Somehow Here Again

by Chris Hoekstra

What drew her attention to the room was the music that emanated from within. While some of the Keepers did play instruments, very few did it outside of concerts or in the open for all to hear. Kayla continued to walk up the hall, towards the open door, through which the melody poured forth.

When she finally was able to see in, Kayla saw that it was made by a raccoon morph who was paying a violin. She decided to lean up against the door's frame and enjoy the music for a brief spell. Kevin had sent her out on a few errands, but she didn't think he would be that upset over her being a little late. She could always blame it on the Keeps variable geometry, and besides, the raccoon was quite good. It was also so rare that she had the opportunity to enjoy something such as this.

He had his back to the door playing out the soft, slow, sad song. The musician paced in front of the room's large windows a little with the melody, and when he turned to the sides she could see that he had his eyes closed, the whole of his being focused in the instrument held under his chin. His playing was halted on several occasions when he slipped, producing some God awful screech from the violin. He usually just adjusted the tension on the stings or repositioned his clawed fingers on the instrument's neck, before backing up several cords and beginning again.

The haunting melody continued for several more minutes, the raccoons bushy tail swaying back and forth in time with the slow song, before he finished playing. Returning the violin to his case he turned around to see Kayla leaning against his door.

"Um... hello," he said in a rather cautious tone. "How long have you been there?"

"A little while. I couldn't help hearing you playing as I came up the hall. I so rarely get the chance to listen to music around here, that I had to take the opportunity." A look of concern came over the skunk's face. "You don't mind do you?"

"Oh, no. Not at all," assured the raccoon with a few disarming gestures as he came over to her. "It's just that I never expected anyone to be listening. What, with everyone so occupied. Most people just walk by places like this, I find. They only enjoy the song as long as they're within earshot. Almost none actually stop."

"You know, it was quite a beautiful piece. Well, except when you made those horrible screeches." The raccoon got a playful look on his face as he hunched his shoulders, looking away from her, rolling his eyes. He looked like a schoolboy being lectured on something that he didn't really regret. The mild, toothy grin she saw only reinforced that view. "Still, what I heard I liked a lot. What was it called?"

He returned his gaze to her. "Just a little piece from years ago. Something that I liked to play back then. It use to be one of my favorite pieces when I played regularly." He beckoned to Kayla. "Come, come. Let me show you around my humble abode."

"Eh, I don't know. I really have to get back to work..." she stuttered. Most people weren't as comfortable around her as this raccoon appeared to be. Actually, most were quite relieved when she left them. Something of the stigma attached to her species, she figured. Even after six years it was still hard for her.

"Nonsense," he assured her. "Surely Intelligence can afford to miss you for a little while."

"How did you know I worked there?" she asked, slightly taken aback by the revelation.

" Here, let me take care of that,'" quoted the raccoon as he stepped close and lightly touched one of his claws to her nose.

"Rickkter?!" asked Kayla, in a startled tone.

"Hello my dear," addressed the raccoon, as he clasped his paws in front of him. "I was hoping that I might get to see you again. And, please; call me Rick."

"It's a surprise to see you again, I must admit," confessed Kayla.

"Well, we can talk as I show you around a bit," Rickkter informed her as he swept around back of her, placing his paw lightly on the small of her back, ushering her into the room. It had been a long time since someone had touched her in such a manner, Kayla reflected. "Come. Let me give you grand tour, as it were," he said with a light smile.

"You're not going to close the door?"

"Actually, no. I've been waiting on a few deliveries all day. A few magical and laboritory supplies. That's what I was doing when you walked in, waiting. While I was unpacking I came across my violin, and I just decided to play a little. Pass the time a little quicker. Damn lazy movers. I ordered that stuff yesterday, and they promised me today. Yet it's the middle of the afternoon, and I still don't have it."

"Well, at least you have furniture," noted Kayla.

"Yup," confirmed Rickkter. "I could grow to love a place that makes stuff like this on its own. It's a pity that magiacl equipment isn't inculded."

Kayla looked over the room once more. It was a rather well sized one, as compared to the others at the Keep, yet it was still very filled. A pair of matching cabinets, two small tables, one at the center of the room with a black chest on top of it, a pair of chairs, a couch in front of the fire place, along with several plies of miscellaneous junk scattered about.

"Since I finally got settled, I figured it would be prudent for me to unpack all of this stuff," mentioned Rickkter as they came up to a few crates of wine. They were sitting open next to a low, half-full wine rack. "As with the violin, and some other things, I just got lost in the memories of when I last used them. It's actually been years since I've had all this stuff out in the open. Mostly I take out what I need, when I need it. The rest remains in storage."

"How do you store all this stuff?" asked the skunk as she took in the room's contents once more.

