As the light faded, I found myself standing in front of a fairly large building, behind which a mountain range—the Rainier Peaks, stretched skyward. As I looked around, I saw beautiful plants everywhere—flowers of every conceivable color, and trees that seemed nearly as tall as the mountains nearby. 'The denizens of Second Life have taken better care of the environment here than we did back on Earth,' I thought. Another memory, and I cringed at that particular one. Even with the technological advances that people had been making, we still were no closer to finding a solution to fixing our ruined planet. I shook my head. 'I can't get down about this,' I thought. 'I'm here, now, and as far as I can see, this is my home.' I sat down on a nearby bench and took in the scenery, sighing softly. 'Not that this is a bad place,' I thought with a soft chuckle.
"I've seen that look before…" said a voice to my right. I turned, and saw an orange-furred fox standing over me, a slight smirk on his face. "Hey there," he grinned when I looked at him. "Name's Hollen."
"Mine's Lirren," I replied, slightly bemused.
"You're new here, eh?" he asked, sitting down next to me. I nodded. "Worried about the family you left behind?"
"Well, that's part of it," I said. "Problem is, I can't remember if I left any family behind."
"Well that's nothing to—" he trailed off, frowning slightly. "Wait a minute. What'd you say?"
I chuckled softly. "I said I can't remember if I left any family behind. I actually can't remember anything before I came here," I told him. "Why do you ask?" I raised one eyebrow. "Isn't that the case with everybody here?"
Hollen shook his head. "No. Not at all. People usually remember their First Lives with clarity…which is part of the reason that most enjoy it so much here—they don't want to go back to their shattered existence before. I wonder if something happened during your transfer that fried your head…"
"That's a reassuring thought," I retorted, smirking slightly. "It's one thing to be an amnesiac, but I'd like to have all of my functions intact, thank you."
Hollen chuckled softly, shrugging slightly. "I'm assuming you do, since you've been able to keep up a conversation with me. If something happened that fried your memory—well, maybe it was for a reason. Maybe something happened before that the Guardians don't want you to remember. Maybe it was too traumatic. I dunno, I'm just thinkin' here," he said.
I scratched my head, thinking for a moment. "Well, it seems as good an explanation as any," I said finally. "I just keep thinkin' about everything, you know? Even about things in my Second Life."
Hollen seemed to be about to reply, when suddenly, his watch beeped, cutting him off. He looked down at it, then gasped, slapping a hand against his forehead. "Damn. Sorry, gotta go, but listen. Don't worry about anything. We're all here for a reason…you have one, too, you just haven't figured it out yet!" He waved, then vanished in a flash of white light.
I leaned back on my hands, chuckling softly over the rather odd encounter. 'Does everyone just act like they've known you forever around here?' I wondered. 'Or was he just really friendly?' I shrugged. 'He had good advice, though.' I pushed myself up, smiling. 'He was right. I shouldn't worry. This is a time in my life where I really do have nothing to lose. I'm a blank slate, and can totally remake myself however I want. I don't have anything to worry about!' I grinned broadly, laughing. This was suddenly a very good day.
I walked into the nature center, deciding to take a walk through the hiking trails, see what other unique foliage adorned the area. Inside, the place was a mini-museum of sorts, complete with exhibits, facts about the area, and samples of nearly every plant and flower I had seen outside before, and some that I hadn't.
I whirled around as I suddenly heard someone scream behind me. A terrified feline 'morph trembled in the grip of a burly grey-furred wolf. The wolf's eyes practically glowed with lust as he held a knife to the young girl's throat. "All right!" the wolf growled. "Nobody moves, or this pretty one will drip all over these displays here…" He bent down, his hot breath on the girl's flattened ears. "What's your name, little one?"
"It's Liré…" the girl stammered, trying to hold back tears that were threatening to spill down her cheeks. "Oh, please don't hurt me, Kane!" she cried, starting to sob.
"Oh, don't worry, Liré," Kane purred, looking down at her. "All I want is to give you the best time you've ever had…" His lips curved in a sickening smirk as he chuckled softly.
Everything had happened so fast that I hadn't been able to react—frozen in place like everyone else. But as I quickly glanced around the mini-museum, I noticed nobody was making a move towards this guy, Kane; as a matter of fact, what was more noticeable was the quite obvious lack of reaction to the situation…it seemed like the majority of the 'morphs there were actually trying to ignore the wolf and the girl. 'Nobody's gonna help her?' I thought, a snarl beginning to form on my lips. 'What the hell?'
"Something bothering you, wolfy?" I turned back to face Kane, who had, apparently, noticed my expression of distaste.
