Idol of Shadow
Sam Smalls pressed himself to the wall, staying well back in the shadows of the alley until he was certain that the Lone Star patrol had passed him and Julie by. Just minutes before, he had been in the middle of the preparations needed for summoning a fire elemental. It had taken him an hour to set up the magical circle, and he had been well into the magical chants when suddenly Lone Star had started banging on the front door. While the friend whose house they were using had stalled the cops, the two runners had made a hasty retreat out the back. It wasn't the first time these past few days that Sam and Julie had been forced to make a run for it. Lone Star was breathing down their necks, their teammate Darren Calloway had likely already been arrested, the team's reputation in the shadowcommunity was in shreds, and if the cops didn't get them then an assassin by the name of Blackwing just might.
How had things gotten so fucked up so fast?
It had all started a few days ago, when Sam's fixer had contacted him with the news that there was a mister Johnson looking for a team to do some bodyguard work. Sam had contacted the other runners, who were all eager to get into action and make some much-needed Nuyen. The first meet with the Johnson, who was a short, nervous, somewhat sickly looking fellow by the name of Topal, had gone well. The Johnson had told them he had an important transaction coming up and that he needed some protection for the meeting. It was to be a short assignment at decent pay. It had looked like easy money.
Next day, late in the evening, the runners had escorted the Johnson to the junkyard that was to be the site of the meeting. Working their way past the perimeter fence, the group had made their way between the stacks of wrecked cars, emerging into a central open area. There had been three shady characters already waiting for them. To Sam's Astral senses, the man and woman standing on the ground had both screamed magic-user. The slick-looking Elf sitting on a stack of cars had all the markings of cyber-enhancement. Whomever the Johnson had been expecting, from his reaction it was obvious that these three weren't them. The Johnson had handed the briefcase he'd been carrying to Mike, asking him to hold on to it. Then he had stepped forward, flanked by the other runners, into the meeting ground and had demanded to know where the people he was supposed to meet were. The Elf had merely smiled and said that it was of no importance and that the deal would be made with them now. Tension had been rising, the runners hands edging towards their weapons, magical energies building and waiting to be unleashed. And then suddenly everything had been interrupted by a distant roar that quickly grew louder. Even as the two groups had searched for the source of the sound, a heavily armoured Lone Star Citymaster had come crashing through the stacks of wrecked cars. "Surrender Blackwing, you and your terrorist comrades," a voice had boomed from the Citymaster's speakers amidst the cacophony of falling carwrecks.
In the chaos that had followed, it was unclear what exactly had happened to the mister Johnson, but Sam knew now that the man hadn't made it out alive. Worse than that, the current word on the streets was that the runners were the ones who had killed him and that they had stolen the Johnson's briefcase. Hah, Sam thought, as if anybody would want that damned briefcase and its cursed contents. After fleeing the Lone Star raid, the scattered runners had regrouped at an old abandoned airstrip in the Barrens. There it had turned out that not only was mister Johnson missing but also that their teammate Tiny had been caught and arrested, having had the bad luck of being the closest to the Citymaster when it came crashing through. But worse than that, Darren had killed two cops in a firefight during his escape from the junkyard. The Ork said that it had happened further back, out of sight of other cops, and that he didn't think he was seen by anybody. But even if Lone Star didn't have a face to put with the deaths right now it, it was certain that the heat would be on when the bodies were found.
Julie had gone into the city to get some information on what was going on. Meanwhile, the other runners had examined the contents of the briefcase. Inside, wrapped in a cloth covered in magical symbols, had been a stone idol that radiated power like a lighthouse. Back then, Sam had had no idea what the idol was or did. The only thing that was clear was that the cloth muted the idol's magic emanations.
They had still been examining the idol when sirens had sounded in the distance, triggering a second scramble for safety. After their getaway, Darren had scouted the Barrens, finding them an abandoned building to hole up in for the time being. Sam had contacted Julie, who hadn't been at the airstrip when the cops came. Julie had had some disturbing news. Apparently the runners' mugshots were on the news, and word on the street was that they had double-crossed their employer, a cardinal sin for any shadowrunner. More stuff to worry about. Sam had set a meeting point with Julie, and had gone to pick her up after using a spell on himself to change his appearance. The spell was good, changing his appearance to that of a streetpunk with a big-ass mohawk, but a careful observer would still be able to recognize him. Still, it would have to do for now.
