Zwei: The summer heat, for once, had seemed to fade, if only due to the rainstorm currently dumping countless gallons of water on the city. Not that it mattered much to Alex as he was in the local Barnes and Nobles, enjoying a muffin and soda. More than a few novels and other books were stacked on the table in front of him. Some, he had already bought - others were just there for him to read without jumping the gun on the others. As he watched a bolt of lightning flash by through a window, he checked his watch.
Wendel was a little late, though Alex wasn't overly surprised. The guy always seemed to run on his own time. Sometimes, people would wonder why the two were friends - Alex was curious, fond of learning, but somewhat straightlaced, whereas Wendel seemed eccentric, especially fond of odd combinations whether it be clothing or food. But still, the two had known each other for about a year, and regularly met to chat and the like.
JonasB: The door swung open as Wendel sloshed into the bookstore. Instead of rain boots, Wendel was wearing a pair of large red ski boots. They contrasted oddly with his jeans and loud hawaiian jacket. Breathless, but eager, he scanned the sitting area and quickly narrowed in on Alex.
"Heya!" he exclaimed as he sat down across from his friend. "Sorry I'm late!"
Zwei: While Wend’s outfit got more than a few odd looks from the crowd, Alex just grinned and waved his friend over, clearing away a few books from the table. One seemed to be on warships, the other a Steampunk novel of sorts.
"No worries, Wendel. Just glad you didn't get swept away by the rain. If I'd known it was going to, I would've picked a place closer than this."
JonasB: "Nah, it's cool. I was able to get here pretty quick from work." Wend eyed the books. "What's in today's haul?"
Zwei: "Eh, the usual. Got some information books on 20th century warships, and my usual diet of fantasy, steampunk and urban fantasy. Really liking the one with the hospital for supernatural beings."
JonasB: Wend looked at the cover. "’E.E.R: Enchanted Emergency Room'. Interesting. Wonder how that would work. Like, do you think there'd be weretigers coming in with catnip overdoses?"
Zwei: Alex chuckled a little - Wend's mind went to strange places at times, but given the context, it wasn't exactly out of the ordinary this time. "Hah. Maybe so - the blurb does mention this isn't just your usual supernaturals. Still kind of surprised you don't write - I'd bet there'd be a publisher for you out there."
JonasB: "Nah, I'm not up for that. I just like the ideas. Real stories need plots and characters. I just enjoy musing "You're more likely to catch me annoying an author than being one."
Zwei: "Fair enough, I suppose. You're just one of the most creative guys I know. But hey - your work's lucky to have you...even if I don't quite understand what you do." He'd smile a little, wincing briefly as a rather loud boom of thunder echoed overhead before looking back to his friend. "Want something to eat? My treat."
JonasB: Wend nodded. "Sure. One of those ginger cookies if you don't mind."
He followed Alex to the counter. As the purchase was made he added, "It's good that you mentioned my job, actually. I was wondering how to bring this up."
Zwei: As the young man finished the transaction and the pair sat back down, Alex cocked his head to one side. "Bring what up? Is everything okay work?"
JonasB: "Yes, mostly," Wend explained between bites of cookie, "my boss is starting to feel shorthanded. I pull a lot of extra duties as his assistant but he's starting on bigger projects now. I can't keep up so he wants to hire someone else to take some of the slack."
Zwei: "I'm happy to hear he's starting on bigger things, man! But, hmm...would you mind putting in a word with him about me? I've had no real luck looking for a better job than what I've got now. Assuming he'd be willing to take on someone who doesn't really know what you do."
JonasB: Wend looked both excited and relieved. "I was actually going to ask you if you were interested! My boss cares more about a person's curiosity than any real skills, to be honest, so I thought you'd be a good candidate." He inclined his head towards some of the books. "I mean, you love talking about steampunk and sci-fi and stuff. We have great chats about all kinds of 'what if's."
Zwei: "That is true, man. Kinda...wow...surprised you were already thinking of asking me. But if your boss would be willing to have me on, I'd love to have the job." Alex looked relived and surprised at the statement his friend had made. But given that he'd been trying to get a new job for the past few months without success, this seemed like a golden opportunity.
