Redwall-24|Wrath, Zwei, and Vulpix

"Redwall-24, Part I"

Written by Throne Zwei, Wrathofautumn, and Vulpix

Edited by Jeremy Band and Wrathofautumn

Time had been cruel to the place that was once known as Liverpool. What few buildings that had not been leveled by the Great Cataclysm were infested by the local plant life, torn apart from the decay of time. Once-quaint homes were now the bases of some of the tallest trees in Rifts England. If one was lucky, there would still be a home that was in fairly good condition. They were often the favorite place for serfs and D-Bees, wanting to escape the rain.

To the curiosity of the occasional Temporal Raider and Wizard, however, one such home remained perfectly intact, standing atop the rubble as if it had never been destroyed. The material that was used to build it was obviously mega-damage grade, but the historical architecture was Pre-Rifts. It was such a strange and curious sight, that King Arthur himself from New Avalon declared the sight holy ground. Only those in his court, including Myrrlen, would be allowed near it. But that wouldn't stop a particularly rogue knight from attempting to break in. With the finest keys in the realm, he would stop at nothing to bring down that inferior plank one would call a door. His armor shifted uncomfortably, giving away his position. Any moment now, the guards would be coming this way. He would not live to see a brigand like himself put to the rack!

Just then, a great whoosh rushed through his chain coif and leather cap. It was as deafening as thunder, strong as a maelstrom, and rippled like water. The brigand, seeing this sudden display of sorcery, decided now would be the best time to make haste and fly. If that was Myrrlen coming through, he would not be the one to challenge him. Grabbing his sword, he wrapped his cloak around his hauberk and departed yonder north.

If only the knight had stayed a moment, he would've seen not Myrrlen coming out, but a man wrapped in strange attire. He wore a tattered array of rust-orange robes over coarse Tolkeen attire. What parts of his body that were not covered showed padded body armor that could withstand even the blast of Myrrlen's fire bolts. A necklace of glowing dragonese runestones hung under his cloak, the etchings seeming to emanate with raw power. The man's head was covered with a full mask, lined with strange markings that gave it a sort of macabre appearance. A golden streamlined visor stuck out where the eyes would be, and chained to it were two satyr horns placed upon the brow of the mask.

This newcomer scanned the area quietly, as if his gaze pierced through stone, wood, and flesh. His left arm then grabbed at thin air, pulling out a map decorated in ivory skulls and teeth. Looking at the inscriptions written in dragonese with a crudely drawn map of England, the stranger looked at the house, down at the map, and back at the house again. Rolling up the scroll, he shoved it back into whatever place it came from and strode with emotionless ambition. Not long afterwards, he turned his head back at the sensation of the dimensional portal rippling, like when someone had just dived into a relatively calm pool of water. No doubt the other two were finally making their way across. He would have to remember that their minds were not comfortable with the transference of crude matter as their own through space to an indeterminate vector.

A crackling vortex of energy formed and rather unceremoniously ejected a human form wearing a strange cloth uniform of different kind of squares and shapes. The human had on a strange type of cap with a bill that was knocked off the moment the body hit the ground. He rolled a little to soften the impact.

He quickly sat up and swayed where he was, trying to make the world stop spinning. He looked a little green from the tumbling he had gone through, both on the ground and what appeared to have been the rift. A second later he shot back as a long black rifle hit him in the chest and the rift closed, leaving the man blind as the white light returned to the darkness of the night.

He was breathing heavily and he trying to not throw up. He had American lettering on his Uniform, over his heart read ARMY, and on the other side read COOK. He was blinking, trying to regain some kind of balance as to him it felt like the ground was spinning and banking back and forth.

"Huff...puff...now where did I wind up?" Darius looked around after being dumped out of the portal that he'd fallen into. Winding up in weird places was becoming alarmingly common for the former New Vegas courier-turned-mercenary. The city he'd wound up in had seen better days, but not that of nuclear war. His outfit consisted of his usual red beret from the NCR's 1st recon, a pair of eye-concealing sunglasses and some light grey body armor that had numerous fixed gashes, holes and other damage on it. Glancing around, he drew the large revolver that had been his companion in numerous fights, the .45-70 weapon comforting in this odd terrain. Without ED-E, he wasn't as able to spot things as before, but it would make do...especially since the Pip-Boy's map was down for some reason.

"...Shit...well...nothing to do now but look..." He'd heard a sound not too far from his position, and began slowly making his way over, gun drawn, and ready to grab the knife he kept on his waist just in case.

"Lower your weapon, Darius. There is no danger here," the Spellcaster said, eying the structure of the door. Using all his knowledge on archaeology and artifacts, he discerned there was some form of energy focused around the door that would keep him from using any form of lock pick. It was certainly not magical in nature, but very much alien. Was it cast by Myrrlen or the one who owned this house?

Upon closer inspection, he came to the conclusion that the structure of this place was covered in mega-damage material, making it impervious to pre-rifts technology. Even the windows themselves were more durable than the highest grade of Plexiglas. There had to be a way inside, however. He continued to inspect it closely.

"Heard that one before...then it turned out to be a deathclaw lair...but how do you know my name? I remember everyone I've met...and you're a new face. And where am I? This doesn't look like the Mojave desert..." He lowered the revolver, but only to the point where it wasn't pointing at anyone. He'd have it back up in an instant if something happened to him. But the odd figure seemed to know him. Which was weird, considering someone like that would stand out in a crowd.

