Chapter 15 – The Other Other Realm

Eleventh of Learning 1142

On a lone hill, overlooking a wide expanse of tall, dry grass, stood a kreve, a black canine predator looking much like a wolf but with a wider head to support a vast mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. Her eyes burned red with what many would have called madness, but it wasn’t true. They were merely red eyes. She was just an animal hunting for her next meal. She wasn’t much more intelligent than a wolf. Though kreve don’t usually name themselves, somehow, she thought of herself as Stalker. The others followed her because she was the smartest, the strongest, and because she kept the pack fed.

Though it was warmer than usual for this time of year, the lack of rain during the hot summer had driven the game to other hunting grounds where water was easier to get.


The pack was hungry. And so she ranged the hills, hunting. The need for food dominated everything else.

Normally, Stalker avoided contact with humans, because the risk often outweighed the benefits, but when the pack was this hungry, rules had to change. Which is how she found herself following the scent of humans, mixed in with other scents she didn’t at all recognize. She weighed the risk against her hunger, and there was no contest. She howled to let the rest of the pack know that she had chosen a target, and sat waiting, watching. Had she been a human, perhaps she would have been praying as well, but kreves had no knowledge of the gods. They were driven by physical drives, hunger, thirst, cold, fear, and the need to keep the pack alive by whatever means necessary. Sometimes that meant taking risks.

Below, the humans and whatever they traveled with were completely unaware of the looming danger. They moved slowly, on foot, talking amongst themselves. Stalker couldn’t hear them at this distance, but she knew from their pace and their posture that they were relaxed. In some ways that itself was a warning sign. Weaker creatures held more regard for the dangers of the wilderness. The more relaxed the travelers, the more likely they were powerful enough to take care of themselves. Stalker reconsidered what she was about to do, but hunger remained her dominant motivation. She could see the pack gathering, smell them, discern them with an extra sense that linked them on a deeper level. This was her pack, her family, her clan. She was responsible for them, and they would have food, whatever the cost.

When they had gathered, she set out, not needing to issue instructions to the others. They fanned out, following the prey, most of them already having scented their quarry. The others would pick up that scent as they drew closer. Several of the younger ones, particularly the males, were excited. They didn’t often get to hunt humans, and it was a treat for them. Stalker didn’t believe they would still be excited by the time the hunt was done. Still, they had to learn these lessons at some point.

When they finally got close enough, Stalker was surprised to see a shadow-like being standing in front of her. She didn’t smell or hear it, but she could see it. Then it spoke, and though she could hear it, she didn’t understand its words.

“This is a bad idea. Your pack is large and strong, but it is no match for a team of adventurers. If you turn away now, we can spare you.”

Stalker walked up to the apparition, which didn’t move at all. She sniffed at it. It was as if it wasn’t there. Then she batted it with a paw that passed through it. She had never seen a phase shifter before and didn’t know what to make of it.

When she came in contact with it, or when she would have had it been physically present, she felt a chill pass through her, as if she had touched something truly alien. But no harm came to her and she tried again, with much the same result. Ever-curious, she passed her paw through a third time, but this time was different. She touched something dark, something powerful. Something not only beyond her experience but completely beyond her understanding.

She jerked back her paw and shuddered, before slinking off the way she had come. Not much scared Stalker, but nothing in her short life had prepared her for the thing she had touched. The rest of the pack, taking her lead, followed behind. They would perhaps go hungry for another night, but none of them had ever seen anything like this, and they deferred to the intelligence of their pack leader to guide them in the right direction.

A couple of the younger males looked back over their shoulders at the receding adventurers, but then they hurried to catch up with the rest of the pack, who had started running back the way they had come.

Dreek returned to the rest of the group.

“Well?” Ressssen asked.

“The Kreve will not harm us. They are returning to where they came from.”

“I always wanted a pet Kreve,” said Striker.

“I have never heard of anyone taming a kreve,” said Borin.

“Who said I wanted it tamed?”

A few of them chuckled at that, but mostly everyone was just relieved they didn’t have to kill a bunch of animals who were only trying to find their next meal.

Later that night, when they camped, Ressssen sought out Striker.

“It has been too quiet. More than I thought possible. We must maintain vigilance. It would not due to let our guard down this close to our goal.”

“How much longer do you think?” asked Striker.

“We’ll get there tomorrow, and head straight for the guild. That’ssss when the real work ssssstarts.”

“You don’t actually have to speak like that do you?”

Ressssen smiled. “You are correct. I don’t have to sssspeak like this. But I know it has an effect on impressionable humanssss, so I do it anyway. Does it bother you?”

Striker shook her head. “It amuses me. I know a lot of guys find serpent lady accents sexy.”

Ressssen scowled, or at least, that’s how Striker interpreted her expression. “I have little interest in humans looking for something different and dangerous.”

“You’ve never been with a human then?”

