This story was written sometime in the early '90s while roleplaying in Roger Zelazny's Amber universe under GM Chris W. McCubbin. I found that the character I had created had a small story to tell, and wouldn't let me alone until I told it. Apologies to Mr. Zelazny, and thanks to those who encouraged me, however indirectly, to write.

The Story

Disregarding my mentor's warning, I had gone world-walking... he was ever cautious of the hostile environs engendered by the chasm in the Pattern, and rightly so. I've had to fend off numerous misshapen beasts and... things..., and I fear that age and unfamiliarity with a blade would make my mentor easy prey for any of the creatures that lurk along the paths between worlds. Even the first time, I had... well, let me do this properly and begin at the beginning.

I had just walked the chasm of the Pattern and consequently been given the powers that ordeal entitles one to, and I was eager to put them to use. The most straight-forward of these powers, at least in my mind, was the ability to world-walk. World-walking is difficult to explain properly... The Prime Pattern, That Which Is the Universe, is imperfect. Well, more properly, it's perfectly imperfect, but that's a matter for cosmologists and philosophers. What concerns me is that the imperfection in the Pattern mirrors the imperfections in reality, and once one is attuned to the Pattern and sensitive to the imperfection, it is possible to seek out the mirrored imperfections in reality and use them to travel between worlds. This is called world-walking.

After a basic lesson or two from my mentor, I felt ready. My mentor, once he was convinced I would not be dissuaded, presented me with a sort of "graduation present" - an ancient device that he had restored to working order. At first I was less than impressed... I mean, it wasn't much to look at: a roughly cylindrical metal device less than a foot long with a few colored lights and a larger button of some sort on one side.

"What's it do?" I asked, without touching it - the machines of the ancients can be dangerous to play with.

"Pick it up, boy... pick it up. It won't bite, heh. No it won't. Just don't push that thumb-button on the side. Not with it pointing at you. No, that would be bad. Turn both ends away from you. Yes, to the sides. That's it. Now thumb the button carefully. Yes."

As instructed, I thumbed the button the cylinder, with its ends pointing out to my sides as I held it in front of me.

My mentor cackled gleefully as I jumped, startled at the crackling hum that issued from the device as a tendril of energy extended out from one end of the device and... froze, a glowing blue-white length of energy extending from the cylindrical haft. It was

"A sword!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, boy, a sword of the ancients, with a blade of pure energy, powered by a storage cell in the grip that recharges from the ambient magikal energies. I'm not sure how long it will last, no, but while it's on, I know of no force, physical or magical, that will stop it. Swing it, carefully! ever carefully! at the door."

"But that's HULLMETAL!", I protested. "It's the toughest stuff the ancients knew of! The only reason you have a door of it is because that piece was that shape to begin with! We haven't been able to work it with muscle or magic!"

"I know, boy, I know. But indulge me. Try it, eh? An old man has few amusements."

"Alright, then..." I said as I slowly moved the blade toward the door at a spot about head high. Working with this blade would take practice - the lack of weight other than the grip would take getting used to. I tensed, expecting resistance as it hit the unyielding panel, and... there was nothing. No resistance at all. The blade slid through the hardest material we knew of as easily as it made its way through empty air. I completed the cut, slicing through the door completely... I roughed out a window, kind of a port-hole, far from perfect as my hand slipped a bit, unused to the lack of resistance as I was.

"Interesting," said my mentor.

"What's that?" I asked almost absently as I gloated over my new toy.

"The blade. It has no thickness. None at all. It is purely two dimensional, or one. Yes, one. The blade has length only, no width or thickness... A mathematical abstraction made real. How fun! How fun!" he chuckled quietly to himself.

A bit more discussion of how such a thing would interact with three dimensional objects ensued, and he showed me how to turn it off. (By thumbing the button again, in a slightly different way)

The conversation then turned to more mundane things.

"When world-walking, beware the dangers of every path..." he started.

"...because the paths are reflections of the crack in reality and therefore dangerous," I said tiredly. "I know, I know, we've been over this before. I'll be careful. I can take care of myself. Don't worry."

The old man glared at me a bit for interrupting, then his expression turned unreadable and he said gruffly, "Alright then. Go. I'll be here if or when you return."

I didn't miss the slight catch in his voice as he said this.

"I guess I'm ready then," I replied. "Until we meet again, then." I bowed toward him and took my leave of the man who had been my mentor, teacher, and father for as long as I could remember. He nodded sadly and turned to some work waiting on a nearby bench. I left quietly, picking up the small pack of rations and clothes that I had prepared earlier on my way out.