Sam had gone to pick up Julie, and on their way back from the meeting point they had been ambushed. They had turned at the sounds of footsteps coming from behind them, a voice had shouted "You'll pay for the death of Topal!" and then a spell had slammed Sam into the void of unconscious. He didn't know exactly what had happened after that, but somehow Julie had managed to convince their attackers that things weren't as they seemed, and to at least give the runners a chance to tell their side of the story. Sam had woken up to the healing touch of an Elf woman named Aewyn. She was one of the Children of Sophocles, as the group called themselves. They were all magic-users, led by a Raven shaman named Caw Caw. Once back at the hideout with Mike and Darren, the runners had talked long and hard with the Children of Sophocles, convincing them that both groups had been set up by Blackwing. A plan had emerged to take out their common enemy. It wouldn't be easy. The little information that the two groups had managed to scrounge together indicated that Blackwing was an experienced killer who operated all across the world. But Blackwing wanted the idol. With this bait, he could be lured to his doom.
A few hours after the Children of Sophocles had left, Sam had been catching up on some much needed sleep when suddenly he and the others had been awakened by Darren. The Ork, who had been on guard duty, had spotted approaching squad cars. Once again, the runners had scrambled for their vehicles, Julie shouting for them all to meet at the coffeeshop later.
Julie, Mike and Darren had arrived at the coffeeshop first. They had gone in, ordered some drinks, and had left again soon after, fearing that they'd been recognized by one of the other customers. The runners had been gone from the coffeeshop by the time the Lone Star patrol had arrived, but they had stayed in the neighborhood because Sam hadn't arrived yet. They hadn't wanted him to run into the cops unaware. Unfortunately, while waiting for Sam, Mike and Darren had been spotted by a passing patrol car. They had tried to make a getaway, splitting up to make the pursuit more difficult. The patrol cars had followed Darren. Sam was unsure what had happened to the Ork after that. If only the others had known that he had decided to swing by a talismonger the Children of Sophocles had told the runners about before going to the meeting place, and had therefore been an hour late.
Still, Sam figured as he and Julie carefully made their way through the back alleys, there might be a chance that the Ork was okay. With the appearance altering spell Sam had cast, the cops might not recognize Darren. And besides, the cops had released Tiny after they had convinced themselves that the dwarf didn't have anything to do with Blackwing. Or, more likely, they had released Tiny in the hope that the Dwarf would lead them to Blackwing. Still, no point in worrying about that now. The runners had a plan to execute, something which would be a little more difficult now that the cops had spoiled the elemental summoning. Arrangements had been made to contact Blackwing via an information broker, offering an exchange of money for the idol. The runners had scouted out a few locations for the meeting and had chosen an old unfinished subway station in the Barrens. With the aid of the Children of Sophocles, the runners hoped to turn the place into a deathtrap. A desperate move for sure, taking on a internationally feared assassin in such a way, but what choice did they have? Sam just hoped the underground concrete chamber of the subway wouldn't become a tomb for them all.
And should they manage to defeat Blackwing, that still left the idol itself to be dealt with. At the talismonger, a woman by the name of Trixie, Sam had learned the true nature of the item. It was a focus that granted its wielder incredible magical power, but also drained the very lifeforce of the user as payment for it's services. No wonder the Johnson had seemed weak and sickly. And there had been more bad news. According to the talismonger, the only being with the power necessary to destroy the idol was a dragon...
Two days later...
The runners sat in the dark subway station, waiting for for their enemies to arrive. The team had just received word from the two Children of Sophocles who were watching the subway entrance from an abandoned building outside. They had spotted three people fitting the descriptions of Blackwing and his cohorts moving towards the entrance. Blackwing had made good time. It had only been fifteen minutes ago that he had received instructions by phone from the runners on where to bring the money. Blackwing was supposed to bring six million nuyen in exchange for the idol, but none of the runners really believed that he actually would. Only one group was walking out of this subway station alive, and they all knew it.
Any moment now Blackwing and his two partners would descend the concrete stairs. At the bottom, they would be met by a watcher spirit who would direct them to the hallway leading to the left. Halfway down the hallway, they would be met by Julie and Mike. At the end of the hallway was a small platform where the hallway split into a T-junction, with two staircases leading down onto the actual subway platform. Crates had been placed on these staircases to provide cover in an emergency. On the small platform would be the briefcase with the idol. Around the corners, Darren and Sam were lying in wait on opposite sides of the T-junction.
