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Crystal Conundrums I :The Windcall
by Archone




(Note to readers: Yes, the hero of Crystalis has no generic name. I chose to name him

Gebrel, based on the Hebraic Gebrer, meaning Hero, and El, meaning God. Gebrerel, Hero of God.

Gebrel. Gebrel, Hero of God, and Mesiah, Harbinger of Peace. I might have used Gabriel, but

that wouldn't fit in the six letter margin. Also, Id like to dedicate this story to Constant

Drachenfels, whose support and advice was critical in getting this story good enough to submit.)

It was a cavern of cold hard stone, old as time, cold as the grave. Yet within

it's womblike heart lay something far younger, an infant by geological chronology.

Yet to those without, it might as well have been no younger than the mountain range itself.

The faded green plastic of the cryochamber hummed with energy. For 500 years, it

had served it's purpose, keeping the occupant alive and young, awaiting the appointed time.

And that time, was now.

"...Systems activated..." droned the computerized voice, in an emotionless female voice,

"...Program 0256 functional... SYSTEM 1024 functional... CONDITION: GREEN...

INPUT CODE NAME..." The computer systems accessed it's data banks with a hum. "...Gebrel..."

The machinery began to emit pulsating flashes from various LED displays, as well as the

frontal surface, a smoothly polished piece of transparent material, covered in frost. As

beeping noises and bright lights continued to emit, the frost began to boil away from

the inside of the cryochamber, to be replaced by a fog whiter and more opaque than the thick

rime of frost had ever been. Finally, the entire chamber flashed a brilliant white, enough

to blind those watching, had any been within the cavern. Then the cryochamber opened.

He was a muscular, healthy young man that revealed himself within the chamber, his hair

a faded pink, his lean, pale body covered by a skintight pair of pink shorts and black shirt.

His eyes opened, a piercing blue, clear and strong. And his first action upon awakening

was to fall to his knees, shaking his head groggily.

Who am I?

The thought went from his forebrain to a strange black hole in his mind, an empty place

where one's memory would ordinarily be. The response came back. I am Gebrel.

What is this place? The question was again answered. This is a cryochamber, for keeping a

person in a state of suspended animation, to be released at a predetermined date for a given

purpose.

What is my purpose?

Silence.

What is my purpose?

No answer. Yet a nagging feeling tugged at his heart. A sense of urgency, as if he had

to be somewhere, do something important. What? Silence.

After a time, he stood up, standing on shaky legs, unsteady with disuse. As he peered out

at the far side of the cavern, it suddenly collapsed, with a low rumble. He squinted against the

light that shone through the new opening. Then he began to make his way towards the cave mouth,

slowly at first, then faster, as his body began to remember it's old habits.

As he exited the cave, he noticed a man, his hair and beard brown streaked with gray,

his body lean and wiry, a farmer's body, clutching a farming implement. The man stared at him,

his eyes growing wide with astonishment. "Hey!! There's a guy coming out of the cave!" he

cried, and turned, running away in fear. Gebrel stared at the retreating figure, then followed.

He came to a small village, it's populace amassed in trepidation of his coming. They stared at

each other for a few moments, then a man with a bushy black beard stepped forward, dressed in a

loose brown robe. "I am the village elder. You awoke from inside the cave, didn't you?" The young

man nodded. "What is your name?"

"I am Gebrel," he said, in a clear voice.

The elder nodded. "This is the village of Leaf. We were told that you would arrive."

"By who?"

"By the wise man, Zebu. He told us that you are our last hope to defeat evil."

Gebrel looked around. "Do you have much evil here?"

The elder flushed. "Leaf is a peaceful village, but there are dark rumors from far off.

Zebu said that you would save us all from an evil from another time and place."

"I...see. Who is Zebu?"

The elder stared at him a moment. "Zebu is one of the four wise men. He is the founder of our

village, and a powerful magician."

"Where is he?"

"Currently, he dwells to the north, in a cave in the valley of wind. He bade you seek him

out." Gebrel nodded slowly, and the elder took a cloth wrapped bundle from a child standing

next to him. He unfolded it to reveal a shining blade. "Receive this sword to help you on

your quest. This and others like it will guide you." Gebrel stepped forward slowly, and

the elder exposed the hilt for him to grasp.

