Disclaimer: The Death Gate Cycle is the original creation of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman as are all of the characters who appear here or are mentioned; they are not mine. A/N; The story references events from the 3rd volume of the series, "Fire Sea"

"The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same" by Karen

The Dog had saved his life in the Labyrinth and whether he would ever admit it and a debt unpaid was a ghost untried as a Squatter he had once come across had told him, sharing tales and a warm fire; a brief if tenuous moment of connection with another living being.

It was one of those unwritten rules that all Patryns took in from the first moment they were old enough to walk and talk: there were two types of people in the Labyrinth: the living, and those who wished to see them very much dead.

Each person, man, woman had their own means of approaching, Haplo was a runner and that old man had been a Squatter, one of many who traveled in nomadic groups making up in safety in numbers for what they gave up in speed. In the long run, Haplo thought, it made for a good trade-off.

Haplo, as his namesake implied, had always been alone. In fact, he preferred it that way.

Until that very last gasp, bleeding and broken with the sheen and shimmer of the very

Last Gate visible on the horizon, Haplo had always survived on his own. He had never known how or why the animal had been present at the very instant when was about to give up, to let go of everything; but it had been.

Throughout all of his travels that had followed since he had ventured out into the Sundered Realms acting on the orders of Lord Xar; the Dog had always been there.

In fact, Haplo, in his way, had become rather fond of the animal, despite the fact every once in a while it did have an irritating habit of taking off on tangents; eating all of the sausages that he had stocked his ship's hold with; and the last the damned Dog liked his unwelcome and impossible to ignored traveling companion; Alfred, the Sartan who claimed he was not a Sartan.

"Now there's the rub," Haplo sighed as stood on the port bow the palms of his hands curled around the railing of 'Dragon Wing flying ship.

To their left and rear the pulsating rotating hole in the sky was their only means in and out of this Realm; the Death Gate.

Haplo did not hold out much hope for the Realm of Fire and not only because the traversal through the Gate had been more than a little bit turbulent and unpleasant.

He and Alfred had shared consciousness, and in the back of his mind Haplo had to wonder: "How the hell did that happen?" Was it all a trick? And if so, should I shove the balding, fraying frock-coat wearing, too large feet idiot over board?'

It grated on his nerves, an itch that refused to go away no matter how much one scratched at it, and with an effort of will Haplo shoved the unpleasant and unwelcome thoughts to a back corner of his mind.

At that moment he felt a nudge near his feet and was momentarily distracted out of his grim thoughts to look down to Dog looking up at him with those large, liquid brown eyes, his tall wagging furiously. "You find this all highly amusing, don't you, boy?"

Dog continued to stare up at him, mutely agreeing with that assessment.

"Haplo..." Alfred quavered his hands curled around the railing several feet from the Patryn's position were white-knuckled, his fear and nervousness poorly hidden on his thin features.

"Yeah," Haplo gruffly responded.

"We can't go out there, please, tell me, we can't go out there." Alfred did not need to see the lava sees and the black basalt cliffs to know that it would be as much as their lives were worth to venture out there; if Haplo still intended to go through and explore this Realm and his had all of the others prior to this one.

In the midst of his worry and agony, and fear a thought occurred to him, "Just why is Haplo doing this? And I don't believe for a moment it is purely in the interest of exploratory research. He's a Patryn, the ancient enemy of the Sartan…."

Alfred's thoughts, turning around and around in circles refuses to cooperate and come up with a satisfactory answer to this or any other of his many questions and he gave up when Haplo made a rather grim observation:

"Anything living, human, elven or dwarven, would be very quickly fried in this environment."

Alfred looked in some surprise. "Meaning what, exactly?"

"Meaning," Haplo replied removing his hands from the Dog's thick pelt and folding them across his black-cloaked chest. "Meaning, that if anyone is alive," he unfolded his arms and waved his hands in the general direction of the in the distanced that appeared to have been carved directly out black, basalt volcanic rock. "Then it's most likely your people, out there, somewhere."

"I don't want to go." Alfred suddenly burst out, his lower lip quivering with a fear that he could not name but was hard-put to suppress.

"Don't have a choice in the matter," Haplo curled his lip, and then added with as much rancor as he could muster, "Sartan." Speaking to the animal, he advised, " Keep an eye on him, boy."

"Don't call me that," Alfred weakly protested. "I'm no Sartan."

"Yeah, I know, but your mensch name leaves a bad taste in my mouth," replied Haplo as he eyed the distance from the topmost edge of the ship's railing to the ground below, then vaulted down to land on the black basalt rock below.

The Dog, tongue lolling, regarded Alfred with a curious almost questioning look in its brown eyes, seeming to say without words, "Come along, Alfred, this will be so much fun." Alfred regarded the animal and said it, as if he were confiding in an trusted companion, "My friend, I wish I had your optimism, or even your master's confidence in his purpose."

Alfred shuddered and realized with a suddenness that shocked him, he actually envied the Patyrn's practiced ease and strength. "Ah well, he sighed. "Some things never change, I suppose."

Haplo ignored his last comment crossing the distance from the spot where they had moored Haplo's flying ship and crossed the giant square of black rock the loose stone and broken pieces crunching beneath the soles of his boots, waiting with ill-concealed impatience for Alfred to join him.