"That's kind of a neat surprise. I'll leave that to the end." The pair came up to a chess board, the pieces displaying the game in progress. "I also got a bit involved with another diversion here," Rick explained, scratching lightly behind his left ear. "It's currently a game between Myself and I. As you can see," he waved one of his paws over a section of the board, "I'm currently winning. Though Myself is trying to make a comeback here. It's Myself's turn at the moment."

"Isn't it a little hard to play both sides of a chess match?"

"Not really. I just don't let Myself know that I'm thinking." He smiled at the play on words, his whiskers twitching in amusement. Kayla though the mask only heightened the look of mischief she saw gleaming in his brown eyes.

"Over here," he continued, leading her along, "we have one of the few tapestries that I possess. It was done for me by a friend some time ago." Kayla saw that it was a remarkable nature still, the scene made up of a forested valley centering on a river and waterfall. It looked like something that must have taken months, or even years, to complete. Rickkter then led her to one of the two doors on the far side of the room. When Rick pushed open the first door, Kayla saw that it was a small lab, complete with window.

"This is where I intend to run a few of my own personal experiments. Nothing fancy, not like Pascal's main lab. Just a few tables, a sink with running water, and a small fire place that doubles as in incinerator. Small stuff, really. Actually the fire place adjoins the one in the main room and my bedroom next door. The only thing that I'm really missing are the gas outlets. I really like the convenience of working with them."

"You mean those?" asked Kayla as she pointed at one of the outlets.

"What the heck?" demanded Rickkter as he went over to the bench. When he gave the valve a small twist, both morphs could hear the brief sound of escaping gas. Rick quickly shut it off and turned his head towards the ceiling. "Thank you!" he called out to the Keep. Kayla stifled a few giggles on her way out.

"That's about the most interesting stuff I have right now, actually," confessed the raccoon as he scratched behind his ears. "The only thing left I have to show you is my library."

"I would love to see it," confided Kayla. For some reason being around Rickkter seemed to put her at ease. She even felt herself smiling at the looks that the raccoon gave her. It was almost like she couldn't help feeling comfortable around him. The two of them walked over to where the twin cabinets were sitting along the wall. Kayla had noticed that there was series of bookshelves running from about a foot off the floor for about eight feet, set into the wall.

"Voila!" said Rickkter, holding out his arms.

"Impressive," admitted the skunk as she looked over it. While the shelves only contained a few books, there were still several piles of tomes on the floor. "What's with the color-coded volumes here? The ones that have the same style bindings?"

"Oh, those are my personal spell books. They contain stuff that I learned through the years, bits and pieces of information that I copied from other books and sources. The black tomes are for magic spells, the dark red ones are alchemy." Rickkters's manner became distinctly nervous when Kayla picked up a random black bound book and began leafing through it. "The two green ones at the end are just assorted items of accidemic interest, and a few prophecies. Miscellaneous stuff, really. And all the rest," he made a sweeping gesture at the other different sized books on the upper shelves, "are just other books that I've acquired in all my travels."

"Very interesting," said Kayla as she returned the book to it's place on the shelf. She gave Rickkter an embarrassed grin. "Too bad I couldn't read any of it." She could have swore that a wave of relief passed over the raccoon's face. "Are these all magic tomes?"

"No, of course not. The ones below my personal tomes are just fiction, poetry, plays, and other manner of literature. The slim volumes at the end of that one shelf are journals that I tried keeping a few years back. The ones next to that consist mostly of reference material. Occult, metaphyical, semimythological, anthropological, biological, and a few archaeological works." Kaya noticed that the bindings on more then a few of those were singed, as if the books had been in a fire some time ago. "Some of the larger tomes are dictionaries, and such. Books dealing with decryption and translating different languages. I have examples of over eight separate languages here."

"So that's how you planned on helping me out, eh Rickkter?"

The skunk and the raccoon turned at the greeting.

"Jon! Nice to see you. Decided to let yourself in, I see."

"It's not like there was a door to stop me or anything," said the deer artificer, as he strode over to the other two. "So what have you been up to, Rick?"

"Not much. Just showing off my new place. Let me make introductions. Jon, this is Kayla. Kayla, my good friend Jon."

"We already know each other," said the skunk, as she started out of the room. "It's been nice seeing you again, Rickkter, but I really have to get back to work. Glad to see you made it through the change all right."

"Kayla, wait," called Rickkter, as he jogged a few paces between the departing skunk and Jon. "Um... would you please join me for mid-day meal tomorrow? I really hate to dine alone."

"Okay, Rickkter. Sure..." She turned back at the last moment. "Oh. King's Rook to Queen's Bishop, three."

