Raye awoke to an incredible headache and unfamiliar surroundings. She sat up abruptly and looked around, realizing, to her horror, that she was in Cleech's bed. If that sneaky little sonuva bitch did anything.....
No. He was asleep on the couch. He had some honor. Embarrassed, Raye grabbed her shoes and crept out of the room and down the hall to her own, silently cursing herself for having been that stupid. She knew better. She had no alcohol tolerancy, and what if Cleech had decided to take advantage of her? What then?
No. Nothing had happened. Thank the gods.
You're so damned stupid, Raye.
Nosedive, who's habitual hours were a mystery even to his brother, was watching some Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series reruns in the den when Raye entered, looking like hell. She glanced at him, then at the show, and raised an eyebrow.
"Dare I ask?"
She sat down, rubbing the side of her head with two fingers. When she didn't ask what he meant, Nosedive decided to fill her in anyway.
"We used to be have a TV show that came on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, till Disney canceled the show to put in more Donald Duck stuff. Not like they needed anymore, but hey, life sucks, you know?"
Raye looked at him from the side, still rubbing her temple.
"You're really bizarre, Nosedive."
"So I've been told. Oh, hey, here I come to save the day!"
A cartoon version of the Aerowing appeared, with Nosedive at the wheel. He'd apparently learned to drive it in a few minutes' time.
"That doesn't look much like you. And the Aerowing's kind of.....sketchy."
"Well, hey, it is a cartoon."
"Remind me never to allow Disney to put me in a cartoon series," Raye said, standing and walking away without further discourse. She was in serious need of aspirin or some kind of very strong pain killer.
Canard was awake. Tanya had expected more screaming, something she really wasn't prepared to deal with this early in the morning, but he didn't scream. In fact, he hadn't made a sound. She had looked up and suddenly realized that he was staring at her, though for how long he'd been doing so, she couldn't tell.
It was a hollow-eyed stare. There was absolutely nothing behind it. Tanya repressed a shudder and leaned forward.
"Cuh-Canard? I, uh, are you, like, How do you feel?"
A beat, then, "I....I don't know."
"Well, uh, do feel any pain?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. Maybe."
This didn't look good. Nope, it definitely missed the "looking good" chart.
"Do you know who I am?" She asked, a sense of dread building in her.
"I.......you're........You look....familiar. Who....Who am I?"
"You're Canard. Don't you remember anything?"
"Colors. I remember lots of colors."
He's absolutely cracked, Tanya thought in despair. This was going to come pretty harshly to Wildwing.
"What about me?" Said a small voice. Lucretia was conscious as well. She, too, wore the blank, lost look Canard had. Canard looked at her, and seemed to brighten a little.
"I know you. You were in my head."
"I...I was going to say the same thing."
"What?" Tanya asked in confusion. But they were ignoring her now.
"I can still feel you. But the others are gone," Canard said. "The connection was broken, somehow."
"I....I remember....a girl. She made me bring us here. We've been here before?"
"I don't think I have."
"You weren't," Tanya said, feeling she still had a duty to him, even if he had lost his mind. "You didn't make it through Limbo with the rest of us."
"Limbo? Limbo......The colors."
"Yes. The colors. Can you send us back?" Lucretia asked, sounding like a child pleading. Nothing like her old self. "It's so lonely here."
"Why can't we feel you?" Canard asked. "There's only emptiness where you should be."
"Nothing. There's nothing out there but us." Lucretia said.
Tanya suddenly got up and backed out of the room, feeling very disturbed. Canard and Lucretia, or whoever they were now, said nothing. They couldn't feel her before. Why should it bother them that she left now? Tanya flipped on her wrist-com and contacted Wildwing, who was in the middle of his early morning warm-ups on the ice.
"Yeah?" Wildwing asked, turning off the puck launcher.
"'Wing, they, uh, Canard...he's awake. They both are. Something's....something's wrong, I think."
"Are you okay?"
"I don't think so. You better get to Sick Bay. And get Raye, if you can. I think she'll understand this a little better than any of us."
Wildwing didn't bother to ask questions. He shifted to his normal clothes and hurried down to Sick Bay.
"I know you," Lucretia said, glaring at Raye. "You made us come here. You broke the connection."
"But....I can feel her! Very far away, but...." Canard stared at her suspiciously. "But I don't remember you being there before...."