The blade was double edged, three feet in length, with a rectangular crosspiece for a guard,

and a hilt formed of some strange substance. Rubber, Gebrels mind supplied. He grasped it as

he would a hammer, noting the groove running the length of the blade, lightening it and shifting

the center of balance towards the hilt. Gebrel tried a few experimental swings. Of his body's

own accord, he fell into a fighting stance, his hips twisting with his strikes to draw power

from his legs and torso.

How did I learn these techniques? Silence. No recollection of training, no memories of an

instructor drilling him, no images of sparring partners. Yet his movements were quick and

sure. My body knows how to fight, Gebrel realized, even if I have forgotten.

Gebrel looked at the crowd of villagers. They expect something else, he thought, and his mind

supplied the else. He concentrated, drawing his energy into his hand and into the blade. How

he did so he could not have explained to another, it was as natural to him as breathing,

as if he'd forgotten the learning like he'd forgotten his learning the sword. He aimed and

released.

The rumble of the blast echoed as the projectile flashed across the village, seemingly invisible,

only a curious distortion of the air marking it's path. Vacuum, thought Gebrel, the sword creates

a bullet of pure vacuum. "Thank you," he told the elder.

Further gifts followed. A tunic of smooth tanned hide, to protect him from the cold winds. A

shield, made from the carapace of some very large creature. Gebrel thanked the villagers for

each gift in turn, then asked for directions to Zebu's cave retreat. "To the north," was

the answer, "but be careful, there's a tribe of werecats living in the valley. They only

leave us alone because they fear Zebu." Gebrel nodded, and turned to go.

The valley was quite beautiful to Gebrel, even allowing for the fact that he had no previous

memories of scenery to compare it with. The vegetation was lush and green, thriving in the

ideal conditions of cool air, abundant sunlight, and rich soil. The areas closest to the

village had been cultivated, berry bushes, wheat fields, vegetables, and fruit trees in a lovely,

sculpted pattern that maximized usage of terrain, creeping vines heavy with grapes hanging

from the apple trees, blueberry bushes forming hedges. As Gebrel continued on, the terrain became

more naturalistic, sparser vegetation, small creatures moving about, combining the business

of feeding themselves with the business of avoiding becoming food for something else.

As Gebrel traveled, his eyes, ears, and nose scanned for danger, as his mind occupied

itself with determining the extent of his hidden knowledge. His brain seemed to work best

when he treated the black spot that should have been his memory as a database, consulting it

whenever he wanted to know something. The size of the database, in fact, was truly impressive.

As he crossed over vegetation, he determined species or nearest relative, whether it was edible

or poisonous, or any other useful qualities. When he neared the mountainous region where Zebu's

cave was supposedly located, he noted the geological strata, what rocks were present and what

useful minerals or notable features were likely to be found within. The mountains themselves

were full of limestone, a mineral formation prone to huge cavern complexes with the aid of

water. When nothing new was in sight to research, he busied himself with trying to call up

information on history, or fighting tactics. His knowledge of history was completely absent,

alas, while his fighting skills remained elusive. He could access them, but only in actual

physical execution, by letting his body, his instincts and programmed responses run

without interference from his foremind.

The cave was not hard to find. The mouth was fairly large, and the area about it bore the signs

of violence some time in the past. Extreme violence, to judge by the gouges in the rock itself.

The rocks themselves were scorched by flames, fallen rocks showing where they had been torn

from the mountainside by their shape. Gebrel nodded slowly at the sight, then stepped

into the cave, Sword of Wind at the ready.

The inside of the cave was of cool limestone, the air moist and chill. Gebrel slowly walked

the long path of the cave, his heart beating quickly with trepidation, his eyes scanning for

trouble from any quarter. Finally, the corridor opened up into a large cavern, filled with

sundry items for living, a bedroll, tools for cooking, tools for hygiene, tools for

entertainment. A small fire burned in the center of the room, providing light, reflecting off

the corners of the rocky room, and revealing an old man.

His head reminded Gebrel of the limestone. Smooth and shiny. His face was dominated by

a long, thick beard of black hair, his body concealed beneath a blue robe. Gebrel stepped up

to the man, and stopped. "Are you Zebu?" he asked.