Darren was performing a few last minute checks of his weapons. After having been arrested by the cops, his original weapons had been confiscated so he had been forced to buy some new ones on short notice after his release. The disguise spell Sam had thrown had worked and the police hadn't recognized him as a wanted criminal. Darren had concocted a story about how he had only fled from the cops because he'd been carrying unlicensed weapons and cyberware, and had been afraid of being busted for illegal arms possession. Since unlicensed weapons and cyberware were a not uncommon feature on the streets of Seattle, the cops had believed him and Darren had been released without a thorough examination. Unfortunately though, the cops had taken the opportunity to slap a SIN-number on him, with a hefty 20.500 nuyen fine for the illegal possession of weapons and cyberware attached to it. Darren aimed his brandnew Ingram Smartgun down the dimly lit hallway, testing the smartlink interface. He was in a foul mood and eager to do some serious damage.
Meanwhile, Tiny was hidden in a small serviceroom near the entrance, ready to attack the enemy from behind. Also, two of the Children of Sophocles were waiting on the subway platform below to provide backup if needed, elementals were waiting in the Astral to come to the runners aid, and if all else failed, then the runners could try to escape via the manholes leading to the surface down in the subway tunnel. The runners had placed climbing ropes there to facilitate a speedy exit.
Footsteps sounded from the concrete stairs leading down from the subway entrance. Moments later, Blackwing and his two partners entered the dimly lit hallway. Sam threw a glance around the corner through a handmirror while Blackwing was talking to Mike and Julie.
Something wasn't right.
The three looked the same as the runners had seen them that first night at the junkyard, but something felt wrong. Something about their aura just wasn't right. Sam whispered into his phone. "Hold on guys, this isn't Blackwing, we're being set up." Julie's eyes narrowed as she received the message through her earplug phone. The false Blackwing was just saying that he had the money with him and was reaching into his jacket. "Stop!" Julie ordered him, but the man ignored her. Julie and Mike sprung forward, lashing out as the gun cleared the man's jacket. He swung it at Julie with superhuman speed, the butt of the gun slamming her in the face. Mike's fist connected with the samurai's abdomen only moments later.
Darren leaned out of cover and opened up into the melee with his Ingram Smartgun, the smart systems keeping him from accidentally hitting Mike or Julie. The enemy mage on the left was viciously interrupted in his spellcasting as a stream of bullets slammed him backwards. At the same time, Sam unleashed a magical powerdart at the other mage and Tiny broke out of hiding on the other side of the hallway. While Sam and Darren's combined assault took care of the mages, Mike and Julie attacked Blackwing. A vicious uppercut from Mike lifted the samurai of his feet, dropping him bonelessly to the floor. The fight was over in seconds, before Tiny even got a chance to take a shot at the enemy.
Darren quickly radioed the situation to the Children of Sophocles. "Opponents are down but we think they were impos...". Before Darren could finish the sentence, he suddenly keeled over, falling down before Sam's very eyes. "Contact," Sam yelled, only a fraction of a second before the sound of gunfire echoed up from the main platform below, the place where two of the Children of Sophocles, including the Elf woman Aewyn, had been waiting.
Mike and Julie sprinted for the T-junction, followed by Tiny. Just as Julie was about to round the corner, she suddenly saw bullets start to zing past Sam. The Dwarf was diving for the cover of the crate in the hallway, but Julie could see he wasn't going to make it. With the superhuman speed of a physical adept, Julie leapt forward, taking Sam down into the cover of the crate. Mike moved to pull Darren out of the firing range, but a volley of bullets slammed into his bodyarmor, knocking him unconscious before he could do so.
Buried under Julie, Sam concentrated to send out a call to the fire elemental he had summoned the day before. "Kill the enemies on the subway platform below!" he screamed into the Astral. Then his attention was suddenly diverted by the sound of a small metallic object landing on the platform above. The blast that followed was deafening, but fortunately Sam and Julie were a few steps below the platform and therefore partially shielded from the blast. Mike and Darren didn't have any cover, but their armor protected the two tough Orks from the worst of the blast.
