A Shifty Quest

GM: Lotus
Players: Walker
Synopsis: An astral quest to learn Shapeshifting, becoming a long quest visiting all the metaplaces
Date: 28th October, 2080

Still working his way through a backlog of spell formulae that he'd been meaning to get around to for ages, no really, Walker sets up again in his cosy little apartment in Mountain Hills for a trip to metaspace. The door is locked, the curtains are drawn and as far as anyone knows the shaman is just going to take a long nap.

Spreading a sheet out on his floor, the elf strips to the waist before settling down into a cross-legged position. A quick tap at his chest and a brief flex of the fingers to activate the foci that lie there, and he is prepared. His spirit drifts free of his body before disappearing in the direction that you can't point in, towards the Threshold.

Once again, the physical world of Denver in 2080AD fades away, the neon lights and computer screens of the city freeze and lose their colour, only to evanesce completely into a dark, timeless void. It's the most empty and featureless state of existence imaginable, yet strangely familiar in a way.

"So you are here again," a voice calls out from behind. It's a different voice almost every time, yet there's no doubt over its owner. The Dweller appears this time, as a featureless figure wearing an old-fashioned three-piece suit. Its hands are white as porcelain, and its head is also a featureless, white and head-shaped sphere. It's seated there in an old armchair, a lit cigar in its hand despite not having a mouth to smoke it. "Didn't your sanity suffer enough last time? Or are you aiming for the very bottom, to see what you can find down there? It's not pretty, I can tell you…"

A golden eyebrow quirks at this new form the Dweller has chosen. "You look ridiculous," Walker comments with an tone of mild censure, "Nobody told you pocket watches are out this season?" The question is duly pondered for a moment, the elf's head cocked to one side, "I'll cope I'm sure. I know what's down there: I climbed out of it, remember?"

The Dweller puts its cigar own on an ashtray that suitably appears floating in mid-air, then folds its white hands over its lap. "Since when did you care about fashion anyway, wearing that same old coat season after season. You don't need it, the girls ogle after you anyway, don't they? Feeding your ego? You should know better it's all superficial. Who cares about form?"

A second armchair appears. "Take a seat, relax a bit before you prove yourself worthy of my time."

"Function over form," Walker responds simply, sort of agreeing as he flops down into the second chair. "The coat is boring, which sometimes helps. If I wanted attention I'd take it off and invest in some of that form-fitting stuff," he adds with a casual shrug. Impatient fingers drum out a rhythm on the armrest: it always puts him on edge when the Dweller's chatty.

"Oh, but you love the attention," the Dweller says, with a voice that would surely laugh if it had a mouth to facilitate it. "Except when you're not in the mood for it, of course. People should just be when they are, not be when they aren't." It picks up the cigar again.

Suddenly, the Dweller fades away, and scores of beautiful girls appear from seemingly out of nowhere. Every girl that he's checked out on the street, every waitress he's flirted with recently, they all show up like a screaming, adoring horde and surround the armchair, tugging at his hair, sleeves and legs. They're more like hungry beasts than adoring girls, really, at this point, with an unnatural emptiness in their eyes.

Once, Walker had a little sister. Two little girl cousins too, so the hair pulling routine isn't entirely new. There is a line though, and the dead eyes really don't do it for him.

He doesn't say anything, he doesn't have to here. He just lets the mask slip a little, takes the heavy stone off the part of his mind where Adversary always seems to wait. There are much worse things down there, and they all reflect through the elf's aura as he floats from the chair. It's a little unfair really: the experience would probably traumatise these women in real life, but then these are mere facsimiles, figments of the Dweller's imagination perhaps. They recoil at the sight, cowering away from the still beautiful, but now far more terrible elf who pays them no mind as he casts around for the Dweller and shouts, "Are we done here?"

Almost as suddenly as they showed up, the girls recoil in horror and run away, quickly disappearing into the pervading darkness of the threshold. The Dweller puts the cigar, that seems to be smoking itself this whole time, and gives a slow applause with its porcelain-like hands. "If only they knew…" it says, leaning back in the armchair when done. "Fine. Get out of my sight."

The chair disappears, leaving room for a falling through the void, into whatever comes next, the first step of his quest…

The falling sensation does not last long. Telling time in the astral plane is difficult, but it doesn't feel longer than seconds, before he finds himself sitting in an armchair again. No suit-wearing, cigar-smoking omniscient bully coming with him this time. The environment is clean and well-lit, and he's sitting in the furniture section of what seems to be a shopping mall. Typically corporate and sterile, it's hard to tell if it's one he has been to before or just a mall in general, they all look pretty much the same. He does spot a large sign spelling the place's name though. 'Welcome to Walker's' Fitting.

When he looks around, he also notices that all the people wandering about here; customers, service staff, janitors… they all look like him. All of them.

As he reads the sign, Walker's face contorts in a plain show of revulsion. "Note to self: never use that slogan-" his train of thought derails as he notices the other Walker, and the other other Walker… and the other other other…


Convinced he's going to have to do horrible violence of carbon copies of himself (again) he saunters idly over to a greeter in a repulsively colourful uniform. They're even wearing a silly hat, I mean come -on-. "Morning," the attempt at a casual greeting doesn't go well. It sounds far too much like the 'I'm going to rip your head off with that stupid hat still on it, I'm just counting down the time'.

"Good morning, Walker, and welcome to Walker's! My name is Walker, how can I serve you?"

His forced smile makes him look like a corporate-drilled dog. With the hat and all, it's quite revolting, really. "Here at Walker's, we pride ourselves on the finest of customer service to cater to all of Walker's needs!"

In the background, he can hear a scuffle as two Walkers are arguing over who stood in line first. It's a bizarre sight, but what's even more disturbing is the way they talk; using exactly the same tone of voice and mannerism that he does when annoyed… he can even predict what words they're going to use in their argument.

The greeter gets about halfway through the word 'serve' when Walker - the REAL one, he's very sure about that - gently places the palm of a hand over the stupid gorgeous face and just pushes them away before stalking into the store.

It's worse than he expected. He's on all the packaging too: every brand name, every product is some bastartised pun-tastic variation on his name. The one that really takes the prize though is the vision of him as a cereal mascot complete with the dumb Anglo version of 'Native American' attire.

Eventually though he can't ignore it any longer: watching a copy of him argue with another copy over who was in line for groceries? No. Just… no. He arrives behind the pair and with an utterly mystified expression asks, "What in Walker's name are you two arguing for?" A green eye twitches, and he decides that he's going to ignore that slip of the tongue, "Who cares who goes first? This is so fucking pointless!"

