Added on November 13, 1999
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf crossover
Author: Lledrith Ravenwolf

Converging Dimensions

Author's Note: Zakath and Mallorea belong to David Eddings, but other than the Zaknafeins, the rest belong to me. Any use of them is not allowed unless permission has been granted from me, etc, etc ;D This story's general idea is already rather used, but I hope you would find it interesting. To my friends Risa and Skye.

World Report
Chapter 1: Human - Zak Damien Sinclair
Chapter 2: Black Elf - Zaknayae Sheba
Chapter 3: Soul - Zaknafein Do’Urden
Chapter 4: Nemesis - Cain Zaknarr
Chapter 5: Emperor - Zakath
Chapter 6: Drow - Zaknafein Do’Urden
Chapter 7: Machine – Z/ak/9018
Chapter 8: Convergence?
Chapter 9: Basically Programming
Chapter 10: Exposé
Chapter 11: Final Battles
Chapter 12: Divergence?
World Report


World Report

Today is the 31st of June 2000.

Showers in many areas in the late afternoon, with unseasonal sleet or snow expected in the evening. The weather phenomenon is currently being investigated by the renowned scientists of America, but has so far yielded no promises.

Temperatures will be in a high of 31 degrees Celsius and a low of –10 degrees Celsius. A freak gale is blowing over Manhattan, and a heat wave is apparent through readings in southern California. Floods have also occurred in various states.

For an update on the weather of the world, the Arctic Sea is still frozen over to Canada. There is a steady rainfall on the Sahara Desert, and a drought in the Amazon Rainforest. Temperatures in Southeast Asia are –8 degrees Celsius, and temperatures in Siberia and the region around it are in excess of 24 degrees Celsius. The snow on Mount Everest has melted and the resulting snowmelt flooded many parts of the Gobi desert.

Now for the news of the hour:

Mount Etna has erupted as have Mount Pinatubo and Mount St. Helens, as well as many other volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire, but enough warning had been given and most of the people have evacuated.

An earthquake of 6.2 on the Richter Scale has occurred in Kobe, disrupting another important route of Japan’s famous ‘Bullet Train’. The death toll stands at one hundred.

The Big One, of 8.2 on the Richter Scale has happened along the San Andreas’ Fault between San Francisco and Los Angeles. More than two hundred have perished and rescue work is being carried out. Heavy rain over the two cities has been essential in putting out many of the fires caused by ruptured gas pipes.

Various people around the world have been reported to see ‘lights’ in the sky. An aurora or northern lights have been sighted in New York, but is reported to have no actual detrimental effects on the population.

Now for an update on Wall Street...

***

[top]

Chapter 1: Human - Zak Damien Sinclair

The street was wide, as streets went. Neat rows of trees had been planted in neat spaces in the pavement, as well as several street benches. Sunlight poured down in generous amounts, and it looked like a perfect summer day.

Except for the fact that it was snowing. Children that were blissfully unaware of what was actually happening played snowball wearing light summer clothes, or built vaguely snowman like structures in the fast darkening, dirty snow.

And paused to look as a large, sleek black, ominously rumbling stretch limousine glided past on silent wheels. Through the see through, bullet proof glass windows was the chauffeur in strict black uniform and cap.

After they eye passes over quite a bit of gleaming black metal, it comes to the rear windows, to see a dog’s face, nose pressed against the frosting, expensive glass. For those who like inconsequential details, it is a highly purebred, pedigree Jack Russell terrier. For those who like microscopic details, it has velvety chocolate brown ears and beautiful soft white fur. Its eyes are of no describable color – in fact it could be safe to say that they are a mix of all the colors, and keeps shifting from one end of the spectrum to the other.

It barks excitedly at one snow sculpture that technically resembles a pile of snow with sticks on and aesthetically resembles a dog.

The children, after pausing somewhat as children do, made a quick decision and ran after the car until the end of the street, after which they walked back to their snow sculptures, lightly melting then freezing in the weather.

***

The other occupant other than the chauffeur and the dog was sprawled on the other side of the limousine, one slender hand cupping a goblet of transparent glass, that held wine of a deep, rich red.

The person was wearing a hand-cut, thousand dollar, bay colored jacket and trousers, white shirt open at the collar. And tailor made shoes, instead of those machine made monstrosities that are all too common these days. The shoes are a deep oxblood color, tastefully curved in at the ‘waist’, as was the current fashion.

More striking was said person’s appearance. His skin was a deep black, offset by the white hair, which stopped above his shoulders. His eyes were a strange green-gray, keen and penetrating and forceful.

He was one of the richest men in America. He’d made his money, strangely, in the convoluted world of Finance, stocks, mergers, takeovers, and legal thievery.

He could be summed up (if a normal person could ever be summarized) in one of those silly women’s magazines, which give information like "Ten Ways to make a Man sleep with You!"

[He] grew up in the slums of [City], but is now the most successful businessman with the possible exception of [Name of said businessman]. In his free time, [he] said, he fences, or writes best-selling fantasy books, like the Dragon’s Own series. [He] has won a few prizes for chess and also some for painting, possibly one of the most complex personas [City] has known other than... (The article now points out a few renowned, boring celebrities and talks about their life histories.)

The car phone rang, and the Jack Russell momentarily changed its attention to criticizing art structures to barking at the electronic device, that sounded like a few dozen insects were trying to sing a song while gorging on alcoholic honey.

"Shut up, dog," the person said calmly, and the dog shut up, cocked its head to the side, and gave a pathetic whine, all the time wagging its tail furiously.

"I know what you’re at," he said dryly, picking up the phone, and looking critically at the screen. Then he smirked, and pressed a button, which read ANSM, or Answering Machine.

The caller at the other end was treated to a dour recorded message that ended in a fusillade of recorded, close up barks from the dog, done quite some time ago for a kick. It certainly didn’t encourage people to call back unless they really had something to tell him.

The ends of the dog’s mouth curled up as if it understood the joke, then it continued to look back out of the window.

***

The limousine stopped neatly in front of a towering building with may black-tinted glass windows and many steps. The chauffeur stepped smartly out and walked down the stretch to open the gleaming door with a white glove, which vaguely resembled Mickey Mouse’s.

The person got out with an uncoiling, conscious grace, not unlike that of a cat’s, holding a light brown soft suitcase. The dog bounded out and onto the steps, where it stopped and looked back expectantly. The black leather collar on its neck turns to show the silver pendant with the dog’s name on.

"Good day, sir," the chauffeur said respectfully, "Same time later?"

"Yes," the person said curtly, favoring the chauffeur with a smile, then went up the stairs, the dog bounding on after him. A plaque at the pillar reads "Sinclair Firms".

The doors slid open, causing the security guard on duty to look up from his comic with a start. (For those who like details, the comic is a new Batman one, and there’s a tea stain on page forty-three) "Morning, Mister Sinclair sir," he said, touching his cap in an informal salute.

"Good morning," the person said, going to the elevator and pressing a button. While he waits, the dog sits down at his side.

"Excuse me sir?" a new guard, obvious from the way his uniform is perfectly straight, "Animals aren’t allowed in the building."

The person raised his eyebrow. "Mine is," he said.

"Really," the new guard began, then another guard took hold of his shoulder from behind.

"My apologies, sir," the guard said, "New guy."

The person inclined his head graciously to the openmouthed new guard, then stepped into the lift, the dog bounding in after him.

***

After a lot more good mornings, he ends up inside his office, a large glass windowed affair with a few sorties towards green plants and a few retreats as to carpets.

The dog pads over to under the mahogany table, and falls asleep on the bit of cloth provided.

"Omen?" the person murmured.

The dog looks up into the face of its Master, ears half raised at his voice.

"I’d appreciate it if you don’t drool on any of the visitors that are going to see me in a moment," the person said dryly.

The dog, presumably called Omen, whined.

"I know," the person grinned, "Just don’t do it. Or you might ruin another merger." His tone of voice speaks ‘merger’ as if it would speak the word ‘coffee’.

Omen let out a halfhearted bark, then fell asleep again.

"Good dog," the person said, settling down in the comfortable if ugly revolving chair.

On the table is a gold-plated, unobtrusively obvious sign, which reads:

Zak Damien Sinclair

There is no mention of rank. Apparently whoever made the sign assumed everyone would know, as is actually the case. With a few exceptions, possibly. There are always exceptions.

***

Zak, as we will call him from now on until further convenience, walks out of Sinclair building, poised for a moment at the top of the stairs, Omen bounding on without him.

He contemplates the snowing, sunny area sourly. If there was one thing Zak Sinclair disliked, it was something he knew absolutely nothing about why it was happening.

Zak shrugged and sauntered back down the stairs, a merger in his proverbial pocket and a faint smile tugging at the edge of his mouth.

There was a time when (if you don’t mind this flashback) the big boys...the white boys, thought that a ‘half-breed’ Negro with a most un-negro like slender appearance with...what was that again? Ah yes – freakish hair, wouldn’t make it in the Tough World. He had – and he’d taken most of the white boys out with it.

Omen jumps into the car with a bound, and his Master gets in more decorously, vaguely contemplating the snow covered landscape.

He should really try a vacation. He couldn’t remember when, or even what he did on the last one.

Behind the car, the air starts to ripple and distort, and a gust of freezing wind drives a few people into the comfort of a nearby bar.

The sun, climbing down laboriously so as to set the stage for the moon to rise, could have noticed something. Maybe you’d like to ask.

***

Zak Sinclair walked into his expansive and large penthouse, and leant against the closed door, Omen already bounding on.

Then it stopped abruptly, a growl forming in its throat. Zak looked around at it in astonishment, then around him, absently gripping his suitcase tightly.

The air rippled...

When it was still, there was no trace of Zak Sinclair or Omen in the penthouse. There was no trace that they had even entered.

***

[top]

Chapter 2: Black Elf – Zaknayae Sheba

Picture a black, cheerless sky. A wide, uniform, man-made, rectangular chasm. Looking down onto the chasm is row upon row of seats, filled with a cheering crowd.

The crowd itself looked like it had sprung out from one of those science fiction flicks – Star Wars, possibly. Aliens of every imaginable colors (and some unimaginable as well) thronged in the crowd, as well as a few humans, or vaguely human like creatures.

There were a few armed guards standing at neat intervals at the stairways up the rows of seats. They were not moving at all, but stood straight and tall, as if they were but statues.

Then sounds intruded on the hearing of the crowd, and ponderously, the flat, even ground of the chasm began to move, like a conveyor belt, to the left. Shapes morphed into being on the ground – soil, a few clumps of grass, rickety gates, watery patches, abrupt ravines.

Then a deep toned, heart-pounding roar as six engines started up, as well as the metallic, unearthly purr of six engines waiting.

There was a sound of a gunshot, and a wave of a flag from someone safe up at the railing of the spectator’s stand, and another roar, this time of applause from the audience. A wall slid up from the left end of the chasm, even as the conveyor-belt like ground started to move faster and faster.

Seven gleaming motorbikes ripped out from behind the wall, throwing up soil as they impacted on the conveyor-belt like ground. The first one to the right end of the chasm would win, not an easy task on fast moving ground. All of the bikers wore visored helmets and leather. One was abundantly female – white hair streaming behind her, hands sheathed in black gauntlets, tightly in control of her machine. The back of her black leather jacket had only one emblazoned sign on it, which read ‘Harley Davidson’.

It would be noted at this point that all the other leather wearing bikers had signs with different names on their different colored jackets.

They came to the first obstacle – a fence. The female biker, with a graceful ease, leaped it with her bike, the others following. It should be said at this point that all the bikes had a small, fiery fire emitting from the end of a large metallic tube, like the exhaust of a 20th century Batmobile, at the end of their bikes.

They had so far only gained a meter or so from their starting point.

The metal walls morphed into dirt walls.

A ravine loomed up, that looked easy enough to jump, but then there was a noise on the edge of human hearing – a whistle of air being pushed out of the way by something metal. The female biker abruptly cut sideways across two other bikers, causing one of them to veer away and crash into a heap, and the other just to veer. The latter managed to get control of his bike and jumped the ravine.

A mistake – a sharp pointed frame hissed up into the air, and the biker smashed forcefully into it. The other bikers seemed to have paused ever so slightly; heads turned as if casually in the female biker’s direction.

She wasn’t looking at them. At full speed, she charged sideways to the dirt wall, which was stationary, then her momentum took her vertically up it, to curve over the frame, which hissed up into the air again, missing her by a few centimeters.

Gravity took hold, but she slid down the wall, taking the bit, which connected with the floor, with a neat jump.

The other bikers had copied this – one unsuccessful one was impaled, body twitching grotesquely on the steel. One found out why she had jumped – his bike toppled over at the shock of impact, crushing him underneath it. The others jumped, making it, but the female biker was already a few meters in front of them.