The old man smiled, his eyes framed by deeply scored laugh lines. "That would be me, son. Please,

have a seat." Gebrel nodded, and sat down next to him on the wooden chair provided. "Gebrel?"

he nodded. "You are the one we've been waiting for."

Gebrel interrupted him. "Waiting for what? I don't know who or what I am. I have skills but

don't remember how I learned them, and this nagging feeling that I have to be somewhere, do

something important. Tell me, what am I supposed to do?"

"That will be revealed to you at the proper time, Gebrel. For now, you must learn, grow,

and adapt to this world. I have a task for you, which you must complete."

"What is it?"

"Try to make our windmill work."

Gebrel blinked. "Is it broken?"

Zebu blinked. Then he laughed and shook his head. "The guard at the windmill hasn't been seen

lately. We don't know where he is, or if he's alright. You must find him, so that he can

make the mill work again."

"Why can't the villagers-"

"Werecats."

"I was warned about them at the village. What are they?"

"Mutants." Gebrel's mind supplied the answer to the question "what is a mutant?" "They're well

adapted to the cold climate here, with their fur. They have claws and teeth, but they have high

intelligence, almost as high as a man's. And they can speak, too. Good thing, since that makes

it possible to reason with 'em." Zebu smirked.

"Is that what the scarred rocks were about," murmured Gebrel.

"That's where I had to convince them to leave my people alone. And they are MY people. Everyone

of them is either a descendant, or married to one of my kids or grandkids. My family." Zebu

beamed with paternal pride and joy.

"Oh." Gebrel sat and considered. "So I have to deal with these monsters and find a man

who may be dead, then get the windmill working?"

"If you can do this, then I will teach you some magic." Gebrel brightened at this thought.

"Now go, you have work to do and I," and Zebu sighed, taking some herbs and dropping them

into a pot of bubbling stew, "have work of my own." Gebrel left the old man, sitting there

and licking his chops.

Gebrel made his way towards the windmill, setting a brisk pace for himself. His eyes continually

moved about, scanning for signs of danger. So it came as no surprise when, after he'd been

traveling for a few hours, reaching a wooded area of small trees and thick bushes, the

Werecats finally made themselves known.

The first one came springing out of the bushes, landing in front of Gebrel with teeth bared

in either smile or snarl. It's brown fur was striped along it's back, it's underbelly was covered

with soft white fur. Despite the absence of a tail, it's extended claws and facial features

left no doubt as to it's ancestry. "Sooo," the mutant purred. "We have a human come to visit

us." It's voice was thickly accented, distorted by it's muzzle, not designed for speech.

Another mutant appeared. "What a big sword he has. Did you come to play?" It's eyes gleamed.

A third Werecat popped out, it's hip structure denoting it to be a member of the fairer sex.

"A cute human, as well. Maybe we can play some nice games, before we have dinner," she purred,

favoring Gebrel with a glance that made her meaning quite clear. Part of him was properly

shocked by the indecent proposal, part of horrified by the insinuation of himself as a meal for

the tribe. Part of him... He shook off the thought and said, in a voice that managed to

avoid any tremulation, "I have no wish to hurt any of you, but I will defend myself if attacked."

"Hmph." A fourth Werecat emerged, the largest one yet. It was fully a head taller than the

others, with a scarred muzzle. "Zebu should have warned you, human. You don't stand a chance

against us."

Gebrel fell into a guard, raising his sword. "I beg to differ, mutant. It is you, who should

fear." And quit shaking, spine, he thought to himself, holding his knees steady by force of

will.

The werecat's eyes... glowed. "Is that a challenge?" Gebrel bared his teeth in response. "All

of you, stand back. This one, is my meat." And the werecat leapt at Gebrel with a roar.

Gebrel leapt to the side, twisting as he did to slice in a ballestra, a leaping attack. The

edge of the blade cut into the chief's back. The chief landed and turned, leaping at Gebrel

again. Gebrel brought up his shield, holding the chief at bay as the mutant bore down on

him, using his body weight and height to press in, and Gebrel's head whipped about, trying

to avoid the mutant's claws, as they tore at him, making shallow gashes in his cheeks. He

thrust under his shield, catching the mutant in the leg, then

the pressure became too much, and he fell down, the werecat on top of him.