“I never sssssaid that. I simply don’t have an interest in forming any sort of cassssual relationship. Any conjoining that occurs will have to be with someone I respect. That could be anyone, including a human.”

Striker thought Ressssen was looking at her more pointedly than usual. She was getting really good at serpent lord facial expressions and body language. “You don’t approve of my taste in men?”

“It is not for me to approve or disapprove. As the leader of your team, I only want what’s best for the team, and therefore, what’s best for you.”

“Is that your way of asking if I’m okay?”


“Then, yesssss. I’m okay.”

Ressssen chuckled. “I’ll make a serpent lord out of you yet.”

Striker shook her head. “I have enough trouble acting like a human, thanks.”


Kalutu kept a watchful eye on the three young royals as they went about their daily routine. They all seemed distracted, focused not on their lessons, but on what would happen that night when they entered the Other Realm. Kalutu wished he could join them, but he had to stay awake and keep watch in case something unexpected happened. Someone had to get help if something went wrong, and all three of them needed to level up if they could. Kalutu, being a familiar, couldn’t level, so he would be the one to stay behind.

Each of the teachers reacted differently to their student’s lack of concentration. Leata, to Kalutu’s surprise, seemed the most put out, banging the table each time one of them drifted off into reverie. She scolded them, cajoled them, tried to trick them with difficult questions. Even Kalutu was distracted, worried as he was about his charges.

Lord Ormund, by contrast, seemed pleased that he could talk at length without interruption. He seemed surprised and happy that the usual degree of sarcasm was absent.

Maynor, much to Kalutu’s surprise, was the most sympathetic of their teachers, but he still drove them hard, apologetic though he was. He told them more than once that enemies would attack whether they were distracted or not, and put them through their paces, making sure to punish them with pain should they fail to block a shot. Not too much pain, obviously, but enough to make Kalutu wince. If he didn’t know that Maynor cared about his students, he would have had to step in, at which point, Maynor would have beat him bloody, he had no doubt about that.

Of all the classes, combat was the one that Kalutu excelled in the most, because protecting his charges had become his driving force. He worked as hard as he could every day, and could both see and feel the progress. Tonight, when they were in the Other Realm without him, he would be able to do nothing but watch. All this training, and he’d still be helpless. But that only made him practice harder. There would come a day when they needed him, and Kalutu had to be ready.

Finally, after what seemed like the longest day of his life, they sat down to dinner, which Eric requested in one of the small private rooms, so they could talk. In spite of that, very little was actually said.

Eric’s eyes were feverish, as he wolfed down his dinner without tasting it, or so it seemed to Kalutu. Thick pieces of braised beef, potatoes and a mixture of sautéed vegetables were shoveled in thoughtlessly at a pace that would have insulted the cook had she been here to see it. Dahr ate mechanically, mind elsewhere. And Chari, slightly less affected than the two young men, for whatever reason, still looked thoughtful and seemed loathe to interrupt the silence with her own comments. This seemed out of character for her, Kalutu noted, but it also indicated that even she was under pressure.

When they had finished, all four headed back toward the princes’ quarters. They looked around to make sure no one was watching before Chari ducked inside. In no time at all, the three sat on the stone floor. Well, the princes sat on the floor, allowing Chari to take the rug in the middle of the room. Kalutu remained standing. He wouldn’t be able to relax until all three were back safely in the waking world.

Dahr produced three vials and passed two of them to Kalutu, who finished distributing them. Dahr was the only one of the three who had never taken the potion before, but he didn’t look nervous to the were-owl. The three looked each other over and, as if by silent agreement, downed the potion without speaking, Dahr more tentatively than the others.

Then they lay back on the floor. In almost no time at all, they were sleeping, leaving a nervous familiar to watch over them and wonder if what they were doing was safe. He also wondered several other things now that he was alone, like how long he should leave them before trying to wake them. If he couldn’t wake them, how long should he wait before he sought help? It was a question he realized he should have asked before they’d slept.

He looked longingly at the desk and the sheaf of papers on it. He wanted nothing more than to sit down and write, as he did most nights while they were sleeping. It helped him organize his thoughts. Come to terms with this new existence that had been thrust upon him. But tonight he couldn’t let himself get distracted, so he turned resolutely away from the desk and put it out of his mind. Tomorrow, there would be time to indulge himself. Tonight, he had a job to do.

He paced the floor, constantly checking to make sure he could see them breathing, determined not even to sit until they were all awake. He tried to review everything he’d learned during the day, but it was all a jumble. He would be on edge until his masters and Mistress Chari were back in the real world. He wondered what they might encounter this night in the Other Realm, and how it might differ from their first experience.


Ressssen was sitting by the fire, lost in thought, when Merck Vanderoth approached. She turned to face him but said nothing. Instead she studied his face. She had once regarded him as ordinary, but that wasn’t what she saw now. He no longer looked like a man trying to avoid being seen. She could almost sense the destiny surrounding him. Merck seemed hesitant but also determined.

