EIDOLONS Alan Harnum (harnums@thekeep.org) ***** Eidolons Ranma belongs to Takahashi. The Dreamlands are the creation of H.P.

Lovecraft, and belong to whoever now own the rights to his works. Anyway, both are used without permission, as you no doubt have already guessed. This copy of the story is from my centralized fanfiction archive at http://www.thekeep.org/~harnums/fanfic. I can be reached by e-mail at harnums@thekeep.org ... One - Threshold Now I pierce the darkness, new beings appear, The earth recedes from me into the night, I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not the earth is beautiful -Walt Whitman ... Ranma Saotome knew nothing of the basalt spires of Dylath-Leen; he had no knowledge of the crystalline air-boats of the city of Yerthardt that plied the skies above the pearly ocean that lay a thousand miles south of the pleasant land of Sona-Nyl; nor even had he heard the old dreamers tell in hushed voices of the Tree-Without-Roots of the Iron Forest, the sight of which is said to bend the minds of men, that their eyes shall not see as other men's see. He would not know of them before he grew to be an old man, but in time, he would know them all and more; he would know of the perfumed jungles of Kled; of the mad things, no longer men, that dance in the Hills of Implan by the moon, and sing wordless songs of praise to gods who never were of this earth; he would know of the Doom That Came to Sarnath, and why it had come. He would even dare, though only once, to stand outside the colossal walls of dread Thalarion and listen to the laughter of spectral Lathi as it came drifting from within, but even he was not so brave (or some might say foolish) as to step inside that cursed place. In time, he would come to know many of the delights that the Dreamlands had to offer, and no few of the horrors as well. He would be one of the few men to hear the voice of the Black Siren and not have his skin line the walls or floor of her pit. And while he never looked upon the throne of Azathoth as it is said Kuranes once did, he did once glimpse the Basalt Pillars of the West from his perch in the crows-nest of a trading ship of glorious Celephais, and see for a moment how all the oceans of the Dreamlands pour off into that sear gulf of unlawful space which lies hungry and waiting beyond to devour it.

Where it all began, though, was in the kitchen of a small Chinese restaurant, the Nekohanten by name. Ranma had gone there for aid with an affliction of the mind. A long-ago incident of his childhood, brought on by a feckless father's imbecilic actions, had left him with a severe phobia of all things feline. That in itself would be bad enough, but with sufficient exposure, he would cease to be terrified of cats for a time and come to believe that he himself was one; reverting, as it was, to a feral state. The complexities of Ranma's personal life need not be explained here; the details of that alone have filled volumes. Let it only be said that he had, at long last, been coerced into an evening out with Akane Tendo. One that had, astonishingly, been uninterrupted by the intrusion of any of the other claimants to the love of either himself or his lady. A pleasant dinner with little conflict was spent at one of the nicer restaurants in town, and both had, though they would not have readily admitted it, an enjoyable time. Walking home, however, they chanced to encounter a stray cat wandering through the darkened streets. Stricken with fear, Ranma fled into a nearby alley, thereupon to encounter a dozen more cats picking through the refuse bins. Unaware of this fact, Akane shooed away the single cat outside the alley and then entered to retrieve her wayward fiancee, only to find that the cats had surrounded him. Already nervous from the alien events of the date, Ranma had become, in mind, a cat. Thus, he avoided further mental trauma from his fear. Upon spotting Akane, he grew affectionate and leapt upon her. The precise detailing of what occurred afterwards would be unnecessary; let it only be said that the end results were one ruined suit, one ruined dress, and one very angry and upset fiancee. Ranma's phobia had, in her mind, spoiled what had otherwise been a most pleasant time. For this, she blamed Ranma himself, rather than the phobia. Such was her wont to do; Akane had many fine points to her character, but reasonableness had never been one of them, nor had the proper assignment of blame. Ranma himself felt horribly guilty. His mental difficulties had destroyed what should have been a very pleasurable outing for him. His feelings for Akane, uncertain and nervous as they were, were strong. Their engagement had been difficult before, but now it seemed to Ranma that no chance of taking a step beyond engagement, or even of attaining a normal life, existed while he lay under the curse of his ailurophobia. Thus he found himself that day in the Nekohanten speaking to the aged proprietor, a woman renowned for her wisdom of the eldritch lores and judgement in applying them, if no longer for her beauty. And so began a grand and terrifying adventure, into a realm of nightmares and dreams, gods and monsters, beyond the veil of sleep. ... "Ya gotta help me out, Cologne."

Cologne regarded him with a steely gaze across the wooden table in the kitchen of the Nekohanten. A mountainous pile of carrot peelings was slowly obscuring her from view as she worked. "Why?" Ranma blinked. "You're the only one who can. You know about all that mystical stuff. You gotta know a way to cure the Neko-ken." The peeler rasped, and another long shaving of carrot dropped into the pile. "Assuming I did, what reason do I have to share it with you, Son-in-law?" "Umm... because... uhh..." Ranma grasped at straws. would be a nice thing to do?" "Who ever told you that I was nice?" "Err..." Ranma snapped his fingers triumphantly. "You helped me learn the Hiryuu-Shouten-Ha after Happosai stole my strength. That's just like this." "No, it isn't," Cologne refuted. "A weak husband is a shame for a woman of the Joketsuzoku. The Neko-ken, on the other hand, is an exotic and powerful technique when used correctly." Straws were disappearing rapidly. now?" Ranma looked to where Shampoo stood hopefully in the doorway leading between the kitchen and dining room of the Nekohanten, the curtain that covered it half-drawn away by her hand. "Uh... not yet, Shampoo." "You hurry and finish, okay? Then we go on date." "You... uhh..." We go on date "It

"Ranma, you done talking to Great-grandma?

"Uhh... maybe," Ranma said non-committally, trying to focus on both Joketsuzoku at once. Cologne was silent, watching the dialogue between the youngsters with all the intensity of a hawk. "Date be very fun," Shampoo said brightly. "Shampoo," Cologne said finally, "I am in the middle of a conversation with Son-in-law. Please leave us." Shampoo nodded, suddenly tight-lipped, and turned away, letting the curtain fall behind her. Ranma sighed with relief and turned his full attention back to Cologne. "Look, old ghoul--" A slice of carrot bounced off his forehead hard enough to make his eyes cross. "Don't be rude." "Cologne, if you don't--" A second carrot slice smacked off the tip of his nose. "Listen, you withered--" Flick. Bounce.

"Oww!" Cologne's usually bulging eyes were narrowed and annoyed. "One more try, son-in-law." The paring knife was pressed lightly against the end of a carrot, anticipating his response. Ranma opened his mouth. "I--"

"And think before you speak, for once." The knife blade cut slightly into the orange flesh of the carrot. Ranma gulped, and, for once, thought before he spoke. "Cologne," he asked, "please help me out with this. destroying my life." It's

The ancient woman nodded in seeming approval, and a thin smile grew on her lips. "Not bad. You even used 'please'." The carrot fell to the table with a thump, and Cologne did something with the knife that made it vanish. "I'm more inclined to help you now. I know the why of this. But what about the who?" Ranma blinked. "Huh?"

"Who do you want to rid yourself of the Neko-ken for?" A dozen answers sprang to mind that he could give, all of them false. Cologne's gaze was flat and hard as ice, heavy with the weight of years. He was not, he realized, a good enough liar to fool her in this. "Akane," he said in a whisper. "I gotta get rid of this thing for Akane." Cologne let out a weary sigh, and managed to look both disappointed and pleased at once. "Very well. I'll help you." Ranma punched his fist into his palm in triumph. "Great! So how ya gonna do it? Some kinda ancient Chinese secret mystic mumbo-jumbo?" Cologne nodded. "Something like that, yes." She hopped down from the chair she'd been standing on to reach the table, and hopped on her staff to the bottom of the stairs that went up to the second floor. "Stay here, boy, and don't touch anything." A series of taps, gradually decreasing in volume, echoed through the kitchen as Cologne made her way up the steps. Bored without an immediate source of stimuli, Ranma rapped his knuckles on the underside of the table in a rhythm only he knew for a few seconds, and then began to juggle a half-dozen uncut carrots. From the second floor, he heard a series of crashes, as if someone were sorting quickly through a huge closet filled with a lot of junk that had simply been thrown in there and forgotten about. Another series of taps, ascending in loudness this time, alerted him to Cologne's return, and he quickly snatched the carrots from the air and replaced them on the table. Holding something under one arm, Cologne came down the stairs atop her

staff. "Found it!" she crowed triumphantly, and deposited a small wooden box atop the table after sweeping the carrot peelings onto the floor. Still balanced on her staff, she leaned over the table almost eagerly. "Open it up, son-in-law." A cloud of dust puffed into the air as Ranma blew a breath over the box. Intrigued, he traced his fingers over the carving atop the box, and the unfamiliar letters underneath. Some of them were recognizably English, but others weren't - a triangle, an inverted V, an O whose bottom was two outward-facing feet. The carving itself was weathered and half-vanished, but appeared to be a profile of a man with two faces. One face wept, and the other smiled in a slightly cruel manner. "What's in it?" he asked, still unwilling to take his fingers from the wooden surface. "Open and see," Cologne said. Ranma flicked up the tarnished brass latch, and opened the box, which sent up another cloud of dust. Inside, the dark wood had been lined with red velvet, and in two rows of three, six cubes of a scintillating silvery colour lay. The composition of them was powdery, and they gave off a fragrant smell of roses. "Huh?" Ranma questioned with a glance to Cologne. "Incense, boy," Cologne explained. sleep." A frown grew on Ranma's face. experiences with magic incense..." "Happosai?" Ranma nodded. "Happosai." "Burn it as you go to

"I've had some bad

"This is different," Cologne said. "It is not the cure in and of itself, but it is the gateway to where you may find the cure." "Huh?" Cologne looked troubled. "I can say no more than that."

"You mean you won't say more than that." Long white hair swirled as Cologne shook her head. "No. I mean I can't. Close the box, Ranma, and watch." Ranma closed the box, and latched it with a soft click. Cologne dropped to the table-top and caught her staff before it fell. With a wrinkled hand, she touched the latch of the box and just as quickly drew it back. The carvings twisted, and came to life. The impression was of a badly-filmed movie playing out upon the wooden surface. First the two-headed image turned left, until the full face of the smiling head stared out at them. The wooden

face had a terrible look of vitality to it, and the eyes were bright and cruelly clever. Then it spoke, in no language known to human tongue, inside Ranma's head: "None whose dream-soul lies in glassThe head turned, wooden image blurring, and now the weeping face stared out at them, as the voice spoke on: -beyond the dreaming-gate shall pass" The scent of roses was gone. Now what clung to everything in the room was the aroma of dust and impossible age, desolation and decay. Again the head turned, visage after visage spinning by, laughing, weeping, laughing, weeping, laughing, weeping inside Ranma's head-The table shook with the impact as Ranma's hands slapped down atop the box. For a moment, he felt the box writhing under his hands like a serpent, and then it was still. A deep breath calmed him slightly, and he slowly slid his hands off the surface of the wood. The box was as it had been before; old and worn, the two-headed profile carved upon it without the animate monstrosity it had possessed before. "Do you see now, Ranma?" Cologne said softly. "I am constrained by a power beyond myself. Do not undertake this lightly, child. Consider what chances you are willing to take in freeing yourself from the Neko-ken." Ranma laughed uncertainly. could happen to me?" "What's the worst thing that

"I cannot describe it," said Cologne, "save that it would make you wish many times over that you had died." "Well," Ranma said, scratching the back of his head, "that's the worst thing, huh?" Cologne nodded and placed an ancient hand atop the carven lid of the box. "If you do not wish to..." "This is the only way, huh?" "The only way of which I know that might have some success." Ranma frowned. "And you can't tell me any more?"