Before the werecat could land, Gebrel used his shield, his sword, and his leg to fling the

cat away, then rolled to his feet. The werecat landed in a roll, coming to his feet and

crouching. One paw covered his thigh, where blood burst forth in pulsating spurts, never

a good sign.

Gebrel concentrated his energy, then as the werecat tensed to pounce, he pointed his blade

and cut loose with a vacuum bullet. The antimissile rushed through the air, the atmosphere

collapsing behind it with a sonic boom, as it slammed directly into the werecat's chest. What

happened next was deeply disgusting, even to the werecats. The vacuum blast slammed into the

chief's chest, spending itself within the heavy mass. Before it did, the flesh and bone of the

creature tore itself apart, sucked into the vacuum in order to fill it. A large hole, filled

with a red mist and disgusting gobbets, replaced the clean white fur. The chief's eyes filled

with pain and horror, then dimmed and glazed over. He toppled over slowly, landing with the

lack of grace of a doll with it's strings cut, his corpse bleeding slowly into the ground.

Gebrel panted with the physical and emotional exertion, his blood racing, except where it

slowly bled out from the gashes in his feet. He stared at the corpse, then at the other mutants.

They stared back, unsure of what to do. It was the female who acted first. "My chief," she

purred, moving towards him with a stride at once submissive and challenging. Gebrel backed

away a step.

"What do you mean, chief?" He asked. The female continued to advance, her body lowering as she

did. Gebrel froze, not moving even when she embraced his legs, and began to rub her muzzle

against his knee.

"You have killed the old chief. Now you are chief. Unless someone challenges you." Gebrel jerked

his head up from where it had been staring at her in fascination, to scan the other werecats.

They, and the several dozen others who had appeared to watch the fight, all sank down to all

fours, spines bent in a posture of submission. "I suppose that settles it, my chief," she purred.

That evening found him gathered with the werecats, in their den, a cave filled with the smells

of meat, blood, and fur, occupied by large male werecats, equally large female mutants, and

smaller cubs. The cubs were actually quite cute. Gebrel, in a move that surprised the pack

and pleased the mothers, picked one of the cubs up and sat it in his lap, and rubbed it's fur.

"You've made the females very happy," murmured the female in his ear, as she sat next to him

in a manner that made her intentions quite clear to all. "Normally, a new chief would kill all

the cubs, then start new ones of his own." She popped another piece of raw meat into his mouth,

then licked the blood from his chin. I am in the midst of madness, though Gebrel, and I am not

sure I mind.

"There was a guard at the windmill. What happened to him?" Gebrel asked, trying to shift his

mind onto important matters.

"Haven't seen him. You're the first human to invade our territory in days. Even if we had,

we wouldn't have hurt him. That's the deal we made with Zebu. The windmill guard is the only

human allowed in our hunting grounds." She fed him another piece of raw flesh.

"I have to find him." The female nodded. "Um, what happens if I leave here?"

"Another will take your place. If you appoint another to serve in your stead, he will

lead until you return, then give you back your power. Or not."

Gebrel nodded. "Uh... and who would be best suited for that position?" The female pointed

at a young male, brimming with power, who had been giving Gebrel the admiring glances of a

devoted fan for a role model all evening. "All right, make him the interim...no, the new chief.

I have to leave tomorrow." The female stared into his eyes. Maybe tonight, he amended silently.

"You're wounded," she noticed, suddenly realizing that the red lines on his face weren't

stripes.

"Your old chief was a tough fighter. I'll be all right." Gebrel tried to pull away without

seeming to.

"They could get infected. Here, let me..." She began to lick slowly at his cheeks, her body

closer then ever to him. Gebrel closed his eyes and put his hand on her chest to push her away,

then realized what portion of her anatomy he was holding and jerked them away, grabbing her

shoulders instead. She clutched his own shoulders and held him firmly, as she reopened the

cuts with her rough tongue, then cleaned and anesthized them with her saliva. She moved closer...