"I know much about you both. Your energy matrices blend well with the irradiant tachyons on your uniforms to make a harmonious archive of data for me to acquire." Finally, the spellcaster figured out what to do. He would leave as little as a scratch here to avoid the attention of third dimensional creatures, and the energy wave that covered the door did not stretch from behind.

Still the moans of the other fleshling were bothering him. He turned to Darius, "Will you treat him already so he stays quiet? I cannot invocate properly with his vocal cords emanating in such a manner."

The human on the other side finally rolled over and discharged the contents of his stomach. After that was done he pulled himself to his feet. He looked sadly better for losing his stomach, but he was still a little weakened at what happened.

"Uh," he began weakly. "Hello?"

"I'll do what I can...I've got plenty of stimpacks and Med-X...doesn't look like he's gotten any radiation poisoning. Hey, uh...you over there. Need any medical help?" Darius hated being ordered around like this, but under the circumstances, he had little other choice and approached the figure. While he looked like a soldier, the uniform wasn't NCR or Caesar's Legion.

The human on the ground looked up and blinked in shock and confusion. "Uh... good costume," was all he was able to manage. "Also I'm fine, I just need a Tylenol."

"This armor's no costume...it's saved my life a lot of times. I've got some Med-X for pain...no pills, though. So I can't do anything for a headache." Darius holstered his pistol and pulled out a syringe full of some kind of medicine - it would be potent enough to dull the pain, but it would be too much for use on a simple headache. The odd figure that knew them seemed to be busy with...something.

"Med-X? No thank you, I'd rather not do anything that is not trusted by my doctor." The human on the ground shook his head. "Which you certainly don't qualify as, since you look like you come from some end of the world movie."

It amazed the spellcaster how they acted as if they had never known him the moment they had both arrived from different points of time and space before him. The Ley Line Storm seemed to have given them some form of reverse amnesia. Or was he two years into the future, when they knew him? Was it three weeks in the past when he met them both during that fateful storm? The link to the God of Time was a distraction of his work. The past, present and future all seemed the same. All flowing, never ceasing, time never stopped. Was the fleshling ill now or was that minutes ago? Enough, he thought. He must focus on the now. The present, as he used to. As he must do.

Finally the moans seemed to stop. Now he could concentrate on his task. Drawing from the very power in the air, he felt his body change to a quantum-based existence. With a slow walk, he passed through the walls behind the door. He could make out every piece of wood down to the smallest molecule, every nail. The house was remarkably built to resemble something from the late twentieth century but it was distractingly alien to him. Why? Was it possible that aliens lived amongst humans? If he asked Zurvan, he might sometimes say "Yes" and quickly change to "No". Always mysterious as the cosmos, his god was.

Before he could take the time to inspect the insides of this deceivingly human-like alien dwelling, he went to the door and unlocked the primitive deadbolt and the chain over the top, then clicked the knob open. Simple!

"Ho... how?" the human with the cap stammered, seeing the other person in some very odd armor walking through the walls of the house. He shook his head as he looked around. "Just where am I?" He saw his Rifle and went to pick it up.

"I wouldn't bother with your gun...this guy doesn't seem to be worried about us doing anything to him. But...where are we?" Darius shrugged and continued to watch. If something bad was going to happen, it probably would've by now.

Finally, the door opened, and the spellcaster emerged from it, waving the two of them inside. As soon as they were in, the Spellcaster took the time to let them sit down and recuperate. His grasp of time seemed so skewed. It had been three weeks since he introduced himself. Must he do it again?

Patience, he told himself. They were not at fault. Slowly, he began to explain. "It has been three weeks since I told you who I was. I have had three weeks to explain myself to you. This will be the last time. I am the Lorekeeper and you are on Rifts Earth. This may be a shock to you, but we have been travelling together for three weeks since you escaped that Ley Line Storm in Colorado. With the passing of each night, however, your minds have been rebooted from before, like a bad case of retrograde amnesia. Just as I am doing now, I must re-explain myself."

"Rifts Earth?" There was a beat before the man in the cap grew a little agitated. "Wait, what is, this is…" He was stumbling over his words as he tried to get about ten different competing thoughts out of his head at once.

"If you're right, then something's messed with our heads. More so than the guy who shot me there and left me for dead...and those scientists in the Big Empty who somehow took it out and left me still alive and able to move around..." Darius muttered and moved inside of the house. He prided himself on his memory, but it wasn't quite perfect, it seemed.

"You're right. It's those same tachyons that I mentioned earlier. Your clothes have been contaminated with these particles. Now that we are protected within this holy ground by King Arthur's own men, it's safe for you to remove them. It will keep you from undergoing this cyclic amnesia," the spellcaster said.

"Remove my clothes?" The man in the cap looked around and sighed as he shrugged off a ruck sack. "You mean I have to change my ACU's?"

"Do you have anything we can change into? I've got some spare clothing with me, but it's probably been contaminated too...even if it's stored in the Pip-Boy." Darius groaned and removed the beret and shades, blinking as his eyes re-adjusted to the lights, then began punching something into the device on his right arm.

"During our travels, I purchased some sets of travelling clothes for the two of you to go through without drawing attention. They are from the City of Brass. Good tailors from the Federation of Magic, I understand. Here. Put these on. I must investigate the house as part of my task." After handing them a set of tunics, leggings, dragon-hide boots and gloves, and a pair of sacks, Lorekeeper left the room, cloak flowing behind him.

