Different Dimension Desert

Apra

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I come to a halt almost immediately after crossing through the swirling, white, misty portal, my mana washing over everything in a wide area around me, and through it I get my first sense of the new world around me.

Dunes of golden sand sparkle in the sunlight, and though my observation doesn’t reach high enough to detect clouds themselves, the light levels tell me that the sky above is free from them completely. I can also determine, by the occasional grains of sand being blown across the ground, and by my feathers ruffling slightly, that there is a soft breeze.

I don’t “feel” the breeze, in the way that mortals generally would, just as I don’t technically “see” the landscape around me, but an innate, extrasensory ability provides me with a flawless, three-dimensional picture of the world around me, complete with sounds and smells.

My kin and I refer to this sense as “S3 Magicka”, as it is clearly magical in nature, and as it serves as a replacement for three senses common to many mortal races; sight, sound and smell. With S3 Magicka, it’s all but impossible for me to miss anything that happens around me, no matter how subtle, as it meticulously depicts every minuscule detail, extending out to a range of several hundre-

Wait. Just two hundred metres, give or take a few? That can’t be right, surely. My sense should reach significantly further out than that. Could something be inhibiting my magic?

Despite the obvious issue that I’ll be far more likely to end up dead with my power weakened, I can’t help but feel a jolt of excitement at the thought. Whilst it is known to be possible to artificially deaden magic, such spells are beyond my race’s ability to replicate, despite us being gods, and examples of such things on the worlds we have taken are tremendously rare. It’s also entirely feasible that this could be a natural consequence of crossing into an alternate dimension with different laws of physics.

So either way, I’ve found something extremely interesting, though of course I’m hoping for the latter. Portals to others woulds are always amazing, but portals leading to altogether different planes of existence are the rarest of the rare!

Ah, I feel so extraordinarily fortunate to have come across this po-

Uuum… hold up a moment.

Where is it?

I don’t need to turn back to face the way I came to see what's behind me, thanks to my aforementioned extrasensory magic… so how the heck did I not notice this sooner!? The portal isn’t there! It’s completely vanished!

Was it a one-way portal? Or a single-use portal? Do either of those even exist!?

My shoulders slump. I suddenly feel rather crestfallen. It’s not the significant increase in my odds of dying a horrible death that’s bothering me, but just an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Does this mean that no one else will ever be able to come visit this plane? Or does it mean that they can come here, but none of us who do so will ever be able to leave?

Well, it might still be possible to at least send back records of my findings, so I should test that out. If I can do that then this won’t be so bad, I suppose. It’ll be a pity if I can’t see any of my siblings in the flesh ever again, but so long as we can keep in contact somehow, that will be enough for me.

It’s not like we met in person all that often anyway. The last time I was within sensing range of another god must’ve been, what, near two hundred thousand years ago? Yeah, something like that.

I raise a hand and make a few quick gestures, just as I did several minutes previously, on the other side of the portal. This time, however, the spell construct fails to form, its matrices sliding apart faster than I can establish them. I sigh uncomfortably. I guess this confirms that my power has been severely downgraded as of arriving here.

The silver lining is that at least my failed attempt at establishing contact with the others consumed only the most indescribably negligible of amounts of mana, so presumably my near-endless stamina hasn’t been too badly afflicted by the transition… or by whatever anti-magic effect is active here, in the event that such is the case.

Unfortunately, the dark, looming and immense thundercloud which the silver lining outlines is that I may never be able to contact any of my kin ever again, for as long as I live.

That’s pretty depressing to think about, though, so I push the thought from my mind, reminding myself that I’ll also never see any of them ever again if I die, and I knew I was risking that outcome when I strode through the portal. Sheesh, I was risking death just to sate my curiosity long before I found the portal. Actually, risking my life has never really been an uncommon thing for me, ever since my flock reached our galaxy and began our explorations of it, all those many millions of years ago.

Yes, there’s no need for me to get all worked up over nothing. If this isn’t an another realm then all I’ll need to do to make contact will be to escape the area of effect of whatever it is that's inhibiting my magic, and even if it is a separate plane, if there was a portal leading here, even if only a temporary one, then I ought to find a way back if I look long and hard enough.