The Walker in the uniform falls over behind the counter, his stupid hat flying off and landing on the counter as if saying that's what's left of him. Quickly, from a door in the end of the furnishing department emerges another Walker, who quickly takes the place of the old one. Demonstratively, the new Walker picks up old Walker's hat and put it on, and is just about to repeat the 'Welcome to Walker's' thing when the real Walker walks away to the other, bickering, Walkers. They look at him like he was an alien trying to communicate with him. Strangely enough, they part ways and head back into the busy mall with all the other Walkers.

Not much to do but to keep walking. He arrives at the supermarket section, where he is immediately greeted by a Walker with a shopping trolley running over another Walker's toes. A scuffle ensues, where one Walker pushes the other Walker through a shelf, sending it toppling over. A Walker in staff uniform comes running, but they are also grabbed and pushed over.

Bad enough that they look at him like he's speaking gibberish, but they don't even argue with him?!? Definitely not him. He briefly entertains asking to speak to the manager, but almost instantly discards the idea. It'd just be another idiot clone and at this point he just wants to try and tear the walls down just to see if he can.

Then he comes upon this slapstick routine and can't help but laugh at the idiocy on display. It's horrifying, yes, and thoroughly depressing too, but you have to laugh at the little things, right?

It seems that all the Walkers in the whole store are starting to show their worst. He can overhear them saying cringeworthy things that he remembers saying while drunk or just young and dumb, snarky comments that he knows he has said before. It all becomes even worse when two Walkers are fighting over a Walker's brand jumbo packet of Walker-shaped biscuits. They tear at it, until the packet breaks and spills all over the floor. Then, they start summoning spirits that look like monstrous Walkers, sending them fighting each other. Spells start flinging, and Walkers start outright killing each other.

"Y'know," he murmurs to himself as he watches a clone beat another's face in with a tin of Walker's brand beans, "I know I should, but I'm not entirely sure I hate this. Pretty sure you all deserve it." A few heartbeats pass as that sinks in and his shoulders slump a bit, before his head snaps up with new determination in his eyes, "Fuck this. I've got places to be." He experiments briefly to see if his astral body can still fly, dodging a couple of monster-Walkers that seem to be shaped from shopping carts of all things, the awful logo of the place twisted into a mockery of his face.

It's still possible to fly, but where to go? The clothing department is next, that might be better?

The clothing department is, strangely, much more quiet than the supermarket that's turned into an all-out Walker-vs-Walker brawl. The clothing section, however, has plenty of mannequins, and who else would they look like? As he walks through, the mannequins all start to laugh, an annoying laughter that's just like his own at his very lowest point of humour. "You think you're better than us? Like you don't belong here?"

Next department, even more bizarrely, says 'WALKER (tm) brand artillery'

As if he cares what a bunch of dummies think. The silly wordplay produces a tiny smile but it doesn't really give him any idea of how to get out. He ignores the mannequins entirely, some things are just beneath his notice: yes he was a prick in his early 20s, but who wasn't? Then he sees the sign for artillery and double takes, certain at first that he'd misread it.

Nope. Artillery… Huh…

Walker shrugs, and treads - carefully - into the artilliner's.

The Artillery section of the mall probably looks like how Ares Macrotechnology would want their malls to look like. A huge warehouse, filled to the brim with all sorts of destructive weaponry. A huge tank stands there, its turret pointing over the alley like an archway. A WALKER howitzer coming up next. And in the centre of the exhibit, surrounded by fence, is the finest piece of all. It has chairs and banners set around it, like WALKER is running an unveiling event later tonight or something. The piece, standing together with a live-size paper mannequin of Walker, is a WALKER brand thermonuclear device. Big enough to level a city block, at the very least.

And that's it, isn't it? That's what he is, when you really get down to it: a weapon. A pretty weapon perhaps, an unconventional one, but function over form, right? Those fucking clones don't know how good they have it…

Bad enough that half the world seems to treat him like the fucking messiah, some days he isn't sure he's even metahuman any more. After all, when other people's free will is little more than an inconvenience, when you can turn them off like flicking a switch… ~When you can turn them to charcoal with a moment's thought~ the dark corner of his mind supplies… do you still count as a person? He stares mutely at the bomb, not entirely sure it isn't a better likeness than any of the clones.

The description on the banner next to the device reads less like an advertisement and more like a polemic.

"Mixing the destructive power of years of accumulated magical power, mixed with an unstable personality, all in a handsome package! Unleash the destructive power on all your friends and loved ones today, because an enormous fireball doesn't care who you are!"

Then, the previously empty artillery section starts filling up with more Walkers. They come with trolleys, armed big cans of beans and huge animated Walker banners. They even have a freaking battle standard, held in front by a cadre of Walkers in uniform.

Sad green eyes scan the ad blurb and the elf nods. It has a point, that's kinda why he never uses the damn thing… Then the marching band shows up and he just shakes his head. Better to have left him alone with his thoughts, by comparison these copies are just funny.

A tiny laugh escapes his lips as a thought occurs to him. A little theatrically, he extends a hand and snaps his fingers. Moisture in the air and on the floor flash freezes, a perfect mirror coating of ice forming beneath the uniformed idiots wearing his face like a mask. For the first time since he got here, the shaman manages a smile.

The ice leads to the first rank of walking Walkers falling over fairly quickly, followed by more and more of them. They do not stay down for long, though; almost as if they forgot the fact that Walker is a spellcaster, they begin to levitate off the floor, flying slowly towards him. "Why are you being so self-destructive, Walker? Why can't you just come to grips with what you are, instead of hiding from it?!?" the voices echo through the empty artillery display. "What's their to gain from fighting yourself? You will lose, no matter what! Now," one of the Walkers floating in the front row produces one of those horrid service uniforms with its stupid little hat. "Put this uniform on and join us!"

"Oh please!" he scoffs, actually relieved at a little bit of repartee instead of customer service bullshit, "I spend my entire fucking life fighting myself. If you wannabes think you are in the same league you're kidding yourselves." When the uniform is produced he simply smiles. Like a wolf. "Touch me with that hat and you lose the arm you do it with Blondie." He stares down the front rank, "None of you are half as scary as what lives in my head. If you all want to turn back into giggling schoolgirls I'm quite happy to repeat that demonstration."

The army of Walkers stop. "Talking tough to yourself is a bit silly, isn't it?" One of them say. "We're the same, you idiot!" The sneering army of Walkers begin to gather around in a circle around the one true Walker. "Stop fighting yourself, just embrace what you are. Embrace the arrogance, the narcisssism, the pettiness, the power-hungry madness that's down there! What's the point of fighting yourself?" The one with the uniform raises the hat. "Put it on. You cannot resist us, we're as many as we want, you cannot win. What weapon do you have for fighting yourself?"