"Annnd...ah! Gotta put this thing somewhere safe...god knows what'd happen if someone found the small arsenal I have in it." After a few minutes, Darius was able to remove the Pip-Boy from his arm and store it someplace safe, hoping that nobody else would stumble across it, before gathering up the clothing he'd been tossed by the Lorekeeper and ducking into a side room.

Wanting some privacy to change into these new clothing. The third man sighed and reluctantly moved to change clothing. If this was a new world, they were his last connection to his home, his correct place and time. He moved into a spare room. It looked like the small country two story homes in England, but since he'd never been to England before he couldn't be sure.

He entered the room and began to change clothing. He was just finishing putting on the last glove when he noticed something. A book with a familiar cover. Blinking, he moved to the book and picked it up. One thing he noticed was the lack of dust on the jacket. He looked around and it looked like the owner had stepped out just for the moment. He got a chill but looked back at the cover.

"Redwall…" He smiled at the title as he read it aloud, recalling fond memories of his youth. He gently placed it down when he noticed a picture on the wall. It was of the author, Brian Jacques. He got a big cold chill and quickly backed out of the house. "Uh... anyone know who owns this place?" he asked the open air.

"No idea, but it's in better shape than a good portion of the houses I've seen around New Vegas. Less Cazadores, too." Darius had changed into the new outfit he'd been given. While he felt naked without his weapons, his various implants were still functioning, and he knew how to throw a mean punch, too.

"New Vegas? Cazadores?" He was utterly baffled. "Hold on, you, you think that the Fallout is was a real world?"

"Yeah, giant fuck-off wasps...what, you're trying to tell me I hallucinated all of that? Pull the other one!" Darius was amazed - he'd heard plenty of crackpot theories, but telling him his world didn't exist? That was new, even for him.

"Okaaay," was all the other man replied, stepping back a little. "Look," He shook his head, the headache coming back. "I think, do you even have a Colorado? United Kingdom?" He was shaking his head. "Stupid temporal mess stuff. I should have paid more attention when he mentioned Tachyons." He stopped and directed his next words at the stranger. "I'm Matthew Cook, Cadet United State Army." He paused. "And apparent time or dimension traveler."

"Colorado, yeah...never been there, but it's still around. Remember reading about the UK in a book, but half of it was ash, so I really didn't learn a whole lot. But if everything's as fucked up as he said, I shouldn't be surprised that we've wound up like this...and I'm Darius Carver, courier and hero of the NCR, so to speak. Also a dimension-hopper, from the sounds of it..." Darius said.

Matthew nodded. "Indeed, nice to meet you."

Darius smirked. "Always nice to meet someone who doesn't want to shoot me or loot my corpse. So, how'd you wind up in this mess? I was poking around some ruins and then, -poof!- I was somewhere else. Annoying more than distressing these days." He shrugged and sat down in a nearby chair, waiting for the third member of their group to show again.

"I don't remember. I remember marching with my battalion back to barracks when I stumbled and suddenly found myself on a damp ground wanting to throw up," Matthew said.

"Well, it's pretty obvious from what little I can remember that we're not getting back to where we came from easily. If at all...of course, our friend in the robes seems to know what the hell happened, so if all else fails, we can ask and hope we haven't done so before and forgotten about it," Darius said.

Suddenly the Lorekeeper came back, seeing the two fleshlings getting acquainted. He continued to stand. "I can feel the presence here. It's in this house. But first let me tell you why you are here. That answer is highly anything. The concept behind the Rifts is an unexplainable phenomenon in the cosmos itself. Even I cannot give you an answer to it. Regardless of what you believe and whether or not you wish to believe it, you are standing upon the future Earth. I cannot tell you what year it is exactly in the time you're accustomed to because, honestly, no one truly knows. Much has been left behind to tell us what had caused the Earth to be this way. Sometime following the 21st century there was a Golden Age of Humanity. We were finally united under one cause as world peace was at last established. Science, medicine, and industry flourished and it was good."

"Sounds better than the Earth I'm from...a dead world ravaged by nuclear war..." Darius commented.

Matthew snorted. "World Peace? Sorry but I am a little doubtful. All the times I've heard in the past of people working towards World Peace was a code word for them making a world order they control and run."

"It was world peace. Sincerely and truly world peace. But it did not take long for seeds of disharmony to take root." The Lorekeeper sighed. "We have no idea who it was exactly who fired the first nukes. China, Iran, North Korea, the USA...All 3,000 nukes were launched for offensives and counteroffensives. Hundreds of millions of lives were lost, but it was then that the strangest and most remarkable thing happened."

Darius grimaced. "Starting to sound a little more like what created where I'm from. Only just with the US and China...I think. Records aren't reliable 200 years after the fact, and nobody hired me to look up information on the past. Just getting stuff from point A to point B."

"It's highly unlikely that your world is the same as this. Perhaps a parallel dimension. Regardless, that did not happen here," the Lorekeeper continued. "The amount of energy released by 3,000 atomic weapons was so concentrated, so powerful in magnitude that it destabilized the very dimensional fabric of this universe. Like water through the cracks, dimensional energy began pouring onto the planet creating nexus storms, ley line formations, conjurations of every hellish creature known to the imagination, and thousands of energy spectrums previously unknown to us. It was what became known as the Great Cataclysm."