That said, spending all my time in this new and potentially wondrous place just looking for a way out would be practically criminal. Imagine if I actually made it back after dozens or hundreds of years and the only secrets I could share were the details of my escape route. Ugh, that’d be utterly humiliating.

Darn, I’m getting embarrassed just thinking about it.

Okay, so here’s the plan: go out and explore the new place as normal. Attempt to confirm whether it is truly another universe, and if not, contact the others whenever I’ve reached an area where I can use magicomms again. And if it is another universe? Just keep on exploring until I stumble across a way back, I guess. Or until something kills me, of course.

With that cheery thought, I flap my wings once and soar upwards, stopping to hover in midair once I’m several dozen meters above the sand. I pause for a moment, wondering where to head now; dunes stretch out as far as I can sense in every direction, offering no clues as to which bearing might lead me to something of interest.

As I don’t tire, or require sustenance, and won’t suffer in the scorching days and freezing nights typical of deserts, I don’t suppose it really matters which way I head. If this planet has anything worth finding, I’m sure I’ll come across it eventually. Given that, I just pick a direction at random and, with another beat of my wings, I swoop off through the air.
 

Apra

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I glide downwards, before slowing my rate of descent with a wingbeat and dropping smoothly to the ground from a height of a few feet. I’ve landed in the midst of a mortal town of some kind. The majority of buildings are constructed of sandstone, and no glass occupies their windows, so they're not a particularly advanced breed, it seems.

Not that I’m fussy about that sort of thing. Weather doesn’t bother divine beings such as myself, after all. Mortals tend to shy away from exposure to the elements, though. They’re pretty vulnerable to temperature fluctuations, amongst other things, and so generally like to insulate their homes whenever possible. Thus, a lack of glass windows equates to a lack of technological development. Flawless logic.

Regardless of their development level, however, there are many mortals who can pose a threat to a god if we’re not careful. Even more so when the god in question has been stripped of much of their power. Thankfully, the crowd who’ve shown up to gawk at me don’t seem particularly gifted when it comes to natural weaponry. In fact, I sense no fangs or claws or spikes at all. Of course, they wear clothing, so must be tool-users, and therefore have likely developed some sort of weaponry.

My usual approach would be to declare my godhood and wow them with a “miracle” of some sort. For a desert-dwelling people such as this lot, the standard approach is to summon rain. Desert mortals tend to appreciate water even more than other mortals. I suppose that’s supply and demand for you.

Sadly, I can’t start off with such a declaration, as no one would believe me without proof… but at the same time, I can’t say I’m not a god, just in case I manage to regain my magical aptitude at a later date. If the very first thing I say to them is in time revealed to be a lie then divine power or no, they are unlikely to trust my words going forwards.

Of course, some of my siblings and cousins are fond of subjugating their mortals through reigns of terror, misery and suffering, so to them I suppose it wouldn't really matter if their followers realised that their god wasn't honest one hundred percent of the time… but that’s not really my style. I like to have a more amiable relationship with the lesser races.

“What are you? Can you speak?” a mortal with brown skin and black hair asks, walking slowly towards me from the crowd which has surrounded me completely whilst I’ve been standing still and contemplating what to do. Mortals sure are impatient. It probably comes from their miniscule life spans. If I had eyes and eyelids, I could probably blink and miss an entire generation.

“I can speak.” I nod slowly. Body language is not universal, but many of the species I’ve seen tend to have broadly similar sets of gestures, so I tend to adopt them as well, to aid communication. If these people use different mannerisms then the simplest way of learning those is likely allowing them to correct me when I make mistakes.

“As for what I am…” I continue, before trailing off into a thoughtful pause. The nod didn’t seem to confuse them, so I opt to try another gesture, and tap my chin with an index finger as I consider how best to answer, “I suppose you can think of me as a ‘mysterious stranger’ for the time being.”

The mortal licks his lips, brow furrowing. I make the tentative assumption that he is male due to his lack of breasts. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but in my experience, when one sex in a species has breasts, in the overwhelming majority of cases, that one will be the female sex. And from the appearances of those in the crowd around me, I can tell that this species does indeed include a sex with breasts. As such, my assumption ought to be a pretty safe bet.

