Scott groaned in pain and clasped his hands to his head, “Oh, God it hurts!” Malmir the Zwergen Iron Guardsman was used to the constant pain of implants beneath his skin, the heavy calluses and scarring. Scott was not.
“What's wrong, daddy?” his son Regin asked. Regin had the blocky build of a Zwerg or dwarf and his features were a mix of the two but his height looked to be pure human. He was a big boy but still young.
“I, my head hurts,” Scott gasped, “Shandra what's happened?” He held up his huge scarred and callused hands. “What's happened to me?” Then he noticed her height and athletic figure, “What happened to us?”
Shandra remembered who she was her memories were easier to integrate as she was not in pain. Branwen knew Malmir constantly had to deal with the pain of his body alterations. They were nowhere near as painful as they were at forty years ago but the combination of all the pain hitting at once was considerable.
“Remember your training,” Shandra said, “Remember Malmir's training. You can do it.”
Scott concentrated then allowed his automatic training to take over. First he relaxed that helped some of the pain immediately. Then he gathered his inner strength for a moment before he reminded himself, “Pain, release.” The pain faded as he repeated his mantra and Shandra added a prayer.
“I'm okay Rei,” Scott rubbed his son's hair.
“It's okay, daddy,” Regin 'Ray' replied, “You have a lot of owwies.”
Rei kissed his father's scarred head, “That will make it better.”
“Is there milk, yet?” Regin asked putting the incident out of his mind with the ease of a young child.
“Yes, there should be milk,” Shandra replied distractedly, “Go see if your auntie or grandma has milked the sheep or horses yet."
“I didn't but great grandma has some fresh milk and sausages cooking as well as some fish your uncle has caught just this morning frying in the pan,” Michelle told Regin as he rushed to hug her good morning.
“Ooh, you're as strong as your daddy,” she laughed, “You'll crush grandma's ribs if you keep squeezing.”
“Sorry, Grandma,” Rei replied with a gap-toothed grin, “I'll go see Grandma Glaidiólas, she will have something ready. Her biscuits and sausage are the best,” he said with the certainty of youth.
Shandra looked around the felt tent with the low sleeping furs, folding tables, and stools set in a corner and the three chests for storage or sitting on, “I can smell the horses and sheep from here. We've got to be in another world. I remember being me and me. Who am I?”
“We're both I guess,” Michelle replied, “I am a Paladin of God. I can do magic, miracles really as the power flows from the Holy Spirit.”
Scott sat up and gave a wan smile, “I'm Malmir I guess. I always wanted to be good at martial arts. I guess I got that wish good and hard.” He flexed his left arm and his bicep popped stood out with the armor underneath in rigid relief like a misshapen cannonball.
“And Dad?” Shandra asked, “Is he here, is he...like us?”
“Yes, he's checking on your brother and I met your uncle Dennis again. I thought I should tell you before you met him yourself and got scared half to death.”
“That would do it,” Shandra looked pale and her light dusting of freckles stood out against her normally tan complexion. “He's been dead for over a year now.”
“How did you know it was uncle Dennis? We have these memories from the games kind of but he never played.”
“No, and he doesn't remember our other life he has been here and healthy and happy his entire life. He's a -”
“Bard,” Shandra interrupted her mother, “He's a bard and a good one. He taught me to sing and dance and play the guitar and banjo. And how to catch fish every morning for breakfast.”
“Yes,” Michelle replied, “his life is better here than it ever was there. Not too much alcohol for one thing and he's never even heard of drugs.”
“And he's married to aunt Caithair!” Shandra exclaimed.
“Yes, she must have come from our world too because I talked to her for her a few minutes ago around the fire and she's his old girlfriend Cathy and they've been together since they were kids,” Michelle was obviously pleased for both of them, “They belonged together.”
“We need to get together and talk,” Michelle told Shandra and Scott, “right after breakfast. Things will be more settled then.”
Scott's friends and family from the other world found themselves looking upward as the world looked like the bottom of a bowl with a blue lid. There were a couple of spots that shone dimly during daylight that Scott somehow knew would be brighter at night. They were probably far off ice fields, glaciers or even an ocean at the right angle. It was strange being oriented with a horizon that rose the further you looked away. The team that worked for or were members of the Order of St Michael found little difficulty in separating themselves for their meeting. People were used to them receiving private messages and moving apart for privacy now and then as much as it went against the grain of the Tuathe De who were always in each other’s business.
“Here's what I know,” Don began. “Sally isn't really a computer programmer. She's actually the computer itself and she can self-program I guess. She was kind of vague on that. She needs us to remember our own world so that we can stop Nazis from opening a gate or gates to our world. I guess there were military folks that got translated with us but none of them have the connection to her that we have and it is hard according to her to alter consciousness beyond what the local matrix allows. She spent a long time explaining it and I still didn't get all of it or if I did I didn't understand it.”