The Lorekeeper looked out the window, pointing at a ley line rippling just beyond the forest. "These new rivers of energy purged the world of the atomic fallout, making it possible for humans to survive. But there was still 300 years of darkness before the first sunlight could be seen again. By then, there were only a handful of humans left. The rest had perished from the nuclear holocaust, the Great Cataclysm and all manners of hazards that occurred following. The rest of the Earth had been transformed into the central nexus of the Megaverse, a hub point for every creature, supernatural monster, magic user, and interdimensional/time traveller conceived."

Matthew smirked. "I wonder if any blue police boxes have been sighted."

"The Tardis? Zurvan spoke of it, once. He once had to stop the Daleks from destroying a planet important to the space-time continuum." The Lorekeeper did not finish. "The humans then went on their own paths, rebuilding from the old wastes as they saw fit and reassessing their place in the cosmos. Some have returned to the primitive, nomadic ways of tribesman, looking to spirits and shamans to protect them. Others have created magical sanctuaries for the practice of the arcane arts, embracing this newfound power. Others have come to hate the world as it is, and seek to restore things as they were in the Golden Age. But I do not have any concern for the affairs of man. I am on a mission to explore the Megaverse and seek untold knowledge and wisdom. To that end, the God of Time has called me here to this intact English home in what was once Liverpool. There is a dimensional portal here somewhere, somewhere that I must seek out and find. But like in the beginning, my questions are answered with more questions."

"So, you were sent here to find...something, but you weren't told what you were looking for? I hate jobs where the client is vague as hell," Darius complained.

"But what does that have to do with us? Or did you just pick us up because you felt sorry for two lost travelers?" Matthew was chewing his lip.

"What is the importance of your role here? What is the importance of my role here? What is the importance of this one dimensional portal?" Lorekeeper said through his mask. "I have asked time and again why I remain as a third dimensional creature, what I must do to please Zurvan, and still his answers rock back and forth. Is there truly an answer or is it humanity's nature to look for purpose in something when there is no purpose?" It occurred to him that he may be confusing them again. He waved his hand in dismissal. "Do not think about that now. Right now, your role here with me is clear. I need your help in uncovering this dimensional portal."

"Do we know anything about the owner of this home? I mean...all the books and whatnot makes me think the guy was a writer or something. Maybe he hid it in a book? Makes as much sense as anything for these past few weeks...from what little I remember," Darius said.

"No that is unlikely. There are no fluctuations here. The portal must be within a physical focal point. It would be embodied within something that can be physically touched. It is hidden, however." Lorekeeper turned to Matthew Cook. "Do you know what this place is?"

"Uh, I felt unnerved in one room." Matthew pointed to the room he came from. "I got really, I mean really unnerved."

"Since we don't have anything else to go on...that seems like a lead to me. Unless any of you feel like going out and questioning the locals. Though something tells me they might not like us or something of the sort," Darius said.

Lorekeeper nodded to Matthew. "Show me this room."

Matthew got up and opened the door to the room. "Something just feels off about the room, and I, I think I know who owned this place."

Lorekeeper walked around, observing the details of the room. Matthew showed him a particular photographed frame, seeing what appeared to be a bald man with a silvery goatee. He was wearing a red shirt and standing behind a garden. If this was a man of significant importance, it was not registering in his knowledge of history. He handed the photograph back. "I'm sorry, but I don't know him. Was he a Prime Minister?"

"He'd know better than I would. Most of the authors I've read have been dead for centuries." Darius shook his head as he also examined the photo - the man wasn't ringing any bells for him.

"Brian Jacques: the author of a children's series known as Redwall," Matthew explained.

Lorekeeper frowned. "Redwall? Hmm. Never heard of it. Was he a human author from your time?"

Matthew nodded. "Yes, a human author."

"Well this is most curious." Lorekeeper looked at the publication date of one of the Redwall books on a nearby shelf, dating back to 1986. "What would a 20th century human author be doing with a mega-damage structure for a home? Most importantly, why would there be a dimensional portal in his home, assuming it is his home?"

"Maybe there's more to him than meets the eye? Him having something like that can't be sheer coincidence. In my line of work, things are rarely that way..." Darius said.

"The age of this house predates Pre-Rifts technology. The earliest mega damage structures were not official until the Golden Age of humanity. Wait a moment." Lorekeeper turned rigid, his hands feeling the air. "It is here. The dimensional is portal is somewhere around..."

The two of them watched as the magic user wandered around the room, seeming to track the portal. His foot kicked against a cedar chest with a dull thump. With a brief, "There!" he opened the chest, revealing a pile of paperwork. It was composed of outlines, notes and drafts of unfinished work.

"Oh... that is, that is…" Matthew's voice was soft. "That is his works..."

"No, it's here," Lorekeeper said. "It's in this chest. I can feel its energies very strongly here. Quickly. Help me pull these out."

"Alright...I just hope I don't wind up a pile of goo or losing my memories from this..." With nothing else to really do, Darius began to assist Lorekeeper in pulling the various items out, making sure he kept an eye on the chest.

Matthew quickly moved to help, but handled the manuscripts like holy relics.

"No need to treat those so delicately," Lorekeeper said. "It's not like he's around to appreciate it anyway. Okay, there. It's empty." Upon closer inspection of the empty chest, Lorekeeper finally found something new. The bottom had a latch on it. Even more interesting, upon closer inspection, the "wood" used to construct the chest was in fact a material that even he could not identify. It defied all form of explanation. There was only one way to see what the secret to this drawer was.

Unlatching the bottom, he pulled the chest open and was surprised to see a light pour out from it. Adjusting his vision, he beheld what looked like a tall pit of limestone, caressed by thousands of years of water. It had smoothed out into a natural vertical tunnel, with sunlight appearing to be spiking in along the back of the tunnel. Was this set on the face of a mountain? Curious.