A struggle seemed to pass across Cologne's face. Her mouth opened, but no words came out. Beads of sweat glistened on the parchment skin of her forehead. The hand she held her staff with tightened until the knuckles were bone-white. Soundlessly, her mouth worked, as if she tried to speak but something held her voice in thrall. At last, it passed, and she shook her head. "I cannot." Fear, unfamiliar, showed on her face. "I am sorry, son-in-law." "Okay," Ranma said, frown deepening. "No hints?"

The words came from Cologne, all in a rush. "Do not be consumed with phantoms child for within each mortal lies--" Her voice cut off with a strangled squawk, and it took her a few seconds to draw breath again. "I can risk no more than that." The box seemed heavier than it should have been as Ranma weighed it up and down on one palm. "Okay," he sighed. "I don't like it much, but if ya think this'll work..." Cologne nodded and wiped damp hair out of her eyes. "...then I might as well give it a shot." "One thing," Cologne said wearily as she slumped into her chair. "You'll have to be alone when you use it. Don't have anyone else in the room when you burn the incense." "Why not?" "It would not be good." Answers, it seemed, were not forthcoming from Cologne. The box was a comfortably solid presence under Ranma's arm as he got up from the table and turned to go. "Thanks, Cologne." Suddenly, he turned back, eyes narrowing with suspicion. "Wait a minute. What are you getting out of this?" "Confirmation," Cologne said enigmatically. something else." "No strings?" Her smile was thin and humourless. "The strings you tie yourself are more binding than any I might." The urge to scratch his head was there, but he resisted it. "Okay." "One more thing." "What?" Cologne pointed. "Go out the side door. waiting in the dining room." ... For the next three days, some force unseen appeared to be in conspiracy against Ranma Saotome's efforts. It was enough alone that he was forced to share a room with his sire (the source, as he saw it, of so many of his ills), but each effort he made to find a secure place to take rest while burning the incense met with failure. The first night, he waited until his father slept and absconded from their bedroom after retrieving the carven box from beneath his underclothing in the drawer, only to encounter a somnolent Akane Tendo on her trip back from the bathroom. As this encounter happened to take place outside the door of her room, and as Ranma happened to have looked inside the open door on the off chance that something was wrong with his Shampoo will be "And maybe

supposedly-sleeping fiancee, the end result was a sound thrashing due to Akane's presumption that Ranma had some nefarious end in mind - 'walking around the house in the middle of the night and peeking into my room like some sort of weirdo pervert' were her words, more or less. It should perhaps be noted that Ranma's immediate response had been to state that he had no interest in the charms of a 'flat-chested violent tomboy'. The second night, Ranma made the excuse of practising late in the dojo, intending to sleep there that night and make use of its isolated status from the rest of the house. Unfortunately, the arrival several hours after dinner of a rival of his, one Ryoga Hibiki, resulted in a rousing battle of several hours that ended (as many of their battles did) with no clear victor either way. By the end, Ranma was in such an exhausted state that he was incapable of considering anything beyond simple sleep. The third night, he again used the pretext of a late night training session in the dojo to avoid his regular sleeping-hour. When it was pointed out to him that his conflict the night before had left a large hole in the roof of said dojo, he rebutted that he would enjoy sleeping under the stars. When it was pointed out that the forecast called for rain that night, he said that a little rain wouldn't hurt him. By the time it was suggested by Akane's father that he simply spend an hour patching the roof that he had indirectly damaged, he had already left the room. That night, he carefully made a bed in the corner of the dojo, far from the hole, and waited until such a late hour that he was sure the rest of the household would be abed. Then, carefully putting light to a single cube of the incense placed in a small burner, he settled into his sleeping bag and stared up at the small amount of ceiling that remained, his head pillowed upon his hands. Soon a scent of roses such as the incense gave off, but multiplied, began to fill the dojo. Ranma's nose quivered at the soporific odour, and his lids felt suddenly heavy. Arms and legs, his body, they seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. He could not lift them. Panic filled him for a moment, and then panic went away under the lovely scent of roses. The floor, he thought, is rising, bearing me up with it towards the holes in the stars. Laughter came, and went. The ceiling dipped and bulged, and the walls ran like wax in polychromatic shades. His body was a prison. Flesh was hateful. The stars laughed at him. Roses rotted on the vine. Thorns pierced his skin. Vines wrapped around his limbs. Vines covered his eyes. The wooden floor was alive, trees rising, mist twining about the tangles of their roots. They waved their branches and danced for him. For a moment, he was sure he saw two worlds, one the dojo with the hole in the ceiling, the other the night-forest with trees so tall that their limbs had twined together and almost blotted out the stars. Then there was nothing at all but sleep, and what lay beyond. ... Ranma blinked. He was lying on a stick, which was poking

him in the small of the back. That had been... weird. incense been hallucinogenic, or something?

Had the

He then realized that there was not just a stick, but an entire forest; a vast forest of towering oak trees, the upper branches entangled with one another to form such a thick roof that only in patches were the stars of the night sky visible. There was no difficulty in seeing, though, for many of the oak trees were covered in luminescent green fungi that clung to the trunks or hung in long streamers reminiscent of tentacles from the branches. The light was eerie, turning the leaf-strewn forest floor a strange sickly colour. Extracting the stick from under him, Ranma sat up and looked around. Trees stretched off as far as he could see. "Well," he said quietly. "This is damn strange." Something skittered in the underbrush nearby, a quick darting shape, and he sprang to his feet and warily cast his head from side to side. "Someone there?" Was he dreaming? It didn't feel like a dream. The forest floor felt solid and real beneath his bare feet, though the verdant greens and browns of the forest had a murky quality to them. A piping sound rose from somewhere deep within the forest, and Ranma turned and took a few steps in the direction of it, before he heard it sound again from behind him. Frowning, he stopped and thought for a moment. The voice in his head from the carven box had spoken of the dreaming-gate, and he had to have come to this place somehow. Oddly, he was no longer in his pyjamas, but wore his familiar red shirt and black pants. He pinched the fabric of his shirt between his fingers; it certainly felt real. Weird. Deciding to get better oriented, he crouched, sprang, and grabbed a tree limb a dozen feet overhead. It bent slightly under his weight, oddly springy for its size, but held, and he hauled himself up onto it and balanced on the broad span of it. Another leap grabbed another branch, and he quickly and acrobatically worked his way up the hundred-foot height of the tree. Near the top, he had to slow down to pick his way through the tangle of branches, but at last he emerged atop the tree and gazed off from a perfect vantage point at the land beyond. It was breathtaking. Beyond the forest, a blue ribbon of a river wound through lush fields. Tiny cottages and farms dotted the land, and further off he saw clusters of houses that looked to be villages. But what stunned him were the mountains. Two of them were visible, forested on their lower slopes and rising tens of thousands of feet into the air to peaks capped with frost and snow that glowed blue beneath the starlight. They were bigger than Fuji-san - bigger perhaps even than Everest - and Ranma realized then that wherever he was, it was not of earth. He looked up at the stars; none of the familiar constellations were there, no North Star or the bright glow that was Venus. A sudden sense of smallness overwhelmed him, and he felt tiny and insignificant as he gazed up at the night sky. The

moon was bright, and seemed too big. While he watched, a far-off shape passed across it on too many wings, or perhaps too few. Suddenly, he no longer wanted to be atop the tree, staring at alien stars and unknown mountains. He regretted going to Cologne, regretted burning the incense. The flying thing, whatever on earth or elsewhere it was, was lost against the sky now - perhaps he had not seen it at all. Branches had not seemed so thickly strewn when he'd climbed up, but as he made his way down, they seemed to clutch at him as if they wanted him to stay. A misplaced hand squashed a glowing green fungus that looked like a malformed football, and it burst with a wet explosion to spray phlegmy liquid on his shirt sleeve and hand. Grimacing, he dropped the remaining short distance to the ground and wiped the mess off as best could against his pants. Nocturnal rustles came from tangled undergrowth through which a few rudimentary trails had been worn, and he glanced around nervously as he remembered the vast shadowy not-bird thing that had been framed against the moon. Still brushing at his sticky sleeve and scratching absently at his hand, which had started to itch, he began to walk along the trail that he believed would lead him from this alien and disturbing place to the pleasant fields beyond. All around him the woods murmured, and once, as he stepped over a fallen and rotted log, a moth as big as his hand with glistening blue wings flew by. At last, with the burning itch of his hand having grown only worse, the trees began to thin out and he saw the fields spreading beyond. For a moment, he paused under the towering limbs of one of the great oaks and looked at his hand. "Oh god," he whispered, as he realized why it had itched all this way. Somehow, he had never looked at it in all this walking. Pulsing tendrils of green moss were slowly growing from his palm; around them, squashed stains of the ones he'd rubbed away in his itching were spread in patches on the flesh of his hand. From them, tiny fibrous roots were beginning to emerge. As if his eyes upon it had been the trigger for some terrible vitalistic purpose, the moss began to writhe across his entire hand, enveloping it in a verdant glove. Numbness coursed up his wrist, his arm, his shoulder, and stretched tight across his brain like an enveloping veil. Horrified and paralysed, he stared as moss crawled up his arm like the tide creeping up a beach. Swayed, staggered. Shapes and colours blurred before his eyes as if the world were melting. Overhead, the stars spun madly. With a thud, he hit the ground. Half of his body felt as if a mountain had been laid atop it. The other half could barely move. Unable to scream or cry out, he felt his stomach twist in wretched disgust as the moss grew upon his clothes, and, even worse, upon his skin. Tangled fingers stroked his hair, kissed his forehead. The last thing he saw as the moss drew a reeking, faintly-glowing mask across his face, were the quick dark shapes

flitting from the underbrush, weird eyes glinting with green light and hunger. FIN ONE ***** Eidolons ... Two - Sanctum I fellowed sleep who kissed me in the brain, Let fall the tear of time; the sleeper's eye, Shifting to light, turned on me like a moon. So, planning-heeled, I flew along my man And dropped on dreaming and the upward sky. -Dylan Thomas The cats of Ulthar were restless that night. While the village slept, they prowled the streets in packs, greeting other clusters of their people as they did. Far more gregarious than the solitary cats of Earth, the felines of the Dreamlands were in no place more sophisticated and numerous than in the small and pleasant village of Ulthar. Among its cobbled streets and atop its arched roofs, they sunned themselves during the day, and at night they crept and hunted and mated, in the alleys and dark places under the light of the silvery moon. Stalkfast was the leader of the cats in that day, a tortoiseshell tom who looked fat and lazy but was in truth all muscle and hard tendon. He had just finished a rousing and rather cacophonic copulation with an attractive young manx atop the roof of a grocer's. In Ulthar, where all were forbidden by law to harm a cat and no sane man would have dared to, the village residents had long ago grown accustomed to the nocturnal couplings and caterwaulings or moved away. Now he led a furry crowd of cats young and old in nocturnal ramblings through Ulthar's streets, but at the edge of his quick and darting mind was a faint calling. It was this that made him lead Shadowfur and Volecatch, Fishthief and Yellowpaws, old Ironeyes and the half-grown Foxjaw, out into the fields near Ulthar. They crossed the bridge over the River Skai - offering up a silent prayer to the moaning thing that had been within it for so many centuries as they did - and ran silent as shadow through the streets of the neighbouring village of Nir. They arrived at the edge of the Enchanted Wood just as the weird-eyed zoogs were picking up the moss-wrapped form of Ranma Saotome. He was not the first to fall victim to one of the many strange flora that grew in the enchanted wood, and likely would not be the last. The zoogs themselves were immune to the effects of most of the fungi, and in fact served a useful purpose for this one by distributing its seeds in their dung after they consumed the flesh of those entrapped by it.

