Wraecca : Awakenings

The sunlight streams into Wraecca's bedroom window, and he sighs a small sigh of relief. He is still home.

Sitting, he shakes off a dreamless drug-induced sleep. Lillian had talked him into the little blue pills months before, and he had to admit, they did their job. He no longer cried out in the night or awoke in strange places. They dulled him a bit during the day, but in a time of peace, he no longer had a need for lightning quick reflexes.

Peace. He stares out the window. No longer was he surrounded by the bombed out husks of buildings, or the sounds of the dying. Nature was beginning to return to the city, reclaiming the destruction humans had wrought.

He had been so many places... seen so many horrors. Spring is a welcome reprieve.

A gentle knock sounds on the door, and it opens, revealing a bleary eyed young woman with dark hair and dark eyes hidden behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. She yawns. "You're up early," says Lillian Moore, "Not a nightmare, I hope. I'd be keel-hauled by the FDA if I upped your meds anymore." Wraecca notices she carries a carafe of coffee in her hand. She sets it down and pours herself a cup. She sits on a plain settee and sips it cautiously.

Lillian... she had been his savoir, his lifeline from the nightmares. Although she was only a councillor for the small military academy where he lived and worked, but she showed insight beyond her station. She could be working in a sleek psychiatrist's office, with millionaire's wives throwing money at her to support their socially acceptable drug habit. But no, she chose to stay in a low-paying, less-than-glorifying job. She blamed it on her lack of a doctorate, but he knew it was only her lack of confidence that held her down.

She looks up at him. "Sunday. So we have a whole day to talk. You've been doing well on your pills... I didn't hear any cries last night, and your heart rate stayed normal according to the read-outs. So maybe we should move beyond the dreams, now? Tell me more about what you remember." She sits back, and waits.

Wishing he could have a cup of coffee, Wraecca instead retrieves a bottled water from his small fringe. Taking a moment to drink, Lillian can see he is pondering what to say. At length he turns to her and in a strange voice says, "It's not so easy to move beyond my dreams. I wake up and it's just another dream."

She tilts her head and eyes him carefully. He knows that look. It's the look she gives when she starts mentally rifling through her old psych books. "What do you mean, another dream?"

With a sigh Wraecca sighs, "Lillian, I've known this place for some time now. Longer then many I've seen. Sometimes...I wake up and it's all different. I'm in a different place and it's never a good one. The pills may help but only for a time. I know I sound like I'm coming out of left-field on this but I'm serious."

She nods understandingly, but he knows she's still stuck on the same line of thought. In a file in her office lies the result of several months of research of her trying to find his past. She's convinced that he has some sort of amnesia. Partially true, but not everything... "Tell me about some of these... places," she says.

Wraecca smiles. It's a smile grim and cold. "Imagine this reality, world, everything around us as a page in a book. It hasn't been a pretty page. The war here has hard fought with cities devastated and countryside's laid waste. Now imagine this place as a page in a book. A book that for all I know is infinitely thick."

"Now imagine the title of the book is The Collected Works of Horror in All Variations. Now imagine I'm the central character in each story." Turning away from her, he whispers, "I think that sums it up."

She sighs, letting the councilor facade drop a bit. "But they're just dreams. They can't hurt you here." She pauses and regards him. "What in the world happened to you..? Usually people think of _better_ pasts than the ones they had. Tell me some of the things you've been through." She clicks her ballpoint pen and readies it.

Still with his back to Lillian, Wraecca says, "Lillian you have been very helpful to me. Your medications and ability to listen to me through my rants I have sorely needed. But I think in order for you to be able to help me you may have to realize the truth of my words. I have survived in this world and many other places by being able to adapt to my surroundings very quickly."

"I don't mean adapt mentally, I adapt physically. I can change my physical form to fit my surroundings."

Even though he can't see her, he feels her interest perk. "Really? How?"

Still not facing her, he asks, "Do we both agree that my eyes are brown?"

She gets up from her seat and moves to face him. "Yes," she agrees, "Brown."

He then holds up his hand, now sporting seven fingers. "And how many fingers?"

She looks in shock at the two extra digits, then abruptly at her coffee. She sets her coffee on the window ledge and backs away from Wraecca and it as if they were a pair of venomous pythons. Her eyes are wide with shock.

Wraecca grins wryly and sits in a nearby chair. "Relax Lillian. Deep breaths. It's just two extra fingers."

She continues backing away. "No, it's not, no, just a trick..." She almost screams when she backs into her own chair. She spins and hits it with her note pad, then turns to face him again. "Just a trick..."

Wraecca leans back in his chair his eyes level with Lillian's. His offending hand out of sight behind him. "Lillian, I'm your patient. I need your counsel. Don't freak out on me. You're stronger than that."

She stops. "Oh my god. It's infectious dementia..." She pauses, and breathes deeply. "Wait, calm, calm... ocean waves, Zen chimes, Payday bars..." Her breathing evens out. She looks at Wraecca. "What... are you?"

Wraecca leans forward, his hands now in view and with the more common number of digits that locals possess here. "That is what I am hoping you can help me discover. I don't know what I am, or why I fall between the cracks of reality as I sometimes do. Was seeing an extra two digits on my hand really that much of a shock? We've both seen worse in the war."

"How many people have we seen with no fingers because they have no hands, or arms?"

She stiffens a bit. "Normally, one only loses appendages, not gains them at will to scare the wits out of their doctor." She swallows. "What else can you... do? And warn me this time."

Wraecca grins, "I'm sorry, I meant to change the colour of my eyes but you beat me to the punch walking in front of me like that. I guess that my finger trick would have unnerved anybody. To answer your question I can affect minor changes in my physical form to better adapt to my environment. Care for another demonstration?"

She sits cautiously. Eyeing you with a new sense of trepidation, she nods. "Nothing too... gross. You may have seen quite a bit this war, but most of what I saw was sanitized."

Wraecca nods, and closes his eyes, "Pick a colour, any colour"

She thinks. "Mmm... Pink."

Opening his eyes Lillian can see the right eye has a pink iris; the whites of his left eye are pink and the iris white. A bizarre affect. "How's this?"

Her own (quite normal) eyes widen. She takes his hands, quickly counting his fingers, and leans in. "Can you do it without closing your eyes?"

Wraecca nods faintly, "The transformation can be even more unnerving but yes." As he says this his eyes progressively lighten and darken to become the brown eyes he normally uses.

She clasps her hands over her mouth. "Oh my God...." He can tell the initial shock is wearing off, and is being replaced by a morbid fascination. "What else is there? My god, I've been looking in the wrong books for your cure..."

Wraecca's lips tighten momentarily, "My ability to adapt physically to environments is necessary. I would not be alive today if I did not possess this capability. But this isn't really a problem I need cured. My problem is waking up to find myself in another reality, in another war, famine, natural disaster, or diseased ridden landscape."

She retorts, "But they have to be connected somehow, right? I mean, you're not normal. Wait, that came out wrong..." She chews her lip. "What I mean is that you must be special. Is that all that's special about you?"

"Most of my physical attributes seem above average. Strength, speed, and such. I wonder if there are others of my kind, I mean, could I be the only one? Or maybe I'm some sort of supernatural creature. I just don't know."

She looks distant for a moment, then gets up and starts to pace. "You are better, aren't you...? I hadn't thought of it before." She stops. "The memories. It has to be in there..." She tears out of Wraecca's room, and a few seconds later he hears her apartment door open.

Wraecca walks to the doorway of his room and looks down the hallway in curiosity. Privately he wonders if confiding to Lillian was such a good idea, but she did seem to want to help, and her enthusiasm now seemed quite genuine. Shrugging to himself he walks back into his room. She almost runs into his back when she returns to his room. In frenzy, she spreads out layer upon layer of tattered sheets from numerous legal pads. "These are the memories you gave me... over all the sessions..." Silently she looks them over. "I thought they were a symbol for what had happened, because quite frankly, you seem to describe the same thing a million different ways--Details don't usually change unless, unless you're using them to block something. I thought it was a traumatic incident." She looks up. "Maybe it's what you are." She returns to her search.

Quite intrigued and with a growing sense of excitement, Wraecca watches Lillian pouring over her notes. "You really think so?"

She nods. "What we have to look for are the inconsistencies." She starts tossing papers away from the stack, into an unoccupied corner. "Off-hand, can you think of any?"

With a look of puzzlement Wraecca says, "Inconsistencies? I'm not sure what you mean."

She sighs in frustration and looks up at him. "Memories that change when you think of them. Ones that don't seem to be static."

Wraecca's eyes widen in alarm, "How would I be able to determine something like that? I would have to have two sets of memories to find the differences."

She rolls her eyes. "Okay, then lets try for memories that seem to be in more detail every time you think over them."

Wraecca frowns, "Okay...let me think"

One that pops to Wraecca's mind is one... of hopscotch. On a pattern... The stones. They mean something... But a cloud fogs his inner vision and he can't remember anymore.

"When I was very young I have a memory of playing hopscotch in the ruins of a burned out church. A beautiful mosaic of tile set into the church's floor."

She listens, then moves back to her search... "Hopscotch, hopscotch..." Not looking up, she mutters. "Childhood... what do you remember of your childhood?"

Wraecca grimaces, "My first memory that I can recall was fleeing the sounds of bullets and bombshells. I was on a road with a lot of other people. Civilians I think. We were all running. There were screams. People carrying clothes, food and other stuff. I think I was maybe four or five...I...I'm not sure."

She pauses, as if something has just occurred to her. "How old are you?"

Spreading his hands wide, "I honestly have no idea. Sometimes when I change form my brain changes as well. There are gulfs of time that are a total blank to me. Other times I've roamed as an animal. Does a wolf keep track of the days?" Wraecca shrugs, "I eventually learned not to tinker with what's upstairs but I honestly don't know my age, or even my race, gender, or even if I have a true form." Thumping his chest, "This form you see here is something I chose from a corpse on a battlefield."

Her jaw drops. "That... that, I didn't need to know." She makes a face. "But you had to have been young once... however, we've been at peace here for decades. If that memory is true, then I can't even begin to say where you came from." She stands and walks around him. "So you can do more than extra fingers, huh? A wolf..." She finishes her circuit, and they're face to face again. "Can you be a wolf for me?" Her face is flushed with excitement and wonder.

Wraecca snarls, "Maybe I can be a pink wolf with a cute ribbon while I'm at it."

She frowns. "Scientific curiosity, okay? No ribbon necessary. I'll consider it payment for withholding important information during your treatment."

Wraecca frowns, "Your word of honor that this is in no way being recorded."

She nods. "My word of hon--- wait." She looks around, as if seeing the room for the first time. "No. Not here. We have go. Now." She takes Wraecca's hand and starts to pull him out of the room.

Wraecca takes a moment to snatch up her notes, and follows closely.

She leads him, sometimes running, sometimes slowing and attempting to look casual. He notices she looks around furtively, almost scared. Finally, they're free from the complex, running down a street still under repair from one of the last bombings. Eventually, they hit a small wooded area. She stops and turns. "My word of honor."

Wraecca appears completely un-winded, "Alright Lillian, what the hell was that all about?"

She catches her breath. "Where were we just now?"

"I was asking you to not have any recording devices active, and then we run down here. You're acting like a rabbit at a dog show. What gives?"

She shakes her head slightly. "How wise is it to talk openly in a place like that." She motions back to the military complex. "They'd have you on a lab table before the day is out..."

Wraecca nods, "Possibly. I'll take your word for it." Looking around, "So this place is safe you figure?"

She shrugs. "As safe as I can offer. I don't know if we were followed." She looks back nervously, and fidgets with her fingers. "Dammit... I'm not cut out for this..."

Pursing his lips, "Guess I just resigned my commission, and you maybe out of work as well."

She starts, as if the possibility hadn't occurred to her. She slaps her forehead and lets out a long string of curses. Suddenly, she stops. "I'm sorry... I just got caught up and didn't think... But don't blame yourself. It's not your fault." She manages a weak smile. "Hey, you are my patient, right?"

"Guess so, but I didn't mean to involve you quite this deeply. Do you have a car? Perhaps we should put a little more distance between us and this complex."

She chews her nails. "A moped. I'm not paid that much. Can you drive? I don't think I could keep my balance with you on the back..."

"Can't say I know much about mopeds. Perhaps I should meet you some place, I can travel far and quickly by myself. If anyone is looking for us they would be looking for two people, or a lady and a wolf."

She looks nervous, but nods. Suddenly, she brightens. "Hey! Can you be a horse...?"

Wraecca looks confused, "What's a horse?"

Her jaw drops. She shakes her head and mutters something about an MRI... "Okay, fine... I guess I will have to get my moped." She mutters, almost under her breath: "And some picture books while I'm at it...." She continues. "Where do we meet?"

Wraecca thinks about it briefly, then smiles "Meet me at the broken bullet cafe 11:00 PM tonight."

She nods. "Good luck... If I'm not there by 12, get out of town, okay?"

Wraecca nods, "I'll do that."

She pauses, almost as if she doesn't want to leave. Then, nodding a final time, she turns, and runs back towards the complex. In the distance, Wraecca hears bells... the clock tower. He counts ten. Only ten o'clock. A whole day ahead of him.

Wraecca heads immediately to the nearest clothing store. Wearing a uniform seems no longer prudent given his now questionable status.

Exiting the woods, Wraecca spies a small consignment shop with an 'Open' sign in the window. As he approaches it, he realises he still has Lillian's notes clutched in his hand.

Carefully folding the notes he places them in the breast pocket of his uniform. With that, Wraecca walks into the consignment shop in search of some civilian clothing to wear.

The shop is small and dimly lit. A large greasy man looks up as he enters and grunts, then returns to sorting cheap pieces of jewellery into small bins.

There are racks full of clothing, but everything is so haphazard that it takes him a while to locate some clothes that will do. A grey t-shirt, a flannel, a pair of jeans. Even some socks. He even notices a pair of construction boots that should fit him.

Wraecca is briefly thankful he was paid on Friday. He should have enough to get him disguised and out of town.

Paying for his clothing, Wraecca exits the shop. Heading back into the woods he changes into his new clothing. Walking along the road at an easy pace, his blonde hair blows in the breeze, his blue eyes following the path. Stopping near the Broken Bullet Cafe, he hunches down amongst the trees and fingers his new beard all the while watching the people entering and leaving the Cafe.

With a slow practiced ease his form slowly changes to become another tree. This tree having a pair of blue eyes hidden within the folds of bark. Wraecca waits for Lillian and any others that may show up.

Wraecca watches his shadow grow short, then long, and finally evening comes.

Lillian walks up to the cafe, a backpack on her back and her hair stuffed under a ball cap. She looks about anxiously before she enters. Through the glass he can see her take a seat at the bar and order something.

After 15 minutes of additional waiting to ensure there is no trailers, Wraecca again becomes the bearded blonde and walks into the Cafe.

Wraecca takes a second to adjust the dim light of the Broken Bullet. The evening is well underway, the bar crowded with single men and women trying their luck for the evening. A few tables are in the back, some filled with young lovers, but some are still empty.

He spots Lillian, huddled over a tall glass of something brown. Another glass, empty, is nearby. She occasionally looks up at a clock, then turns her attentions back to her drink.

Sliding into the booth, Wraecca takes the seat opposite Lillian, "Hello Lillian. Sorry to keep you waiting. I wanted to ensure we did not have additional company."

She looks up, her eyes a little bleary. A wave of relief washes over her face. "There you are." She lifts up her drink a bit. "Jack and coke. Want one? I don't think I should finish this one."

She adjusts her glasses, which had slipped onto the tip of her nose. "I went back to the complex to get my keys. I know, stupid, but what else could I do? Everything I have was back there... account numbers, money, everything." She trembles a bit. "But when I got there, no one seemed to care. I went back to my room and got the keys. On my way out, I thought to check your place... It seemed fine at first, but then I noticed..." She chews on her fingernails. "The pills. The pills were gone." Her face is stricken. "I lied about the pills. I'm sorry-- but they weren't doing any good. So I called in a favour from a vet I know. Those things I was giving you... They could kill a man. I thought maybe you had some condition that made you less sensitive to the tranqs, but I was denied any higher level treatments."

She looks down at her drink and, apparently changing her mind about giving it up, downs it on a few gulps. "I really hope it was the academy that confiscated it. Otherwise we're going to be reading about some druggie cadet found dead in his bathroom tomorrow."

Wraecca eyes dart around the room, never resting, as he listens to Lillian's story. The pills disappearing was troubling as was pill's contents. "I wouldn't worry terribly about your things Lillian. It's much more difficult to trace people if they only use new things. Cash would be handy but we can make do on what I have. At least for the moment. What we need to do now is get some distance between us and the Academy. Do you know any friends or relatives that the military doesn't know about where we might be able to stay for a bit? Preferably distant from here."

"As bad as what's happened I think it may sort itself out if we can make progress on my condition. But to do that we need a place that's safe. Any ideas?"

She puts her head in her hands and thinks. "I don't know. There's so much to consider... How far we can get, what we do once we get there... It's not just a case of running. I can't get those tranqs without going back into the base and talking to Jim. They don't even have them on the black market. And what about your treatment? You'd been doing so well. We need somewhere restful, somewhere isolated."

Her words fade out of Wraecca's ears. He feels this head throb slightly, and the urge to get out of the bar and walk suddenly overcome him. The image of Lillian's moped comes to mind as his head clears once more.

Wraecca reaches into his wallet and drops whatever he thinks will pay for Lillian's drinks. "We have to leave. Now." Exiting the booth, Wraecca speaks like a lieutenant explaining a battle plan to his soldiers, "I'll exit first. One minute later you will do the same. Go to your moped and head south along the road. I should be a short distance away walking along side the road." With that, Wraecca exits.

Lillian looks frightened, but manages a quick nod. He feels her eyes in his back as he leaves.

He walks down the street, but a sudden though almost stops him in his tracks. Lillian... two jack and cokes... on a moped.

Just then Lillian pulls up, looking strangely sober. She regards him. "We can't go far, unless we hit a gas station. I'm almost on empty. I made a few stops around town to stash some of my books, and this baby's a gas-guzzler." She grumbles under her breath, "Stupid lawnmower with a headlight..."

Wraecca hops on the moped. "Okay lets get going then"

They ride, and within him, Wraecca feels something growing warm, almost burning. As they drive along, he feels a pain in his head and limbs, and the heat grows. The feeling is vaguely familiar, thought still disconcerting. Suddenly the pain and the heat disappears, and before his eyes he sees a vision of a run down cottage. Seconds later, he sees that same one up the road.

Wraecca leans into Lillian to speak directly into her ears so she cannot fail to hear. "Get your gas. Meet me back here. Do not stop." Before she can answer he throws himself off the Moped and rolls to his feet at a dead run. He intends running in a half circle and approaching the cottage from a windowless direction.

Lillian almost topples the bike when he jumps off, but manages to right herself in time.

Wraecca loops around into the woods, circling the house. Finally he discovers the back doesn't seem to have any windows, at least that he can see in this light. He feels his body shift automatically, and the world around him becomes a little easier to see. He was right. No windows. In the distance, he hears the moped speed off.

Not bothering to slow his approach, Wraecca sprints towards the house as quickly as his feet can take him. Holding his rage before him, his skins toughens to iron hard scales with sharp ridges. His fingernails elongate to become claws, and his pupils dilate and shift into the infrared spectrum. Fleetingly the thought crosses his mind that he's burning calories at a prodigious rate, but hopefully whatever drugged him would cycle faster with his increased metabolism. Hunger adds to rage...

If the run-down cottage looks made of old boards he'll attempt to go straight through the wall. Otherwise, he will run till he encounters a window or door and go straight through.

Quite dramatically, he bursts through a boarded over window, his chest heaving and fists clenched, he encounters...

Nothing. The room, while dark, is rather clean and pleasant, a stark contrast to the outside. A dining room table, a bed, a couch. It reminds him of a vacationing cottage from days past. Despite the furniture, he can find no signs of life, or even recent habitation.

Chest heaving, Wraecca flexes his claws in frustration. It would have been so good to kill something. Realizing he is operating on the edge of "fight or flight" reactions he sits on the bed and endeavours to relax.

At length he rises and searches the cabin for any food that might have been stockpiled. Belatedly realizing he's torn his shirt from shapechanging and hurling himself through a boarded window, he looks also for any clothes that might be stored. Chest heaving, Wraecca's clawed hands flex in frustration. It would have been so good to kill. Sitting on the bed he wills himself to relax. After several minutes he gets up and begins to rummage the

room in hopes there may be some food stockpiled, or perhaps additional clothing as he belatedly realizes his shirt is somewhat torn from his transformation and leap through the window. Wraecca is surprised to find many tins of food that don't look too old. Corn, pasta, soup, beans...

Searching a chest, he finds a t-shirt that might do. A little large, perhaps...

He hears a moped pull up outside, and the engine cut off. He hears nervous footsteps approach the house, then stop. Something small hits a front window.

Wraecca opens the front door slightly and says loudly, "Come on in. It's safe." Noticing that his form might be a touch alarming he adds, "I'm looking a little different so don't freak out."

He clearly sees Lillian on the front lawn, holding a handful of small rocks. She drops them and moves to the door slowly, squinting in the dark to see Wraecca.

As she moves into the house, she eyes him, the whites of her eyes easy to see in the night. Cautiously she reaches out a hand and touches a scale. She looks at him. "Dramatic. Mind telling me why? And why you leapt off my bike?"

Without letting him answer she walks over to the couch and flops down. "I have no clue where we are. There's a town down the road, and it should have been Ramshaw, but its called Traxan. I've lived here all my life and never heard of Traxan." She lets her head fall back. "I just want to wake up."

Picking up some of the canned goods, Wraecca busies himself opening them by using his claws as a can-opener. "I'm afraid, Lillian, that waking up is no longer an option. Remember how I told you I sometimes fall between dimensions?"

With a swift motion he upends the contents of the can into his mouth. The contents consumed in one impossibly large swallow. "When we were on the moped, I felt the transition. It doesn't happen often when I'm awake and it's been so long since it's last happened that the sensation confused me. Being keyed-up from the possibility of being chased, and some input my Soulgem provided me and I thought this dwelling might have been dangerous. Obviously the opposite is true."