Green eyes close. His head shakes. "No," he says, anger fading as he gains a sense of clarity, "We are not." In the darkness behind his eyelids, he does embrace himself. Arrogance? Sure plenty of that, he's practically made of the stuff. Narcissism and pettiness? Definitely a little sprinkled in there if he's being entirely honest. Deeper still and yes, there is hunger for power there, not quite mad perhaps but certainly operating on an unreasoning animal level.

There is more though, and that is what he clings to as the shadows dance around him, taunting. Down to his core, and there is something else here, something that until recently he had thought lost. All of the rest exists in service of that, a tapestry of emotions fuelling a singular purpose. Dark in places, yes, but what masterpiece isn't?

Flashes of memory rise as if unbidden: a girl floating in a suspension tank, scars crisscrossing her shaking body as the fluid drains; a storm-wracked sky as the vision fades; fire, fire and his own blood, and a wordless endless scream.

Walks-with-Spirits opens his eyes again in a white, featureless void. "The only weapon that's ever worked," two voices reply belatedly in perfect unison.

The white void remains in place for a while, a respite from all the weirdness the metaplanes dig up from your subconscious and throw at you. It soon fades away as well, however. The whiteness appears to be nothing but the glare of a particularly strong sun, and when looking away from it, a landscape appears. Vast, empty tracts of land, much like a savannah of shrubberies and the odd low tree, but most of it is just empty. In the distance, however, there's the outline of a town, shuddering in the heatwaves. Hopefully it's not a mirage?

Walker takes a deep breath, savouring the hot, dry air. Bit like home, kind of, he muses to himself. Might even recognise some of the plants. Inevitably, his eyes are drawn to the wavering buildings in the distance, and his feet soon follow. Whatever it is, it's gotta be better than the mall, right?

After a bit of a walk, the town comes ever closer. It looks like the sort of town one might have seen around these parts, two hundred years ago. Plastered buildings, most of them one or two stories tall. Nothing out of the ordinary at first. What is notable, however, is a group of people standing outside of town, maybe a few hundred metres from the edge of it. Seven men, dressed in archaic clothing with big hats. Coming closer, one of them is significantly taller and beefier than the others. He also appears alone, while the more average-sized six stand together. They stand there, their clothes waving in the breeze, motionless.

Then, all of a sudden, the larger man pulls a gun, and with near-inhuman speed, he guns down the other six who fall over nearly in synchronicity. The hulk of a man lowers his gun, then looks up at Walker in the distance. His gun is empty. He holsters it, then walks back into town, leaving the six for the carrion.

This seems like one of those times where blending in might be beneficial, Walker muses to himself after this rather grisly display. His appearance flickers as the desert wind swirls around him, and a moment later he's wearing something a little like his longcoat, reimagined as a duster, with a proper cowboy hat and everything. His boots remain almost unchanged, save for a spur at the heel that clinks with each step closer to town. The six-shooters are left out: it ain't like he knows how to use 'em anyway, and if six to one odds didn't do it he's not convinced he will either.

The town itself seems nothing out of the ordinary, except that the streets are abandoned when he arrives there. Even the carts are just left in the middle of the road, as if people ran away in all haste. The brute is gone, and after some the villagers come out too. Most likely, his presence made everyone run into hiding. The people aren't saying much, they're simply eyeing the stranger who marched into town, although the lack of six-shooters in his belt is at least somewhat reassuring. As for facilities, the town doesn't offer much; a boarded-up sheriff's office, a general store, a church and, of course, the ever-present saloon.

Somehow, Walker can't seem to do anything but head to the saloon. He'd swear he didn't mean to throw the doors open so dramatically, it just sort of happened that way. Ah well, it makes for a decent entrance: a near two metre tall figure silhouetted against the desert sun.

He heads to the bar and nods to the bartender. "Firewater," he says, mentally crossing his fingers that doesn't make him sound too much like a tourist, "What happened to the six fellers outside?"

There are a few people in the saloon, but the tension in the room is thick enough to be cut with a knife. Hopefully not because of the tall stranger, but because of something else. The bartender, a balding man with a gentle demeanour, takes out a pottery jug and pours up a glass. He doesn't answer the question, but rather looks very troubled by it.

Eventually, one of the middle-aged men by a table dares to speak up. "They thought they would have a chance against Drake… nobody stands a chance against Drake."

Walker smirks and turns to the speaker at the table. The firewater disappears in a single gulp before Walker replies. "What? He got more than six bullets? Bulletproof duster?" It occurs to him that it's a shame he doesn't have a toothpick to chew on casually to complete the stereotype.

The man at the table slams his fist in the table, in frustration. "Drake is a monster! He has killed more people than anyone can count. He's impossibly fast, never misses. If you piss him off, you're dead - finito. The sheriff is dead, all the Weston boys are dead. There's just old folks left now, and when Drake leaves, the outlaws come…"

The bartender says, "You better leave, stranger, before Drake finds you."

"Monster, huh?" it's almost a whisper. Maybe the locals hear him, maybe they don't, it isn't too important to him. The cowboy hat is carefully straightened, the brim pulled down to keep the sun off. "I ain't here to make trouble, old-timer," he says as he stands at the threshold, "but it seems to me that worst case, he's got a dozen bullets and there's plenty more than that of you. Just a thought." With that he steps back out into the glare, peering around the street.

The locals seem disinclined to entertain that thought. After all, he did just gun down six men in what was probably less than two seconds. Perhaps best to leave that gloomy saloon behind. The streets are empty again… lo and behold, the hulk of a man, the infamous Drake, comes wandering down in the middle of the road, stopping about twenty yards or so from the saloon door. Drake truly is a beast. He's so tall he even towers over Walker, his arms like tree trunks, and his eyes almost glow from the shade underneath his hat. He just stands there, not saying anything.

Walker doesn't head down the middle of the street towards the man, that seems a little too confrontational, especially when he hasn't figured out the rules for this place yet. Instead the elf saunters down the side of the road until he's level with the giant man and stops.

"Have me met?" Walker hazards without looking across at him, "I feel like I've met you at least a couple times before…" His head sways around, taking in the tiny group of buildings in the middle of nowhere, "Reckon a fella who could shoot like that could find a more interestin' place to be…"

"I know of you," Drake says, standing motionless like a statue while the desert winds blow about his huge feet. "Walker… you've been all over, got yourself quite a reputation. This is my town, though. And in my town, my rules apply."

