Out of the Shadows (version 2.0)
A "Shadows of Destiny" Revamp Fic
(Shadows of Destiny is copyrighted to Konami)
(Authorial Note: I wrote the original set up for this with an idea of simply resolving a paradox that *I* didn't like, never mind time. Never thought I'd find any decent fanfic on the web for the series and really hadn't meant to do more than a simple – here's a solution to the problem – story. Unfortunately (or fortunately) another writer with an even better fic that goes in a different direction than mine has inspired me to improve on the original story. So… here it is – about three times as long and simply stuffed with action.)
Somewhere in the past, a slender blonde stumbled and leaned against the nearest wall, feeling the rush of time coming at him. Coming at him and wiping him out of existence. In the house nearby, a family had been healed and in that healing, changing the future that had healed it…
And changing again…
A slender blonde walked through the streets of Lebensbaum, his long green coat hanging around his slim body. Behind him a shadow lurked, small, childish but with malice in its heart. Something flew out at the man – aimed for his back.
Eike Kusche grunted in pain as he was struck and knocked to his knees. "Oh… a ball." He picked up the soccer ball and turned to find a boy with familiar features standing there. Shaking his head he carried the ball to him and patted his head, sending the boy on his way.
In the past, time shifted and twisted, shape returning to another, older pattern. Eyes red as blood, red as fire, opened to face their creator for what felt like the thousandth time. Birth. Death. Using and being used. All twisted up in a tangled knot of paradox. How many times has it been? How many times to follow? He sighed and prepared to begin again.
Eike grinned as he continued walking. Kid looked like Hugo. Must be a descendent. What a world. For a moment he'd thought the whole thing had begun again. Death after death, averted by moving backwards through time and changing the circumstances around those deaths, a cycle repeated over and over with different solutions, none truly satisfactory. Sudden understanding of the continuous loop he'd been caught in and a way to circumvent it. His would be killer had believed him to be the cause of his father's death and had come forward from the 1500s to stop him, just as he had gone into Hugo's time to change the shape of the present by preventing a tree from being planted. Only by bringing a cure for Hugo's mother in the form of the philosopher's stone before she died could resolve the problem once and for all.
It had been a strange sequence, fraught with paradox and confusion and even now Eike wasn't sure he understood what'd happened. All he knew was that it was over and his future was as secure as any man's could be. Though I have to wonder about the Homunculus. Was he really a demon? A djinn? Or something else incomprehensible?
That was when the knife blade struck…
With a final and definite twist, time reseated itself. As he died for what seemed like the hundredth time, Eike seemed to see an image in the back of his mind. An old, old, man shattering a glass jar. "Come forth, Homunculus. I have a task for you…"
Birth and death of a different sort. Changing and being changed. Killing and being killed. Was there ever an end to the variations? Or was this all there ever was in his existence. What kind of perks did such an immortality truly have, after all, when it consisted of the same few centuries repeated for eternity, most of which were spent hiding outside time to keep that psychotic brat from catching up? And that boy thinks his one day is hell?
"How do you feel?"
Eike sat up in a place he knew only too well. A place that he sensed stood outside time. Strangely misshapen furniture stood around him, a window allowing light the gleam against a giant stone face, a twisted grandfather clock… "Oh no… I'm dead again! But why?"
A confused sound came from Homunculus up on his perch. "Eh?"
Eike stopped himself from answering the questioning tone. Instead he responded the way he had so many times before. "Am I… dead?"
"Bingo," the voice held a faint tone of relief, as if his momentary shift from his usual answer had worried its owner. From there on, Eike was extremely careful about his answers, forcing himself to behave the same way he had before, even to accusing Homunculus of being Satan. And I'm not far off, am I? If the Fortune Teller – Helena – was right, he's an evil djinn. Somehow I have to break myself free of his clutches.
Fool that he was to try again, he watched the boy remember too much and try so very hard to make him believe otherwise. It had failed the last time, Eike was inexperienced in all the paradoxes of time, paradoxes that would wipe away one's efforts without thought or care. He, on the other hand, knew time as intimately as a lover, needed it in ways that he could not possibly explain, and – occasionally – hated it beyond imagining. Memories of other times, other loops returned to him. This boy, telling him – him – what he ought not do. Telling him he shouldn't interfere with people's lives that way… Lecture me, will you, little one? Teach your grandmother to suck eggs before you decide you understand.
Woken by Dana in the café, Eike paused long enough to examine the table, hoping against hope to find the Philosopher's stone there already. There was nothing, though, just as was the case the last time he'd gone through this particular sequence. "I'm not going to get Dana into a mess with me," he muttered to himself. "If I can prevent her from getting caught in the trap I will."
His muttered comments drew a raised brow from the man he was passing. He ignored it in favor of walking towards the Fortune Teller's house and hesitating at the door. What can she tell me? That I'm fated to die at 2:30? I know that already. Nervously he glanced around for Hugo. Drat that boy anyway. Someone either spanked him too often or not enough. All right, Eike. Think. Taking the stone back and curing Helena didn't do a bit of good. Why not?
Then it hit him. "Oh damn. Of course. The paradox!"
Now he'd attracted the sour stare of the middle-aged woman whose face he was beginning to loathe on general principals. How a woman like that had managed to breed in the first place was beyond him… and that daughter… looking just like her… and you're ignoring the issue, stupid. Get with the program.
Now he understood why he was back to square one, if not why he was in this situation in the first place. Curing Helena had meant Homunculus was never born or freed or… whatever… and if Homunculus was never born he couldn't send Eike back in time. If Eike didn't go back in time, he would never go back to bring the cure to the blind woman, meaning that whatever the circumstances were that had led to Homunculus' original freeing were brought back into play. Fate was a bitch, and that was all there was to it.
He pulled out the digipad and examined it. Such a delicate, elegant, device. How did it work? If Hugo figured it out by just looking at it – admittedly after years of research – then was it possible for him to use it to go somewhere other than those times it had offered ordinarily? And if so, why should he? When should he?
Reminded by his watch that his time was getting short, Eike hurriedly used the pad to take himself back to 2pm. He took a moment, though, to slip the back cover off and examine the interior. Unlike modern electronics, it contained a tiny ruby chip. He suspected he knew what the chip was and – just possibly – how to use it. "Yes… I think I can do it. Once I've gotten past this crisis."
Once again he gathered folk to the square. Once again he returned to his proper time and once again he watched the juggler – himself, or some time's version of himself, he knew – perform, the number of people preventing Hugo from killing him that time at least. "Next it's the fire," Eike muttered to himself. "Right. I need to get the stone – now – before Dana gets caught up in this. Then back to Hugo's time." He would turn the tables on Homunculus if it was the last thing he did.
So. Going to try again, are we? What changes do you think you can accomplish that I've not already tried. Very well. Do your worst… or your best, little one. It won't change a thing. He knew that now, knew it with dismal certainty. Nothing… absolutely nothing… would change things. No matter how he might wish for it. Well, there was one thing he could do to change it, but accepting that particular end was beyond him. No. Not that. Never that.. He was tired, weary to the very depths of what might be called his soul, but there was still some fight left in him, some last dregs of resistance that would not accept that end. Better to be wiped out and start over, again and again and again for all eternity than take that route.
Dana seemed surprised to find him waiting for her outside the cafe and rather disappointed that he wasn't there out of interest. I only wish, he thought to himself regretfully. With the troubles hanging over his head, though, it seemed only cruelty to involve himself with someone. He made his excuses and evaded the girl before hurrying over to the fire. "I need to nearly die to use the pad," he realized. "Use the fire as a death event, then back into Margrete's time for some tree prevention. Just – don't give Wagner the stone – not until I figure out a way to do this without a paradox. Or get Homunculus to do it."
The last seemed the most likely possibility. Eike was human, powerless, where Homunculus had incredible abilities. Healing Helena had to be within his power. All he had to do was find Homunculus, perhaps a much younger, less sophisticated Homunculus, and force him back into Helena's time. Given, of course, that he could figure out the digipad.
The problem of the fire was easy, but Eike noted a faint worried tone in Homunculus' voice during his brief visit to that being's messed up little world. He did his best to hide the fact that he realized it, though, not wanting to risk Homunculus interfering with his plans. Thus, once he was in the fire, he used the digipad but focused on the idea of going back to Margarete's time. He wasn't quite sure how it worked, but it did. Somehow.
Standing in the middle of the town square at night, listening to the squabbling villagers, Eike shook his head and pulled out his lighter with a disgusted expression. As usual, they scattered, terrified of what he might do to him. I'm getting so tired of this routine. For once, though, instead of pausing to talk to visit Margarete's family – despite her invitation - he found a quiet, torchlit, corner and considered his next move.
"What I need," Eike muttered to himself, "is to find out where the Philosopher's stone came from." He gazed, consideringly, at the stone, examining its ruby depths with interest. "It feels so warm… so alive. Must be Homunculus' life force."
Opening the digipad again, he considered the smaller ruby chip inside. "And I bet you're a part of him. I wonder… if I draw a pentagram around you would you take me where and when I want to go, even if there's no reason for me to be there?" He shrugged, taking out a small nub of pencil and beginning to draw.
The chip in the digipad didn't react physically to pentagram, nor – Eike felt – did it seem 'aware' of the symbol's presence. Not a heartening thought. Still, it was worth a try. "Take me to the place and time where Homunculus was truly born," he ordered and felt time dilate around him.
The next thing he knew, he was standing in the basement of the Wagner's house. It wasn't easy to recognize, for it was filled with pieces of old junk. At its center, though, was a familiar decanter and – in that decanter – a slender human-seeming body. A slender naked body. So – not a djinn after all, at least as he understood them. Someone had created Homunculus. Someone who was crouched over the decanter. A thin, too tall, man. Eike nearly gasped aloud. Hugo? But… Yet, strangely, it made sense. It had been Hugo who'd been obsessed over his mother's death. If he created Homunculus, made him capable of controlling time…
The old old man didn't seem to notice Eike's presence. He simply examined the decanter carefully, expression satisfied. Eike, watching from behind some of the junk – oddly familiar junk, he realized – had a strange feeling of deja-vu, even though he'd never seen this particular scene before. Then he remembered… Homunculus' "home". He must have created it that way because this was the first place he knew. What a strange, sad, thing… No! I can't let myself pity him. He's using me. If I pity him I'm just falling deeper into his trap. He held his breath, not daring to move as Hugo stepped back and used his cane to shatter the glass and spill its contents onto the floor.
The tiny, fragile, body lay in a heap before Hugo. "Get up, slave. Get up. I created you to a purpose and…" Homunculus rose to his feet, standing there, nude, genderless body limned red-gold by the firelight. He swayed, stepped sideways in that peculiar awkward motion that showed better than anything else how unaccustomed he was to a physical form – like a marionette pulling its own strings – with no idea how a human body moves. Still, his expression was disdainful, causing Hugo to stop before he could complete whatever it was he'd planned to say.
"And it isn't possible. Hit me all you want and I'll tell you the same…" Homunculus' voice held a world of despair. Despair given justification, for Hugo's free hand lashed out angrily. The thin, too fragile, body fell to the ground, even though the old man's attack was surely not strong enough to batter a flea, much less a man of Homunculus' small stature.
He asked for it, though, surely, Eike thought. He didn't even give Hugo a chance to talk. He only wished he could convince himself. If this was truly the start of Homunculus' life, then maybe he had some good reason for not being especially helpful. Again he shoved a moment of pity aside. If it was the start then why would he react so negatively to his creator?
Slowly, without expression, Homunculus regained his feet, swayed once, then crossed his arms and said, "You can hit me. You can even kill me. It changes nothing. Your family's happiness cannot be restored. Your mother cannot be saved."
"You can't know…"
"You gave me power over time. Does it not stand to reason I can see the results of my attempt? I cannot save your mother without creating a paradox."
"Paradox be damned, homunculus! I gave you power over time in order to save her. I don't care how you do it…" The old man's rage was terrible to see.
"Yadda yadda. All right. I'll become a jewel, the philosopher's stone, I think you alchemists call it. This will take you to the past, to your father…" Eike blinked. The thing Homunculus handed Hugo looked almost exactly like the digipad, if somewhat less complicated. "If he uses it to recreate me, I will be able to help him achieve whatever goal he seeks. I'm sure he wants your mother's survival, just as you do."
Eike swallowed. What a manipulative little bastard Homunculus was. How could he play on Hugo's feelings like that? He held his tongue though, watching as Homunculus did something that created clothing on himself – the well remembered dark silk shirt, harem pants and sash – then seemed to sink to the ground and reshape himself into a large ruby stone. Eike touched the stone in his pocket for reassurance, even as Hugo picked the newly created one up, touched the button on the digipad and disappeared.
Eh. I'd better follow. Find out what happens next. Eike wondered, as he fiddled with the digipad and concentrated on his next goal, if perhaps he was making a mistake. Was he just stalking the fragile little djinn or did he have an idea in mind?
The boy had disappeared into those early days without his being certain what was planned, perhaps because the boy didn't know himself. The turmoil of the boy's thoughts no longer disturbed his peaceful little world, no longer echoed in his mind with unspoken fears and angers. Oddly, the peace disturbed him, the boy's absence an almost tangible thing.
It worried him, what Eike was doing back there. Only the knowledge that nothing short of recreating him in that time would result in any real change of consequence kept him from panicking. As for the remote possibility that Eike would think to try such a thing – it was simply so highly unlikely that he had no reason to think about it. Besides, he'd never convince those stubborn fools of the need… Wait… what is he doing in that time? What is he planning? Jumping around like a hopping flea, entering times not his own, only because the digipad's power source had existed then.
My birth… no… Why go then? Still, nothing of that time could be changed without creating yet another paradox that time would not allow. He ought not panic, yet the knowledge that the boy was seeing him at his weakest, most defenseless, comforted him not at all. The jump was soon followed by another – once more into the time he could neither see nor enter.
Eike blinked as he found that the digipad may have moved him through time but it certainly hadn't changed locations. Everything seems to start here, doesn't it, he thought. What's betting this time period is after Helena died? He noted the decanter and the slender figure curled up inside. A tall man, familiar to Eike as his own face by now, was standing over it, examining the thing. The scene was almost perfect twin to the one he'd just witnessed in a later time. Of course the figure hunched over the decanter was Hugo's father and, more tellingly, Homunculus was dressed now in those dark silks.
Eike dodged behind a cabinet. This room was neater than Hugo's lab in the future, but even here were corners to hide in, especially from a man in deep concentration. "It's too bad that poor man died bringing you to me," Wolfgang Wagner murmured. "I'm sure he would have wanted to see the results of his labor. Still, we won't waste his time, will we?" He sighed. "Ahhh, Helena, if only you'd lived..."
Somehow it came as no surprise to Eike that Hugo had died before he could talk to his father in this time. No doubt Homunculus had meant for that to happen. No surprise, either, that the smaller digipad had only brought Hugo far enough back to reach his father, not to save his mother. No, Homunculus wouldn't want that, now would he?
Eike clenched his fists, watching the proceedings with increasing tension. When Homunculus broke free, this time with far more elegance of motion than when Hugo'd created him and made an offer for Wagner's immortal soul in return for a single wish, he decided to take a chance. He leaped forward, one hand reaching out to grasp Homunculus' wrist, heard two startled cries even as he hit the digipad. Back to that time with the tree, he thought angrily. This time you'll fix the problem yourself!
This wasn't what he expected. His future self felt the force of the change, could see and feel everything his past self was experiencing. No. Death awaited. He couldn't go to that time… Not as he was… It was killing him to try. A silent scream started as his body began to shatter under the stress.
Time dilated around Eike and he found himself spinning through the time passage again, one hand latched tightly on the frail wrist of his long term tormenter. Except Homunculus sounded nothing like he usually did. The calm, amused, superior voice had been replaced by sheer terror. "Let me go… I can't… not this way…"
"You're going to fix things, this time," Eike yelled back, startled at how slowly things were going this time. It was almost as if Homunculus' presence in the passage was dragging things to a crawl.
"I can't… I can't… let me go…" Homunculus' voice was desperate and Eike turned a furious glare on the man only to nearly release his grip in shock. Homunculus was fading, body dissipating into its component atoms with ever quickening speed. "You're killing me…" he gasped, then, looking down at his lost mass, whimpered a single "No" and was gone, hand falling to dust within Eike's grasp.
The passage opened out, dropping Eike into the dirt again. Only this time he felt, or seemed to hear, a rushing sound. A terrible twisting rushing that led only to oblivion.