“You can’t be a little more specific?” he asks me, a hint of irritation in his tone.

I think for a moment, then slowly shake my head from side-to-side, “No.”

The mortal scowls. One of his hands drops to his belt, his fingers closing around the hilt of the knife which is sheathed there. Yes, I know what belts and knives are. My kin may not wear clothing or use weapons to fight, but that doesn’t mean we’re ignorant of such things. We gods have encountered millions of sapient species, spread out all across our universe, so of course we would be able to recognise such commonly used items.

He steps closer to me, “You might not be fully comprehending your situation here, Mr ‘Stranger’, but you don’t really have a choice. You can’t just drop into our town from nowhere and expect to be allowed to do as you like when we’ve got no idea how dangerous you might be. You realise that, right?”

“Hmm…” I say mulling over the mortal’s words. I'm actually having a little trouble deciding what to tell them. Making excuses really isn’t my forte. Sapient races generally accept me as a god after witnessing a miracle or two, and from then on I can just do pretty much whatever I want without being accosted. I would almost rather these people just attack me than question me, as at least I have more experience fleeing from predators than I do being interrogated.

While I’m lost in thought, the mortal has closed in further, and then without warning he releases his weapon and grabs my mask with both hands. I let out a surprised exclamation, but can’t step back without leaving the mask in his grasp, so I just freeze up instead. I could probably gut him with my talons, especially as he has stupidly released his weapon, but that would likely result in me being dogpiled and beaten to death, so might not be the wisest move.

“Alright, then let’s start out by seeing what you’re hiding behind this expensive-looki-! Erm, I mean, this suspicious mask.” tugging upwards, he raises my mask enough to reveal about half my face, stopping before removing it fully when he sees what’s underneath. Perhaps he was expecting a face similar to those of his kind.

Still, he looks more confused than anything else, and that’s no good. Confusion will only lead to more questions. I need to scare the mortals enough to keep them from bothering me.

I open my mouth, revealing my teeth and long, worm-like tongue. His face pales a little. Then I dislocate my jaw like a snake, opening my maw much wider. He gets paler, and whimpers. A strand of saliva hangs down from my upper jaw, connecting my top and bottom teeth. Some drool begins to leak from my maw, and I lash around my tongue spasmodically, splattering him with a few droplets of saliva. Then, in as deep a voice as I can, I make a noise somewhere in between a sigh, a growl and a groan, while exhaling right into his face.

It has the intended effect, and the trembling mortal slowly lowers the mask back down over my face. I close my mouth as he does, though not before tasting his fear and sweat on the air. Breathing shakily, he backs off, keeping his hands raised to show he isn’t about to snatch out a weapon. It seems I’ve found another common piece of body language.

“A-a-actually,” he stammers, still backing off, “n-nevermind, y-y-you seem like a v-very t-t-trustworthy p-person. N-n-no need to t-tell us a-anything. We t-trust y-y-you. Now, if you d-don’t mind, I’ll j-just g-go.”

The mortal then turns and flees at top speed, shoving his way through the crowd without any regard for his fellows. At one point he knees a child in the face and doesn’t even seem to notice. I hear him sobbing softly. What a wuss.

If he didn’t back down after seeing my teeth, I’d been planning on licking his face next, but I’m now very glad I didn’t. If this is his reaction just to step one of my impromptu intimidation plan then he’d probably have wet himself if I’d actually licked him. And trust me when I say that for someone with as powerful a sense of taste as I have, being in the presence of anyone in urine-soaked clothing is not a pleasant experience.

The rest of the mortals seem to be frozen where they stand, either in fear or confusion. Well, except the little girl with the bloodied nose and her mother. Those two aside, though, they’re all just staring at me.

Unhurriedly, I reach up and properly fix my mask into place. That done, I speak, “Well, now that we’ve finished up with my introduction, how would you all like to answer some questions for me? I’m quite new to this world, and I’m sure there are lots of things I should know.”
 

Apra

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Mesa Roja. The flat world. Like a dropped coin tumbling through the air, the desert planet flips end over end as it orbits its system’s star.