Flickers of light and shouts were coming from below. Julie got up from the floor and quickly started moving down to the main subway platform, followed shortly after by Sam. As she emerged from the stairway, Julie paused a moment to take in the situation. The bodies of the two Children of Sophocles were lying on the platform. Sam's fire elemental was attacking an enemy standing just beyond the edge of the subway platform. There was also a water elemental which, strangely enough, didn't seem to be doing anything. Julie ran forward, readying her bow. As she jumped down onto the railroad tracks, she saw Blackwing futilely trying to shield himself from the searing inferno. Unfortunately, Blackwing's companion was still okay, and very much alert. A surge of magical energy lashed out at Julie, the power coursing through her like a lightning bolt, rendering her unconscious before she had a chance to attack.
Sam and Tiny, who had just emerged from the stairwell, saw Julie go down at almost the same time as Blackwing. Sam readied a magical powerbolt and Tiny opened fire at the remaining mage, who decided he had had enough and ran for it. Before he could get very far, an air elemental from the Children of Sophocles caught the mage, holding him immobile, and Sam finished him off with the powerbolt. Sam searched around for the other mage, the woman the team had seen with Blackwing the night in the junkyard, but she didn't seem to be here. Sam looked speculatively at the motionless water elemental. Whomever had summoned it had apparently chosen not to stick around to give the elemental orders, but why? A cold shiver ran down Sam's spine as a thought occurred to him. "The briefcase," he hissed, "We've forgotten the briefcase." He ran back up the stairs as fast as his stubby legs could carry him. Sure enough, the briefcase was gone.
Sam turned to around and shouted an order at his fire elemental: "Go to the surface and stop the enemy with the briefcase." The elemental vanished as it moved to do Sam's bidding. Sam's body dropped to the floor as his spirit entered the astral to follow the elemental. As Sam's spirit came up through the subway entrance, he saw his fire elemental fighting a water elemental in a cloud of boiling steam. The fire elemental wasn't doing very well and it was only moments before the water elemental had managed to overwhelm it completely. Sam braced himself for a fight, but apparently the water elemental wasn't in the mood, and it disappeared back to whatever plane it had originally come from.
The lady mage who had apparently summoned the water elemental was lying near the entrance, the briefcase still in her lifeless hand. It didn't appear as though she had been killed by the fire elemental. Apparently, she hadn't managed to make it past the two Children of Sophocles who had been waiting outside. Sam went back to check on his friends. Tiny was busy giving first aid to a badly wounded Julie. Sam joined him, his healing spells managing to take care of the worst of the damage. Julie was now stabilized but she was still going to need some serious medical attention. Grabbing his phone, Sam contacted his fixer to organise an emergency ride.
After having checked on the still unconscious Mike and Darren, Tiny got to work on stripping the bodies of their fallen enemies. He had to work fast, since both Blackwing and his impersonator were carrying DocWagon bracelets, and not the cheap ones either. A DocWagon emergency tactical response team was probably on the way even now. Tiny stripped the bodies and was just about to start dragging them outside when Sam motioned for him to stop. Sam picked up the Enfield shotgun they had taken from the dead bodies, and with fast motion brought the butt of the weapon down on Blackwing's head, striking again and again, until the head had been beaten to a bloody pulp. In response to Tiny's raised eyebrow, Sam said: "Those DocWagon guys are good, but I'd like to see them try to reanimate this."
With the help of the remaining Children of Sophocles, the two Dwarves dragged the bodies outside and then waited in the shadows nearby. Sure enough, a DocWagon aerial ambulance arrived within minutes. A group of heavily armoured medics trooped out of the chopper, loaded up the bodies, and were gone again in mere seconds. Tiny noted down the ambulance identification number. Later that day, Lone Star would be getting an anonymous phone call telling them that the international terrorist Blackwing had been taken to hospital. Hopefully, with Blackwing confirmed dead, Lone Star would ease up on the manhunt.
After a while, Darren and Mike regained consciousness, and Sam and Tiny informed them about what had happened. They told them that the Children of Sophocles had already taken off, taking their dead comrades with them, and that Julie was in bad shape. Darren said he knew a Shadow clinic that could help Julie. He placed a quick phonecall to his friend Samantha Brooks, an Eagle Shaman who worked in the clinic, making an appointment. The emergency ride Sam had asked his fixer for arrived not long after, a black van pulling up to the subway station. The runners carefully loaded up Julie before getting in themselves. "Where to, guys?" the rigger asked them. Darren gave him the address of the Shadow clinic and soon the van was on its way, getting at their destination with record speed.