The Harley Davidson rider on the Harley Davidson bike roared on, oblivious to the excited crowd above her, to a seemingly shallow pool that stretched to the very ends of the conveyor belt ground. Again, she abruptly turned her bike when the first wheel touched the water, in a screech of tyres, and a scaled claw clamped down on where the bike had been, before going back into the water.

She made a tight circle, and the jet flared as she went over the pool in a high jump, twisting her body in mid air as if injured suddenly such that her bike roared crazily to the side, missing the scaly claw as it shot upwards into where she had been. She landed neatly and continued.

A biker who tried to copy this move failed miserably, landing into the pool, his bike’s wheels spinning on and kicking up the water while his screaming body was pulled under. The last one succeeded, and continued to chase after the Harley Davidson biker.

An electrical net in front of them, which flickered on and off at uneven intervals. The Harley Davidson biker went straight for it when it flashed blue then went off, then reared her bike back when it flashed blue again, just when she was to be crossing it. Immediately she dropped down and went across.

The other biker went through without much ado, to jeers from the crowd. The last obstacle was six visored bikers, coming straight at them, a staff in hand.

One of them swung at the female rider, who ducked and rammed her bike into his, then leaning back lithely to avoid two other blows from staffs, grabbing the staffs over her head then pulling them more in the direction that they had been travelling. The two fell off their bikes.

She discarded a staff, then used the other to block a heavy blow from another biker, then ramming the point into his visor, breaking it. She discarded that staff too and made a run for the exit.

Fairness had been programmed into the opposing bikers. The remaining three all went for the last biker, succeeding in tangling up his bike to make him fall.

The Harley Davidson broke into a shuddering, deeper roar as she coaxed the engine to high power, then she jerked it up into a soar, hair flying out behind her, and landed inside the area behind the conveyor belt ground, to deafening cheers from the assorted crowd.

***

It was the year 2110, planet K’ayn. The most popular (and illegal) sport was racing, but not just racing – racing motorbikes. The big makers of motorbikes sent representatives of assorted lower life forms at first, before settling, in year 2105, on elves.

Elves were beautiful, slender, and stupid, and also single-minded to and extreme. But what they did have was the best set of sentient, or relatively sentient reflexes in the universe.

Sometime in year 2996 experiments were made to see if elves could be made intelligent. They failed – and the elves retained their blank, machine like ability to only obey their masters. They couldn’t even speak, for Rayma’s sake.

There were three types of elves. All had pointy ears and an unearthly beauty. The most stupid were considered the white elves, followed by the blacks, then the golds. Even the most intelligent gold failed an IQ test, and even an EQ one. They could be organically programmed, and male elves were generally used as servants, bikers, or guards or as an army. Female ones were almost always used as servants, the remainder as prostitutes. There weren’t many elves left – planet K’ayn had the largest lot of them.

Then in year 2198 Harley Davidson bought the black elf female Zaknayae Sheba. The manager realized a few things at once – one, that Zaknayae had a definite look of sentient intelligence in her eyes, and not the animal, stupid look most elves had. Two, her reflexes were lightning quick. Three, she could speak and write. Four, she had a sense of humor – dark humor, but humor none the less. There had been speculation about whether she was a Half – half elf and half humanoid, but she was pronounced pure through testing.

Something had gone wrong with Nature, but in her the manager recognized a chance for Harley Davidson to win the Biker cup, the most prestigious racing cup in K’ayn. And it had.

***

A talking elf – so novel, like a talking dog, don’t you think? – attracted a lot of interest. And Zaknayae was considered beautiful even for an elf. She began by consistently winning every cup she entered, even when handicapped severely.

Offers for breeding were turned down by the manager – after Zaknayae had thrown a violent tantrum when she was asked. Sales of Harley Davidson motorbikes, and Harley Davidson magazines with Zaknayae in sold like Taryane CDs. Zaknayae became a merchandise.

***

"How was it?" Katy asked. Katy was a pure human, and was personal manager of Zaknayae. Racing elves had grooms, like racing horses. They were expensive, and generally rather fragile.

"Fine," Zaknayae said coolly, "Interesting."

"You’ve got to take a rest," Katy said authoritatively, "Hell knows you’ve been looking good, Zak, but you’ve got to be in top form for tomorrow."

Zaknayae reflected sourly on her nickname – Zak. It sounded so male. She had no idea why she had been given her name by her parent’s keepers, but probably didn’t care. Her parents had been the norm – animal-like elves that were only good for guarding their master or doing simple jobs like sweeping the floor. Elves were a commodity – hard to maintain, but good to see someone having.

She noted with a start that Katy was speaking. "We’re going back to that Rest place where you’d have to stay in your room. We’re not going to let the press in again."

"Good," Zaknayae said with a grim smile, "Flies looking for carrion."

Katy looked around, alarmed, then relaxed. They were inside the silent, luxurious Harley Davidson car that ferried Zaknayae around to racing areas. Soundproof.

"Don’t say that in front of them, that’s all," Katy conceded. "We’ve gotten you a connection in the room."

Zaknayae nodded gratefully, "Thank you." A connection was the upgraded, virtual reality Internet system. She enjoyed it immensely, especially when there were games uploaded in it, fighting games, where medieval people fought medieval creatures.

***

Zaknayae walked into the bleak, small room, Katy closing the door when she walked in. Her lip curled as she heard the click of the lock. It locked from the outside – an effective cage. A cage with a feather bed and a warm meal, but a cage nonetheless.

She loved racing. It was the only open option to her – the wild, adrenaline-pumping motorbike race, and the wind in your hair, with only your instincts and your reactions to judge whether you lived or die.

Zaknayae sat down on the soft bed, looking at her gauntlets, and a strange looking creature darted out from underneath it, and regarded her with indignant eyes before she, laughing, picked it up carefully to set it on the bed beside her.

It was a miniature unicorn – they were so common now of days that they were regarded as pests. They got into the stores, into storerooms, everywhere. They had taken the place of rats, and cats had been trying to take care of them.

Zaknayae didn’t care. She loved hers – a totally black miniature, up to the ebony black horn, and the black claws where hooves were supposed to be – an adaptation. It was only about the size of a large rat, but she thought it was beautiful. She called it Brolga.

The air rippled...

Then Zaknayae and Brolga were gone. There was no trace that anyone had entered the room in the first place.

***

[top]

Chapter 3: Soul – Zaknafein Do’Urden

Zaknafein was sparring with Pyrikkan, Scorcher and Frostbite two tongues of flame. The old Saur was still too fast for his own liking and the two sickle-shaped claws on his toes sometimes too close to him for his liking. Pyrikkan wasn’t even using a weapon!

Somewhere else, Zak might have considered this insulting, but for now he was too preoccupied to think. He dodged a quick slash, which would have disemboweled him.

Pyrikkan regained his balance almost immediately, agilely curving to snap at Zak with his powerful jaws. Zak ducked and slid to the side out of range of the two clawed forearms, and rammed the hilt of Scorcher at Pyrikkan. It was too close to do anything else.

Pyrikkan wasn’t there, except for his long tail, which slapped to the side like a live wire to knock the breath out of Zak and knock him over as well. Gasping, the Sword master managed to roll away while one large claw slammed into where he had been, then roll again as the other did the same thing.

Balancing on his back and arms, he swiveled up his legs and kicked outwards forcefully, causing the Saur to stagger backwards, long enough for him to spring back up and attack again. Pyrikkan simply leaped away from each strike, once even vaulting up and over him – Saur were excellent jumpers, to come up behind and snap at his back.

Pyrikkan ducked gracefully from a slash, one hind leg curving low over the ground to try and trip up Zak, but he jumped it to land safely on the ground. The Saur reacted immediately – turning over on his back even as he swung both hind legs into the air in a double slash.

Zak managed to dodge the first, but the second had come too fast. Unthinkingly, he leaped aggressively forward and grabbed the claw carefully with one hand, the other darting forward to point a sword at the Saur’s throat.

Pyrikkan looked at it in astonishment, and for a while didn’t say anything, while Zak felt the power of the Saur from the tensed muscles of the claw. Then Pyrikkan started to laugh.

***

"Greetings, Sword Master," Kverr said with a toothy grin, "What would you like to drink?"

"The usual," Zak smiled. Kverr was the proprietor, barperson and owner of the Dragon’s Hoard tavern. What was the strangest, however, was that Kverr was a dragon. He was not one of those immense, sleeping-on-gold, terrorizing-village kind, but one of Sanctuary’s miniature dragons. Like all other miniatures, he took offense to the title of his species.

Kverr Windsgale was elderly and small even for a miniature – only about a head taller than a centaur. His hand-like claws resurfaced from the bar holding a tankard, which he thrust under a barrel with a tap drilled in at the bottom, expertly twisting the handle such that a spout of foamy, deep brown-amber ale filled the tankard to the top. The dragon turned again and handed the tankard to Zak.

Zak took a drink, then looked speculatively back at Kverr. "Do you know what’s behind the weather?" he asked.

"Weather?" the dragon asked innocently.

"It’s been snowing consistently, and it’s never snowed in Sanctuary before." Zak said.

Kverr looked rather pointedly at his open and empty claw. Zak sighed, reaching in his pocket, then dumped a few coins in it, along with payment for the drink. The dragon looked at the coins carefully, and then the claw disappeared under the counter to come back up empty.

"You know about Good and Evil?" Kverr asked.

Zak shrugged. "Of course."

"Not that kind of good and evil," Kverr said impatiently, "The real sides. The real thing – Good versus Evil until one wins during Armageddon, end of world, etc, etc."

"This sort of thing happens in Sanctuary?" Zak said incredulously.

"No," Kverr said, "In some worlds. All worlds have different sides of Good and Evil, and the World-Makers don’t ever take part. Well, usually."

"So?" Zak asked. "How did you come by this?"

Kverr looked a bit distracted. "Morikan told it to me," he said proudly. "He also said that most worlds have many parallel dimensions attached to them, and the sides of Good and Evil are one and the same for all the dimensions. Got that?"

"Yes," Zak said. He was storing it up in his tightly controlled mind for further reference.

"Good," Kverr said, "Anyway, in one of the worlds one skirmish is starting again. I think someone on Sanctuary is involved somehow."

"This someone has to do with the Warrior School?" Zak asked.

Kverr looked pointedly at his claw again. Zak shook his head. "I don’t really want to know. Is this weather going to continue?"

Kverr appeared to lose interest in Zak to polish a few tankards, until the Sword master gave up and put a few more gold coins on the counter. The dragon picked them up. "Until the skirmish ends," he said calmly.

"And how long will this be?" Zak asked.

Kverr shrugged. "Nothing is ever certain," he said philosophically.

"Stop that," Zak said, taking another drink from his tankard, then looking into the brown-amber interior speculatively. "I have this feeling..." he began.

"Yes?" Kverr asked.

"That something is going to happen to me," Zak continued, "You don’t live so long without getting premonitions."

"I suppose so," Kverr said tactfully. He glowered at a scratch on the clean woodwork of the bar.

"Something happened?" Zak asked, his mind not really on the subject.

"Tavern brawl," Kverr sighed.

Zak looked up at the ceiling. There were a few singed black marks he hadn’t noticed earlier. "I see you threw them out the normal way."

"An old dragon never loses its fire," Kverr quoted, then smiled another toothy grin.

"You have a weakness for quotes?" Zak teased. He liked the elderly dragon, actually. Kverr was one of quite a few dragons that had come over to Sanctuary City to study or for fun. Kverr had probably come just for the sake of getting his claws on some legal gold.

The Dragon’s Hoard had several regular patrons, for the good music (Kverr was a music critic. His opinion, strengthened by his fiery breath, only allowed the very good musicians to try and come for the free drink in exchange for a song or two), and also for the drinks. And for Kverr, of course – the dragon knew everything that happened in the city, and did not have qualms to share it – so long as there was money in his claws.

Kverr looked over at the cleared space in front of the bar, where a few patrons were dancing to a waltz enthusiastically. "Aren’t you going to dance?"

"Me?" Zak asked incredulously.

"Yes, you," Kverr grinned mischievously.

"Why don’t you go first?" Zak retorted, "And I only dance with swords."

"You have a flawed personality, dark elf," Kverr shook his head, "And this old dragon is too clumsy for what is a delicate form of art."

"I see," Zak said, in tones that meant that he did not, for an instant, believe the dragon.

Kverr turned his attention to another customer at the bar, then back to Zak. "I’d think you’d frequent the Singing Sword than my humble establishment," he grinned.

"Why would you say that?" Zak inquired. The Singing Sword was the most notorious tavern in Sanctuary City.

"Or the Flying Horse. I could see you there socializing," Kverr grinned.

"I don’t especially like the Lyrin," Zak commented, "I’d give you they’re as beautiful as most elves get, but...and besides, the welcome is more for those who fly."

"Ah," Kverr said, "Greetings, Pyrikkan. Heard of you little sparring session with our Sword Master here. You did very well, considering."