Once outside, I surveyed the battered, barren valley before me. The remains of ancient machines littered the valley below. One of them had undoubtedly yielded up the remarkable blade that now hung lightly at my belt. My mentor had speculated that an ancient battle or seige had been waged here, perhaps even the final confrontation of the ancients. Whatever the case, the mechanical and technological leftovers had survived for millenia untouched by time, and were feasted on, or perhaps merely nibble at, by my mentor. With me as his assistant, of course. But no longer.

I began to walk. Into the shadows of an overhang, descending into the depths of the earth. The cave entrance was a more tangible darkness than the mere blackness of shadow. There. Inside and through. A glimmer of light ahead, revaling the slimy, writhing things on the walls, glistening in their wetness, moving now silently, now with a stickly slurping sound, around a bend where the foul stench of dead and moldering things assaulted me followed shortly by a rustling fluttering crackling mass of flying things that made me duck reflexively and then shudder in revulsion. Straightening, I drew my magical blade and advanced into the lair of a creature that whuffled and snorted before it roared and charged. As I ducked quickly into a side passage, the glint of light off cats' eyes warned me to duck and I felt the brush of air as something dark and cat-like sprang over me, aiming for where my throat had been moments before. Such is the path of the crack.

I decided to slow a bit and take it easier. The passage led back outside, into a moonlit darkness where the ground was wet and the air smelled of decay. A positive paradise.

I lowered my blade, extinguished it and hung it on my belt without breaking stride. My breathing was becoming labored and my heart pounded in my ears. World-walking is no picnic. I slowed and decided to rest. A dead tree, only slightly rotted, provided me with wood for a fire which caught poorly in the damp air, even with the light magical encouragement that was laid on the flint and steel I had in my pack. After eating, I pulled my cloak from my pack, spread it as a groundcloth, and lay down to rest. In no time I slept, dreaming of darkness and light and shadow.

I awoke unable to move. The sky was a hazy grey-green above me as I struggled to free myself from whatever bonds held me. I couldn't even turn my head to see them! But I could hear a rustle and a wet sucking sound approaching. I was lifted and could see...

My restraints were vines of some sort, strong and unyielding, attached to my skin by some sort of sucker mechanism, and wrapping around my limbs as well. My captors were... things.

Multi-tentacled, the vines originated from them and the wet sucking sound they made as the two of them amble-slithered toward me sent a shiver down my spine. They (It?) came closer as I struggled vainly to escape. I screamed when they enveloped me and my skin began to burn. And then I felt myself... change. My mind reeled and my screams gained intensity as my body twisted in on itself, folding, flowing, changing, into...

Oblivion. Blackness. Darkness. Grey. Light. Air. Food. FOOD. Flight. Eat. Sleep. Hunt. Eat. Sleep. Hunt. Kill. Eat. Rest... Them. Me. Me? Who?

I awoke not feeling myself. To be more precise, I awoke NOT myself, but rather some wild melding combination of myself and my fondest nightmares. My skin was alternately rock hard and slimily soft, my hands were clawed and seven fingered with backs of hard plate. My face... wasn't quite my own. I don't usually sport four-inch fangs. I recognized none of the local terrain though it was most like the place where I was attacked. There was no sign of my pack, my sword, or even my clothes, though I wouldn't have fit into the latter and wouldn't've worn them if I had as I somehow knew that the mucus that coated the softer parts of my skin was highly corrosive.

I found the scraps - bones mostly - of a meal nearby and surmised it was mine, though I didn't understand how I could've brought down something that large, or eaten so much of it if I had. Fatigue overtook me then, and I slept, dreaming of home.

I awoke and found myself back to normal. Five fingers. No claws. Naked flesh caked in mud. Was it a dream? No, yesterday's meal was there, the scraps apparently too bloodless to be interesting to scavengers. But... What? How? Why?

It was long before I knew the answers to the first two questions, and I may never know the answer to the third.

I am a Shapeshifter. In lethal situations, deepest instinct takes over to save me. In nonlethal situations, I have some control and can alter myself to my own ends.

Since learning this control, many things have changed. But the one I find most heartening is this: When I walk the cracks between worlds, things still run, but where they used to rush to attack, they now run away, for no matter how fearsome they are, I can be more so.

It sure makes world-walking easier.