There were twenty of them, and less than half that number of cats, but the zoogs had long ago learned to know the danger of challenging the cats of Ulthar, at least when at the edge of their domain like this. Quick Foxjaw had snatched up one squeaking zoog and worried it to death before the zoog's fellows knew what was happening, and cheerful Yellowpaws snarled deep in his throat and knocked one half-dead with a quick blow of his forepaw. The zoogs fled then, chased a short distance by the cats until the woods grew denser. Returning to where Ranma lay trapped and paralyzed, the seven cats circled him, sniffing with deep interest and speaking back and forth about the strange sight. Then they began to lick at the moss covering him, and because the cats of Ulthar were stranger in mind and power than the cats of Earth, in a half-hour, he was completely uncovered by the rough tendings of their pink tongues. Then the cats began to dance in a circle around him, leaping and jumping, sometimes rising to sway with clumsy grace upon their hind legs for a few seconds. They called out to the gods of cats: to Meerclar, Bast, Tybalt, the One Who Grins and others. A subtle spell they wove under the cold light of the moon, and when they were done an hour later, Ranma Saotome began to cough. They butted him with their heads to turn him over onto his side, and he vomited up the spores of the fungus that had invaded his body onto the grass. Tails swished from side to side as the cats sat back on their haunches, their night-seeing eyes trapping the moon's light, and waited for their new comrade to awaken. ... Ranma woke up and looked into faces out of nightmare. Cats. All around him, cats. Surrounding him. Caging him. Wouldn't let him _out_. All thought of all else went away beneath the numb and insensate terror. Alien stars were forgotten. Moss that invaded his body was forgotten. Yellow eyes gleamed. One of the cats raised a paw tipped with razor-sharp flesh-shredding claws, and Ranma whimpered deep in his throat and looked around for escape but there was no escape because the cats were everywhere with claws and teeth so bright and hard and sharp and terrible. Then Ranma stopped being afraid because he realized all these nice cats were his friends. They wouldn't hurt him if he was a nice cat just like them. Ranma purred and stretched out his body. These were even nicer cats than he had thought, because they told him how they had made the bad moss go away. They said Ranma was one of the funniest looking cats they had ever seen, and all of them laughed. Into the night they ran together, leaping and bounding through the fields and hills. They climbed tall trees and called their names to the stars from the tops of them. They frightened

flocks of silver- and ebony-winged birds into startled flight from their sleepy nests in the long grass. They ascended the lower slopes of the big mountain together, which they said was called Mount Lerion. Curious at first of the strange dark tunnels from which the funny bright scents of iron and sulphur wafted, Ranma stayed away from them after being warned by grizzled Ironeyes. I will be a cat forever, Ranma thought. How wonderful, how glorious, to be a cat. No more perfect a being exists in any world. Now they stood atop a spire of cool grey rock, crying out in song to the stars and moon. Then, with a tensing of his hind legs and a spring, lean Fishthief leapt up into the sky and sailed towards the moon. Ranma was confused at first, worried that his new friend would fall. But he did not, and soon was lost from sight amidst the stars. Volecatch leapt, and Ironeyes, and half-grown Foxjaw. Ranma meowed unhappily, not understanding. Even he couldn't jump that high. Of course you can, Stalkfast told him with a derisive laugh. And as if he had always known how, Ranma sprang from the spire atop Mount Lerion and did not fall. Up into the darkness he hurtled, into the void of space. Stars whirled by him, or seemed to. It could not be that he came close enough to touch them. The stars were burning orbs greater than any planet, not just painted lights upon the blackness of space. Perhaps the stars of this place are not the stars of Earth, he thought, and then he thought, these are not the thoughts a cat would think. Then he thought, not a cat of Earth. So when he touched down upon a barren and icy surface pocked with craters, and saw that upon his skin and clothing a fine silver dust was already drying up and disappearing, he did not wonder at what it was; for a cat does not think of such things as that. The cats of Ulthar pranced around him. They called for him to follow in their yowling voices, and turned somersaults and cartwheels and backflips in the shallow gravity of the moon, each springy landing sending up puffs of the moon-dust to hover in the air before slowly drifting down again. They chased each other over the dunes and played hide-andseek within the carbuncles of the moon's surface. Ranma chanced to glance back at the cloud-bedecked blue surface of the world they had left behind, and for a moment a sense of very uncatlike vertigo pitched over him as the tiny and trapped human part of him comprehended with numb terror the distance he had leaped. Vague stirrings of human memory threatened the sanctity of his savage heart, but then Foxjaw ran laughing between his legs, and he pursued him over a rise in the cold lunar landscape to find himself gazing down upon an immense necropolis of worn temples. The sight stopped him cold, but Foxjaw ran on into the

great dead city and was lost to sight behind the shadowy span of a fallen archway. It was a city composed of pillars and heavy blocks of stone, low squat buildings and slender towers whose spires seemed to prod the stars. Dark granite, pale marble and black basalt dominated, as if the city had been born from the lunar landscape itself and strove like a child to emulate its parent. The pillars, which had once been magnificent, were falling into ruin. Spots of bright colour upon cold granite slabs and frosty marble buttresses told of the frescoes that might once have decorated them to break the icy monotony. In the courtyards of some temples, dead fountains that seemed not to have known water since the dawn of time lay choked with dust, and the sparkling stones of mosaics had long ago been picked away by scavengers until only the spaces where they had been remained. Strange and baroque glyphs in ten thousand dead tongues adorned the temples, and as Ranma stared at them, they seemed to shift subtly beneath his eye. What is this place, Ranma said to the other cats. terrible and wearying sense of loss in his heart. This is the place where the young gods come to die, Stalkfast said, and no more than that. All the other cats of Ulthar were gone now, and it was only Ranma and old Stalkfast. They walked down the slope towards the necropolis, and Ranma kept close beside the older and wiser tom as the two of them paced the basalt streets. Uncertainty and fear pressed tight around him, and a dozen times he was convinced he saw shapes that might or might not have been men regarding him from within the shattered doorways of temples or watching from a high window of some towering ziggurat. Once, he was sure he saw a golden youth, mouth open in silent laughter as he tipped an everflowing pitcher of wine down his throat. Fig leaves crowned his head, and he beckoned to Ranma from his place near a fallen column. But Ranma looked away at the sound of Stalkfast's questioning meow, and when he turned his head back, the beautiful youth was gone and in his place a shattered wine-jug dry as bone lay in faded fragments. In time, after they had gone so far among the labyrinth streets of the city of dead gods that the first temples Ranma had seen had long been lost to sight, they came to a temple that lay in decrepitude like all the rest. The roof had been pitted and scarred as if by acid, and the gold and blue paint that might have identified what dead land the god of the temple had come from had long flaked away, leaving only remnants of colour upon the cold grey pillars. Slim and elegant, though cracked in places and seemingly in danger of snapping at any time, they marched in matched rows towards the darkened entrance of the temple. Overhead, the strange stars burned alien constellations into the lunar sky like cold eyes. What is this place, Ranma asked. But Stalkfast was already He felt a

running towards the shadowy entrance, mottled shape darting between pillars in a splash of vibrant colour against the crushing sameness of the landscape. A nervous meow escaped Ranma as he followed, and he saw as he walked by the pillars that statues of cats lay at the foot of every one. A fierce stone lion of Chinese style stood beside a rough carving of wood studded with iron nails for claws and whiskers. Nearby, a chubby white cat with big blue eyes raised one paw in seeming blessing of the tiny brood of delicate porcelain kittens at his feet. There were cats of brass and copper who arched their backs and seemed ready to come to life hissing and spitting in fury, and there were tiny carvings of age-darkened bone no bigger than the nail of a thumb. Golden sarcophagi such as the lords of Egypt might have used to bury their beloved pets rested against pillars, and more than once the button eyes of a child's stuffed toy stared blindly out the shadows. At the threshold of the dark entrance of the temple, he reached out a nervous paw and mewed disconsolately. Beyond was black, a darkness so thick that the night-seeing eyes of a cat could not look even an inch within. He hadn't seen Stalkfast go inside; in the moment his eye had been turned to a construction of twisted wire and saffron cloth that suggested the form if not the reality of a cat, he had lost sight of his new friend. Now he was alone again. Hesitantly, he prodded at the darkness. His paw sank into it as if into a pool of ink, but there was no odd feeling. His paw touched down on what felt like cool stone beyond, and a little of his nervousness left him. Licking his lips, he stepped into the darkness on his four legs. As his head passed through, there was a moment of absolute blindness. Beyond, though, the passageway was lit by an ambient and sourceless light that filled the air with a pale amber glow. The darkness hung like a curtain, blocking off the view of the outside. Passing through it had been very cold, like plunging for a second into icy water, but now he was on the other side and had nothing to fear. Within, the temple seemed to have weathered better the desolation that had stricken the outer face of the city of dead gods. The walls of the tall and narrow hallway he found himself in were decorated with images of cats, as the pillared and roofed courtyard had been strewn with their statues. There seemed no rhyme nor reason to the composition; there were mosaics, frescoes, paintings on black velvet of cats playing poker, ink drawings on ivory-coloured paper, delicate miniature images on china plates. Ranma stood on his hind legs and balanced on the wall to gaze directly at one of the odder paintings. A great lion stood amidst a winter landscape. Around him, the snow was melting and flowers were springing up from the grass. Human children knelt at his feet and wove the blossoms into his mane without fear. Ranma made an uncertain sound in his throat, then dropped back onto all four legs and ran down the hallway. The amber glow lit his way as he searched for something without name or shape. Again he grew fearful as he wandered the twisting hallways of the temple, for always out of the corner of his eye he seemed to see

things that were not there. Then the hallway began to widen out, and he heard the sounds of many of his kin. The mingled scent of them came to him, and his heart leapt with joy. He would be with his friends again. The warm amber light that filled the air grew brighter, and as he entered the circular room that the passage led into, he saw that the source of it was a ball of roiling luminescence that hung suspended in the air and shed its light across everything. The room was filled with felines of all sizes and shapes. Housecats, tigers, and lions padded through the room amidst strange and alien cats who must not have been of Earth. Some had no hair, and their pale fleshy bodies were decorated with swirling tattoos in all the colours of the rainbow. Others had marks upon their foreheads in the shapes of moons or stars or comets. One great creature was the size of an ox and bright blue; enormously fat, he lay propped against one wall and smoked a thin pipe that he cradled in thumbed hands as small and delicate as a child's. As he smoked, he regaled a rapt crowd of kittens with fantastic tales in a deep bass voice. He saw young Foxjaw standing nearby and listening while pretending not to, and he caught glimpses in the milling crowd of the other cats of Ulthar who had rescued him from the moss. Directly beneath the ball of light, a lovely woman with the head of a cat lounged with indolent weariness in a high-backed throne of gold-veined marble. The cats circled in endless procession around her, paying her homage. "Come in, new one," she purred. Her eyes were the same amber as the ball of light, and her face was a darker shade of tawny gold. When she spoke, her voice was both the speech of humans and of cats. Again, Ranma's human thoughts stirred and threatened to arise, but the memory of terror and pain made them retreat deep back into him at the sight of so many cats. The wise eyes of the cats regarded him with interest as he padded into the room and went before the throne, but none took exception to his presence. Only the Cats from Saturn were excluded from this place, for they had long ago made dark alliances with other gods and ceased to be cats in the minds of all other felines. In Ranma they saw the fierce pride of the cat embodied despite his odd shape. "You do not know me, do you?" The voice of the woman was throaty and teasing, laden with sardonic amusement and a touch of condescension. you. I have always known you, Ranma replied pleadingly. I have always worshipped you. I love