"You shouldn't oughta believe everything you hear," Walker deadpans before nodding back the way he came into town, "And you wanna call your sign guy. I must've missed it on the way in, didn't see your name or rules or nothin'!"

"I don't like having to shoot an unarmed man," Drake says, taking out a belt with holster and gun from underneath his duster, tossing it onto the dirt in front of Walker.
"Put it on. My gun is the law here, and unless you intend to challenge it, you better do what I say."

"That's funny," Walker replies as his eyes slide over and up to the shadowed face under the hat, "I don't much like having to kill the helpless either." Let him make what he will of that, it always confuses idiots in the Denver club circuit at least. A brief, distasteful glance is thrown down at the gun before the green eyes flick back up to the tall figure.

"Yeah, see… I think we're gonna have a problem here," Walker muses in a tone of mock regret, "I got whatcha might call issues with followin' orders, never done well with it." A single finger is raised to enjoy a little silence, "But I'll tell you this for free: last fella that took a shot at me…" He pauses, trying to figure out how you explain a rotary autocannon to a gunslinger from the west… "Well let's say he could manage more bullets than you could, and bigger ones too." Green eyes erupt in flame as he growls just loud enough for the large man to hear, "He didn't hit me, and he died slow and screaming… So I'm curious what makes you think that little pea shooter is gonna do any better?"

Drake growls in return, a deep and almost demonic one. "You talk tough, Walker," he says. "Pick up that damn holster and put it on. If not, I'll shoot someone in this town, one corpse for every smart word out of that mouth. I'll start with that house over there." He pulls out one of his guns, aims to the house right next to him without looking, and fires once. The gun hisses in an unnatural way and fires off a blast that tears a chunk out of the house big enough to drive a carriage through.

Walker's eyes narrow beneath the brim of his hat and he holds out a hand. The holster levitates up, the gun dropping out along the way as the elf puts it on. All without saying a word. He's stalling of course: his magic fans out around him to find the nearest people, anyone Drake can see, and wrap them in what defense he can provide.

Drake grins a bit under his hat. "Finally…" he puts his gun back in his holster, the thing still glowing with some eerie, red evil energy. "Now, Walker… now that you're an armed man, standing here in the street… have you got anything to say before I shoot you?"

Walker sighs, and reaches up to remove his hat and cast it away. His outfit shimmers and is suddenly a traditional shaman's garb. "Only this," he replies with a level gaze at the gunslinger, "I have seen more things than you can imagine, and done enough killing to know: you ain't here because you wanna be. You ain't here for a reason you can name."

The flames fade out of the shaman's eyes as he stares down the larger man, "You're here because you like bein' a big fish. Doesn't matter how small the pond is, you just wanna be the biggest thing in it. And for what?" An arm sweeps out to take in the dilapidated village, "To make the rules in a no horse town that nobody remembers the name of and tread on those who ain't got the strength to fight back?"

The elf shakes his head, channeling 'disappointed dad' from nowhere without even meaning to. "You say I've got a reputation, and maybe I have, but ask yourself: how come I've never even heard your name?"

The words seem to hit Drake where no bullet ever could. As Walker starts talking, a hand comes out, hovering in the air above the holster, but it never comes closer than that. Those thick, twitchy fingers stop, and Drake withdraws his hand. He growls, having little to say to these words. There's a bit of silence, and then the beast turns his back. "You're right. I have no business here, I'm heading off to a bigger town. I leave this place to you, Walker. I know you don't want it, but it's yours." then, just like that, he begins to walk away, his hulking frame leaving inch-deep footprints in the sand as he walks. Before long, he disappears into the heat waves, and is gone.

Soon enough, the entire town fades away as well, and for a moment there's just the plains. Eventually even they change, breaking up and shaking as if transformed by massive magic earthquakes. Volcanoes erupt in the distance, and the yellow soil of the desert is covered with a layer of soot, turning the ground black. He finds himself standing on a hill, overlooking a great valley. Around him stand rows of soldiers in strange, archaic suits of armour that do not seem to belong to any culture on Earth. Their armour is lamellar, seemingly made from pieces of reddish stone or glass, and their long spears are adorned with red, black and purple feathers around wicked glass spikes with hooks. Some of the soldiers have primitive firearms put at the end of their pole-arms instead of spears. Further down the valley, a huge army stands ground, its red and purple banners waving in the sulphur-smelling wind.

Behind him stands a number of officers, in ornate ceremonial armour adorned with gold and purple gemstones. A messenger comes running, kneeling in front of the officers, handing over a scroll made from black parchment.

"General, the army is in position in the valley, awaiting further orders!"
One of the officers removes his helmet, and it appears he has the head of a bird. Almost like a parrot, except black red. The other officers remove their helmets as well, and they are all bird-headed, except for one that has the head of a dog-like creature with tall ears.

As the ground bucks beneath him, Walker stumbles and barely manages to keep his feet. Once the world steadies itself again, he peers around at this strange new environment. As if by instinct, he tries to blend in by replicating the appearance of their armour. Unfortunately, Walker being Walker, he overdoes it: the golden armour he makes glistens in the light, perfectly cut gemstones sparkling like stars. Of course he doesn't notice, he's just putting on armour like theirs as far as he's concerned, that as an added bonus neatly conceals the fact that he is not a bird-head himself. For now, he just tries to look like he isn't out of place while he gets his bearings.

The parrot-headed general takes the black scroll and tears its seal off using his powerful beak. He makes a gesture, and two soldiers with large shields come running. They kneel before him, raising their shields high to form a table, where the general unfurls the scroll. It seems to contain a map, with certain spots marked with strange glyphs written in purple ink. Another soldier places figures on the map, forming a strategic overview with armies and whatnot.

"General, the ash-touched have are besieging Ce'zenk fortress, with 1000 ghouls, 100 sorcerers and at least three great shale-trolls. Our garrison is at most 300 at this point, with fire-lances, archers and pikes.

The general ponders, pointing at on unit on the board. "Can we send the shapeshifter cavalry to relieve them?"

The dog-headed officer makes a sound. "The shapeshifters will be needed to hold our front. Sending them off will risk our forces being unable to hold against another enemy charge. Our fire-lancer are running low on ammunition and might not be able to repel another full charge…"

And the generals sink into debate on how to deploy their troops. Meanwhile, in the distance, a huge shower of fire arrows light up the sky above the valley, raining down upon the field, and strange flying beasts circle overhead, mounted by armoured knights with long lances.