The cub on Gebrel's lap squeaked in protest, as she started to squish him. As she jerked back

with an apologetic snort, Gebrel grabbed the cub and jumped up. "I'll go return him to his

mother," he stammered out quickly, and suited action to words. Then he went to relieve himself

behind a tree. Then he went to investigate a noise...

The next morning, he set out, feeling somewhat the worse for wear, his stomach churning from

the raw flesh, and his mind muggy with lack of sleep and with the strain of keeping the

female at bay all night. The young male saw Gebrel off with a manner that made Gebrel certain

that should he return to the tribe, his welcome would be a warm one. The female did not see

him off. Instead, she insisted on traveling with him, a sack containing a few possessions

slung over her shoulder.

They reached the windmill cave, the subterranean path leading to the windmill, in a few

short hours. The female's sharp nose detected the scent of a man, and soon she had led him to

a man in distinctive red garb-"that's how we know he's the guard," she explained-his blond hair

framing a face relaxed, with the pleasures of sleep. The female looked at the guard a moment,

then reached into her sack, giving Gebrel a shell, it's polished substance marked by holes.

A flute. Her teeth bared themselves in what he had learned to interpret as a smile.

Gebrel took the flute, then placed one finger over each hole, guaranteeing the highest pitch

possible. He took a deep breath, pursed his lips, then blew a tight stream directly into the

mouthpiece. The effect was immediate. The guard leapt straight into the air as the flute screamed

out. He landed, glanced at Gebrel-and the werecat, and backed away hastily, his eyes wide with

fright. Some assurances were needed by Gebrel before he calmed down, and set about his task.

"I'm sorry," he apologized repeatedly. "I bought some cider with me to drink, and I just...sorry,

I'm really sorry.

Soon, the windmill was working again, it's gears leading to mechanisms in a complex not far off,

yet just outside the borders of the werecat lands, where the villagers were grinding wheat seeds

into flour, pressing apples into cider and grapes into the beginnings of wine, and enjoying

the other benefits of mechanical efficiency. The guard bade them goodbye with further apologies,

and Gebrel set forth for Leaf, that being closer than Zebu's cave, the werecat in tow.

The villagers were overjoyed to have their windmill working again. So much so, in fact, that

they almost forgave Gebrel for returning with a mutant from a nearby and much hated

tribe in his wake. They fed him fresh bread and fruit, and a few choice pieces of meat,

and grudgingly gave the werecat cooked meat. They chose to ignore her, not speaking to her,

but not attacking her either. Gebrel asked the werecat, "why do they hate you so much?"

"The humans here were poaching from our hunting grounds," she explained around a mouthful

of roast flesh. "We killed the ones we caught, then Zebu killed some of us. Then Zebu made

a deal with the chief before the old chief, and we agreed to leave each other alone.

Only the windmill guard is allowed to come onto our land, and he's not allowed to steal

our prey or anything else."

Gebrel looked at her. "So they grieve for the kin they lost-don't you miss the werecats

who died?" She shook her head, then tore the flesh from a bone, leaving it clean and white.

"It's not our way. We don't grieve for our dead-we know we'll see them again soon enough.

That's life." She cracked the bone with her powerful jaws and sucked at the marrow.

That night, Gebrel slept in a warm bed-with the female curled up on the floor. She found the

bed too soft and yielding, the blankets too hot, while he seized the opportunity to suggest

the alternative, a soft rug woven from several layers of straw, then happily slept in peace.

Some time before morning, he opened his eyes sleepily...and found himself lying on top

of the female. She pulled me out of the bed while I was sleeping, he thought angrily,

and started to struggle to his feet.

She pulled him back down, snuggling him in her sleep, like a little human child with her stuffed

furry animal. He sighed and waited for her to wake up on her own, his muscular six foot plus

body easily nestled by her seven foot frame, broad with muscle under soft fur. By the time

she did waken, he had relaxed enough to fall asleep again, resting blissfully in her arms.

Considerably embarrassed to find himself cuddling against her in his sleep, he dressed himself

in his armor and set out, skipping breakfast in his haste. The werecat followed, her

expression easily discernable as smug.

Soon they reached the cave. The female stopped at the entrance. Gebrel turned to look at

her from the cave mouth. "What's wrong?" He asked.