"You have denied me," she countered. "You have hated me with all your heart, and hated and feared your brothers and sisters." Her disdain was withering. Ranma rolled onto his back and exposed his belly to her. He closed his eyes, and heard her footsteps as she rose from her throne and spoke a single word of

dismissal. There was the sound of many soft feet leaving, and some not so soft. The impression of lean and agile bodies rushing past broke through the darkness of his closed eyes. Be a crucible to me, he begged of the goddess. Let me please you. Take from me this wrong that I have done and let me be beautiful in your eyes. Fingers touched his stomach through his shirt. At any moment, the goddess would flex her hand and tear out his entrails. He was nothing in her sight, and for that he loathed himself. The hand moved away, and the goddess spoke again. "You are not meant to be of my people. You are a half-breed thing, neither fully cat or human. Your existence in this way offends me." He opened his eyes to see the goddess standing over him contemptuously, hands upon her hips. The room was empty of all others but them, and the light had darkened in shade until it was menacing and bizarre, throwing wild shadows about the floor and walls. Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me, he pleaded. "No," the goddess said. She reached down. Claws flashed on her fingers, which were both and neither those of human or cat. A hot slash of pain tore across his body as she began to pull him apart. ... The cats of Ulthar who had come with Ranma to the moon sat nervously in the courtyard of the temple in the city of dead gods. Their new friend had somehow drawn the wrath of the goddess. Embodiment and pinnacle of all that was feline, the one whom the Egyptians had named Bast was fickle and capricious in the extreme. Around them, the strange and alien statues whose number grew day by day upon the temple grounds seemed to watch with their sightless eyes. The other cats who had been visiting with the goddess that night waited in the courtyard as well, more comfortable under the protection of the courtyard's dessicated roof than beneath the sight of the stars. The Fat One lounged against a pillar and continued his endless stories in his hypnotic voice. A strange group of eyeless cats from a planet whose name no cat of Ulthar had ever heard played a gambling game for pieces of red crystal that winked like fire. And reclusive as always, the cats with the signs of the cosmos upon their foreheads gathered in a circle and sang dirges in a long-dead language for the destroyed homes of their ancestors. Foxjaw circled the older cats agitatedly, until Yellowpaws made jokes at his nervouness and he sat down on his haunches and began to glumly groom himself. The Fat One finished one tale and launched into another. From the crumbling temple across the

way, the faint sounds of merriment drifted, and the scent of such herbs as are said to give visions of the future. But no cat was tempted, for all knew of the perils of following the remnants of the young gods into their own temples. From within the temple, the light padding of paws could be heard, and then a great cry of delight came up from all the cats, of Ulthar and otherwise, as Ranma came forth from beyond the sheeted darkness. The goddess had transformed him into a form more pleasing to her eye; he was shaped like a housecat, though large as a lynx, and his fur was the colour of flames. His eyes were the bright and piercing blue of a newborn kitten's. It was, Stalkfast declared to the assembled cats, a sign that it was time for great deeds to be done. The Fat One remarked that he had heard that the foul Cats from Saturn were arriving in greater numbers than usual on the Dark Side of the Moon, to make, no doubt, dark alliances with the rubbery beings who lived there in their towering basalt cities. Some evil works, he concluded, were no doubt afoot. One of the tattooed cats of Mars suggested that a reconnaissance mission should be launched. A great purple tiger of a species long-extinct on earth roared one of the oldest battle cries of the cats, and then all of them were rushing away into the streets of the necropolis with flame-furred Ranma at their head, and with the waddling form of The Fat One panting and struggling to keep up in the rear. Their voices echoed from one end of the city of dead gods to another, and singing thus they passed out of its cold architecture and went forth to do great and heroic deeds against their ancient foes. ... There are a lot of worse ways to wake up than in bed next to a beautiful woman. Then again, there are better ways, particularly when you can't remember her name or how you got here, but you can remember that by every law of the universe you know, your fiancee is going to walk in and clobber the hell out of you at any moment. The woman grinned at Ranma as she sprawled seductively on the other side of the bed, her head propped up on one palm with her elbow on a tasseled pillow. Ranma tried to back away, and fell out of the bed onto the hard floor. "Silly man," the woman purred. Her voice was smooth and liquid as honey. Her lovely face peeked over the edge and looked directly into his eyes, silky dark hair hanging around it like a curtain. Her skin was very dark. The bright gold-flecked green of her eyes caught his gaze like a trap. There had been... moss. And cats. Lots of cats. He couldn't remember anything else. He certainly couldn't remember how he had ended up here. The woman sat up, dangling long and almost bare legs over the edge of the bed. Her garments were white and silky, and practically translucent. Ranma vowed that if he ever got back home, he was going to have a long

discussion with Cologne. "It's more comfortable up here," the woman said teasingly, moving lithely to the floor and lying down on her stomach. She rested her chin on her hands and placed her elbows on the floor as she kicked one long leg up into the air. Ranma got a sight deep into the depths of her tunic, and the rich glitter of gold necklaces amidst the cleavage of her rounded breasts was not nearly as enticing as the purely natural sights therein. "Bahh," Ranma said. The woman shifted again. Her movements were flowing and perfectly graceful, making it hard to see where one ended and another began. Now she sat up with one knee drawn to her chest and her arms wrapped around it. Her smile was dazzling. "Oh, you are delightful. Such an innocent." She leaned forward slightly and placed one hand lightly upon his chest. "Would you like me to show you how to please a woman?" Ranma gulped. "Gahh."

"Hmm?" She took his head between both hands and pulled him up to a sitting position, until their faces were only inches apart. "Cat got your tongue?" "Umm... who are you?" The woman pouted and let him go. As if he were no longer of interest, she turned her back on him and walked away to a shelf on one wall of the richly decorated room. There she poured herself a drink from a blue crystal flask and languidly moved to look at him again, sipping delicately from a silver goblet. When she spoke again, her voice had lost all coquettishness or teasing. "I am as you see me now because of my will and that alone." "Huh?" "No doubt you do not remember," the woman said. "You came before me divided and from your divisions I have made two wholes." Ranma blinked. Had this been what Cologne spoke of? He thought of cats. It brought distaste, but not the crushing fear that even the mere passing of the thought through his mind should have. The woman nodded, as if his thoughts were open to her as a book. "Yes," she said. "You are cured, as you put it. In the days when I was held in more esteem upon the Earth, rituals such as those you underwent at your father's hand were performed to create warriors dedicated in my name." Ranma stood up and scratched his head. He finally noted with some relief that he was wearing all his clothes. "Look, can't ya just tell me what's goin' on?"

A sigh escaped the woman's perfect lips as if at his unbelievable stupidity. "I separated the cat side of your mind from the human side, and created a form for the cat-mind to inhabit. Is that simple enough for you to understand?" "Umm... yeah." His forehead wrinkled in thought. how can you do that?" "Umm...

An old melancholy showed on the woman's lovely face. "Such is still within my power, at least within my own place. Like all the young gods of this city, my pride and my anger at the fall of my worshipper's civilization blinded me to the true nature of the Mirror-Lord and I made a pact with him. Now my only power in this world is within this temple." "Oh," Ranma said. He shrugged. Listen, I really gotta get home..." "Sorry to hear that.

Her eyes studied him coldly. "Your passage through the veil was not through normal means. You have made use of magic that has shifted your body through the walls of dimensions, from the waking world of your Earth to this land." "What is this land?" "It is the Dreamlands," the goddess replied. "Here the dreams and nightmares of man mingle with those of the sleeping gods to shape the structure of it." Ranma decided to turn on the charm. "Look, this is all really interestin' and stuff, and I'd love to stay around and hear all about it, but I've been gone a long time and Akane's probably gettin' mad, so if you'd just tell me how to get out of this place and back to Earth, I'd be really grateful." The dark eyes of the goddess turned darker still, until they were simply pools of night. On the walls, the lamps that lit the room dimmed until shadows seethed all about them. "Ungrateful mortal," she hissed in a low voice. "Know you nothing of how to deal with gods?" "Err..." "I have done you a favour." Barely-constrained savagery echoed in her voice. "Now you shall do me a service." "Sure, sure," Ranma agreed. He saw a terrible power in the goddess now. Her shadow upon the floor was not human, but that of a great cat. The sight sent shivers of fear down his spine, but again, no threat of the dark retreat into a bestial state. "Past the end of the great street of the city of dead gods you shall find the domain of the Mirror-Lord. You shall find for me the glass which holds the part of my soul that I gave to him in bargain. You will break it, and when that is done I shall know, and use my power to send you back to your world. Otherwise, you shall remain here with me." As suddenly as the wind, her mood shifted, and she smiled lustily. "I think I would

enjoy that as well." Faced with going off to fight a foe of completely unknown strength or having to stay with the capricious and extremely seductive goddess, who frankly made him very nervous, Ranma didn't really have much choice in the matter. "I'll do it," he muttered grudgingly. The goddess waved her hand at him. Time and space wrenched sickeningly, as if the earth had dropped out from underneath him and pulled him into a fall of thousands of miles that passed in a single second. Ranma found himself on his hands and knees in a roofed courtyard. Statues of cats were everywhere amidst the crumbling pillars. A layer of grey dust covered the broken cobblestones of the courtyard. He drew a gasping breath and staggered up to his feet, then walked out to where a road of black basalt cut down through an enormous city filled with buildings whose shapes all seemed subtly wrong, as if built to a scale and geometry that was not that of humans. He looked up at the star-filled sky. Still the unfamiliar constellations mocked him. Then his eye caught upon a large orb of blue and green, wreathed in circling spirals of clouds. He looked around at the strange architecture of the place and the grey dust. "Ahh, hell." He was _really_ gonna get Cologne for this. FIN TWO ***** Eidolons Ranma belongs to Takahashi. The Dreamlands were Lovecraft's creation, and the copyright is now owned I believe by Chaosium (or possibly by Arkham House or August Derleth, or maybe by the Ancient Seers of Bavaria. We're not sure). Anyway, both are used without permission, as you no doubt have already guessed. ... Three - Speculum time takes its crazy toll and how does your mirror grow you better watch yourself when you jump into it 'cause the mirror's gonna steal your soul I wonder how it came to be my friend that someone just like you has come again you'll never, never know how close you came until you fall in love with the diamond rain throw all his trash away look out he's here to stay