“And here we're the most powerful guys around and used to going on dangerous missions,” Justin interjected.
Katie had been quiet but spoke up, “In the game if somebody died we just had Imhotep, I mean Sean resurrect them. Can you do that here?”
“I don't know,” Sean replied, “I can feel the power of the Holy Spirit ready to be used in the prayers that I prepared last night and I can pray for something different without as much preparation, that's something different from the game. But raising the dead?” He paused and ran his fingers through his thick light blond hair in a thoughtful gesture, “I just don't know. I mean there's been a really limited number of people who could do it if you look at the old Saints and miracles.
“Mom,” Sean asked, “What do you think?”
“I think we've all been speaking Tuathe or Zwerg or the Imperial language and haven't noticed for several hours. That means we're probably able to use any of the abilities we've had before.”
“I used a prayer to renew the anti-vermin protections on your grandma's yurt and wagon this afternoon,” Sean said.
“And I set a bone then applied a healing spell,” Allan added.
“It appears if our characters could do something, or even a broad category of something like first aid or whatever we can do it. I don't see why it wouldn't include the bigger stuff,” Michelle finished her thought.
“I can 'speak' to Dog and understand him,” Don added, “He says his real name is Silent Mist over Green Fields but doesn't mind when we call him 'Dog' or 'Chewie'."
"He says?" Michelle asked picking up on her husband's qualification.
Don took in a deep breath and sighed, "In the game he always like playing tricks and acting like a clown. I thought it was funny."
"Yeah, and Sally played along," Michelle replied.
"So, I'm not sure he's pulling my leg about his name or not," Don finished. He turned to Justin, "What about your dragon?"
“She, it's a 'she', Darting Embers of Sparkling Brilliance, thinks she's a dragon,” Justin added, “Just a really small dragon. I think she was one of the parakeets.”
“Okay, we can heal and we can fight. I think,” Sean added, “I mean I didn't get much chance to try bashing heads with my staff or flail but I have definite memories of doing so.”
“I am just as strong as in the game,” Scott replied, “I haven't tried hitting anyone either.”
“I went hunting,” Angel declared, “Riddick and I tracked a big buck and downed three grouse with one shot each from this,” she showed off a light sling wrapped around her wrist. “Then I took a running shot at the buck at fifty yards. Dropped him right through the heart with my bow.”
“Okay,” Allan said shifting his four arms to a more comfortable position, “I have the fewest memories or connection to my alter ego but I am sure I can do the things, 'Snowflake' could. Although, nobody calls me that, it's always, 'Sir Frost'.”
“Yeah, I guess everything that wasn't covered in the game sessions got filled in or 'translated' or whatever,” Don replied, “Snowflake was your name as a big monkey. They called you Sioc when you were turned into a real boy.”
“Yeah a real boy with four arms,” Allan appeared embarrassed.
“Try looking at yourself in a mirror when you're me,” Scott declared. His face was scarred and where not scarred was not handsome, the armor beneath his skin distorted his expressions and his dwarven steel teeth made even his smile sinister to those who did not know him.
“Yeah, I guess it could be worse,” Allan admitted, “Sorry about that. You did draw the short straw.”
“Heh,” Scott grinned, “Another short joke. First one I've heard all day,” he lied sarcastically.
“I love you just the way you are,” Shandra said kissing the top of Scott's head.
“Well if you're happy. I am too,” Scott grinned at his athletic wife and everyone laughed. Shandra's new form would turn heads on any beach or basketball court in the world they had come from.
“No doubt about it,” Sean grinned, “You married into a pretty family. I've got my hair back and my teeth are straight.”
“Perk of being an Angel I guess,” Don replied, “I certainly never looked this good in the real world.”
“I'm not so sure,” Andy replied, “It's nice to be taller but Dodge is a grownup and so is Kantrus. We don't fit. I mean I don't feel like I fit.”
“I have memories of life in Faery,” Kantrus said wistfully, “Unicorns came and ate seeds and fruit out of my hands. I saw a flight of gryphons wing their way across the face of the moon stirring the stars in their wake. I spoke to sprites no bigger than my thumb and was bid approach the spun moonbeam and starlight thrones of Titania and Oberon. I've lived longer here.”
Justin looked down, “I want to be me. Just Justin. I like the magic but I worked hard to be myself. To make myself something better than I was. It's just cheating to be somebody better -”
“Not better, Justin” his father Don quickly interrupted his line of thought, “Just different, who's to say what you could or couldn't have done at home or this world. But you're here now so learn to use those powers and memories for Justin. You're still you and we still love you.”