She shivered. "That's Zebu's cave. He'll kill me if I go in. Please, don't go in there."

Gebrel smiled at her. "Don't worry, I won't let him hurt you. Come on, it'll be okay."

The werecat smiled in relief, and rushed in, following close behind him, though her body

continued to hunch inward in trepidation.

Zebu was sitting by his cookpot, putting the finishing touches on his work. He looked up

as Gebrel entered, the cowering werecat in tow. To his credit, he put her at immediate ease,

offering them both fresh stew. All three of them sat down and waited for their steaming bowls

to cool enough to eat.

"Now, my boy," cackled Zebu, "I want you to open your mind to me. I'm going to

join my mind with yours, and show you how to heal your body with the magic called Refresh."

At his direction, Gebrel emptied and calmed his mind. "That's it, you must have a mind clear

of thoughts. My, you have great potential-never have I sensed an emptier mind." He cackled

to himself, then sobered and touched Gebrel's mind with his own. Gebrel barely flinched,

accepting the old man's intrusion into his mind.

Now then, thought the old man, join your will with mine, and we'll do it together. Gebrel

pushed his mind against Zebu's, and the gashes in his cheeks began to close up, as he performed

with Zebu's skill. Soon the healing was complete, and Gebrel possessed the knowledge of the

Magic of Refresh as he possessed the knowledge of the sword. Fully skilled, yet without

the memory of training in the technique. Now, before I depart, thought

the old man, I need to warn you about the werecat.

I...don't think she'll hurt me, responded Gebrel.

It's not you I fear will be hurt, responded Zebu. That girl has fallen in love with you.

But...I didn't do anything to encourage her! I don't love her...

It doesn't matter, Zebu admonished. You still have to be careful, or you'll destroy her without

thinking about it. She may be a mutant, but that doesn't mean she doesn't deserve consideration.

I...I'll...keep that in mind. I don't want to hurt her. Gebrel broke contact suddenly. Zebu

gasped. "Goodness. That was impressive, throwing me out of your mind so suddenly." Zebu smiled.

"You've definitely got potential, Gebrel. Just remember everything I've taught you." He

gave a slight emphasis on the word "everything." Gebrel nodded. "Journey to the north, and

you'll find a cave that leads out of the valley."

"Thank you, Zebu. Let's...go." He turned to leave, and the werecat followed, giving Zebu

one last anxious, bemused look as she trailed after Gebrel.

They journeyed on to the cave, past fields of barley that gleamed in the sun. They took

the time to assist the farmers by killing a few jellies, a sort of multicellular version of the

amoeba, with no differentiation of cell structure, a single blob that moved under it's own

power, before they could eat the harvest for themselves. By the time they'd left, the farmers

had grudgingly accepted the werecat as a nonthreat, and even mumbled a few words of thanks.

The cave was of a drier, lighter rock than Zebu's limestone dwelling, cut from the same

area as the windmill cave. Gebrel led the way, the werecat holding a torch made by

wrapping furry hides around an old bone. They paused regularly, both from trepidation

at the dark unknown, and to gawk at the strange creatures that lived within the caves.

"That's a coutl," the werecat said, pointing her torch at a snake creature with furry head

and useless wings, slithering along. "Bad temper. Good eating." Gebrel removed it's striking

head with one chop, then handed the torso to the werecat for a snack. She chomped down

gratefully, accepting the grisly edible as a human woman would accept candy.

Next they came across a relative of the surface jellies, a bright red instead of cool blue.

Gebrel wondered why, then his mental database supplied

the answer. "Don't touch it," he warned the werecat. "It's poisonous-the color is to warn

us, so we won't try to eat it." Properly warned, they gave the creatures a wide berth.

After they'd traveled a while longer, Gebrel paused, while the werecat lit another torch

with the dying flames of the first. "What's your name?" he suddenly asked. "I just realized

I don't know your name."

She looked at him sharply, at his sudden interest. "We don't have names. We are friends,

kin. All others are outsiders. I know who you are. That's enough to know." Gebrel swallowed

uncertainly, and decided to take the cat by the tail, as it were.