Running a claw around the top of the next can he pops the top off. "The good news is we don't have to worry about being chased by the Military in your dimension. The bad news is, your in another dimension. It's probably not a very nice place. As a rule, I never end up in nice places."

Wraecca tosses off the contents of the second can with another enormous swallow. Passing Lillian a wry grin, "Shapechanging consumes energy at a horrific rate, I need the calories."

She swallows hard. "You know, this is what I get for getting too philosophical with my treatments. I thought it was some stupid symbol." She takes off her cap and runs her fingers through her hair. "By the by, you don't need so many calories that you have to eat all our stash, right? I may not do the voodoo you do, but I still need something to eat."

"I'm sorry, I should have offered you something."

Inventorying the remaining cans, "We got applesauce, corn beef hash, lots of corn, uh...I drank the last 30 weight motor oil. Hope you don't mind."

She tilts her head. "What's a Soulstone?"

With a slight of hand a large yellow gem glistens in Wraecca's hand. "Soulstone." As Lillian watches, the Gem disappears within Wraecca's palm. "It normally resides within me and provides me advice by way of imagery projected into my consciousness. Without it, I would never have become the civilized critter you see before you."

She chuckles. "I should thank it then. Applesauce will be fine, thanks." She looks at him, her eyes distant. "So, in a new place, no friends, no family, no job... not that I had those to leave, but familiarity is nice. What are we doing now?" She looks out the window. "What kind of danger are we looking for?"

Handing Lillian the now opened container of applesauce, "Oh the usual. Plagues, battlefields, murderous animals, violent weather, hostile magics. Sometimes the danger is more subtle. Given that you saw a town, and that this shack exists, I would think that people predominate in the area and that the danger would manifest in a more conventional means. But danger is precisely what we'll try and avoid."

She nods. "Glad to hear it." She takes the can and eats heartily. After a few moments silence she sits back and talks again. "Have you ever thought of the possibility of there being good places out there? Maybe you can shift through these cracks and end up somewhere where the streets are paved in gold or what-not."

Wraecca sits on the floor with his back leaning on the bed, "Makes sense philosophically. If there are bad places, there must be good places as well. It might be a case of my being trapped in a vicious circle. I expect bad things, and so bad things happen. I guess I could try and be more optimistic in my perceptions."

In the dark, he sees her eyes gleam. "I think that's how we need to gear your therapy now. We've been repressing it. Maybe we need to control it. Tell me, have you ever used it willingly?"

Wraecca thinks back to when he was a much younger. The memory of playing hopscotch in the burnt out church again coming into focus. The sing song chant of a child, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back..." A moment latter following dark chasms and hairline cracks along the church walls that ended in a wintry forest, the sound of wolves nearby. "I'm not certain. The church held strange fractures along the walls. They led me someplace else I think."

She leans forward, her voice a soft whisper. "Where did they go? What's the darkness like?"

"I...I don't know. The best I can say is looking in the darkness is like 2 + 2 = 999. It's a flaw in reality."

She nods. "Shit. I should have been a philosophy major... But I think we may be able to handle this. If we can't... I don't want to think about that." She rubs her hands together. "We need to find the source for you to be able to control it. It's not the stone, since you said you had it before then. Maybe it runs in the family... At risk of sounding like Freud, tell me about your mother."

As they talk Wraecca leisurely changes back into a conventional bearded, blond haired, blue eyed, male Homo Sapien. "I don't recall much of my mother. Just a fuzzy recollection of a face. No memories or anything like that. I don't recall anything at all by way of other relatives. It's unfortunate, as I feel they would be most helpful."

She shrugs. "Maybe. But then again if you've been doing this shifting thing as long as you can remember, they're most likely in some other dimension." She pauses. "Ever heard of hypnosis?"

"You care to try? I'm game. Just...be careful where you tinker. The Soulgem is psychically aware and seems to be protective of me at times."

She nods. "But not now-- we should get some rest. If you're tired you may just end up falling asleep during it." She looks at the bed and couch. "Wanna flip for it?"

Wraecca laughs, "Get some sleep. I only need to sleep maybe once a week." Tapping his skull, "My friend provides me with a tireless source of energy. My rest needs are confined to the removal of waste lactic acids and mental equilibrium."

She looks sceptical. "If you say so. But if anything weird happens, you wake me." She gets up and opens her backpack. She pulls a white long t-shirt out and suddenly looks very self-conscious. She takes off her jacket.

Wraecca, realizing he is staring, averts his gaze and turns his back to Lillian, "Sorry. I can step outside if you would like."

She laughs. "I'm not _that_ modest. Sheesh. You can stay." Behind her he hears the rustle of her changing. She walks over and taps his shoulder. "It's okay, I'm decent now. So, what are you going to do while I'm out? I feel awful you'll be alone."

Wraecca turns back around and says, "I'll stick close by. I'd hate to shift again and leave you stranded. I'll be okay. I've had to pretend to sleep many times to fit in. This will be a lot less boring."

She smiles. He notices the shirt she's wearing comes about to her knees and has "49ers" printed across it in a faded silk screen. She yawns. "Alright then." She looks out a window as she walks to the bed. "At least it's quiet. G'night." She climbs into the bed and rolls over, facing the wall. Outside, the crickets chirp.

Once Wraecca has determined that Lillian is asleep, he takes out her notes he has kept on himself and reads them thoroughly.

Her notes are peppered with psychology terminology... Neurotic, schizoid, PTSD, amnesiac, delusional...

As he reads, the terms fade into the background and the voice of the notes become more personal. She focuses on a few memories, highlighting them every time they happen. One of the church. One of running and voices yelling. One of him falling in darkness...

The notes end:

"There's a darkness in him somewhere-- I feel like its hiding from me and the light of day. I wonder that if we could just bring it out, we could destroy it simply by knowing it. I wonder where it hides.

I don't know how much more I can do. His superiors are following his progress more closely now that the war's over, and I'm scared that if they don't see progress, they'll discharge him, or--"

Lillian stirs in her sleep, muttering.

Wraecca ponders their content. Obviously, she was way off in her analysis. Though to be fair, he's quite a divergence from the norm. /I'm quite well adjusted for my environment./

His eyes drift to her sleeping form, then back to the notes. At length he finds himself again glancing her way before looking back at the notes. After the third time he catches himself doing this, he chuckles quietly to himself, "I do believe my base gender is male." Folding the notes away he sighs and awaits the coming dawn.

Through the night, his ears strain to discern any signs of hostility, but find none. That makes war, while not impossible, improbable.

The dawn comes earlier than he had expected. By his count, they had been in the cabin only a few hours, but the sun was already rising. Lillian groans as the light hits her pillow. She wakes with a start, looks around frantically, then calms somewhat. "Oh well. It wasn't a dream. So much for that hope." She curls up in a ball.

"Fraid not", Wraecca replies as he tosses her clothes to her. "Time to explore our brave new world."

She sighs and uncurls. "I guess. But as soon as we figure out what nasty we're running into this time, I want to do some experiments." She starts to pull off her tee. "Think they have coffee here? I feel like I've barely slept."

Turning away Wraecca stammers, "uh, maybe. Let me look around, maybe there's some stashed away."

As he pokes around in various cabinets and boxes, he mentions, "I don't think you got much sleep. This world may spin faster, or the seasons may be different, or it may just be a case that we jumped a time zone or two. I've seen it happen before."

She changes while he looks. "Great," she says, "Not only are we pushed into bad things, but we get no sleep." She laughs a bit. "Well, _I_ get no sleep. Maybe I should look for a bauble like yours."

Wraecca's search turns up no coffee, not even instant. Lillian will not be pleased.

"Doesn't look like there's any coffee in here. There might be some in town if we are welcome. But I don't know if our money will be any good."

Removing his torn shirt he puts on the t-shirt he had found previously. "We should take the sheets and blankets. They may come in handy later. We can put the canned goods in a pillow case or one of boxes here."

She starts packing things up. "Well, they took my money last night. And I don't remember seeing anything odd, like alien ships shooting beams out of the sky. The person was a bit odd, but usually night shift people are a bit off." She eyes the bundles she's made. "So what else are we looking for in town?"

Wraecca replies, "Well if our money is good, that's something anyways. When did you wish to try the hypnosis bit?"

She thinks. "Let me get some coffee so at least I'll be alert. I think I'll need it. Plus, we should figure out what's wrong with this place before we do anything that puts you out." She looks around. "You want to come back here tonight?"

Wraecca nods, "It's been safe so far. Okay, let's cruise into town and see what the locals have."

Lillian nods, adjusting her baseball cap. "Alright." She revs up the moped and heads down the road. After a few miles, the woods dissipate, and a town starts to appear. A normal town, a small suburb. The houses look relatively well kept, and the people moving about look fairly normal... Although there's something odd about them. Maybe the way they move. It seems-- stiff.

They approach a gas station. Lillian slows. "Maybe they'll have coffee."

"Worth a shot", Wraecca replies. Getting off the moped, Lillian notices that his movements also seem stiff. In a neutral voice he says, "Mimicry is always best."

She nods. "My pantomime isn't as good. I'll stay here." She kicks the kickstand and sits. "I like mine black. Coffee, that is." She looks about less nervously, as she realizes there aren't any monsters about threatening her virtue.

Wraecca walks into the small food service store and proceeds to find the coffee. His eyes scanning for video surveillance cameras, as he pours the coffee and arranges the lids. A couple of what passes for Danishes he also picks up on his way to the register.

Wraecca notices the coffee seems strangely thick as he pours it. He grabs a Danish, but notices it seems rather... hard to the touch. He doesn't see any cameras as he moves, but notices the cashier watching him with passionless eyes.

Wraecca sets the cups of coffee and Danishes on the register counter and waits for the clerk to ring up the total. He notes the aura of the man behind the counter although he does not go so far as to try and match it. /Strange that the food and drink is as stiff as the people. There may be an environmental issue here. Or possibly the populace might be under a hostile control. Drugs maybe? In the food possibly?/

The man rings up the order, and Wraecca can swear he hears a whirring somewhere. He watches as the man's arm jerks suddenly. The man smacks it sharply, and the whirring noises stop.

Wraecca realizes the man's skin looks somewhat unnatural as he hands him his change. Looking at his face, he notices that it isn't passionless... but expressionless. Like a doll.

The smell of the coffee reaches his nostrils, and it doesn't smell like something Lillian is going to care to drink. It smells like something Wraecca drank back at the cottage...

OH HELL!/ Keeping his face as neutral as he can, he sets some money on the counter and awaits the attendant to make change.

The attendant drops the change in Wraecca's hand, and he notices the man's jerks and awkwardness now more clearly. If Wraecca has let anything slip, the attendant doesn't note it.

Exiting the market with coffee and Danishes Wraecca makes his way to Lillian. As he arrives he says, "Don't bother eating or drinking any of this. It's motor oil, and...I'm not certain what the Danishes are but you would regret trying them."

She looks at his purchases and curses. "So there's nothing to eat here?" Her gaze grows serious. "Where are we? Why do they have motor oil in coffee pots? I think we'd better start getting a handle on those powers of yours. We might have to get out of this place if the only alternative is starving."

Wraecca seats himself on the Moped. "As far as I can determine the people we see moving stiffly are robots. That begs several questions but I think we should head back to the shack we had stayed in previously. These robots don't seem too threatening. If our danger is starvation we have some time to explore my grey matter with your hypnosis."

She nods and revs up the engine. They drive off, and the plastic people take little note.

They drive up to the cabin, and Wraecca feel a surge of relief that it's still there. His life had been so uncertain for so long, that small favours like that from the universe went far.

As they enter, Lillian tears off her baseball cap and plumps up the pillows in the couch as much as she can. "Sit," she says. "I'm going to need you to relax-- you're going to be partially aware of what's going on, but I'm going to need you to sort of-- give in to suggestion." She paces. "Now we need a focal point-- something for you to concentrate on..."

The Soulgem appears in Wraecca's hand, "How bout this?"

She pauses, considering it. "That's a very good idea." She motions for him to lie down on the couch. She sits on the floor. "Do what ever you have to, to get comfortable."

Following her advice Wraecca lays back on the couch. The Soulgem held between his hands. "Okay doc. Ready as I'll ever be."

She touches his forehead. "Okay, close your eyes... I need you to relax... just concentrate on your breathing and the sound of my voice..." As she continues, her voice goes to the back of his mind. He feels himself falling...

He is in the church. A child again. There is a pattern on the floor.

The smell of cordite and burnt wood assails his nostrils. Dirty finger nails. Half delirious from hunger. Playing games amongst the rubble. He spies the mosaic tile worked into the floor of the church. It's composed of odd spirals, and darkness. Some of the tiles lay broken. Yet the whole of it glitters. Each tile like something from the hopscotch games he loves to play...

The pattern--- it seems to be everywhere here. A motif here, a painting there-- why was it so popular?

A woman stands before him... Dirty blonde hair, a scared look on her face. "Wraecca-- we have to go." She opens her arms to him.

"No!", the little boy pips. "I'm not done playing!" He leaps to the first tile and then to the second. /This is the biggest game of hopscotch ever!/ he thinks smugly. The third leap takes him over a fractured crack. Looking down it flows into a spiralling darkness like water down a sewer grate. The blackness caressing him like fingers of deep violet electricity. The world turns into a photo negative before his eyes. His tiny foot sets down on another bit of mosaic, dangerously close to pieces of fractured tiles that now seem to yawn into infernal gulfs of blackness.

/Step on a crack, break you mother's back!/

Fear courses through the young child as he loses his balance. He leaps again, this time across a double break that widens to deep canyons that fall forever. The church is gone, the shadows run wild in a kaleidoscopic merry-go-round. Where are the tiles? Another leap to a oasis surrounded by pandemonium. The violet static surround him, arcing inward through flesh and bone. A last leap of stark terror, half on, half off the remaining burning tile. Sliding along the impossibly black line the smell of cordite fades. Little feet running in terror from the insane game. The church's corridor fading to snow. "Mother!"

Wraecca writhes in his state of semi-consciousness. He knows something's not right-- he's missing something...

Lillian calls to him over the void-- he pulls himself back to reality, tears staining his face, the stone clutched in his hand so tightly he fears it may crack...

She looks at him, worry on her face. "Are you okay? You started to..." she looks down at his body, and he can see where he had started to grow scales and claws. "What do you remember?" she asks, and before she gets to words out, he knows the one true thing he pulled from the experience.

He knows what the pattern looks like.

Shaking himself, Wraecca stands. His eyes shine in a strange intensity. "I saw it Lillian! The pattern on the church floor. It represents..." words fail him momentarily, "Reality maybe. Only it's broken! There are cracks in it. They extend outward and forever. We must have followed along one when we jumped from your reality to here. I know approximately where I...felt the transition. We need to go back. I need to see if I can find the flaw."

She sits back apprehensively. "Okay... " She gnaws on her lip, but then goes to her pack and takes out a pad of paper. "Draw it."

His first attempt is botched in his excitement not realizing he has claws. A moment's concentration and the claws melt into less cumbersome fingernails.

With Deft strokes the shape of the pattern begins to emerge. What Wraecca lacks in technique he seems to make up for in attention to detail and an innate sense of proportion.

As he stared at it, he feels several emotions rush through his body. Excitement, kinship.... terror. The connection seems to go further than anything he's known, even the Soulstone.

Lillian picks up the picture, scrutinizing it. "Interesting. But it doesn't look like it's complete... I wonder what these are...?" she touches the breaks, and Wraecca feels a moment of agony wash over him, even though touching the paper seems to have no effect on her.

Wraecca shudders, "Whatever it represents, I seem to be sensitive to the breaks in this pattern. Even your finger tracing the breaks in a picture of them is agony to me."

She looks surprised and paces. "Interesting... the breaks must mean something-- tell me, the vision you had. What was it like? Tell me what happened-- I got pieces of it, but then you started shifting and that sort of broke the dialogue..."

Wraecca explains in a shaky voice what he can recall and adds, "It's mostly feelings of terror and power, so much unreality was happening that the visual stuff seems disjointed. I was very young when this happened, I might have interpreted much of what I experienced."

She nods. "Or you may be taking an unpleasant memory and switching it with something pleasant-- like hopscotch." She taps her lip with her finger. "The woman bothers me-- asking you to go. And you guys being in a church-- I wish I knew more about the first place you came from..." She looks at the drawing. "You said that the missing parts bother you. What about the parts that are there?"

"Fine I guess. It's quite beautiful when looking at it as a whole." He sighs, "Are we making progress?"

She looks at him and crosses her arms. "Getting discouraged?" She sits next to him on the couch and rubs his back. "We are making progress-- this isn't an ideal situation to work under, but now that I know more about your history-- well, the stuff you never told me about during months of therapy." She playfully pokes him in the ribs. "Now we've got some sort of-- icon that may be attached to your powers-- if we can control these powers, we may, just may, have a chance to find something great-- or at least a place with food."

She gives him a quick half-hug. "Now, I think I have an idea what to do next."

Wraecca tosses her a half-hearted grin. "Thanks for the encouragement. You certainly are great to have around. And I'm willing to try anything if it can give us some measure of control."

She nods. "Tell me... every time you- shift, is there something you're usually thinking of? Perhaps dreaming of?"

"No, I-", Wraecca swallows as a realization occurs to him. "I sometimes shift when I'm on the run. Trying to get away. Like the night before last. I felt we were being followed. In danger and then the sense of dislocation occurred and we shifted. That and the road we travelled on, so much like the a piece of the pattern."

She thinks. "So when you're running, you're usually in danger. That means you're probably thinking about trouble, or potential harm-- Do you think that might be a part of the reason why you keep ending up in places that are dangerous?"

Wraecca smiles grimly, "Could be. Running from one fear to another. There's something else you should know though Doc."

As Wraecca stretches, Lillian can see muscles rippling along his flanks.

"I think that some of my shape-shifting when I was younger modified my brain chemistry permanently. I've learned since to never tinker with that organ, but when I was a child I know I shifted into a wolf. I was that way for a very long time. Not a human in a wolf's body, but the complete package. I ran with the pack. I've since been other things, mostly predators of one sort or another."

His voice drops an octave and he sounds almost hungry, though there is a look of apprehension in his eyes. "There's a taste for blood so sweet, flesh through claws, the excitement of the hunt, feeling your prey's fear. I don't think I'm completely human anymore. My soulgem. It helps me, sometimes shows me right from wrong, good from evil."

Lillian looks more than a little nervous and moves away a bit. "Am I-- in danger?" She shudders. "Is that why you were in the war? Killing? The... blood?" She looks at him. "And what is the soulgem telling you now?"

Seeing Lillian's fear, Wraecca sits on the bed. His face lost of it's animation at previous thoughts of blood.

"It's a fight or flight reaction Lillian. If the threat is too great I run. But that doesn't happen often. I'm very, very good at fighting. The soulgem showed me a different way though. That's why I was able to integrate into your society rather then running amok on the battlefield as a loose cannon."

"You think I was worried about the military coming after me in your world? They would have suffered greatly. But then you too might have become a casualty in the conflict and that I cannot afford. You mean so much to me. I've bounced between dimensions always running

and fighting for years I can't count. No friends, just threats or the temporary absence of threats. I need you even if I'm not human. It's easy enough to mimic other people, but what is it really like to be human? You can show me that."

She is silent for many, many moments. "I don't know," she finally says. "I've seen humans do some pretty awful things-- And I've seen some sick, sick humans. I did some work at a sanatorium and... well, I prefer the military. I thought you were human enough when I met you. So either you are very good at faking it, or there is quite a bit of human left over."

She gets up and looks out a window. "There's nothing wrong with being unique. A killer instinct has allowed you to survive and not walk away with the horror I've seen in others. Perhaps it's best you had this... beast in you."

Her voice grows quiet. "Thank you... for saying you care. For having some faith in me. I'll try to live up to it."

Wraecca ventures a small grin, "I hope I'm not too challenging a patient for you."

She smiles ironically. "No, my patients prance about various realities and shapeshift _all_ the time. This? Those robots out there? Nothing." She chuckles a bit and her mood lightens a bit

(which happens when one realizes they are no longer in danger of being eaten alive by their patient).

"Speaking of robots, we really should get out of here. Maybe we should concentrate on the pattern you drew more. I want to send you back under, but this time think of the pattern. Think you can handle it?"

"Yeah, I can handle it." Wraecca leans back and the soulgem once again rises into view. "Don't let me run wild if you can manage it. I think the pattern is a dangerous place, even in my memories."

She nods.

Once again, she talks to him in low, soothing tones, sending him down the dark path of memory... he thinks of the pattern, glowing in front of him...

And he sees it, glowing, but on the floor. The floor of the church's basement. The woman from before holds him, and trembles. People scream about him, and he hears jeers of 'witch' and 'devil' around him. The push his mother, and she is forced to step on the glowing thing in the floor.

A rush of power surges through him, and he screams, both in the vision and in the cottage. A pair of hands shake him, and bring him back...

Wraecca eyes blaze as he bolts upright with chest heaving. "ISAWIT!THEYPUSHEDHERINTOTHEPATTERN!"

Whirling to face Lillian, "My own mother. There were people all around in the church and they called her a witch!" His voice falls to a whisper, "They pushed her."

Lillian looks at him in stunned silence. "Oh Wraecca... you mean that thing... is real?" She sits back. "Maybe we should stop for the day." She rubs his shoulders, trying to calm him. "You're getting upset."

In the same whisper he replies, "No. We must need see this thing through. If I am to understand, gain control of what this thing has done to me I need to go back. Without understanding, we may be confined to this land of machines for some time. Send me back."

She pauses, then nods, gently pushing him back down onto the couch. Her voice lulls him back, and he traces his way back to the surge of power...

He screams in his mother's arms, and her face contorts with effort, but they are alive... She walks, and he can feel the thing tearing them apart. She cries, but somehow she keeps going.

As they walk, the jeering townsfolk grow quiet. This was not supposed to happen.