Even stranger was that the pit didn't seem all that deep in the first place; in fact he could see the bottom. The chest itself seemed more than large enough for fleshlings of their size to jump through. Or...perhaps he didn't have to. Something was keeping him from understanding the nature of this dimension. The only way for him to learn more about it was to go inside.

He looked to Darius and Matthew. "What do you think? Is it probable we'll survive?"

"I do not know, maybe, but I never jumped before," Matthew said.

"Uh…I've never fallen through a portal like that. Had my brain scooped out, but...no idea," Darius said.

"Only one way to find out." With that, Lorekeeper jumped with a brave hop into the chest. The cries of his companions echoed into the corridor but were shortly halted as the magic user landed right on his feet. To his surprise he was standing on the part of the vertical tunnel where he was sure they'd have to climb.

"Wait...how the hell are you doing that? Shouldn't you be falling?" Darius asked incredulously.

"Err, what?" Matthew was blinking and eye twitching before he sighed and climbed into the trunk. After holding onto the lip, he let himself drop down to follow the mad and crazy man.

Matthew found to his own surprise he was standing right-side up as well. Lorekeeper was certain that to Darius he was defying gravity by standing against the pit. "It's not a pit but a corridor. The gravity orients to the floor. Rather fascinating isn't it? Now, come and jump in."

"I swear, my life is just one long series of unlikely scenarios after another..." Gritting his teeth, Darius jumped in - after all, he didn't have much reason to stick around where he was.

With all three accounted for, Lorekeeper watched the entrance close behind them, the door closing tight but not locked. At the very least, he and his companions would have a way out of this dimension if things turned out badly. He had a look at the tunnel surrounding him. It appeared to be made of limestone and other sedimentary rock, possibly smoothed out by water. It seemed natural enough, with the exception of the smoothed floor. How odd. The walls were still wet, possibly from rain that had poured in from the multiple holes covering the sun filled ceiling. Like an array of lasers, they beamed down and gave their surroundings its dimension.

"What is it exactly that you do? Well, aside from being vague most of the time. Probably told us before...like, do you keep stories or something?" Darius wasn't quite sure where they were, but given what had happened to him ever since that robot had dug him out of a shallow grave, this was nothing new.

"If you're referring to that nickname, that inadequately describes my trade," Lorekeeper said, feeling the ground with his hands. "I am a Time Shifter. I explore the Megaverse from one plane of reality to the next to understand the very essence of the Third Dimension."

"If you want a tip, avoid where I come from. Nothing there worth looking at, unless post-nuclear apocalyptic situations are exciting to look at. And honestly? I have enough troubles understanding why someone as smart as I am stays in the business of poking around in ruins for working tech." Darius looked down at the ground and frowned. Was something there, or was their friend just poking around?

"I may consider seeing your home one day. Knowledge of dimensions, the inhabitants and all the little aspects is what gives me my power." Lorekeeper found that he could not read the Dimension from here either. It was still feeling very much alien to him. No matter. He stood up and turned to the two of them. "There is some strange force disrupting my senses. I cannot read the Dimension from here. That means we must venture further out, to the outside of this tunnel."

Matthew shrugged. "Might as well, it'll keep my mind occupied for the time being."

"If you like mutant wasps, knock yourself out. Be careful - they're big as trucks sometimes. But I'm fine with going out. We won't accomplish anything in here," Darius said.

"An insect that is capable of growing its chitin exoskeleton beyond the normal restrictions of Earth? That does call for looking into." Lorekeeper wrapped his cloak around his chest and proceeded ahead. "I do believe there is an exit just around this corner thirty meters ahead. There is a faint light some ways."

"I met the creator of those things. Claimed they were sterile, but I couldn't convince him they'd gotten out and bred. Just be careful - the stings they give you can kill quick." Darius shielded his eyes as they got closer to the exit, wishing he still had his shades on.

Matthew moved the cap's bill lower on his head to shield his eyes from the building sunlight. "Right, I have no clue what to expect here, in this... trunk space." He laughed at his own joke.

They followed the Time Shifter through the tunnel, Lorekeeper seeming to know where to go. The relative darkness of the cave seemed to brighten as they began to reach the corner. He stood in front of them, still as stone as he looked at the exit. The sound of running water was complimented by the melodious buzzing of cicadas and the warbling of songbirds. It appeared to open out to what was a relatively safe grove of seasonal forest. So why had the shifter stopped? Even he was not certain.

"There is a field of energy beyond this exit." He said. "Whether or not it is dangerous, I am not certain."

"So, either we're going to be safe, or a pile of ash? Well...nothing ventured, nothing gained...I just hope my implants keep functioning," Darius said.

Just as Darius advanced, Lorekeeper stopped him with his arm. "I have ways of checking." He began to concentrate on invoking his dimensional pocket. Something was strange. He felt more strain on his body as the duration of the spell seemed longer. He was able to accomplish the feat regardless, pushing his hand through the dimensional fabric and pulling out a long, javelin-like rod. It had a wooden shaft with a strange metallic base ended with a sharp, iron head. "I use this to determine the natures of such strange energies."

"So, what does it say? Is it safe for us to leave, or should we go back the way we came?" Darius halted when prompted and waited for the Lorekeeper to finish.