Michelle hugged Justin and looked up at him, “You're almost as tall as Dad now.”
“I'd be taller, except he's grown too!” Justin said with mock indignation.
“Rangers are tall,” Don replied with a know-it-all expression, “It's in all the books.”
“I'm better at martial arts though,” Scott said laughing.
Don laughed then looked thoughtful, "You know you are better than me and that's no little thing. I spent forty years in the other world studying everything from judo to traditional sword drawing. I owned three martial arts schools. I was good. But I remember practicing with you, Malmir you, and getting my head handed to me every time you weren't taking it easy on me.
"My skills translated, I'm still better than most everyone in this world just like at home but you, you're great. Maybe the best fighter in the world."
“Want to bet you still can't sing better than me?” Katie asked her brother.
“Um, no. No I do not,” Scott replied and everyone laughed. No one doubted Scott was stronger and more durable but Katie could sing birds out of trees and her ocarina playing was actually magic. It didn't help much being stronger if you were in a trance listening to the music of the spheres.
“Okay, we're all big goram heroes,” Sean said, “So what exactly are we supposed to do and how are we supposed to do it?”
“You know,” he went on quietly, “My wife and kids, they don't remember this me, Sean but I know they're the same. They look the same, maybe a little healthier but they were always active, healthy kids. They love me just the same, but they only know half of me, Imhotep.”
“Ray doesn't know 'Shandra mommy' either,” Shandra added.
“You know, Dodge doesn't like dogs at all,” Andy said, reaching down to pet 'Dog', “but I still like dogs. Does that make me more me or more Dodge? More me I guess.”
“Firewing knows there's something different,” Justin said, “She's kind of leery of me.”
“Dog likes you both fine,” Don reassured both of the boys.
Don changed the subject. Too much thinking about what had happened back home would do none of them good especially as they could do nothing about the death and destruction.
“We're inside a pocket universe it is about two AU uh, astronomical units across and the entire surface is habitable. I know that. I know Nazis found a gate here from our world seventy or so years ago at the South Pole. Now they are deliberately trying to open another gate back to our real universe. Who or what made this universe intended it to be a one-way trip for anyone coming here. Some of the aliens that killed off the dinosaurs might have survived and the controlling intelligence wanted them stuck here.”
“There are dinosaurs here? Intelligent dinosaurs?” Angel asked.
“I don't know. This place is huge, ridiculously huge,” Don replied. “If there are or were intelligent dinosaurs or aliens for that matter, news of them have never reached the 'known world'.”
“Wait,” Allan said, holding up one large hand. For the first time Don had to look up to meet Allan's eyes he was at least seven feet tall, “I have memories of this place too. There are dinosaurs here mostly in the hot belt and big mammals from the last ice age but there's other things too. Like elves and dwarves and creatures from stories like Burroughs’s Martian white apes,” he made a gesture with his lower set of hands indicating himself. "And Orcs straight out of Tolkien. This place is a mishmash of every folklore, mythology, and stories I've ever heard of and there are even ways to get to Faery realms of all kinds.
“Places where it's perpetual twilight, places where it's always spring or summer, winter, or fall. And look where we are it's obviously an inverted world like Pellucidar only huge. Why? How, all this and stuff from our world too. Atlanteans still have colonies here and pirates from the Caribbean and Nazis too.”
“Like Captain Jack Sparrow?” Andy asked eagerly, “Where are they?”
“The Free Brotherhood,” Allan replied.
“Those are pirates?” Andy sounded disappointed, “they're just a bunch of raggedy bums like homeless drunks in boats. Not even big boats.”
“Well they have to compete with the Atlanteans and they don't like pirates,” Scott laughed, “Plus the Sea Elves have a real low opinion of interrupting shipping and wreckers.”
“If you were a pirate who would you target?” Angel asked Andy.
“Well, not the Atlanteans or Magna Graecia, or the Sea Elves -”
“Or the Mer people,” Justin interrupted, “Or the Grossdeutschland.”
“Anyway unless you had better ships like the Norsk or Atlanteans, or the Sea Elves, piracy is just a quick trip to the bottom of the ocean,” Don finished that line of conversation.
“Let's get back to what matters,” Don said, “We are here. I don't know of any safe way back home. I don't know of any way back home except through Faery and that is far from safe and I don't know the way. We'd be hunting and pecking like a chicken scratching for seeds and there are beings in Elfland that make any creature here look like the Easter Bunny.”