your mirror's gonna crack when he breaks into it and you'll never never be the same look into his eyes and you can see why all the little kids are dressed in dreams I wonder how he's gonna make it back when he sees that you just know it's make-believe blood crystallized as sand and now I hope you'll understand you reflected into his looking glass soul and now the mirror is your only friend... -Sonic Youth ... Silverhold, the castle of the Mirror-Lord, stands on a lunar hill and looks down upon the shattered temples of the city of the dead gods as a king looks down upon his vassals. It is toweringly vast, a stronghold of narrow spires and tall keeps whose walls all join at exact angles of ninety or forty-five degrees. A deep octagonal trench surrounds it, filled with a liquid that is not water, for it flows flat and calm in an endless movement, and reflects the star-filled eternal night of the sky above so perfectly that a fall into it would perhaps seem a fall into the boundless hunger of the void of space. The walls of Silverhold are mirrors, all of them perfectly flat. In them lie an endless sea of reflected images: stars and space, the surface of the moon, the ziggurats and minarets of the city of the dead gods. The joins of the walls, perfect angles of ninety degrees or forty-five that they are, are nevertheless hard to see. One reflection seems to flow into another, and as the eye gazes upon the massive castle, they appear to shift slowly, though experience and all human rationality tells that it is the object reflected that moves, and not the reflected image. From the outskirts of the city of the dead gods, Ranma Saotome comes walking. He passes by a squat temple from whose dark archway the laughter of children can faintly be heard, and by the dusty courtyard of a small shrine filled with the skeletal remains of long-dead plants. As he walks by the last temple, a woman fair as twilight beckons from the shadows of a Doric column; her lips are red as roses. Ranma ignores her, and departs the city of the dead gods at last; the phantoms of that place have no power except within their sanctums, and they must tempt rather than compel men to come within to their alien mercies. Now the static and sterile reflection of the moonscape within Silverhold is broken, as a thousand Ranmas walk in a thousand mirrors. Slowly, too far away for Ranma to see what happens, a tall mirror on the largest keep of Silverhold ceases to reflect and turns black, as though it now throws back the image of a depth of space so old that every star has long burned out. As he climbs the hill, images begin to appear from the blackness. A short hallway, richly carpeted, leads to a vestibule where two matched spiral staircases of crystal wind

up to the second floor. It is filled with doors, an endless number of them. All of them look the same, slightly too large to have been built by human hands and silver-hinged. They have no knobs. The quicksilver circling of whatever liquid fills the moat ceases for a moment, and a bridge rises soundlessly from the depths. Ranma Saotome reaches the top of the hill, and sees that Silverhold lies open to him. He pauses to watch his reflection in the moat, wondering what the liquid is. Silverhold waits for him to enter. It is patient. ... Down a red-carpeted hallway hung with a hundred mirrors, the mind loses sight and conception of the self. Curved mirrors, straight mirrors, mirrors that cast no reflection at all; image reflected into image, an infinitude of space behind the glass. Chandelier after chandelier passed by overhead, a dozen candles in each to light the way. The hall seemed much longer than it had from the outside; the twin spiral stairs did not seem to grow any closer no matter how far he walked. Distorted images of himself paced alongside him through the mirrors, shifted and changed their form as they passed from one silvered glass to another. He ran down the list mentally in his head. Find the glass that held the goddess's soul. Break it. Go home. Get back at Cologne for doing this to him. The walls and floors were of the same material, a white stone whose joins were so seamless that it seemed as though the entire hallway could have been carved from a single titanic block. The ceiling was vaulted, and the chandeliers swung slowly overhead on tiny silver chains as if moved by wind, so that shadows leapt and danced madly about on the dark red carpet. All the mirrors were in filigreed frames of gold and silver, adorned with precious gems that winked in the light. Well, he thought as he walked with his head bent in thought, I did get cured. Cologne had been right about that much. It probably wouldn't have killed her, however, to tell him a little more about what he was getting into. Or maybe it would have; the whole conversation, and Cologne's inability to speak about certain things, had been extremely odd. What time is it?, he wondered. There wasn't any way to tell up here on the moon. Back on Earth, was the Tendo household waking up and wondering where he was? Were they looking for him? Was Akane looking for him? All the Ranmas in the mirrors walked with their heads bowed, lost in contemplation. Distorted reflections, warped images. Mirror faced mirror, and as he passed each mirror, the procession of images stretched out to the vanishing point of the vision, a thousand miles back behind the glass.

He'd expected guards, traps, something like that. Not this seemingly endless walking. No hallway could be this long; it wasn't possible. He had seen the distance from the entrance to the place of stairways and doors, and it had been no more than two hundred feet. How long had he been walking? How many mirrors had he passed? He tried to remember and count. One, two, three, four. Image into image. Five, six, seven, eight. His eye caught on a spot on the plush carpet ahead, where a foot had come down particularly hard and left the impression of itself in the red shag. He paused. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Chandeliers moved slowly overhead as he crouched, and looked back and forth to see at last that he was walking in his own footprints. "What the hell?" Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. He raised his head, and saw that the hallway widened out a few steps ahead, into a high-ceilinged room where a single great chandelier hung from the pinnacle of the arching ceiling. There were doors everywhere, all of them exactly the same. Crystal stairs led to the second floor, where the doors disappeared from sight down a hallway that ran left and right from the top of the stairs. How many doors? The eye couldn't count. One, two, three, four. He swept his gaze from one wall to the other. Five, six, seven eight. What shape was the vestibule? A square, a pentagon, an octagon? Nine ten eleven twelve. What were those twinned spiral stairs made of? From one angle the crystal seemed transparent, from another translucent, from a third opaque. The light was all wrong here; too bright in one moment, then suddenly too dark as his eye shifted to another spot. The doors had no knobs. Why would you build doors without knobs? Doors without knobs kept things in, but he had come here from the outside; they couldn't keep him in. It began as the tiniest itch between his shoulder blades, a feeling like a spider creeping along his flesh, or the sensation of being stared at by a distant watcher. Even as he turned, he knew what he would see, and a low sound of fear escaped his throat. Back behind him, a red-carpeted hallway hung with mirrors extended endlessly, walls slowly collapsing inwards with the perspective of his vision unto the vanishing point, miles distant. The chandeliers swung slowly. Shadows danced in the mirrors, light glittered off the gilded frames. One of the doors opened behind him with a bang. Then another. Another, another, all of them opening in rapid succession with a squeal of hinges that had not seen oil in a thousand years and a hard impact as they bounced off the walls. Ranma whirled around, to see door after door flying open, in a cacophonous hail of sound that almost knocked him to his knees. The hinges whined and screamed like dying children, and the doors smashed against the walls as if thrown open by some impossibly great force. He clapped his hands over his ears, but the noise only grew in volume, until it overwhelmed everything, until black spots danced in front of his eyes like oily snow. Just when he felt as though he were going to pass out, it ended. A last

scream, a final echoing bang, and there was silence. All the doors were open. Hundreds of them in this chamber alone, and an unguessable number in the unseen hallways of the second floor. "Ah, damn it!" Ranma swore, kicking at the floor of the vestibule. Black and white octagonal tiles had been laid down on the floor here, endlessly interlocking up to the edges of the doorways. "I'm never gonna find that stupid goddess's stupid soul." With a slow rasp, a door on the other side of the room began to swing closed. The others stood open still, silent dark maws open in silent dark laughter. On impulse (which had caused him so much trouble so many times before), Ranma sped across the room and leapt through just as it slammed completely shut, nearly losing the end of his pigtail as he did. The first thing he noticed in the darkness was that he had splashed ankle-deep into water. The floor beyond the door was several inches lower, and the water was almost uncomfortably cold. "Damn," Ranma muttered, as moisture began to creep up from the soaked cuffs of her now-loose pants. Gingerly, trying not to splash herself any more than she already had, she turned around and sought for the door handle that should have been right behind her. There was no handle, and no door. Absolutely blind, she stepped forward in the darkness, and her questing hands found nothing. One more step, and her fingers touched a smooth, cold surface of glass. At that, as if it were a trigger, the light came back in as the darkness faded. At first there was the dimness of twilight or sunrise, and then a full, if artificial, daylight. It was hard to say, however, exactly where the light was coming from. Perhaps from the mirrored walls, or from the mirror-coloured liquid she was standing in, which she saw now was not water at all - though it certainly felt like it. Where it had soaked her pants or splashed onto her shirt, she had been coated in silver so that she reflected as a mirror. The room itself appeared to be a maze, constructed entirely of mirrored walls that curved and stretched all around her. Now that there was light, she could see that the silver coursed slowly, its movements visible in the occasional ripple that passed through it. Strangely, there was no feeling of flowing around her ankles. With a step back from the wall, she took her hand away from the mirror. The prints of her fingers remained for a second, and then faded away like mist. A hand wiped down her shirt came away with the palm covered in a half-dozen dime-sized patches of silver liquid. Each one was a tiny, perfect mirror. A flick of her wrist sent them spattering against the walls of the maze, where they seamlessly merged with the glass. "A maze of mirrors," she snorted, perhaps to conceal her anxiety at the disappearance of the door. The normal laws of physical space - that solid objects do not abruptly disappear, that distances remain constant - did not seem to apply here.

"That's original." By tilting her head back, she was able to ascertain that the ceiling high above her head was a flat mirror, and reflected a perfect image of the entirety of the tangled maze, with her tiny and indistinct shape somewhere near the centre. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to see any exits. Far in the distance of the reflection, though, she saw something quick and dark moving. It was growing closer. Up in the ceiling, the shape darted through the maze as it approached. Everything in here was a mirror. The walls spanned high above her head, too high to jump, too slick to climb, mirror looking into mirror, the endless falsity of infinity in flat glass. Ceiling into floor, entire worlds that did not exist shaped out of the easy deception of light upon the eye. A thousand Ranmas, a thousand shapes heading from a thousand directions towards her. Illusions of eternity, and horrendous crushing sameness, a difference only of perspective and symmetry that fooled the eye into seeing as real what was not there. When she could see by the mirror of the ceiling that the shape was almost upon her, she readied herself for combat. The water - if it was water, it had to be water, it had made her change - had grown colder, numbingly so. If only the ceiling were not so high; she might then have had some idea of what she was going to face. She saw the reflection of the foe in an angled mirror of the maze before she saw the foe itself, but before it entirely registered the reality was before her. It was Tatewaki Kuno. She nearly laughed out loud with relief, before she realized that there was no way he could have gotten here, and then she saw that he walked atop the silver water and left no mark of his passage. "Pig-tailed girl," Kuno breathed. No; not Kuno, not Kuno. The thing striding on the water down the corridor towards her wore Kuno's skin and his clothing, but it was not him. "Come to me, my love. I long to drown myself in the perfume of your hair, to inhale the fragrance of your bosom." She felt as if her feet had been nailed to the floor. Kuno was a half-dozen steps away, his arms wide to embrace her, and she knew, knew absolutely that if he did, that was the end. "I number your eyes among the stars. nights and fills my days." Your face haunts my

It sounded like Kuno, looked liked him, moved like him. But it wasn't; it wasn't, and it was cloaking itself in his flesh but _it wasn't him_. "My love, oh my love, conjoin with me, spend eternity at my side, and we shall watch the stars wheel overhead until the Dancing Maiden and the Wounded Bear intertwine." Just as he was about to come close enough to reach out and grasp Ranma, she managed to find the memory of how to move. Without another moment of hesitation - for that would have meant the end of everything - she turned and ran. Mirror-water

splashed as her feet came down, sinking into mirror-glass, staining her clothing. No time to look up to see where she was going, because although she never looked back she knew that the thing with Kuno's face followed - she could see it in the mirrors, always a few steps behind. She turned a corner, and another. All around her, her reflections ran alongside, or in front, or below, or towards. The air seemed thick and hard to breathe. Silver water coated her to the waist. It seemed to grow heavier by the second, slowing her down, stiffening. She was running down a long, straight section of corridor when she heard the laughter. High and shrill, it echoed through the maze and the mirrors vibrated to the pitch of it. Kodachi Kuno, slender and tall, stepped from around the corner with her dark eyes flashing. "Ranma, my darling," she purred. Her feet slid along the silver water as though along ice, and she seemed almost to dance as she came. "My love." "Ranma, my body cries for you with all its being. unspoiled for you, I am all that you desire." I am