Keeping an eye on those unsettling aerial cavalry, Walker edges closer to the table to try and get an impression on how badly this army he's in the middle of is outnumbered. Almost four to one odds don't sound good… but maybe this fortified position well even the odds? He suddenly finds himself wishing he'd spent a bit more time on medieval military history, because everything he knows is predicated on automatic weapons, guided missiles and the ability to project air power. Peering around at the troops nearby, it doesn't look like any of that applies here.

The parrot-headed general looks up at Walker in his golden armour. "You are commander of the Orichalcum Brigades, yes? Are the alchemical cannon operational and in position?"

It appears Walker has somehow awarded himself with a commanding position of the army's artillery brigade, with alchemical cannons and ballistae firing alchemically engineered crystals at his disposal. His unit is marked on the map with a golden glyph. Judging from all the other glyphs and markers, it appears this curious army is facing a superior foe, with twice a many black glyphs on the board as the brighter colours. As it seems, the generals are tackling the choice whether they should try to relieve the fortress overlooking a distant hill, or if they should rely on a decisive stand in the valley they are located in currently.

Walker almost manages a proper bow, "They are in position general! You!" he flicks a hand to one of the nearby runners, "Go to the cannon and get me an update on their readiness!" As the runner scampers off the elf steps up to the table. "If I may gentlemen," he resists several different bird puns and plunges straight on, "With the artillery and command of the high ground here, it seems to me we have a strong position. I suggest ranging our bombards on their infantry and forcing them to choose death in the valley or death on these slopes." He might not remember much military history, but charging uphill into artillery is probably one of those things Sun Tzu would castigate you just for thinking about.

The runner, who also seems to be an avian of some sort, sets off, hopping on both legs like sparrows and other small birds tend to do.

The dog-headed officer leans on, regarding Walker with his black eyes. "If we redirect the cannon towards the fortress however, we might be able to break their siege. The alchemical cannons are one of very few weapons effective against great shale-trolls. Their natural skin is so thick that not even fire lances can penetrate. My cavalry should be able to hold the front, with ballista support."

The general shakes his beak. "The cannon will have to relocate to strike the besiegers, if the enemy decides to assault they will not have time to get back in position to aid the main army."

A third officer, with the head of a hawk, leans in. "Is holding the fortress that important, general? If the enemy decide to engage in a pitched battle, the fortress might prove meaningless. Unless we manage to get the artillery into it, but that might take too long."

The general sighs, looking at the map. "Ultimately, it seems we have to decide whether to stand our ground or prevent the enemy from taking the fortress. What do you believe, commander?" He turns to Walker.

Perhaps he's just taking a bit of time to adjust to this strange new reality, but eventually Walker gets his bearings. "Have the front line advance in step with the artillery until we have range on their formations," he explains finger stabbing at the map to indicate likely positions, "With our superior range, we force them to engage our formations coming uphill under constant cannon and ballista fire." He glances up to gaze at the fortress, "Either the forces laying siege will have to come to their assistance, leaving their army open to an attack from the rear, or they are forced to assault the fortress itself, spending their lives to gain a stronghold that we will soon surround with artillery."

The commanders seem to see the sense in this plan, although some grumble about letting those in the fortress fend for themselves, and the army is readied to advance. As it turns out, aerial cavalry and being the only side with functional artillery are a decisive advantage: the enemy force in the valley is thrown into disarray by the bombardment, their formations breaking almost before they even hit the allied lines.

The besiegers respond quickly, realising that their deaths will quickly follow if their comrades are defeated, but it is too little too late. By retasking the aerial divisions to operate as messengers, the command staff manage to coordinate a counterattack with the troops holding the fortress. In the end, the final death of the final shale troll under massed ballista fire after the first two are picked off by well-placed cannon fire spells the end for the enemy forces. Hit from both sides, with alchemic hellfire raining from the skies, they fall into a disorderly rout, leaving the field and the fortress to the victors.

After the mysterious army of anthropomorphic birds had their victory on the field of battle, leaving their ashen foe scattered across the plains like ash-demons they were, the commander of the alchemical artillery finds himself entering a portal, leading far away from whatever world the battle took place on. A long grey corridor follows, with rough, uneven walls that emit a strange humming sound like electricity. Every now and then, shots of lightning shoot out overhead, sending showers of spark down on the walkway. Eventually, there's a door…

Leading into a cold, dry room that almost seems to suck up sound. Figures in grey robes, carrying books walk back and forth. A few steps further reveals the place to be a huge library. A cylindrical hall, looking at least twenty stories tall, filled with endless shelves of books on all sides. The centre of the room is empty, all the shelves arranged like catwalks around it, and there's a constant stream of books falling down from a huge hole in the ceiling, that pulsates with electricity in the same manner as the corridor. At the bottom floor, there are a circle of desks arranged around a huge piles of books falling down from the hole, and a small army of grey-robed librarians picking up the books, sorting them out and bringing them to their new homes upon the endless shelves.

Well there's no way in hell he's wearing a grey robe… the golden armour can go though, he looks like something out of a bad fantasy/romance sim. Reverting to the comfy shamanic garb, Walker approaches the mountain of books, peering up at the strange opening in the ceiling. The intermittent arcs of lightning are bright enough to leave afterimages in his eyes, leaving the elf squinting from behind a hand at the sparking display.

There are books constantly trickling down from the hole, falling down the length of the whole huge cylinder, but nonetheless seems to land in a pile with no damage, always landing closed. The diligent workers in grey robes are picking them up, opening them, putting them on trolleys only to send them out across the library. It seems like an endless, exhausting job. However, when Walker appears, some of the robed figures look up, and despite not having any faces underneath those robes their silent gestures clearly convey surprise and excitement over seeing him there. They point at him and summon more of their grey-robe collagues to come look at who has come to see them. For a time, even the trickle of books seems to stop, or at least lessen. Every now and then a book or two falls down, but considerably fewer than just a moment ago.

Glancing around at the figures, Walker can't help the little tendril of unease that creeps out the back of his mind. He's already had a pack of feral women so far, then a brainwashing gaggle of not-Walkers… He wracks his brain, but nothing comes back about grey robed figures in a library. At length, as a single solitary book flutters down from above, the elf fixes his gaze on the nearest grey robe. "All right, I'll bite. What's all the excitement about?"


The grey-robed figure wince at Walker's audacity to speak in a library and hush him almost in unison. They gesture to each other more, and eventually two of them come running with an old-fashioned chalkboard on wheels. They start arguing - in perfect silence, mind you - over who gets to use the chalk. Finally, one of them grab a piece of chalk and write on the board, 'Welcome! How did you come in here?'

