Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shadows of the Past

"There is no shadow without light,"... Unknown


December 2058

I made good on my promise to Aria and took her to the Eye of the Needle again. We had to wait a week for a reservation, but she was agreeable. We had a nice dinner, then took a boat tour of Puget Sound.  It was a fun time.


December 30th, 2058 

I was nineteen years old.

I had spent most of the month of December secluded in my new home. I managed to learn two spells, summon and bind four spirits, and had furniture delivered.  The annual mandatory gift giving holiday came and went.  I bought gifts that year for a few people I knew.  Sue had insisted on sending gifts the prior year, and I thought it would be rude not to follow up.

Suzy B and Edgy Ed spent the month recovering from injuries.  I made a point to see each of them once or twice each week. It was hardest visiting Ed as he had a major mad-on over losing "one of my two oldest friends".  It wasn't funny.  I didn't laugh, not even a little.  Suzy was another matter.  The skull fracture the vampire gave her was causing her all sorts of problems. The doctor she saw had wanted her to stay at the clinic under observation, she refused and was recovering at her apartment.  She complained of headaches, kept the lights off, and wasn't eating much.  (NOTE:  for all of you with cyber eyes, if you have a head injury and light hurts your eyes... that's a bad sign chummer, go to a doctor).

Gitti messaged me and said he wasn't going to be available for work until after the holidays.  I didn't ask about Creep, Crank disappeared for the month, and Adam the First went on an initiatory ordeal. As usual, I had no idea what Angel was up to, though I did send her a holiday gift.

{Thank you ~ Angel}
{You get fruit cake this year ~ T}
{So help me, I'll subscribe you to every targeted marketing firm on the planet if you do! ~ Angel}
{Joking ~ T}

It was about this time that I realized that I only socialized with professional criminals or people in those immediate circles.  The words "Known Associates" came to mind.

{What? Most of the shadowrunners you hung out with back there were decent folks.  For shadowrunners, anyway ~ Angel}


December 31st, 2058 2230 hours

I couldn't get in to Dante's Inferno for the New Year's Eve party. Same was to be said of every night spot I had ever been to.  Places were packed with revelers celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another.  For me, 2058 had been very busy and had held some personal losses. I wanted to celebrate like everyone else, to revel and laugh. Instead, I ended up spending the evening at church.  I sat through mass, listened to the priest, and found that I felt a bit better.

At midnight I was listening to gunfire and fireworks, watching the sky erupt in magical and mundane pyrotechnics.  I was standing at the graves of Pepper and his family.  I talked a lot that night.

"I wish you could see the new place.  Its a quiet neighborhood.  Kids play in front of the houses during the daylight hours."  I said.  "Biz has been tough this year.  I bit off more than I could chew with a vampire.  He beat my ass and killed three of my team.  Poor planning on my part.  I should been smart about it, set fire to the house after dawn and let the daylight kill him.  Two other runners got hurt pretty bad.  Not sure if one is going to be able to work again and the other, well, lets just say he's going to walk funny for a while." I might have chuckled a little.  "I hope you are at peace, all of you."

I thought I was talking to Pepper but I know now, he wasn't there.  I was talking to myself, getting things off my chest.  Catharsis is what the ancient Greeks called it when you purge the negative feelings.  That night, standing in the snow, surrounded by graves, and watching the sky erupt as 2059 was welcomed in, I felt better.

I said "Goodbye" to Pepper and his family.  I didn't intend to come back.

*****

January 7th, 2059

I filed my year ending taxes with the tribal tax bureau and my property and various other miscellaneous taxes with the Seattle Metroplex Department of Revenue.  My money was well and truly laundered, but if you don't pay your taxes official people with access to law enforcement get curious.  So I pay my taxes, which is funny to me as the governments make money from my illegal activities.

My bills were paid, I had real food in the refrigeration unit, and my neighbors had taken down their holiday decorations. My identity didn't have any suspicious activity on it, and was growing stronger with all the "legitimate" use I put on it (like paying taxes... just a hint there chummers). 2059 was off to a good start.

1300 hours:   January was colder than normal.  I stepped out of the car and beheld the towering edifice of the Renraku Arcology.  If you have never seen it up close, its fraggin' huge. There was a lore store there that sold some decent materials and some top notch enchanting tools and alchemical equipment.  I arrived at the end of the lunch rush, made it through security with no problems (I left my gun at home), and headed to the lore store. 