Pyrikkan made his way through the dancing couples to the bar, standing next to Zak. "Considering what?" he asked with a playful grin.

<"Considering your age, that you’re Loremaster and not warrior, and that you’re fighting a Sword Master." Kverr finished smoothly, "What would you like?"

"Same as Zak’s having," Pyrikkan said.

"Wouldn’t you like some of my Firewine?" Kverr asked plaintively.

"I couldn’t walk straight for weeks when I tried that the last time," Pyrikkan shuddered, "No thank you. I like a clear mind and a clear conscience."

"What does conscience have to do with getting drunk?" Zak asked in interest.

"I’m not supposed to get drunk," Pyrikkan said, "Saur can’t get drunk because we’d be too dangerous when we do. All the claws get in people’s way."

"Not to mention your species sings horribly," Kverr said, placing a wide bowl of dark brown ale in front of Pyrikkan. The Saur lowered his powerful head, and a purple red tongue snaked out to lap at the ale neatly and without fuss.

"How’s the weather now?" Zak asked.

"Still the same," Pyrikkan said, resurfacing from the bowl, "Snowing. I hate snow."

"All cold blooded reptiles don’t like extremes," Zak smiled.

"That’s Morikan’s own truth," Pyrikkan said, going back for the ale, soon finishing it off by licking the bowl carefully.

Kverr cocked his head to the side as if hearing something, and Zak sighed loudly. "What now?" he complained.

Kverr looked at the both of them with amusement. "Message for you. Morikan says good luck."

"What?" Pyrikkan began.

The air rippled...

Kverr looked at the blank spaces where the two had been, shrugged, and took away the tankard and the bowl. "Pyrikkan hasn’t even paid," he said sourly, "Saur."

***

[top]

Chapter 4: Nemesis – Cain Zaknarr

A dense, ancient forest, trees tall and gnarled and strong, leaves blocking out all but some of the sunlight, which fell to the damp floor of fallen leaves and sparse undergrowth as irregular circles of light yellow gold.

Occasionally there would be a clearing in the forest and a pool, where you might just expect to surprise a unicorn of a pure snow white, gazing intently at the pool’s clear, limpid surface, where its reflection should be but was not.

Or a large outcrop of rock with a crude entrance covered in lianas and other snaking plants, in which you may imagine a coiled dragon fast asleep inside, dreaming of gold, sleeping on gold.

Where from every stick breaking in front you would imagine a centaur, wise eyes regarding you with a look not of surprise nor horror, where every mushroom could sprout a cheerful gnome. It was that type of forest.

Thus the person stalking inside it was not what one would call fitting.

For one, he wore a large black trenchcoat, in such a way that you could see that the trenchcoat not only fitted him, but the sole purpose of all true trenchcoats was to be worn by him.

Under the trenchcoat was a plain, pale shirt and black trousers. A silver-studded brown leather belt hung down from his belt to his right hip, and sported a long, black sheath, which held a sword, gold carvings at the ends of the sheath and a thin gold spiral decoration on the black onyx of the hilt.

The trenchcoat managed to cover the sword rather well, but the person’s attitude itself suggested trouble. He walked with a slight swagger; hands thrust deep into the pockets of the trenchcoat, eyes twinkling with suppressed devilment.

You won’t imagine now how literal the last sentence is.

***

Intelligent readers would guess now how the person looks like. You haven’t? That’s sad, really... fine, I’d describe him.

His long white hair was a very special kind of white that would make him stand out among a crowd. His skin was a deep ebony black, but his eyes were a bright green, bright and dark at the same time like the sins of angels.

He wasn’t smiling. The forest was his, and it was taking a lot from him just to hold up a shield from the idiotic weather they were having. It was supposed to be summer, but there was a strong, definitely magical and powerful permanent gale over a wide area that included his forest. It included a few villages as well, but he didn’t give them a damn at all.

Another crack of loud thunder sounded, which did not improve his temper.

***

The time of magic had died along with the last of the true dragons, and most of the magical creatures died with it. It was a pity really – he did have a fondness for them. They were called freaks now, freaks of nature, but so was he. So he’d tied up, incorporated a large primeval forest into his being, then set it up as the last magical place on the sorry planet for the creatures. His creatures now, even the pure unicorns, even the stargazing centaurs, and even the griffins.

Magical planets usually stuck in what was termed a medieval age for centuries, sometimes even to the end of time.

This planet was known as the Planet of the Winged. A large portion of the population were humans, of course, poor, deluded, short-lived creatures. The rest were evenly divided into Angels of the Light, or just Angels, or Flying Boy Carkters (equal to Boy Scouts) by their enemies, the DarkAngels. Both sides had different spells, same classes (Healer, Mage, and Warrior being the most elemental), and one thing in common – they hated each other fervently and with passion.

The representative of the Angels, the Ultimate Good, the Savior of Souls, had risen already, and had been killed. No one was sure how, but the Flying Carkters keep saying that he’d rise again.

The representative of the DarkAngels still lived, though his contrary nature made him an outcast from both Angel societies, though he did ruin quite a few Angel populated cities in his day. This representative was called the Prince of Darkness, The Damned one, and the Nemesis. His name was Cain Zaknarr, called Zak by some (Cain sounds a bit extreme, and he’s never done anything to betray anyone in his life, something that disappointed the DarkAngels a little), and he is that singular person stalking around in his forest in a foul mood.

***

Something was obviously going to happen. Zak knew it. He should be able to See what was happening, but he couldn’t, and that added itself to his frustration.

A small dragon the size of a large insect with butterfly wings fluttered across his path. Zak ignored it.

Zak hated things he did not understand, or thought he did not understand.

A phoenix, a large orange, vaguely peacock-like bird strutted across his path, wreathed in a bright but currently harmless orange gold spiritual flame. He ignored it.

There usually weren’t that many creatures he did meet in the forest in the space of half an hour. There weren’t very many, anyway, even though they did reproduce and live well and long.

The thing was, the magical animals knew that Cain Zaknarr had saved them from extinction. They didn’t give a damn about all that Prince of Darkness, Evil Incarnate stuff. He’d saved them, he was kind enough to them, and that was it as far as they were concerned. Right now they were concerned as to why he was in such a bad mood.

A large Hralwayin stallion peered out at him from behind a tree. He ignored it.

Then he came to a tree whose bark was a strange silvery white, though leaves a dark green. The bark seemed to blur, and then a lithe dryad stepped into his path, slender hands on her shapely hips, silvery green hair falling over her shoulders and down her back. "What’s wrong with you?" she asked, her voice sounding like a tree rustling its leaves indignantly when faced with an upcoming storm. Incidentally, she wasn’t wearing anything, and like normal dryads, she was a head shorter than a human woman was.

You could have heard a few thousand or so creatures wincing collectively.

The Nemesis looked up, eyes flaring for a moment before softening. "The weather’s not natural," he said irritably, "It’s here for a reason, and isn’t caused by anything on this world that I know of."

The dryad looked up. The dark clouds of the storm beat on the perfect, invisible shield that surrounded the forest. "You’re doing well," she said. "So what if the weather’s holding up?"

"I don’t like it," the Nemesis said darkly, "Someone’s playing. I don’t like it."

"You play all the time," the dryad pointed out. "Anything wrong with that?"

Again, the feeling that a few thousand creatures had winced.

"My playing is all right," Zak pointed out, "Other creatures playing is fine by me. What I cannot stand is someone playing this sort of games with me." He pointed up as six lightning bolts struck the shield simultaneously.

The dryad shrugged. "Bear it out," she said, "Ignore it if you can’t find a solution."

"That’s your advice?" Zak said indignantly, "To ignore a highly magical storm playing over the forest?"

"You can’t cope with it?" the dryad asked.

"I can cope with it," Zak said, "For a few thousand years if need be."

The dryad shrugged again. "No problem then. Would you like a cuddle?"

"Isn’t it a bit early?" Zak asked.

"I can fit you in," the dryad grinned. "Anytime."

"Thank you, Silvertree, but I think not for the time being," Zak said.

"You have anything else to do other than stalk around in clothes and in a bad mood?" the dryad asked.

Zak smiled an evil smile. "I’m going to try and figure out how to move the storm somewhere else, like the Angel City of Casmir."

"That’s more like it," the dryad grinned, "See you around then." She seemed to melt back into the tree.

***

The storm absolutely refused to move. Zak felt himself growing even more irritated, before he remembered himself and stopped being so. A particularly bad bout of lightning had him putting up more effort, such that now his eyes glowed his normal, unearthly green of the Nemesis when not disguised.

The wings were out too. When Zak wasn’t concentrating, he reverted back to more or less his true shape – sleek black wings with faint silvery tips, glowing eyes, and unnaturally and incredibly handsome face. That sort of thing.

His raven, a large, malevolent looking one, fluttered onto his shoulder with an excited caw.

"Something wrong, Patch?" Zak stroked its wing. One thing the Nemesis was not good at was names. As for the rest – drawing, painting, swordfighting – he only needed to think about the thing for a while and he’d know how to do it expertly for the rest of his life until he wanted to forget how to do it.

The raven cawed, then said, "Nevermore," in the sepulchral, deathly cold voice that ravens used to say what people thought was their favorite word.

"Be serious," Zak complained.

The raven let out a human sigh. "Fine. There is something very obviously wrong, if you examine the sky above you. There is something in the air around us that is making my feathers stand up. There is something about you, which makes the hair on Angels and DarkAngels stand up. Nothing’s wrong, really."

"Did you invent sarcasm, Patch?" Zak murmured.

"No," the raven continued, "But if you’re going to be at it, I did invent mismatching socks, paper cuts, and alcoholism. Go figure."

"I get it, I get it," Zak raised his hands in defeat.

"You’d just lose it again," Patch said irritably, shifting his perch, "You always do. One day you’d misplace your head and that’s it for you."

"I’d grow a new one," Zak said absently. "What in the air around us?"

"Ever heard of grammar? I thought not," Patch remarked, "There’s something odd about the air. Can’t you feel it?"

"If I did I wouldn’t be asking you this question," Zak said irritably.

"Feels like very thin liquid. Called volatile liquid, I think. Anyways, we’re in the thick of it, and sooner or later I feel like we’re gonna sink." Patch rambled on.

"Sink?" Zak asked, "In air?"

"Hey," Patch drawled, "When there’s a will, there’s a way. What’s gonna be, gonna be, babe."

Zak raised an eyebrow. "Where did you learn that silly way of speaking?"

"If you’d gone out once in the few hundred years you’ve cooped yourself up in here," Patch said, "You’d find the world is a-changing, babe."

"Patch?" Zak said slowly.

"Yes, oh high and mighty Master, King of What will Be and this mosquito filled forest, Nemesis of the Good and Righteous and Stuck up, The Damned and Bad tempered, the Evil one with the Bad Memory, the Mightiest Foe of Angelkind..."

"Cut that out," Zak interrupted, "And don’t speak like that any more."

"Like what?" Patch asked innocently.

"Like anything," Zak said sourly, "In fact, if you didn’t speak, I’d be heartily obliged to you."

"You don’t have a heart." Patch pointed out.

"I do too," Zak said irritably, "Took me quite a while to make this body, you know."

"I was saying in wossname, figuratively." Patch said. "That’s a long and unworthy title of me," Patch remarked, "My spellings gone six feet under, left a will, left a child that may grow up someday but is now down with a serious case of malnutrition."

"Modest now?" Zak asked mildly.

"Unworthy as in," Patch put in, "You’re not worthy of my wonderful and buoyant nature."

"You’re as buoyant as an unmagical ton of bricks," Zak said sourly, "And as wonderful as an Angel on a bloody summer day."

Before Patch could reply with a suitable acid sally, the air rippled...

As the Nemesis left the world, the shield wavered, but held. The storm, however, immediately dissipated.

***

[top]

Chapter 5: Emperor – Zakath

Belgarion the Rivan King, Lord of the Western Sea, and with a whole lot more titles besides, sat down in a comfortable chair, leaning the large sword of the Rivan King beside it. The blue orb on its hilt settled into a calm blue.

His host sat in a chair opposite him, regular features unchanged by the passage of years, eyes still keen and intelligent, wearing a severe white robe. His face now held none of the hollow emptiness which Belgarion, or Garion had seen when they had first met – now it was softened, something which Garion considered partly due to Cyradis, wife of his host.

His host was Zakath, Imperial Emperor of Mallorea, or ‘Emperor of half the world’, as Zakath put it facetiously sometimes. He certainly did not look the part.

Around the room were the imperial guard, wearing their ornate, gold and brass armor, that contrasted with Garion’s and Zakath’s simple clothing.

The female cat of Zakath’s, still unnamed, lay sprawled on his lap, purring happily, unaware of anything else.

"What did you think of the weather today?" Zakath inquired. He winced as something hard hit the window through the rain.

"Perfectly normal," Garion began sarcastically, "If you ignored the fact that it’s currently raining lobsters."