His eyes almost roll out of his head, but Walker decides that, despite the urge to yell-answer, playing along might get better results here. After a brief glow of the eyes, his thoughts flit out to the nearest six figures. He casts a spell to allow for telepathic communication.

~Yeah, not doing that. I just came from commanding alchemical artillery in a war against ash zombies if you must know.~ He doesn't supply any images with that, keeping the mental output at a purely conversational level for now, ~So what's the big deal? You folks not get many visitors?~

There's much confusion amidst the grey librarians, as they can hear words but there's no noise in the library. They seems to have a hard time graping it, but then one of them raises his hand! ~The mind-Net spell! Memorised at…~ and then he follows to give the exact time and date when Walker first learned this spell. ~I categorised that memory!~

Another librarian speaks through the mind-net. ~Of course we don't get visitors! This library is your mind! Nothing penetrates here but your memories!~

A third one speaks. ~We're never heard of a mind-person managing to enter their own library. How is this possible?~

~Shiiiiit… Oh fuck I sent that~

Oh fuck I sent that too! He sighs audibly and glances around. It makes sense, now that he glances around at the shelves: sorcery, conjuring, a poorly organised section on aikido, a tiny little cart of philosophy books yet to be characterised. More shelves, further from the centre: a fairly comprehensive set of mini-biographies on Denver's shadow community, grab bags of various miscellany he's picked up over the years, a rather extensive 'adult' section, no surprise, and, lurking behind some ominous black cords, the 'Restricted' section.

That sign gets skated past real fast as he turns back to the figures, ~Best guess? My totem's a creative asshole. Why have the falling books stopped? Because I'm here?~

Most of the shelves are in fairly good shape, and strangely enough they seem to be organised according to how fresh, or rather how vivid, the memory is. Not according to category. One could guess that the books aren't here because his memory is vivid, though. Rather the opposite: these memories are vivid because the librarians put them here.

~Something is wrong… the owner of the mind-library is not supposed to be here. You cannot attain memories from the library to be collected in the library, it is a paradox. You need to find your way out of this library before the process can resume.~

Another librarian adds, ~There must be an ancient memory somewhere in your mind of someone equating your mind to a library. You need to find that memory and remove it from the shelf!~

He briefly considers arguing the toss on whether that is a paradox, given where they are, but presumably they know their business better than him. Which just leaves him with a different problem: he can't remember anyone using that metaphor. Although that kind of narrows it down doesn't it?

Dropping the mental link, he heads out to the cobwebbed shelves of the restricted section, certainly not a lot of vivid left back here. Staring up at the dusty shelves he shakes his head. School perhaps? It sounds a bit like something they'd come up with in elementary school… Or some nerd he dated once?

One of the librarians stop him, and urges him back to the centre of the hall, and points to a book chute. Given that the mind-net is down, they bring out the chalkboard again. 'This is the conscious library, you won't find it here. You have to head down to the sub-level. We can't go there, you must go'

They point to a row of book-chutes. They're marked 'SHORT-TERM MEMORY', 'TO BE FORGOTTEN'… and finally, 'SUBCONSCIOUS'. One of them open up the hatch on the third, pointing down the shaft. It's big enough to accomodate a lot of books, or a humanoid being, but there's no guarantee it'll be a comfortable ride…

Of course… a dark chute to his subconscious. A cautious head pokes over the opening to behold a dark void. Is that distant red flickering light imaginary? Oh well…

He glances to the board, and the chalk rises on its own to sketch out the words 'Thank you' before he offers the assembled librarians a jaunty salute and hops into the darkness.

The journey between consciousness and subconscious is a long, winding and fundamentally mysterious one, and these words can describe the chute quite well too. It snakes its way down with strange curves and loops that one would wonder it would impede on its function as a book-chute. Oh well, it's hardly the most nonsensical thing he has seen on this trip so far.

Finally, he emerges from the ceiling into a new library, landing in a pile of books easily big enough to completely bury a four-story building. While the upper library was well-kept, well-lit and the books had colourful covers, this place is uniformly grey. The book covers are the colour of ash. The shelves are dull grey, with huge cobwebs between them. It's also gargantuan, big enough to have its own horizon, with shelves twice as tall as the upper library. The books in this section are also more chaotic; while some stand neatly in their place, others are leaning, inserted backwards, others have fallen off the shelf and lie on the floor, amidst dust thick enough for him to leave footprints as he walks.

Picking himself up and making a futile attempt to dust himself off, Walker peers at his new gloomy surroundings and groans loudly. It was going to be a pain to search the library above: finding anything in this mess will be damn near impossible, and if the book he needs is in the bookberg he landed on?

He shakes his head and starts by casting around local astral space for any signs of recent activity or emotional hints: anything that might give him a starting point as to where he might find that damn book.

The place does light up somewhat when peering into it astrally. Who knew that books have auras? Of course, they're not really books, they're all memories. Suppressed memories, gone but not forgotten memories, things he probably didn't even know he actually had hidden in the darkest depths of his mind. The auras of these books project the memory contained within, like a video clip on a screen but the image is often hazy, grainy or downright distorted. It's not a pretty thing to watch, because it's all the horrible things he wishes he didn't remember, all gathered in one place. Granted, not all of the memories are bad, but they're all significant enough to have left some sort of impression on him, no matter how minuscule. Old fears, injustices, missteps and other unwanted episodes of his life. It's a struggle having to watch through them, but if he didn't… how would he ever find what he's looking for?

After peering at a range of different books, a trend seems to emerge. Order would be too strong a word for it, at least unless you squinted real hard, but it's enough for him to think he can safely ignore the morass of paper he landed on. As an added bonus, most of the awkward teenage memories too are pretty obvious when you know what you're looking for. There aren't so many of the really, one of the advantages of having sympathetic big sisters. So he sets off between the dusty shelves, looking for a little island of calm in this ocean of chaos.

It seems not all astral quests are necessarily exciting episodes of epic battle or peril. This time, it's more of a long, grueling test of patience. Granted, this place really seems to try to make his life as miserable as possible when here, with books falling out of their shelves above him, provoked by his mere presence, clouds of dust ripping up and getting in his face… and of course all those terrible things he didn't know he remembered.

After what feels like hours of wandering about, he finally reaches a shelf that looks quite tidy. That is, until he comes close, when one particular book on the shelf starts to shake and wobble about, throwing the other memories off the shelf, raining down upon him as he approaches.