Renraku was not, and still isn't, known for being particularly meta-friendly.  That said, where magicians are concerned companies usually have to set aside their racial prejudice if they need the staff.  Robert Longfellow, was a troll magician and proud employee of Renraku North America.  He ran the lore store on the third floor (fyi, at that time the Arcology only had two lore stores) which catered to alchemists, conjurers, and enchanters.  The shop carried material reagents, a fair selection of minor foci, focus formulae for a variety of different magical tools, and a worthless series of books on the basics of summoning.

"Robert, its good to see you." I thrust my hand at the towering man.  He smiled and shook firmly.

"Mr. Gun.  Its good to see you.  I have your order here, of course, if you'll follow me we'll get your final forms signed."  Robert led me to a secluded client booth, where he waited for me to be seated before seating himself.  "I confess I was impressed to see such a large order.  So many people simply buy a trinket so as to own a small bit of magic.  Wizard's, on the other hand, are a great boon to business."

"Its my pleasure, Robert.  Your merchandise has always been of fine quality, and my needs were rather, specific."  Robert was fishing for information.  I don't think he did it maliciously, I think he was expressing a professional curiosity. "Between you and I, I'm planning a bit of an astral quest. I'll tell you about it sometime. Provided I succeed, or course."  My smile was genuine.  I liked Robert.  He was a nice guy who sold stuff I wanted and needed and he didn't try to upsell me, much.

"I look forward to it!" Robert exclaimed. "If you would review the order information, I'll bring the items out for your inspection." 

I went over the list and found everything I had ordered there.  One thing in particular, "Eldritch secrets of the Babylonians", I had ordered in hard copy.  I wanted to compare the on-demand copy to the one I had. I didn't exactly lie to Robert.  I was planning an astral quest. I also had a large quantity of materials I planned to use for summoning and binding rituals.  Robert brought out several boxes, opening each to allow me to inspect the contents.  Everything was as I ordered.  I signed for receipt of my new property after paying a painful sum.  I hit the app for my car service while Robert arranged for a security team to escort me to my ride.

*****

January 9th, 2059

I was twenty years old. 

My birthday came and went.  Angel surprised me with a card, and a gift.  I still don't know how she found out when my birthday was.  By noon I had finished packing away my local purchases of reagents, alchemicals, and other magical paraphernalia.  At 1303 hours, a pair of critical components arrived from Europe.  I unpackaged the tusk from a golden boar delicately.  Its magical potency was well worth the price paid to (legally) import it. I left it wrapped in the paper it came in and covered it with a large glass bell jar.  A smaller box held a single fire opal.  It was a beautiful stone, the light catching it and throwing off a host of color.  To my astral sight it shone brilliantly, radiating incredible magical potential. 

I cast my eyes around my basement, studying the flow of mana through the room.  A small orb of light held fast near the center point, an eruption of power into the local mana field. I don't know how it was formed, but it was present when I first looked at the house, and was the chief reason I moved in.  I had found that I could harness that extra power in my magical efforts, and for the working I had planned I would certainly need it. 

I went to bed early that night, with a trio of bound spirits watching over me and the house.  I had a bit of magic planned for the following day. I was wary of any astral interference as well as mundane interruptions that may have interrupted the working. 

January 10th, 2059

I was up and working at 0300:  I drew out a circle on the floor of my basement in a yellow chalk from the Painted Desert.  I carefully added the mystic symbols and materials needed, and was done with the physical construction by 0600.  I went upstairs, ate breakfast, and cleaned up.  It was an hour before I went back down to the basement to continue my work.

Astral quests, vision quests, planar excursions, whichever you may know them by (and there are many other names) are dangerous undertakings.  You launch your essence, your very soul, into the astral places hidden far away from most mortal magicians. When you undertake an astral quest you journey into the metaplanes, places apart from "normal" astral space, where you may encounter profound wonders or darkest horrors.  Initiate magicians brave the metaplanes in search of knowledge and power.  Often times, a magician never comes back and the body dies as an empty shell.  I was seeking knowledge I desperately wanted, and I was certainly willing to take the risks of an astral quest to get it.