"What do you want from me?" he asked point blank. She blinked. "We're two different species.

We can't have kids."

The werecat pondered his question. "I don't know what I want." She moved closer, and gazed

deeply into his eyes. "But I don't want it from anybody else."

Gebrel swallowed with difficulty, feeling himself absorbed by her eyes, so very big and brown,

so very expressive... "Let's move on." They did.

After a time, they found themselves at a crossroads. Two paths, diverging. Which way do I

go? he asked himself.

Go that way, Zebu's mind suddenly contacted him.

Zebu? Are you sure?

That way lies a magic ball. It is connected to the Sword of Wind, you need it to continue.

Go that way... Zebu's mind broke contact, and Gebrel turned to the werecat. "Let's go this

way," and he went down the path that Zebu had directed.

After a while longer, they found the ball, within an animals den, a very large animal

judging from the size of the den. The ball lay on a rocky ledge, obviously an object considered

valuable by the tenant. Gebrel and the werecat looked at each other. "Let's take the ball

and go," Gebrel told her in a hushed voice. She promptly trod silently across the den,

grabbing the ball, and brought it back to him. She placed the ball in his hand, and he

covered his other hand over hers, without thinking. He looked up at her. "Thanks," he whispered.

That was enough.

Enough to wake up the denizen of the den, anyway. It had escaped notice by it's appearance. It's

skin was encrusted with pebbles, a natural armor formed of the same minerals as the mountain.

This made it appear to be just another rock formation, until it woke and found it's treasure

being absconded. It lumbered towards them with murder intent in what passed for it's face.

"Scatter!" Gebrel cried, and shoved the werecat in one direction as he grabbed his sword up and

dove for another, avoiding the brute's lumbering charge. He rolled and came up in firing

position. His mind tensed, charged... and charged again?

The small orb of translucent blue substance gleamed as it absorbed energy from Gebrel as

soon as the sword had sucked it's fill. With both relics fully charged, Gebrel released,

in the unconscious manner that he had already learned not to try to tamper with by conscious

design. The ball sent the energy back through his arm, through his body, and down his other

arm, combining with the sword's energy in a vacuum discharge. A very large vacuum discharge.

Bit's and pieces of rock monster sprayed everywhere, both the hard mineral skin, and the

softer bits concealed within. Gebrel rose up, smiled at his accomplishment, then grimaced

at the sprayed material. A portion of it had landed on the werecat, unfortunately, much to the

detriment of her furry coat. She was not pleased.

"Sorry," he apologized, as he ran to her. She held up a restraining hand, then began to lick

her palms, running them through her matted and soiled fur, cleaning off the dirt and gore.

Gebrel took the torch from her so she could use both hands. Finally, she was done. "You look

beautiful," he told her dryly, and she preened at the compliment, taking it quite seriously.

Well, he told himself, she does look pretty, even if she doesn't look human. Glossy coat,

white teeth, bright eyes...watch it, boy!

He looked at her, then made a decision, his mouth curving up in a slow smile. "I'm tired

of this nameless business. Let's go...Kitten." Her eyes widened, and she stared at him

bemusedly.

"Kitten?"

"People often give each other nicknames. They're not the names you're born with, but they

do, among friends. It's... it's a term of endearment." He looked away, uncomfortably, then

started walking back the way they'd came, towards the intersection. Kitten followed, her

eyes unreadable.

When they started down the other path, Gebrel found their way blocked by rubble. "Thank you,

Zebu," Gebrel murmured to himself, as he pointed the sword at the fallen rock, charging sword

and ball. The enormous wave of vacuum slammed into the rubble, the awesome force causing the

brittle fallen rock to crumble into a fine powder, which blew away in the wake of what vacuum

force remained. Gebrel peered into the darkness. "Let's see what's on the other side."

They journeyed on, finding themselves in another den. "Great," he muttered. "I hope we don't

run into the occupant-"

"False hope, false man!" the tinny voice cried. The mutant that stepped forth was nothing

short of horrific. Two legs and two arms like a man, but it's face was that of an insects,

compound eyes and hideous proboscis for a mouth. A jeweled amulet hung around it's neck,

and white ivory curved out of it's head as horns and out of it's hands as claws. "Foolish

of you indeed, to enter a vampire's lair," the thing sniggered, it's proboscis uncoiling

and recoiling in anticipation of sucking their juices. "You've broken into my home, and now

you'll have to join me for dinner. Tee hee hee." The thing's laughter was truly awful, high

pitched and wet, sending shudders down both their spines. "Any last words?"