JonasB: "I'm glad you like it! It'll be great to work with you!" Wend's expression was like an excited kid just dying to share a secret "There's so much to see and do! Did you already buy your stuff? Can we go now?"
Zwei: Alex blinked in confusion at how excited his friend was. On the one hand, it was good to see Wend so happy, but on the other hand, it was just a job. Still, he'd paid for the books he'd intended to get, the receipt buried under the cover of one of them. After getting the canvas bag he took with him to the bookstore, he nodded. "Uh...sure. Is your boss even open for business today?"
JonasB: "Sure! I already told him! He's dying to meet you!" Wend gushed. He was guiding Alex down the street to a GAP store. "C'mon! Just through the door!"
Zwei: The fact that he was being guided so quickly was a surprise for Alex, but he'd wondered how Wend's boss had known he'd shown interest. Wendel hadn't left his sight, and he hadn't seen a cellphone either. But he didn't really have much time to think of it right now - if it meant getting a job, he'd ask later. He'd place his hands on the door handle and open it up- stepping through, bag clutched in his other free hand. "You're pretty excited about me working with y-"
JonasB: Alex wasn't in a clothing store. He was standing in a large, cluttered area. Strange devices of metal, wood, and plastic were scattered about in various states of completion. Jars filled with small animals, plants, and strange glowing jellies lined bookshelves. Alex looked behind him but the door he had come through was gone.
Wendel was standing a few feet in front of Alex. He was still beaming, unfazed by this sudden shift in location. "Like it?"
Zwei: "I...Wend, where the hell are we? This doesn't look anything like a clothing store! I mean, it's interesting, but...where ARE we?" The young man seemed flabbergasted, looking around in confusion, before giving his friend an odd glance. Why didn't Wend seem even slightly wierded out?
JonasB: There was a hiccupping from behind what looked like a diamond-shaped globe. A man shuffled out. Wend moved aside to let him pass. “Alex, meet the Tinker. My boss.”
The 'Tinker' was an extremely small man with giant eyebrows. He shuffled up to Alex and peered at him through a pair of square goggles. The eyebrows raised and furrowed as he 'hmm'ed over Alex.
Zwei: "Who...are you? Sir?" For the moment, the man seemed to be ignoring Alex's questions, seemingly intent on examining him.
JonasB: The Tinker wasn't paying attention. "You're the friend, yes? He didn't bring the wrong person? I can smell that curiosity in you, yes. Definitely good material either way. You'll be wonderful to have aboard! A magnificent guard!"
He turned to Wend. "Oh will you please take that ragged thing off? I need you now."
Wend glanced at Alex with a nervous smile. "Roger, boss." He shifted oddly, like he was trying to worm his way out of a straightjacket. Suddenly, Wend's skin lifted off like he was taking off a shirt. What was beneath...
It took Alex a moment to register what he was looking at. The creature that had been wearing Wend’s skin and clothes was nearly seven feet tall. It was a machine—completely inorganic—and looked to be made of several different animals. Its entire body glinted metallically in the light, even through its tiger-¬like colouring that was complete with stripes. Powerful, paw-like hands with steel claws and rubber pads flexed in pleasure at being free from the skin-suits confines. A segmented, serpentine tail flowed downwards instead of legs. Its head was shaped like that of an Asian dragon. Two long, cord-like whiskers extended from the muzzle-like snout
The chimera's eyes were screens that glowed green as they flickered to life. "Hi." it said. Wendel's voice came from the robot's maw. It held the same emotion his greetings always did, but a mechanical undertone resonated through the syllable.
Zwei: "I...I...Wend? What the...is that really you? Who are you? Guard? Material?"
To say that Alex was confused would have been calling the sun slightly warm. It looked like he was on the verge of passing out from sheer overload. The fact that his friend was some kind of mechanical chimera, combined with the vague mutterings of the ‘Tinker’ were a lot to take in all at once. "Where...where the hell am I?"
JonasB: The Tinker scoffed. "My workshop! Where else? You wanted to work for me, yes? You're quite good, I think. Yes you'll do well. But I can see problems, definitely problems. You won't do at all like this."