I took up position in the center of the circle, took a deep cleansing breath and began.  I took up a handful of phoenix ash, "Spirits of fire, light of the east, I beseech you.  Light my way as I journey the hidden paths.  Cast aside the darkness that I may see."  The fire elemental I had bound materialized at the eastern cardinal point.  I cast the phoenix ash at the spirit. "May your power aid me on my journey."

I reached down and retrieved a green, glass stoppered bottle.  I turned to face the western cardinal point, "Spirits of the waters, keepers of the secrets of the deep, I beseech you.  Reveal unto me that which I seek.  Part the deceptions of time, and reveal unto me the truth." The water elemental I had bound materialized at the western cardinal point.  I poured out water from the blood falls onto my head then emptied the remaining precious waters onto the spirit.  "May your power aid me on my journey."

I picked up the geode I had chosen for this working, and turned south, "Spirits of the earth, foundation of the world, I beseech you.  Support my efforts as I travel the darkened paths.  Guide my steps and strengthen my resolve." The earth elemental I had bound materialized at the southern cardinal point, dark obsidian eyes staring into me. I placed the geode between those dark eyes and watched as it seemed to open.  A crystalline third eye radiating magic before me. "May your power aid me on my journey."

I lit a bundle of sage and placed it in the northern quadrant of the circle.  Thin trails of pungent smoke wafted up, combining with incense from Tibet, Wyoming, and Japan. "Spirits of air and sky, breath of the world, I beseech you.  Watch over my working, blow back the dusts of time, and grant me your foresight." The air elemental I had bound materialized at the northern cardinal point.  I lay down in the circle, surrounded by the four elements, "May your power aid me on my journey."

The air was hazed by the incense and sage.  The elemental spirits about me bore witness as I slipped from my body and ascended into the astral plane. The area about me thrummed with harnessed power, while the orb of light directly above my body grew, changing shape as it did so, until I saw a long corridor before me.  A distant echo sounded, "Go back".

"No." I said. Then I walked into the corridor to confront the Dweller on the Threshold.

There are a number of theories as to what the Dweller on the Threshold may actually be.  I don't subscribe to any of them.  What I do believe, however, is that the Dweller makes it difficult for magicians to enter where they wish to go, and in doing so the dweller forces magicians to confront our own limitations.  I also believe, as many others do, that the Dweller on the Threshold is a first rate pain in the ass.  If you can't get past the Dweller then your quest is over before it begins, you hopefully learn a lesson about hubris, and those secrets you wished to possess are out of your grasp (for the time being, at least).  The Dweller can, and does, take many forms.  While you would think you learn to "expect the unexpected", the Dweller will surprise you.

I entered the corridor as ready as I could be to confront the Dweller.  As usual, I was horribly surprised.

The corridor before me was littered with bodies.  As I strode into the corridor the shade of Nicholas Poliwatski, looking frail and sickly, accused me. "Murderer." he gasped. "I was dying, I had no choice. You invaded my home and took my life. You may not pass."

"You were a diseased murdering psychopath who preyed on those who sought your help.  You infected others with your soul destroying disease and I would kill you again, without hesitation, if I could."  I spat my words at the shade and I meant every one of them.

Others rose up to take Nick's place, the vampires of his brood confronted me and I shouted down their accusations.  They were replaced by those victims they had condemned on that night when I lead the attack against Nick and the vampires.  A young prostitute looked up from a blood soaked piece of carpet.  "Please. Help me!" She cried.

"I did what I could. You would have become a monster. The disease would have poisoned your soul and you would have murdered others. I'm sorry for what happened to you, but it had to done." I felt sympathy for the shades of the victims of the vampires.  They were soon replaced by scores of disfigured ghouls.

"We didn't choose this, but you chose. You chose to murder us!"  They pointed talon-tipped fingers stained in blood at me.  There were so many.

"You preyed upon the people who were once your neighbors.  You slaughtered families, spread your disease, and condemned others to your own fate.  You had to be stopped, and I chose to stop you."  I confronted the shades of the ghouls and I felt no pity for them.

