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The Heart of Gaia/The Wyrm has come to claim its prize

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by Phil Brucato

By the time he reaches home, the only evidence of the fight is a bloody shirt. All injuries - and there were a few - have healed. It's kinda cool, but creepy, too. What the hell is happening?

Mom's in the kitchen; he can hear her even before he opens the door. Quietly, Ryan eases the front door open, steps in gingerly, and slides it shut. Slipping off his Docs, he glides down the hallway, reaches his room, and shuts the door. Sweet!

The shirt's wrecked. Ryan peels it off regretfully, slam-dunks it in the trash, and goes off to the bathroom to wash away the blood. Down the hall, he smells grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. Cool! I'm hungry.

The rush of cold water in the sink drowns out a familiar stench nearby.

It's been a long day for Claire - a dispute with some co-workers (bloody wankers!), a balky Net connection, and a chewing-out from Brian in Accounting. On top of all, there's been a nagging sensation of being watched, and a mother's intuition that her son is in trouble. Frazzling day, really. To top it off, she almost caught dinner down at O'Tolley's, but felt sick as soon as she opened the door. Something must be wrong in the kitchen, she had thought. Well so much for supper here tonight! Funny - no one else seemed to notice. So Clarissa chalked it all up to a day from hell and hauled out the chicken when she got home.

Ryan's room had been empty when she returned, and that set her nerves a little tighter. Where's that kid?! But as she fixes supper, Claire hears sounds down the hall. Ryan must be home after all. Good. Soon, the W.C. door opens and Ryan clumps down the hall to his room. Surly bugger, she thinks, lighting a cigarette. Too much of his Da, sometimes. Good heart, but a lousy temper!

At least he hasn't been in any more fights recently. Thank you, Mary, for small favors.

Ryan slides into another shirt and slips the headphones on. His blood's still going from the Kensington fight, so he picks out some mosh-tunes and grabs a few comics. From the smell of it, dinner won't be ready for a little while, and Ryan hopes to cool down a bit before dealing with Mom again. She's good people, and he doesn't want to weird her out.

Funny how he can smell dinner cooking, how he knows that it's not ready yet just by smelling the air. Every sense seems so much stronger, lately�. As Shaken Baby Syndrome screams through the headphones, he adjusts the sound just a little. Jeeze, it seems so loud, and not in a good way.

Gotta turn it down a bit� yeah, that's better.

Wrapped in a blanket of sound, Ryan zones out and dozes. Outside, an old evil comes home.

The chicken's almost finished when Claire hears knocking at the door. Oh, great, she thinks, wiping her hands. Now what?

The men outside look like constables; as she checks them out, one flashes a badge. It's not the first time this has happened. Dammit, what's that kid done this time?

"Good evening, ma'am. Might we have a word?"

Claire sighs as she opens the door. "What can I do for you tonight, officer?"

"Are you Mrs. Clarissa McCoullogh, ma'ma? Mother of Ryan?" The tall cop looks kindly, but there's a coldness in his eyes.

"That would be me." Claire shakes her head and smiles sadly. Mother Mary, that kid will kill me, yet!

Behind the tall cop, his partner licks his lips hungrily: "Mmmm� chicken."

"May we?"

"Come on in�."

A sour smell drifts in on the wind. The scent of blood and ashes, cold wind and decay.

It's a long way from Kil Na Korr, but some wars never end.

Ryan's war is just beginning.

The Wyrm has come to claim its prize�.

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