Zakath winced. "I was hoping that you knew why. The ministers don’t like this one bit."

"No, I don’t." Garion sighed, "But there’s dust storms in Riva and snow in Tolnedra and in Nyissa."

"I know that," Zakath said wryly, "It seems comic, somehow."

"If you weren’t in the midst of it," Garion said, "We’d have to spend hours digging through the sand that is covering a large part of the harbor."

"Tell it to go away," Zakath waved a hand vaguely.

"I have," Garion said, "It comes back."

"Where does the sand come from?" Zakath asked suddenly.

Garion looked out of the window as another lobster hit the window and slid off the sill. "Where do the lobsters come from?" he asked.

The large doors to the room opened suddenly, as if they had been kicked open, and an irate old man stalked in, visibly trembling with rage. He pointed his finger at Garion. "What have you been playing at now? Look at the weather!" he roared.

"I haven’t done anything since that storm I brought up over Mandorallen and his friends," Garion protested, "I swear it, Grandfather."

"I take it the weather’s magical, Belgarath?" Zakath put in mildly.

"Of course it is!" Belgarath roared, "Do you think it rains lobsters by itself? It’s been literally raining cats and dogs over the Vale!"

He couldn’t help it. Zakath’s stifled laugh became something close to a fit, and Garion followed. Belgarath glowered at them.

"Someone has a great sense of humor," Zakath grinned, "Cats and dogs?"

"They disappear when they hit the ground," Belgarath said, "Which is more than I can say for your lobsters."

Zakath winced.

"One more thing that brought me here," Belgarath said, glaring at the both of them, "The twins, Durnik, and I have been conducting experiments. All this weather seems to be centered here, on you." He pointed an accusing finger at Zakath.

Zakath’s eyes widened. "What?"

"That’s right," Belgarath helped himself into an empty chair. "It’s focused on you."

"But why me?" Zakath protested.

Belgarath glowered at him. "If I knew, I’d have told you, and stop asking that irritating question."

"Very well," Zakath smiled. "Is this going to last?" he waved a hand at the window, and winced as another lobster fell onto it, claws scrabbling ineffectually for purchase.

Belgarath grunted. "Yes," he said sourly. "The magic’s affecting the whole world, constantly, but if you don’t concentrate you cannot feel it. I normally wouldn’t like to say this, but it is more powerful than I am."

"You?" Zakath said in mock surprise, "The Eternal Man?"

"No more quips from you, emperor or no," Belgarath warned, then turned to Garion. "And you can stop laughing. The sandstorms cleared up yet?"

"No," Garion said. "How’s Aunt Pol?"

"Fine," Belgarath said shortly, "But rather upset over the weather." He looked hopefully at Garion. "Do you still keep touch with Him?"

"Oh. No, not really," Garion said. They were referring to the Purpose of the Universe, someone/something that Garion had had a close relationship with since his childhood. Garion was the Child of Light, which sort of explained a lot of things, including having to slay two Child of Darks, one of them a god. He was probably the most popular person in the Alornia.

For a summary of those readers who are lost, Garion was a disciple of god Aldur, hence his formal name Belgarion, as ‘Bel’ meant Beloved. His grandfather Belgarath was Aldur’s first disciple, and the Eternal Man, having lived for seven thousand years or so, and not showing it. Aunt Polgara had married Durnik and their twins were apparently doing well. The last two disciples were the twins who lived in the Vale, Beltira and Belkira. Happy?

"It’s getting particularly strong," Belgarath commented after a while.

"What is?" Garion asked automatically.

"The field of magic, or power, as you could call it." Belgarath said, looking around suspiciously, then his eyes widened, as the air seemed to ripple, like the surface of water when a stone hits it.

There was a gasp from Garion as Zakath and his cat abruptly vanished. Belgarath shot to his feet at the same time as the guards stepped forward in confusion. He went over to the chair and looked carefully at it, then looked back up, his face a study in astonishment.

"It’s like he was never here," Belgarath said in wonder, then his eyes narrowed. "We had better get to the bottom of this."

***

[top]

Chapter 6: Drow – Zaknafein Do’Urden

Zaknafein sat near a window overlooking the courtyard of the Citadel, watching the students play the Game. He could make out the slender shape of K’yanae, riding her horse skillfully and fending off Diablo very well, considering.

K’yanae was a fifth year student of the Talons, and doing very well. She was the only one of his children to become a Talon, and the only one present now of days.

He remembered Kalain, gone to study in the Halruaan University. His popular flying craft still hung in the museum of the Citadel.

He remembered Kaswain, gone to study with the Harpers, a singular group by themselves, though not necessarily musical. He did have doubts about that particular venture.

He remembered K’yanne, who had, after quite a bit of begging and threatening, managed to get to study with Elminster, who had put up all sorts of interesting and logical arguments, until finally giving up.

Zak smiled ruefully, and then turned his attention to the tall boy Player, with hair the color of dark tree bark. His name was Namaen, was it not? K’yanae may or may not notice it, but he was overly fond of her company.

Zak made a mental note to watch the boy. Courtship was all very well, but he hoped the boy would not try anything ‘funny’. He’d really hate to see K’yanae kill him.

***

It was the first day that the strange weather in Baldur’s Gate had cleared to show a beautiful blue sky. In the middle of winter, too.

K’yanae controlled her well-bred horse tightly with her knees, long pole darting expertly forward at Diablo’s blanket. With a snort, the half-breed nightmare dodged, and went after the other team.

Her horse danced quickly over the ball, passed over to Namaen, who made a run for the goal.

Diablo slid in front of him, and charged, but Namaen kicked the ball away to the side to another Player of his, and K’yanae’s, Dragon team, then turned and ran backwards, Diablo following.

The other Dragon Rider steered the horse forward and succeeded in distracting Diablo long enough for K’yanae to touch the tip of her pole to the white blanket on the half-breed. Diablo snorted in irritation and disgust, darting off to the Hralwayin Player who had wrested away the ball.

The Hralwayin Rider intercepted Diablo, who snorted derisively again and feinted, then darted past faster than the horse to bump the Hralwayin Player with his muzzle. The Player obediently stopped, tossing the ball to a Dragon Player, then went off to the sidelines while his replacement came on.

K’yanae spurred her horse on by just a touch of her heels, racing Diablo. The wolf in her rose in excitement – its restless spirit adored risks – but she forced it down when she saw the ears of her steed flatten against its head in fright.

The wolf had come to her just as Father said, when she ‘developed’ at the age of twelve. A silvery gray, lithe and slender and beautiful. And restless – K’yanae had lost count of how many times she had slipped down the Tree from her bedroom to sneak out of the Citadel to take a run. Sometimes Father would go with her, or Mother, but most of the times she went alone, riding along with the wolf.

Kalain and Kaswain were next, each developing into young and strong adolescent wolves with identical markings. Sometimes they went down to run with her, but usually not, their wolves were not as restless as she, content to lie by the fire and escape into the realms of thought.

K’yanne’s wolf was different, perfectly formed with a tawny gold coat, faster and stronger than K’yanae’s, and perfectly sound, unlike its human partner. It was no wonder that K’yanne spent most of her time as a wolf, until she went to study under Elminster. It was with K'yanne that K'yanae ran with in the wide forests outside the Citadel and Baldur’s Gate.

Diablo tried to break through to get at the Dragon players, but was turned back again by K’yanae.

***

Zak looked around in suspicion. Whatever was happening, it was getting stronger. The weather had teetered around like a drunken man, and there had been more sightings of magical creatures like griffins and unicorns as they were driven out of their homes. There was a totally wild unicorn mare in the stables now – Zak had, out of an unusual bout of pity, bought it from where it was being auctioned off in the Wide, half mad from imprisonment and maltreatment.

It was recovering slowly, but appeared to like K’yanae more than Zak, which was more than Zak could say for its loyalty.

It wasn’t white, even the horn, which looked like a study in translucent, spiraling gray crystal. It was dapple-gray in color and looked rather pretty. It wasn’t fragile either, and had kicked out the door of its stable once when lightning broke out over the Citadel.

In fact, it looked like a normal, mare that resembled one of those fiery and highly priced Sembian horses, with a horn on. Zak was beginning to suspect that strange animals were erupting into the world other than strange weather.

It was certainly getting stronger by the minute. Zak had tried ‘sniffing’ the magic using the wolf, but all it did was to earn the wolf an headache and him an accusing look from said wolf.

Then the air rippled, and he stepped back in astonishment, as something or somethings seemed to be pulled into the Study. Then he let out a slightly strangled cry of astonishment.

On the table, Morikan the white cat stretched, and purred.

***

[top]

Chapter 7: Machine – Z/ak/9018

Picture a world more advanced than any of the ones which we have glimpsed. Picture a world whose people can create things half man, half machine, known as ‘cyborgs’, for their police work and other dangerous work.

Picture a world ...

... And pray it would never happen.

***

"Well, Doctor Sutherland?"

Doctor Marie Sutherland hated that voice. She hated that phrase. It seemed to her that what most people did was to ask her ‘Well, Doctor Sutherland?’ or ‘Do you know what has happened to him, Doctor Sutherland?’ to her, as if she was an automated answering machine programmed only to answer to specific questions.

And it seemed to her that of all the people who asked her such a question, most of the questions came from Captain Andrews, a man she personally found very irritating, from his ultra-neat uniform to his ultra-trim moustache and his ultra-supercilious voice.

It didn’t help that he was quite a bit taller than her and thought that everyone was sooo impressed with his accomplishments. He constantly radiated a been there, done that aura, that pissed off many of the people that knew him. Gone to Harvard, meteoric rise in station, good family, rich family... Captain Andrews had a lot that she didn’t, which obviously did not help either.

She could bear with all that if Andrews didn’t begin to think that he liked, or loved, as he would call it, her. Worse, he thought she liked him, even through all her efforts to prove to him she didn’t. He probably thought she was playing hard to get.

But the one thing she hated most about Andrews was that he had assisted in the upgrade of cyborgs from machines to a state such that you’d have to be an expert to tell one apart from a human. Disregarding the eyes and the expressionless face, of course. And the incredibly handsome and perfect features. And the impossibly graceful and strong movements.

It seemed so wrong, somehow. That robots could move like humans and do what humans once did. Granted, they’d been doing that for years... centuries, even, but she just had a disquieting idea – if they could do what humans did and were better than humans in everything that humans did, would they not one day overtake humans in the race that was Life?

Then They, the powers that be, made it such that dying humans could be ‘given another chance’ by becoming half robots. It was hideous, and denounced from every religious pulpit as an abomination, but it continued.

Then they took it one more step – they created the AISEC, or Artificial Intelligence and Stimulation-Emotion Cyborg. Intelligence as in its ability to ‘store’ up facts and ‘imput’ from computers, and speak in a slightly disembodied but nonetheless horribly human voice. Its features and shape could be specially determined by a lot of complicated paraphernalia.

Beginning attempts at wings had failed.

Emotion as in the cyborg had certain ways to reacting with certain things, like friendliness to the technician staff, anger to other things like a terrorist, and a liking for baseball. Everything had to be painstakingly programmed in, of course.

There was a rumor that cyborgs were being used in brothels, and investigations were underway.

Then a wave of terrorism from the Mafia began, and the Wolves were created. Pack cyborg Wolves went in groups to attack large areas, Lone Wolves were sent for delicate jobs that only required one cyborg. All were extensively trained and upgraded. There weren’t many Lone Wolves around – there wasn’t much need for them. Doctor Sutherland only knew of five or so, but these precious five were treasured higher than the Pack Wolves.

She looked at the one she was working on – superficial surface tears, sutures, etc – Doctor Sutherland wasn’t exactly a human doctor, but someone really good at patching things up. Let us let it go at that.

It was a Lone Wolf, in its official uniform with the symbol of a solitary wolf on it Probably damaged in the line of duty, she believed.

Someone, as a joke or something, had given it infra-red sight along with normal sight, and very dark features, ebony in color, deep green but blank eyes, and bone white hair. The hair was conspicuous, but most of the cyborgs wore helmets when on duty anyway.

The ears were delicately pointed, and Doctor Sutherland thought about elves, something or whatever which she had read before and could not place at the moment. Someone had gone to a lot of work on it – its face had high cheekbones and a strong chin, and the limbs felt superbly muscled. It was perfect. Doctor Sutherland curled her lip in distaste.

Its tag read Z/ak/9018, and her eyes widened.

Andrews caught her expression, and he nodded and beamed at her, or rather her back. "The black bugger’s the most expensive and advanced Lone Wolf we’ve got," he said proudly, "I had a hand in it, myself."

"Really," she said, reaching for her equipment.

***

Z/ak/9018 went down through the tunnels that had never seen the light of day, an upgraded Colt.9018 in its right hand. The Colt was a sleek gun with armor piercing, machine gun, laser, and other interesting options which Z/ak/9018 was programmed to utilize at appropriate conditions.