The system is known by its denizens as “the Crossroads”, and many of its planets are home to numerous breeds of sapient life, though the bipedal creatures I have already encountered appear to be the primary, dominant species of the system as a whole. “Humans”, they call themselves.

According to their legends, my hosts inform me, no one has ever escaped from the Crossroads. As their village is rather lacking in technology, though, none of them even know anyone who has ever left Mesa Roja’s atmosphere, so they have no clue as to the accuracy of the myths.

Even if not verified, such tales are still disheartening to hear, of course, but something else catches my ear in the mortals' explanations. Technology. I enquire as to what they mean by using technology to leave an atmosphere, or even a star system. And the ensuing explanation is my first run-in with the concept of spacecraft.

We have millions upon millions of sapient species in my home realm, but we've yet to encounter any extant race who have managed to harness interplanetary-scale portal magic, and that is without doubt the greatest means of transportation ever developed by anyone in our plane... but even portals can’t allow mortals to survive in the void of space. Spacecraft can.

If I had eyes, they’d be bulging to the point of falling out of my head as I listen to the villagers spinning stories of marvellous contraptions which can seemingly break the natural laws of the universe as I understand them, without using magic.

Truthfully, I’m a little sceptical of their claims, even though I can’t see what they have to gain from lying to me. The main reason I don’t dismiss their words out of hand is because this is, after all, a different reality from my dimension of origin. Perhaps things are possible here which would not have been back home.

In all the billions of years I lived before coming here, I've never once seen a gun, or a car, a plane, or a computer… and whilst I've admittedly still not seen any of those things, only heard tell of them, I now know that they exist, so there is no reason to think that I can’t go off and find some whenever I want.

Amazing. Amazing! Amazing!

I have a tough time keeping up my imposing "mysterious stranger" act when I’m practically vibrating with excitement at the thought of all the wondrous things there are to see and do in this plane. I force myself to sit still and take in all the information I can, though. Caution goes against my instincts, but I'd like to reduce my chances of getting killed if at all possible. It'd be a crying shame if I missed out on exploring this place because I died within hours or days of arriving.

Thankfully, there is some good news on that front. After some experimentation with mana and some meditation to investigate and reflect upon my body’s current condition, which I do at night, whilst the villagers sleep, I discover that I'm not quite so unfortunate as I had first suspected. It’s not that my power has been robbed from me, exactly, but simply that the differences in physical and metaphysical laws between the two dimensions have resulted in my magic as it is being rendered unusable.

Whilst my power being gone and my power being unusable may sound like essentially the same thing, I do believe that with enough time the latter is a problem which can be solved. If I can only work out how to reconfigure my mana to work in a way more in line with the natural laws of this realm, I should be able to cast magic once more.

And that may not even be all. During my experiments, it occurs to me that if I really am able to come up with a means of reconfiguring the functionality of my mana, I could potentially alter the effects produced when I use it. Instead of simply replicating the same things I've been able to do for millions of millennia, I could theoretically replace them with new things instead.

Rather than my magic being primarily based around illusion and weather manipulation, which was the majority of what I could do back home, I could learn to use actual, real offensive spells, like some of the lesser races from my own universe. Only I'd learn much more powerful spells than them, of course. Being a god and all. My only limits could be my imagination! Just think how extraordinary life would be if I could breathe fire, or throw fireballs, or summon fire elementals, or set myself on fire, or-!

Okay, why do all the ideas that pop into my head seem to have something to do with fire? Am I a closet pyromaniac? Am I really so unimaginative?

I should probably give this some more thought before jumping into anything and wasting a wonderful opportunity by learning a dozen spells which all do nothing but burn stuff. For the time being, I think I’ll stay here in this nice, safe little village until I’m either confident enough in my ability to leave without immediately being killed by the first hostile entity I run into, or too impatient to resist the temptation to fly off and find something fun to do.

If I’m honest with myself, it’ll more than likely be the latter. For tonight at least, though, I’ve managed to restrain myself. I continue my meditations from dusk to dawn, perched on the roof of the tiny village's largest building.

