Dec 02, 2022 12:17 AM
Daphne was getting bored of being a regency heroine so now she's an isekai protagonist
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They had a plan, her and Lyall.

Well, mostly her. Daphne loves her youngest clan-brother, but he doesn't have an ounce of guile in his body. In a still-human Potential, it was sweetly innocent, an attractive quality. In a vampire, a death sentence. So: Daphne had a plan for how they were going to get out of this situation alive, because she would rather not be sacrificed on the altar of the blood feud between their sire and a rival clanlord. 

It didn't work.

Or, it half worked, because Lord Greenstone was, as predicted, horrified to discover that their sire had sent a graceling—a baby vampire, not yet a year past his Turning—as a blood price. Not only did he refuse point-blank to kill Lyall, but he also took him under his protection, arguing that their sire had clearly failed in his duty. Daphne had been trying to convince Lyall of that exact point for most of the last two days.

The only problem was that Lord Greenstone still needed a sacrifice for his blood feud. No one could argue he wasn't justified in seeking a blood price for the murder of his sire and clan-brother, nor that Lord Whiteraven wasn't justified in offering his scions—other than Lyall—as payment for his own sins. 

Daphne has been a vampire for five years. Too old to have a graceling's protection from the harsh justice of the clans. Too young and inexperienced to come up with a clever way to save herself, not just her baby brother. 

Lord Greenstone has the mercy to make it quick. His quarrel isn't truly with her, after all. 

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She stands on a narrow dirt path, barely more than a deer trail, with dense woodland crowding in on either side.

Pale sunlight filters through the leaves, and birds sing somewhere out of sight.

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Oh. 

Well, this isn't what she was expecting death to feel like.

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...she'll be so annoyed if it turns out that one sect that believes you go to some otherworldly paradise after you die is right after all, despite the complete lack of evidence for any of their claims. That just seems unfair. 

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Alright, Daphne, focus. She's not a ghost, and her soul hasn't dissolved into nothingness to rejoin the cycle of eternity yet either, so something she wasn't expecting is going on. Break it down. 

Two possibilities. Either she's dead, or she isn't.

Either way, she's not where she was a moment ago—a subjective moment ago? Time might have passed without her knowledge while she was dead or...whatever just happened. No, that's too many uncertainties, not relevant right now, ignore it. What she's certain of: she's not where she was last time she remembers being anywhere. Observable differences: different time of day, no Whiteraven Tower anywhere in sight, no vampires trying to kill her. No Lyall, either, but he was safe last she remembers, so that's better than it could be. 

If she's dead, then either this is paradise, or she's a ghost after all, or something else unexpected happened. She looks down at herself—still in the clothes she wore to her death, her silver jewellery a comforting weight around her neck and wrists. She doesn't feel like a ghost. When she moves a foot, the blades of grass bend under her weight. Probably not a ghost, then. 

If she's not dead...something else unexpected happened. She doesn't recognise her location, but she could be just about anywhere in Arenland, or any country with a similar climate. She takes a closer look at her surroundings, to see if they give her any clues. 

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The trees surrounding her are an odd mixture of recognisable and exotic. Sturdy, familiar broad-leaved specimens are interspersed with fuzzy dark green conifers, which she's only seen rarely. They're more common further north, suited to colder climates. 

Now that she's thinking of it, there is something of a chill in the air. 

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Perhaps if she knew more about birds she could tell something from the birdcalls. She doesn't. 

There's not much to be seen or heard from where she's standing: just trees, birds, and the path beneath her feet. The chill in the air and the cooler climate indicated by the evergreen trees don't match Daphne's vague intuitions for what a perfect paradise should be like, but there's no reason paradise should conform to her expectations, she supposes. If it's not paradise, she might be somewhere in the north of Arenland, or in one of its northerly neighbours, but she can't narrow it down further from here. 

It might be time to see where the path goes. She takes a look in both directions, to see whether there's anything to recommend one over the other. 

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The path is winding enough, and the undergrowth thick enough, that she can't see very far along it in either direction. The main difference from where she's standing is that one direction—the way she was facing when she landed—seems to have a slight downhill slope, while the other direction slopes slightly uphill. 