"I don't know. I haven't tried it yet. Wait here." Lorekeeper approached the exit, placing his feet shoulder width. With both hands on his shaft he jabbed at the exit. The air crackled and the metal rod became alive with strange energy as it crackled and sparked. Lorekeeper then withdrew, feeling the air around his rod.

Darius nodded. "Understood. One thing I've learned - never doubt an expert..."

"Has anyone told you that you have a talent for responding late?" Lorekeeper asked.

"Most people try to shoot me or get me to do work for them. I'm honestly not used to having anyone around to talk to. I usually do my work solo." Darius sighed and stood silent for a moment or so. It was embarrassing, acting like this.

"Indeed." Lorekeeper put the stick away, finishing his assessment. As usual, he did not face the group when he spoke. "The energy field will not kill us. That's all I know. We can pass through it. Matthew, since you appear to have just snapped out of your daydream, perhaps you would like to go first."

Matthew nodded his head. "I guess." He took a deep breath, and holding his M-16 at a relaxed carry in front of him, began to creep forward toward the entrance. "I wasn't daydreaming, I was just listening to what you all were saying."

"I sense otherwise. Just venture out. We'll be close behind." Seeing Matthew go on ahead, he followed closely eying the exit carefully.

"Glad I brought some ammo for my gun...wouldn't want to disapoint the previous owner." Darius held the revolver tight, what ammo he had for it in a pouch and the like. He would be the last one through, keeping watch in case something came through behind them.

Matthew reached the exit and the barrier and slowly and silently walked through it, not caring to tell them that the M-16 had no ammo at all, only an ammo clip that was empty from firing blanks.

Lorekeeper walked outside, feeling a tingling sensation of particles bouncing against the smallest crevices in his clothes and body, before he quickened his pace in confidence. He approached Matthew who was now standing upon a rock, scouting the area. "Well, we have survived...this far."

Matthew only nodded, looking around the area they were in. "Well, we've got running water, and I have some MRE meals, but I'd rather get something going in food to not use my MREs."

"Nice place...reminds me of that park I went to out in Utah for a while. Then came the crazed natives...but so far, looks peaceful. Running water's good...especially without radiation in it." Darius lowered his revolver as he looked around. So far, so good.

Lorekeeper was finally beginning to understand some of the dimension's basic characteristics. There was something odd about it, but first he would tell his companions something useful. "Your weapons will cease to function in less than two seconds."

"...Shit. Could've told me this earlier...this thing's saved my life more times than I care to count." Darius hissed almost silently and stared at the ornately engraved weapon. He could probably get it working again, but likely not here.

"That's okay, it didn't have any ammo in it anyway. But how could something stop working? It's just a pile of springs and coils, nothing electronic," Matthew said.

"Every dimension resonates with a frequency that allows for the transfer of energies. This is known as the energy matrix. Each one is different and has different properties. I feel no such trait to this dimension. Without the energy matrix's frequency, the energy and power required to operate advanced technology is dormant. Even a Pre-Rifts rifle like your own cannot be fired without this matrix," Lorekeeper explained.

"So, if we left, our guns would work again, or are they kaput for good?" Darius looked at the gun again and sighed, thinking of a place to stash the thing just in case.

"Of course they would work. They still function. Just not here. But there is more..." Lorekeeper concentrated on reading the makeup of this dimension some more but found his head developing a pain. A headache? Unnatural symptom. The energy field? Unlikely. The pain was beginning to get worse.

"What else is there? I mean, someone obviously didn't want an army tromping through here with guns for some reason," Darius said.

Matthew felt suddenly woozy and sat down. "Uh... I think or fear I am being compromised with a new bacteria or virus, and…I don't feel good." He began to hold his head in pain.

"It's...ah!" Lorekeeper crumpled to his knees, wrenching his arms in agony. Could he have just become contaminated by some local bacteria? It could not be so. Why would Zurvan bring him to this place only to die? What purpose did it serve the space-time continuum?

"Hnnnghhh! I haven't felt this bad...since...the...Sierra Madre..." Darius clutched his head and fell over, catching himself on all fours. He felt sick to his stomach...like he'd puke it up in a matter of moments. It had been fine a minute ago, so what was happening?

The pain, strangely, seemed to lessen for the shifter, but was being replaced by some strange warmth. His nails were uncomfortably stretching against the fabric of his mega-damage body armor. He unfastened the gauntlet, revealing a sleeved arm and a hand. Was it even a hand anymore? That clawed, mangled appendage with padding on the palms could not be his hand. Pulling his sleeve down revealed a relatively human arm being quickly covered in a thin coat of russet-brown hair. No, it was beginning to look more like fur!

Matthew, on the other hand or would it now be paw, had passed out from the pain, and was tossing like he had a fever, only his hair and face was changing with showing fur.

"I've gotta be seeing things..." As Darius looked down at his hands, soft pads emerged from his hands and fingertips while claws sprouted from his nails...and black fur began to grow.

Pulling off the arm pieces to his body armor only exposed more of Lorekeeper's changing body. While his hand remained dexterous enough to wield equipment, it was an experience that made him grow anxious. What was it he feared? The structure of his arms seemed to become somewhat spindly, but suddenly he found himself suffocating on his own mask. No! Not here! He could not have anyone see him! Shooting up from the ground in bewilderment, Lorekeeper dashed off into the woods along the river, a whip-like tail emerging from under his cloak.

"Where are you going? Get...aagghh!...back here!" Darius couldn't move to pursue Lorekeeper if he wanted to - the fur was rapidly spreading all over his body, fading to an orangeish color on his upper arms and shoulders, and most of his body. There was a white patch on his stomach, though.