She continues, hopeful now-- but Wraecca's mind burns with fear. The thing under him, it's tearing out all his fears, all his nightmares, and making them real. He can feel them, their reality, tearing him apart, chasing him down, tearing into his flesh...

His mother walks, and finally her circuit is done. Wraecca no longer screams, exhausted. She bows her head, breathing heavily, but they are alive.

They start screaming again, but instead of jeers, they scream in panic. His mother yells something at them, but Wraecca cannot hear. All he can think to do is to wish to be away from here...

And the world fades, and he stands in the middle of a city being bombed, alone. People run around, screaming, clutching the last of their belongings to their chests. And Wraecca feels the power of that pattern, burned into his soul.

Somewhere, Lillian calls to him.

With an effort of will, Wraecca follows Lillian's voice up through the layers of his mind. He emerges into his consciousness like a deep sea diver coming to the surface. His eyes open and he once again takes in his surroundings.

Lillian watches him nervously. "I'm not very good at this. I lost about half of what you said while you were out... You kept screaming about monsters, and I was half scared you were going to have a coronary. But you seemed to be getting somewhere...

"Then you got all quiet."

She puts her hand on his forehead. "Hot. How do you feel?"

Wraecca ignores the question bringing the broken pattern to his mind's eye and looking at the room as if for the first time.

"Very strange"

He sees the room in a new light, as, for the first time, the power wakes up to the call of his will, not his terror.

His view is like that of an overexposed piece of film-- he sees the soulstone, glaringly bright. The rest outlined in blue with streaks of black.

Lillian stares at him, mostly blue, but with a faint aura of darkness about her chest, centring around a weakness in her heart.

"Wraecca? What's strange?"

"I'm am conscious but I've brought it back with me. I can see through it now. I see flaws and I see-" His eyes rivet to her chest, "There is a flaw in your heart."

Her hand moves unconsciously to her heart. "But... the military. They checked me out. I'm perfectly healthy..." She looks away briefly, then changes the subject. "What else do you see?"

"Something like viewing a photo negative. Things are reversed but very clear."

She thinks. "Why don't you try to do something? Like... make this place different somehow? Use the power?"

Wraecca nods, "Okay, but stay close to me. I don't want to wander off and find you gone."

With that he stands and lets his intuition guide him....

She takes his arm, and he walks, thinking of the Church, and the vividness of the memory.

He feels himself being pulled, and Lillian along with him. The road shifts slightly, and he's amazed as the forest slowly melts away from around him, and the colour of the dirt goes from a moist brown to a red clay.

He notices the trees (or what was once trees) are charred and broken, but some seem to be recovering. Sprouts of green every now and then...

A low growl comes from behind them.

Dropping the image of the pattern in his mind, Wraecca whirls fast and low. His arms go wide and with fingers outstretched as he feels the surge of adrenalin hit him.

The beast is a wolf, but not like one he's ever seen or known. Its paws are long, almost finger like, and teeth overly sharp and cruel. It glares out from a while mane of fur, and growls, eyeing Lillian and Wraecca...

Lillian dives behind a tree with a yell, just as the thing decides to lunge.

The soulstone throbs like mad.

With insane speed Wraecca leaps at the beast with an answering scream of savage rage. His features begin to flow like hot wax and Lillian can see that whatever it is that Wraecca is becoming, it looks to combine the worst attributes of a praying mantis, sabre-tooth tiger, and velociraptor.

Wraecca feels the pain of bones and muscle contorting, but the fire in his blood helps keep him focused. His teeth grow long and sharp, crowding his jaw. His hands lengthen and distort into a pair of scissor like claws. His skin hardens as he loses hair and gains scales...

The beast is momentarily taken aback by his shift, and Wraecca notes some intelligence in its eyes. It takes a defensive stance, baring its teeth.

They meet.

Wraecca pulls back the initial intensity of the attack, seeing he has the beast's attention, and looks for an opening. He flanks, and while the beast moves to defend, Wraecca finds he is still faster. He strafes, attacking and moving, not letting the wolf get a solid stance.

Finally, the wolf begins to tire, bleeding from numerous cuts, panting from having to constantly change position. Wraecca takes a chance and lunges, biting the creature in the neck while ripping its soft underside with his claws.

A horrible howl, almost wolf, almost man, and the thing goes limp. The battle is over.

From behind her tree, Lillian whimpers, then hearing silence, braves a look at the blood scene. From the look on her face, Wraecca knows she wishes she hadn't.

With a final shake of Wraecca's head he snaps the neck of the wolf's limp form. Releasing his jaws from dead beast he steps back and almost immediately begins to shift back to his original form. A wisp of steam rises from his body from the intensity of the metabolic process that he undergoes. In his original form he doesn't look much better. He's covered in blood and panting. Worst of all is the rictus grin on his face as he looks at the wolf.

He wipes the blood off his face, boots, and hands as best he can. When he feels somewhat presentable he turns to face Lillian. Most of the savagery now gone. Acting as if he's just finished his morning jog he says, "I think I'll sleep well tonight."

Lillian shakes, the adrenaline that makes him strong, only making her nervous. "Speak for yourself." She looks around. "It- it worked. I'm sure of it. This can't be where we were..." She pauses for several heartbeats. "Odd. I don't know why, but I thought using the power would be more, oh, dramatic. Like a sci-fi movie that went heavy on the special effects." She takes Wraecca's arm again, a bit tighter than before, and he can't tell whether or not it's his imagination that he hears her heart race.

"Where are we going?"

Wraecca smiles, "Weíre going to where my sins can be forgiven. Weíre going to church."

Lillian tightens her grip. "You're talking about the place with the pattern, aren't you? The place you were screaming about. Where they pushed your mother..." Her breathing becomes rapid, and her eyes scan the charred remains of wildlife around her.

Wraecca notes, a familiar tree, and a memory whispers in his mind... Summer days playing, laughing, on fields that used to be green and alive. A taste of a lost innocence...

Wraecca nods, "Yes, but she made it through the Pattern. I followed her but I was so frightened I somehow told it to send me away. If my mother remains alive I think she would have contrived to leave me a message in that church. It was the last place we were together."

The patterns image again appears before Wraecca's eyes. Taking Lillian's hand he begins to walk towards the last memory of his mother in the church.

The tree... a few other familiar things. The dry bed of a lake that whispers to him of summers gone by. But something is wrong... this place is bereft of life, of activity...

They walk on, and he realizes they are no longer shifting. He knows the way to town. He knows that he was born and raised there, and for the most part, he had been happy.

But he also remembers he and his mother walking along the town streets, jeers trailing after them. The children becoming more and more distant from him. The worry on his mother's face distorting her normally unalterable beauty.

They come up to a rise, and he knows he will see the town that caused him so much grief, so much pain. Unknowable decades of angst.

The top it, and Wraecca's heart drops.

All he sees are ruins.

Wraecca remains silent for a time as he stands at the top of the hill. His eyes silently scan the wrecked houses. "I was raised here. Obviously something happened. Let's see if we can find out what happened, and maybe some clues as to what to do next."

Wraecca heads down the hill into town.

Lillian nods mutely and follows.

He can tell that whatever happened, it happened not too long ago, perhaps a few months. Every now and then he sees a skeletal hand or foot poking out of the rubble. Noting a few craters and the burn patterns, he guesses this place was bombed.

As he nears the centre of the town, he sees where the church used to be, a few razed timbers and part of a roof still up.

Wraecca points out the ruined building to Lillian, "There, that was the church. We should go down and see what we can find."

Looking Lillian up and down he asks, "How are you holding up?"

She looks around. "Seeing as how we're not being attacked by zombies or robots or anything, I'm doing remarkable. Thanks for asking." She starts towards the church. "What are we looking for?"

He notes as they get a bit closer that he can see the pattern in his mind still burned into a few of the mosaic tiles, as if it were some kind of religious icon.

Wraecca shrugs and continues towards the ruins, "I'm not certain really. Maybe my mother left me a message. Maybe there these ruins will jar additional memories from me. Who knows? But this is where it all started. So maybe understanding my past will hold a key to my future."

She nods, and they start to dig.

The floor is relatively free of small debris, most likely carried away by wind and time. Wraecca easily lifts a few fallen timbers while Lillian searches the uncovered areas and keeps an eye out for anything the least bit mobile.

As Wraecca works, he remembers days when the church stood proud and tall in the middle of the village. Its tiles gleamed, and the bishop stood at its head, speaking once a week of the touch of god upon the earth, and their blessed village.

Somehow, he recalls that this was in the times before 'the troubles.'

After an hour, he uncovers a door in the floor. One might call it a trapdoor, but with its gilding and carving, he couldn't help but think that whoever it was that put it there wanted it to be noticed.

Wraecca calls Lillian over and opens the trap door.

She joins him as he heaves the door up.

He sees stairs leading down into darkness, faintly highlighted by a blue light. An almost electric air emits from below, and the hair on Wraecca's neck stands up as he remembers a crowd of screaming villagers crowding he and his mother down these stairs...

Lillian's voice is barely a whisper. "Is that it?"

"If it isn't, is a hell of a fake," Wraecca whispers back.

Holding his memories and fear at bay he descends the stairs.

As he walks out of the light of day and into the supernatural light below, he can almost hear the jeers of the villagers, smell their sweat and hate and fear.

Lillian whispers from behind him, "Wraecca, calm down. You're shifting."

At the bottom, he sees it. Twisting and curving on the floor, a blue river searing the darkness. The line isn't complete, however; he notes several flaws, places where the line blurs or cracks.

At his approach, it flares, and the soulstone grows warm.

Staring at his hands he forces his body once again under control. He whispers his thanks to Lillian and begins to search the room. "I probably don't need to mention this to you but stepping on the pattern carries some danger."

She nods. "It doesn't look all that friendly."

He searches, Lillian right behind him. He finds bones, scattered in huddled masses in corners. Some paintings, some carvings. His frustration mounts until he finds a book, buried under some fallen ceiling timbers.

The cover is leather, and still in somewhat good shape. It's not a thick book, but obviously important, judging by the gold leafed edges and careful binding. All of these details, however, scurry to the back of his mind as he looks at the cover.

Burned into the leather is a portrait of his mother.

With shaking hands Wraecca picks up the book. Pointing to the portrait Wraecca whispers to Lillian "My mother I think". He opens the book and leafs through the pages. Totally absorbed in his search for his past.

The book appears to be a somewhat religious retelling of a miracle, sometime in the past. The writing is overly flowery and convoluted, but he can pick up on the basic story.

A woman, the Risen, had been taken by the lord of the land as a lover. While not the most respectable of positions, his affection guaranteed her some amount of respect. She stayed with him many years, and the townsfolk waited for her to grow old and fall into disfavour, as all concubines do. But her face never withered, her beauty never stained. Eventually, the whispers of her being a witch started circulating.

She bore the man a son, a shameless thing, since most unmarried women took the seeds of the cestus flower to ensure they remained barren. She bore her child proudly, pushing for the duke to make him his heir, since his actually wife had only born him daughters.

This act was too much for the jealous wife, and she stirred up the paranoia about the ageless lover.

One night, it exploded. The woman and her child were pushed on the holy relic of the town's church, something referred to as the touch of god. All others who had in the past been subjected to it had been swallowed up in a horrible storm that rose out of the centre, sucking them into hell. But this woman, the harlot, walked it, clutching her son. At the end, no storm rose, and her son disappeared, and after cursing the village, so did she.

Lillian leans against Wraecca, reading along with him. "It's true," she whispers. "But where did she go?"

Wraecca looks up from the book to stare across the pattern. His eyes reviewing the curves, and lines, and flaws. "When we walk the pattern to the centre, we can transport ourselves somewhere else. I wanted to get away, and so I did. I wonder if I could transport myself to where she now resides?" Turning to Lillian he asks simply, "What do you think?"

She looks at him for a long moment. "What do you mean, we? You have all these abilities I don't have, and it sounds like your mom was special too. I'm not. What if it kills me?"

Wraecca nods, "Yeah, the success rate for people attempting it doesn't look so good according to this book."

Bringing the broken pattern to mind he stares at Lillian. Internally, he asks the soulgem as to the chances of Lillian essaying the mosaic.

The gem flares, and he sees a nimbus appear around her. He gets a vision of carrying her, blue sparks flying from his heels... but of her still alive. He sees him holding her at the middle of the pattern.

Wraecca smiles. "Okay, my guardian angel thinks I can carry you across if your game for it. There will be a lot of blue sparks flying but and a sense of power like mild electric current but beyond that it should be okay."

Lillian's eyes grow round, and Wraecca watches through his empowered eyes as the imperfection on her heart grows. "What... what will you do if I say no? You won't leave me, will you?"

In answer Wraecca slowly raises his hand and places his palm on her chest. "No...never that. I would stay as long as you would have me."

Closing his eyes he pictures the flaw on her heart, focusing his awareness on this patch of darkness, the beating of her heart, the rhythm of life. "Is it metaphorical or real I wonder?"

He follows the darkness, and tries to focus on its centre. Not finding it in the body, he touches it with his mind.

For a moment, he touches her fear, her self-doubt-- even the questioning of her own sanity. Everything that he had guessed long ago that had kept her down.

He tastes the darkness, and recognizes the feeling. It is like the darkness within him- the darkness from the pattern...

She shifts uncomfortably, confused but unquestioning. After a moment, she breaks in. "If we don't go on the pattern... where will we go? What will we do?"

Dropping his hand to his side he says, "Do? Well...I guess I could attempt to negotiate the pattern and if I find my mother come back for you. I don't like that idea. I have no idea how long I would be gone. We could try and find her by crossing dimensions on foot. After all, I found this place merely by keeping the church in my mind. Maybe if I kept my motherís image in my skull we could walk to her. Or if you've had too much of this craziness I could always try and take you back to the world you know. I should be able to accomplish it now. You've cured the patient, I think. Though getting yourself settled back in any life you've previously known would be difficult. Your skill in hypnotherapy has given us many options."

 

She is silent for a long time. She watches the pattern for a time, then speaks. "If we walk... we may hit more things like that wolf. It could be worse next time, too. Going back isn't an option for me-- I didn't really have anything anyway. Except my moped, and we left that. I couldn't go back. I don't want to stay here. And if you leave and have another breakdown, I'll be stuck, and you'll have to go through the mess all over again." She squeezes his hand. "Let's go," she whispers.

Wraecca nods and picks her up. "Whatever happens. Don't let go of me." Recalling how he had followed his mother the first time, Wraecca finds the entrance of the maze and sets his foot down upon the design. Then another....

The terror, the pain... it isn't as bad this time. Memories flood him as he makes his way across the blue line...

Young and innocent, a privileged child to an envied mother. Countless summer days when he was still too young for menial tasks, and could spend the days running the fields...

A patch of darkness approaches, and somehow he remembers that those parts are the worst parts.

He steps by the broken section, and Lillian screams. He only hears it distantly, however, as he is flooded with memories of the night he first traversed this thing. Grimy hands pushing, hot stinking breath in his face as they cursed him. He clenches his teeth and shoves the memory away, concentrating on walking.

The years he lost flood back to him. All the bombings, the running, the terror. He wonders absently what Lillian remembers, writhing in his arms.

After what seems to be a century, he kneels at the patternís centre, still holding Lillian. She cries and clutches to him. "Never again."

Wraecca holds her tight and whispers, "Never again. It's over. Life goes on. Flowers still grow and the sun still shines."

Wraecca waits through the moments whispering to Lillian of better times and happier images. When he feels she is more relaxed he calls to the pattern to send him to...he focuses on the image of his mother.

Eventually her sobs quiet, and Wraecca is able to think of his mother -- The last time the pattern sent him off, he remembered it being instantaneous -- this time, however, he has a brief flash as the soulstone flares within him, and he gets a vision... a vision of his pattern in front of him, and a line of patterns behind it, all slightly different, each one slightly less flawed than the last...

And he is standing in a small bedroom, still holding Lillian. A dim light floods through a window from street lamps and neon signs. Horns and sirens sound.

He looks down, and sees a woman asleep on a bed. She turns restlessly in the neon moonlight, and he can see her face.

Mother.

Setting Lillian on her feet he stares at into her eyes in wordless query that she is alright.

She nods slowly and steps behind him, casting a questioning look at the sleeping woman.

Turning to the sleeping form of his mother he studies her silently for a moment before clearing his throat.

He watches her as she dreams-- her hair is shorter than he remembered, an almost boyishly short cut. It's still blonde, though, just short of white. Her face is still beautiful, but somewhat tired and perhaps a bit more aged.

He clears his throat and her eyes snap open. "What the--?!" She jumps up before Wraecca can react and slams a fist in his chest, sending him and Lillian spilling backwards.

Wraecca flows with the punch and tumbles backwards once, twice, in an attempt to put distance between himself and the now enraged lady. Coming up on the balls of his feet he operates in a completely defensive fashion shouting, "Peace, I surrender!"

 

As the words come out of his mouth, he's glad he didn't decided not to try to hit back. The woman stands there in a long man's t-shirt, breathing hard, holding a massive handgun levelled as his head.

"Damn right you do! Who are you?"

 

Wraecca says, "I call myself Wraecca. Though this may not mean much to you. I once called you mother though likewise I don't know your name."

She tenses as he says his names, and he sees her finger tighten on the trigger. "My son is dead. I don't know how you know his name, but I know one thing. You aren't him."

On the floor, Lillian whimpers. "Show her, Wraecca."

Wraecca looks down the barrel of the gun.

/If I start shapechanging this gal is going to air-condition my skull. Not that it would matter, I don't even know what I'm supposed to look like!/

"We walked the design in the church. They pushed you and I followed. When we finished I disappeared and if you don't make that gun disappear were all going to be sorry."

She stands her ground for a moment, but finally eases up on the trigger and pulls back.

"But you-- my son had blonde hair. And your nose is wrong-- and its been so long..." Lillian tenuously gets up from the floor.

"We're completely unarmed," she whispers, "You have every advantage with a gun. So why don't we sit somewhere and talk, okay? He has a long story, and I'm sure you do too..." The woman looks at Lillian carefully.

"And who are you?"

"His... friend."

Glancing over at Lillian Wraecca states, "Lillian was instrumental in regaining many of my memories. Without her I would still be bouncing from one hell world to another. And youíre correct, I don't look anything like what you remember. I'm a shapechanger. I don't even remember what it is I'm supposed to look like."

Lillian touches his shoulder softly. "We'll work on that."

The woman lowers the gun. "Is that what it was like for you? Hell?" She leans down an puts it back under the pillow. Wraecca can see her arms and legs in the dim, blinking light, and notes their tone and strength.

"Wasn't much different for me... And what do you mean by shapechanger?"

Wraecca smiles a grim smile, "Sure it was hell, nothing but war, famine, disease, and such. But I got good at adapting to it. Came to enjoy a lot of it actually. I learned to flow with my environments. Thatís where the shapechanging came into play. I'm a polymorpher. My physical form is whatever I wish it to be."

Lillian looks at him. "Yeah, and he loves giving demonstrations."

Wraecca folds his arms and arches an eyebrow at Lillian, "As I recall, you didn't like my last demonstration with the wolf."

The woman shakes her head and motions them into the adjacent room, a sparsely furnished living room-- sparsely meaning the only decorations seem to be old magazines lying about.

She collapses on the couch. "I'm still having a hard time swallowing this, but it's-" She looks at a clock. "4 am, so you'll have to excuse me." She pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. After a few puffs, she leans her head back and looks at the ceiling. "I just can't connect the two-- you and my son-- I'm sorry."

"I was a bit younger when we last were together." Wraecca tosses the book he found in the church to the woman on the bed. "Something I found at the church. Didn't look like a standard religious text."

As he chats his hair becomes blonde.

She opens the book and reads it. Lillian takes a place on the floor, her back against the wall.

"The Risen," the woman says finally. "Figured they'd make me some sort of religious figure after all the crap they put me through -- and you." She sighs, looks at the book one last time, then hurls it across the room, leaving a sizable hole in the drywall.

"You know, I was fairly happy there. Had a lover, had a child, had a nice place to live... I got stupid, though. I stayed too long."

Pacing the room Wraecca says, "Yes, I'm sure it was a story book affair. But whatever mother-son relationship we had was terminated at the church. Since youíre unable to view me as your son perhaps a distant relative would suffice. A relative who requires some degree of guidance and whom you might be able to provide answers. Lillian and I are lost. Finding you we hoped would shed light on the mysteries of my origins and the reason why I am who I am."

She sighs. "I'm sorry this isn't some tearful made-for-tv reunion...

You died so long ago for me. It's been at least 200 years, and to come in now and say..." She shakes her head, and takes another puff of her cigarette.

"You smoke?" She holds out the pack. "By the way, you can call me Clarice."

"200 HUNDRED YEARS?", Wraecca sputters. The offer of cigarettes obviously not even recognized.

"I knew I had large gaps in my memory, and telling time was rarely a concern for me but...W-what are we?"

She looks at him for a long time, then gets up and produces a bottle of something from a cabinet. She pours a glass of something strong smelling and gives it to him. Sitting down, "You're going to need it."

"I'm approaching my millennial year. Hell, I may have passed it already, who knows. I only kept count the first few hundred or so.

"I was born in the same world you were. Happy kid, happy, well-to-do merchant home. I never would have dreamed that anything was wrong with me. I was a bit slower than the other kids, but being a girl and a middle child in a crew of eight, no one really noticed. I made up for it later by being stronger and faster than anyone else around. Even smarter after a while.

"I was about thirty or so when I realized I didn't feel right. I wasn't aging like other people. I thought maybe it was good genes or something, but it went deeper. I wasn't settling, like other people. Mentally, I just didn't feel like I was heading towards the top of the hill-- I felt like I was still at the bottom.

"Anyway, I struck out, since I was getting restless. Took me another decade to realize my hunches were right. I wasn't aging. Hell, I wasn't even getting sick. And I just kept getting better and better at stuff. I never hit a plateau.

"Because the places I stayed were usually semi-religious, I had to up and move every ten years or so. So no husband, no kids, no long-term friends. A trade-off for not being burned at the stake.