A multitude of shades rose up to confront me.  Shades of creatures, monsters, and people whose lives I had cut short.  They rose up and condemned me.  I answered their accusations, recalling why each had to die.  The gang of faux-hawk wearing wannabes faded from my view.  Then two forms rose up, their eyes wide, hands scorched from the first spells I sent down their weapon foci.  "Why did we have to die, Tommy? Why did you kill us?"  The shades of two physical adepts, the two who ran, who tried to get away.  Two security officers who were doing their job.  Two men I had murdered.

"I shouldn't have killed you. I was scared, desperate, and I made a terrible decision."  The truth is remarkably easy to tell. "I chased you down, and used your own weapons against you.  You could have lived.  There wasn't a reason to kill you, but I did.  I murdered you both, and I'm very sorry."  I felt a deep sense of shame, a burden I had carried for a few years now.  The shades faded away, but my guilt didn't.  I hung my head, the weight of my sins heavily upon my mind.

"What about me chummer?"

I froze. I knew that voice very well.  I didn't want to believe what I was hearing, so I looked up.

Pepper stood before me, a bullet wound in his eye and another in his throat.  His voice became distorted, gurgling from the blood bubbling out of his wounds.  "What about me, chummer? Why did I have to die?"

"I didn't kill you Pepper. It was those gangers.  I didn't kill you chummer." I could feel tears welling up.  "I didn't kill you Pepper.  You were my friend.  I didn't do it."

"Then why am I dead?"  Pepper demanded.

Damn the Dweller for doing this to me.  I stood dumbfounded for a moment, then I cried.  "I'm sorry Pepper.  It wasn't my fault.  I wanted to lash out at them for what they did and I didn't think. I could have just sent elementals and we could have picked them off as they fled, or I could have made us invisible so they couldn't see us to shoot back.  I just didn't think."  My voice broke and I sobbed, "I'm sorry Pepper!  God in heaven, I am SO SORRY!  I didn't think.  You didn't have to die.  I could have done it, I could have put you to sleep and sent the spirits.  I could have had Ratchet float the drones on them and mow them down.  I didn't think! Now you're dead, and its not my fault but I could have stopped it!  I could have been smarter!  You didn't have to die."  I was crying freely.  My astral form glinting from tears that flowed from me.  I pleaded and sobbed and I apologized to my friend's shade for my failings.  It wasn't my fault, but it always felt like it was.  Pepper was joined by Jim, Joe, and John.  Each looked as they did when they died.  They cast their gazes upon me and I felt my own guilt.  I sobbed, and poured out my guilt and grief as I looked at them all.

"I'm sorry.  I made mistakes and it cost you your lives. If I had been wiser, if I had thought things through, you would all be alive." I straightened, and steeled my resolve. "But its not my fault.  I didn't kill any of you. I am sorry, but I have things I have to do, I have someone I have to save, and I can't let you stand in my way."  I stepped through the shades, their hands patting my shoulders, and felt Pepper's hand firmly on my back.

Sue's shade appeared before me.  She didn't accuse me, she didn't challenge me, she only kissed me on the cheek. "Goodbye, Tommy" she said, then faded away.

"Honorable, and professional.  Live long and well Tommy, until we meet again." and then Pepper was gone.

I passed through the corridor, passed the Dweller, who had stepped aside from the glowing portal at the end, and walked into the metaplane beyond.

*****

The metaplanes are as varied as they are infinite.  I heard that on the trid once. It also happens to be true, as far as I know anyway.  I stepped into a small, square room, maybe three meters on each side.  There was a door in the center of each of the three walls I saw before me, and when I turned around I saw a door behind me.  Everything was grey and dark, like old ashes.  I turned to the left, and opened the door.

I stepped through into a scene that drew me up short.  There was a little boy, covered in dust and laying on a dilapidated bed.  The room, the toys, all looked very familiar to me.  As I moved closer I saw the boy's face and realized that I was looking at myself.  I was in my childhood bedroom, from before my parents were murdered.  It appeared that I could simply be sleeping.

I looked around the room, "Isabellix?" I called.  There wasn't an answer.

I went over to the bed and looked down at my own young face.  Even covered in dust I looked pained and scared.  I reached out to brush the dust off my face and watched as the boy, the bed and bedding all crumbled to ash.  The room began to crumble around me as I watched.  I jumped through the doorway toward the small room, only to land elsewhere.