"Your beauty outshines the sun, your voice makes the heavens weep." They were coming down either end of the corridor, and Ranma had never been more afraid in all his life. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. His eye caught his reflection in the mirrors, and the stunning horror of the realization that caused dried all the saliva in his throat in an instant. He was neither male nor female; the full, rounded breasts that strained beneath his shirt were contrasted by the sudden existence between his legs of something that most certainly affirmed his masculinity. "My--" "--love" Tatewaki and Kodachi were nearly upon him now, eyes filled with lust. But it wasn't Tatewaki and Kodachi; it was something else, he realized, something that had reached down into his mind and pulled out their images and thrown them on like masquers at a ball throw on their costumes. Terrified as he was, he realized that whatever lay beneath would be infinitely worse. If they touched him it was over, it was the end of everything, it was the night coming down. With a scream he - or she, he did not know anymore - whirled and punched a mirrored wall as hard as he could, but the glass did not shatter. His arm sank in, his momentum threw him forward, and he fell, stumbling, as if through a curtain of water. The surface of the mirror rippled as he passed through, and fled down another corridor of mirrors that led into another, and another, and another, all stretching out ahead, endlessly, until they fell beyond the range of sight. There was no end to this place, no end to the running, no end to the nightmare. How long he ran he did not know, through one mirror after

another, until he fled through corridors that must have been reflections of reflections of reflections. The pursuit behind him was inexorable, a vaguely human shape glimpsed out of the corner of his eye, or on the edge of a reflection for a moment. At last, though, he stumbled and fell from exhaustion, and landed with a great splash in the ankle-deep mirror-water. It tasted slick and oily as he inadvertently swallowed some, and made him want to retch. He was coated in it, now, almost completely covered, and it did not run off as ordinary water did. A film of it clung to his skin and clothing, and he had become a living mirror. For a few seconds, he lay on his stomach, almost sobbing, and then he rolled over so that he might push himself to his feet. Something stood but a few steps away, a shape out of a nightmare. It looked as though Tatewaki and Kodachi had been rendered down, melted like wax yet somehow retaining their features, and then poured into a single mould of rough protean humanity. The thing was perhaps nine feet tall, blubbery as a newborn infant, and two faces fought for dominance upon the lumpy visage. It was nude, prodigiously proportioned even for its immense size in the attributes of both woman and man. The fleshy mouth was open in a yawning smile, and a half-dozen tongues like great bloated worms stretched forth from the gaping maw. "My love," it slurred, as pus-coloured drool squirted out from between the rotting stumps of its broken teeth. "My love, my love." Ranma scrambled backwards on his hands, shrieking, all hope and rationality gone out like snuffed candles at the sight. All the images in the mirror were him, neither male nor female, all the illusions were real, time and space stretched infinitely on in the lies of the mirrors but the mirrors were not lies. One, two, three. Three times he used his hands to push himself back, as the thing gibbered and strode colossally forward with its arm open wide to grasp him. The fourth time, he touched empty air, and fell backwards as though into a gaping abscess beneath the mirror-water. It closed over his head, flowed into his lungs, choked off all air and all light. ... Consider a mirror. The purpose of it is the deception of the eye, the creation of entire worlds in flat silvered glass. But even the most perfect mirror does not reflect true; left is right, right is left. A convex mirror broadens the perspective of the world, a concave one narrows it. Stand between two mirrors, and you stand within the illusion of infinity. Some have believed that a mirror can steal the soul. Whether they can or not, there is a power in reflected images that we cannot deny. Narcissus saw his face in the mirror of the waters and was captured by it; Amaterasu was drawn out of the safety of her cave by her own reflection. Even the gods are not immune to the power of vanity. Imagine then that there may be mirrors more complex, more distorting, than any that men have yet discovered. Most

terrifying of all might be the thought that we ourselves might be mirrors; that all actions that we think are the functioning of our own free will are merely reflections of the movements of forces we can never hope to glimpse. No one in the Dreamlands, of Earth or otherwise, can say whence the Mirror-Lord came. Some say he sailed out of the west in the days when the Dreamlands were young (however infinitely far gone those days might be), and that he came from splendid Cathuria. The priests in Celephais speak in hushed whispers of how Silverhold appeared in a single night on the light side of the moon, and of how it sometimes vanishes completely from view. The young gods, who have their power only because men choose to worship them, live in fear of him. Their numbers dwindle, as he makes his bargains with them, and as new temples appear in the city of the dead gods, desolate as if they have stood for ten thousand years. The old gods, who lie sleeping or bound and wait as the slow millennial turning of the stars rouses them from their slumber to horrific wakefulness, leave him alone. Perhaps he is one of them. No one can say for certain. Silverhold travels from one plane of existence to another, flitting through the worlds as the image of man flits through mirrors as he passes them. The unwise among the sages say that he is confined to the lands of dreams and nightmares. There are others who know better, and who understand the mechanism behind entire towns found abandoned, or the ships found adrift at sea undamaged but empty of all their crew. To every world he comes to, he brings his bargains. Few can resist them, man or god. It is the one who comes to him that must be most careful, however. One of the oldest and mightiest laws of what we choose to call reality is that to be a part of something once is to always in some degree be a part of it. We are never entirely separate from anything we have known. Thus, on the cusp between the light and dark side of the moons, as he led the Cats of Ulthar and the cats of other worlds on a grand and noble quest, Ranma the Cat suddenly threw back his head and let out a cry of utmost despair to the apathetic movements of the stars above. ... There are a lot of worse ways to wake up than in bed next to a beautiful woman. This was one of them. The first sensation was one of cold, a biting chill that gnawed him to the core of his bones. The second was of wind, blowing over and across him, turning the air into freezing blades. Naked, he lay on his back on what felt like a plane of smooth ice. Shivering almost convulsively, he stood up and wrapped his arms around himself, crossing his legs to try and find some shelter from the air. There was none. He was on a floe of clear, hard ice that floated on a sea of silver water which stretched out as far as the eye could see. The sky was a clear and cloudless expanse of pale blue. There was no sun; the light seemed to bleed in an unnatural albedo from

the flat sheen of the ice and the restless surgings of the mirror-sea. Yeah, he was definitely gonna get Cologne for this. This place was colder than Hokkaido, and he'd had clothes then. The only advantage of his relocation was that he appeared to be very far away from the malformed monstrosity, that impossible challenge to sanity that had pursued him through the maze of mirrors. He found it hard to recapture the image of it in his mind, or even to remember much of his terrified flight from it. That was fine; he didn't want to remember it if he didn't have to. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms, and jogged on the spot to try and get his chilled blood flowing. White puffs of breath came from his mouth and broke apart. The ice floe tilted slightly under the impact of his feet. From nearby, he heard a high voice. "Are you trying to wake them up?" Ranma started, and turned towards the speaker. A small child of indeterminate gender sat with its bare legs dangling over the edge of the floe, almost dipping toes into the mirror-sea, and looked back over one small shoulder to address him. It was as naked as he was. "They're not going to wake up, you realize. Not for all the stomping in the world." Ranma blinked. "Look down." There were bodies in the ice. Thousands of them, dark shapes stretching down within the frosty embrace of the floe until they disappeared from sight. They wore the garb of many nations; some of them seemed to have wings, or more arms than two, or the heads of beasts. Horrifying as the sight was, it was worse, far worse, than he'd thought it was at first impression. Because in the open brown eyes of the body closest to the surface, a bearded man wearing the skin of a lion, Ranma saw the light of life and intelligence. He heard a splash, but that couldn't pull his eyes away from the bodies frozen in the ice. The man's mouth was open in a scream, as if he'd been captured in the midst of seeing something too terrifying to comprehend. There was another splash. This time, he turned, to see a silver figure rising from the mirror-sea. It looked like a beautiful, androgynous child; where the identifying genitalia should have been, there was a blank expanse. The skin was blindingly bright, so bright it was not possible to look directly at it. The figure rose entirely from the waters, appeared for a moment to stand upon their shining surface, and then emerged fully to hover several feet above the waters. "Lemme guess," Ranma said through chattering teeth, trying not to think of the bodies in the ice. "You're the Mirror-Lord." It didn't answer. Even the eyes were silver; it looked like a Grecian statue, perfectly proportioned, but blank of all pigmentation. The expression on its face was vaguely condescending, as if it were confronting a very minor annoyance. "Who?"

"So," he continued. "I guess you're not just gonna give me what I want, so I can get out of here, right?" The Mirror-Lord said nothing. condescend to change. Its expression didn't even

"Do you think I could have my clothes back?" There still wasn't any response. Ranma was starting to get annoyed. And more than a little nervous. "Look, you dumb silver freak, you deaf or what?" This was starting to get rather spooky. It didn't even respond to insults. Ranma wished he had something to throw at it. He could almost see it happening; a rock, a baseball, anything, bouncing off that perfect, expressionless face. "Why don't you come closer?" he snarled. His body was becoming number by the minute; he tried stomping his feet again to warm up, but that forced him to think again about the bodies in the ice. "You scared, or something? Pretty cowardly for some kinda mystical-weirdo-god-thingy, ain't ya?" He had never seen anything look quite so bored as the Mirror-Lord did in that moment. "Okay." Ranma was starting to grow a bit desperate; the thing simply wasn't responding, and he had no idea how to complete his bargain with the goddess while trapped on an ice floe in the middle of God-knows-where with no clothes. "This is a dream, right? Well, I want to wake up." Slowly, like the ripple of wind across water, a flicker of a smile appeared on the flawless silver face. "Okay," it said. The voice of it was like the shattering of glass, like some vast and delicate construction falling to a stone floor. The mirror-sea seethed, and from its silvery depths immense slabs of transparent ice began to appear, thrusting up like reaching talons amidst clouds of icy vapour. "Wake up and see." Ranma's arms snapped out to the sides as an invisible force drove his body rigid as steel. Suddenly, he didn't feel cold at all anymore; he didn't feel anything. Slowly, one slab of ice turned translucent. Then opaque, until it was the same blindingly bright silver as the skin of the Mirror-Lord. It began to darken, as though the light were going out of it. Finally, it became a mirror, a mirror as tall as a building. The Mirror-Lord said, "Look." Ranma looked, and saw, and then he began to scream. FIN THREE *****

Eidolons Ranma belongs to Takahashi. The Dreamlands are the creation of H.P. Lovecraft, and belong to whoever now own the rights to his works. Anyway, both are used without permission, as you no doubt have already guessed. ... Four - Tempus Lo, I or you, Or woman, man, or state, known or unknown, We seeming solid wealth, strength, beauty build, But really build eidolons. The ostent evanescent, The substance of an artist's mood or savan's studies long, Or warrior's, martyr's, hero's toils, To fashion his eidolons. -Walt Whitman ... He had been shown Ryoga killing Akane first. It to yell singing air had had been an accident. Because she hadn't turned around at him, had only taken another step forward, and the razor sharpness of Ryoga's belt as it whirled through the sheared half her face off.