By this point Walker is covered in dust, looking distinctly like a cat that hasn't had a chance to clean itself and with a temper to match. As the falling books thump off him and cake even more dust into his hair his hand snaps out to seize the guilty volume. As his hand closes on the spine, it's like he remembers instantly… Ouray Running-Water, his third grade teacher. Nice old lady, but not exactly what you'd call cool. She really liked the mind as library thing, in retrospect it was probably a decent way to get the kids to read, he supposes. With the book under his arm he peers around for a way out of this gloomy basement.

The book that contains the memory of Running-Water is a rather thin one. Obviously, this memory has never had much significance to him, but nonetheless it somehow put him through all of this. Pondering this humble book, containing little more than random words that left an impression on a young Walker, it seems clear what he needs to do. As long as this book remains here, the concept of the mind as a library will remain in his mind, so in order to get out, the book must be destroyed. He'll most likely lose that little sliver of his childhood when destroying it, but… it seems to be the way to do it. Fortunately, books are quite easy to destroy.

Destroying books doesn't sit well with him, even less so when they're his memories… he agonises over it for a little while, but in the end it's not exactly a treasured memory. He barely remembered it as it was anyway and he's had more than enough of this basement. Green eyes glitter in the darkness as he takes the book by the covers and rips it neatly in two.

The tearing in two does not only tear the book in half, but it also unravels the very nature of the place. The grey shelves with all their subconscious memories fade away into nothingness, leaving an even greyer void behind. The library is gone… while he might like to imagine that the analogy of the library still remains somewhere, and that the grey librarians live on somehow, it is effectively gone from his mind for now, and thus this entire place fades away.

As the library fades away, so does all the dust and the pain from having books landing on him, which is a bonus. The grey void gives way to the torch-lit street of an ancient medieval town, half-timbered houses packed tightly around him. He's standing in a small square with a well, the winding streets forking off in many directions.

A man in 17th century fashion appears; waistcoat, cravate, wig and wide-brimmed hat, his face covered by a mask. He extends a baldric holding two holsters of flint-lock pistols and ammunition.

"The shapeshifter is haunting our streets," he says. "You must find it and kill it. Beware, for it may take any form it pleases. Good luck."

Blinking a little, and finding himself dressed in the same fashion without any particular effort on his part, Walker accepts these rather dubious weapons with his best attempt at good grace. Don't these things explode half the time or something?

"Thank you," is what he says aloud though, "I will make sure it does not see another dawn." Melodramatic? Yes, but it seems to satisfy the fellow who handed him the weapons. With a silent nod, the elf turns to look for any indication of this shapeshifter's whereabouts.

Flintlock pistols… single shot, poor accuracy, slow to reload. Hopefully he won't have to fire these things too many times. They will probably do good damage once they hit, though.

Turning around in the square, the roads head off in many directions, but the terrain is so uneven and the streets so winding it's hard to see far in any direction.

Fortunately, he doesn't have to look around for long before he spots someone standing in one of the streets. It lifts a pistol and fires, spewing flame and white smoke, sending the top of the well exploding. Then, it sets off, running.

Glancing at the well in mild alarm, Walker can't help but remember Drake and wonder if the metaplanes have thrown the pair back together. As he breaks into a run to give chase however, he puts the thought down: it doesn't matter who the shifter is, just that they're caught.

Giving chase to the assailant, there is one thing that speaks against the resurgence of Drake; the fact that he dropped his pistol after firing. He disappears into an alleyway, leading out to what would probably be a busy market street by day. There are empty stalls, barrels, folded-up tents, carts and other things lining the street. The shapeshifter is, unsursprisingly, nowhere to be seen.

Scanning around the deserted market, Walker doesn't much like what he sees: a dozen ambush spots and hiding places just on a cursory glance. The shaman's eyes flicker for a moment and he takes to the air, alighting on a nearby roof overlooking the square before beginning to circle the plaza, flitting from roof to roof.

As he begins to lift off, one of the barrels further down the street changes shape into a werewolf-like creature that sets off running towards him, making a mighty leap into the air trying to catch the flying hunter.

As the creature leaps, Walker brings one of the pistols up, opening fire with a loud crack that echoes among the sleepy buildings. It's a good shot, he thinks, but that's a big critter and he isn't convinced the little ball will cut it.

The bullet hits the vulpine creature square in the chest, taking momentum out of its attack leap, making it plummet to the ground. It won't stay down, though, but quickly turns back into a more humanoid shape and runs away down another street, towards a distant cathedral whose mighty spires tower over the houses.

Holstering the spent pistol, Walker gets up to the rooftops and gives chase. He's faster aloft than he is on foot anyway, and at least the view will be clearer from up here. The elf flits along in pursuit of the creature like a shadow under the moonlight. Perhaps the occasional citizen might be disturbed by the scrape of boots on their roof, or the masked man speeding past their window, but they're safer inside anyway.

The rooftops certainly do feel safer, with only bits of tile and chimney accompanying him. Not much for a shapeshifter to hide behind. Unfortunately, that also means it's difficult for him to keep track of where the shapeshifter went. Not to mention trying to reach him with one of those short-ranged pistols. Eventually, either the shapeshifter is going to have to come up, or he come down.

Up ahead of the cathedral is another town square, less cluttered than the market street but no doubt still has room for such a beast to hide.

'In for a penny' is the thought that crosses his mind as he reloads his first pistol before drifting gently down to the ground. With a pistol in each hand he creeps forward into the market, eyes glowing softly as he peers around with his astral senses, hoping they'll prove more reliable in tracking down his quarry.

The astral presence in this place is weird, like the city was built atop some well oozing astral energy or something. It's altogether an unpleasant place that gives one the creeps, and perhaps this is why. Huge church buildings don't make it any better either. The hunter lands on the street level, and everything is eerily quiet. Not a gust of wind, and the oil lamps cast a lot of dancing shadows.

Then, posing as one of the statues on the cathedral facade this time, the shapeshifter leaps out, this time in human form but with his fingers having been extended into long, bony claws.

Walker levels the pistols at the creature with a steady hand. A brief glance upwards at a hint of movement, and he realises his large hat has a feather that's getting in his way. A thought later and he's back in a cowboy hat again. A wicked smile is shot at the shifter, "Want to see who's faster Fido?"

The shifter is shot again, both bullets hitting it in the chest, sending it staggering backwards. It's just about to fall over, but then turns into a hideous bat-like creature and proceeds to fly upwards towards the cathedral spires.

"Gonna need a bigger gun Ma," the elf mutters as he kicks off the ground to give chase, soaring after the wounded monstrosity. Lit from inside by candles, the large stained glass window is eerily beautiful, seeming oddly out of place as hunter and hunted fly past it.