"King's Rook to Queen's Bishop, three?" repeated Rick as he walked over to the chess board. He picked up the Rook and moved it over. Taken aback slightly, he blinked a few times at the new arrangement. "Checkmate. I'll be damned!" laughed Rickker, as he did a double take between the open door and the chess board.

"So how did you get her in here, Rick? She's not usually that sociable. With anyone."

"Oh, well I was playing a little music. I guess she appreciated it, decided to listen in. I'd already met her, and just wanted her to feel a little better about herself. I could already guess that she was a social misfit." Rick leaned up against the bookshelf, the whiskers on his face drooping slightly. "In a way I was kind of hoping she would stay a little while. I just thought that showing her around here a bit would let her enjoy herself a little, have a few laughs."

"Where did you get all this stuff anyway?" asked Jon as he took in the room. "You only had one pack when I found you."

"That was actually what I was going to be showing her next," said Rick as he walked over to the table in the center of the room, a small black case sitting on top it. He seemed to perk up slightly at the change of subject. "Tell me, Jon. Have you ever heard of onulets?"

"I've heard the name. They were suppose to be message carrying devices used by the Suleiman Empire. But no one, nowadays, knows what they look like."

"Wrong, my friend," said Rickkter, as he opened the top of the case. "The onulets are still in use in parts of the east." The raccoon tossed over an egg-shaped glass object to the deer. Rickkter cringed when he saw that Jon almost managed to drop the orb. "I really have to remember that not everyone can do that..."

"Oh, I've seen these before!" exclaimed Jon as he turned over the small ovoid. It was predominantly made of colored, frosted glass with two flat, clear sections on opposite sides. The onulet was wrapped in a light wire harness. "But these things are just trinkets. There's nothing special to them."

"That's because you're missing the reading device," said Rick, his whiskers twitching playfully. He came over to Jon holding a small device in one hand. The device had an eye piece at one end, a place to hold the onulet in the middle, and another lens setup on the other side. "The projectors are quite difficult to come by. Fortunately this one was in good condition when I got it. Now lets see what I have in this one." Rick took the orb from Jon, snapped it into the reader, and peered through the eye piece for a few moments. "Ah, yes. More of my library. Care to see?"

"Of course! You know I love to play with these types of things more then you do," said Jon as he ear-smiled at the raccoon.

"Just look in here," said Rick handing it over. "It's all mind controlled. Just think about moving the contents, and they will. You can rotate them to any angle you desire." He watched Jon play with the device for a few moments. "Actually that's the main problem with them. It's unknown how they did that, as well as a few other aspects of the onulets themselves, so new ones can't be made. All that is known, is that they work. It's just not known how."

"This is remarkable!" said Jon as he passed back the projector. "Think about the storage potential! Entire rooms stored in a few orbs! Would make the transport of supplies across land easier, by at least a factor of a thousand."

"That's another limitation on them," lectured Rick as he looked through the projector. Pressing a small button on the outside, the room was lit with a bright flash. Before the book shelf was another pile of tomes and scrolls. "They can't transport organic matter. Anything alive, or perishable, can't go through. Even with preservation spells on them. As near as can be figured out, the onulets place the item in a state of limbo. Neither in this world, nor any other. Something like teleportation. For a fraction of a second you're neither at your point of departure, nor arrival.

"Any state of limbo is very detrimental to organic matter. Things go in fine, but when they comes out, they seem to have aged incredibly and/or been turned inside out. Exceptionally messy. That's probably why non-stabilized teleportation makes you feel the way it does. Your body isn't in limbo long enough to really feel any of the harmful effects, but it does feel them."

"What about the wine?" asked Jon, nodding his antlers at the bottles in the far corrnor.

"Okay, that seems to be an exception. Anything with alcohol seems to benefit from an extened stay in limbo. It's all rather complicated, and I don't know a great deal about it."

"Well, that is still a fascinating device. I would love to use it sometimes. Would make transporting several items I know of infinitely easier."

"Uh, I suppose I can trust you with this, Jon," said Rickkter, as he returned the now clear onulet to it's niche next to over a dozen of its brethren. "By the way, you don't have any of these little trinkets do you? I'm always in the market for them. Specifically I'm interested in colored ones, but clear is just as good."

"I think I might. Would have to root around a bit to make sure. Why?"

Rick walked back over to the artificer, his eyes gleaming with enjoyment. "Colored ones mean that there's something inside. Remember how I told you, you would be amazed at some of the items that I've pulled rummaging around in junk piles? Well, one time, when I was in York, I came across this teenage peddler. He had one for sale, so I gave him the two gold that he agreed to for the item, then went off and opened it. Do you know what I found inside?" Jon could only stand there and wait for Rickkter to start again.