"Then I found the village where I met your father. Just like the book says, he was an uppity-up of the land. They called me a concubine, but to tell you the truth he stayed at my apartments more than his own house."

She pauses and takes a long draw off of her cigarette.

"I loved him. I really did. I wanted so badly just to end the masquerade and finally have a life with someone. His wife felt different though. Called me a witch. Hell, if anyone was a witch, it was her.

"They pushed me on that damn design of theirs, a usual punishment for heretics of the highest order." Here, she smiles a bit wickedly. "And I walked it. So either I was so evil they couldn't deal with me, or I was a saint. Truthfully, I don't think I'm either, but I'm glad it put them in a tizzy.

"I didn't notice you were gone at first... I was half-mad when I stepped off. But when I looked over, you weren't there, so I assumed the thing had eaten you. I screamed a curse at them, and wished to be far away... And I was.

"Took me a while, but I learned how to use it. It's dangerous, since if you do it while in a bad mood, or are scared, you almost always get thrown into something horrible. But if you can keep the dark out of your mind, it isn't bad."

She finishes her cigarette and lights another. "So, what's your story?"

Looking over at Lillian, Wraecca says, "Looks like you were right about that mood thing."

Turning back to Clarice he shrugs. "I was 5 I think when we did the pattern. I was terrified at the ordeal and wished myself away only to be chased down by wolves. Before they had me for dinner though I had changed into one of them. I'm not certain how long I was with the pack. I know many wolves were born and died before a hunter put a round through me. When he approached I took his form as I took his life. That shapeshift brought me back to a more human way of thinking. Since then I try not to tinker with what's upstairs.

I hadn't learned much from the pattern walking experience about how to control the travelling we do. Basically it just happened when it happened. I was young, frightened, and very angry. The places I sojourned became progressively more nightmarish. But I was also learning more and more how to adapt to hostile environments. I would take wounds often enough but I could mend them easily enough just by polymorphing the wound or creating new organs as necessary.

Things came to a head when I was chased by creatures straight out of the mind of Dante's Inferno. Demons I think, leather wings, claws, fangs and all the other accessories. I remember falling down a dark well all shot through with stars. I managed to grab one in my descent.

When I awoke I still had it in my hand. I think I awoke in a garbage dumpster in the bad part of town in the major city of your choice. Since then it's been a part of me. It's sentient in some way and has been my principle uh...what the hell would you call it? Spirit guide, or guidance counsellor. It took the edge off much of my savagery and I worked harder towards adapting and blending into my surroundings then actively fighting them.

Sometime after that I was staying on in a shadow that was involved in some sorta World War. I replaced a dead soldier on the battlefield and worked my way into the culture there. I mostly fitted in well. Lillian was assigned my case. I'm not certain what I was classified with. Some sorta psychological issues. She's a psychologist or psychiatrist by the way. As she was the only person who honestly was concerned for my welfare, I stuck around.

In a nutshell she helped me regain enough of my memories through hypnotherapy sessions that I could return to that damned church and walk the pattern again. After that I had it transport us to your location where we are now talking.

I think that covers the last 200 years."

 

She listens without interrupting, quietly listening and smoking. Lillian moves to Wraecca's side, laying a hand on his shoulder, a gesture of comfort in the retelling.

After he finishes, she exhales tiredly. "I'm sorry I didn't have any more answers for you. I've been looking around most of my life, but I keep getting distracted by this stupid survival instinct. Even went back and studied that artefact of theirs, but I get the feeling they wrapped it up their ignorance in a bunch of religious mumbo-jumbo."

She looks at his new hair colour, as if just seeing it. "Nice. Your hair was lighter, though."

Lillian speaks up, her voice quiet, as if she'd almost rather not be talking. "What happened to Wraecca's father? Did you see him when you went back?"

Clarice shakes her head, lighting another cigarette. "Saw his grave. Lived a long time. Buried next to his wife."

 

Wraecca chuckles, "Well you won't have to worry bout the natives in that area. The place looks like it was bombed maybe a half year ago. It's deserted and lifeless now."

With a brief hesitation Wraecca plunges on, "There was one thing I can add. It was like a retinal burn vision when I walked the pattern the second time. I saw a countless infinity of patterns. I think each was somehow different, yet all looked the same, more or less." He shakes is head. "I'm not sure what it means, and yet it feels important."

Clarice sits and thinks, drumming her fingers on her chin. "I don't know... could mean a lot of things. Could have been something left over from the walk, or an effect from that stone of yours. I've been around a long time, but I try not to shift too much-- just find a place and try to figure a way to make it habitable. Even when you're not running into wars and killer flesh eating robots, you still usually have to deal with an unruly populace or general discontent or poor living conditions. It's the break that follows us." She pauses for a moment, and looks at Lillian. "Even she has the break. Anything that might be important to us has it."

 

Looking somewhat troubled Wraecca says, "I'm not certain that's a blessing or a curse from the way you speak."

 

She laughs drily. "I'm not sure how it could be a blessing. I mean, we do get the chance to move round when we want, but I've always run into so much trouble when I did I tried to make a world last for a while. The one in her... I can't tell what it is, but I'm fairly certain you're going to have to cope with is as long as you know her."

Lillian curses. She gets up and takes a cigarette from Clarice's pack and lights it. "Something wrong?" asks Clarice, and Lillian responds with a nod.

"If the break follows you everywhere, then we're screwed. I was hoping for something -- I mean, this power you two have is big stuff -- crossing dimensions and all that. But now I find out that all the places we have to go are crap! It's like getting your first car and finding out all you have to go to are run-down theatres and gulags!"

She sucks at the cigarette angrily.

 

Wraecca nods grimly. "The first time I used the pattern I wanted to get away and so I did, the second time I asked it to send Lillian and I to you. What are it's limits for requesting where to be sent? Could we ask it to send us to a perfect world? A land without flaws?"

Clarice thinks for a moment. "I've used it twice. The first time I didn't have much control, but the second time I did. I asked for a nice tolerant town where I could live in peace... It worked for a while, but eventually the flaws showed up again. In a plague, or in a failed crop, or a lover. After a while the whole town was riddled with them, and, while it was still a tolerant town where I was accepted, it fell apart around my ears. Didn't even last 50 years."

She gets up from the couch and rubs her face. "I'm going back to bed. I'd been up for 5 days straight when you found me, and I'm still catching up. Couch folds out." She moves to her bedroom, but takes a moment before she leaves. She puts a hand on Wraecca's shoulder. "I'm glad you found your way here," she says quietly, then exits.

Lillian shakes her head after she leaves. "Only more questions.... How are you doing, Wraecca?"

Unfolding the bed, Wraecca says, "Well I hoped for better answers instead of confirming what I already knew. Though that age thing really threw me. But life is like that sometimes. I'll be alright."

Finished with preparing the bed, Wraecca slowly morphs into a large Timberwolf. Odd that a timberwolf can speak..."I'm going to get some shut eye as well tonight. I've got a lot of lactic acid accumulated." He circles twice and curls up beside the bed.

 

She bends down and pats him on the head, a tired but amused smile on her face. "Sleep well, Wraecca." Moving stiffly, she climbs into the fold out bed and collapses. A few minutes pass, and Wraecca can hear her breathing deepen and slow.

Wraecca sighs. /Dealís a deal. She wanted to see me as a wolf./ Somewhere he feels there must be a perfect world where they could live there life free from war and chaos. But how to find such a place continues to puzzle him. Eventually he nods off and dreams again of running with his long lost pack.

The morning dawns, and Wraecca awakens to a bleary looking Clarice gently tapping him awake.

"Okay, I am going to go back into my bedroom, and shut the door. When I come out, there's going to be a normal looking blonde guy sitting here? Deal?" She gets up and walks back into her bedroom, shutting the door as promised.

 

The timberwolf chuckles at her departure and shouts to the closing door, "Hey! I'm house broken. What's the big deal?"

Still chuckling he changes back into his human form from the other day. "Maybe I should have just changed into a blonde wolf? Nah, she may not get the joke."

 

She steps back out, and looks relieved that Wraecca is now human again. "You know I had enough problems convincing myself it wasn't a dream this morning, I didn't need things to become more surreal by gaining a _dog_ as a son." She falls down into a ratty patched armchair. "Any insights during the night?"

Wraecca shrugs, "Just speculations really. I'd like to talk to the guy that made the design in the church floor. If we could traverse it again maybe it could teleport us to it's manufacturer. What do you think?"

 

She purses her lips. "I don't know. What if it doesn't have a maker?

I mean, I've walked it and tried to study it, but there's not much to say. It glows. It's broken in some parts. And it's blue. There. The extent of my knowledge." She throws her hands up.

On the pullout bed, Lillian stirs, but doesn't awaken. Clarice studies her.

"Sound sleeper... can she fight?"

Wraecca shrugs, "She came from a war torn shadow. She was military or military affiliated. Probably has the standard training. Mentally she's very tough. I carried her over the pattern and she can still converse intelligently."

 

She pauses, looking at Lillian. "Odd... don't see any pattern on her. Wonder if it's possible not to stick..." She shrugs. "If you want we can try going back to the pattern and wishing ourselves somewhere -- maybe you'll have another vision." She looks around. "I wasn't that fond of this place anyway."

"We have other choices besides trying to find the creator of the pattern. That might be a very aggressive attempt. But we could try something that we've already proven works...After all, I found you. If all of us that walk this pattern are immortal, maybe you can find your mother or father if they are still alive. Basically climb up the family tree. Eventually someone should know something about all this don't you think?"

She thinks. "My mother and father both died of old age. Now, my mother, I'm certain, is actually my mother, since I knew people who witnessed my birth. Plus, all the other kids she had didn't seem special like me... So that leaves my father, doesn't it?" She sighs. "Always figured I was a bastard."

Wraecca tilts his head as he appraises Clarice, "Do you remember what your father looked like? I used my memory and your likeness engraved on the book you used as a projectile. I think even a distant remembrance would prove sufficient. Otherwise the attempt may prove far fetched."

She shakes her head. "Maybe you don't get my meaning. I was at my father's deathbed. I watched him die. Same with my mother. If I _know_ my mother and I have to be related, and I most likely get this odd genetics from someone since you have it, the only person left to give it to me is my father."

She gets up and walks into a small kitchenette. While getting out a tin of coffee, she wonders, "I don't remember being all that specific when I was sent somewhere... what if I just asked for my biological father?"

 

Wraecca grimaces at Clarice's words, "It might be possible. I don't know. I might have just a good of chance asking the pattern to send me to my biological grandfather. I don't know if a rapport of some sort is required to affect this kind of teleportation. But if we don't at least try, we are doomed to live forever in the squalor."

Shaking his head Wraecca continues, "I don't know. Maybe this is normal. But I've read a history book or two in my travels to make me think that we always travel into the flaws of a dimension. Previous periods of history in many of these...places looked to be much better than whatever confronts us."

She smiles. "I'll give it a go. But don't go asking for your biological grandfather. You have two. I think ambiguity is a bad thing when dealing with other-worldly shit." She finishes making coffee, and stands in the kitchenette, watching it percolate. "Wake up the girl, huh? We want to get out of town before the crips wake up."

Wraecca chuckles, "I imagine she's already awake."

Moving to where Lillian lays asleep (if she's asleep) Wraecca gives her a nudge, "Coffee's on."

As she awakens, Wraecca goes over to where the coffee is being brewed. "Lillian will want a cup of coffee if you can spare it, and if you have an extra hand cannon or two I would feel better if we were all armed."

 

Lillian stirs, then smiles up at Wraecca. "A human again? I was disappointed you didn't curl up at my feel like my old bulldog back home."

Wraecca smiles warmly at Lillian, "I did, but Clarice had an issue of discovering a Timber Wolf in the room. I changed back before you awoke."

Clarice comes out of the kitchen, carrying three mugs. "Guns are in the closet of my room. I may be short on answers, but I've got mucho ammo."

"Wonderful!" Ignoring the coffee, Wraecca opens the closet and busies himself inventorying the weapons to be found. His warm smile still fixed on his face as he sets the armaments in the middle of the room and reviews what he's found.

Clarice must have been to some pretty nasty shadows. An uzi, some huge hand guns that would probably shatter a bone or two in a smaller person's hand, a few smaller pistols, hunting knives, machetes... He chuckles as he thinks how some women keep _shoes_ in the bottom of their closet...

Back in the living room, Lillian drinks her coffee, talking quietly with Clarice. Clarice calls back, "From the amount of metal I hear clinking in there, I take it you're pleased?"

"I like your collection Clarice!" Wraecca answers back.

Wraecca strips and reassembles one of the larger calibre pistols. Seeing that the firearm is immaculate he reassembles and loads it. Placing it into a shoulder holster. He ensures a couple of spare magazines are loaded and does the same for the Uzi.

After several more minutes he comes back to where Lillian and Clarice are having coffee. He sets the Uzi with several extra magazines next to Lillian.

Taking the untouched cup of coffee he asks Clarice, "Any chance you have sugar?"

Clarice eyes his collection. "Sure, we have sugar... I'd pin you for someone who wants something more high-impact, though." She gets up and opens a cabinet, taking out a Tupperware container. She hands it to him.

Wraecca pours the somewhat cooled coffee into the Tupperware container, after mixing it a bit he ventures a sip. "Ahhh..."

Lillian eyes the uzi warily. "Um.... Wraecca? I'd hate to tell you this, but I'm more likely to shoot myself in the foot than anyone else with that thing..." She nudges it away from her with her foot.

Relishing his coffee, "Are you familiar with any kind of firearm? I would feel better if you had something in the way of protection in case we run into something bad. Clarice has quite an assortment in the other room."

Clarice watches with a mixture of wonder and horror as Wraecca downs his brownish syrup. "We like it sweet?" She gets up and goes to her room, returning with a small handgun. She throws it to Lillian who ducks.

"You were supposed to catch it. You do need protection."

Lillian sits back up. "I have protection. Hide behind Wraecca."

Wraecca grins. Already he can feel the sugar going to his hungry cells. A portion of it he arranges as pure glucose in a small supernumerary organ. "Lillian, we can work on getting you up to speed on your marksmanship. In the meantime. I'd feel better if you carried that pistol. You might not hit anything, but you might scare whoever confronts you."

Swirling his coffee, he turns to Clarice, "I burn more calories then is normal. While it's nice to not have to diet, I am plagued by an enormous appetite. I can literally shapechange myself into starvation if I'm not careful."

Clarice rolls her eyes. "Guess we're avoiding famine shadows then, huh?" She winces as she watches as Lillian pockets the small pistol.

Going over to the dark haired young woman, she takes the pistol back.

"Lesson one: the safety. On - off. On when in pocket. Off when shooting. Kapish?" She sighs. "And make sure you don't shoot one of us when you do shoot."

Wraecca grins at Lillian, "Firearms training takes a week or two to get the basics down. We can probably explain some of it on the way."

Turning to Clarice, "In a pinch I can metabolise most anything. I wouldn't worry bout my going hungry. It's when I'm shapechanging on a continuous basis where it can become an issue. I must admit I look forward to you showing us how this shadow walking thing works. Lillian and I have pieced some of it together but were still figuring things out."

Clarice nods, and pulls a backpack out of the closet. "It's tricky, I won't fool you. You can avoid the nasty stuff, but there are still pitfalls everywhere. Everything is a trade off. Avoid war, get famine. Avoid that, get pestilence. Every time you dodge something, you are bound to run into something else. I've found it's better to aim for something bad, just so you know what you're getting into."

She starts stuffing the backpack with food from her cabinets. "Famine is usually a good choice, since you can always bring your own food with you. If I'm worried about things chasing me, I head for war."

 

She looks up, making sure Wraecca is paying attention. "If something is close enough to you when you run, it can follow you no matter where you go."

 

Wraecca listens intently then nods, "Makes sense. Say, you want me to carry anything?"

He hefts the Uzi. And slides the sling over his neck.

She tosses him a pack. "Food. Meds. Etc. I don't usually need anything, but we're travelling with a lightweight." He nods at Lillian.

Lillian pulls on her sweatshirt and zips it up. Nervously, she pockets the pistol again. "What are you going to be running us through?" She bites her lip. Clarice shrugs.

"Nothing too bad. Might stink a bit, but we should be okay. I've taken people like you along before, and come out alright." She hands Lillian a pack of her own. "Just stay close. And only shoot if it's your only option. I don't feel like getting a slug from my own travelling companion." Lillian nods quickly, but looks like her knees are going to give out.

Clarice disappears into her bedroom, and re-emerges dressed in faded Levis, white t-shirt, leather jacket, and mirrored shades. She smiles a cruel smile while putting her own handgun in its holster. "Let's go."

 

Wraecca laughs, "200 years of travelling alone, and now I'm with all sorts of company. Makes for a pleasant change."

He follows Clarice, asking questions about her travels and her various techniques in crossing dimensions as they journey.

Wraecca stays closest to Lillian, and will attempt to interpose himself between her and the axis of whatever threat is encountered.

Wraecca's impressed as she walks, slowly shifting. She is better at it. While the places they pass aren't pleasant, they aren't belligerent. On the way, she occasionally talks to Wraecca about her methods, but for the most part, she reserves her attentions.

Wraecca for his own part listens and might briefly ask for additional commentary on particular points, but for the most part he walks in with the Uzi pressed close to his body with his feet rarely making noise, his eyes and head scanning in an automatic pattern.

He watches as the land grows deader, the dirt redder, and they arrive to the place of their pattern. Lillian holds his arm, and he can feel her shake.

Wraecca whispers quietly, "It's not pleasant I know, but at least we are making some sort of progress in all this hell. There will be better times I promise."

They come into view of the town, and Clarice takes a moment to survey it. "Good," she says finally, and heads down to the church.

Glancing back the way they came Wraecca continues to follow Clarice while keeping close to Lillian.

Clarice makes her way to the church, kicking anything in her way with a pent up violence. She keeps her gun in her hand, but never has to use it. There aren't even birds around.

She stops for a moment in the church, or what is left, and shudders. "Be glad your memory is shot," she says before heading down.

Lillian clutches at Wraecca's arm, her breathing rapid and irregular. Clarice looks at her for a moment, then motions for her to come close. Lillian obeys haltingly, and Clarice takes something out of her pack, a small pill bottle.

 

Wraecca appraises the bottle, "If those are knock-out pills then I would be inclined to agree." Glancing at Lillian, "Your decision of course."

She nods eagerly, and Clarice dumps a few in her hand. Lillian swallows and sits down. "They'll need a minutes."

Clarice sits down beside her. "Just as well. We need to think of the question we're going to ask when we get to the centre."

"I've given it some thought. If we ask the pattern to send us to a perfect representation of itself it may do so but this would not guarantee us any additional information. Asking us to be sent to it's creator maybe instructive but what if the creator is dead or is hostile to us? Sending us to your mother I think is our best bet. If she's still alive she probably would not be adverse to us. At least," rubbing his chest, "no more then you were to me when we first met. I think with you piloting the request that we be sent to your mother, and me backing you up with a request that we be sent to my grandmother, that we stand a fair shot at meeting a person who may have additional information for us."

 

She rubs her temples. "No. I buried my mother. I know where we would end up. It's my father I question..." She looks at the pattern a long time. "My father has to be the one that's like us. If we ask to be sent to his homeland, it shouldn't be too hard to track down an immortal individual. Being one, I know I screwed up a few times and stayed too long, and got written into the history books as a result."

 

She thinks. "'Send us to my father's city.' How's that sound? We can track him down, and watch from a distance."

Lillian begins to slump.

 

Wraecca catches Lillian as they talk. "Father, check. But what if your father is not affiliated with a city? It would seem easier to just ask to be sent to him. Hmmm...then again, if he's buried it might be a messy arrival. Though I'd hope the pattern would have sense enough to deposit us at his gravesite instead of in it. How about we ask it to send us to his home?"

She nods. "That works. And never, ever assume this pattern is nice. Those breaks do everything they can to screw us over. You have to learn how to think around them, outsmart them." She stands and taps Lillian on the forehead a few times. "Out. You feel ready?"

 

Hoisting Lillian he replies, "Ready as I'll ever be. You lead, I'll follow. Hopefully we'll have better luck then last time we did this together."

She nods, and finds her way to the beginning. She moves her foot on and begins to walk. Wraecca follows, and is relieved when Lillian doesn't stir.

The pattern is easy again, but still no small task. His muscles strain to shift, and he forces himself to stay human. Lillian moans softly now and then, but the dulling affects of the drugs keep her from getting too roused.

At the centre, he joins his mother, panting and shaking. She, having had more time to collect herself leans over and inspects Lillian. "Breathing. That's a good sign." She sits. "Take a minute to collect yourself. We don't know what we're going to run into out there."

"That's three times I've had to negotiate this train wreck. I hope we don't go for a fourth." Looking down at Lillian he whispers that it will be okay. "I'll be hanging on to Lillian so if things get crazy, your going to have to do the brunt of the legwork. My initial priority is protecting Lillian."

She nods and takes out her gun. She places her hand on Wraecca's shoulder, closes her eyes, and thinks...

There is no after image this time, no pause. Something cold surrounds him, and he feels his body shift... gills?

He kicks instinctively and brings Lillian and himself to the surface of the water. A briny taste fills his mouth, and in his arms, Lillian sputters and rouses slightly. To his left he hears Clarice come up too, cursing and coughing.

"Always! Always finds a way to screw me over!"

As he takes in his surroundings, he sees they are just off a dock, one attached to a sizable town.

And then he sees the castle.

 

Spitting water Wraecca replies, "And here I thought you just wanted to take a quick bath before meeting your Dad."

Climbing up on the dock with the aid of clawed hands and feet, he makes certain Lillian is breathing easily before seeing if Clarice needs a hand getting up. Somehow he doubts she'll have any difficulty.

 

She scales another beam easily, despite her lack of claws. Lillian's eyes open, but don't seem to see much as he hefts her up to the dock.

Coming over the top, he sees several men dressed in clothing that wouldn't be considered modern. Clarice squats, eyeing them as they eye her. Her gun is in her hand, and Wraecca hears one of the men snicker.