“Besides we have a job to do here,” He looked over at his wife she was wearing the cruach órga or “golden steel” armor his family had made for her. It looked like gold and protected nearly as well as moon silver. Michelle looked like herself only taller. It wasn't hard to see the girl he met in a bowling alley. This woman looked like she was in her late teens or early twenties. Which reminded Don uncomfortably of Sally. Michelle gave him an encouraging nod and he thrust the feeling away.
“Grossdeutschland is trying to open a gate from this side. It's like busting open a door the wrong way. They'll cause massive natural disasters on our Earth. Then they'll launch an assault with Vril weapons, magic, psionics, and two hundred million soldiers including their slave states.”
“While they won't have modern weapons at first, they'll soon capture or build their own. Germans supplied themselves pretty damn well in the USSR during world war two.”
“We have to stop them from kicking open a door," Don finished.
“How do we do that?” Shandra asked, “I've never traveled to anywhere the Nazis have set up shop but from what I hear it's pretty well organized. They control travel like the Nazis did back home you have to have papers and passports to go anywhere.”
“The good thing is they have all kinds of people and races and they like empty spaces,” Michelle said, “If you follow the roads we'll be under constant scrutiny. The Gestapo encourage it wherever people are except in a couple of conquered regions we'll be in enemy territory. Whenever we need to be in a populated area we can blend as traders or even a church group. It's only recently the Germans have started restricting religion.”
“They've probably been in contact with creatures of the lower realms,” Allan said, “They've been talking about it at the Chapterhouse. They sense the demonic influences all the way from there.”
Sean nodded at Allan, “Indeed, I have sensed it as well. The Nazis first made contact before they came to power in Germany. I suspect that was one of the reasons they killed people on an industrial scale and began all the neo-pagan stuff. Perhaps that was how they opened the gate in Antarctica. The many, many deaths are a great source of occult power.”
Shandra looked thoughtful, "We'll need to get proper papers somewhere. That'll be tough."
“First we need to check in at the Chapterhouse,” Don said and leave our children here with our families. We are all going to be needed. Andy, Justin, you'll stay here and help watch the families.”
“Wait, no!” Justin exclaimed.
“We need to help,” Andy added, “You don't have another thief or wizard.”
Sean looked outside the tent and put his hands on both the elf and young man's shoulders, “I am also an adept of the arcane arts.”
“I know Katie isn't all that much older than you guys but she's old enough to volunteer if she were a guy and both of you aren't not really. She can find traps and disarm them. Perhaps not as well as Andy but well enough. Better than anyone in the world maybe except Andy," Sean patted Andy on the shoulder to take the sting out of his words.
The boys argued and not without merit. Both Kantrus and Dodge were experts at what they did the group moved out of the tent and stood in the shade of a pair of tall cottonwoods.
Across the broad pastureland the shepherds and their white dogs guarded and kept the sheep from straying. The sheep of the Tuathe De looked like Dall Sheep rather than domesticated sheep and were brushed rather than shorn. The fleece was woven by the women of the Tuathe De into a silken like fabric that commanded high prices at market and made fine tunics, underthings and such as well as thick blankets and it could be turned into felt of the highest quality. The sheep also provided milk, meat, hides, all the things that pastoralists needed.
“We are not sheep or children,” Kantrus the Wizard argued and it was Kantrus who spoke not Justin. “We should be allowed to help however we may. This concerns me as much as anyone here. If they force open this gate, I will perhaps never get home.”
“Home?” Don asked, “the home you created was a fiction. A story.”
“We're your home and your family,” Michelle added.
“Yes, I know,” Justin replied, “You're my mom and dad. I just don't want to be left behind.”
“You're not,” Sean replied, “You're not being 'left behind'. You and Andy are going to be here to protect our families. The Tuathe De are great fighters, good instinctive magic users both as what we call 'clerics' and 'bards'. They are organized and able to fight but they don't know what you know and they don't have your skill.”
“You can't stop me!” Dodge declared.
“I can stop you,” Don replied, “If you think you can go anywhere Dog and I can't get there faster and catch you on the way you have another think coming.”
Don gestured towards the circle of wagons yurts and tents and the bustle of the women and children, the clang of the farriers and the blacksmiths, “But if I have to worry about the two of you, I am going to be too late to save our world.”
“We didn't make this world. But we'll be saving part of this world too. If the Nazis mobilize for war and cross into our world there will be awful death and hardship on this side. They need death to power their gate. It took them six million Jews and I don't know how many Gypsies and disabled to break into this world from ours. By all Sally told me it's much harder to open from this side. That means more deaths and more magical power. I can stop them. I have to stop them but I can't if I'm pulled two directions at once.”
“Okay,” Dodge said abruptly, “We'll wait here.”
“We will?” Justin said surprised.
“Yes because we are needed here and they need to concentrate on what they are doing,” Andy told him. “Or people will die.”