I'm not invited to stay in anyone's home, and I don't bother asking permission. Whilst it's true that I could likely intimidate a villager into letting me come inside, I don’t actually like staying within buildings, especially small ones, so this suits me just fine. I always have this faint feeling of being locked in a cage whenever I'm indoors, so I prefer to remain outside whenever possible.

Even in the instances back home where I humoured my subjects enough to live in whichever sort of grand palace they felt was most fitting for their god, I tended to spend as much time as possible on the rooftops and balconies. Even on planets with swarms of deadly, airborne predators, I'd usually prefer to hang out on a rooftop than go inside.

And as far as I can tell, this place doesn’t seem to have much in the way of aerial threats, so with my inability to feel and my resistance to environmental hazards, I should be just fine out here. Not experiencing physical discomfort or suffering any negative effects from being exposed to the desert’s chill all night means I'm much more suited to the outdoor life than my human hosts.
 

Apra

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“May I be of some assistance?” I ask, landing lightly in front of a group of humans who’ve just left the village carrying wooden buckets. They tense up, a couple of them swallowing audibly.

“Uh, n-no, it’s fine, stranger, you needn’t trouble yourself.” a woman at the head of the group tells me, recovering quickly from her surprise. She has weathered features, tanned skin, wears a ten-gallon hat with short-heeled, knee-high boots, and is dressed mostly in brown leather. Like the first mortal I spoke to upon arriving in this village, she has a sheathed knife hanging from her belt.

I step closer to her and reassuringly place a taloned hand on her shoulder. Judging by the stiffening of her posture, she may have misinterpreted that gesture as some sort of threat. Oops. I guess the body language here may not be quite as close to what I’m used to as I was beginning to think, “But I insist. Please, let me. I’d feel as if I were imposing if I didn’t help out in some way.”

Whilst I may not be able to save a harvest from drought or fool animals into traps lain by hunters without my miracle magic, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to build a positive relationship with these mortals, even if I can only do so in a more mundane manner than I’m used to. If I do end up staying here for any length of time then it would be best if the villagers were on good terms with me, and in the event that I should require a safe haven to stay in at some point in the future, this place could prove useful.

The woman licks her lips and glances briefly at another lady, who looks much more anxious, “But… you haven’t imposed at all. You haven’t asked us for food or water… hell, you didn’t even ask for shelter last night. Really, you owe us nothing, stranger.”

Although I’ve already decided not to go down the declaring-myself-to-be-a-god route, I suppose there’s no harm in being honest, so I shake my head, “Food and water are meaningless to me, and last night was calm, so I had no need for shelter either. Some of your fellows answered my questions, though, and that was much appreciated, so I have to repay them somehow.”

She winces, hesitates, then nods. I pat her shoulder chummily, then withdraw my hand, and at that point I notice the little specks of red fluid on the tips of my talons. Oh, whoops. I must have tightened my grip without noticing… perhaps that was the cause of her wince. If she didn’t think I was threatening her before, I’m sure she does now. Darn.

She walks past me without another word, and the rest of her little group follow her, some casting fearful glances my way. After a moment, I begin walking with them. I could travel much faster by air, but as I don’t know where we’re headed, or what we’re doing when we reach our destination, I don’t bother.

We walk through the dunes for a while, my companions starting to sweat as the sun rises higher in the sky. Of course, even more so than the clouds, the sun is much too far away for me to sense its position directly, but by observing the direction and length of our shadows, I can determine the approximate time of day.

I lean over to whisper to a man who seems less unnerved by me than the others nearby, “So, what exactly are we doing, anyway?”

He side-steps away from me, eyeing the bottom of my mask suspiciously, likely worried that I’ll try to bite off his head if he’s not careful.

I did say less unnerved. Sadly, none of the mortals seem particularly comfortable around me after seeing my maw the other day. I suppose that’s not really a bad thing, though, as having them scared is better than having them think that they can threaten me.

Despite his fear, he does respond, his brow furrowing, “You volunteered to join us without even knowing what you were asking to take part in?”

“Yes.” I reply simply, nodding once.

“But… what if we’d been planning to… to… I dunno… to do something evil, like kill someone?”