With wry amusement Wraecca says, "Doesn't look like the natives are much impressed with firearms. My guess is this is a dimension where they don't work. On the bright side, at least they ain't foaming at the mouth."

Clarice nods at the swords at some of their sides. "Don't assume, Wraecca," she whispers. One of the men steps forward and grabs her arm.

"You should listen to him, woman. He's right. They don't work here."

He sneers at her. She stands, and Wraecca watches as the gun flips in her hand, so that she holds the barrel. She smacks the man across the face with the butt, sending him flying.

"Look like they work just fine to me. Back the hell off."

Leaning Lillian over to ensure she's breathing easily Wraecca looks over at Clarice, "You need any help or you wanting a workout?"

 

Lillian appears to be fine, breathing deeply and rhythmically. They must not have been under long enough.

Clarice puts up her gun and cracks a knuckle. "I think we'll be okay." She glares at the workmen. "Any of you boys feel like directing us to a hotel?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Wraecca sees a smaller ship builder run off towards the main land.

 

Wraecca lifts Lillian in his arms. "We may not require lodgings. It appears that whatever passes for authorities in this locale are being notified. I think we should be on our way before their narrow mindedness leads to tragedy."

She nods, and a growls at the men. One approaches, but she sneers at him. "Do they really pay you all that well?"

She pushes him aside and leads the way for Wraecca and Lillian. She's stopped, however, when a large man dressed in Renaissance type garb walks up the dock and blocks her way. He eyes her leather jacket and gun.

"Kind of modern, isn't it?"

 

Dripping wet, sliced up shirt, carrying an unconscious woman, and armed to the teeth. Not exactly the best presentation when meeting townsfolk Wraecca bitterly thinks. Then again, at least were not being attacked...yet. With an air of bravado he replies, "Are you the fashion police?"

 

The large man cocks an eyebrow. "No. Are you a medic?" He watches Clarice carefully, and motions for his men to back off.

Wraecca nods as he takes the man's measure, "Thanks for the concern. She's medicated. It was necessary for our journey to wherever this hellplace is. She'll awaken shortly."

"Hellplace?!" the man yells. "It may not be neat, but it's not that bad." His look becomes wary. "How did you get here? I don't think you swam."

Wraecca grins, "You waiting for reinforcements or do you want to discuss this over a beer?"

Clarice moves to his side, but he glares at her, and she moves to a less aggressive stance. "Antsy?" He looks at Wraecca. "Sure. Why not? This way." He motions to a small cabin looking structure, presumably an office of some kind.

Clarice keeps back a bit, still looking nervous.

Following the man to the cabin, Wraecca says to Clarice, "There's no chance in hell of blending into this town. The least we can do is make friendly with the natives. I doubt it's a crime to be found swimming in the sea."

 

She eyes the man's odd garb. "It is a crime to look funny, though," she whispers to Wraecca.

Whispering back, "Establish rapport and the rest will follow. We can't fight with Lillian down."

The cabin is apparently an office of sorts, with papers and blueprints laid over tables and any other free surface. The man motions to a couch and looks at Wraecca. "Put your friend there."

Clarice's eyes scan as she reaches in her jacket. Finding a soggy pack of cigarettes, she curses.

Wraecca sets Lillian gently down on the coach. Putting more trust in the soulgem's ability to discern trouble then he'd like, he turns to the group's present benefactor. "My name is Wraecca." Gesturing in Clarice's direction, "This is Clarice. The gal on the couch is named Lillian. We thank you for your hospitality stranger."

His gaze takes in the paperwork and blueprints of the office in some puzzlement. "Have we broken any laws in this land yet?"

The man bends down next to Lillian, motioning for Wraecca and Clarice to take a seat. He spends a moment looking her over, apparently checking her pulse and breathing. After ascertaining that Lillian will live, he takes a seat behind a large oak desk.

"Gerard," he nods. "And no, you haven't broken any laws, though I'm not happy you hit one of my shipmen." He looks them over again. "Now, where did you come from? That wasn't exactly the way to Rebma."

 

Wraecca remains standing near Lillian.

"The sailors on the dock recognized our firearms yet said they would not work...here. I take it that the idea of travelling through dimensions is an accepted fact in this locality?"

He makes a gruff sound. "Might say so. Mind telling me what you know about these dimensions? And how you ended up here?"

Clarice takes a seat and throws her soggy cigarettes in a trashcan. Gerard watches her, then opens a drawer and pull out a box. "Know how to roll them yourself?" She nods and takes the box, muttering something to the effect of 'thanks.'

Wraecca shrugs, "I'm not sure how to explain dimensions other then there is more then one reality a person can find themselves in, and we make it our business to travel them. We are here to visit family. Are visitors welcome in this city?"

He shrugs back. "Sure, visitors are welcome. But you don't exactly blend, so it makes people curious. Usually the only ones showing up looking odd are family."

Clarice lights her now rolled cigarette and takes a deep drag, and lets it out in a sigh. "It likely we'll get torn apart for looking odd?"

"Not really. So, who's your family?"

Wraecca glances at Clarice before looking back at Gerard. "Good question. We plan to visit them as soon as we determine who our family is. We've been following clues across dimensions and we know we are very close. Whoever our other family members might be, we can safely assume they have the ability to travel dimensions as well. We believe this city may be where they hail from. Beyond that, we need to investigate."

Wraecca walks over to the window and looks outside. "I don't see the city guard yet. I wonder what's taking them?"

Gerard pauses. After looking at the three of the a long time he grunts. "I'm going to need that beer now." He gets up and yells out the door (supposedly to one of his men) then returns to his seat. "City guard isn't coming, since I didn't call them. Figure I can handle a man, a woman, and their drugged up friend on my own if they decide to get rowdy."

A knock sounds, and a young, skinny shipboy comes in, burdened by a small barrel and a few tankards. Gerard taps it and fills three of them. "There's a lot you're not telling me, isn't there?"

Wraecca nods, "There's a lot we don't know about you, this city, or this dimension. SOP for this kind of situation usually calls for us to blend in well before we near the locals. But one of us is unconscious, and we did not anticipate arriving where we did. One of life's little misfortunes. We don't plan to cause trouble. The scene with your boys was unfortunate. But Clarice was grabbed by one of them, and we will defend ourselves."

He nods, and eyes Clarice. "Some arm you have there." She grunts back and picks up one of the tankards.

"I was in softball."

"That so?" She hides a smirk behind her mug, and Gerard looks back to Wraecca. "So, how exactly did you get here?" He picks up his own mug, leaving one left for Wraecca.

Wraecca hefts his mug and takes a swig. "If I'm to judge by what I've seen of this locality. This is a low technology place. So this simplest answer of cause would be magic. As to the affect, we teleported. We were in one place, in one dimension, and a moment later we were in the water, by the docks. Why are you so interested in the mechanics of dimensional travel? It would seem that many here must be able to accomplish this if they know of firearms in a place where they don't work."

Gerard smiles a bit. "You're a smart kid. Now, you might be even smarter if you stop talking around my questions and start answering them. I know as much as you think I do, and more, so you might want to start getting specific."

Wraecca nods, "Very well. There's a place that personifies the flaws of the multiverse, if you can find your way to it's centre it will send you where you will. Though maybe not exactly where you want. It's a deadly place. Many who try to find it's centre find their destruction instead. Do you find satisfaction with this answer? If not, maybe Clarice can provide further illumination. I am still somewhat new to it's navigations."

Gerard leans back and clicks his tongue, then takes another long drink. He mutters something, then clears his throat. "Didn't happen to be a blue thing on a floor, did it?"

Wraecca takes another drink from his mug. "Correct."

He nods, and Clarice now drinks more carefully. "What do you know about these things?"

He shrugs. "I'm not done asking you questions. Now that you know I'm not some oversized lug, tell me more about how you got here." He looks at Wraecca carefully. "What was your question?"

Clarice waves her hand. "The question wasn't his. It was mine. I asked for the land of my father." She sets down her mug.

"Are we excused?"

Wraecca looks over at Clarice, "This does seem to be more and more an interrogation then a free exchange of information. Doesn't it?"

Gerard slams down his mug and Wraecca sees its side crack slightly. "You want information? I'm prince and protector of this land, and I'm not about to open my doors to anyone who wanders in and doesn't have an embassy or official to report to, and talk about finding their father. You landed in _my_ water, under _my_ dock. I know a lot of things, and you're holding back. That can kill you here." He folds his arms and continues more quietly. "I'll tell you more when I think you've filled me in on exactly what you are."

Wraecca chuckles, "That would be the one question none of us can answer. If we find our family we would ask them just that."

Gerard pauses. "This pattern you walked... Any way you can bring it up? You know, activate it?" His voice is a bit distracted.

Clarice shrugs. "Sure." She pauses for a moment. "Now wh-- Oh." Clarice looks genuinely surprised.

"Um, Wraecca, might want to see this..."

Wraecca turns to Clarice, "What are you getting on about?"

She motions to Gerard. "Think of the pattern. Shit, I didn't show you how to do that yet, did I.... Well, just think of it really hard. Pretend like you're looking through it."

Wraecca grimaces and closes his eyes, "This is a hell of a time to be bringing this up. No pun intended." Wraecca images the pattern before him. It's beauty and imperfections. The pentagram and the power.

He remembers now the last time he did this... When he recalled the walking of the pattern and saw the flaw in Lillian. Now, he sees the same thing wrapped around Clarice, and the flaws reaching into her body and digging in like claws. And when he looks across the room at Gerard...

He sees a pattern in front of him, glowing, but unflawed.

"Now you see," he says quietly.

Wraecca arches an eyebrow at Clarice, "Your father?"

Clarice shrugs. "You missing a kid by any chance?"

He shakes his head. "Nope. I'm not the only one with this power. And you not knowing who your father is makes it tricky." He lets his pattern drop and folds his hands on the desk. "I don't want to take you two around randomly asking everyone I know if you guys look familiar. And you don't look like anyone." He curses. "Why me?"

Wraecca takes another sip from his mug, "Good beer. Well, you certainly have us at an advantage. We don't know anything of the layout here. If we take you at your word, this is a dangerous place, and if everyone has the kind of power you have...weíre out of our league to boot. I'm open to suggestions."

He thinks a long time, his fists against his lips. "You're going to have to lay low until I can question some people. Flor's into everyone's business, so maybe she knows something." He looks at Clarice. "I set you guys up in town, you think you can keep out of trouble?"

Clarice shrugs. "I can try not to scare the natives."

On the couch, Lillian stirs and shivers. "Cold..." she mummers, and Wraecca realizes they're all still soaked.

Wraecca asks Gerard, "Any chance you have a blanket or spare towel? Lillian isn't family. Her constitution is much the same as...people you normally find."

He nods and gets up, then pulls one from behind the couch. He covers her, and her eyes open, blearily taking in where she is. "Wraecca?"

Wraecca kneels and wipes the wet hair from Lillian's face and whispers, "We're alright. We arrived in some water but everything is fine now."

She mummers something and closes her eyes again. Gerard kneels by her. "What's her deal?" He looks at Clarice and Wraecca. "And how do you two know each other?"

Clarice replies quietly. "Wraecca's my son. The girl is his story."

Wraecca grins at Gerard, "She's my therapist. I'm mostly better now but it sure screwed her up."

He cocks an eyebrow, but then chuckles. "I'm going to get you guys set up somewhere, and get you some clothes." He gets up and heads for the door. "Wouldn't be wise to wander." With that, he exits.

Wraecca wanders over to the now vacated desk and begins to look it over. "Well I think some progress is being made."

Clarice nods. "Certainly better than flesh eating robots, or being transported into a sea of piranha." She pulls off her jacket and lays it on a chair, trying to brush as much moisture as she can off of it. She sighs. "Oh well. It's seen worse."

On the table Wraecca finds a few blueprints of ships, mostly man o' wars and things out of textbooks. Beneath are a few items normally found on an overseers desk: paperweights, calendars, the odd assortment of pens and pencils. Below are a few drawers.

On the couch, Lillian stirs, apparently coming out of her daze.

I'd have to agree. This seems to be quite calm in comparison to many places." Walking over to Lillian he helps her sit up. When she seems coherent enough he explains what has transpired so far.

Lillian listens groggily, and after Wraecca finishes, blinks a few times and says, "So we're not going to get attacked or anything?"

"Not right now," says Clarice. "At least that I know of. But we have to be a bit careful. I'm not sure I could knock around that guy like I could the sailor boy."

Lillian nods. "What are we going to do now? I mean, after he sets us up." She yawns and leans against Wraecca.

He hugs Lillian briefly, "Do?" Wraecca considers the idea as if it was something he hadn't previously considered or thought through, "I imagine we'll play it by ear. It's worked so far. Lay low and learn would be a good idea. We did come here for answers. I got the feeling we hit the jackpot in that respect."

Looking at Clarice, Wraecca adds, "I don't like the idea of being spoon fed information. I might do a reconnaissance of this place after we are set up. Nobody blends like I can. I would recommend that we not mention our uniquenesses in the meantime to those we come in contact with. Seeing as there may be dimensions to this situation that even Prince Gerard finds awkward. I like the idea of maintaining a reserve if you catch my meaning."

She nods, finishing off her cigarette. "I'm not too eager to trust the big guy either. Seems like some kind of bully." She looks out the window.

"What the hell is taking him?"

A look of worry fills her face. "You know, we are kind of being sitting ducks here, aren't we?" She curses. "Dammit. Walking that thing again dulled me a bit. Took me centuries to get good and paranoid." She moves back down. "You know, with that shifting of yours, we could find out a lot on our own..." She eyes her jacket and the door.

Wraecca shakes his head. "No way. You remember what that guy projected? That was the pattern unflawed. I don't feel like getting on his bad side yet. And if there is a way for us to acquire that perfection, I'm willing to with the big guy. Besides. It's going to be awhile before Lillian is able to travel. And what if he's just testing us? Have you thought of that? He could have cleaned our clocks with the strength and power he flaunted. If he wanted us dead he could have done so right then. Why wait for Lillian to wake up? He would have figured us to defend her. And don't forget he mentioned he's a Prince here. If that's true, going against his wishes is tantamount to breaking the law. This place has got to have answers and I don't want to start looking for them as an outlaw. I know what youíre feeling Clarice. I don't relish trusting these people either, but we haven't been attacked yet."

Wraecca walks over to the keg and refills his mug. "Besides, the beer here is good. You know how long it's been since I've had a beer that didn't taste like warm fermented ammonia?"

Clarice weighs her gun in her hand. "You're a trusting one." She looks up at him, then down again at her nearly useless weapon. "I've broken laws before, and proved a few times princes aren't immortal." She puts her gun back in it's holster. "But we haven't been attacked yet. And from what I can see, no one's keeping an eye on us."

"Fine." She sits back. "We wait."

As if in answer, the door opens, and the man Gerard steps back in. He looks at Lillian briefly, then motions for them to follow.

"Found a place for you, and some clothes. Can't have guests smelling briny."

With reluctance Wraecca sets down his beer and follows. If Lillian looks to need help he'll lend assistance.

/Trusting hell, the big lug was probably standing outside the door all this time waiting to see what we'd do./

Lillian sways a bit, but leaning on Wraecca, she manages to follow without a spill.

He leads them through the town without comment, finally coming to a stop at a middle of the road tavern. He tosses Clarice a key.

"You guys hungry?"

Clarice shrugs, and Lillian says nothing, just looking longingly at the key in Clarice's hand.

Wraecca likes the idea of getting some chow but Lillian is obviously wiped out. He says to Clarice, "I think it best Lillian and I retire for now. If you would like to dine with Gerard I'll leave the door unlocked."

Clarice shrugs and tosses him the key. "Room 5," says Gerard. "You get hungry, come on down." They head into a dimly lit restaurant as Wraecca heads up the stairs, Lillian at his side.

He finds the room, a fair set-up with a bedroom with two singles, and a sitting room with a roll out cot in the corner and a sofa. Lillian sits on the sofa and rubs her eyes.

"Coffee. Caffeine. Anything. My brain is cotton."

"I'll see what I can dig up."

/Should have stayed for coffee, still/ Wraecca surmises, she's probably more emotionally wiped out then physically. Doing the broken pattern twice in as many days for a normal person must be quite devastating in it's own way.

He looks around for anything caffeinated in the room. Failing that he'll duck back into the restaurant and ask for a cup of coffee for room 5 from any passing waiter.

He flags down a harried looking woman in an ale stained smock who nods hurriedly and waves for him to wait.

In the corner of the room, he can see Clarice and Gerard in conversation, faces still guarded, arms still crossed.

The waitress runs back by him and shoves a carafe of coffee and a mug into his hands. He feels at least a small measure of relief that Clarice is behaving herself.

Back in the room, Lillian takes the coffee eagerly and downs it, foregoing her normal ritual of sugar and cream desecration.

"Oh, thank god they have coffee. I was going to ask to be sent back if they didn't."

"A joke," she adds quietly.

Wraecca sits down in one of the chairs. "Yes, this place does seem nice enough. I can understand Clarice's feelings. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe I should go back out there and keep abreast of what they're talking about."

She takes another long sip and refills her mug. "Soon. I'm still your therapist, though. I'd like to know how you're taking this all in." She looks down at her mug and seems to picture something she doesn't like. "I'm sorry. I have to pry, even if you think you're better. You have a relapse, I'm stuck. I don't know if Clarice would liken to the idea of dragging me around, and I'm not special like you two. So no free rooms."

Wraecca holds the room key in his left hand, next to the index finger of his left hand. "Hard to say, part of me wants to operate as I normally do. Creeping in the shadows, learning from alleyways and common gossip."

As he speaks the flesh melts from his index finger. The exposed bone showing no joints. Slowly the bone begins to show the ridges and grooves of the key. "But I keep coming back to the fact the soulgem hasn't sparked a warning. It's almost unnerving. And to that I now have a mother whose even more on the razor then I am. I've walked the broken pattern twice more, discovered some sort of cosmic reflection of this power inside me. Prince Gerard shows us he has a perfect version, and he hints we are not completely safe here even though 'here' seems a lot better then anywhere else I've been."

Turning the key and mimicked finger to show different angles, Wraecca seems to be satisfied with the duplication. His finger begins to return to normal.

"Bottom line, I want to run, hide, or kill. But I'm not doing any of these activities unless youíre in danger. I want answers. I figure I've got the rest of eternity to operate as I've always had."

She watches the shifting for a moment, but as bone protrudes she turns her head and intently studies a cheaply inked wall decoration.

"I guess we are at a kind of impasse. Can't go forward with that guy downstairs hovering, and there's really no point in going back." She sips her coffee and chances a look back. Seeing his finger as it should be, she turns back to him.

"Do you really enjoy what you've been doing all these years? Running, hiding, killing? I mean, I know that it's all you've known for a while and from what I've seen..." She winces. "You enjoy killing at least a bit. But now you've got a stable mind, and you've pieced together your past. Any chance on you settling for a while?"

 

Wraecca sighs, "I like the idea of taking a breather. Not having to watch my back all the time. It would be great to visit a city and actually call it home. Or at least trying it out and seeing how I liked it. That's what I was doing when I was in your dimension. It was kinda nice to belong to an organization. Even if it was military, or maybe for me that's the best of both worlds. I don't know."

"As to killing. Intellectually I know that killing is an extreme issue. But I've done it so long that it's gotten to be sort of a game to me. That and I still find myself falling back on lupine behaviour patterns on occasion. That's toned down some since I came into possession of the gem. But sometimes I feel like a debate is going on. That superego, ego, id game revolves around the gem, my humanity, and my lupus personifications."

As Wraecca talks a couples strands of his hair retracts into his head, and a fingernail disappears into right hand. His right arm twitches from time to time.

She sighs. "You know, calling killing a game is usually frowned upon." She runs a hand through her still damp hair, grimacing at the knots the sea water caused. "And casual violence isn't the best habit to be into. I know this stone of yours helps you, but don't you think..." She casually glances over, and notices his hand twitching.

She stills, expressionless, and watches. Slowly, she sets her cup down.

"Wraecca?"

 

His smile seems forced as he says, "None to worry, just doing a little internal rearranging. I've been working on a this idea, but I've not quite figured it out."

"As to not liking the idea that killing is a game. I guess you could consider it a matter of perspective. When violence is a way of life, and life goes on for tens of decades, everything can get to be a game. But now I'm finding the rules are changing. I hope I can change with them."

Wraecca inhales deeply. With an explosive exhalation, from his hand, a bizarre looking dart is launched. It streaks across the room only to bounce off the wooden door. Getting up from the chair he retrieves the makeshift missile. "Damn, the velocity and balance are right, but I can seem to make the end weighted enough for any degree of penetration. Hmmm...maybe if I use a tooth instead of a fingernail."

She grimaces. "You know, you may need your teeth one day. I'm sure you can get a normal weapon like everyone else somewhere in this city." She sips her coffee. "If we can get money, that is."

She smiles warmly at him. "You've changed before, Wraecca. I'm sure you can do it again. And was the world all that brutal after the war was over, back home." She pauses. "Well, home for me, anyway."

Wraecca swallows the dart, before too long his fingernail has grown back, and all of his hair is again in place. Wraecca chuckles, "Back on your dimension, I was wondering what job I could take when I was discharged. I mean, what's an unemployed killing machine to do? Looks like I've come back to that question all over again. But youíre right, I've changed before, I can change again. I take a small bit of pride in my adaptability. What's that saying? Serve in heaven or rule hell? I got this funny feeling Gerard is going to come back and say 'Welcome to heaven, here's a mop.'"

 

She laughs, and some of the tension that had been in her face drains. "Do you really think this is a sort of heaven." She looks around the less than celestial room. "I suppose heaven can have a downtown, right?"

She puts her mug down. "Are you hungry? I've found my appetite again."

Wraecca smiles and takes her hand. "Okay by me Doc."

She smiles and stretches. "What do you want to do then? Order up here, or join..."

She pauses and thinks for a moment. Worry returns to her face. "Um, maybe you should check on Clarice... I mean, she does seem to have a short fuse..."

Wraecca opens the door. "If you don't hear the sounds of fighting in five minutes it'll probably be okay to join us."