The impressive church architecture sweeps past and before long the two of them land on the roof of the building. The two spires continue on towards the night sky, and there is a flat platform surrounding the central roof of the building which remains arched. The shapeshifter, once more, has disappeared.

Grunting in irritation at the creature's continued game of hide and seek, Walker circles the two spires first to see if it's waiting there to get the drop on him. Glowing eyes scan around, searching for any sign of its presence.

The Shapeshifter's abilities can only buy it time, rather than perpetually hide. For some time, the rooftop is silent, with only that eerie feeling of not knowing what it might hide as this time. The edges of the church are perilously near and even for someone with the power of flight, it's a vertigo-inducing sight to look down. The hunter wanders around, coming closer…

Then, one of the gargoyles perched on the church roof comes to life, this time in the shape of a weird creature with a lizard-like head on a humanoid body, filled with sharp teeth. It swings its hands wildly, trying to grab the hunter and finish it with its powerful teeth.

"Finally…" the elf mutters, his voice almost sounding longing as the creature closes into striking distance. As its claws sweep out, the elf steps inwards, his hand snapping out and catching the shifter's wrist in an implacable grip. At first it seems confused, as if unable to comprehend the strength of the shaman's astral form. Then fear turns to stark terror as another hand wraps around its throat and the elf pivots to flip the monster up into the air before bringing its heavy body down onto the roof with enough force to break bones and shatter stone.

The pair tumble through the ruined roof, fighting desperately to push the other down first, but with it's existing wounds the creature is outmatched: shifter and shaman slam into the flagstones in the centre of the nave, the monster's flesh pulverised by the impact. Picking himself up from the carcass and breathing a little hard, Walker casts about to see what comes next.

Although the monster is destroyed, being little more than a pile of gore on the floor of the otherwise serene cathedral, it appears there is one fight left before the seeker has proven himself worthy. The myriads of lit candles inside the cathedral begin to flicker, and go out. The smoke they produced become thick and heavy, and spreads out across the flagstones almost like a liquid, until the floor of the church is covered by a thick mist, almost knee-deep.

In the sharply contrasting quiet after the struggle with the shapeshifter, Walker stands looking wary, as if waiting for something. Then the candles snuff out and this new curiosity emerges. The elf's eyes dart around, trying to discern what exactly which metaplace he has found himself in this time.

The thick mist slowly creeps up further, sucking the light out of the room and makes the air unpleasant to breathe.
Then, it begins to grab hold onto things with its misty appendages and toss them about. The altar cloth and its trappings fly first, across the room. Then, the pews are torn asunder and flung about. Soon enough, chairs, candlesticks and Bibles are whirling about the room, one chair on collision course with Walker.

The clattering objects and flying furniture give him a clue, the misty tendrils make it pretty clear. The high speed chair is a bit of a curveball, but it isn't quite fast enough. The elf ducks out of the way, spinning in place as he searches for his assailant in the faint light cast by the moon through the hole in the ceiling.

It might have had a chance if it'd hidden perhaps, tried to lead him away from his path… Although perhaps it was stuck near the Place of Battle for too long, perhaps it wanted in on the action. It doesn't matter really, as he follows the movements of the tendrils he spots the spirit's body and the elf's eyes blaze with light, illuminating the interior of the church and burning away the mist. The spirit tries to hang on, and for a moment it looks as though it might just manage, but in a final burst of radiance it evaporates like dew in the morning sun, and Walker is once again alone.

Not much reason for him to remain in the cathedral; the interior has been ruined by the spirit's short but angry outburst, and nothing else of interest is to be found there. So he leaves through the main gates, out onto what would presumably be that city square. The landscape has changed again, though.

The cathedral no longer stands in a city, but rather on a rolling landscape of low hills and mountains in the distance. Down the hill where he is standing is a large herd of bison, thousands of majestic creatures grazing in the valley. Above him flies the eagle, and watching the herd of bison are a number of prairie dogs. The place is serene, the strife and unfamiliar landscape of the earlier places gone.

The silly costume floats away, and Walker is once again a shaman. This pastoral scene brings a contented smile to the shaman's face, but it's a smile tinged with sadness. This is what he imagines America once looked like. Before the colonists came, before the cathedrals and the corporations. He sets off down the hill towards the bison, curious to see one of the creatures up close.

When he turns around, the cathedral has also crumbled into nothing and only a green hill now stands there. A gentle breeze grabs hold of his hair, carrying a mixed scent of grass and animal dung. For some reason, it smells more pleasant than it sounds, because it's somehow… genuine. It's the smell of life, in all parts of the cycle.

The bison are, strangely enough, a gentle herd and barely react to him. In fact, before long, he finds himself standing surrounded by the big creatures, as they graze from the yellowing prairie grasses.

Then, they speak to him. "What is life like as a bipedal, stranger? Why is your kind so weak and fragile, yet capable of so much ill?

His expression turns solemn, but he forces himself to answer, gazing back into their big dark eyes. "It is hard," he answers quietly, "but all life is a struggle. Our bodies are weak but our minds make us strong." Green eyes roam over the verdant grassland in around them and he shakes his head, "That is why we are capable of such evil, although it also gives us the capacity for much good. We just seem to be bad at acting on it."

The bison speak with a single voice, as if they were like a collective consciousness. Their voice is calm, dignified, like an old man full of wisdom.

"It is regrettable that metahuman minds are so fickle, despite their gifts. But that does not matter now, you're here with us now, let us forget our differences. In fact," they say, the big gentle giants looking at Walker. "Why don't you join us? You've learned on this journey that form is just as fickle as mind, and that your wisdom allows you to transgress form. Come, be a bison with us."

And so he does. They're right, form is fluid, especially in this place of all places. His clothing evaporates as his muscles thicken, glossy brown hair sprouting from his smooth skin as his body grows. Arms becoming legs and nails becoming hooves, that's a little strange, but the herdmind is so welcoming that it barely seems to matter.

In the space of a few heartbeats, Walker is gone and only the bison remain, a perfect specimen of the species added to their number, because even in animal form it seems the elf cannot help himself. Wrapped in the warmth of a thousand linked minds, the bison thunder across the plain, the sun wheeling overhead as time loses all meaning to the creature that was Walker.

For some time, joining in with the herd becomes so natural it's almost difficult to imagine there ever being such a person as Walker, the elf. Though he did not enter the metaplanes to join the herd, and eventually he has to wake up, to return to the dark and polluted world of Denver. Yet, the words of the wise bison, and the feeling of transcending metahuman form, will remain with him, even as he eventually wakes up.

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