He began prodding at Alex; pulling at his hands, peering at his palms, and generally violating every possible unwritten rule of personal space. "No, no, no! None of this will do! Fortunately, I can help, yes!"
Zwei: "Help with what? Aside from my eyesight being lousy without glasses, I'm in perfect health! But...you're his boss? Is this why I never understood a word of what he said he did for a living?" He'd look resentful from having his personal space violated before the madman's mutterings clicked.
JonasB: "Well I can't say for how Wendel explained my work. I find it all perfectly understandable! Fortunately your comprehension doesn't matter, only your interest! Imagination! Curiosity!"
Zwei: In the confusion, Alex had dropped his bag, the book on warships having skidded across the floor and gently tapping against the man's boots. He still wasn't making much sense, though, and the confused and dismayed look never really seemed to leave Alex's face. "I...don't really get it...you're going a mile a minute."
JonasB: The Tinker looked down and picked up the book. He mused over the cover before holding it up. "This. You look into. You look up. You indulge your 'whys' and 'hows' and 'what ifs'. I like that! I need that! Because all I do is the 'what ifs' and 'whys' of life!”
He made a gleeful chuckle. “And now you can help! And I can help you! I need a new man. You need a job according to Wendel. You have what I want. I certainly have what /you/ want. After all, nowhere else can you pierce the great questions!"
Zwei: "That explains...why you want me, I suppose...but what are you? This looks like nowhere I've seen before. And I do need a job...last one just got too boring...to underpaying."
JonasB: The man's eyebrows raised. "You're here! The Dreaming! The Workshop! And I'm the Tinker! The question is what /you/ will be, yes!"
He shuffled behind Alex and began pushing him through the clutter of devices. The Tinker continued chattering the whole way. "Dreaming didn't change you yet--always better that way, so easier to work with. I was thinking stone myself. So very sturdy and ready and you could fill in when I lose my mortar and pestle! But Wend's been assuring me that your own affinity is much better! Such noble guards they make—no idea why I hadn’t learned about it before!"
The Tinker continued to chatter on. Wendel slithered along behind him, still not saying anything.
Zwei: "S-stone? I don't want to be a statue, if that's what you're getting at! And the Dreaming...oh crap...you...you're fae, aren't you? Something like that was in a book..." Now he looked more alarmed than anything else - for two reasons. The primary being the man's talk of stone, though if his guess was right, and the man was fae...he was in deep, deep trouble.
JonasB: "Oh I agree! I don't want you to be a statue either! Wendel's been so helpful in this! Such vigilance! Such speed! Such strength and loyalty! You'll be perfect!"
The Tinker pushed Alex along until he was in front of a pedestal holding a blue orb the size of a pool ball. Wend slithered around and raised a paw over the device. A string of colours flashed between his palm and the orb, which groaned and rose up on a hinged bar until it was pointing straight at Alex. The resemblance to a ray gun was not lost on him.
Zwei: "Uh...what's this thing going to do? Wend? You've been kinda quiet...who are you, really? Is this why you were so excited I accepted?"
JonasB: For the first time since changing, Wend spoke. "It will be easier to explain everything at once."
The orb began to glow brightly. Alex could feel its glow across his body.
Zwei: As the glow intensified, Alex became acutely aware of an itching sensation all over his body. As he brought a hand up to his eyes he was treated to the sight of a veritable forest of black fur sprouting up around his fingers and on his hand. It seemed to grow larger, as if proportioned for a man a foot taller and more solidly built. As the fur crept up his arms, Alex grew a little more toned, stronger. The process didn't hurt per se, but his entire body felt numb.
He also grew taller by about a foot as the fur spread all over his torso, which seemed to meet the same fate as his arms. Apparently whatever they were doing to him meant making Alex stronger - a guard, if the madman was to be trusted. On his hands, pawpads puffed out while his fingernails became blunt canine claws. Alex stumbled a bit as the changes swept down his lower body. A black-furred tail poking through his pants while his feet went digigrade, toenails becoming claws as well.
The process seemed to stop for a moment, leaving the soon to be jackalman looking stunned - then it resumed. Alex gritted his teeth as his face pulled out into a muzzle, nose turning black and wet, and his ears become triangular and extremely long and moving to the top of his head.