"Damn it...what the hell's happening..." Soon enough, a fluffy tail, mostly orange with a black cap at the tip, tore its way through his pants, waving in the air. The fur travelled down his legs in a similar color pattern to his arms, and soon his feet were paws as well. Darius had no idea what he was turning into - he'd never seen an animal with a coat like that in the Mojave before. Pain then overtook his head as it pushed out into a canine muzzle, teeth sharpening and ears coming to points before moving to the tops of his head, finishing the transformation.

After a minute of panting on the ground, he got shakily to his feet. His new nose worked incredibly well, and the implants in his body still seemed functional - not that he really needed them to live. Matthew had also changed into something unfamiliar, but he seemed to be all right, if out cold. With no immediate threats in the area, he took off after Lorekeeper.

Following a sloppy trail of broken blades of grass and twigs, Darius came to notice that the boot-like footprints had trailed off from the fresh muddy path onto the grass. Lorekeeper's boots lay there carelessly. The trail then continued on, revealing human footprints slowly making way to unfamiliar animal tracks. Five toed, plantigrade, and rather small. It almost looked rodent-like.

Darius followed the trail some more and found the leggings to Lorekeeper's body armor. Going on further ahead, he found Lorekeeper's chest piece. Why was he suddenly discarding his armor? He could hear a faint weeping noise in the distance. Lorekeeper? It couldn't have been...

As the fox snuck his way off the trail, he found what appeared to be an anthropomorphic mouse kneeling beside a creek. His fur was completely russet brown, his roundish ears pulled back against his head. His footpaws were digitigrade, five-toed and looking strangely like some kind of a human hand. His tail brushed slowly against the grass, causing clouds of pollen to fly up in the air. He was wearing a rusty red cloak, a set of traveling clothes including a tunic, trousers and sash. Underneath it, he seemed to be wearing some kind of padding. The mouse's nose twitched, whiskers blowing in the wind. He tried in frustration to put on a familiar mask, the chains on the horns clanging noisily. "No...no...why can't I put my mask back on?" he whimpered.

"Because your face doesn't exactly fit it anymore. Why on earth did you just take off like that? You're the only one with any idea of what's going on. If you died, the rest of us'd be in big trouble." Darius sighed, tempted to snatch the mask before thinking better of it and refraining.

Lorekeeper turned his head wildly at the fox before staggering to his feet. Covering his face with his cloak, he cried out, "Stay away! Don't look at me!"

"Or what? I'll turn to stone or you'll kill me? Face it - I had no idea what you looked like before we changed, so me seeing you now doesn't matter. And unless you find some kind of metal worker out here, your mask's useless now," Darius said.

"No, no, no! I...I need it! I need my mask!" The mouse dashed away, turning his back from Darius. He continued fiddling with his mask, trying to get it on, somehow.

"Do you need it to breathe, or is this some kind of psychological thing? Look...we need to get back to Matthew before something comes along and decides to make a snack out of him. And I -will- drag you back if I need to. We're not splitting up for any reason, got me?" At this point, Darius was starting to lose his temper, and it showed.

With how much he was fiddling with that mask, it was sure to break. Lorekeeper stared at him in sudden fear. "N-no, you can't! He can't see me like this, either!"

"What's the big deal about us seeing you like this? We're not much different now, right? I didn't have a fur coat when I woke up this morning! This isn't like you - usually you're the only one with a clue or an idea. But I meant it when I said we need to get back!" Darius said.

The Lorekeeper turned away, glaring bitterly at the ground, biting between his teeth as if this were the hardest thing to speak about. "A third dimensional creature like you...why am I even talking about this?! Please, I just need to hide my face. Something, anything! I can't bear to be seen like this."

Darius rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You could make a mask out of a cloak or something if you really need it. Won't be as fancy, but if it works, it works, and I'm honestly close to just losing my temper here." He sighed, though the holier-than-thou 'tude was a sign that things were going back to normal...or what had passed for it.

"My cloak?" The Lorekeeper eyed his clothes before his face flashed with comprehension. "Yes, of...of course. How simple." Pulling out a survival knife, he sliced off a piece of fabric. Cutting out some holes for his eyes, he wrapped the cloth around his head from behind into a knot. It was not a full mask or as effective as a hood, but it seemed to get his strange breakdown under control.

Putting his survival knife away, he twitched his nose at Darius, inhaling deeply. There was a pause for some seconds, Lorekeeper's eyes wandering. Then he turned away and headed back to Matthew, picking up his gear along the way.

"I'd ask what all that was about, but you probably wouldn't tell me. So, what exactly happened to us? First our guns wouldn't work, and now this. Just glad I have that knife..." Darius said.

"There is something strange about this world. Something I don't quite understand," Lorekeeper said, his calm resolve finally returned. "For some reason, this dimension has changed us into a menagerie of anthropomorphic animals. I could say that it is a matter of forced evolution...but the creatures here could not have evolved naturally. How could they? This dimension is only two thousands years old in origin; in fact, the dimension is artificial."

"Artificial, huh? Well...we did find the portal underneath a bunch of notes made by that Jacques fellow. As crazy as this sounds, could we have wound up in a story universe he created? I mean, writing a story's a lot like making a world of your own, isn't it?" Darius scratched his chin - it was a long shot, but any other explanation had to be crazier than that.