I didn't even think—just acted on instinct. Yanking my crystal out of my pocket, I squeezed it in my hand, activating and channeling my psionic power. The green tattoos etched themselves across my form, and I could feel the crystal's energy—my energy. With a yell, I leapt for Kane, charging up an energy blast and shoving it into his face. Kane roared with pain, staggering back and releasing Liré, who promptly dashed out of sight.
I crouched in front of the towering wolf, ears flat against my skull.
"You must be new here, wolfy," Kane snarled, baring his fangs at me. "Or nuts. Nobody with any sense messes with me!" He threw his arms down to his sides, and what looked something like an electric current crackled across his form. "I'm gonna enjoy disintegrating you!" He leapt for me, claws outstretched and pulsing with energy.
I channeled energy into my hands, blocking and countering Kane's strike. He twisted away, then whirled, firing a crackling energy ball. I didn't quite get out of the way fast enough, and was hit in the face. I cried out, stumbling back with a hand on my cheek.
"Aww, you okay there, wolfie? I hope that hurt!" Kane guffawed. "See, this is why you don't mess with me. All right, I want everyone to pay attention! This is what happens when some dumbass thinks he's some big hero. He gets what's comin' to him. Anybody else think they want to be a hero?"
I could barely even think straight—god my face hurt. 'Jesus…why am I even doing this?' I wondered. 'This is just gonna get me killed…' But as I looked up, I noticed Liré, trembling under a display table. She and I locked gazes for a moment, and in that instant, I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was doing it for her. I straightened, turning around and pulling my twin delta sabers from their sheaths. "I'm not quite done yet, Kane," I said, activating the energy blades.
Kane turned, a sneer on his face. "Ahh…back for more, I see," he chuckled. "You've got spirit, I'll give you that. Too bad we won't get to see any more of that after today!" He clenched his fists, and long, serrated blades extended from his forearms, almost like extra-long claws. With a snarl, he swung his blades down in a wide arc, bringing them crashing down on my delta sabers. Energy met metal with a crash, and I groaned as I strained under Kane's immense physical strength.
I pushed Kane off of me, then swung my blades, slicing his arm deeply. Kane growled and fell to one knee, a hand going to the gash on his arm. I slipped a blade under his neck, the green energy hissing menacingly. "Since you're doing most of the talking," I smirked, "Is there anything else you have to say?"
"Yeah…" Kane groaned, "You'd better watch your back from now on, wolf. I've got your number…" And suddenly, he vanished in a flash of blue light—different from the teleporting that the watches used. I blinked, wondering if this was some sort of trick; but he never rematerialized. I deactivated my delta sabers, sheathing them and dropping out of my psionically enhanced state—meta-state. I heaved a mighty sigh—I was so exhausted. As I was about to leave, however, I suddenly remembered the girl that was the reason for this whole ordeal. I gasped softly, whirling around. Liré was just where she had ran to—under one of the display tables, and she was trembling violently, trying not to cry. I squatted next to her, smiling gently. "Hey…shh, it's okay," I murmured. "It's all over now…Kane's gone."
Liré blinked, seeming unsure if she was going to trust what I said. "G—gone?" she repeated.
I nodded. "I don't think he'll be coming back here…"
Liré peeked out of her hiding spot, looking around for a few moments before deciding that Kane was indeed gone. She stepped out from under the display table, taking my offered hand to help her to her feet. "Th—thank you for helping me," she said softly. "If you hadn't been here—" she trailed off, shuddering briefly at the thought.
"But I was," I replied, but frowned slightly at what had happened. 'Why had no one else helped her? I couldn't have been the only psion…or fighter…or something. Hell, why didn't anybody call the police, or Guardians, or whatever there is around here?'
"Thank you, again," she said, a slight smile coming to her face. "I'll remember you for this—?" she trailed off slightly, a nonverbal cue for my name.
"Lirren," I said. "Lirren Shentai, at your service."
"Lirren," she repeated, nodding slightly, then keyed in a command on her watch, and vanished in a flash of light. I turned around, noticing that the 'morphs that had been in the museum now had assembled into a sort of group around me, and were all watching me with what looked like—awe, I thought.
Chuckling nervously, I said, "Why all the stares, guys? Don't tell me none of you have ever seen a psion before…"
One member of the group, a tall brown stallion, spoke up. "Well, we have…but no one's ever taken on Kane before—at least, no one has and lived…"
I blinked, my eyebrows shooting skyward. This guy Kane must be some really serious business—and I must have gotten really lucky to get outta that alive, if the stallion's story was accurate.
Another voice from the crowd: "Hey, why don't you take him on, Lirren?"