It was after a few specific people believed to be hiding out inside the sewers. The Sewer Rats had adapted to such life, and scuttled across it without any noise or fuss, but it ignored them utterly. Its infrared sight located lines of new heat spots, left by fresh footprints, and it followed the prints noiselessly and without fuss.

***

Four men sat in a dingy chamber, with six cyborgs as guards, playing dice. The first was bald, with insane looking, bulging eyes. The second was young and nervous – his eyes kept darting to the entrances of the room.

The third was cool and calm, playing his dice with the same attitude. He seemed to be winning. The fourth looked detached, playing with a dreamy smile on his face.

Something went ‘clink’ on the ventilator, and the nervous one jumped, nearly upsetting the table. The third one looked up calmly, then he flung himself to the wall as the ventilation exploded with a thump. Several balls rolled out, hissing fumes, which caused the four men to fall without so much as a cough. The dark fumes covered up the hidden cameras and distorted the sight of the guard cyborgs, which milled around in confusion, methodically shot down by something.

Z/ak/9018 walked carefully and cautiously to the entrance of the room, changed his gun to silencer and expanding bullets, then just as carefully shot the four unconscious men.

***

Z/ak/9018 was returning to base, still hiding in the shadows from any hidden cameras. He was not wearing his uniform, but a standard black leather armor with the consistency of bullet proof uniform. His visored helmet covered his head, including the hair and ears, except for his mouth and chin.

The air seemed to move or distort around him, and immediately he whipped out his gun, dropping into a defensive crouch.

The air rippled...

He came out into a bright, luxurious looking room. Six figures sat in front of him in a haphazard arrangement of chairs. One of them stood up, with two swords belted at his side, and nodded to him. "We’ve been waiting for you," he began.

Z/ak/9018 wasn’t listening. Anything he did not recognize or anything that interfered with him, he was to shoot. He raised his gun.

***

[top]

Chapter 8: Convergence?

With a speed that gave them all credit, all of the six figures dived for cover as the bullets sprayed over the chairs.

Looking at the six figures, you’d recognize them, no? For a hint, one of them is female and wearing black gauntlets and a leather jacket with ‘Harley Davidson’ on the back.

Zaknafein looked up curiously as one of the bullets penetrated the walls. "What is he doing to my Citadel?" he whispered to Zaknarr, who was crouching next to him.

"Those are bullets," Zaknarr sighed, "Guns."

"Oh. How can we stop him?" Zaknafein winced as more bullets pierced a priceless vase and shattered it into a million shards.

Zaknarr shrugged. "I don’t know."

Zaknayae smiled at Zaknafein’s horrified expression. "I have had cyborgs in my world. There’s a plug somewhere that fits to a computer, then you can reprogram him to stop."

She looked at everyone’s blank faces, then turned to Sinclair, who at least looked like he understood somewhat. "You have a computer?" she asked.

Sinclair fumbled with his suitcase, taking out a sleek laptop. "Yes," he said, "But it’s never been used to program anything before."

"We’d hope it can do," Zak winced, his twin swords flaring in outrage, "I have this feeling that the soft chairs won’t hold much longer."

"I do believe you are right," Zakath remarked, examining the chair barricade. Zaknarr made a vague gesture at the chairs and they seemed to reaffirm, hardening but staying the same.

"How did you do that?" Sinclair asked, uncoiling the wire of his laptop.

Zaknarr shrugged. "I’ve always been able to. The Nemesis of good should have some powerful qualities, I suppose."

"Nemesis of good?" Sinclair asked, "Like Satan?"

"Who?" Zaknarr asked.

"Nevermind," Sinclair said, handing Zaknayae the plug of the wire. "Now what?"

Zaknayae looked critically at the plug. "Is this a primitive version? I’ve never seen one so big."

"On the contrary," Sinclair said in an offended tone of voice, "This is the most advanced version of any laptop in my world."

"I see," Zaknayae said in a deflating tone of voice.

"Will it fit?" Zakath asked doubtfully, "I don’t see any large holes in his head, even if you can get past the helmet."

"Magic it off," Zak said to Zaknarr. Zaknarr shook his head.

"I can’t," he said, "My magic can’t seem to affect any of you."

Zaknafein looked at Zaknarr’s half folded wings. "Evil angels have feather wings?"

"I like the wings," Zaknarr said firmly, "Batwings are very hard to control."

"What if this doesn’t fit?" Zaknayae asked impatiently.

"I’d make it fit," Zaknarr said.

"The wire may not be long enough..." Sinclair began, then looked at Zaknarr’s amused expression and sighed. "Sorry I said that, and do forget it."

"Will do," Zaknarr said, "Now can we get on with it? Someone grab his helmet, and someone try to find the plug while the rest of us try to hold him down and grab his guns."

"Complicated," Zaknafein said critically.

"You have another plan?" Zak asked. Then he smiled. "It feels odd talking to myself."

"Technically you aren’t." Zaknafein pointed out; "We’re just extensions, all of us."

"Are we going to get on with it?" Zaknayae asked, "Or are we going to chat until that cyborg guns the lot of us down?"

"Fine, fine," Zaknarr said, "Let’s move, everyone."

***

Z/ak/9018’s infrared tracking eyes spotted its quarry moving away to the left and right, and it simply tried to shoot them down again.

One of them darted out in front of it, wearing a black trenchcoat, and it pointed the gun at him and shot more expanding bullets, but the bullets just braked to a halt in front of the person as if having lost all their energy.

Then Z/ak/9018’s sensors felt someone trying to twist off his helmet, and automatically reacted by trying to elbow the person in the stomach. There was a pained intake of breath as it succeeded, but as the person dropped the helmet came off. Z/ak/9018 pointed the gun at the gasping person, absently noting that it had about the same features as the person.

Then someone attacked from behind, sliding a plug into the small recess hidden by his hair at the bottom of his skull. A flood of mental energy went away, and from there came a simple message – stop.

Z/ak/9018 collapsed.

***

Zaknarr prodded the cyborg with one foot. "Looks like any normal ‘drow’, eh?"

"To be sure," Zak said, looking at the cyborg’s blank eyes doubtfully, "Menzoberranzan drow, that is."

"I agree," Zaknafein said somberly. "Now what?"

Sinclair looked at the screen of his laptop. "There’s a lot of buttons in the screen," he said at last, "What if we leave him like this?"

"That’s cruel," Zaknayae said sharply.

"That’s practical, you mean," Zakath came forward. "Are you sure you can’t send us all back? I’ve got an important meeting with a few ambassadors in an hour or so."

"You’d just get sucked back here," Zaknarr said firmly, "I mean, we’ve been brought here for a reason, and until we complete it, I don’t think we can go back."

"Funny that all of us arrived with a companion except him," Zak pointed at the cyborg. "And thank you, Zaknarr, for this impromptu translation spell."

"We wouldn’t be able to understand each other otherwise," Zaknarr shrugged. "But you’re welcome."

Zaknafein was reading the tag on the cyborg. "Says here zed slash aye kay slash nine zero one eight."

"That’s probably his name," Zaknayae said in distaste.

"Something wrong, my lady?" Zakath asked.

"In my world," Zaknayae said, "Elves are also treated like that, because all of us except for myself," she said modestly, "Are incredibly stupid, like your average dog. We all have numbers."

"You have a name," Zak said.

"I had a number first," Zaknayae said, then her eyes widened. "Now that I think of it, it was also 9018."

"You are him," Sinclair said, "If I understand this, and we are all you."

Zaknayae looked around and sniffed. "I wouldn’t like to be. Where’s Brolga?"

"Pyrikkan is looking after them outside," Zak said, "I think."

"And he’s probably attracted lots of Saur House students to come and gawk at him," Zaknafein said dryly. "The Hralwayin as well."

"House?" Zaknarr asked.

"Yes," Zaknafein said, "It’d take too long to explain."

"Well," Sinclair said slowly, "While we figure out what is going to happen and what to do with our cyborg friend here, I think we have that time."

***

Patch perched on the still body of the cyborg, and cocked his head at Z/ak/9018’s face. "Looks like you," he said, glancing at Zaknarr, "Looks like all of you."

"That goes without saying," Sinclair said dryly. They had rearranged the chairs and tables of the Study but had stayed there, as Zaknafein said that since they had already destroyed this room they might as well stay in it so they wouldn’t destroy any others.

Zak was fighting with Zaknafein, with Pyrikkan watching and occasionally giving advice to either of them. It looked fairly interesting as both were perfectly matched.

"Thought of anything yet?" Zaknayae asked Zaknarr. She was stroking a sleeping Brolga. Zakath was looking at Sinclair’s laptop screen and alternatively watching Sinclair’s Omen chase his cat, protesting at the smirking Sinclair.

"No," Zaknarr said. "Why do you ask me?"

"We assume that evil knows everything, I suppose," Zakath shrugged. "Anyway, where is Zaknafein’s companion?"

Zaknafein ducked a sword stroke from Zak. "Inside me," he said.

"What?" Zaknayae looked up in astonishment, "You ate it?"

"No," Zaknafein said patiently, thrusting at Zak, "I’m a werewolf."

"You shapechange at full moon, and go around stealing chickens?" Patch asked.

"Close. Except for the chickens bit," Zaknafein said.

"Why? You don’t like fowl play?" Patch asked.

"No," Zaknafein smiled, "It’s because I don’t have a taste for poultry and pawky humor like some black colored descendant of fowls do."

"Who, Zaknarr?" Patch asked.

"Oh shut up," Zaknarr told Patch irritably. "He means you."

"I do not remotely resemble a chicken," Patch said, sounding offended, "Are you blind or something?"

Zaknafein smirked, then swore as a darting Scorcher came too close for comfort. "The wolf says that if you don’t shut up he’d eat you next full moon."

"Blackmail?" Patch asked.

"Fair and simple," Zak agreed, dodging a glowing Khazid’hea. "Isn’t that Dantrag’s sword?"

"It was," Zaknafein said smugly.

"You killed him?" Zak asked in interest.

"Indirectly," Zaknafein grinned, "Then I pinched his sword."

"Spoken like a true Zaknafein," Zak grinned.

"Do you understand what those two are talking about?" Sinclair asked Zakath.

"No," Zakath admitted. "Don’t know who Dantrag is either."

"Dantrag," Zak bent and kicked at Zaknafein’s ankle, "Is... Was a bloody irritating, pathetic excuse for a drow."

"Strong words, but true in my world," Zaknarr said, "The head of one of the DarkAngel colonies is Dantrag, and I hate the fellow. He hates me too, so it’s some sort of mutual thing."

"Men." Zaknayae rolled her eyes.

"Can’t live without them, can’t stand them?" Patch suggested.

"Sort of," Zaknayae said, "I’ve lived without them for most of my life and haven’t missed them."

"I think I can take down that opinion," Zaknarr grinned, "Did I mention you’re as fair as a rose of night?"

"No," Zaknayae smiled, "But I’ve never seen a rose of night, and I hate flowers."

"Well then," Zaknarr said, not felled by this untoward opinion, "What if I said that you are the most beautiful lady I’ve ever seen?"

"I think I’d go outside and vomit," Sinclair said dryly, then added hastily, "I was referring to that blatant flatterer, but actually that last bit was true."

"Thank you," Zaknayae said with dignity.

Pyrikkan, who had been watching everything with interest, laughed. "Seven Zaknafeins is more than I can cope with for the moment," he grinned.

"The more the merrier," Zak and Zaknafein chorused, then grinned.

"I have an idea," Zaknarr said suddenly.

"That’s a new one," Patch quipped.

"Shut up. Z/ak/9018 doesn’t have feelings, right?" Zaknarr said.

"True," Sinclair said, "Though there’s something here that says Stimulation Emotion."

"Why don’t we give him our personalities?" Zaknarr smiled.

Zakath raised an eyebrow. "How are we going to make that work?"

"Program him," Sinclair said, "I think it’d take years."

"I can change the computer program, then you feed it back into him," Zaknarr said.

"Good one," Zaknayae said, businesslike, "Hurry up so we can take the plug off. It looks grotesque."

***

[top]

Chapter 9: Basically Programming

"I think we can do it," Sinclair said, looking at the screen of his laptop.

"Good. Now how do we Down Load our personalities in?" Zakath asked.

"And are you sure you’d like to put my personality in as well?" Zaknayae asked slowly. "I mean, the cyborg may turn up uh..."

"Effeminate?" Zaknarr suggested, a mischievous twinkle coming into his eye.

"Oh no you don’t," Zak said angrily, even as he ducked another swipe from Zaknafein.

"I agree," Zaknafein remarked, then he said to Zak, "Don’t you ever tire?"

"He goes on, and on, and on, and on," Sinclair said in a singsong voice, then stopped when he looked at their blank faces. "Sorry. Private joke."

"I can’t tire," Zak said, "Because I am technically not alive."

"That’s not fair," Zaknafein protested.