JonasB: The Tinker hiccuped loudly. His eyebrows were bouncing up and down. "Ah! Now I see! Always better to see, of course. You'll do fine, I'm sure. Wendel, explain his duties please. Today shall be a planning day, so we can begin tomorrow”
He shuffled out of the room. Wend slithered up to Alex. "You handled that very well. I hope it works for you. How do you feel?”
Zwei: Alex was silent. He spent was looking over himself. His eyesight seemed to have corrected itself to the point where his glasses were no longer needed. Still, the jackal looked confused. His ears were tilted back.
"Well...this is better than being a statue, but...it... it doesn't explain anything at the same time.” He said eventually. “Why do I look like an Egyptian god in the flesh? If I’m a guard...what am I supposed to keep that guy safe from? I don't even know how to fight!" His voice also seemed deeper.
JonasB: Wend nodded. "He really did fixate on the statue thing for a bit. I had to lie about a lot of Egyptian mythology for him to think jackals would be better. I knew you liked them, so I thought it would be a good peace offering if you were mad at me."
His voice whirred a little and had a hiss of static when he added, "You… aren't mad, are you?"
Zwei: Alex looked to Wend, then at his new body for a moment. Annoyance crossed his epxresison. "I'm....I won't lie. I am upset, yes. I've been taken from everything I've ever known, changed, all because I accepted a job offer. I know you meant well, Wend, which is why I'm probably not steamed...this form does help...I mean, it's something I can get used to. But...I dunno...I can't really say I'm happy right now, you know what I mean?"
JonasB: Another whirr. "I do. It's a hard change. I can explain everything if you want. Let's go somewhere more comfortable."
He led Alex to a door. They did not so much go through the door as approach it. After a sense of 'whooshing' and forced movement, they were inside a comfortable sitting room, although all the furniture was sized for someone the Tinker's height.
Zwei: Alex looked at the furniture with some amusement - as he was now, he had to be around 6'3, so this seemed like trying to cram his old self into a kiddy seat. With a shrug, he sat down on the floor, folding his legs underneath him. The transition through the portal had given him a slight headache - he wasn't sure why. He looked at Wend, letting out a heavy sigh.
"An explanation...will do me a lot of good. This is just...overwhelming."
JonasB: Wendel nodded. He curled down on a large pillow left next to one of the couches. He leaned back as if his coiled tail were a seat.
"I think it's best to explain where you are first. This place—it's... not Earth. It's called the Dreaming. It's sort of... erratic. Things here work more on symbolism and belief than real physics. It's only stable in areas under fae control.”
Zwei: "Kind of...sheer force of will, or am I completely off base there?"
JonasB: "I'm not sure, actually. The realms of the nobles seem to tailor themselves towards their rulers’ tastes but I don't think it's a conscious thing."
Zwei: Alex looked pensive for a moment, before his ears went completely back out of fear. "So...if one of them has a bad day, or dies...what happens? Does the realm...vanish?"
JonasB: "They're not so variable as to react to mood swings. As for if one dies... I've never seen it happen. I've been with the Tinker for a very long time and I don't know of any of the nobles dying."’
Zwei: "Load off my mind at least...so what's his deal? Guy seemed like a mad scientist made real...certainly seemed to look at me more like a raw piece of material than a sentient being."
JonasB: "The Tinker is curious,” Wend said apologetically, “Extremely curious. He loves finding out what happens. When anything happens. Compared to the stuff he's fiddled with, my oreo-and-macaroni sandwiches are mundane."
Zwei: The worried look on the jackal's face crossed into one that suggested he might vomit at the mention of those sandwiches. "Ugh...don't remind me...I think my stomach took out a temporary restraining order after I tried one. But...you're saying he just does...stuff...to see what happens? Good, bad, or indifferent?"
JonasB: Wendel's eyes lit up like neon. "Anything! Everything! There's just no way to describe it properly. He's amazing, Alex. I've seen stars put in microwaves, dragons with butterfly wings, plants grow in melted chocolate. Anything you can think of--anything you could possibly ask, he's tried it."
Wendel suddenly leaned forwards. "He gives everyone that look. Everything can be changed, added to, subtracted from. It's all a giant 'what if'."