I shrug. Whilst we gods generally value mortals based on a variety of factors, such their potential usefulness and their tendency to do interesting things, the main one tends to be their lifespans. It just makes more sense for us to pay more attention to creatures which are likely to be around for longer.

And I know from my Q&A session yesterday that the average human will only live for about three-quarters of a century. It may be a little rude of me to view them in this way, but frankly, given the timescales I’m used to thinking in, they might as well be mayflies, “Then I guess I’d be taking part in killing someone.”

Judging by the man’s reaction to my pronouncement, it appears that humans value one another’s lives quite highly. That’s a good sign, I suppose. A civilisation which values life is less likely to want to kill anyone different from them on sight.

He puts a bit more distance between us, looking horror-stricken, “You’d really be willing to murder someone just because we answered a few of your questions? That’s… insane. What kind of a monster are you?”

Turning my head his way, I sidle nearer to him. With one index finger, I peel my mask up and off the lower half of my face, stretch my mouth wide open, jaw dislocating, and lean in close, lazily stretching my tongue out before his eyes, as saliva drips from it, and from my lips.

He blanches, then his face goes a little green as I breathe out on him. My kin and I don’t need to breathe, and our lungs don’t actually transport oxygen through our bodies, as respiratory organs are typically supposed to. However, we are still capable of inhaling and exhaling, in much the same way that we can choose to eat and drink, if we so desire, though we gain no benefits from doing so.

As a result of us not really bothering to breathe much, the air in our lungs tends to get pretty stale, making our breaths rather foul, which can come in handy sometimes, if we feel like unnerving someone who happens to be standing extremely close by. Although some of my kin do like to fill their lungs with perfumed water, to keep them nicely scented, I’ve never seen the need, personally, and in this moment I'm quite glad of that. I'm not generally a mean god, but scaring mortals can sometimes prove pretty entertaining.

“Oi! What the fuck are you up to, freak!?” the lady in leather yells, stalking towards me as our little procession comes to a halt. She has drawn her knife, I note with some interest.

Snapping my mouth shut and dropping my mask back into place, I straighten up, turning my head from side-to-side, as if looking around to try and spot the person she might be addressing, even though it’s obvious who she means.

“I’m talking to you!” she snarls, coming to a stop before me, “Explain yourself! You were gonna eat him, weren’t you!? Admit-!”

Her eyes widen in surprise and she cuts herself off after prodding me roughly in the chest.

Slowly, her gaze moves down from my face to her fingertip, which she stares at as if she’s looking at a lethal weapon.

I imagine that this is probably the first time she has been able to knock back a man larger than herself by a good couple feet simply by poking him.

I give an awkward cough. My low mass is useful for allowing rapid acceleration in outer space without expending much energy at all… but it can be a little embarrassing when mortals discover that I weigh less than one of their newborn babies. Though I’m pretty sure I’m just as strong as these humans, the fact remains that they can literally push me around with no difficulty whatsoever.

“I am a bird.” I say, abashed, “Hollow bones, you know.”

Looking back up at me, I see the doubt in the woman’s face. No surprise there; there’s no way that hollow bones alone could explain my extremely low weight. But even so, she nods, apparently not considering the matter important enough to think too deeply about.

“Alright, whatever. Now, what was all that.” she gestures with her blade over at the man I’d been intimidating, and behind my mask I grin. She’s no longer shouting, so it seems like her surprise has cooled her off a little.

“I was only answering his question.” I reply innocently, “He asked what kind of monster I am, so I was giving him a good look. That’s really all it was… right?”

I cock my head to the side at the last word, and angle the front of my mask towards my pale-faced conversation partner, who nods hurriedly.

The leather-clad lady growls, but after a few seconds she slams her knife back into its sheathe and spins around, striding off unhappily. I think she might’ve been hoping to get to stab me.

“Don’t do it again!” she calls back without looking at me. I don’t respond, but I join the rest of the group in following after her to go and do whatever it is we’re out here for.

After several more moments of walking, I lean over once again to the man beside me and whisper to him, “So, what exactly are we doing, anyway?”

He sighs.
 
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