After seeing to it that Julie was being taken care of, the team spent the next few days wrapping up loose ends. The runners stayed in coffin hotels while the deals were being made, moving around the city to throw off any possible pursuit. Sam's fixer managed to get them a good deal on the stuff they had looted from their dead enemies, especially the spell foci, which was good news since the runners badly needed the money. The downpayment on Julie's hospital bill alone had cost them a bundle, and Darren and Mike needed money to buy new motorcycles, since theirs had recently been stolen. Darren's suggestion of selling their enemies organs and cyberware had been rejected by the others.
Now there was only one more thing to do: find a way to get rid of the cursed idol. The runners placed a call to Trixie the talismonger, asking her if she knew where the runners might be able to find a dragon. She told them a dragon called Gaeshwyn ran its own corporation here in Seattle and gave them an address. Sam took a deep breath and placed a call to the corporation's Tacoma office, making an appointment with the dragon's secretary for later that day.
The runners met up at Sam's office an hour beforehand. When Darren and Mike arrived, they found Sam and Tiny sharing some whiskey. Darren and Mike joined their friends in a drink to ease the nerves. The runners were about to break one of the cardinal rules of shadowrunning, which was that you never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon. Many were the tales told of those who had gotten involved with the legendary beasts, and few of those tales had happy endings. But what choice did they have? If they just dumped the idol somewhere, there was no telling how much harm it could cause.
At the appointed hour, the runners arrived at Gaeshwyn's officebuilding. A pretty but somewhat nervous secretary directed them to an elevator in the back of the splendidly decorated lobby. Walking past the opulent indoor waterfall, the runners stepped into the spacious elevator. A guard briefly reached in to press an unmarked button and the elevator began to rise.
When the doors opened again, hot air wafted into the elevator. To the runners' astonishment, they saw a desert stretching out almost as far as the eye could see. Cactuses dotted the rockstrewn landscape. The runners stepped out of the elevator and looked around. The artificial environment surely had to encompass the entire upper floor of the building.
Before the runners had the chance to further examine their surroundings, their attention was drawn by sudden movement in the distance. The runners stood nailed to the floor as a dragon emerged from behind a rockformation. It closed on the runners with more speed than something so large should be able to have. Standing in the dragon's shadow, looking up at the fanged head looming over them, there was a moment of silence that seemed to last forever. "Why are you here?" the dragon's voice boomed. The runners quickly explained the situation they had found themselves in. They opened the suitcase and showed the idol to the dragon, asking him if he could destroy it. "I can," the dragon said, "Leave the item and go." The runners didn't need to be told twice.
Back outside in the fresh Seattle air, there was a feeling of relief. "That went a lot better than I'd expected," said Tiny, "I was sure the dragon was going to demand some sort of favor from us in exchange for destroying the idol". Darren grinned. "I don't know about you guys," he said, "but I intend to find a bar and get plastered." The runners went into the nearest bar they could find and ordered drinks to celebrate. Darren was well on his way to unconsciousness by the time a beautiful blonde woman came into the bar. She walked immediately to the runners' table. "You made a grave mistake when you gave the idol to Gaeshwyn," she said. "Gaeshwyn doesn't have the power to destroy the idol. Only a Greater Dragon has the power needed. Shift to the Astral and behold my true form."
With a sinking feeling in his gut, Sam shifted his perception to the Astral plane. When he shifted back, he was decidedly paler and a lot more sober. "She's a dragon," he said to the other runners, his voice somewhat unstable. "A feathered serpent to be precise," the woman said, "and my name is Arleesh. I've been trying to track down the idol for months in order to destroy it. Gaeshwyn has neither the power to do it nor the desire. He simply wants to use the idol for his own evil purposes. You should have been more careful whom you gave the idol too. Now you must correct your mistake, and help me retrieve the idol before Gaeshwyn learns how to use it."
The runners stared at her in shock.
"I hate my life," Darren said, and he slowly started to bang his head on the table.
To be continued...
Return to the System Access Node