"You’re faster than me," Zak pointed out, "And you’re stronger, a little."

"That’s because of the wolf," Zaknafein said, "It’s trying to help me."

"You’re both equal then," Zaknayae said. "Ok. Now we’re going to download our memories in, can you both stop fighting?"

"Why? This is most exciting," Zaknafein grinned.

"To watch," Pyrikkan demurred, "It looks horribly tiring."

"It’s not," Zak said.

"Oh, shut up," Patch said, in Zaknafein’s voice. "You were going to say that."

"Perhaps," Zaknafein admitted.

"Well, so that we won’t get sidetracked again," Zaknarr said sternly, "I’d go first."

"How?" Sinclair asked.

Zaknarr made an elaborate, theatrical gesture, and a black touch-pad appeared, hooked to the computer.

"You can’t affect us?" Zaknayae asked.

"No," Zaknarr said.

"Then how come you can affect our things?" Zakath finished.

"Because they are just that – things." Zaknarr said.

"Then you can make our clothes explode," Zaknayae said.

"That is true," Zaknarr grinned, "But I’d rather not explode people who are actually myself."

Zaknarr put his hand on the touch-pad, and immediately a lot of words and numbers scrolled down in the laptop screen. Z/ak/9018 jerked convulsively, then was still.

Sinclair went next, then looked at Zaknayae. "How are we going to include you?" he asked.

"Is there something wrong with me?" Zaknayae asked.

"No," Zakath put in diplomatically, "But well, it’s not good for something essentially male to think like a female, correct?"

"I think it’d be interesting," Zaknarr said.

"Oh no you don’t," Pyrikkan said indignantly, "It’d be disgusting."

"I am, myself, disgusting," Zaknarr pointed out mildly, "I’m the Nemesis after all."

"Still no." Zakath said. Sinclair nodded his head.

"Just my selected ideas on things then?" Zaknayae asked. "And the reflex quality?"

"No," Zaknarr said, "Physical qualities can’t be downloaded in."

"Boring then," Sinclair sighed, "Wait a minute. If he takes in everything I’ve got, I don’t think this Z/ak/9018 needs to know about stocks and how to feed Omen."

Omen, hearing its name, padded up to its Master and nudged him affectionately. It was feeling confused – there were seven masters, and all of them smelt the same! It was giving him a headache. He had to rely on his sight.

"He wouldn’t get those memories," Zaknarr said.

"Why not?" Zakath asked.

"Because I fixed it such that he’d only get things that are applicable to his life." Zaknarr said smugly.

"Do you practise everyday?" Zaknafein was asking Zak.

"Yes," Zak said, "I am a Sword Master after all."

"Another thing that is unfair," Zaknafein complained with a grin, "I have to do paperwork most of the time, or pretend I am doing paperwork."

Pyrikkan chuckled.

Zaknayae gently picked up Brolga, which had been trying to impale Omen’s leg on its horn, and deposited it carefully in her pocket, where it struggled such that it could look out.

"Won’t you squash it?" Patch asked, then made an acceptable bark at Zakath’s cat, which backed away in surprise.

"No," Zaknayae said. "Never have."

"Your turn, Zaknayae," Zaknarr said, then made another gesture at the laptop. "Happy? I’ve updated it for your benefit."

"You better have done it well," Zaknayae said darkly, then put her palm on the touch-pad.

***

They’d finished with the Down Loading, then Sinclair looked at the laptop again. "Are you sure of this?"

"As sure as I’ve ever been of anything," Zaknarr said.

"Which is nothing," Patch quipped.

"Shut up," Zaknarr said.

"Why?" Patch asked, "Your magic doesn’t affect me. You made it so yourself."

"Well, if you don’t I’d set my daughter’s owl on you," Zaknafein said.

"Blackmail!" Patch wailed, but shut up and hopped off Z/ak/9018, making a snake’s hiss at the curious cat and Omen.

"Why didn’t you want your magic to work on him?" Zakath asked.

"I made all my creatures unaffected by my magic," Zaknarr said, "So they can stop me if they think I am doing something wrong."

"I see," Zak said, "I don’t think it’s practical."

"I think it is," Sinclair argued, "Then his animals will be more loyal to him."

"Can we turn this on and stop this pointless quarreling?" Zaknayae asked.

"Nothing is pointless, lady," Zaknafein smiled.

"Fine. I’d be turning him on now," Sinclair said.

"That is a very horrible image." Patch said from the safety of the mantelpiece.

"Shut up." Zak said, "Or I’d ask Pyrikkan to try and eat you."

"He’s too scrawny and probably filled with bugs," Pyrikkan shuddered.

"Am not!" Patch said indignantly, "I’m cleaner than you are, you walking lizard!"

"He’s never bathed in his life," Zaknarr said absently.

"You keep out of this!" Patch said.

"Turning on," Sinclair said through the ensuing argument, and typed in the commands. Z/ak/9018 shuddered, then sat up abruptly. Zaknayae started backwards in surprise.

Z/ak/9018 looked at them wildly, and they noted his eyes were no longer blank.

***

"It worked," Sinclair said.

"That’s the twenty-fourth time you’ve said that," Zakath said dryly.

"What do you feel?" Zaknafein asked Z/ak/9018.

Z/ak/9018 stared at him, mouth opening as if trying to say something.

"Oops," Sinclair said, "Didn’t type in ‘Speak’. Someone unplug him."

Zaknayae walked forward to the unresisting Z/ak/9018 and pulled out the plug carefully. The cyborg shuddered convulsively.

"I feel." Z/ak/9018 said in wonder. His voice was a strange mix of their voices, no longer disembodied, but like a faint chorus.

"I know you feel," Zak said, "What do you feel?"

"I feel," Z/ak/9018 said.

"Wonderful first words," Zaknarr said dryly.

"It... he feels that he feels. So what?" Zaknayae asked.

"So what?" Zaknafein said, "So."

"That’s the best answer I’ve heard," Patch said sarcastically, "I mean, it explains everything, doesn’t it? It’s sooo comprehensible, I just can’t stand it."

There was a warning bark from Omen. Sinclair patted its white head affectionately.

"The wolf says that it’s good enough that he has free emotions," Zaknafein said indistinctly.

"The wolf? Oh." Zak said. "Well, Pyrikkan?"

"I think we should let him think things up by himself." The Saur said firmly.

"We all agree on that, right?" Zaknarr asked. He looked around. "Right. Let’s leave him for a while."

"No," Z/ak/9018 said sharply.

"No?" Zakath asked.

"No." Z/ak/9018 said firmly.

"Wonderful. He repeats himself," Sinclair said.

"Why are we here?" Z/ak/9018 asked, "I should be at HeadQuarters reporting."

"We don’t know why we’re here," Zaknarr said patiently.

"Send me back," Z/ak/9018 said.

"You’d just get pulled back here," Zaknarr said. Z/ak/9018 said nothing.

"Well, he has a sense of duty," Zak said.

"He should have," Zaknayae said sourly, "From the first. I thought that putting in our memories made him have less of that impractical notion. Which of us follows rules all the time?"

"Except when it suits us," Sinclair agreed. "I see. Um."

"He’d get better at it," Zaknafein smiled, "When he has more practise."

***

There were voices behind the door of the study. K’yanae didn’t know why the Talons weren’t letting her in. Bribes hadn’t worked, and neither had threats. So now she was carefully climbing up the side of the building to the window, Namaen standing below looking very worried.

"Are you sure of this?" Namaen asked again.

"Yes," K’yanae said sweetly, "I mean, you’d catch me if I fall, won’t you?"

"Yes," Namaen said quickly, "But it’s dangerous."

"That’s why I chose this route," K’yanae said. "Oh, for Asur’s sake, Namaen. I’ve done this before."

"You have?" Namaen said in a horrified voice.

"Yes," K’yanae said firmly, concentrating on the outside piping system for footholds, resting her boots on the rough surface of the wall and on the windowsills. "Honestly, you’re like an old mother hen sometimes."

There was an almost palpable offended silence below. K’yanae sighed, levering herself up to the window. And peered in. And nearly lost her balance.

There were six Fathers inside! And four of them were wearing weird clothing!

Wait a minute. Her real Father had Khazid’hea belted on. Another one that looked exactly like him had different clothing and wore a robe with two unfamiliar swords. One was a woman that looked as though she could be Father’s twin sister. One was wearing a heavy cloaklike coat. One was wearing absolutely weird, shirtlike and trouser-like clothing, and resembled a human. One was wearing a simple white robe, like one of those hermits-of-the-forest.

The one with the coat turned to the window, and his eyes widened. "Your daughter, Zaknafein?" he asked dryly.

Father looked at the window in astonishment, even as K’yanae thought it’d be better not to hide. "K’yanae!" he protested.

"Father, who are those people?" K’yanae asked.

"How’d you know she was his daughter?" the one with the robe asked.

"Well, she looks like him, and I don’t think his mother would have done this." The one with the coat said dryly.

"My mother wouldn’t have cared to do this," Father shuddered. "K’yanae, get down this instant!"

"Who’re those people?" K’yanae stubbornly continued.

"Friends," Father said. The woman snickered.

"Nevermore," a raven on the mantelpiece said in a hollow voice.

"Does mother know?" K’yanae went on with interest.

"Yes," Father said dryly, "She was a little upset. Now don’t tell anyone about this and climb back down, girl."

"Why?" K’yanae asked.

"In case you break your neck," the one in the absolutely weird clothing said.

"I’ve never fallen before," K’yanae said indignantly.

"There’s always a first time," the other one that really looked like Father said.

"K’yanae. Get. Down." Father said in that Voice, and grumbling, she did.

"What did you see?" Namaen asked when she got back down in earshot.

"Father, of course," K’yanae said glibly.

"There’s something else, isn’t there?" Namaen asked.

"Really? I noticed." K’yanae said, "Let’s go and check on the Tree." She finished, and walked off. With a last glance at the window, Namaen hurried after her.

***

[top]

Chapter 10: Exposé

Zaknarr glowered at the fire. "It’s not working," he complained.

"When has something of yours really, really worked?" Patch inquired, dodging a snap from Omen. The raven had perched on a low table, ostensibly to see what his master was doing, but more probably for the biscuits arranged in an aesthetically pleasing pattern in a dish in the middle of the table.

"Well, I hope you’d solve it soon," Sinclair said, "I really should be getting back to my company."

"When we finish I’d send you lot back a second after you left," Zaknarr said.

"You can’t affect us, remember?" Zaknayae said.

"I’d create a ‘passage’, then you step through it," Zaknarr waved a hand irritably. Then he stared at the fire again. The flames flickered upwards, flattening into an orange pane, then died down again.

"Exactly what are you trying to do?" Zakath asked.

"Trying to discern who brought us here," Zaknarr said. "What did you think I was doing?"

"Something useful?" Zaknayae put in helpfully.

"He’s never done that in his life...ow! You stupid mongrel!" Patch shot up to the safety of the mantelpiece, minus a few tail feathers. Omen shot it a look of satisfaction.

"Omen is not a mongrel," Sinclair said, "He’s a purebred Jack Russell."

"Where is Zak and Zaknafein?" Zaknayae asked.

"Abandoned us and the cyborg to go and spar in the courtyard," Sinclair said, "They’ve attracted quite a crowd."

"Spar?" Z/ak/9018 spoke up.

"A friendly jousting session with swords and curses," Zaknarr elaborated.

"Oh." Z/ak/9018 said in a voice that stated it didn’t understand but felt obliged to reply. "Why?"

"Can you speak less than monosyllabically?" Patch asked.

"Shut up, Patch," Zaknarr said automatically.

"It’s always like that," Patch accused the world in general, "Shut up, Patch. Go away, Patch. Why don’t you play with a cobra, Patch."

"Why?" Zakath smiled, "Why, for fun, of course. I do not think any of them have ever found a really worthwhile opponent, and now that they have, they’re going to make the most of it."

Brolga sneezed its opinion of such stupidity.

"It only makes sense," Zaknayae said.

"Uh huh," Zaknarr sighed. "How long have we been here?"

"Three days," Patch said, "Sinclair, do you usually have so many shirts in your bag?"

"Suitcase," Sinclair corrected. "I’m always ready to travel."

"Why don’t you wear some of the clothes here, or ask Zaknarr?" Zaknayae asked. She was wearing a comfortable shirt and leather, courtesy of Zaknarr.

"I don’t feel comfortable in either wearing knitted metal or bathrobes," Sinclair said, "And I’m sure you’d forgive me, but Zaknarr has a very odd sense of humor that I do not trust at the moment."

"You don’t trust yourself?" Patch asked.

"Best thing there is," Zaknarr said airily.

"If you do not trust yourself, then who can you trust?" Z/ak/9018 spoke up.

"Why, no one, of course," Zakath said mildly.

"Then what life is that?" Z/ak/9018 pressed.

"A sensible one," Zakath said, "Unless you are prone to shadows."