I was in the living room of my childhood.  I saw the small figure of an infant laying in a playpen.  The child was holding a rattle and, like in the bedroom, was covered in ash.  I looked about and everything was gray and ashen.  I felt certain that the child was the key, but as I stepped toward the playpen the floor began to crumble.  I watched as the room began disintegrating about me.  I had never heard of something like this and I didn't know what to make of it, but I was certain I didn't want to be in the room when everything was gone.  I jumped back, trying once more for the door to the small room and landed in a classroom.

There were small children sitting about the room, bright and alive and full of color.  I turned and watched as a very small, very young 'me' walked down the steps and took a seat.  I was very much alive and vibrant', bright with magical potential, but sad and uncertain.  I walked over to the empty seat next to the smaller 'me', and heard a voice from behind "No pets allowed!"

I turned, confused, and saw a dead woman before the class.  Her fingers were red with blood, and there was a haze over her aura where she was hiding her true self from others.  She was alive only in the strictest of senses.  She was heartless, ruthless, and would do anything for power. She looked upon the young talents before her, and her hunger for power longed to consume them all.

As I watched, she raised her hand and pointed to the younger me.  A putrid cloud of tainted mana came flowing toward the child.  I raised my hands in a gesture of warding and soared into the path of the spell.  It cracked and flowed around me, breaking on my defenses and still trying to crawl its way to the small boy it was sent for.  I batted at the spell with all my might, then soared into the sorceress who was trying to poison the mind of small boy. "Tommy! Run!" I cried out.


I saw myself, eyes wide, turn and start running up the steps.  The sorceress beneath me battered my essence, striking at me with the skill and strength of a top notch magician. She was easily my match, and probably more powerful, but I fought as best I could holding her back from the fleeing boy-version of me.  I struggled and fought, all the while wondering wear Isabellix was.  As the younger me reached the door and ran out, the color vanished from the room.  The scene crumbled around me, and I was suddenly surrounded by a cloud of ash as reality collapsed all around me.

I'm not certain how much time passed. I wandered in the ashen cloud for an indeterminate amount of time.  It may have been minutes or days, but eventually my hand found a wall of smooth stone.  I followed the wall until I reached an opening, then stepped through.

I emerged into a small chamber of gray stone. There was a shape on the cracked floor, colorless and still.  Around me reality seemed to be crumbling away, falling into nothingness.  I had reached what is commonly called "the citadel", the place where knowledge is to be found.  All I saw was an ash covered shape.  I knelt down, and looked into a face that may have once been Isabellix. I looked up and saw a shade of that same sorceress who once tried to cast a spell on me, who had once used blood magic to torture Sue, walk to the shape I was inspecting and shatter it with sickly magical energy.  The mana coalesced into dusty ash.

I looked down at a cloud of ashes and understood.  Isabellix had been destroyed here.  The sorceress had hunted Isabellix down in her native metaplane and destroyed my childhood friend.

I fell to my knees then lay down next to the pile of ash that had once been the delight of my childhood.  I lay there for a long time, then began to drift off, as if to sleep.

*****

I regained awareness in my basement.  The elemental spirits had departed, the incense had burned down, and I felt a chill from laying on the basement floor.  I was stiff, and it took a few minutes for me to rise and find my pocket secretary.

I had been on my astral quest for almost two days (42 hours to be precise). I was dehydrated and weak. I wandered about the house for a while, drinking lemonade, and contemplating what I had learned.  I had dared to journey to the metaplanes to rescue Isabellix but my childhood friend was dead and beyond my help.

My face felt gritty from dried tears, so I washed up. I thought about what I had seen, the bottled up feelings that had tried to overwhelm me and, yes, I thought about Pepper.  "Honorable, and professional.  Live long and well Tommy, until we meet again." he had said to me.

Until we meet again chummer.
______________________________________________________________________


From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  If you enjoyed this, please comment below, and please do share this with others.

I also write and publish role-playing game material (for other game systems) under open game licenses.  You can find me on KickStarter as W.S. Quinton, and on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC.

I also have friends who are, as of this writing, conducting a campaign on KickStarter for their cardgame "I am the Greatest, Hero Edition".  Please do check it out, support the project if you can, and share the link to it with others.  They are great people, and a few of them are fellow Shadowrunners.

The link to their campaign is below.

Thank you all!



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