"A two hundred year old royal ceremonial dress of the crowned king of Caledonia," said Rick, running one of his paws down his tunic like he was wearing the fabled garment. "Crimson vest, cape trimmed with spotted fox, along with the rest of the outfit. Complete with ornate, jeweled crown."

Jon returned his jaw to it's previous closed position. "Incredible! Don't tell me that you still have this, do you?"

"No... I was only a few kingdoms away from Caledonia, so I returned the robe. The current king was absolutely stunned by it. The reward he offered me was pretty amazing as well. I declined it, in exchange for a specific book of magic they had. That gave them pause, but they eventually caved in. It turned out that the robe and crown belonged to their greatest king, and was lost on some post-war raid. I still have the book, as a matter of fact. It's this one, right here," said the warrior, tapping one of the volumes on an upper shelf.

"Mind if I have a look," asked Jon. Rick gave him a nod and the deer removed the tome from behind a pair of glass-less cupboards. "Where are the fronts for these things, Rick?"

"Oh, I'm having some very special etchings done on them. Good luck breaking them or the locks, once I get those panes in place. I just hope that the artisans you have here are as good as they're suppose to be. I was very specific in the sketches, and would hate to have the spells ruined because the runes weren't etched correctly."

"You know, that reminds me. What happened to this room?" said Jon as he briefly diverted his attention from the book to the room. "It's in the same location, but I recall it being a tad smaller. And without the large windows. And the extra rooms."

Rickkter chuckled. "You've got me there. I figured that the Keep decided to make some modifications. You know how it seems to reshape itself to suit a person's desires? Like if you're in a hurry to get somewhere, you tend to get there quickly? Well, when some of the other residents were talking to me about that phenomenon, they mentioned that the rooms also work that way. They will reshape to suit the individual. Like families with new children are often greeted with a nursery, upon waking. I went to bed the other night and woke up to this. I'm very impressed with it, myself."

"You're an absolute marvel, you know that Rickkter?" said Jon as he closed the tome. "I've never seen anything this ostentatious for anyone short of a noble." He tapped the cover of the book with one hoof. "Nice personal copy of The Mysteries of the Monolith, as well."

"You know the Monolith?"

"Yes. I've used the one they keep in the library to identify a great many artifacts. The people that Muskovak speaks about in here were some of the most remarkable artificers I've ever heard of. The types of artifacts described are incredible. It's too bad that there are only a few still around. I do have a handful myself, though nothing really powerful."

"I know. I actually used this to verify a few points out of the Tamar Manuscripts. While the Monolith is basically a catalog of artifacts, the Manuscripts seem to be a highly detailed encyclopedia of all kinds of magical knowledge. Spells, potions, enchantment, incarnations, artifacts, signets, wards, and general information about the working of magic and the different planes. I still haven't gotten through it all, yet, and what I have tends to be on the edge of what I understand as it is."

They talked for a few more hours. The raccoon showed Jon more of his collection, including several staffs and talismans. Rick's collection was not close to the scale of Jon's and consisted mostly of actual functional items, unlike the things Jon collected. A highlight was a dragon statue that was animated for self-defense. The artificer found that piece a most remarkable one, and it nearly took his hoof off when he tried to inspect it. Rickkter then gave Jon a quick tour of his room, much like he did Kayla. Unlike her, he was able to go into more detail with Jon, even showing him the personal weapons locker that he had added on. While the lock was not yet in place, there were still a few items placed behind the heavy iron door.

"Well Jon, it's been a pleasure. I haven't had all this stuff unpacked in... Great Maker. It's got to be over ten years. Even while I was doing my apprenticeship in alchemy, I couldn't have all this stuff out. Anyway, feel free to stop by any time in the future."

"I will, Rickkter. And I'm holding you to that agreement we made. I already have some very interesting items for you to look over."

The raccoon rolled his eyes, groaning in mock agony. "You're really going to make me go through with that deal, aren't you?"

Jon laughed as he walked out the door, bidding his friend a fond farewell.

Rickkter let out a little sigh, as he surveyed the once again empty room. He did so enjoy having guests, he found. Walking over to the violin case, he again removed the finely crafted instrument. Placing it under his chin, the raccoon commenced playing another song from his past. Like the first one, it too was slow and tinged with sadness.

The raccoon's thoughts drifted along with the music. To the one whom he had loved more then any other, the one that inspired him to play. To his other good friends of that time, twelve years ago. How they use to get together to play, and to do other things that he was barred forever from pursuing. His thoughts drifted forward to the present; where he was once again settled down, with friends so similar to those of his past. Even one whom he felt an attraction to.

And how will things turn out this time? Will I make another mistake, end all of their lives but mine?' thought Rickkter, as a tear or two leaked out of his closed eyes at the memories of what happened all those years ago. How, in a life like mine, did I ever come back here again?'