With that, he heads out to rejoin Clarice and Gerard.

 

As he descends the stairs, he feels a small rush of adrenaline. The voices of early drunks waft up, and he remembers too many small bars like this, too many fights fought out of stupidity and rage...

Not that stupidity and rage can't be a hell of a lot of fun. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, or in the case of a bar fight, sometimes you have to crack a few heads to get one's point across.

At the bottom, he's relieved to see Clarice not only behaving herself, but actually laughing with their new companion. Large plates sit in front of them, and larger mugs of ale.

She notices him and waves him over.

 

Wraecca walks over and takes a seat. "Lillian's waking up well. She just needed a cup of coffee. I imagine she'll be down shortly. How are you two doing?"

Clarice waves a hand. "Fine, fine. I'm forgiven for hitting his sailor. We were talking about what kind of place we've landed in."

Gerard waves down a waitress and orders for Wraecca as Clarice continues. "We've landed in the middle of a huge mess. If I were you, I'd pray we're not family."

Gerard's face is suddenly sombre. "It's looking pretty likely that you are, though."

"The problem with jumping into the middle of a conversation is I never know what the devil people are talking about. Can I get a quick overview of what we are talking about?"

Clarice motions to Gerard, and he leans back and sighs.

"I need to make a recording of this or something-- Third time today, you know that?"

He takes a drink, then starts. "As fat as I could tell, what you walked was something like a bad copy of an artefact we have here called the pattern."

"What we saw when we looked at him," interjects Clarice.

He nods, and starts to fill Wraecca in on the details of Amber... the drawing of the pattern, the king, a brief telling of Patternfall and Corwin's ascent.

During this time Wraecca vaguely notices Lillian joining him, and food being put in front of him.

After finishing, Clarice finishes off her potato and looks at Wraecca. "Basically, the only way to be certain that we're family is walking the damn thing, the pattern, and seeing if we fry or not." She pauses for a drink. "I say ignorance is bliss."

Lillian orders a chicken dish, and Gerard looks at her. "And what do you want to do? I can get you home if you want."

Lillian shakes her head. "No. I'm fine here."

Wraecca falls to his food with gusto. Slicing the steak in large pieces that he wolves down. Between bites he asks Gerard, "If we succeed in walking this perfect pattern, will this allow us to walk into dimensions that are something other then demilitarised zones?" The sound loud crunching alerts Wraecca that he's inadvertently chewing up a steak bone. Realizing it might be bad manners to spit bones out on his plate he tries to grind it up quietly and after swallowing it mentions. "Marrow. Always the best part of a steak."

Gerard raises an eyebrow at the loud crunching. Clarice waves her hand, dismissing Wraecca's odd behaviour. "He's got this animal thing going. I wouldn't worry about it if I were you."

Gerard looks at Wraecca. "Animal thing?"

Lillian blanches, remembering the more bloody times she's seen Wraecca use his powers. "Don't ask." The waitress plops her meal in front of her, and she seems to reconsider her appetite.

Gerard puts his chin on his fist. "I'm asking."

Wraecca washes down the bones with a slug of beer. "Sorry, I keep forgetting that more civilized dimensions consider eating bones to be rude. I've travelled through dimensions and lived with creatures-ah, Clarice was referring to a point in time where I lived with wolves. Anyways, some of the more famine oriented places required eating anything edible. Bones are sheathed in proteins. Also high in calcium. The marrow of course is pure candy. But it is somewhat noisy consuming such fare. I should have thought to limit such activity over conversation."

Reaching across the table he selects a couple of flowers from the table vase and adds them to his plate. He begins slicing up a Fox Glove and Daffodil and swirls them into his vegetables before taking a bite. "This is most excellent fare. My compliments to the chef."

Gerard shakes his head. "You guys must have been in the Shadow boonies."

Lillian looks down. "I don't know. _My_ home didn't seem so bad." She looks mildly hurt.

Gerard doesn't seem to notice her comment. "You asked about finding a place that isn't a war-zone. I've been around the shadows a fair bit, and have made a few nice ones. We all have a nook somewhere. Ben has Avalon, Flora Earth..." He drinks from his mug. "No wars. No big flesh eating insects. Just a nice place to relax."

Clarice frowns. "Sounds too good to be true."

 

Wraecca looks at Gerard quizzically. "I appreciate your offer of moving us onto a reservation. But we came here to find Clarice's father, and my grandfather. Is there some reason this is not a good idea?"

 

"What, you mean _besides_ the fact I have no idea how to find him?" He shrugs. "I wouldn't leave you out somewhere. If you want to risk taking pattern, fine. Go ahead. I'll show you around. But I'm not comfortable with too many people seeing you. They might recognize you, and not like the idea you're about."

Lillian goes to say something, but then catches herself and starts to eat, looking sideways at Wraecca.

 

"I'd like to see this pattern sometime. Though I don't know if I'd like to try it just yet. I'm still mastering the skill I have with the flawed version. I would assume the perfect pattern would be an order of magnitude more difficult. As to somebody recognizing me? I guess that's possible but all life is risk to some extent. Besides, do I look like anybody you know?"

He puts down his fork and thinks. He pulls out a deck and flips through them. After finishing, he shakes his head. "No. That's what has me worried. I don't want to watch you fry if I'm wrong." He looks at Clarice. "You-- maybe. You have the structure, but not so much I'd bet my life."

"You mean _my_ life," grumbles Clarice. "Anyone else you know have broken pattern?" He shakes his head. "Then maybe I won't bother. I like being exclusive."

 

"Can we view this pattern? Maybe if we see it we'll have some idea as to whether or not essaying it is doable."

/And maybe my soulgem has advice on an artefact of that power.../

He shrugs. "Fine. You're so eager to eager to go, I'll take you. But don't touch it."

Wraecca hears something odd, like a clinking noise. He notices Clarice's gaze locked onto something, and following it, realizes Lillian is clutching her cup of ice water and shaking. He recognizes her breathing as the same pattern she used with him to get him to calm himself early in their sessions.

Wraecca brings up the image of the broken pattern. "Lillian are you okay?"

 

She shakes her head and trembles. "Can we talk about something else?" she whispers.

Clarice nods and turns to the concerned Gerard. "She has this phobia about patterns. You see, she's been drug across two and it hasn't done mu--"

"Something Else!" yells Lillian, and her glass shatters in her hand.

Her breathing is quick, and she doesn't notice the blood welling from her hand.

Wraecca drops the broken pattern and gently opens her hand, removing the fragments of broken glass as he does so. "I do so like the weather here. It's not like in other places where its always too hot or cold, don't you think Lillian?"

Staring into her eyes Wraecca holds her damaged hand in his hand under the table and begins to polymorph her hand back into it's original form.

 

Her breathing calms. "Yes, it is nice. There wasn't a real spring back home, was there?" He shakes a bit, and cringes as she feels the shifting in her hand. She looks down at what he's doing, then looks away.

"I'm sure the gardens here are nice..."

Gerard sits back and looks at the bloody shards of glass. "Some phobia."

Wraecca hears a thump under the table as Clarice kicks their new companion. "Hey. We're talking about weather now. Didn't you hear?"

Interfacing his nerves into alignment with Lillian's he winces briefly as he feels the cuts in Lillian's hand. A biofeedback phenomenon that's necessary in appraising another's injury. That is and that which is not...particles of glass gently float to the surface of the cuts. Within the eye of the pain he begins gluing torn blood vessels and flesh together. Muscles made whole. Ligaments rebonded. Lastly skin stretched slightly over the cuts and joined. As he works he recites abstractly, "Buttercups, Marigolds, Forget-me-nots, Pansies, Violets, Tulips, Daisies...there does seem to be all flowers of creation here."

He releases her hand and takes another swig of beer.

 

She looks pale as she studies her unscarred hand. Gerard watches her study, and looks at the bloody shards on the table.

"This time you said you lived with wolves... didn't happen to be a wolf, did you?" He reaches across the table and takes Lillian's hand and touches her palm. "Good work," he mutters.

As he talks, something nags Wraecca... he hadn't looked at Lillian long under the broken pattern, but he had noticed one thing...

The darkness was growing.

 

Wraecca grimaces, then nods sharply. "Now you know why I'm not terribly concerned about people recognizing me. What you see is not my original form. I'm not even certain what my original form is supposed to be. I'm fairly adept at blending into a crowd though." Looking back at Lillian with concern he says, "We can talk later of other things. Right now I'm just happy that we've all arrived in relative safety."

He chuckles. "You want to know what you're original form is? Or are you attached to that one?" He finishes off the last of his meal and pushes the plate away. "Your safety is pretty guaranteed as long as you don't go around poking nobles in the back. It's easy to get lost in this town. Lots of transient folk."

Clarice pushes her plate away. "Then if I'm not in danger of getting accosted, I think I'll go prowling. I'm feeling antsy." She cracks a few knuckles and Gerard looks at her dubiously. "Relax. I just don't feel like being cooped up right now."

 

"It would be good to carouse for a bit. uh, What passes for money in this joint?"

 

Gerard grumbles and digs in his pocket. "Here," he says, putting a handful of coins on the table. "But you owe me."

Clarice takes about half and smiles. "Our warden is generous." He stops her.

"I'm not your warden. You are perfectly welcome to leave any time you want. I'll show you the way, wave my hankie, yell 'bon voyage,' whatever."

She eyes him, and Wraecca wonders if the woman ever loses that look of suspicion. "Then why are you doing this?"

He doesn't answer, but gets up. "I'll see you guys in the morning." He turns and leaves, leaving Clarice and Lillian staring after him.

"Well I can't say I like the idea of us owing him." Wraecca puzzles over the coins. Soon enough he gives up in frustration and turns to Lillian, "I was never great with numbers, what's all this amount to?

I want to know so we can pay him back later."

She counts, but then shakes her head. "189. But I have no clue what that'll get us. For all I know, we couldn't even super-size a combo deal at this point." She eats a bit more, but makes a face, touching her stomach.

"Those things'll unsettle you for a while," explains Clarice, examining a coin. "Damn. Check this out, Wraecca. Look familiar?" She flashes a coin at him, and he notices it bears a silhouette somewhat like the one their ward-- benefactor bore. "Guess he is famous."

 

Wraecca laughs, "Okay, sounds like his story checks out. Lets go see if we can get some new cloths." Wraecca fingers his torn and ripped shirt. "I feel somewhat exposed with what I'm currently attired in."

Lillian clears her throat. "There were some clothes in the room. I saw some in the corner before we came down here."

Clarice looks at the people in the crowd, most notably the women, wrapped in low-cut blouses, aprons, and flowing skirts. She pats her jacket. "I'm happy with mine. You kids go local."

Lillian stands. "C'mon, Wraecca. I'd be more comfortable in underwear that isn't damp."

 

Standing Wraecca says to Clarice with a smile, "Have fun in town. Try not to bust it up too much. Lillian and I want to shop before you close the stores."

He turns and follows Lillian.

 

In the room, she unfolds a few bundles of clothes he hadn't noticed before. Of course, he never really noticed things like that anyway.

She smiles as she unfolds a long skirt and shirt with flared sleeves. "Like a Ren-faire..." she mummers. Casually, she glances out the window.

"Oh... my... Wraecca, have you ever seen a sunset like that before?"

 

Wraecca's looks up from the clothing to catch the rays of light that stain the clouds with streaks of maroon, splashes of lavender, and all the other gentle shadings of red, gold, and purple. He inhales deeply at the skyscape that seems so unbelievably real. His eyes take in Lillian looking yonder and he says without thinking, "You compliment the picture very well."

Realizing what he just said, he reddens and says, "I've seen so little of this place and already it feels like home. I hope we can stay here awhile."

Dropping his eyes back to the clothing he begins to sort through the strange articles of dress.

She giggles, a young sound that doesn't quite to seem fit her. He thinks on the hardships she's been through, _they've_ been through. As he remembers, he pulls a lace-up shirt and a pair of breeches from the pile of clothing.

She looks out the window, leaning on the sill. "I hope we stay too. It looks so peaceful... I keep expecting some movie director to step out from behind the dresser and yell 'Cut!' And the air... it's so clean! I never knew a place could be like this." She takes off her baseball cap and shakes out her hair, shedding a few drops of water on his face.

She throws the hat at him, and starts to pull her shirt off. "But, I don't know. No HBO here. How _will_ we survive?"

Wraecca turns around, suddenly more aware then ever of Lillian nearby. His face feels warm and his pulse races. He stifles an animal growl, and says in a hoarse voice, "What is HBO?" as he changes his garments for the new articles at his feet.

"Oh, that's right. You were in the barracks, weren't you? Poor guy." She laughs again, and pulls on her new top. She admires it for a second, then moves to switch her jeans for the long skirt. "Die for your country, and don't even get cable. Tch." She laces up the skirt, and twirls.

"Oh, so old country. Where's my straw basket and outrageous accent?"

She leans her shoulder against the wall and watches him.

 

Wraecca silently admonishes himself. /I've got 100% control over my form and functions. What am I being embarrassed about?/

With elaborate care he changes his torn shirt for the swordsman's tunic, and then, with a brief hesitation he slips out off his other garments and slips on the new undergarments and breeches provided him.

"The, uh barracks weren't too bad. Quite nice when compared to the conditions in the field. I imagine you saw the scenes on television." Thoughts of the battles, bloodshed, and the bloodlust relax his mood somewhat. At least this was familiar territory! But another thought intrudes his thinking. How does a person go about courting a woman?

She walks over and straightens his shirt a bit, fussing with the laces and the way the sleeves puff slightly.

She looks down, as if a thought just occurred to her, and regards her bare feet. She scans the room and laughs. "Shoes. He forgot shoes..."

 

With a wry smile she picks up her soggy Nikes and slips them on. "Oh well... It'll look silly, but it seems like not much upsets these people. Everyone leaves Clarice alone." She stands back and considers the contrast of high tech and country styles. "Just hope the fashion police don't find us."

 

Wraecca laughs, "Yes, well maybe some of those pretty coins can get us some decent shoes. Yours look like they've about had it. Mine too for that matter." Strapping his belt on he leads the way out.

 

She follows, and as they head out, they catch Clarice's reproachful eye. She looks at Lillian.

"The other outfit up there like yours?" Lillian nods. "Oh, f- that. I'll be weird."

Lillian laughs, but Clarice simply takes another drink. "You kids be good. I'm staying here."

Wraecca tosses Clarice the room key on the way out. "Don't wait up for us."

Heading down the street Wraecca and Clarice window shop. Wraecca occasionally asking to the price of this or that trying to get an idea of how much cash they have to play with. He toys with the idea of buying one of those fancy swords. They look cool, and everyone carries one.

He walks along keeping one eye on Lillian.

She looks around, fascinated, a bit of the nervous overtone she normally carried fading. She listens in on people bartering, looks at the most mundane of things as if it's something precious.

"Wraecca, we have to find a way to stay here."

A cloud of doubt crosses her features, and she moves back to Wraecca's side. "Gerard said the people that may be your family aren't that great a bunch..." She shivers. "I don't want to go back. Not to those places filled with war or famine or..." She leans against him, seeking heat and comfort as he feels her go cold. "I can't go back."

 

Wraecca hugs her to him. "Then we stay. We will figure out a place for us in this land. I doubt one family could be all that interested in two people trying to find a home here."

She returns the embrace. "What about Clarice? Even if you decided to blend into the background, she... She seems to stick out a bit more. And I don't think she's content being a wallflower. And so impulsive, like with the sailor at the docks."

She looks up at him. "You just found a mother. It'd be a pity to lose her so quickly."

 

Wraecca frowns as he considers Clarice. "Clarice and I are cut from the same cloth. I imagine I would be much the same if I live to be as old as she has. There is not much love shared between us. Maybe a grudging respect. I don't know her plans, goals, or desires. I'm not even sure if she likes it here. I get the feeling she was just helping me along and already knows the answers to many of my questions. I wouldn't be surprised to find her gone soon. Back to wherever she dwelt."

Lillian looks down. "I don't know. She's been though some tough things. Maybe she's just hard to reach." She laughs. "Must run in the family. I had a hell of a time with you."

She looks around. "Clarice said she's been running for a long time. Maybe she'll learn to stop now. Call me an optimist."

Wraecca shrugs, "Maybe. It'll be easier in some ways if she stays. She'd be great to have around if things get...violent. Speaking of violence..." He looks admiringly at some of the swords that are worn by the citizens. "I'd like to see if we can afford weaponry."

Seeing Lillian's expression he amends, "After we find some shoes of course."

She laughs. "Do you know how to use one of those things? I can barely cut vegetables for soup without nicking myself." She rocks back and forth on her heels, and her can hear her shoes squish under her.

"You go look at swords. I'll get something for my feet." She take a few coins and tosses the bag to him. "But don't forget, I'd like something else to wear besides this."

Wraecca chuckles, "Be careful and don't get lost."

He wanders down streets and window-shops, looking for anything that might catch his eye. Specifically a pair of boots, a dagger, and maybe a sturdy broadsword. Nothing fancy, believing in function more then form.

He browses a few displays, quickly finding a pair of hard black leather boots and a finely weighted stiletto, but stopping at a display of swords. He feels vaguely overwhelmed. Nervously, he tests one, and wonders what it should feel like.

A dark haired man watches him pick up the sword and swing it a few times. "Off balance," he mutters.

 

Wraecca replaces the broadsword where he found it. He turns to the dark haired man who made the comment and shrugs saying, "I don't think I know enough about swords to venture an opinion. Though I get the feeling maybe I should get some lessons before venturing a purchase." He looks wistfully back at the broadsword and thinks about how much damage he could wreck with a claw that size.

The man looks at the selection a moment, then pulls another off the wall. He waves it a few times, then nodding, passes it to Wraecca. "This one is better."

Wraecca notices a number of daggers at the man's waist, and a thin rapier. He puts a hand on his sword. "You care for a lesson?"

Wraecca considers the man's offer. In some dimensions his words would could be construed as a challenge, in other worlds refusing his offer could be considered an insult. Also the fact that crossing swords might appear as a robbery would make for an easy excuse for the local constables to throw him in whatever passes for the city jail. Gerard had warned him to keep a low profile....

"Thanks just the same but I'm sure you have other things to do then teach a novice the rudiments of swordplay. Besides I get the feeling that this isn't something a person would want to learn halfway. If you have advice on an instructor who teaches for a living that would

be great."

 

He shrugs. "Strap one on and walk down to Dead Man's Alley. The best teachers are real life."

From behind him, Wraecca hears a light step and a cheery voice, and cringes.

"Wraecca! I found you! We're rich... I just took three of the larger coins and look at what I got! God, Gerard is pretty generous..." Her voice trails off as she sees Wraecca holding a sword, and the man in front of him with his hand on his hilt, eyeing her with a detached interest.

 

Wraecca sets the sword down (again) and says to the dark haired gentleman. "The problem with on the job training is it can be difficult to learn from one's..." he turns toward Lillian and emphasises, "mistakes" here he pauses and turns back toward Mr. Dark Hair "especially when the instruction is deadly."

He smiles at Lillian, who has turned white. Wraecca notices several of her purchases have fallen to the ground.

"You dropped something. Allow me."

With a graceful bow, he scoops up the fallen items, and holds them to her. Shaking, she takes them and steps back.

He eyes her reaction and shrugs. "You know Gerard?"

Wraecca interrupts whatever reply Lillian was going to provide. "We met him briefly when we entered the city. We conducted some trade. He is a very generous Prince. Your city's hospitality has been a wonderful experience for us."

He looks over at Wraecca. "He is generous. Welcome to Amber." Lillian steps closer to Wraecca as he passes. "I hope you find your teacher."

He leaves the shop, and Lillian looks at the ground. "Seven. Number seven..."

Wraecca looks at Lillian. "No harm done, I think. Let's head on back. Did you find everything you were looking for?"

She nods. "He's a prince. On the '7' coin." She bites her lip. "Are you going to buy a sword?"

"No...I changed my mind. I don't know enough about how they are used to make an informed purchase."

As they make their way back to the inn, Wraecca realizes there are now two nobles who know of their presence in the city. "I might as well put up posters of us on every street corner." Wraecca mutters. He reflects that this other Prince might ask a question or two from Gerard, and given the way he answered the second princeís questions and covered for Lillian he might be interested enough to do more.

Wraecca unobtrusively grows an eye in the back of his head. It's a little difficult to see around the hair but it's come in handy before.

 

He takes a moment to adjust to the new vision. It upsets his stomach a bit, causing a moment of vertigo, but by the time they hit the inn, he's adjusted.

Lillian is quiet once again, the wariness returned. She starts to the room without bothering to look around. The barkeep stops her.

"Friend left you these," he says, and tosses her the keys. Looking around, Wraecca sees Clarice is, indeed, gone.

 

The room is untouched, even the clothes still scattered in the corner. Lillian puts down her load. "Figures."

Wraecca grimaces, "Loner mentality. I was much the same before the soulgem." He takes out the coins and studies each of the faces represented on the coins. If there are names he makes it a point to match them up. "I should have thought to look at these coins more closely. We should ensure were not surprised again. It looks like the royalty here enjoy walking about and talking to strangers."

She looks down. "Sorry I blew our cover. I just didn't think that royalty would be traipsing around such an average part of town."

"What's done is done. Don't worry about it." He studies Lillian for a moment. "There's something I would like to do for you though."

She tilts her head. "Yes?"

Wraecca frowns, "Previously we've pretty much been close together, but I can see where we might be operating by ourselves from time to time. I'd like to create a watcher for you."

She looks around. "From what?" A pause. "Oh. Is this one of those weird power things again?"

Wraecca nods, "Sort of. It's a very advanced use of shapechanging. There's only one catch."

She looks dubious. "The catches are usually pretty big..."

"Yeah, well to do this I need some of your blood. Not like a mortal wound, but more then a few drops. I can patch you back up like what I did your hand, but getting the blood is the trick."

She grows pale. "This had better some pretty neat watcher..."

Wraecca nods, "It could save your life."

She takes a deep breathe, then holds her arm out and shuts her eyes tight. "Go. Do it."