Zwei:: Alex looked down at his body, then at his friend's as something seemed to click. "Were you, uh, always like that? Were you something else originally?"
JonasB: "Human. I was kinda like you, but way more erratic. I’d get wild ideas and couldn’t rest until I tried them. I got expelled from my first school for mixing cornstarch into the school toilets. One day at my second school I was entering the principal's office and found myself here instead."
"The Tinker didn't change me, the Dreaming did. Humans who come here become things that represent themselves. Some change almost instantly, some take time. Within an hour I was a ferret."
Zwei: "That kinda explains a lot, but a ferret, huh? So, how did you go from that to...something that wouldn't look out of place as a boss in a RPG?"
JonasB: Wendel gave a whirring laugh. "Hah, nice one. The Tinker hadn't paid much attention to humans before me. Apparently Earth is like a weird fad with the fae—it goes in and out of their attention span. He'd decided to start seeing what humans were like, so he grabbed one. I won't lie. I was freaked at the time. More so than you were since the Tinker is hard to get explanations out of."
He leaned back on the cushion and shifted his tail to be more comfortable. "Most of it was questions at first. The Tinker wanted to know everything I could tell him about people. Well, I was basically a kid at the time, what did I know about human nature and world history and all that stuff? So I started going on about mythology. The Tinker sort of fixated on dragons and wanted to know what one looked like. I drew him a picture of an eastern dragon since they were the only kind I'd sketched before. He said it wasn't good enough and stormed off. I didn't see him for the next week.Then all of a sudden he's back and I'm in front of that orb. He wanted to see one 'properly', as it were."
Wendel's whisker-cables curled up as in a strange smile. "If you think becoming a ferret or jackal is surprising, try turning into a 5 meter long dragon!"
He laughed again, but it died off quickly. "The tiger didn't come until later. The Tinker was in another mixing phase. It... didn't happen as smoothly as the dragon had,” Wendel rubbed a shoulder and turned away from Alex, looking at his striped metal arm. "The Tinker has an impressive medical knowledge," was all he would say.
He made a soft clicking noise before continuing. "The tail didn't come until after I’d started helping him as an assistant. We had a big project but not enough hands. So he asked me if I wondered what it'd be like to have a third limb. I remembered that moment later on when the Tinker was having trouble keeping track of his tools. I asked what if someone didn't need tools. He was thrilled at the concept."
Zwei: Alex had sat there listening, and he looked pretty interested, though a look of concern and worry now crossed his face. Wend had been human at one point? Not a trace really remained, unless he counted the opposable thumbs and intellect. But what worried Alex more was how accepting - even encouraging - Wend seemed to be at the end as far as these changes. "Uh...is that why you're mechanical?"
JonasB: The enthusiasm in Wend’s voice mirrored how he’d been in the bookstore. "Yea, definitely! You won’t believe the stuff the Tinker’s given me—I’m practically a living toolbox!”
Zwei: "Suppose that is kinda neat, in a way. Never lose a screwdriver and whatnot...but what I'm also taking away from this is...if he gets bored or has an idea, I can count on being changed?"
JonasB: "I've never seen him bored, but I don't think you have anything to fear either way. You're security. I'm the assistant. He won't be changing you on a whim—your role is too important to him. If you want to move up later then that's your choice, but for now I wouldn't worry. Besides, it's not like everything I described happened overnight. It took decades for me to be finished."
Zwei: "Gotcha...don't think I'm in the mood to be changed again just yet, but...hell. I'm still getting used to having a fur coat I can't take off. Also, who am I guarding him -from-, exactly?"
JonasB: "I'm not actually sure. The nobles are all engaged in some massive social war but I've never heard of any of them attacking another. I'm wondering if you're just being used to make the Tinker look more important."
Zwei: "So...either I might need to put myself in harm's way...or I'm here to make him look good. I'm not really sure what possibility I'd like more, Wend."
JonasB: "If it helps, try to think of the perks. Being here gives you a front row seat to the Tinker's work. If there's ever anything you ever been curious about or wanted to see, chances are he'll be doing it."
Zwei: "Always was partial to Gundam...he could probably make one if I told him what one was. But I suppose that is a perk...also, am -I- fae now, or just a human-animal hybrid?"