***

"Had a nice fight?" Zaknayae asked dryly. Both Zak and Zaknafein grinned.

"Of course we did," Zak said.

"We’d expect nothing else from ourselves," Zaknafein said mischievously.

"Who won?" Zakath asked.

They both shrugged. "We decided to stop fighting when Neira started to complain about me not eating dinner," Zaknafein said dryly.

"Wives nag," Zakath said, "It’s only natural."

"And what do husbands do?" Zaknayae asked.

"Husbands disobey discreetly," Zakath grinned.

"That’s Asur’s own truth," Zaknafein said, then glared as the white cat known as Morikan padded into the room. "Well, if they could ever find what is known as truth, meddlesome buggers that they are."

"Is that who I think it is?" Zaknarr asked, picking up Morikan.

"Unfortunately," Zaknafein sighed.

Zak stared at the cat, then started to laugh. "Morikan, is it?"

The cat hissed. Z/ak/9018 looked up from where he had been contemplating his gun then sank back into a reverie.

"Last I saw you, you were a silver dragon, and insulting me as well," Zak grinned, "You really are going down, aren’t you?"

"Silver dragon?" Z/ak/9018 asked blankly.

"That’s his favorite shape," Zak said.

"You’re confusing him," Zaknarr said.

"I’m explaining to him," Zak protested.

"Come to think of it," Zaknayae said, "Who’s that young man following your daughter around like a moonstruck puppy?"

Zaknafein winced. "A cousin of hers, I think," he said, "Name of Namaen. Why do you ask?"

Zaknayae shrugged. "Technically, she is sort of related to me, so I’d just ask. I think it’s amusing, actually."

"Amusing?" Zakath raised an eyebrow.

"Yes it is," Zaknarr said, "Ah, the joys of youth."

"She bullies him a lot," Zak observed.

"Trait from her father," Patch proclaimed from the top of a picture. Zakath’s cat stretched lazily beneath him.

"He gets over it," Zaknafein said darkly. "If he doesn’t, he’d never be able to bear with her. K’yanae’s been spoilt since childhood, and though she has turned out remarkably well, she’s still fairly imperious at times."

"What’s wrong with being imperious?" Zakath asked.

Zaknayae looked at him owlishly. "Well, it’s fairly irritating especially if you’re on the receiving end of it."

"No one’s perfect," Zakath shrugged.

"I think you ought to look at the fire, all of you," Sinclair said suddenly.

The flames from the logs were twisting into all sorts of unnatural shapes, shapes that were vague but nonetheless threatening. Into a bird with sharp talons, beak open in a silent scream. Into a unicorn, eyes burning literally with suppressed rage.

"What the?" Zaknarr began.

As if locating the source of the voice, the orange flames suddenly started to burn a bright blue green, flattening out to show a face. It was a face that looked like that of K’yanae, and also like that of all the Zaks. High cheekbones and large eyes gave the face an ethereal appearance, and the hair was white in color. She (the image) also had white wings, folded up against her back.

"Greetings," she said, "My name is Shandira."

They looked at her blankly. Her eyes flashed annoyance for a second, mouth turning into a delightful pout. Then she glared at Zaknarr. "You should recognize me," she said.

Zaknarr stared at her. "I don’t really... oh. You do look a little like Sereviae."

"I am her daughter," Shandira snarled, "And yours as well, evil spawn of hell."

"Someone explain this?" Sinclair said patiently.

"Sereviae is an Angel of Light," Zaknarr shrugged, "We had a bit of fun together."

Zak looked at Zaknarr suspiciously. "Against her will?"

"No," Zaknarr said, "Not even I would do that. I had no idea why she was doing..."

"A sacrifice!" Shandira said shrilly, "The hand of Good must come from that of Evil!"

"So you’re saying," Zakath said slowly, "That you’re the hand of Good?"

Shandira turned her baleful gaze on Zakath. "As all of you are the representations of Evil, as I and my comrades are the representations of Good. We will meet soon, and you will all be destroyed, so that Good will reign once more."

The flame guttered out, then started to burn once more in a comfortable, normal orange.

"What was that all about?" Zaknayae asked.

"Apparently," Zaknafein said smoothly, "We are here on one of those pesky skirmishes of Good and Evil. Never thought I’d be on the evil side, though."

"Look at it this way," Zaknarr said slowly, "Given a choice between good and evil, which would you choose?"

"Evil," Sinclair grinned, "If we were to choose good, well, good only has one side and one thing they can do, which is do good. Evil now, evil is free. You are free to do merciless company takeovers, you are free to laugh maniacally all the time."

"Exactly," Zaknarr said, "I hadn’t really thought of it in Shandira’s way, though."

"I was on the side of good before," Zakath said.

"What changes, changes," Zak said with a smile.

"Why are we evil?" Z/ak/9018 spoke up suddenly.

"Because we are," Zaknayae said simply, "At least now we know who pulled us here."

Six sets of blank faces looked at her.

"Why, the lady, of course," Pyrikkan said from where he had been watching, "Everything here is symbolic – human, elf, undead, nemesis, etceteras. Women love symbolism. Thus..."

"This is Shandira’s work." Zaknayae finished.

"She’s that powerful?" Zaknarr asked critically.

"Jealous?" Zakath smiled.

"No," Zaknarr said, "Just disbelieving."

"She’s your daughter," Patch said, "She has to have some of your qualities. Being irritating and disruptive is one of them."

"How can you tolerate him?" Zaknafein asked.

"He keeps me humble," Zaknarr shrugged.

"Really?" Patch asked, "Then I’ve failed badly."

"So what do we do now?" Sinclair interrupted.

"We wait," Zak said, "It’s her move."

***

[top]

Chapter 11: Final Battles

Shandira drew back from the fire with a deep sigh of satisfaction. She’d been longing to say that for centuries – everything that had gone wrong in her life, it’d clearly been her father’s fault.

Actually, Sereviae had actually only been looking for some fun, and there’s always a morbid attraction prey has for the predator. Cornered due to straying away for a bit of peace from one of the angel populated colonies into a certain weird forests with unicorns and centaurs in, she’d helplessly noted that Zaknarr did not, in fact, look like the bloodsucking, fiery, monstrous being that the archangels preached about during mass. In fact, he’d been rather attractive in a dark way...

As to Zaknarr, well, who knows what a Nemesis thought about? (To be actually honest, he was slightly curious and also slightly bored, a very bad combination in the most powerful DarkAngel that would ever live or have lived)

So Sereviae had been rather surprised when she had woken up in the colony many months later to find herself with child. The Archangels were nonplussed, and teetered on absolute rage, absolute joy or absolute puzzlement for a day or so. Then they twisted together a few odd prophecies from the Book of Light, promptly crowned Shandira the Savior, praised her to high heaven, and took her away for intensive training and teaching.

Shandira had been brought up to think that she would be the one to bring Eternal Good on the world. There were a few halfhearted attempts of assassination on the part of the DarkAngels (they were supposed to, after all – you have to be traditional), but since they couldn’t get Zaknarr to behave like the Nemesis they gave up after a while. After all, if Shandira was going to kill the Nemesis that wasn’t acting like the Nemesis, that was fine by them. Both species of Angels hated rogues.

Especially when Shandira showed that she had enough power to actually rival, if perhaps surpass, her male parent. She had the combined magic abilities of both Good and Evil, and developed both extensively under selective teaching.

It didn’t really take long for her to realize that inside his private forest, her father was invincible. In fact, he was actually invincible on her world itself.

She had to take him away to a place of her choosing. And while she was about that, she had to use symbolism. The Archangels had taught her about that – it was compulsory to have symbolism when the world would end. The better the symbolism would be, well, maybe the more spectacular the fight would be. So she’d painstakingly worked everything out and brought it to be.

What she didn’t know was that this was only to be a skirmish. A fairly important skirmish, but a skirmish all the same. After all, the World-Makers didn’t want anything certain yet, as if good won for ever and ever, three World-Makers would complain, and vice versa. Morikan was content to watch something that didn’t involve him at all and secretly hope for a stalemate.

The Death of the Realms, in his normal optimistic way, took to hanging out around the Citadel and grooming his black horse and sharpening his scythe. You could never be too certain.

***

So Shandira had collected together six other ‘Zaks’, from the parallel dimensions, for the number seven, ostensibly setting out many forms of strange weather. It said so in the Book of Light, after all.

To offset them, she’d collected six other companions for herself. They weren’t particularly good, but their only role was to follow and obey. To make sure they did that; she put a spell on them to agree with whatever she said.

They really weren’t much. Her Self on this world was a technically brain dead drow female called Quetzal, who had required some more magic to make her actually breathe in the first place. Something somewhere was looking for this one – she had to be careful, so she had put some shielding spells on her.

The one against ‘Zak’ was known as Drizzt, the only male in the party. He had a magical cat that would prove useful, but other than that Shandira thought he did not have an impressive mind and he spent part of his time in an extended reverie anyway. She put a damper on his mind, so he just looked around with a blank expression on his face. His was the only ‘pet’ in their group, opposing that of the ‘Zaks’.

The one against ‘Sinclair’ was ‘Sinclair’s’ sister Marie Catherine Sinclair. It didn’t help that she was fond of her brother, so she had to put a spell on her.

For ‘Zakath’, there was only his wife Cyradis. A frail looking girl, but also distressingly fond of her husband. There was a hidden power in Cyradis, a seer, which could be used at another date. Cyradis was sadly easy to put under a spell.

As for ‘Z/ak/9018’, there was ‘Doctor’ Marie Sutherland, a rather pretty young lady who absolutely hated the cyborgs. There was a contrary fire in her, which would also be useful if properly tapped.

Lastly, there was ‘Zaknayae’. This one was difficult – most of the elves in her world were rather brain dead, born to be slaves. She’d settled for one of the ‘technicians’ of Harley Davidson, who loathed Zaknayae for her success. This technician, Marie Carey, was also sitting with a blank expression next to Marie Sutherland.

It certainly didn’t look promising, but Shandira, supremely confident in herself, gathered them up, and led them forth.

***

"I think she’s made her move," Pyrikkan observed, looking out of the window of the Study. The assorted Zaks gathered there, then Zaknarr shrugged.

"Let’s get it over with," he suggested, and snapped his fingers. They reappeared facing Shandira’s chosen on the courtyard.

"Quetzal?" Zaknafein exclaimed, astonished. Then he whirled on Shandira. "What have you done?"

"Her part in the part of Good will be long remembered," Shandira said in an unearthly voice.

"Yeah?" Zaknafein said ominously, "When Jormungand gets down here you are really going to leave with your figurative tail on fire."

"He is," Shandira smiled, "I have but been deluding the Serpent with my magic."

"Drizzt?" Zak was saying, staring at said person. "How...?"

"Are we going to continue?" Sinclair asked with a pained expression, "My sister does not look very well at all, and I’d like to get this over with."

"I do not really recognize anyone," Z/ak/9018 said thoughtfully.

"Well, I unfortunately do," Zaknarr snapped, Patch getting onto his shoulder. Their ‘pets’ stood beside them in a flash.

"More symbolism, father?" Shandira asked.

Zaknarr shrugged. "I don’t understand this one."

"The Nemesis always has a follower to protect him or her from harm," Shandira announced.

Zaknarr looked at Patch disbelievingly. "Oh, yeah, right."

Patch made a rude noise. <Ü>"So what are we supposed to do?" Zakath inquired, eyes fixed desperately on his wife’s face.

"We’d destroy you," Shandira said smoothly, "Fair and simple."

"Hardly fair," Zaknayae said.

"So," Zak said, "We just try to kill each other? Um. I’d rather not try to kill my son, thank you."

"He will certainly try to kill you," Shandira smirked. She snapped her fingers, and Drizzt took out his onyx figurine. The black mist formed, and Guenhwyvar stepped out, looking around with confusion.

A deep blackness surrounded Shandira, but she made another complicated move and it dissipated. "You’d have to try harder, father," she remarked mockingly.

Without warning, a bolt of lightning struck down, but diffused away a foot above Zaknarr’s head. "As do you," he said softly. "Shall we stop the pleasantries?"

"Of course," Shandira said, waving her hand. Her chosen advanced rather jerkily, like puppets on strings, and the Zaks, with the possible exception of Zaknarr, looked at each other in dismay.

***

For a good focus on the battle, let us focus on the separate skirmishes, shall we?

Well, too bad if you don’t want to.

Guenhwyvar gave Zak a pleading look as it bounded forward with an unwilling snarl. It was met by Pyrikkan, dancing aside from the panther’s powerful swipes, matching and even surpassing the cat’s speed.

"Drizzt?" Zak asked. His son had a strange, faint smile on his face, as if he was somewhere in a bar dead drunk, his mind seeing pink elephants dancing around in a meadow.

Drizzt attacked first, settling into his familiar rhythm. In some ways, things never do change. One thing that Zak had learnt, was how to counter patterns. This is actually possible and works well if you do know the person in the first place.