"Enough. I don't know what you're talking about," Raye said indignantly. Cleech made an odd sound in the doorway, but she ignored him, still looking back and forth between the two.
"I remember. You told me to take you to the last solid place I'd been. Here. I didn't want to, but you made me do it! Why?"
"I did no such thing. Cleech and I rescued you from Dimensional Limbo."
"But...we didn't want to leave," Canard said, startling all present.
"Canard? Don't you remember me? Don't you remember the Mask, or the Invasion, or school, or-" Wildwing was near hysterics, something no one present wanted to see. Canard just looked at him blankly.
"Who are you?"
"I don't believe it," Nosedive said. "I could believe a lot of that other crap that happened to us, but this...? I really do not believe it!"
"I think we have a problem," Duke said, glancing at Raye oddly. She didn't appear to notice, however.
"Well, we can't send them back," Mallory said pointedly. Wildwing nodded in agreement.
"Why not?" Raye asked.
It didn't really matter who asked that single-worded question. Everyone felt the same way, except Lucretia and Canard.
"Are you insane?" Wildwing demanded. "Do you know what you just asked?!"
"I'm of perfectly sound mind. They obviously don't want to be here. Why can't you send them back into Limbo?"
"Canard is a military hero. Lucretia is a traitor to Puckworld. Sending them back would be....dishonorable for him, and escape from justice for her. Even suggesting such an action is treason," Mallory stated coldly, glaring at Raye.
"They aren't who they used to be. That much is obvious. You're paying respect to a man who has no past, and condemning a woman who's committed no crime, as far as she knows."
Mallory opened her mouth and closed it. Grin suddenly spoke up.
"And just why are you standing up for her in the first place? A known criminal."
"Everybody makes mistakes, Grin," she replied. There was something about the tone of her voice that caught Wildwing's attention.
"What are you talking about? What do you know?"
Raye was silent for a moment, then shrugged. "It has nothing to do with our current predicament-"
"Like hell!" Grin snarled. Nosedive felt his jaw drop. In almost two years, he had never, ever seen Grin lose his temper. Not really.
Wildwing was equally surprised, but kept a clear head.
"Control yourself, Grin. This is obviously something that needs to come out. Raye?"
She said nothing, still staring at Grin frigidly. Wildwing turned to him.
The big duck looked away. Wildwing began to get annoyed.
"I'm beginning to lose my patience guys. What's this about?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Raye asked.
Wildwing gave her a confused look, trying to remember when he'd last heard that. Then it clicked. Grin had said the exact same thing a couple days ago.....
"You two...are you...?"
"Yeah. Grin's my loving, big brother."
Grin scowled, folding his arms in front of him.
"I have no desire to be associated with her."
"Okay, this is even worse. Now I really don't believe any of this. You never mentioned having a cute sister, Grin." Nosedive said.
The big duck gave him a look that made him think twice about continuing.
"That's what this has been all about?" Wildwing accused. "All this sulking and moping about? Of all the ridiculous-"
Raye smiled. "I glad I've made such an impression on you, dear brother. And here I thought we could let bygones stay that way."
"Watch it, wench,"Grin growled, and abruptly pushed his way out the door. Nosedive started to follow, and was stopped by Duke, who shook his head in a manner that didn't allow argument. The rest looked at Raye.
"Well?" Wildwing said. Raye sighed.
"Just some religious differences."
"We all love a good story here."
"Funny. Okay. I'm sure most of you know that Grin follows the typical Tai-Quack-Do religion-"
"-Right, well, among Pukhists, a religion you are most often born into, when a member of the family tries to leave the religion, it is the duty of the father to kill that child."
"Uh, I remember studying about that in school," Nosedive stated.
"Me too," said Wildwing, " But I thought that was no longer practiced in our time."
"It isn't...usually. And it wasn't in my household. But I did leave. And my father, though he didn't have the heart to kill me, denied my ever returning home. I was about twelve at the time."
"Wait. So what were you doing between then and the time I found you?" Duke wanted to know. Raye raised an eyebrow.
"Surviving. Now, can we return to the matter at hand?"
Duke looked like he wanted to say more, but Wildwing nodded.
"We can't send them back to Dimensional Limbo. And we can't really keep them here, not in this state."
