find signs of magic among all the wonders that human technology has created here. The old stories of our ancient Artificers carried hints of all sorts of marvelous things. Shall we go in?"
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to let go of my reluctance to begin moving. To start moving was to begin traveling through a strange new world of which I was totally ignorant, and I hated being ignorant. And one thing I really hated being ignorant of was the list of things that could be a threat to me. I was a warrior dropped into a strange country with no clue as to friend or foe. Makes me twitchy.
Well, entering that building would be the first step in curing my ignorance. I offered Danyil my arm and turned to walk to the door. He said nothing, took my hand with a quick kiss, and sent a small feeling of reassurance across our mental link. Ahh. Ignorant or not, it was indeed comforting to have him with me.
Entering, I felt the air temperature drop from comfortably warm to distinctly cool. With a momentary shiver, I could only think that it was going to take a while to get used to this world if that wasn't magic. Magic, I could appreciate. Technology to create a cave-like condition in a brick building standing in the direct sunlight? Not so much. At least, not yet.
Standing behind a counter in a small room, that only held a number of chairs, a few paintings, and a glass wall looking out at the other buildings, was a young woman. She turned toward us and asked with a smile, "Hello, may I help you?"
I walked up to the counter with a smile of my own. "Why, yes, thank you. Please freeze." With a small wave of my hand I placed a compulsion on her and she did, indeed, freeze. "Danyil, I really do not like controlling someone I am not fighting. This feels unethical. She's just a child."
Danyil nodded. "I understand. Think of it as an exchange, then. In exchange for her non-personal memories of this world, you will be giving her forgetfulness that should keep her from harm from anyone who may have detected our arrival. Or consider it a quick reconnaissance as we infiltrate a potentially hostile country."
I grimaced. "A bit of grey then, but lighter than darker, I suppose. I'll survive."
Danyil concentrated on the young woman. " Just give me a moment to make a copy of her memories and then you can have her call a 'cab', I believe Jim called it. Then have her remember our visit as being nothing remarkable and easily forgotten."
I nodded agreement and, as Danyil turned away from her, I began to give the young woman instructions. She unfroze and began doing something with a device on the counter. She spoke into it and requested the 'cab'; whatever that was. As we left, she wished us a good day and went back to whatever she had been doing before we had arrived. By the time we were through the door, she would hardly remember that we had been there.
As we waited for our transportation, Danyil began working with his copy of the young lady's memories. He had done this sort of thing many times before, mostly with memory fragments, and once with a full lifetime. This time, however, he took it slowly because we knew almost nothing about this world. We didn't need her personal memories; I mean, how many lives did I need in my head? Separating out impersonal knowledge, with little in the way of common culture between us, was going to be much harder in this case. Psionics and magic, however wonderful they were, could only do so much without the skill of the practitioner.
And my husband was certainly skilled. I could feel his concentration and his pleasure at his work coming across our link. It was reassuring to feel him working, and until I knew more about this world, I needed that. I was still feeling a bit unnerved about it all.
About half an hour later, I heard something approaching from the road. It looked odd; something like an enclosed carriage without the horses. Amazing.
Danyil spoke, then. "Here is the first pass. I put the usual controls on it for now so that you can take it slowly. This knowledge may feel a bit strange. Check out 'cab', first." I nodded and felt him push something large into my mind. I got a mental image of a door that I recognized as the control for the new memories. I would be able to open the door as slowly or quickly as I desired.
Gently, I mentally opened it a crack and immediately slammed it shut. I had gotten a quick feeling of intense strangeness. Oh, it felt human, and there was a sense that some of it was familiar, but apparently our cultures were very different; as was expected.
I tried again, but this time a mere hair and tried to remember only what a cab was. Heh. A hired carriage, though I wondered how it moved without horses. Well, I would keep trying those memories as we rode to our new home. Maybe by the time we got there I might have the answer.
Chapter 2 - Our New Home
When we arrived at our new home, I was shaking from nervous exhaustion. Initially, nervous with excitement as we travelled much more quickly than any horse drawn carriage, and then nervous with fear as we approached something the taxi driver called 'rush hour'. I have faced armies, dragons, the undead, and even gods and never felt quite like this. Flying down a road in what was essentially an oversized bit of plate armor, among thousands of other vehicles, many weaving in and out, and many only a few feet from me, and with me having no control over the process, I felt unusually panicky.
And that silly clerk! I wonder if we could have chosen a more useless source of cultural knowledge. That poor child had apparently muddled her way through school without understanding anything beyond the surface. At least I could recognize many of the things around me, but the gods forbid I actually could determine the how or why of anything!
I suspect my ignorance was what had made the trip even worse than it should have been. Danyil had had no problem. As a storyteller, any experience that didn't kill you, and some that did, was to be appreciated as a source for more stories.
As the cab stopped in the entry drive and I got out. I glanced around and got one of those strange chills; the kind you get when you enter a strange place that seems familiar, yet you know you have never seen. The land, plants, and sky were as normal as could be, but the houses and such showed enough differences to feel quite alien to me. Getting used to this world is certainly going to take time.
Danyil paid the driver after removing our luggage from the cab. I tell he had tipped well by the size of the smile on the driver's face and the enthusiastic thanks. At least the boss had provided the proper funding for our investigation. He could have dumped us here with nothing but our clothes, I supposed.
Now we needed to see how well his agents, financial, not investigative, had done securing our new home; we would likely be here a while. All our arrangements had been made at third hand and between worlds, so my expectations are not the highest. Danyil gave me a reassuring hug, he probably felt my cynicism across our link, and we two 'newlyweds' walked up the path to the front door. I was going to like at least part of our cover story.
According to our new 'cultural knowledge', this place would qualify as a medium sized Victorian manor, well kept, on a few acres in a well-to-do neighborhood. Apparently that girl liked to look at houses, at least. It should be within walking distance of the University and biking distance of the nearby city. Note to self: learn to ride a bike, even if her memory makes it look pretty flimsy.
As we reached the entrance, Daniel pulled out the key we had been given and hesitated as he looked at door. Doors in our world look a lot different, so he reached out to touch it and scanned a bit of its history. With an 'aha' look on his face, he inserted the key into the door handle and turned it correctly on the first try. We were in.
We put down our bags, closed and locked the door, and then both let out a sigh of relief. I had to laugh at that. Years of travel to some of the most dangerous places in our own world and we had both gotten a case of the nerves from merely crossing a lawn in a new world. We took a moment to indulge in just holding each other as we relaxed. With luck, we would have plenty of time to learn about our new world and adapt before we had to jump into the active investigation. That would really help the self-confidence.