The one memory he would always have would be Nabiki, screaming as if the sound were being torn out of her with a hook, as if she were never, ever going to stop. Funny how a sound would be retained, but the sight would be forgotten. It had only begun there, though. The Mirror-Lord had so many other things to show him in the monolithic looking-glasses birthed from the molten flatness of the silver sea. Ryoga killing Akane had only been a prelude to the horrors that were to come. Images of death, loss, pain; so many, so many that they were beyond counting. Akane died: of disease, accident, murder. She died at her own hand, at his hand, at the hands of a hundred others. Raped and tortured and broken, so many times it felt as if his eyes - which he could not close, was not allowed to close - were going numb, as if he were becoming used to the images. It all began to blend together, until there were only two universals, he the murderer, she the murdered. Again and again, variations on a theme, more and more mirrors rising from the mirror-sea, images flaying his mind apart. It showed him more - more, ever more: as though his life were flashing before his eyes a hundred thousand times, twisted beyond all recognition by some subtle change. Akane hated him, or he hated her, or he was insane, or she was, or his father engaged him to Nabiki instead, or Akane was never born at all, or he was never born at all, or they were born into a world where

they would never, ever meet. And terribly, most terribly of all, he realized that all of it was true. Every image, warped though it might be, was as true as he was. The slabs rose from the shining sea, and they showed him glimpses of everything that could be, that had been, that would be. Because there are worlds in mirrors, an infinite number of them, spinning through space around the furnaces of alien suns so distant that the light of his world's sun fell away and died into the howling void, the graveyard of the stars, before it could ever reach them. It was too vast to comprehend. Certainly not impossible to conceive, but to be actually shown it, to be shown how time and space are not a river or a sea or a turning wheel but an endless unbounded void in which the infinite universes are thrown atop one another like discarded refuse or swing without rhyme or reason around the seething mindless chaos that is the beginning and end of all things... to have the absolute knowledge of that truth rammed into his fragile human mind like a spike, that was too much. Frozen as the figures in the ice below, Ranma could neither scream nor weep, only watch, as the Mirror-Lord showed him wonder upon wonder, horror upon horror. Worlds of fire and worlds of ice, worlds blasted by the carnage of endless wars where he and his father wandered through the ruins of vast cities, worlds where dark gods walked abroad and mortal men huddled in terror beneath the earth. Worlds of endless night, where the stars hung closer to the planet, glaring down like eyes, and winged things as vast as mountains descended upon the helpless cities to feast and revel in blood and chaos. What you call dreams are only other worlds, the Mirror-Lord said. Its voice was slick and smooth, and slid into Ranma's head like shards of glass. What you call lies are only other truths. All things, all possibilities, exist. The mirrors were everywhere, the images in them searing into his mind. The silver sea was boiling now, swirling chaotically as tens of millions of icy slabs rose and fell, showing him fragmented glimpses into so many nightmares that they could never be numbered. Everything that could have gone wrong, in past or present or future, each tiny change that rippled down through reality and transformed the world into horror beyond imagining. The almost friendly rivalry he and Ryoga had turned into a bloody feud that would engulf their children, and their children's children; the impulsive decision by Shampoo that made her break Akane's neck instead of using the Xi Fa Xiang Gao; the speeding car that struck his mother while he lay within her womb and killed them both. His entire existence as he was was so absolutely improbable, a combination of billions of tiny factors that ended up producing him as he was and his world as it was, that in the end all of it was for nought. Nothing mattered. He, the world, the universe, were less than a drop of water in the ocean in the end. Mortal men died, worlds cracked and fell to the dust, the suns and stars collapsed into themselves or blew apart in cosmos-shattering explosions, and _none of it made any difference_. At the last, all things would collapse again into their beginning, into the

primordial chaos that had brought forth creation with no more thought or purpose than an inebriated man vomits up his excesses. The realization was shattering, so much so that it made him simply want to lie down on the ice and never move again. But he couldn't even do that; he was completely in the thrall of the Mirror-Lord and the worlds it showed him. So what if he was free of the Neko-ken; any happiness would be fleeting. What a fool he had been to care for such a thing; what a fool he had been to care for anything, or for anyone. It no longer even mattered to him if it ended or not. Let it continue, or let it stop, it made no difference. It was then that he realized that it had stopped, that the mirror-sea was flat and smooth again, with only the glistening asexual being that was the Mirror-Lord breaking the monotony of the landscape as it floated above the silver sea. Ranma crumpled to the ice, frostbitten and bone-weary. He gazed into the terrified eyes of a statuesque woman in the garb of ancient Rome where she lay in the ice below, and saw in the sheen of the ice the reflection in his own eyes of the same look. "Do you see now?" said the Mirror-Lord. He did not. Without help, he could not fully comprehend or remember what he had been shown. The ultimate futility of all things was not so conscious to him now, though it might be infinitely worse than any else of what he had been shown. All he could truly remember was his hands killing Akane, again and again. Tears leaked from his eyes and froze before they struck the ice. Damn you, Cologne, he thought, saying nothing. Damn all of you, in every world. No one was spared: not him, not Cologne, not Akane. There were billions of reflections of all of them, warped and twisted beyond imagining. <Do not be consumed with phantoms...> Cologne had said that. She hadn't finished, though. had it meant? It could not have mattered anyway. <Do not be consumed with phantoms.> "...for though within each mortal lies all things, our will is yet free." With his hands he pushed himself up to his knees, though his body was cold and ached terribly. The Mirror-Lord was still floating in the same place, the tiny smile gone, the bored look returned. "Yeah, I see." He'd asked to wake up, and now he had. "Nothin' matters in the end. Not me, or the world, or you. But you know, if nothin' matters in the end, then it doesn't matter that nothin' matters. Or somethin' like that. So we're right back where we started then, huh?" The corners of the Mirror-Lord's perfect mouth edged fractionally downwards. What

"I have shown you the futility of all things," it said. There was no note of uncertainty in the voice, no hint that the change in expression was reflected anywhere else. "Yeah?" Ranma replied. Naked and shivering, he still managed a shrug. "What else ya got?" There was no answer from the Mirror-Lord. Ranma smirked, and continued. "Ya know, this place may be as real as the waking world to the people who live here, but to me, it's just kinda like a messed-up dream. And dreams, hell, weird stuff happens. You get what you want, but you don't realize till you got it that you got what you want. I dunno." Again, no answer. "Ya know, the whole not talking thing was kinda ominous before, but I think I got it figured out now. You just don't know what to say. That was the worst you got. And it didn't break me. And it ain't gonna, because I'm getting out of here and I'm goin' back to Akane RIGHT NOW!" With all his might, he drove his fist into the ice at his feet. A tiny, hairline fracture was the only thing visible for a moment, and then the ice floe exploded in a blast that seemed to rise up from below, from down at the impossible bottom where the imprisoned shapes of the young gods were only tiny dark pinpricks to Ranma's eye. Boulder-sized chunks of ice flew in all directions; one struck the Mirror-Lord, and it howled as it broke asunder into countless glistening fragments that fell back into the silver sea. Ranma was flung high into the air, arms flailing, battered by the hard impacts of the exploding ice fragments. A triangular piece as large as his chest struck him hard on the head, and the last thing he saw was the glistening expanse of the mirror sea looming below him, with the shattered fragments of the ice floe bobbing on its glistening waves, while in the sunless sky above a million gods flew young and beautiful as they cried out for their freedom. ... Atop the hill that overlooks the city of the dead gods, Silverhold shuddered once, and began to fold silently in upon itself as though it were a complex puzzle being put back into its box. The silver moat dried up, and the mirror-walls of the spires and keeps turned opaque. The precise angles and lines of its construction grew smaller and smaller, until they disappeared altogether. Silverhold turned from three dimensions to two, two dimensions to one, and then it passed out of those dimensions that the mortal eye may glimpse altogether, and there was nothing left on the hill but the lunar dust. The cold grey land that held the ziggurats, minarets and pillars of the temples of the younger gods let forth a long sigh, like a sleeper awaking. With a gurgle, the spouts of the fountains, carved in the shapes of men riding on the backs of dolphins, and slender mermaids, began to pour water into the

dusty bowls of their fountains, and in the courtyards of the temples the barren dust began to bloom with lilies or roses, or with the small white blossoms of the olive trees, as the tendrils of the grapevine began again to twine round the Corinthian columns of Bacchus's temple beneath the endless night of the lunar sky. ... Afloat on a sea of interstellar blackness, Ranma listened in wonder to the piping music that filled the cosmos and drove the planets in their courses round the stars, which he saw now had their own orbits, a subtle change of position so gradual that it was unnoticeable to the eyes of any but the gods; the stars spun like the spokes of a wheel, bringing the death of old ages and the birth of new ones, a great and terrible clock winding down all of existence so that it all might fall again into its birthing-place. And after that, who could say? He felt as though he were being passed from hand to hand, the hands themselves the size of many worlds, the bodies the hands were attached to infinitely larger. He was utterly content; existence in the end was neither benign nor malign, it simply was, and its purpose was the slow consumption of itself. Was it not enough to affirm a man's own existence that he was a part of that great machine, though an inestimably small one? After infinity, he found that he looked again into the startlingly lovely, dark-skinned face of the goddess of cats. Her hair swirled all around her face in the passage of the winds that howl, more alone than any other thing in existence, through the passages between the stars, and she stood before him upon the nothingness as he remembered her, with gold jewelry glittering upon her bosom and laughter dancing darkly in her vivid eyes. "Service rendered, mortal," she said, and laughed. There was joy in it, and an almost cruel edge that was as uncaring as the universe. Her face changed; not like the melting of wax or the flowing of river, somehow nothing like that. More like a masquer throwing off her mask, but no mask had ever really been there, and now there was the tawny head of a lioness where the beautiful face of the woman had been, but somehow it was the same face. "Send me back." Her lip curled in a sneer, exposing glistening white fangs, and Ranma remembered all the reasons why he had feared cats before. "Do you seek to order me about like some chattel, mortal man?" "We had a deal." "So we did." The broad golden eyes of the goddess glinted with a light like that of far-off suns. Almost condescendingly, she raised her hand, four velvet-furred fingers and a thumb tipped with

sharp claws. Again, Ranma felt reality lurch, as though his body were being pulled in every single direction at once by irresistible forces. He fell, or perhaps rose up, passing for a moment through a gauzy curtain as thin as paper but harder than steel; in that moment, he hung between the waking and the dreaming, between the devouring void of space that lay beneath the mirror-sea and the solid walls, proper angles and correct physics of the Tendo dojo, where the whole journey had begun. The void began to fade out, until it was only a dark presence upon the edges of his vision, and then it was gone altogether, and he stood in his bare feet upon the dojo floor. It was comfortingly familiar; from what his father had told him, the dojo had been in the Tendo family for nearly a century. It would probably be in it for a century more, and still look the same then as it did now. By the light streaming in from behind the stiff waxed paper covering the windows, the sun was just risen, and the household would be rising with it. Kasumi would already be in the kitchen, starting breakfast, and soon enough they all would gravitate towards the table for the morning meal. And he would join them, made whole, free from the curse. ... Ranma Saotome walked down the long hall that connected the dojo with the house, the only thought in his heart that of Akane Tendo. Akane, whom he had gone to the moon for, for whose sake he had passed through the tempting desolation of the city of the dead gods. With the return to her at the forefront of his thoughts, he had made a pact with the cat-goddess to go into the depths of the Mirror-Lord's domain, and he had emerged from that place of horror with his mind opened and shaken, but unbroken. The young gods were free, and somehow that gave him great joy, for he knew in his heart that the red and purple flowers bloomed again in the courtyards of their temples as though with the long-awaited coming of spring. A new and vital confidence filled him: he had glimpsed into the face of the abyss, trembled for a moment on its edge, and pulled back from the brink. If his life with Akane might be short upon this earth next to the lifespan of a star, or even one of the old gods who he knew lay sleeping and waiting for the time when the coursings of the stars would bring them into the proper places for the awakenening, then what of it? They would be happy for a time, and then it would be the end. There was no nobility in the nihilistic urgings to do nothing that does not serve some ultimate purpose; more noble by far to seek joy while one can. Of the infinite worlds and the infinite Ranmas... he wished them well, but none of them were him. They had their own lives to live, their own Akanes to love, or murder as it might be, and though he mourned what he became in those other worlds, he knew also that he was not bound to such a fate as they. Wise though he might think himself after what he had seen within the icy mirrors of the Mirror-Lord, Ranma Saotome was yet unaware of many things. He thought that the Mirror-Lord was destroyed, or at least defeated for a time, but prideful in his vanity that he was he did not realize that there are mirrors that