"So what do we do?"
Wildwing sighed. "I don't know. I know I'm leader here, but I don't really know what to say."
Duke cleared his throat. "Might I suggest we talk to our resident former-prisoner of Limbo?"
"I hope you aren't thinking-"
"Well, why would those two turn out like that, and not the Saurians? Maybe they know something we don't...."
"Is trying to turn over a new leaf, and is in more trouble than us right now. He turned traitor on Draganus. And you know what they say about your enemy's enemy...."
"Fine. Speaking of which, why isn't anyone watching him?"
"Oops," Nosedive said.
Chameleon's quarters were in an....interesting....state. Pasted all over the walls, shelves, the bed, and even the floor, were pictures, clippings that looked vaguely familiar to Wildwing. He glanced at his brother, who grinned sheepishly.
"Hey, it gave me something to do."
"What did you do?"
"This wonderful young man searched the 'Net for me, drawing up pictures I need for my transformation," Chameleon said. He voice sounded different, though the rest of him remained unchanged. His voice was deeper, less nasal.
"So you know what you're going to become?"
"Who. Who I am going to become. What did you want?"
"I need to ask you a few questions about Limbo."
"Ask away. I have time."
None of the others had come. Wildwing didn't think it necessary, and there were other things to be done...like practice. Tanya was still tending to Canard and Lucretia, and Raye had said something about the gym. So it was just the two brothers.
"Lucretia Decoy. You remember her?"
Chameleon was sitting in the middle of a circle of clippings, all with the same face in various views. Wildwing was trying to place that face in his mind. It looked like something out of a comic book he'd seen Nosedive reading once, but he didn't pay a lot of attention to what Nosedive read. He regretted that now.
"Draganus sent her into the middle of Dimensional Limbo."
"And you want to know how she survived?"
"Yes. And what happened to her mind. And Canard's."
"Limbo isn't really a place. It's kinda like being nowhere and everywhere at once. You know?"
"No," Wildwing said, perplexed.
"Lemme see......Let's say you have Point A and Point B, and you want to get from one to the other."
"Well, in most cases, a straight line between the two is the shortest way. But if there's some kind o obstruction between them, like, say, Point A is in Plane A, and Point B is Plane B....? Well, to get from one plane to the next, you have to forcibly draw it closer--"
"What? You can't--"
"Exactly. The law of physics doesn't allow it, because between those two planes may be thousands of others. Or even if they're Sister Planes-that is, touching each other- there's still a problem with breaking though the fabric of the one plane to get to the other. So what Limbo creates is a wormhole that takes you directly to that spot- providing you know where that spot is, and have the proper equipment."
"Okay, so you've explained that. But I already sort of knew that part. Why would it turn Canard and Lucretia into amnesiacs?"
"Lemme finish. So you get the idea of what Limbo does. But it's more than that. How otherwise would Draganus and company have been trapped there? So it has to be a place, or there wouldn't have been that problem. Let's see, how do I explain this. It's not a place in the sense you're used to. Things that are there one moment might not be the next. And time is kinda warped there too. If you're trapped there, it's kind of like being trapped out in space, with only your own biological clock to go by. And, well, that's not as reliable as you think. A person might go in, and come back out a minute later, having aged some forty years. Then again, someone else might go in, and forty years later come out, not having aged a day."
"And you? What did you saurians do?"
"The saurians were trapped in Dimensional Prison, a strong hold someone managed to create in a sort of pocket in Limbo. There are quite a few of them, usually created in the wake of a large ship passing through."
"But...if nothing stays the same...."
"Nothing is the same to start out. It's not a place like you think of. How many times can I say that? It's pure chaos, with a little bit of insanity and order mixed in, so that it almost takes form, but not quite, or else it would have to become real. The saurians were inside a specially built stronghold, specifically designed to protect against all that stuff from getting to the prisoners' minds. As for those trapped outside..."
"It goes for your memories first. Destroys them one by one, leaving you unable to think for yourself. Without past experiences to go on, you don't really know what's right or wrong anymore, do you? When your mind is wiped clean of all things past, it breaks down the natural barriers of your mind, the ones that keep other peoples thoughts from invading your own."
"Wait. Are you saying that telepathy is actually caused by weakened defenses?" Nosedive asked.