JonasB: Wend began clicking again. After a moment he said, "Sort of both and neither. The fae use the word 'changeling' to describe us. From what I know of the Dreaming, I think that means we're sort of... attuned to this place, but we're not fae; at least not compared to the nobles, which are the only fae I've seen."
Zwei: The jackal would shift around a little, getting comfortable. His mind was still running a mile a minute, but the conversation was helping calm him down. It also helped that Wend knew what he was going through. "So, more than human, but less than a true fae? That's...something, at least. Should I be aware of anything as a...changeling, was it?"
JonasB: "Not much, oddly enough. Some nobles don't see any difference between changelings and regular humans--though what this means can vary. Some find us cute in an annoyingly patronizing way. Others are very... intense and are offended that we're being affected by the Dreaming."
Zwei: "In other words, as varied as the fae themselves are? Reactions-wise, I mean...I'm glad the Tinker seems to be in the camp that likes us."
JonasB: Wendel nodded. "He likes humans in general. They're adaptive but constant at the same time. He's always wondering something about them."
Zwei: "Too bad I didn't have any medical texts on me. I'd bet anything he'd love to have one on hand. But from what you're saying, I can't do magic or anything of the sort?"
JonasB: "Not that I know of, no."
Zwei: The jackal, for the first time in what seemed like hours, actually looked saddened as opposed to afraid or nervous. "Damn. That's kinda dissapointing."
JonasB: Wendel chuckled. "Don't worry, bud. If my horns can get cable TV, then I'm sure you'll get something cool from this."
Zwei: "Damn...must be some strong tech if you can get CBS in another realm. Also, how does time work here? Do I need to sleep? Or..."
JonasB: "Time is... odd. Here things progress normally as far as we can percieve. We won't age but still need to eat and sleep and stuff--well, I don't need to eat but I still have to use a sleep mode to recharge. But compared to Earth..." Wendel began whirring again. "I think that, compared to when we were in the bookstore, it had been roughly two years since I came here. For me, personally, it's been 83 years. There's no set ratio, though. If it were possible, you could leave right now and find yourself back at the clothing store only a few minutes after you entered. Or a few before. It just... depends."
Zwei: "It's been 2 years since I showed up here on Earth, or since you got back? And when I'd get back depends on pure chance among other things? This is...going to take some getting used to." A stunned look crossed his face before he looked at his watch, wondering if there was still a point to keeping it with him. "Does being here affect the human mind at all?"
JonasB: "Not that I can tell. The thing with the doors is kinda weird but you get used to it. There isn't anything too strange going on with the environments as long as you stay within a nobles' realm. I've been to the homes of some of the other fae though over the years. The tastes in architecture can be... erratic. Still, though, you aren't about to find any Cthulu-esque mindbreaking stuff if that's what you're worried about." Wend laughed.
Zwei: "Thank goodness for that! What other nobles have you visitied, anyhow? I likely won't know any of them, but it couldn't hurt to ask." With a shrug, Alex got to his feet, wobbling a little before he got used to his new stance again. He still wasn't sure what to make of the situation he'd found himself in, but at least the two people he knew were friendly.
JonasB: Wend counted off his fingers. "Hrm, there was the Radiance, the Maker, the Librarian, the Rose Scholar, the Cloudgroom..." he trailed off and looked up, "This could actually take a while. Are you sure I should go through the whole list?"
Zwei: "If there's a lot more. not right now...but what is there to do here? Like...aside from reading. I've got my old DS on me, but...kinda hungry too."
JonasB: "I'm pretty sure there's a kitchen burried somewhere in the east wing--the Tinker doesn't need to eat and around here any space gets turned into an impromptu storeroom if no one uses it after a while. As for what to do, honestly just take around and poke through the clutter. This place is filled with the Tinker's finished experiments and designs. He may love keeping it all but he doesn't seem to care if anyone else touches it. All the really dangerous stuff is locked away to keep guests from poking them accidentally."
Zwei: "May as well take a look in there to see what's there, eh? If I'm going to be guarding stuff, may as well see what there is."
JonasB: Wendel nodded and rose. He followed Alex out into the device-filled workshop.