Quick as a flash Wraecca lightly slashes her arm with a razor sharp claw. Simultaneously he holds her arm from jerking with his other hand to prevent her from flinching and spraying blood.

She winces, but keeps her eyes shut. Blood oozes out of the wound.

"Hold still, the worst is over. Pump your fist." He begins to collect her blood in his cupped hands.

She does so, and after a few moments, Wraecca holds a cup of warm blood... The coppery vital smell makes its way to his nose, and he feels the hunger of the wolf creeping into his mouth.

Bringing the blood to his lips he drinks it down. His eyes close and he focuses inward for perhaps half a minute. Beads of sweat appear on his forehead. Bringing his hands to his face he pulls out of his mouth a blood red butterfly the size of a pair of hands joined together and outstretched. He gasps and breathes heavily as the glistening butterfly begins to dry it's wings.

Lillian opens her eyes, and starts at the appearance of the butterfly. She moves to touch it, but seeing her arm still bleeding, covers the wound and pulls her arm to her. She starts to say something to Wraecca, but the words die in her throat as she sees his crimson lips. Her face grows flush.

"Sorry, I know I must look pretty bad. It's easiest to work the changes internally." he rasps.

She nods slowly, and reaches out, wiping some of the blood from his lips with her good arm.

"So... what can my butterfly do?"

Wraecca reaches over and holds Lillianís arm. She feels the skin on her arm become warm as he begins to stop the bleeding and repair her skin. "It will watch over you and alert me if you are in danger. If you are attacked it will defend you."

She reaches out and touches it lightly, as if scared it will break. "Thank you... does this mean you're planning on running off?" She smiles weakly. "Those loner tendencies?"

Wraecca removes his hand. A faint line is all that can be seen of the wound he had made on her forearm. "Nah, but events can sometimes carry us apart. I'd prefer you having a companion. This endearing beast was something I encountered on one of my journeys through shadow. It looks innocuous enough but it carries a stinger. It can be very aggressive. It's poison is one of the deadliest I've ever encountered. It could kill a horse. They travel in swarms. This one will do you no harm. For it is you and recognizes this." Wraecca turns to the bug. "This is Lillian. You will watch over her and see that she comes to no harm. If she is attacked you will defend her. If she is lost or in danger you will lead me to her." The butterfly seems to nod at this. Turning to Lillian he says, "What colours would you like it to be?"

She thinks, but then laughs. "Oh, god, I don't know. Something that won't stick out? Part of me wants to give it my old school colours, but then it would be pretty obvious I had a pet butterfly, wouldn't it?"

Wraecca laughs, "You can tell it to be unobtrusive, to wait outside buildings and the like. It's not completely a robot, it tends to have something of the personality of whoeverís blood originated it."

She smirks. "Then it's going to spend most its time hiding. I've never been able to fight." She looks down. "Hell, during volleyball I used to fall to the ground like they were batting around a live grenade."

Wraecca tells to the butterfly to stretch it's wings and hold still. He begins tracing the wings of the insect with a finger. As he does so the wings change their colouring to shades of black and green. "If you want different colours let me know. This scheme is a little more unobtrusive then most."

She nods. "So what are we going to do now?" She touches the butterfly lightly, an odd look of tenderness on her face. "Thank you Wraecca. It's beautiful."

Wraecca looks somewhat haggard, "Do? I'm going to crash. That little demonstration drained me pretty good." He walks over to the bed and flops down on it. "...and your welcome. I only hope it will care for you as much as I do." In moments he is quickly asleep.

The first thing he's aware of is that it is not light. Inwardly, he curses, and searches for what woke him.

His eyes shift open, and he sees a figure pace in the overly bright moonlight, showing on her finger nails. The fourth board from the wall squeaks every time she steps on it.

Lillian notices him stir. "Wraecca?" she whispers.

 

Another man's irises would widen to allow more light to see in the dark. Wraecca's eyes become as an owls with little in the way of conscious thought. Slowly he sits up on the bed. "That's me," he whispers back, "the one and only."

 

She sits on the bed, wringing her hands. "Sorry. I didn't want to wake you. Clarice isn't back yet, and the coffee hit my system, so between nerves and worry, I've been pacing." She laughs nervously. "And wouldn't you know it, there's nothing to do here after ten."

As he shifts, he notices his boots are off, and he spots them not too far off, neatly lined against the wall.

 

Wraecca stands and stretches.

"I wouldn't worry about Clarice. She's a big girl, and knows her way around. I imagine she's just prowling around getting a feel for this place."

He walks over to his boots and begins putting them on.

Unseen to Lillian's eyes, Wraecca smiles, "You sure you want to live here with no television or radio?"

She laughs. "Well, I think the trade-offs are worth it. It seems pretty nice here. And TV wasn't that good anyway. Maybe you and I can head out every once in a while and see what's playing in the theatres out there."

She watches him put on his shoes. "You aren't going prowling too, are you?"

 

Wraecca hesitates, /Time enough to prowl later. If she's up late tonight, she'll be asleep throughout the morning. Time enough to figure out what's going on./ and removes his boots.

"No, I guess not. Clarice can probably cover as much territory as I could and her experience in these matters runs deeper. She can brief us on her return. So...uh, what do you feel like doing?"

 

She shakes her head, and he notes she's wearing her football jersey. "I'm sorry. Don't let me stop you. There just isn't much to do. As I said, most everything closes not too long after sun down. I wandered out a bit after you crashed."

"What are we doing next? By the way you talk, it doesn't sound like you're waiting around for Gerard."

"I don't mind waiting for Gerard, he seems friendly enough and the soulgem never flashed a warning the whole time we were in his presence. Come to think of it. It never flashed in the presence of number 7 either. It may be that they don't even consider us a threat. Which would be grand as I don't think we are.

Still, waiting around doesn't have to mean doing nothing. The more we learn, the better we will be able to react to what's going on around us. I won't be long."

Forgetting his boots, Wraecca opens the door and discovers he's forgotten one other minor detail. The light from a nearby lantern explodes across his retinas. He jerks the door shut again and staggers back as the afterimages of the lantern glow like a flare within his eyes.

"That was incredibly stupid!" he exclaims.

 

She gets up and attempts to examine him. "What, what happened?"

She pulls his hands from his eyes and looks for damage. "Maybe they don't. If they are... these god-like things, then how significant can we be? Just some silly peasant people running around."

She pats his cheek lightly. "No blood. I thought you walked into something out there. Like Napalm."

"Napalm, yeah, uh, no." He shakes his head. Willing the dancing spots surrounding him to fade. "My eyes just take a moment to change to sudden changes in light. The lantern outside threw me for a moment." He blinks hard a couple of times. "They're not gods, or they'd not be worried about the likes of us. Older and more experienced would be something I'm more inclined to believe."

He opens the door slowly this time. Satisfied, he turns and kisses Lillian's cheek. "Wish me luck."

Wraecca departs. His boots once again forgotten.

 

She looks a bit stunned at the show of emotion. He manages to get to the end of the hallway before he hears her padding after him.

"You forgot... these," she says, holding the boots out. "Or are you planning on wading somewhere?"

She smiles a bit. "And you're just going to leave me?"

 

He grins sheepishly as he puts on the boots. "You can come along if you'd like. Better then going out of your mind with boredom. Bring your bug too."

 

She nods and runs back to the rooms. A few moments later she returns, wearing a pair of slacks and a button up shirt, and a cloak over her shoulder. She motions to the pants. "I saw some women do wear them. Never been comfy in dresses."

The butterfly floats over her shoulder, favouring shadows. "Um, should we name it?"

 

He glances at the flickering in the shadows, "I'm partial to the name bug, but yes, it's a good idea for you to give it a name. That way you become better bonded."

She stares at the bug a moment, then touches it seriously. "Stan." She turns and heads down the hallway, her attempt at being quiet sounding like an earthquake doing the limbo to his sensitive ears. "Now, what are we investigating?"

 

Wraecca grimaces, and hurries to catch up. "Nothing major yet. We are tourists here. We need to figure out the layout of the city. We stay in well-lit areas. Figure out where the major attractions and get a feel of the townsfolk. Nothing ninja style and nothing dangerous. It's best to be conservative in the initial forays in an unknown locale."

 

She nods and seems glad to not be consigned into any spy work. She abandons the secretive stance and pads down the stairs. Ironically, enough, Wraecca finds she's actually quieter when she's not trying to be sneaky.

The pub downstairs is seeing off the last of it's drunks, the dregs of the city staggering out with hazy glares. Lillian manoeuvres among them, managing to avoid a few half-heart attempts at a cheap feel.

 

Wraecca arches an eyebrow at her adroit movements. Of course she's had to work with military types for awhile. Ducking 5 finger reconnaissance must come with the territory. He's glad to see that Stan hasn't picked off any of the louts so far.

Outside he directs Lillian along main streets and well lit areas. They read flyers and postings, and take notes of the major establishments, streets, intersections, public works and such. Wraecca also makes a point of having them walk by the city guard if possible. It's good to see how they are equipped and operate.

He keeps their journey as innocent as possible avoiding danger where he can.

He reads notices for auctions, persons wanted, items for sale, public meetings. The regular village fair. Lillian peeks into the windows of closed shops, tarrying more as their trek leads them higher into the city, and into a nicer district.

The guard barely pays them heed as they pass, not even setting off a stir from the soul stone. They carry swords, mostly of a medium size. Some have a dagger or two haphazardly tucked into a boot, or a crossbow at the belt, but for the most part they seem satisfied with one big knife.

The street grows a bit brighter as they walk, until Lillian stops dead, her eyes locked onto something in the not so far distance.

Castle Amber.

"Wow, that's one impressive pile of rock. I don't imagine they allow tours there during the night though. What do you think of the city so far?"

 

She doesn't take her eyes off the castle. "It looks fairly calm. Heavy on the social caste thing, but that could just be architectural residue from another time." Her voice is soft as she steps back, shying away from the castle. "That's where Gerard said all the Princes live. I don't know if a tour is something I'd want."

Wraecca replies, "Me either." he follows her away from the castle, "Let's just take it one day at time."

She turns and takes his hand. "Let's." She walks down the street, her eyes skyward, and she shivers. "Not even the same stars... For a while it was just like visiting some foreign country, but it's beginning to set in now... how far away we are."

 

Wraecca puts his arm around her to ward off the chill. "Were not far, were home. It'll just take a couple months to get situated. I imagine I'll need to find a job. I haven't seen anything that looks like a newspaper though. Maybe they have a placement agency in town somewhere."

She laughs softly. "I think putting those coin operated newspaper dispensers from back home would just ruin the ambiance. Like 'Ye Olde ATM.' You think they have the idea of psychology here? That's all I'm really good at." She thinks a moment. "Of course, technically our last session never ended, so you must owe me quite a bit by now..."

Wraecca chuckles, "I thought I paid you back with this all expense paid vacation to see exotic new places and meet interesting people? Besides, with your psychology skills and some additional training you might do well in military psyops, propaganda, diplomacy, to the simple mundane of haggling with merchants. It's gotta be real cool to know people's motivations like that."

She sighs. "Psychology doesn't work like that, at least not my brand. I'm more into the therapeutic sciences, and unfortunately that doesn't give me an instant window into someone's mind. You know how long it took me to figure at least a little of what drove you out?"

"And as for interesting places, I don't think I'd care to wander some of the locals you seem to dredge up. Famine, wars... just not my idea of a great vacation. And people..." A laugh. "Well, Clarice is about as interesting as they get, isn't it?"

 

Wraecca nods, "Sounds like therapeutic psychology is complex stuff. Have you made any headway into what makes Clarice tick? Wait! Don't tell me, I don't want to know."

Looking around Wraecca says, "Well the journey might have been a little rough, but the destination isn't have bad at first glance."

 

"No, it's not," she agrees. Lillian puts a finger to her lips and stares off into the distance. "Clarice... I'd like to get some time alone with her. I think she runs off of animal impulse and paranoia. Not so different from you sometimes..." She looks down. "I'm glad I caught you when you did. You'd most likely end up like her in a few hundred years if you ran around unchecked."

Her voice grows softer. "What disturbs me most is her reaction to you."

 

Wraecca chuckles, "You mean her complete lack of any paternal instinct? I imagine she's just not the type. Probably worried I'd slow her down."

 

She moves closer to him. "She must have cared at one point. She risked life and limb to stay near her lover, didn't she? And you... who knows what she was like." She sighs. "If someone I loved came back from the dead, I'd think I'd at least show some happiness. Her... " She laughs, but it has an ironic ring to it. "She hits you, holds you at gun point, then just tells you to sleep on the couch. She hasn't even really accepted you are her son."

She looks at Wraecca. "Gerard offered you your true face back... Have you thought of taking him up on it?"

"Yeah, I best do that. I wonder what I'm supposed to look like?" He grabs his nose and pulls it out a couple of inches, "Maybe I got a huge snout. Releasing his nose it retreats with an audible snap. "Maybe Clarice will be more accepting if I start looking like her son, eh?"

She laughs and nudges him in the ribs. "You must be popular with the girls. It's a wonder I didn't see you with a flock trailing after you on the barracks." She looks at his face. "I can imagine it might make her cope with it, getting your real face back. And I suppose if you don't like it, or she doesn't react well, you can always change it, can't you?"

 

Wraecca chuckles, "Never fear that. I can rearrange my looks easily enough. And since I'm not the one that has to look at them...I'm more then happy to appear however people like."

She touches his face, considering. "This one is fine for me, although it is a bit disconcerting that you grabbed it from a corpse. What if someone recognized you?" She pauses. "There must be other shapeshifters around somewhere. Gerard knew what they were. I wonder how they identify themselves."

Wraecca shrugs, "If there's a secret handshake, nobody has ever bothered to tell me. Not that shapechangers seem to want to advertise their capabilities. People get kind a leery of individuals they can't keep track of. Anyways, if you have a preference as how you would see me, let me know. It's easy enough to arrange."

looks at him seriously. "As your therapist, I have to tell you to take the face you're most comfortable with, and not to change to suit anyone elseís desires. However, if what you're comfortable as happens to look like Sean Connery, I'm not about to complain."

"Sean Connery? Hmmm...don't know any Sean Connerys. Any chance you got a picture of him handy?"

She laughs. "Damn. Left all my magazines at home. Guess I'll have to make do, huh?" She breathes in deep, and Wraecca can smell the salt, heavy in the air. "So, what does tomorrow bring?"

 

Wraecca replies, "Don't rightly know. I figure we'll get some additional info from Clarice from whatever she's been about. Maybe Gerard will show up. If not, I can always look for work."

 

She touches the pouch at her side as they approach the inn. "We're pretty well covered for a while. What do you think you'll look for?"

She looks back at the castle, sitting eerily in the moonlight. "What if you're royalty? That might get you something." She stops. "But if you're royalty, that would make..." She cracks up. "Oh god. Princess Clarice."

Wraecca tries to imagine Clarice at a formal ball dressed in finery and a large hoop skirt as opposed to her typical hellrider attire. His train of thought derails. "That's flatly impossible Lillian. Reality couldn't make a joke that big."

She rolls her eyes. "Oh, I don't know Wraecca, she might be a good princess. What colours do you think she'd choose? I think she's more a spring than an autumn. Pink and lavender... Pastels and the like."

Derailing, his train of thought continues it's plunge down a steep ravine...meanwhile, back in reality, Wraecca walks straight into a signpost.

Lillian nearly splits the corset around her shirt when peals of laughter erupt from her. She sits on the ground to recover, wiping a tear from her cheek.

Wraecca wonders how someone so wonderfully compassionate can be so eager to laugh at his misfortune.

Rubbing his face, Wraecca gets back on his feet. "Nothing injured but my dignity," he says ruefully.

Seeing that they are once again at the inn he says, "Let's get off the street before the city guard arrests me for drunkenness."

She picks herself up, still giggling. "Fine by me. Maybe your mom is back." She pauses, and her face sombres. "Or is it just Clarice? Your choice, Wraecca."

Brushing off his clothes he replies, "Clarice I guess. She has trouble enough with the concept of me being her son without me constantly reminding her." As they head into the inn he adds, "That may change, we'll see how it goes."

She nods, and they wind their way to the inn again.

The bar is empty, and their room, too, is barren. Lillian sighs. "I guess this is going to be one of the lovely bonuses to having her as a travelling companion, huh?"

 

Wraecca takes a seat in a nearby chair. "Yeah, seems that way. I wonder what she's up to that's keeping her up so late?"

Lillian looks out the window. "I don't know. I'd like to think she's just prowling and getting comfortable, but it's so hard to get a read on her. She's guarded. Even when she talks freely, I know she's hiding something. Hiding everything." She shivers. "She's so old... Maybe you're lucky you didn't have a complete memory. Her's is intact, from what I can see, and she doesn't seem to remember much that's pleasant."

Wraecca chuckles, "Yeah, she's a tough one to read. I imagine when youíre that old, getting somebody to know you just takes longer. Look at this way, condensing down my memories of being human puts me subjectively around 50 or 60 years old. It took you months of work to get me to open up. Now if she's over a thousand years I'd guess you could spend decades trying to figure her out."

A hideous thought comes to Wraecca as he looks at Lillian. He sees the sunlight from the window casting her shadow as a fragile piece of mortality blowing in the winds of time. Like all shadows it will so soon flicker and fade.

She laughs drily. "Great, between the two of you I'll keep busy until I retire." She looks back at him, and seems to catch some of his last thought in his face. Her face gains a touch of sadness to it, and she doesn't bother to give it words.

Wraecca walks over to where Lillian is standing. "I don't know what the future will bring for us." Taking her hand in his he continues, "But it is my sincere hope we can find out together."

She hugs him tightly. "I hope you figure where you fit in all of this sometime before..." She lets the sentence hang.

She sighs. "I don't envy you. You get to spend the rest of eternity with Clarice." Her head on his chest, she manages a weak smile. "Immortal or no, a year is still a year, right?"

"Year is still a year and time will take us together," he affirms, softly stroking her hair.

Gazing out the window he realizes it was the moon and not the sun that cast Lillian's shadow. Letting his gaze fall on Lillian he says, "The night is late. Coffee or no you should get some rest before morning comes."

She nods, but doesn't release him. "Are you going out too, leaving me with Stan?" She looks up. "I'm not so sure about the wisdom of prowling. I think Clarice just doesn't like walls. Or company. There's nothing out there that can't wait until day break."

Looking into her eyes he says, "Who's Clarice?" Before she can respond Wraecca kisses Lillian.

She returns in kind, and he feels in her embrace something more than desire, or feelings to him. She holds him tight, and he wonders that she's that strong and he never knew it. He feels the need there, not only the need to be loved and wanted, but to be protected... He feels the loneliness she feels, and understands why it was her that got him to open up, to remember his mother, the pattern, the horrors... A girl stuck in the middle of a war, with no more power to herself than to try to heal the wrecked psyches around her.

She pulls away after a moment, and puts her head to his chest. "I'm your... your... I shouldn't. It's wrong." She shakes.

Holding her gently Wraecca says "Therapist? I think when people love each other they are each other's therapists for all time. You complete my world Lillian, you got me in touch with myself, and now I can reach out to you."

He smiles down at her, "If it makes you feel any better you could always pronounce me cured."

She laughs nervously. "I wish I could. But this isn't the most stable of places, you only made a breakthrough a few days ago, and there's always relapse." She sighs and looks up at him, her eyes wet and brimming.

"It all moves so fast. Events, relationships, versions of reality... I need my own therapist at this point."

Wraecca continues to hug her for a moment longer, before holding her at arms length. His eyes shine his affection, "I'll let you make whatever decisions you think are best. This is a crazy time for us and your right, I guess I could relapse. I just want you to know I want you in my life however you would like."

He drops his hands to his side though the affection never leaves his eyes, "Besides, it's not a race to run but a life to live." His voice changes as he says the last and hair begins to lengthen on his arms and legs. His facial features begin to warp and Lillian realizes he is again changing into her guardian timberwolf.

She sits and watches the transformation, fascinated. She smiles softly once he is done, and reaches out, stroking his fur.

As she does so the timberwolf licks her hand presents his paw. Whatever else, Wraecca seems to have the mannerisms of a wolf down pat.

"Let's sleep on it. A good eight hours will do us good." She reaches out and kisses the top of his head, then moves to make her way out of her encumbering dress and into that old baseball jersey.

The timberwolf curls up in a ball and lays at the foot of the bed. His tail brushes across his nose and he keeps one eye watching her; purely for purposes of vigilance of course. His tail wags as he assumes his role as guard.

The night passes uneventfully, fading slowly into day. Clarice doesn't show through the night. sometime after dawn, Lillian stirs and looks around. "Still not a dream..." she mummers. She lays her head down and looks at Wraecca at the foot of her bed. She smiles warmly. "Puppy or human this morning?"

The timberwolf gets to it's feet and leisurely begins to transform. "Human I think. The table service is better when you make orders on two legs, and I'm starved."

Wraecca pulls on his clothes. "I could eat a horse." He glances at Lillian and smiles. "Except the townsfolk would get upset. So whatever they're serving for breakfast will have to do."

She laughs lightly and sits up, moving nervously close to him. She kisses him on the cheek, pauses, then lightly on the lips.

"Okay. Breakfast."

She moves to get dressed. "And, of course, coffee. Morning always seems to come a bit too soon with you around."

Wraecca shakes his head but his grin lends no seriousness to the gesture. "Coffee was what got you in this mess. Don't be blaming me."

She tosses her hair. "Hmph. Don't disparage coffee. You know how many nights it kept me up to observe you? You should thank it." She winks, then proceeds to get dressed.

"No Clarice, huh? I hope she didn't get into too much trouble."

Wraecca shrugs, "No Clarice, I'll track her down if she doesn't show by lunchtime. Speaking of which, did she leave anything of herís in the room?"

Lillian glances around. The room is nice, but not so opulent that there's much of a place to stash things. "It looks like she took everything with her." She knits her brow, and he can see her mentally stow something for later.

She laces up her top and heads for the door. "Hope our benefactor doesn't show while she's gone. I don't think he'd take it well."

Opening the door for Lillian he says, "Guess we'll burn that bridge after we cross it."