"Something like that, yes."
"That's weird. I always thought it'd be, like, a super power or something."
"Hmm, well, anyway, once that happens, you become connected to Limbo, mentally. Why this happens is anyone's guess, but my theory is that most of the current Limbo is made up of the shattered minds of madmen and telepaths."
"What happens, after their minds have been taken over. If they still stay there?"
"Well, I don't know how Raye got them out of Limbo in the first place. If they're at that point, they would have already entered the point where their physical aspect begins to conform. Eventually, they just disappear. Theoretically speaking, I don't think Raye should have been able to do what she did, but she did, so I'm not arguing."
Wildwing didn't answer. Nosedive glanced at the pictures on the floor, then at his brother. Chameleon waited patiently.
"How do you know all this? You keep speaking like you weren't trapped with the rest of them," Wildwing said suddenly.
"I wasn't." He said. Seeing Wildwing's expectant look, his voice turned very, very cold. "My past is my own. Suffice it to say, I'm not one of theirs'."
"You aren't saurian?"
"I didn't say that."
He clammed up then and returned to cutting out pictures. Wildwing gave his brother a look and left. He didn't like what he'd just heard, but there was nothing to be done for it. Raye, whatever she was, wasn't saying anything, and he still had a few other problems to deal with besides....
Raye was working out her frustration on a punching bag. Her face showed little emotion, something she'd spent a lot of time to control, but the way she was beating the bag said a lot. Duke silently leaned in the doorway, wondering whether he should announce himself or not. He didn't have to, in the end.
"Alright, what is it?" Raye demanded, without turning or stopping.
"You never mentioned a family, you know. I'd always assumed you were an orphan."
"Well, you assumed wrong."
Silence, except for the mechanical sound of her punches.
"I met Grin before we left Puckworld. While we were still preparing for the First Strike. You knew he was on the list. Why didn't you ever....?"
"Why should I have? It didn't matter then. It doesn't now, at least not to me."
The sound of the punching bag suddenly became very loud. Raye stopped and stood panting, her back still to Duke.
"You heard him. We aren't related, not anymore. I've denounce any relationship with him."
"I've known Grin for a while--"
"So have I. He was a horrible bully most of the time, and in his later years, he shaped up a bit. But when I 'defected', he turned on me completely. There was always a little jealousy between us, because he was favored by our father, and because I, though he would never have admitted it, was always better at everything. I could take him down with his own moves, and I'm barely half his size and a quarter of his weight."
"Laugh it up," Raye said, and suddenly threw another punch, this one rocking the bag on it's restraints. Duke stared at her silently, and finally left. She obviously was not in the mood for company.
"Alright. Whattaya think?"
Nosedive blinked. It was....creepy. He said as much.
"Well, I did turn out looking a lot like him, but I did make some changes."
"I noticed. Why blonde hair?"
"I dunno. Must've been that Humberto Ramos picture you showed me of that angel. Kind of got mixed in with the Mike Turner stuff. You know, I think I'm beginning to get the hang of all this comic book schmeel."
"Cool, sooooo, how long does it take for this form to take over."
"A couple of days. I already changed my voice."
"But you'll still be able to change shape, right?"
"How come none of the other saurians can change shape?"
The question seemed to take Chameleon, now in his new form, by surprise. The more Nosedive stared at him, the less he seemed like the old saurian Chameleon he'd been enemies with. It was kind of creepy, thinking of him as a person.
"Well, uh....I'm only half saurian."
"Really? You aren't pulling my leg?"
Chameleon grabbed onto 'Dive's leg and pulled.
"Okay! You're not! I just didn't think interspecies relationships would, uh, you know.....have results. No offense."
Chameleon grinned. "None taken. It only works with certain compatible species, such as humanoids, or shape shifters. My mother was a shape shifter, so that's where I got the ability from."
"That rocks. So what happened to them?"
"My father....well, he worked under Draganus. As far as I know, he's still in Limbo, waiting at the helm of his battleship for orders from the Overlord."
"And you mother?"
"......She's been dead for some time now."
"Oh. Sorry. My parents are dead too. They died when I was a kid- you know, like six. Accident."
"Yeah." There was a distant look in Chameleon's eyes for a brief instant, then he shrugged.
"Ah well. C'est la vie, eh? Would you mind escorting me down to see Mademoiselle Raye?"