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It might be time to flip a coin. She'll pick a direction at random, and go that way for...five minutes, to start with? And if she doesn't see any signs of human habitation in those five minutes she'll come back and try the other direction. 

She doesn't technically have any coins on her right now, but she detaches one of the silver discs from her necklace and uses her magic to engrave the words downhill and uphill onto each side before flipping it. 

Downhill it is. 

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She gets a stone in her shoe after fewer than a dozen steps. 

The path continues to be narrow, overgrown in a few places by straggling thornbushes. She manages to pick her way through with only minor damage to her dress, which was really not designed for walking through untamed woodland. At times, it almost feels like the thorns are actively trying to catch on her skirts, with how persistently they tangle around her. 

The woods feel simultaneously too loud and too quiet. At times, she can barely hear herself think over the birds calling to one another and the branches rattling in the wind. Yet, at the same time, every rustle and snap of a twig she makes seems to echo uncomfortably loud in the stillness. 

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Daphne is starting to feel as though she too, like her dress, was not designed for walking in the woods. 

This has to be something like the second longest five minutes of her life. She checks her pocket watch again, holding it up to her ear to check it hasn't stopped. Three more minutes of this to go. She doesn't think she could force herself to do it if the alternative to walking through the woods wasn't staying lost in the woods indefinitely. 

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After a few minutes of struggling her way through the hostile flora, she rounds a corner and comes quite abruptly to the edge of the woods.

Before her, fields of barley stretch out under an early-morning sky. A few human farm-workers are out tending the crops, singing what might be a work song, although at this distance she can't make out any of the words. The path continues on, between two fields, towards what looks like a small farming village. She can just see the roofs of a few buildings, and a few rising plumes of smoke. 

Between the woods and the start of the fields is a bare strip of ground that looks deliberately cleared; it seems to run all along the boundary as far as Daphne can see. Placed next to the path, on the near edge of this strip, is a waist-high stone pillar carved with strange markings. 

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Signs of civilisation! Daphne is not doomed to be lost in the woods forever! This is the best thing to happen to her all week—which isn't a high bar, she has had an awful week. Still, though: civilisation! People! Places that are not the woods!

She rushes forward, not even minding too much when she trips over a protruding tree root and has to pick herself up before she can stagger across the boundary line. In other circumstances, she might have examined the markings on the stone more closely, but as it is she's too grateful to be out of the woods to pay them much heed. 

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The closest workers look up from their crops, startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger. 

One of them calls out to her in an unfamiliar language, sounding friendly but confused. 

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"Hello," she calls back in Rennish. "I seem to be lost; can you tell me where I am?" 

She pushes a whisper of power into her thrall, stretching it out to charm the one who spoke to her and the other humans nearby. Not too much; she's tired, hungry, thirsty, and more uncertain about where her next meal is coming from than she's ever been in her life before, so she doesn't want to waste the energy. They'll be more inclined to help her and less inclined to view her as a threat, that's all. 

If she's ended up far enough away from home that she doesn't speak the language, she's going to need every tool at her disposal to get home. 

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The man shakes his head in incomprehension and says something else she can't understand.

He sends one of the younger humans, maybe thirteen or so, running off in the direction of the village. A few of the people further away, who weren't caught by Daphne's thrall, look up, alarmed by the urgency, but they seem to assume that the situation is being handled and return to their work. 

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She tries a few other languages while they're waiting for the boy to get back, more for something to do than because she expects that the farmers will know any of them. It keeps them interacting with her so she can maintain her thrall, and demonstrates that she's doing her best to figure out how to communicate with them. 

In the same spirit of peaceful cooperation, she stays where she is on the edge of the field for now.

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After maybe five minutes of mutually incomprehensible attempts at conversation, the boy comes running back. 

Following him with equal haste is a young woman in forest-green robes, standing out among the earth tones of the farmers. When she gets closer, what looked like a smudge on her forehead reveals itself to be a symbol drawn in ash. 

She looks at Daphne and says something in a completely different language to the one the other locals have been using. From the careful way she pronounces the words, it doesn't seem to be her native tongue. 

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Interesting. She's as human as the rest of them, so not a mage. (Assuming Daphne is still in her own world. Magic in other worlds might work differently.) Maybe a local priest or some similar role? 

"Sorry, I don't speak that language either." 

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