The warm night air was filled with the sound nature's music. The wind whispered through the trees as the crickets and frogs chirped and chirred in the tall grass of the meadow. The low sound of water running from the great river lent it's subtle notes to the sound of the living world.

That world changed in a moment. The wind ceased as if holding it's breath. The crickets and frogs made no sound. Only the great river continued it's endless song, as if nothing could stay it's relentless canon.

There was a new sound. A sound like something tearing and something screaming. The moonlit darkness of the meadow was suddenly illuminated by a strange violet light. A small crack in the air some two meters from the ground began to open. It was only a few centimeters at first, but it slowly widened as something began to push it's way through.

The bulge was pale white and shot through with veins and covered with a slimy coating that steamed as it slowly worked it's way into the world. The crack widened into a vertical split almost a meter in length as the pale thing bulged out into the darkness.

In moments, the bulge had pushed through the split and hung in the air like some strange fruit grown from an invisible, and alien tree. Then, as suddenly as it had opened, the split closed with a sizzling white flash that hung in the air like the scent of ozone after a lightning strike. The horrible thing dropped to the ground with a wet thump, trailing a foul umbilical cord that twitched and smoked where the end of the cord had been cauterized by the closing of the split.

For a moment, the bulge lay motionless, as if pulsed silently in the darkness with an alien heat. Then, it moved. The bulge twisted, stretched, and tore as a mottled, grey-white claw thrust out of the sac, and began to rip away the remainder of the fleshy sac.

The thing lay there gasping and retching for a time, parboiled flesh cooling in the night slowly raised itself up on it's hanches and peered around at it's surroundings. It's masters would be knew what had to be done. It's flat, disc-like eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, and it bolted for the edge of the clearing. It moved with frightening speed and agility as it darted through the trees, seeking a suitable target.

It was not long before the thing came upon what it was seeking. An encampment of primitive humanoids. They were adrift in the sleep of the unknowing. The thing crouched at the edge of the fire's light and knew things about such creatures. Tribal humanoids with a strong bond to the wilderness. Their slight build belied a strength and speed that would prove useful once they were tamed by the masters.

They kept no watch because they were as one with their surroundings and feared no creature in the wild. Yes. It had seen beings like this before, and they, like all before them, would fall before it's masters.

The thing crept forward towards one of the sleeping forms. It moved with a sinewy silence that was not indicated by it's gangly crouched over the humanoid and watched for a moment longer. It didn't enjoy this as much as taking a wakened target. How their minds screamed, as they futilely tried to fight through the paralysis. It felt their fear as they felt their very essence being sucked away, and saw the terror in their eyes as they saw themselves being replaced. It reached down and placed a pale, long fingered hand on the sleeping target's bare chest.

This one, it thought, would be spared the terror. It was important to the masters that this operation be undertaken with the utmost care. This world was special, it's masters had said. The thing looked around at the primitive darkness, and saw nothing it had not seen in other worlds.

But, that was not it's purpose. It had been sent to gather the Keys. It did not know what the Keys were, as they were different in each world the masters had conquered. It had been trained to sense them, and it would know them once they were found. It was to gather they Keys, and return to the place where it had entered this world. There, the Gate would be opened.

It looked skyward at the pale orb that floated amid the blanket of stars. It was reminded of something long ago. A world with twin moons, one pink, and the other yellow, hanging in a verdant sky. It could not remember if this were one of it's own memories, or one that had belonged to one of it's many targets. It did not matter. That place was gone now. As the world soon would be.

It turned to look down at the sleeping figure on the ground. It was surprised to see the humanoid staring back up at it with a look that it had seen many times before. Bewilderment. Terror. The frantic darting of the eyes as the target realized that it was unable to move, or speak, or scream. The thing stared back down at it's target in a silent revelry.

It had been designed with an inherent ability to paralyze it's target by touch. There were only isolated instances where the target was able to break free of the mindsnare, but this was not one of those times.

The thing reached up with both spider-like hands and grasped the sides of the target's head. The humanoid's eyes darted back and forth in a mute and motionless scream. The thing leaned down closer to the target's face and locked it's milky gaze to the target's terror filled eyes.

It began. Barely visible wisps of energy began to flow from the target's eyes, nose, and mouth and despite having nothing resembling a mouth or nose of it's own, the thing began to breathe the wisps into itself. The flows became stronger, and the change began to come. The other sleeping forms did not stir.

As the transformation began, the thing could see that target's thoughts as if they were it's own. Fleeting pictures of a female, and two young. Places, friends, enemies. As this happened, the thing's skin took on a darker hue, and it's eyes changed shape, growing smaller and almond shaped. Their color shifting from a milky white to a shade of green like moss on a wet rock.

Black hair sprouted from it's formerly bare skull, coming in thick and lustrous. Long, pointed ears grew from the sides of it's head, where twin valve-like orifices had melted away.

It was done. In moments the thing had taken the form, and the mind of the being beneath it. Looking down at the now shriveled husk, and then at the other still sleeping around the fire. It knew their names, and their families. It was called Otter, and was part of a hunting party that was returning to their village. The thing that was now Otter quietly lifted the desiccated husk of it's target, and carried it out towards the great river. There, it took the target's clothing, tools and weapons, and dumped the corpse into the river. Then Otter returned to camp. Littlecrow stirred as Otter settled back into the soft deerskin blanket of his bedroll. "Is everything well?" He asked, in their native tongue. "Yes." Said Otter, I needed to put something in the river." A faint smile crossed his lips. Littlecrow chuckled. "Better there than stinking up the camp." He said, as he rolled over and went back to sleep.