For the second time in five minutes I was taken by surprise. Now, I had assumed that Dragonfriend, back after I had left the Nexus, had worked for the Guardians, and I had later been proven correct…but I didn't think that anyone here was an agent of the Guardians, or any of the other protectors of this realm…so I was confused how they could know my name. I voiced my query, and the stallion who had spoke before replied, "When a person addresses you, the addressee's name is shown next to their photo on your watch…it's common knowledge."
"Oh!" I nodded with sudden understanding, chuckling softly. I brushed my hand through my hair. "Sorry, I didn't know…Dragonfriend didn't tell me that…"
The stallion tilted his head, blinking with confusion. "Wait a minute. You talked with Dragonfriend recently? How long have you been here?"
"It's my first day," I replied, which instantly sent a stir through the crowd of 'morphs.
"His first day?"
"He just got here and he took down Kane? Who is this guy?"
"Damn, I wish I could have known him in my first life!"
"You've got that right!"
A grey-furred fox stepped out from the crowd, an amicable smile on his face. "So, where're you from, friend?"
"You mean my first life?" I asked, receiving a nod from the fox. "I'm from Earth," I replied, which drew an instantaneous hush from the crowd—even the small hum of machinery of the building itself seemed muted. After shifting uneasily back and forth from one foot to the other, I chuckled nervously. "Why the flip-flop?" I asked. "First you welcomed me as a hero—now some of you are looking at me as if I was a traitor…"
No one responded for a long moment—some refusing to even meet my gaze, but then a caustic voice came from the crowd; "No one has been here from Earth before, human!" it spat, "With good reason…we all know what you've done to your planet."
"Hey now…that's not entirely fair," I murmured in reply. "Not everyone on Earth thinks that way, and now, many of us are trying to reverse the damage…trying to save what we have left." Honestly, I didn't know how many people thought one way or the other—there had always been some who were uber-environmentalist, and there were always some who wanted to simply ignore what changes were taking place. But I didn't need my reputation here and now tarnished by the accusations of crimes committed by people who were, in all likelihood, light-years away.
However, the heckler seemed to be unsatisfied with this statement, actually becoming more irate and caustic in their speech. "Oh, really? Now, while I think that some furres may be manipulated by your smooth words and placating speech, the majority want you and those like you out on your ear! My First Life was destroyed—I won't have you ruining the Second!"
"Hey, now, wait a minute!" A voice from the crowd rose to my defense. "He saved that girl, and he knocked Kane for a loop! Come on, no one else would have done that for us! Certainly not if he's as corrupt as you claim he is!"
"Tell that loser to shut up!"
The voices increased in number and in volume until the entire room was filled with the sounds of arguing 'morphs—the heckler had been right, not everyone believed that I wasn't here just to stir up some trouble—apparently, humans didn't have a good reputation in the eyes of the 'morph—but the majority of the crowd supported me.
The noise soon rose to a fevered pitch—becoming so loud that I couldn't even think straight. I became worried that another fight might break out with tensions as high as this. "HEY!" I roared at the top of my lungs. That had the desired effect—the room quickly quieted and I became the center of the crowd's attention. "My apologies," I said when my ears had stopped ringing. "Apparently this topic is a rather sensitive one here…and I don't wish to add any fuel to this fire," I stated. "I appreciate all the help, but I think it would be best if I addressed this particular 'morph's grievances personally." I took a deep breath, hoping that that statement would be firm enough, yet diplomatic. If these people really had had bad relationships with my race, I didn't want to start off my new life here on a very wrong foot…
The crowd parted, revealing the instigator of this argument: A smugly smirking dragoness, with shimmering silver scales, golden eyes, bright blue hair and red markings. I sighed softly and rolled my eyes skyward, wondering about the irony of this situation. She was far from the snide, cynical troublemaker I expected. 'Now this is interesting,' I thought. I crossed my arms across my chest, raising an eyebrow slightly. "Well here I am," I said. "Is there anything else you want to say to me?"
"Yeah, actually there is," the girl fired back. "You humans are a pathetic excuse for a sentient species! You constantly pollute your planet, then fight each other for a few gredan of that same ruined land!"
I chuckled softly; what the dragoness had said was ridiculous—Humans as a species hadn't actually fought each other since WWIII…that was nearly two centuries ago. "I should ask if you got your information from whatever you call a tabloid on your home planet—you do know the last time we fought each other was in 2121, right? Back in World War Three? If you're gonna stir up trouble, at least try to do it with something current." It wasn't the most diplomatic of things I could have said, I realized that later—and the dragoness would have agreed with my assessment had she heard it: she snarled softly, with thin wisps of smoke twirling from her nostrils. 'Oops, I forgot about that…' I thought. 'I'd prefer not to get roasted today…' I opened my mouth to backpedal a little bit, but never got the chance.
"You—shut up!" The dragoness charged up an energy blast at her hip and fired it at me. I was caught off guard, and was sent tumbling to the floor. I rolled into a crouching position, groaning softly and rubbing my jaw. 'Ouch…I didn't think she'd get that mad that quick.' I climbed back to my feet, activating my delta sabers. I didn't actually want to fight the girl—I just wanted to tire her out and get her to leave me alone. My blades flashed as I blocked her attacks.
"Can you do more than just stand there and twirl your swords, human?" the dragoness sneered.
"You're not too exciting yourself," I retorted. "At least Kane was something of a challenge compared to you." However, as I happened to catch a glance at my watch, I did a double-take. The girl's desc was outlined on the screen, along with descriptions of her powers, some of which caused me to pale slightly. 'If she knows how to use all of those…I'm in deep.'
"All right, then, Earther, have it your way." Flicking her fingers, the dragoness created energy shuriken, and tossed them into the crowd of 'morphs. I gasped and leapt into the air, my blades a blur as I deflected the girl's attacks. 'What the hell does she think she's doing?' I thought. 'Non-psions can't even withstand the weakest of attacks!' I landed in a crouch, glaring at the girl wrathfully. "Leave them out of this!" I growled, my eyes narrowing. "This isn't their fight!"
"No, it's ours, so why don't you fight me?" she smirked, crossing her arms.
"Oh, I will." Sheathing my delta sabers, I leapt for the girl, hands glowing with energy. She tried to keep up, but didn't have enough control over her powers. Her defensive shield buckled, and I caught her across the face with an open-handed slash. She cried out and fell to the ground, one hand clutching her cheek. I was instantly on top of her, my forearm across her neck, while my other hand cradled an energy ball.
"Pl-please don't kill me!" she whimpered, her eyes squeezed shut.
I snarled. "Pathetic. Simply pathetic. You're a psion, one of the most powerful I've yet seen, yet you're also the most cowardly. You have no idea the kind of power you wield, do you? You do know that you would have killed those civilians with your attack, right?"
The dragoness looked away. "Just…just take me to detention, I don't care now…it doesn't matter. You've won; just like you did before."
I frowned slightly, pulling back a bit. "Whoa, whoa. 'Like I did before'? What's that mean?"
The girl looked back up at me, tears in her eyes. "Abou-about a decade ago…I was back in my First Life…on a planet called Úiréa—Peace in your language. We were a fairly quiet people; keeping to ourselves…until your people came. Things were pretty uneventful at first; our two peoples interacted well. Then they started to expand—exponentially. We warned them to slow down their alarming rate of expansion…they were consuming our planets resources faster than they could be replenished. But they wouldn't listen. We gave them several more warnings, saying that we would use force to protect what was left, if necessary. We were eventually forced to go to war. We held out for a while, but then their superior tech won out. Our people were all captured, and now my people are either here, or serving the humans as slaves…"
I gasped, eyes going wide. I scrambled off of the girl, holding out a hand to help her to her feet. She warily grabbed it, and I pulled her upright. "Th—that's terrible…" I finally managed to murmur. "Look…I don't remember too much about my First Life," I said, sighing softly. "But I can say that the friends I do remember, never would have done anything like what you're saying. Not everyone agreed with the slash-and-burn policy that some of my people had…" I looked down. "I'm so sorry for what happened to your people and your planet," I said finally. Looking back up at the dragoness, I said, "Look. Considering everything, I, uh—I won't report you. Just—don't go off on someone without hearing the full story first…"
The dragoness managed a ghost of a smile as she looked back at me. "Heh, all right…I'll remember that," she said, then walked away, the crowd obediently parting for her as she made her way out the door.
As I watched her leave, I sighed and rubbed my cheek. 'This has been one hell of a first day,' I thought. 'How did I manage to get myself into the middle of this? I'm just another guy…' I was pulled out of my thoughts when I heard a voice call my name. I turned, and saw a young feline girl looking up at me. "Hmm?" I asked.
"I just wanted to thank you again for stopping Kane," she said. "It's nice to know that there are still heroes in this realm who will stand up for what's right."
I smiled back at the girl. "I do what I can."
Seeming satisfied by that answer, the girl waved and walked off. The crowd who had watched the earlier performance had dispersed, some back to the museum, others leaving entirely. I nodded to myself. 'Okay—so that's taken care of. I guess I sorta got a trial by fire with that fight with Kane,' I thought. Shrugging to myself, I walked outside, still half-wondering if I should do some more training to hone my skills further—I had a hunch that my first battle against Kane was a lucky victory, and that he wouldn't so easily be defeated next time. Walking along the trails, I soon found a secluded spot off the main paths, and falling into a fighting stance, I began to explore my powers.