"Uh, sure. No problem."
Raye hadn't realized long she'd been going at this until a tall human male with blond hair past his shoulders and incredible green eyes tapped her on the shoulder. For a human viewer, he was extremely attractive, with broad shoulders and slender with a good build. He grinned at her, and she raised an eyebrow, trying to place his face.
"Hey, it's me. Chameleon. Whattaya think of my new form?"
"It's very, um, becoming. You came all the way down here to ask that?"
"Well, no. Well, maybe partially. I figured you'd know something about it, eh?"
"I have no idea of what you're referring to."
Chameleon grinned, then glanced back to the doorway where Nosedive was standing. He leaned closer and spoke softly.
"I know who you are. Or what, if you prefer that. When you've lived as long as I have, you get to recognizing a few things. Especially one of your own kind."
"I don't see how you could possibly think we have anything in common--"
"Your arm healed remarkable fast, I see. I hope my little love-slash didn't have any lasting effects...."
Raye stared at him now, unable to respond.
"Don't worry, I won't tell. At least unless you give me reason. I'm a survivor after all."
He winked and started to leave.
"Have a good one. I'll probably be leaving before this week is up--"
He stopped and looked at her.
"I.......I don't'....never mind. Good day to you, Chameleon."
"Actually, I'm thinking of sticking with Leon. It kinda suits this body, you know?"
"Well, be seein' ya then." He turned cheerfully and walked off with his hands in his pockets, whistling to the tune of "Hakuna Matata." Raye watched as he joined Nosedive, then turned back to the punching bag. She no longer had the heart to continue with it, so she pulled off her boxing gloves and headed for the showers.
The human city was a place of bright lights and vehicle exhaust. Dogs barking at each other and children at play and busy mortals going about their busy lives, never stopping to realize how futile it all was, never stopping to wonder why they did it all. Perhaps, deep down, they knew that it made little difference one way or another, and were trying to deny it to themselves by moving faster, getting more work done. Anything to forget the truth.
The Hunter made a quiet sound, deep in his throat, a sound no human could make alone. He didn't like mortal dwellings. Too much of reality. The mundane world was an enemy to his kind, and traveling here meant he had to conform, if he was to find his prey.
He hated sunlight. It left him exposed to eyes that could cause him problems if they recognized him for himself. Humans were good at fooling themselves, at seeing what they could accept, rather than what they saw. He feared none of them. None of their kind knew the old ways anymore anyway. It was the Ancients he feared, and the Outcasts, and the Rogues. And numerous others that hid in full sight among the blind.
Never mind, he would find his prey. The Wild Hunt had been called. With luck, any Rogues or Ancients he ran into would leave him be, or even join the Hunt. As for the Outcasts, he feared them least. He had helped make them what they were after all. And nothing short of Death would waver him from his search.
Draganus drummed his claws impatiently on the computer terminal, glaring at his servants. They were turning out to be an incredible failure- strike that, they'd been a failure from the start. Wraith and Siege looked downtrodden, apologetic, frightened. As they should be. He wasn't Overlord for nothing. Spectre seemed unaffected, returning his glower with a look of indifference. The Overlord felt a sharp twist in his soul, wondering if he'd made the right choice with this one.
"So he's still alive....." Draganus said emotionlessly. He stayed silent for a few minutes longer, letting them fidget. Spectre watched his every move, like a trained guard dog. It was eerie, and probably what caused Draganus to finally boil over.
"I ask one, simple thing of you: kill a traitor. How hard can it be. The three of you against one sniveling idiot. And an old woman, what's worse!"
Wraith and Siege winced. Spectre looked bored. Draganus glared at him.
"Don't make me regret allowing you to live, boy," he said in a deadly quiet voice. Spectre smiled, baring all his teeth.
"Live. Ha. That's funny. Really." The ghastly never leaving his face, he teleported off the brig. Draganus snarled in frustration.
"Wraith? You are responsible for him. Teach him to respect his betters, or he's going the way of his predecessors!"
The thin sorcerer bowed, grateful for an excuse to leave. Siege mumbled something about repairs to the hydrolics, making his exit as well. Draganus watched them go in silence. Then he sighed.
I already regret it, Wraith. You better get him in line....
To Be Concluded......