“Yesssss?”, she said when she realized he wouldn’t talk without invitation.

“We need to spend the day here tomorrow. It’s not time yet to move on.”


“I don’t know how I know, I just do. We need to wait here and not get closer to the city for at least another day.”

“But you don’t know why.”

“I do not. As I’ve said, my god isn’t very good at sharing information.”

“You need to find a better god. My god talks to me all the time.”


She laughed. “No. But then, I’m not a priest.”

“You’re a mage. You worship Iorana then?”

Ressssen shook her head. “The being you call Iorana is mostly a god of the humans. Serpent lords have our own gods, different from yours.”

“Aren’t you from Karmenon?”

“No. None of us are.”

“Me either. I was born in Final Hope.”

“You are a long way from home, Merck.”

“That I am. And in truth, I’m a long way from my comfort zone as well. I don’t know anything about being a priest. I don’t know what my god expects of me. I don’t know anything except that I have to find a boy. And yet I feel compelled to do so.”

“The gods are strong. If they want something done, they have ways of letting you know.”

“I didn’t feel that with my old god. Tharin, god of thieves.”

Ressssen looked at him, disapproval clear in her reptilian eyes.

“Don’t be like that. I grew up on the street. I stole to survive. I fled an abusive household with very few options.”

“There are always options.”

“Not for everyone. If you’re born with money, the world treats you differently, at least among humans. I don’t know how it is with serpent lords.”

“We like money, but we don’t worship it. It isn’t money that decides where people stand in our society. It’s all about power. Magic power. Martial power. Political power. Those that are most powerful lead our society. Our queen is the most powerful serpent lord mage in the world.”

“A queen? Not a king?”

Ressssen chuckled. “Only a human would be surprised by that. Very well. We will wait here for a day and see what it brings. I’ll tell the others.”

“Thank you, Ressssen. I and my god appreciate it. Well, I appreciate it. I believe my god just assumes it’ll get done, to be honest.”

“Yes, that is the way with gods.”

Merck bowed and walked back to the patch of ground he’d claimed as his own when they’d set up camp. He never sat near the others and none of the others ever tried to engage with him. It was understandable considering how they met, but it wasn’t acceptable. Ressssen stood and found Garne.

When he saw her approaching, he smiled. “Something I can do for you?”

“Yes. You can talk to Merck.”


“Yes, talk. Don’t treat him like an outsider.”

Garne looked confused. “Isn’t he though?”

“Yes, because no one talks to him. We’re going to try to convince the Adventurer’s Guild to let us travel with him, not because the pay will be good, but because the payoff down the road will be beyond anything we could accomplish otherwise should this pan out. It is a plan with little downside.”

“Except that if he’s an outsider, he’d have no reason to ask for us instead of requesting a more well-known team.”

“Yessss. That is my worry. I’ll talk to the others, but we need to start making Merck feel like he’s part of the team. I might even register him as one of us.”

“A Level 1 Priest? A priest of an unknown god? That might be premature.”

“You might be right. But I feel that there is little more important than us getting the contract to stay on with the priest. Don’t you feel it? The world is moving. I would like to be there when it stops. I want to see where history takes us first claw.”

Garne nodded. “Yeah, it will make a nice change from fighting monsters.”

Ressssen chuckled. “If you think dealing with royalty is much different, you’d be wrong.”

Garne looked thoughtful and nodded. “Yeah, you might be right at that.


Eric opened his eyes and looked around. He had expected to be in some variation of a natural setting that was more or less familiar, based on his experiences with both his own transition and Chari’s. Where he landed this time was someplace else entirely.

There were no trees, no grass, no rocks. He stood on what looked like a sheet of gray, warped glass that writhed as if it were alive. The sky was half checkered and half striped in shades of gray as well. There was no color to be seen. Even when he looked down at his hand, it was pale and colorless as if it had been drained of blood.

There was a throbbing, pulsing noise in the air, like a heart beating, and there was a loud sigh as if a giant with a wheeze was breathing beside him. He could smell random scents, some of which he recognized and some of which were completely alien, some of which were pleasant and some which made him want to gag. None of them existed for long though, as if the universe were trying out different scents to decide which to settle on.

The combination of sights, sounds and scents made it hard for him to take it all in. It was a sensory assault like he had never before experienced.

A sensory assault that initially prevented him from noticing that he was alone. When he did notice, he spun, trying to look past the distractions. He tried calling out above the myriad noises. He even tried moving quickly first one way, then another, and as the minutes passed, he felt fear—not for himself. He wasn’t even that worried about Chari, who he’d seen fight. He knew she could take care of herself. But Dahr had only been training for days and had no actual combat experience at all.

Sheba had told him that as a tank he would fight to protect those he loved more than any other class. What she hadn’t mentioned was the fear he would be forced to endure when he wasn’t in a position to do so.


Forward to Chapter 16 – Power Leveling 

Return to Chapter 14 – Chari’s Best Behavior



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