The masked mouse shook his head. "No human could have written this dimension. That would've taken a tremendous amount of cosmic knowledge...and power. He would've had to have been a dragon, a True Atlantean, or something...it does not make sense to me." Lorekeeper and Darius soon stopped by Matthew's body. He was still unconscious. Would he awaken?

Matthew stirred and muttered, waking up and sitting up. "I, I feel much better." He stopped and stared, wide eyes moving to a folding knife he had in his pocket. "WHO ARE YOU!?"

"Same guys as before. Just...fuzzier...as impossible as that sounds. Now put the knife down before I have to disarm you," Darius said.

"Same? But you are a Fox." Matthew blinked. "Mouse…" He looked down and blinked as he saw a chocolate brown fur covered paw with webbing between his fingers. "WHA!?"

He stood up fast and began to look himself over, trying to find out what had happened. He felt a new weight and spun around. "I got a tail, A TAIL?" He looked at the ruined footwear he had been wearing as he wiggled his flat footed paws with webbing between his toes. "Uh... I appear to be an Otter."

"It would seem to be so." Lorekeeper nodded. "Darius seems to think this has something to do with Brian Jacques. I'll amuse him with this theory...for now. What do you suppose this dimension...these discoveries...have to do with Brian Jacques? Why was there a dimension in his home?"

The newly transformed Otter blinked and took some breaths. "First I don't know why there is this, this pocket world here." He grabbed that word from thin air. "But I would say yes, this is connected to Brian. He wrote stories about anthropomorphic animals representing the forces of good and evil. Some people loved him immensely for the work he did."

"That answers what this has to do with the man. It still doesn't explain how he made this world - Lorekeep here said the man would've needed to be something far more than human to pull it off." Darius shrugged helplessly and looked around, taking the knife he'd brought and sticking it back into his belt.

"Those answers may very well come with time." Lorekeeper folded his cloak around him. He was feeling a strange fluctuation of time now, a major difference from Rifts Earth. Time was moving much faster here. He calculated that a month on Earth was a full season in this dimension. It would take some time getting used to.

"The dimensional energy matrix here is absent, meaning we're stuck with basic weapons. Wait a moment. Let me risk something." Lorekeeper went silent as he began concentrating. For some reason, his body was straining much harder to create a simple invocation. He felt no magical presence in this world, no ley lines to draw from. His bones ached as seconds passed by. He could not break his concentration.

"I've got a few knives on me if you want one. Just be careful with the throwing ones - I dipped them in some Cazadore venom. It's not much, but I'd rather have a blade than my bare hands now...though it does seem pretty peaceful around here." Darius's hearing seemed much better than before, and for the moment, they seemed to be the only ones in the area. But experience told him that things could change quickly.

Finally, Lorekeeper felt the power come to life. Emerging from the ground in a crackle of dimensional energy came an opaque block of shale gray. It was about as big as a small room of a house, the door to the inside faintly outlined with white. Opening it quickly, Lorekeeper waved the two of them inside with a paw. "This Dimensional Envelope will serve as a perfect place for hiding our modern gear. Quickly, now."

The Otter nodded his head and snuck inside lickety-split

"This'll come in handy...and I won't have to discard Hanlon's old gun." Nodding, Darius entered and began stashing what he didn't need, the pip-boy making the task easier than it would've been by hand.

Lorekeeper gently put down much of the gear he used for dimensional travel. He would regret putting aside his L-20 Pulse Rifle and SMG. Hopefully he would not need either. Putting aside also his pocket laser distancer, his pocket digital disc recorder, and any additional clips of ammunition, he kept only his survival knife, a handaxe, a mallet with wooden stakes, and wore his silver cross around his neck. Though the dimensional readings told him this dimension was impenetrable, you could never know if a Vampire Intelligence was about.

"That should about do it for me. A few knives and some brass knuckles should help...especially since nothing else will work. So, now that we're here, where should we go? Bumming about in the wilderness isn't especially smart, given our lack of food and medicine," Darius said.

Lorekeeper was already feeling a sense of fatigue. He would have to focus well here. His PPE was already expended from the use of the dimensional pocket. At the very least, no creature would be able to detect it. "Then we shall have to make for the closest mark of civilization. Matthew, if this is truly based on Brian Jacques fantasies, where would civilization be?"

"Redwall Abby, unless we are near the sea shore which would make it then Salamandastron." Matthew paused. "However we most likely will find woodlanders along the way to help out."

"I did smell some salt water off in the distance, but we're probably inland. Will these woodlanders help us if we find them? We're strangers, after all, and we know nothing of the land or their customs...which is a bit of a roadblock." Being lost wasn't anything new to Darius - from the parks in Utah to the Divide back in Nevada, he'd had to find his way through many places.

"The Abby is of an oath to help all woodlanders and travelers," Matthew said.

"Well, then that's where we will go." Strapping on his packs and sacks, Lorekeeper walked out of the envelope. "We'll make our way to Redwall Abbey. We have about a week before the rations run out, so let's be on our way. Pack lightly, and keep weapons close to you. There's no telling what is inside this dimension."

The otter nodded his head, only having a knife with him and nothing else. "All ready here."

"Hopefully nothing large, angry and hungry's lying about. I've had my fill of mutants trying to eat me for a zillion different reasons." Following behind, Darius patted the knives he kept on his person, making sure he'd taken the ones that he'd actually gotten around to sharpening.

Will the company find Redwall Abbey? What dangers lie ahead in this strange new dimension? What is the true nature of Brian Jacques and this dimension. Find out next time in Redwall-24, Part II!

25