look back and forth through the walls of time as easily as they do through the walls between the worlds, and that a being capable of wielding the power of such mirrors is no more bound to a single place in space and time than a planet is bound to a single place in its orbit. Nor was time a fixed and static thing; it may seem so, but it moves differently in different worlds, even as the horse moves faster than the man. And that which is not static may be changed, twisted or skewed, by one who commands the mirrors of space and time. The gods are mighty, but many of them are more petty than the pettiest man; even wise Athena cursed Arachne with the bloated body of the spider for daring to defeat her in a contest, and the Lord of Olympus bound Prometheus to the rock for daring to share fire with mankind. The Mirror-Lord was mightier than any of the young gods, and pettier still by far. ... The footsteps were audible before anything else, and Ranma raised his voice, asking who was there. The reply came back; a weary voice, something almost beyond belief in the tones. "Oh my God." A woman stepped around the corner, into the dojo hallway from the house; a woman who had been beautiful once, but the weight of years had driven her down, and turned nearly all the black in her hair into grey. Her face was lined in places, around the eyes and mouth. Ranma guessed her to be in her late forties. A low moan escaped him, as he realized that the greatest threat to human love is not the uncaring universe, but the awful and malign gods who compare to men as men compare to the lowest of single-celled bacteria born in the primal surgings of the Panthalasian sea. There were no words, not in the face of this, when the woman you have come back to has seen thirty years go by while a day and night have passed for you, and the weariness and sorrow of her eyes as she gazes upon you is too much to bear. Ranma turned and ran back down the corridor, not listening to Akane's shouts behind him, needing only to escape from this into something else. He fled through the dojo, out the great double doors, and leapt the wall of the backyard to run into the tangled streets of an unfamiliar city. It was dirtier than he remembered, and the skyscrapers of the downtown that were visible on the horizon had seemed to grow only larger. The sun itself was dimmer, as thirty years of dust and smog from the factories hung thick in the air. Much of the residential and commercial areas of Nerima seemed to have been torn down, to make place for great factories that filled the air with smoke. The fashions of clothes were different, and the architecture as well; subtly, everything seemed somehow more unstructured than before. When he reached the place where he believed the Nekohanten to have been, there was nothing there. No factory, no store, no house. Simply an empty, fenced-in lot filled with construction materials that looked as though they had not been touched in a decade. Ranma cried out and fell to his knees, pounding at the concrete sidewalk with his fists, so hard that it shattered beneath the blows. The people walking by shied away from him, thinking him mad, and in that moment perhaps he was. Then, out of the corner of one tear-filled eye, he saw a small quick shape

with long white hair dart round the corner. No more conscious of his actions than a hound who chases a hare from so many generations of instinct, Ranma leapt to his feet and pursued the figure that could only be Cologne - come to gloat over her deception, no doubt - through the tangled streets, catching only glimpses of her as he ran. At last, after what might have been hours of pursuit, he came to what seemed an impossible anachronism in this nightmare future-world of belching factories and towering skyscrapers: the arched torii entrance of a small Shinto shrine, where a basin of water lay still and calm beneath a slightly-rusted metal faucet that occasionally let fall a drop of water to disturb the placid water. Beyond it lay the small shrine itself, a tall red-roofed structure surrounded by hundreds of stone statues; robed children, their hands clasped as if in prayer, benign expressions of utter peace upon their faces. Some things do not, he realized, change so quickly; the women still brought their mizuko to Kannon's shrines, offerings for the protection of the souls of their dead children. Ranma looked about; there was no sign of Cologne in any place. With a sigh, he wiped his eyes with his sleeve and performed the harae at the basin; with the lukewarm water he washed his hands, then rinsed his mouth and spat into the dust. The ritual was familiar, if not often performed by him. Then he stepped through the torii and within the grounds of the shrine, watching as the rice-paper ropes that guarded the entranceway to the building itself swayed slowly in the wind. Before he even entered, though, a voice called his name, and he turned. From the first look, he knew that the woman could not be human; the same unearthly beauty that the cat-goddess had possessed was in her, although she seemed as calm and temperate in her appearance as Bast had been fierce. She was slight and dark-haired, clothed in pale green robes of ancient style, and with a slender staff in one hand. Her face was like that of one of the mizuko, calm and benign, utterly acceptant of fate. Angry as he was, grieved as he was, a peace descended upon Ranma at the sight of her. "I bring you the thanks of the young gods," the goddess said. Her voice was like chimes. Slowly, she bowed her head in genuine respect. "And my own. I was bound in mortal form, half-trapped within the mirror-prison of the world of dreams and this one." Ranma spoke with dry mouth, not wanting to believe. "Cologne." "Kannon," the goddess corrected. "Cologne is no more."

"How long?" he asked in a tight voice. "Thirty years," the goddess answered. "Thirty years since I was freed. In its vengeance, the Mirror-Lord bent time that the years might flow by in seconds as you passed between the world of waking and dreaming in your physical body."

"You bitch," Ranma snarled. "Goddess of compassion, my ass. You sent me there as your little pawn, to set you free, and now I've got nothing left. Damn you. Damn all of you." The sudden grief in Kannon's eyes was stunning, so much so that Ranma could not help but feel guilt. "You asked for help, and I gave it. I did not know that she would be so cruel as to force you to go against the Mirror-Lord, or that the penalty might be so harsh. Believe that I did not." And he did. He did believe, and there was no kind of anger but senseless in the face of this. His shoulders slumped, and he felt as if he would begin to weep anew. All lost. All his journey for nothing. "Did she ever... did she ever find anyone else?" he asked. "Do you truly wish to know that?" Ruefully, he shook his head. "No. No, I guess I don't."

"It was not all for nothing," the goddess said softly. "The young gods are free again, as we were in the old days. We stand in opposition to the ones whom the stars are waking, and the end of humanity's age will come slower because of that." "But you can't win." "No." She bowed her head again. "No, we cannot. Our doom was decided long before even the birth of the oldest of the younger gods. For we are but born of the primal dreams and beliefs of the human mind, but the old ones who lie sleeping are older than that by far. In time, though, their reign too shall end, and new races arise in their place." "Yeah. I was shown that."

"Thus, human existence in itself has worth, to the extent that we are happy with it, and work to make others happy." Now Ranma laughed. nothing, in the end." It was bitter. "But even that is

"But it is something while it exists." The goddess smiled at him, and his heart lifted slightly. "We are not without our gratitude. When next you sleep, your dream-self shall descend the seven hundred steps into the Cavern of Flame, and talk with Nasht and Kaman-Thah of the land of Dreams, for old as they are, the two priests owe us some favours. Then shall you walk through the Gate of Deeper Slumber, and again into the Dreamlands." "And why," Ranma asked quietly, "would I ever want to go back to that place again?" "Because it is the better place for one such as you than this world." With her staff, the goddess gestured at the billowing smoke from the factories in the distance that rose to

stain the sky. "In it lie the gateways to other worlds, and other worlds of dreams, and perhaps gateways back into time itself, that you might return after a day rather than after thirty years. The wonders of that land are endless, and you shall not age while you are there." "Right," Ranma said. He grinned; so it was not hopeless, he realized; perhaps he could find his way back to her, and they might finally be united. "Call upon me if you are in need, and I shall aid if I can," Kannon said. "For one of my names is the one who hears the cry of the world, and another is the great lord looking down in pity." And then she was gone, as though she had never been there. In dreams, Ranma thought, all things are possible. walked back out through the gate of the torii. ... When he slept that night, as promised, Ranma found himself descending down the seven hundred steps to the Cavern of the Flame. Naked he went, and stood before the two great priests of the Dreamlands, the hoary sages Kaman-Thah and Nasht. Before the flame that burns forever in the cavern, they spoke of many things: of the perfumed gardens of Sona-Nyl, of the brazen gate Akariel that guards the entrance of dread Thalarion, of the inhuman men of Leng, and of so many other wonders and horrors that men might speak of them until the end of time. When he was ready, they clothed him in a robe of gold and white, and he walked out of the passage and into the Enchanted Forest. This time, he was careful, and none of the alien flora captured him, nor did the weird-eyed zoogs seek to menace him. They knew better; Ranma walked now with the surety few dreamers ever possess. He came in time to the town of Ulthar, and tarried there for a while in the company of Stalkfast and the other cats, who told him marvelous tales of the grand battle against the Cats from Saturn and their terrible allies. Ranma the Cat was not there, they said; none knew where he was, for he had disappeared soon after the escape from the city of the Moon-Beasts. Some said he had gone to visit King Kuranes in Serranian, that marvelous floating city of rose-coloured marble. Others said that he had gone to the terrible Vale of Pnath, to hunt the monstrous dholes against all warnings of their immense size. Ranma the Dreamer and Ranma the Cat would not, in fact, meet for a decade, as time passes in the Dreamlands. Even then it would be only inadvertent, when both took it upon themselves to visit the city of the dead gods at the same time, and saw together how it had become a beautiful city filled with temples and hanging gardens that trailed vines down upon the vibrant tessellation of the mosaics. But once he passes out of the town of Ulthar, the stories of Ranma the Dreamer become more sketchy, his appearances more scattered. All who meet him are asked if they know how the veil of time itself may be pierced, but none can say if he ever has And he

found the answer. Perhaps he wanders still, through the land of dreams, seeking the way back to his love, or barring that, some salve for the wounding of his heart. The horrors and wonders of the Dreamlands enrapture him, and sometimes he seems to forget altogether of Akane, but then again he remembers, and he leaves the pleasant lands and the cities of men to wander solitary through the gloomy forests near Ogrothan on the sapphire shores of the Cerenarian Sea, or to wax melancholy with the creature that was once Pickman in the Crag of the Ghouls, because the thoughts of his lost love (who may yet again be found) are ever upon the edge of his mind. FIN FOUR ... Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done The silver apples of the moon The golden apples of the sun. -W.B. Yeats FIN EIDOLONS ***** Author's Notes: I suppose some people thought there was going to be a happy ending because the first chapter made it clear that Ranma lives through his initial adventures in the Dreamlands. Well, no. That's not what I felt like this time. This is not, of course, an "everybody dies" Lovecraft ending, but I think it's in keeping with the lighter, more fantastical tone of the Dreamlands stories. Human love is ultimately incredibly fragile in the face of an uncaring universe and the malign powers of the Mythos; nevertheless, there is hope. I've had a great deal of fun writing 'Eidolons', and it's also given me a well-needed break from WUE. Now that this small side-project is finished, I can resume dedicating nearly all my resources and spare time to the mega-epic. Which _will_ be finished. :) My great thanks to everyone who has given me commentary and encouragement on Eidolons on the FFML, from incredibly extensive analysis (hi Vince) to threatening to hunt down and slay all who fail to read it (hi John). Thanks also to John Biles and RPM for 'Children of an Elder God', which probably gave me the drive to put fingers to keyboard again in the insane attempt to use elements of both Takahashi and Lovecraft in one story.

And now, because I've written long author's notes and short author's notes, and like short ones better, I'm done. -Alan Harnum, May 06, 1999

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful