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Crucial Discoveries

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A cloud of strange, glowing mist took Ylanwad and Rettah away from their homeland, and Ylanwad feared that they would never be able to return again. But she had known what she was getting into, and there was no turning back now. Or at least she had known what she was getting from. She had no idea just what these Elkandu really might be up to.

When the mists cleared, Ylanwad looked around. They were in a circle of tall obelisks made of some material she couldn't identify, covered in arcane symbols and curving gracefully inward. Beyond them, a city stretched out underneath swirling purplish skies lit with a small blue sun.

"What is this place?" Ylanwad wondered.

"Welcome to Torn Elkandu," said a rather short man nearby. "Please step out of the Nexus. Thank you. This is the home of the group of plane-travellers who call themselves the Elkandu. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Calto, the gnome."

"A gnome?" Ylanwad said.

"Where exactly are we supposed to go from here?" Rettah said, glancing from Calto aside to the pair of elves who had been their guides to Torn Elkandu.

"You'll probably want to head to the School of Thought, for starters," Calto said, pointing down one of the eight roads leading out from the area. "There you can find a place to stay for the time being and get started on your training. I imagine that you've got a lot to learn! But never fear. It's not as difficult as it seems at first glance once you start getting into it."

"Alright," Rettah said, and turned to head off in the direction indicated.

Ylanwad turned and said to their guides, "Thanks for bringing us here." They nodded to her politely as she scurried off after her friend.

"This place is incredible," Rettah said, staring at everything as she went by. There were shops along the street offering a variety of exotic and bizarre wares, and she stopped along the way to window shop a little.

"I don't even know what half of these things are," Ylanwad admitted. "Magic wands? Scrolls? Flying carpets? Is this place for real?"

"I bet we could have a lot of fun here," Rettah said.

Ylanwad thought that they could be having a lot more fun back at home, but held her tongue. "Let's go find this school and see about signing up and getting a room. Then we can explore the city at our leisure."

They moved on away from the shops. At the end of the street, they came upon a plaza with two more streets leading off of it in opposite directions, and a bubbling fountain in the center. To one side of the plaza, large stone steps lead up to a building set with classical pillars in the front, with the words "School of Thought" engraved above the entrance.

"Looks like this is the place," Rettah said.

"Let's head inside."

The building was large and archaically constructed, lit with glowing spheres at regular intervals. Ylanwad wondered whether they were lightbulbs powered by electricity, or magically enchanted lights. She had seen little evidence of much use of higher technology by these Elkandu, but they did so love their fetishes. Off the side of the main corridor, a heavy wooden doorway opened into a room full of books, and Rettah poked her head inside to take a look. There was a young elven woman inside perusing a large tome, seemingly oblivious to their presence.

"Excuse me," Rettah said. "Sorry to interrupt, but where can we sign up for classes?"

"Sign up?" the elf said in confusion, glancing up at them. "Oh... you don't need to sign up. There's a list of classes around here somewhere. Just show up to them."

"Oh, I see," Rettah said. "And where might we find quarters to sleep in?"

"Sleep?" the elf woman said, raising an eyebrow. "Oh, well, if you're looking for a little privacy, there's some bedrooms along the west wing. Some of them are probably unoccupied. Just look for whichever ones have their doors open."

"That's not much of a system," Rettah commented.

The elf shrugged. "Welcome to Torn Elkandu," she said dryly.

After a bit of searching, they managed to find a class schedule, complete with hand-scribbled notes in the margins. Ylanwad peered over and looked through it, and said, "I don't even know what half of those things are, either."

"Guess we'll just have to start with the basics, I suppose," Rettah said. "Or maybe just pop into every class and see if there's something we can grasp."

"And I'm not really interested in learning 'magic', myself," Ylanwad said. "What's wrong with our Garou gifts?"

Rettah shrugged. "It could be interesting. I'd like to see what I can learn, myself. And what about these classes on theory and cosmology? That could be fascinating."

"True," Ylanwad said. "I suppose that won't be so bad."

"Although it's going to be a bit strange going by the name Rettah again."

"You could call yourself Zethe," Ylanwad suggested softly.

"What?" Rettah said, turning to her and raising an eyebrow.

"Mouse seemed to put some importance in the first sounds uttered after dancing the Black Spiral," Ylanwad murmured. "That was the first thing you said, so he said that should be your new name. Of course," she added, "he also insisted that he should be called Gakh'blar, so I don't know how much store I'd put in that, anyway."

"I never danced the Black Spiral," Rettah said, shaking her head.

"That is why we were exiled, you know," Ylanwad said. "You did, and I probably did also, I guess. I don't like it, but I'm not going to deny what happened that night. Besides, it's not like anyone here is going to care."

"Even if I did, I wouldn't want to call myself a name that associates me with that."

"Alright," Ylanwad said, shrugging a bit and dropping the subject.

Down another hallway, once they figured out which direction 'west' was supposed to be, they found the bedrooms that the elf girl had mentioned, and claimed an open room. They seemed spacious and luxurious to Ylanwad, with a large plush bed, thick red carpeting, an armoire, and even a private food cupboard. At the back of the room, another door led into a pristine bathroom, with a tub large enough for both of them.

"Well, this certainly isn't so bad," Rettah commented after taking a look around.

"I guess not," Ylanwad admitted.

Rettah went over to her and slipped her arms around Ylanwad's waist from behind. "It'll be alright. I might lose the entire world, but it doesn't matter. So long as I still have you, I will be happy. You're what really matters to me."

Ylanwad smiled warmly and leaned back into her. Nothing else might make her more certain that she had made the correct decision. If she were a cat, she thinks she might be purring at the moment.

"So where exactly is it that they're sending us this time?" Ylanwad asked.

"Earth," Rettah replied. "Back in time, to the ancient days of our own homeworld, in fact."

Ylanwad raised an eyebrow. "Is that really such a great idea? I know they've said that you can't really change the past, but it still seems odd to me. I don't like the thought of time travel."

Rettah shrugged. "Does it really matter how you get there if nothing you do is going to cause a paradox or some such, or screw around with the present? It may as well just be a realm that happens to resemble twenty-first century Earth."

"If you say so," Ylanwad said lightly. "Are they sending anyone with us this time, or will it just be the two of us?"

"Just us," Rettah said. "They'd like us to find out if there's shapeshifters in this world, and think we'd have a better chance of contacting them if we didn't have any non-shapeshifter mages along."

"Sounds good to me," Ylanwad said, lowering her voice a bit. "Frankly, I don't like travelling with some of the other Elkandu at times. I don't know about you, but I don't think I really trust some of them. Some of them are okay, but others... I question their motives."

Rettah shrugged, and said, "Yeah, well, what can you do? We came here by choice, after all, and think of all the things we've seen!"

"We were exiled, Rettah," Ylanwad said, even though she knew reminding her friend of what really happened was a futile effort at best.

"Nonsense. I was more than eager to join up with the Elkandu," Rettah said. "And I've learned so much! All these things that we never would have known about if we had stayed back at home."

Ylanwad sighed softly and gave up on arguing about it. "Let's just go to Earth and see what we can find."

They gathered up their things from their room and shoved them into their bags of holding, and headed for the Nexus. Calto was watching over it again, as he so often did. "Where are you ladies heading today?" he asked.

"We've got an exploratory mission to Earth," Rettah said. "Back in the early twenty-first century. Can you calibrate the Nexus to send us there?"

"Righto," Calto said, gesturing to the Nexus. Several of the runes along the obelisks glowed. "Step inside and head through."

"Thank you," Rettah said, and the two of them stepped into the circle and activated the Nexus. They were enveloped in glowing mists, and Torn Elkandu was gone.

When the mists cleared, Ylanwad looked around at the place where they had wound up, and gaped. There were buildings of steel and glass towering over their heads, reaching up toward the clouds. Solid stone made up the ground at their feet, and nearby, a street could be seen, with metal wagons zooming along it under their own power. Staring at everything in sight, Ylanwad murmured, "Ooh, shiny..."

"Nice place," Rettah commented.

"I have no idea how we might find anything in a place like this, but it's certainly going to be fun to look around," Ylanwad said. "This place is amazing!"

Rettah laughed lightly, and they headed off out of the alleyway. She wandered off into the middle of the street, and a wagon screeched to a halt in front of her and made a loud honking noise. The driver stuck his head out of the window and exclaimed, "What are you doing, you crazy bitch? The crosswalk's over there!"

"Uh, sorry," Rettah said sheepishly, getting out of the street again. "Okay, this is going to be confusing."

"Man, we've seen some strange places, but this really takes the cake," Ylanwad said. "Now I know how the lupus must feel."

"Yeah," Rettah said, staring at the road in confusion. "Well, maybe we should go find someplace to stay. The last exploration team hooked me up with a bit of local currency, so at least we're not completely up a creek if that's going to be needed for anything."

"Most likely everything, I would imagine, if past experience is any indication," Ylanwad said with a smirk. "And we are definitely not going for any damned Elkandu Discount, for fuck's sake. We should at least try to keep a low profile. We're Rezalkandu, not some damned Drakandu." She glanced about the sidewalk, noticing people giving them odd looks. "So far as possible, anyway. Maybe we should try to pick up some local clothes, too."

"Good idea," Rettah said.

They headed through the city on foot, a bit more carefully this time. Rettah went to use the crosswalk, and another driver yelled, "Hey, you stupid cunt, the light's green! Are you trying to cause an accident?"

"Uh, sorry," she said, backing out of the street again.

"You know," Ylanwad said, "they could have at least given us some hints on what to expect here."

Rettah sighed and said, "Yes, they could."

"We might want to find a guide or something."

"Also a good idea," Rettah said. "I have no idea where to even think of beginning to look, though. I'll keep an eye out for anyone with an interesting aura, though. Shapeshifters should be pretty distinctive, if I happen to spot one. You should have studied at least some Seeking while we were at the School of Thought. It's quite handy sometimes."

"I'll pass," Ylanwad muttered. "I'd rather have just learned some real Garou gifts instead of relying on the things those mages get up to, given the opportunity. Not that that's particularly likely anytime soon."

"Take what you can get," Rettah said with a shrug. "Hmm, that looks like an inn over there. And that might be a clothing store across the way. Go check out what they've got for sale. I'll go book us a room and meet up with you there, okay?"

"Sure," Ylanwad said, turning off to head for the indicated building. There were huge windows with clothes on display behind them, and several people standing in front of them posing. No, those weren't people, they were just statues or some such wearing clothes.

She went up to the entrance to the store, and as she approached, the glass doors slid open on their own. Ylanwad paused in her step, peering at them, and stepped away from them again. After a moment, they closed again. She took a step toward them, and they opened again. Neat.

Ylanwad headed inside to take a look around. There was a dizzying array of shoes and clothing, but unlike what she had come to expect among the Elkandu and the worlds they tended to visit, nothing that was clearly advertised as magical in any way. Perhaps that meant that the door back there was purely technological rather than enchanted? It was an encouraging thought. She thought the Elkandu relied far too much on their magic and fetishes.

In around the middle of the store, she came upon what appeared to be a moving staircase. Two of them, in fact, one going up and the other coming down. Well, that was certainly interesting, she thought as she climbed onto it. She examined it discreetly, wondering how it might work. There must be some sort of motor in it to make it move. The staircase brought her up to the next floor, and she stumbled a bit getting off of it. She went over to the other side and hopped onto the one heading down again, and rode all the way down. Then she turned and went to walk up the down staircase.

A middle-aged woman nearby snapped at her, "Will you stop playing with the escalator already? Kids these days."

"Sorry," she said, slinking off. Nothing wrong with a little fun, she thought.

Rettah came into the store momentarily and approached her.

"There you are," Ylanwad said. "Did you get us a room?"

Rettah shook her head. "Too expensive. We don't need to sleep, anyway."

Ylanwad snorted. "It wasn't exactly the sleep I was thinking about, but fine. We can get more done this way, anyway, I suppose."

A woman approached them and said, "Can I help you find something?" She had a nametag that read, Hello, my name is Kimberly.

"We're just looking around at the moment," Ylanwad said.

Rettah said, "Maybe you could tell me what's popular. What do women like to wear around here?"

They followed Kimberly, who showed them around to some various clothes, but they wound up just buying T-shirts and jeans for the two of them. Simple enough clothes, but enough to not stand out too badly.

They headed out of the store again to wander the streets and explore a bit, at least now having figured out how the crosswalk worked. The city was a massive, sprawling place with seemingly no end, with what seemed like -- and very likely was -- millions of people milling about. As they wandered, they passed along a number of stores with various goods on display in their windows. Everything seemed so shiny and fascinating.

Rettah and Ylanwad were sitting in a cafe one evening, sipping at some coffee, when Rettah's eyebrows shot up at someone coming in the door. Ylanwad said, "What is it? Is he a shapeshifter?"

"No," Rettah said quietly. "A mage. Maybe an Elkandu."

Ylanwad noticed that the man had somewhat pointed ears underneath his tossled black hair. A half-elf, perhaps, she thought. Many of the Elkandu had elvish blood. He casually went over and got a coffee himself, then strolled over to join them as if he had been expecting them.

"Evening, ladies," he said. "Don't mind if I join you, do you?" He didn't bother waiting for a response before sitting down at their table.

"Uh... sure," Rettah said uncertainly.

"Who are you?" Ylanwad asked quietly. "We weren't supposed to have any contact with other Elkandu. Or do you have new orders for us?"

The half-elf chuckled softly. "The name's Sedder, and I'm afraid I'm not with the group you've been dealing with."

"Sedder?" Rettah asked, raising an eyebrow. "One of the high-ups of the Drakandu?"

"The same," he said.

"What are you doing here?" Ylanwad wondered, frowning. She didn't think she liked this.

"Oh, I just wanted to chat a bit," Sedder said. "You're here on assignment from the Rezalkandu, I understand. Watching from the shadows. Waiting to see if there's anything you can see. They probably didn't even give you enough money to get by on without giving up on food and sleep. You decided to indulge in that coffee there, but it's scraping the bottom of how much you've got, am I right?"

"Yeah..." Rettah said, looking down.

"How do you know all that?" Ylanwad said.

Sedder waved a hand dismissively. "That's how the Rezalkandu work. All this non-interference crap. And they'd probably frown on any means you might come across to get more money readily as well, never mind the increased opportunities you might have along the way at actually completing your mission."

"Have you been watching us?" Ylanwad said suspiciously.

"Not personally, no, but it's my business to know what's happening in my jurisdiction," Sedder said. "Besides, it's not like the Rezalkandu are particularly organized in general. They probably don't even realize, or care, that there are Drakandu in their midst watching everything they do. Not that they even do all that much, anyway."

"Why did you contact us?" Ylanwad asked.

"Oh, I just thought you might be interested in learning that there's another way," Sedder said. "In seeing how the other side lives. They might have told you that the Drakandu are pure evil, bent on conquest and corruption, or some such nonsense. But has your time with the Rezalkandu really been what you hoped it was?"

"Perhaps not," Rettah admitted.

Ylanwad said, "We're doing just fine, thank you very much."

"How long has it been since you last slept?" Sedder said. "You arrived here almost a month ago. Have you even slept at all during that time? Or had much of a real meal?"

"No..." Ylanwad said, frowning. "Look, Sedder, you're trying to tempt us and corrupt us, but it's not going to work. We're not falling for it."

"You know," Sedder went on, ignoring her. "Even Elkandu can't go forever without sleep. We haven't quite perfected the techniques for that yet. You've probably found yourself daydreaming at unexpected points. Constantly distracted, mind-weary, but not really so much sleepy. That's why I imagine you went for the coffee, hmm?"

"Um..." Ylanwad said. Damn, he was right.

"And then there's your training. The Rezalkandu have barely scratched the surface of what you might be capable of. There's so much more out there to learn, and not all of it to do with magic. Elkandu are often blind in their rejection of anything non-magical, but we Drakandu see things differently. We will not reject anything that might be useful just because it's not magical. Look around you. You've seen the flourishing technology of this world, and that's why we're here. We've come to learn from it and discover how it works, and make it our own. Not just to observe and ignore anything we're not interested in. There's a whole world of potential at our fingertips!"

"I think he has a point, Ylanwad," Rettah said aside to her.

"Fine, I'll give him that," Ylanwad said reluctantly, and sighed.

"I can understand your hesitation," Sedder said. "You've probably heard nothing but ill of the Drakandu. I assure you that it is propaganda and exaggeration. Come with me and see for yourself. See the truth. And if you don't like what you see, you're free to go whenever you wish. At the very least, come stay for some dinner and a good night's sleep."

"Sounds good to me," Rettah said.

"Fine," Ylanwad said. "But I have a sickening feeling I'm going to wind up regreting this." She shook her head. "But never mind that. Let's go."

"I'm still not entirely comfortable with these Drakandu, Rettah," Ylanwad said quietly.

"What?" Rettah said, reclining back on their bed and looking over at her. "What's the problem? We've been here for a few months now and it hasn't been nearly as bad as the Rezalkandu would have made out."

"Yeah, well," Ylanwad said. "We never did find the shapeshifters we were looking for, either. I kind of wanted to find them. Not just because the Rezalkandu wanted us to."

"Bah, it's not important," Rettah said. "We've been learning all kinds of stuff here! Like how to use a computer, drive a car! The Rezalkandu would have just had us stumbling around on our own and failing to provide any useful assistance. I think there's all sorts of things that can be done with these computers... and there's this fascinating thing called the internet..."

"It's not that they've exactly done anything bad, that I've seen, or anything," Ylanwad said. "It's just a feeling. I can't explain it." She shook her head. "I want to go find the shapeshifters. I'm sure you'd rather stay in and poke around on the internet, but I'd like to at least sniff around a bit and see what I can find. But not to worry, I'm not going anywhere."

"Good luck," Rettah said.

Ylanwad felt more comfortable getting away from the Drakandu for a bit. She didn't go far at first, or stay away for very long, but when she thought she found a decent lead, she wound up borrowing a decent sum of cash and heading off on a road trip. She didn't like to leave Rettah behind, but her friend was so fascinated with the machines she was playing with that Ylanwad didn't think she'd be badly off. Probably wouldn't even notice she was gone.

A man with a run-down old pickup truck was waiting to take her across the desert out from Area 51, where the Drakandu kept their headquarters. She went up to the passenger side and went to climb inside.

"Ready to head back to civilization, miss?" said the man, adjusting his straw hat.

"Or a reasonable facsimile thereof," Ylanwad said.

He started up the sputtering engine and headed off down the road. "This ain't a great place to be hanging out. What's a nice young lady like you doing out here, anyhow?"

Ylanwad shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn't really my idea to be hanging out around there. Pardon me, sir, but while I appreciate the offer to help, I'm afraid I didn't catch your name."

"Call me Gus," he said with a faint grin. "Don't think I caught yours, either, miss."

"You can call me Dawn," she said.

"Pleasure to meet you," said Gus.

Ylanwad arrived back at Area 51, eager to tell Rettah the good news. She had found them! She had a mind to just kidnap Rettah and drag her off back with them and leave behind these crazy mages. Forget the Drakandu. This could be their second chance. And in some ways, she had to admit that she liked this world better than the one they had come from.

After providing the appropriate clearance, Gus stopped his truck to let her out, and she said, "Now don't run off yet, you crazy coyote, I'll be back in a jiff!"

Gus chuckled and waved her out, and said, "Shoo."

Grinning from ear to ear, Ylanwad scurried into the complex to find Rettah. Probably nose-deep in some internet fun, unless she missed her guess. She didn't spot her in the computer areas, though, so she headed back to the room that they had been staying in.

She opened the door to find Rettah naked and tied to the bed, with Sedder poised over her. Blinking, Ylanwad found herself gaping at the scene. She hadn't been gone that long, and she'd said she would be back soon!

"What the fuck is going on here?" she demanded.

Sedder turned and looked over at her, "Ah, welcome back. Come to join us in a little fun?"

"Hell no, you backstabbing bastard," Ylanwad snapped. "I never even particularly liked you. Rettah, start explaining, right now. How long have you been fooling around with Sedder?"

"Uh..." Rettah said. "Four months?"

Ylanwad stared. "So you didn't quite hop in bed with him immediately after we got here? I knew you'd been spending a lot of time with him, but I thought you were just learning computer stuff. What the fuck is wrong with you?" She shook her head, steadying herself against the doorframe. "And for this I took exile for you."

"We weren't exiled, Ylanwad," Rettah said lightly. "The Drakandu offered us a great opportunity and we leapt on it. I don't know why you keep insisting on these strange things."

"No," Ylanwad said. "I don't need to take this anymore. I'm leaving. Now. Goodbye, Rettah, and enjoy your damned life."

She spun on her heel and strode back out to the waiting pickup, climbed inside and slammed the door.

"No need to take it out on the door rather than the real culprit," Gus commented.

"Yeah, I know," Ylanwad said with a sigh. "Let's just go. Get the fuck away from this chickenshit outfit."

"Sounds good to me."