Lillian nods in agreement as she exits. The bar downstairs is somewhat busy, mostly with people eating a quick breakfast before going to work, or sailors fresh from port looking for anything to eat that isn't salted and dried.

Lillian orders eggs, sunny side up, and a juice. She puts her chin in her hand. "You know, this might be the first calm day we've had in a long time."

Wraecca for his part, orders a dozen hard-boiled eggs, bacon, potatoes, oatmeal, ham, 2 full stacks of pancakes and a carafe of orange juice. He glances side-long at Lillian and rolls his eyes at her optimism, "Now you gone and done it. We'll probably have a hurricane before we can finish breakfast."

Wraecca gets some odd looks - okay, quite a few - with his large order, and even more when he begins wolfing it down easily. Lillian slowly eats her eggs and steals a piece of his bacon.

"If a hurricane is the worst thing we see, I'll be happy. Now, where are we going? I'll go batty waiting in that room all day."

Wraecca nods, "Yeah, so would I. I'm thinking I'll look around and see what's available as far as jobs. I want to find employment as soon as possible. It'll get us situated faster."

He pauses to toss back another egg. Odd, how he doesn't bother to shell them.

"Once that's done we'll need to come up with some places for us to live. I don't relish living in a inn the rest of my days, even if the food is good."

"We..." she mummers. She shakes her head. "Okay, the first thing we have to work on is blending in. And shells are a no-no to eat." She stops him from consuming another, and smiles as she takes it from him and starts peeling it. "I don't care what you tell me it's good

for."

She hands him back the peeled egg. "What do you think you'll do? We have enough money for now... what about your supposed family? We're kind of neighbours now."

Wraecca eyes the peeled egg suspiciously. "Maybe, but I have no idea who or where they are. Clarice seems to have run off, and the money we have won't last forever. I figure a good way to relate to this place is getting a job. After all, everyone else has one. Weíre going to stick out just by not having anything to do.

I wonder how they do recruitments for the castle guard? That would be fun, and I'd learn how to use those swords we see people wearing."

Lillian puts on her best sceptical therapist face. "We're in a strange world, in a potentially hostile area, with a wandering sociopath under our wing. I think getting to know what's out there supersedes any job. Taking a day or two to orient ourselves is not waste of time." She pokes him playfully in the ribs. "So eager to set up house with me?"

Wraecca shrugs with a smile, "I don't know about eager, you have this dreadful tendency to snore. Poor Stan was being tossed around the room by the air currents."

Finishing off his breakfast, he continues, "Okay, a couple days more or less isn't going to make any difference. We can walk around town and maybe figure some things out."

She hits his arm. "At least I don't shed!" _That_ draws some looks, and she lowers her voice again.

"Okay. We seem to have a few options then: explore your family, find Clarice, find Gerard... But from a therapeutic stance, maybe we should figure out how we went from here," she waves her hand, "to the place with the..." she chokes a bit, and drinks a sip of juice. "You know."

"Honestly Lillian I don't think it's wise to explore the latter. At least not together. The whole thing doesn't seem to agree with you much. I will say this, you weren't awake at the time but Gerard showed Clarice and I that he possessed a flawless version. I do think it's important to check that out."

As for Clarice, she would be difficult to track down as I don't have her spore. And I imagine Gerard could be back at his office by the docks. But if he had the time to spare, he would be visiting us again."

She nods, but he notices that she holds her fork tightly. "You want to visit-- that thing..." Her breathing becomes erratic, and he can seen her struggle to get it under control.

She throws down the fork. "How can you... live with that thing inside of you?" she cries, tears brimming.

Standing up, he looks at her and arches and eyebrow, "I think we should go for a walk. Maybe we will bump into Clarice. We haven't seen much of the town by day and now is excellent."

She dries her eyes on a dingy napkin and nods. "Okay." Shaking, she throws a few coins on the counter and stands.

"Walking is good. Where to?"

"I thought maybe there would be a marketplace. I'd like to get a feel for how people interact in crowds. Maybe get an idea of what is bought and sold. Trade and culture go hand in hand."

She nods, and heads out.

Outside, the town bustles, another busy day. Lillian calms and walks by Wraecca's side. She smiles ironically. "Too bad they don't seem to sell notepads here. I'm itching for one. Maybe our big friend can snag us one."

She tosses her hair, and as they walk, she occasionally throws some psycho-babble lexicon at him.

Wraecca lets her talk as he takes in the sights and sounds of the city. It was obviously another close call with her nemesis. /Therapist analyse thyself/ he thinks wryly.

They make their way up the city, Lillian chattering away, practically writing her thesis on the way. "You know, I bet they have a university here. They just have to... I bet the collections are out of this world--"

She stops dead, and looks up. The castle again. "Well, decision time."

Wraecca looks up at the castle and laughs, "What the hell, maybe they give tours. C'mon." He heads towards the castle.

She takes his hand as they make their way up the stairs. After a while, Lillian becomes red-faced and sits on the sidewall.

"Okay, now I know why someone invented the sports bra-- these things are hell!"

She looks up at the castle. "So, someone asks us who we are, what do we say? Wandering headshrinker and her puppy?"

Wraecca scratches his head absently. As tired as Lillian is, he could be reading a book in a library chair for all the exertion has had on him. "I figured we'd tell them the truth. We're tourists."

She shrugs. "Guess the truth is simpler." She hops down. "And I guess it wouldn't be dignified if you carried me, huh?" She begins her ascent again. "I need a bauble. I really do. Where did you get that soulstone?"

Starting to climb again Wraecca says, "Dignified for me or for you? I'll carry you easily enough if you'd like. As to where I found the stone, it was in a place that would make Dante's Inferno look like a nursery in Disneyland. I didn't stay long to take notes."

"Ah. Then maybe I don't need it. After all what would I do with endless stamina, huh?" She thinks a moment, then turns red and laughs. "Okay, that. But really. It's not like I plan on doing any marathon therapy sessions." She sighs. "Still-- to never get tired. You must get bored when I'm asleep."

The make it to the top, and Lillian is panting. A guard eyes her nervously and approaches. "Ma'am...?" She looks at him.

"Soda machine around here?" He shakes his head. "Damn."

Ignoring the guard, Wraecca looks back the way they came. "Lillian look at the view. You can see the whole city from up here. Ain't it great!"

She looks back and smiles. "Glad I'm not acrophobic." The guard watches her a moment, then backs off with a nod.

"Thought we had another fainter."

She motions to Wraecca and takes his arm. "Castle time? Wonder if they have a gift shop."

Wraecca nods with a grin, "Sure letís."

Acting for all the world like they belong there, he heads toward the castle gate.

They make their way inside, and the outfits bought the day before work, as no one gives them a second look.

He sees Lillian reach inside her purse and pull out a few coins again. She flips through them. "Okay," she whispers. "What exactly are we looking for?"

Wraecca laughs and speaks in a normal tone of voice, "Well if I see Clarice or Gerard, I'd probably say hello."

He stops and admires a huge Unicorn tapestry. "That's a cool looking beast. Funny, I don't think I've ever seen one for real."

"I've seen it around here quite a bit. It's on the coins too. Maybe a national animal or something?"

She looks around and licks her lips. "Information. We need information... A library!" She looks around franticly.

Wraecca glances around as well. "It doesn't look they have much in the way of signs or maps in this place. But I would imagine the castle has a library. All the best castles have them."

She nods, thinks a moment, then puts on her best smile and stops a young serving boy short.

She bites her lip. "Oh, excuse me, but my friend and I are lost... could you point the way to the library?" She bats her eyelashes, and Wraecca realizes she's flirting.

The young man (well, boy, actually) flushes and stammers out some directions, which Lillian listens to, as if rapt. After he finishes, she smiles at him winningly and pulls Wraecca along.

"I suppose they all do, don't they?"

Wraecca chuckles, "It's basic castle SOP." With instructions known, he walks with Lillian toward the library. He stops frequently to admire artwork and speculate on the themes not bothering to whisper or hide his presence. He figures at this point that the castle must be open to the public during visitor's hours. Whatever those happen to be.

Lillian rushes a bit more, not lingering at art or other points of interest. By the time Wraecca finds her in the library, she's already accosting a doddering old man, who struggles to find the books she's asking for.

"..._Colour_ pictures. Do you have that here? And maps... Oh! And histories!"

Wraecca smiles and slips past bookcases and reads the titles on the shelves. Content presently to browse and see what there is available. Lillian seems quite focused on something or other, but just learning what is available has it's uses as well.

Her tirade continues for a few minutes, until finally he figures she must have enough to read, and he spies her at a table, under a pile of books.

A few titles catch his eye-- some about shadows, others about pattern. Some appears just to be highly acclaimed works of fiction.

And then one mentioning shapeshifting...

Wraecca pauses and removes the book on shapeshifting. Moving to a secluded wall he opens the cover and takes his time reading what can be found within.

At first, he's disappointed-- he knew all of this already! But then the book starts mentioning something called Chaos-- the courts of Chaos. Somewhere at the end of all the shadows. Apparently just brimming with shapeshifters. He wonders that none of the mighty Amberites are mentioned for shifting abilities.

Lillian writes furiously at her table, having acquired a few pieces of parchment and a pen somewhere. Most likely from the timid salt-and-pepper haired man across the room whom she accosted for the books.

Wraecca walks over to where Lillian is, "Check this out...there's this other place called the Courts of Chaos. Everyone there is a shapeshifter. It's like uh, opposite from Amber. Wherever that is."

He glances at what Lillian's writing.

Her eyes scan a history, and she makes frantic, scrambled notes on the parchment. He manages to decipher a name or two, but most everything else is a smear of ink.

She looks at his book for a moment, eyes intense. "Chaos... chaos... that's where the first one came from." She runs her fingers over the paper where she writes. "Dworkin." She shakes her head. "There's so much to digest. I thought the author was waxing philosophic when they said he was a lord of Chaos."

She goes back to writing. "Maybe we can hit there next."

"So your average Lord of Chaos is probably also a shapeshifter. Something to keep in mind if we ever run into one. Who was Dworkin. Is he one of the Chaos Lords?"

"Well, yeah, and there's some weird stuff about a Unicorn and the..." She swallows, then waves her hand and finishes her sentence quickly. "He drew the good one."

She turns over her paper and searches. "And he fathered the king of this place, but that guy doesn't rule anymore-- looks like his son does. Corwin." She pauses and looks over the paper. "There's well over a dozen kids by this guy, more than the coins show."

He nods and walks back to the bookshelves. He saw a book or two about the pattern. In might do to take a closer examination of this subject since Lillian is so adversive to it. Maybe there's such a thing as a Pattern Allergy? A reference to where the original pattern is located could be useful to.

At first, he's overwhelmed by the choices. There doesn't appear to be a 'Pattern for Dummies' book, though. Finally he finds a slim red volume, free of pseudo-philosophical babble, and begins to read.

The author obviously decided to focus on the facts rather than a handful of conjecture. The pattern, it appears, is in the basement of the castle, back in a little antechamber. The author describes walking it, the effects, the mechanics of walking in shadow.

At the table, Lillian throws her old paper on the floor, much to the dismay of a librarian, and starts anew. She mutters to herself quietly.

Wraecca's eyes shift from Lillian back to the book. Slapping the book shut he walks quietly out of the library. Judging from Lillian's absorption into the literature. She'll be there for some time to come. Maybe there's time to see what this pattern looks like?

Lillian doesn't note his passing, and he realizes she's working on some kind of branched thing. A tree?

He wanders aimlessly for a bit, playing the part of the visitor to a tee. Eventually, he finds a door that leads to stairs, and not just another room.

After the first few steps, he can see nothing. A guard stands there, and eyes him suspiciously. "Lost?"

Wraecca nods, "Sort of, I'm to understand that there is a Pattern in the basement of the castle. Is this the correct way?"

The man's eyes narrow. "Yeah. But you need an Elder with you. Had too many tourist deaths last year." Wraecca notes a sword on the man's hip, and his hand resting comfortably on it.

Wraecca tenses slightly. In the confines of the stairway he's pretty confident that he'd tear this speedbump apart before he could draw his sword. Not a real effective close quarters weapon; the sword. Still the fellow is merely doing his job. No need to initiate mayhem quite yet and so he relaxes his stance.

"Okay. Sounds reasonable enough. Where can I find an Elder?"

The man furrows his brow. "Where are you from? You don't just find one. They're royalty. They don't have time to show every peasant around, you know."

Wraecca leans forwards slightly, "Well yes, I can see your point. The problem is, I've already walked a broken version of the pattern several times, in another dimension, and It's causing my therapist all sorts of grief. Honestly, I think she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I'm guessing, but I think it's the flaws in the broken version that are responsible. Now, if I walk the perfect version, my guess is a lot of her anxieties will go away. If I fail, there won't even be that much to clean up. So what's the issue? Like I said, I'm from out of town. No lawyer is going to sue the crown if things don't work out."

The soldier shakes his head. "Rules are rules. No elder, no passing. For all I know you're one of those damn Chaosites some to cause havoc." He loosens his blade in it's scabbard. "Now, you can either find someone else to bother, or I can call the rest of the guard."

Wraecca nods, "My thanks for giving me the decision." He turns and heads back toward the library.

/I think I got a good imprint of that guy./

He finds Lillian still at her work, her tree getting more filled in, and quite a bit more confusing. She glares at the paper, as if it is its fault for bearing an incorrect diagram.

Wraecca leans over and examines Lillian's work. "Thinking about getting a degree in engineering?"

She looks up startled. "Gah! I'm going to put a bell on you or something!" She looks down and curses. "I'm trying to put the family in order, but there are so many crossovers and disputes and weird timeline things, I think I'm wasting my time."

She points to another book. "But I think I have an idea of what they look like, and some of their circles. Apparently, rag-mags and the like abound even here, just in a more formal form." She thumbs through. "Lots of nasty, juicy stories. It's like living with the worst from back home. I think they're trying to outdo each other."

She looks at him. "What did you find?"

Wraecca shrugs, "Went for a walk, had a conversation with one of the guards. Wasn't very productive. Kinda like trying to make idle conversation with a cop whose writing you out a ticket."

"You left?!" She looks around. "I didn't see you leave!" She looks at the book pile in front of her ruefully. "Feel like I'm in grad school again. Just need a pot of eight hour old coffee and a drunken frat boy snoring at my feet, and it'd be like old times."

She crumples up her tree. "What did you find?"

"Didn't find much of anything. Seems most the royalty are referred to as Elders"

She nods. "You know, I noticed that too. Seems odd, seeing as how none of them look all that old. I mean, I know they _are_ old, but they really don't look like they have too many years on me. And from what I've read, age or no, they still _act_ like they're young. Sleeping around, being hot-headed, that sort of thing."

She taps a list. "I've made a list of the nicer sounding ones."

Wraecca looks over the list. "Nobody I've heard of, except maybe Gerard. Was there any documentation on that guy?"

She nods. "Yup. But not as interesting. He's quite literally the strongest man in the universe. I could have guessed by looking at him. Anyway, he runs the navy around here, and pretty much stays local. So no interesting shadow stories. He's fairly well respected."

She points to another name. "Number seven. Caine. Nasty piece of work, that. His stories read like some cheap detective novel crossed with a story about BlackBeard the pirate."

Wraecca chuckles, "I get the feeling that the interesting ones are the people we need to stay clear of. Blackbeard offered me a fencing lesson in that sword shop. I feeling better about turning him down."

She shudders. "I know what you mean. I didn't like the look of him either. Kind of like a creepy drug dealer, you know?" She goes to point to another name, but someone speaks out, nearly causing to Lillian to hit the ceiling.

"He's not all that bad."

Wraecca hears a click, and smells the distinctive smell of tobacco burning from behind him.

Wraecca snorts and without bothering to turn around tells Lillian, "Let me guess, he smokes as well..."

Wraecca slowly turns to take in the new presence in the room.

Clarice raises an eyebrow. "He? Oh, thanks. I didn't think I was that butch." She lowers her lighter and levels a deadly glare at a protesting librarian.

She puffs. "I found Mr. Seven wandering the halls last night. We struck up a conversation and I found out he doesn't like to sleep either."

Wraecca shakes his head, "Glad to hear you had a good time. Lillian and I have been walking around bored. The library seemed a good place for answers so we came here."

"You make your own parties." She taps some ash on the floor. "But you'díve been bored with two old timers sitting around being mildly menacing and not sleeping." She sits at the table. "So, what's our brainiac found us?"

Lillian looks down at her notes. "Minutiae. Titbits. I'm getting a feel for this place." She looks at Clarice. "It's not easy to be once of the normal folk in the land of gods, you know."

Clarice shrugs. "Who said it's easy being a god?"

Wraecca pipes up, "It's no Sunday brunch being somewhere in the middle either."

Clarice shrugs. "Anyway..." she looks at Lillian, who listens, rapt. "Kiddo. You think you can entertain yourself for a minute?" Lillian looks surprised, and a bit hurt, but she nods. Clarice stands and motions for Wraecca to follow.

"Good. Be back in a bit."

Squeezing Lillian's shoulder briefly, Wraecca moves to follow Clarice. Once in the hallway he remarks, "Sorry bout confusing your voice. You might consider cutting back on the smokes sometime."

She blows smoke in his face. "I've worked on this rasp for years. I'd hate to have been wasting my time." She takes a long drag and exhales slowly. "I saw it," she says finally.

"The good one."

"I heard it might be in the basement. I got stopped by a guard. Didn't feel like raising a ruckus." Waving a hand absently to dispel the smoke he adds, "is there a way we can get there?"

"Walking. Caine took me. We got pretty bored after we realized we really didn't want to share anything, but didn't want to be the first to leave, either. He's an odd one."

She leans against the wall with her shoulder. "You interested in seeing it? He's still around."

Wraecca nods, "Yeah, that I would. I got a desperate feeling it's important to both me and mine."

"You and yours?" Clarice cocks an eyebrow, but says nothing.

She turns and heads down the hallway. "Figured you'd want to go. C'mon. Spooky's waiting."

"Spook?" Wraecca cocks an eyebrow but says nothing, merely follows the quickly departing Clarice.

"You'd have to have been there." She leads him down a familiar hallway, and he sees Caine. Caine's eyes fall on Wraecca as they approach. Clarice moves to introduce them, but Caine smirks.

"We've met."

Clarice looks at him, and shrugs. "Guess they did do something. Colour me surprised." And she opens the door to the stairs, takes up a lamp, and descends into the darkness.

/Damn, no wonder Clarice likes it here, everyone has a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that never quits. It's like rope climbing with barbed wire./

Absently he whistles the "Don't worry, be happy" song in hopes it infuriates one of his companions.

He sees Clarice reach under her belt, and hears Caine clear his throat. "Guns don't work." She spits a nasty curse and moves down the stairs faster.

The stairs-- Wraecca wonders how many they could possibly have. He's reminded of some of the more sinister shadows in his past.

Catching Caine's eye, Wraecca remarks, "There a lot that's dark in such a bright city."

Caine gives off a sound that somewhere, might be considered a laugh. "No. It's a dark city with a fresh coat of paint on top."

"And a big fucking nightlight," adds Clarice.

Wraecca continues along silently. A clean city without wars and disease, happy citizens, with work and simple pleasures for all apparent is belied by the sarcasm and cynicism of it's royalty. Gerard didn't seem too bad except for a bit of a temper. Maybe it's a case of power having a dark influence on people, or maybe enough years in an immortals life naturally leads to burnout. If that's the case, Wraecca reflects that maybe he should pick an arbitrary age and fling himself off a cliff. And Lillian was worried she wouldn't be able to find work. Shaking his head, Wraecca laughs to himself.

They reach the bottom of the stairs, and Clarice heads back into some tunnels-- fortunately, the walk isn't far. The caves are kind of dank.

She seems to count doors, then finds the one she wants. She looks back to Caine for confirmation, and he nods. She takes a key off a peg and opens it.

Inside, the room is lit, and dimly, Wraecca is reminded of his pattern, in that desolate ghost of a town. It glows blue, electric almost... Clarice puts down her lamp and crosses her arms.

"Nightlight."

Caine grunts and leans against the wall next to the door.

Recall the recently read book that described how the pattern is supposed to be walked he heads over to where he perceives the beginning is.

"Should be a sign posted saying 'No deposits no returns'"

The soulstone starts to heat up in his breast, pulsing.

"Indeed," says a voice from behind him. "I just have one piece of advice. Don't stop."

Before he can react, and hand presses his back and shoves him forward, landing his foot directly on the blue line. Sparks fly up, and Wraecca can feel an unnatural energy course through him.

Dimly, he hears, "It's all for the best Clarice. Put that away."

Struggling to maintain his balance Wraecca nearly goes to one knee. His form ripples as he instinctively redistribute his weight to maintain equilibrium. Sensations tingle in his feet and he struggles with the sensation. Another step, another lesson. Don't turn your back on Caine.

He steps, and he can feel the broken pattern within him struggle against the new order tearing his body apart.

He finds his mind flooded with every movement, and for the first time in countless lost years, he can remember his childhood clearly. His stomach twists as he sees Clarice as what she was.

Hair down her back, tied in braids, laughing, leaning out a window, chiding him for sleeping in, but not really caring. He feels cold as he remembers a Clarice not so jaded, not so bitter.

The resistance grows greater, and he recalls the broken pattern, and the night of terror that shattered his happy existence. He can feel the two versions battling within him, striving for control-- the darkness of the breaks flares for a moment...

Then is filled with a bright blue light.

The resistance disappears, and he recalls those first years, drifting from shadow to shadow, running from terrors, running with wolves, learning to lose himself in his shifting...

The stone pulses, no longer a warning, but some kind of reaction to the pattern he walks-- he remembers finding it, and finally finding a centre again...

And he remembers the war... fighting mindlessly, another face in a doomed army... And a dark haired girl sipping coffee, looking over him in a lab...

He loses sense of himself. The resistance is too strong... He loses himself again...

The soulstone pulses, his foot falls, and he finds himself at the centre of the pattern. Dimly, he hears Clarice yelling for him and cursing at Caine.