Gebrel began to charge his sword. "Yes."

"Well? Let's hear them." The vampire waved it's hand impatiently.

"Suck THIS!" And he released his blast, the vacuum discharge flying at the vampire. The

creature ducked, rolling underneath the blast and coming up with claws flashing. Gebrel

cried out in pain and surprise, his face, arms, and chest laid open as he countered with

the sword as best he could. The vampire took several wounds of it's own, painful but not

disabling. It slapped at Gebrel's arm, laying the forearm open, and his sword arm was now

useless. Gebrel tried vainly to keep the thing back with his shield, as he called on what

resources he had left to heal himself.

The vampire suddenly roared, a high pitched squeal of rage and pain, as Kitten came up

from behind and slashed with her powerful clawed hands, tearing at it's back. It turned

and slashed at her neck with it's own taloned fingers. She fell back, blood spurting. "No!"

cried Gebrel, and his sword arm, healed with the last of his energy, flew with rage enhanced

strength, slicing deep into the vampire's torso, at the joining of neck and body. The blade

did not halt until it had penetrated almost halfway through the disgusting torso. Gebrel

placed his foot on what was left and kicked out, pulling the sword free, then dropped to his

knees at Kitten's side.

It did not look good. Her neck was a bloody mess, the precious fluid gushing free in pulsing

spurts. "Kitten," he whispered, then dropped the sword and ball and placed his hands on her

throat. His brow furrowed in concentration, then frustration. "I can't," he moaned, "I used

up all my power. Oh, Kitten..."

"S'alright," she slurred, and reached up to touch his face. "My things. Take...my flute...

remember me..." She gasped. "I...I love..." she died before she could finish the thought.

Gebrel kneeled next to her for a long time before speaking. "I know." He swallowed, brushed

his face to wipe away the tears. "I love you too. Just not the way you wanted." He turned,

looked at the hated corpse of the vampire. He jumped up and kicked it viciously. "Damn you!"

He kicked it again. Again and again he lashed out, pulping the creature's carapace to a bloody

mess. Finally he collapsed, sobbing, burying his face into Kitten's motionless chest. "Kitten..."

After almost an hour, Gebrel had regained sufficient leave of himself to begin doing as Kitten

had asked. He picked up the sack, made from some large creature's hide, and looked inside. A

few coins. A flower, dried and preserved. The skull of another werecat, friend? Foe? And the

flute. He picked it up, and began playing, with the same ease as swordplay. A mournful dirge,

for Kitten. Finally, he dropped the flute and the Ball of Wind into the sack, then turned to

look at the pulped mess that used to be the vampire. He dismissed the amulet with a snort, then

noticed the boots. He recognized them. Relics of an age even he could not remember.

Rabbit boots, he thought to himself. Powerful pistons within the knee high shanks responded

to sensors on the soles. When the wearer jumped, the boots jumped with him. A very high jump.

He shook them out, then crammed his feet, callused and hard from walking barefoot, into the

high tech gear. He took an experimental hop, and cleared six feet under his toes easily.

He landed, and smiled, then twisted his smile into a snarl of grief. "A pair of boots for

a friend. Not a good trade, I think." He picked up the sack with his shield hand, lifted up

his sword, then bent to pick up Kitten's corpse. I'll be damned if I'm going to leave her

body here, he thought savagely. I'll dig her a grave with the sword. Someplace pretty. With

flowers. With his shoulders covered by his furry burden, he moved on, towards his destiny.

Whatever that might be, he added wryly. His mental database, full of raw data and helpful

facts, still obstinately refused to tell him anything about his past, present, or future.

So he continued on, knowing only that the feeling of destiny, that he had to BE somewhere,

and do something important, was growing more insistent. With no alternative in sight,

he had no choice but to continue on, carrying dead friend, leaving dead enemy behind.

He squinted as he approached the light...

 




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