Drizzt’s fight was slightly in the way of a dance, and also confirming to the age-old pattern of a sword fighter – test out your opponent, gauge his/her/its (to be fair here) skill, then either attack first or defend.

One thing you could do for something like this is to have a tested (preferably) and very erratic darting pattern, which off-balances your opponent such that he has to decide for himself what to put to you. This sort of decision takes a bit of time in which you can use to strike.

***

Zaknafein decided that his daughter was definitely not looking good. Her breathing looked mechanical, and her eyes were distressingly blank.

However, her sabers seemed to be faster than ever. Zaknafein winced as one saber grazed his side, swearing quietly and sulfurously, then grudgingly called the wolf forward. In an instant, his dark eyes changed to amber.

***

"Cyradis," Zakath began, then the frail woman threw a punch that would have given her credit.

Swearing, the Emperor of half his world reeled back, and Cyradis moved forward again, with a left upper cut where her palm flatted out halfway and curled forward to bring her nails into play.

Zakath deftly caught the fist, then the other one as it swept forward. Cyradis promptly brought her knee upwards, then staggered back to cover her head with her hands as Zakath’s cat launched itself paws first, claws extended.

***

About the same thing was happening to Sinclair, except that he hadn’t grown up in a silver spoon childhood, so now one of Marie’s hands were twisted behind her back, and the other held very firmly.

"Are you going to calm down?" Sinclair asked.

What he had forgotten a little was that Marie, being his sister, had also got membership in his rough childhood gang, and also knew the moves.

It seems laughable, but the rump, for want of a better sounding word, can pack a very powerful punch. You just angle your head down, bend your knees slightly, and push everything you have backwards.

Sinclair let go and fell down, but quickly rolled out of the way of a stamp. This really was ruining his shirt.

Omen snarled, and bit Marie’s ankle, hanging on even as she cursed and tried to shake the Jack Russell off.

***

Punches didn’t really work on Z/ak/9018. Physical qualities can’t be downloaded in, remember? And although Marie Sutherland had a good idea on how to turn off a normal cyborg, Z/ak/9018 wasn’t one anymore.

He settled for knocking her out with his gun. A doctor is a good fighter as he/she/it knows where exactly to hit for maximum effect, but they haven’t known how to recover from unconsciousness quickly yet.

***

Marie Carey’s punches threw quite a bit of furious hate behind it, and Zaknayae wondered how in the world did had the woman begun to loathe her.

Zaknayae still had faster reflexes, and she kicked Marie’s ankle, causing her to fall down, then sat on her back and twisted her arm backwards. Brolga jumped out of her pocket to try and pierce Marie’s leg with its tiny horn.

***

The most interesting skirmish of course, was that of Zaknarr’s and Shandira’s. Zaknafein was dimly aware that some of the Talons had come to watch at a safe distance. Lightning flashed down on either opponents, along with gouts of flame, ice, darkness, light etc. Things rose out of the ground only to be pulled back in.

"Your companions are losing," Shandira called, her voice magnified like the roar of the wind.

"So?" Zaknarr asked, batting away a cone of ice like he would a mosquito, "You’re saying I should give up? Good always wants to destroy evil utterly, Shandira. Evil is the one who lets things live."

"To mock them," Shandira snarled. She hissed as Zaknarr, as if understanding something, brought down the full crushing weight of his mind on her.

Z/ak/9018 nodded as Shandira withdrew her shields on her companions to concentrate on her father, and noted that the tranquilizer option in his gun was still available, so he coolly whirled and shot Marie Carey. Then he shot Cyradis, then Quetzal, then Drizzt, in the methodical way of a cyborg. Again, some things do not change.

With the exception of Zaknarr, the others turned to look at him in horror. "They are but unconscious," Z/ak/9018 said professionally, "That was a tranquilizer."

"That’s not fair!" Shandira wailed, like a spoilt, petulant child.

"One thing you must learn, daughter," Zaknarr said, not unkindly, "Is that evil hardly ever obeys rules."

Shandira narrowed her eyes. "Then I call on the powers of all that is right and good to aid me!" she snarled.

Zaknarr smiled in satisfaction, even though a large halo of holy light radiated off Shandira like a new sun.

"Your rules," he murmured, and brought his hands together. A larger wave of darkness, chittering, shrieking, screaming hurt and pain and injustice, poured over Shandira like a breaking wave, enveloping the light.

Zaknarr waited, then pulled away his hands, and the darkness dissipated as quickly as it had come. Shandira, ripped, bitten and shattered, lay broken on the ground.

***

[top]

Chapter 12: Divergence?

Zaknarr walked over and knelt down beside Shandira’s body. She turned her face up to look at him with a troubled look on her face, like that of a jigsaw player who’d found out that he’d lost a jigsaw piece.

"Why?" her voice but a mere whisper, like a breeze through tree leaves.

Zaknarr cocked his head to the side in an almost comical gesture. "Well," he said, not unkindly, "One thing you’d have found out, girl, is that there’s more evil in the universe than good. How many brothels and taverns and poverty do you find? How many people do you find that are totally and absolutely devoted to good?"

"Love," Shandira choked and coughed out blood, "Hope. I’m dying, ain’t I?"

"Yes," Zaknarr said calmly. "There are those, but I believe that if you were to weigh all that was good in this world against all that was evil, you’d find that evil can overcome good. You were clever in bringing us together and fitting us to your rules, but when you made up that rule of true good versus true evil, you lost."

"I thought... thought," Shandira whispered, "You won’t win in the end, you... know."

"That is for others to decide other than ourselves," Zaknarr said. "Hail and farewell."

"Sentimentality?" Shandira tried to smile.

"I can feel," Zaknarr pointed out, "It was a good plan, and you have my respect."

"Farewell then," Shandira sighed, her eyes closing. Her outstretched hand, bent at an unnatural angle, twitched, then uncurled into the stillness of death.

Zaknarr watched her for a moment, then stood up, looking wearily at the rest of them. "It’s finished then. Zaknafein, do you have something to drink?"

Zaknafein was cradling the body of Quetzal. "Well, I wonder how I’m going to call the serpent," he said, "She’s going to die without his magic."

There was a blurring in the air, then a dark elf knelt down beside Zaknafein. He looked at Quetzal in relief, then carefully took her from her father. "You got rid of that interferer?" he inquired.

"Obviously," Zaknafein grinned. "Take care of her. You know I still don’t approve of this?"

"I do," the elf said, "And that’s enough for me as it is. Farewell."

"Farewell," Zaknafein inclined his head.

Zaknarr walked over towards them. "You’d all like to go back now?" He made a gesture, and the rest of Shandira’s companions started to wake up.

"Once I get my suitcase... ah. Thanks," Sinclair said, picking up the suitcase that Zaknarr had teleported down. Omen wagged his short tail in excitement. "One second after, remember?" Sinclair asked.

Zaknarr nodded, making a complicated gesture. A ‘doorway’ opened, through which Sinclair could see his chauffeur and the steps of Sinclair Firms. He bowed to them all, then stepped through with his sister, Omen bounding in after them. The doorway closed.

Pyrikkan gave Guenhwyvar a conciliatory pat even as the large cat purred and rubbed itself against the Saur. "I suppose we should be going as well," he said, putting one powerful two-fingered foreclaw on Zak’s shoulder, "Kverr would be demanding payment for the drinks."

"The dragon would be quite upset by now," Zak agreed with a mischievous grin, "You haven’t paid, if I remember."

"Can you treat me?" Pyrikkan asked.

"In your dreams, Saur," Zak said acidly, "I know how much you’re paid. You’re all right, Drizzt?"

"Fine, father," Drizzt smiled, stroking Guenhwyvar’s head. "I think I’d like to visit Sanctuary for a while."

"Nothing better to do?" Zak asked.

"Not really," Drizzt replied.

Zaknarr smiled. "Sometime you’re going to have to tell me what you are talking about," he remarked, and repeated the spell for the both of them.

"I’d have to be going," Jormungand said.

"Have you found a solution?" Zaknafein raised an eyebrow.

"No," Jormungand admitted, "But it never hurts to try." He wrapped his hands around Quetzal’s waist, then the both of them shot upwards like a shooting star.

"Impressive," Zaknarr said. "Z/ak/9018?"

"You don’t look like the cyborg I was treating earlier," Doctor Marie Sutherland was saying, "And where in the world am I?"

"A dream?" Zaknafein put in hopefully.

"Really," Doctor Sutherland said dryly. "Well, let’s get out of it, and then I’d like to have a talk with you..." she stabbed a finger at the grinning Z/ak/9018, "As soon as possible."

"Right," Zaknarr said, after the two of them exited the scene. "Zakath?"

"I’d be going back before Belgarath throws another fit," Zakath said with a grin.

Cyradis was looking around with a bemused expression. "And thou wilt have to tell me what hath transpired here," she said firmly. Zakath sighed, then nodded his head. They walked through the doorway, followed by the cat.

"Zaknayae, are you sure you wish to return?" Zaknarr asked.

"I know what you’re thinking of," Zaknayae smiled, "But what else can I do?"

"You could come with me," Zaknarr grinned, "I like you."

"Talk ‘bout subtle," Patch grumbled on Zaknarr’s shoulder. "Huh."

"Zaknayae raised an eyebrow. "Tempting," she grinned, "But racing is my life."

"I can make ‘bikes’ if you’d like," Zaknarr said.

"You can’t do this!" Marie Carey spoke up indignantly, "You’re an elf! Bought by Harley Davidson!"

"I can," Zaknayae said slowly, "And I will. Send Miss Carey back, Zaknarr, and I suppose I’d go with you."

"I’d tell!" Marie Carey cried.

"And someone would believe you?" Zaknayae raised an eyebrow, "I think not. Goodbye, Miss Carey, and send Harley Davidson my regards."

Marie Carey disappeared screaming imprecations.

"I thank you for your hospitality," Zaknarr grinned at Zaknafein.

"Anytime," Zaknafein smiled, "It isn’t everyday that I get to speak to six copies of myself."

"This copy is a flawed one," Patch declared, pointing at Zaknarr with the tip of its beak, as if trying to make a last joke before it went away back to the forest with its Master.

"Perhaps," Zaknafein grinned, "But no one’s perfect."

"Farewell," Zaknayae said somberly.

"May we not meet again," Zaknafein replied, "In this kind of circumstances, that is."

Zaknarr inclined his head, and the two of them vanished in a theatrical wreath of smoke.

Zaknafein stood as if struck motionless for a moment, even as his Talons approached. Then he turned to regard the curious face of Lieutenant Qayin. "Dispose of that," he said, pointing at the body of Shandira, "But respectfully, mind."

"Yes sir," Qayin said, stepping forward to give commands to nearby Talons. Zaknafein watched them for a while, then walked slowly back to the Study.

***

In a shadowy corner of the courtyard, Death watched the scene, feeling vaguely disappointed and harassed. This ‘Shandira’ person was not of his world, and so technically was not his to ‘service’.

Making up his mind, Death slipped off his horse and stalked over to the body, the crowd absently parting before him and closing again, without even noticing he was there.

A faint glowing lifeline connected the spirit of Shandira to her body, and the spirit regarded Death with calm eyes now.

"What do I do now?" she asked.

Death shrugged. "Whatever you will. I have no part in it, actually." His scythe swooped down, and cut the line precisely, freeing the spirit.

The spirit closed her/its eyes, and then was surrounded in a halo of glowing light, wings unfolding. "I will return when Armageddon comes and spar with my Father again," she said, "And this time – we’d see who would win."

Death inclined his head. Shandira’s spirit hovered over her body for a while more, then swooped upwards as a point of light, towards her god.

Death watched quietly as the body was removed then walked back to his horse whistling tunelessly. A girl that resembled Zaknafein stopped dead, eyes widening. Death nodded his greetings to her and the boy behind her (same reaction, except with a cry of surprise), then walked towards his horse. It was disconcerting being able to be seen by werewolves – some of said creatures under Talon employment even waved to him as he passed. Friendly things, when all’s said and done, though very tenacious towards life.

His horse looked at him amiably, then tried to chew his robe. Death shook it off affectionately and climbed on, then rode through the city wall. He could wait.

***

[top]

World Report

The weather phenomenon has ceased abruptly, as have the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. No scientific explanation has been offered, though there are varied speculations on the cause.

The abrupt cease of this climatic activity has sparked off several demonstrations throughout Europe and America; with many ‘doomsday prophets’ warning that this was a sign that the world would end. They have started attacking embassies and taxation offices, saying that these were signs of evil that had to be ‘cleansed’ before Kingdom comes. Riot police have their hands full by controlling these often rowdy rioters.

Now for the latest in the business industry – Sinclair Firms has announced what must be their most spectacular merger yet – that with Apple Computer. Spokespersons from both sides have stated that this merger would...

Lledrith RavenWolf

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