Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wedding Bells and Burning Hells (Part One ~ Iron Citadel)



Tuesday, July 13th, 2060

1500 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

Aria and I said "I do" to each other in front of a small group of witnesses.  Sheila X, Little Rickie, Crank, Sandy, and a handful of Aria's friends and relatives were in attendance.  Little Rickie gave Aria away, Crank stood in as my best man, and Sandy was Aria's maid of honor.  The priest was, as always, pleasant and discreet.  Lily and Rose held Jasmine and Violet, who slept through the ceremony. Even the weather cooperated, as we left for the reception under the rare clear blue sky.

Our reception was low key, with Solomon in the kitchen overseeing the caterers.  We ate and danced and had a wonderful time. Aria and I took the twins with us and we had our honeymoon at home. (Yes, I know that seems less than romantic.  When you have very young twins travel is daunting). The moon was full that night and cast a faint illumination over the house as we brought the twins in that night.  They were fussy, having been out all day, but they went to sleep shortly after we got home.  Lily and Rose had questions, but I told them we would talk about things in the morning.  Aria and I told them to watch over the girls, closed the bedroom door, and celebrated our first night as husband and wife.

I had arranged for a week of "working from home", which afforded me quality time with the family. The week went by far too quickly and reminded me just how much I loved the freedom of being home.

Wednesday, July 21st, 2060

0755 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

When I returned to the office my tie felt like a noose around my neck.  There were several months left in my contract and so far every assignment had been horrifically dangerous. I spent the morning cleaning my weapons and doing paperwork.

There was a knock on my door at 1105.  I locked my screen and holstered my slivergun. "Come in."

Creep walked in and sat down in the chair on the other side of my desk.  "Got a minute?"

"Sure, what's up?" I asked.  Creep made my skin crawl and even after months of working in the same office he still smelled of old tacos.

"I was thinking.  The Willows, what the Hell is doing on down there?"  He scratched his head and cast his gaze out the window.  "How many times have you and I been down there to kill vampires or ghouls?  Three or four times together, I think.  I know I've done a few here and there without you in that area and I imagine you could say the same."

The slimy little fragger was right.  "Sounds right to me.  I mean to look into it once my contract is up here. You know, I have friends down that way."

"Terrible affliction, friendship." Creep said sagely. "Glad I don't have any."

I didn't know what to say about that. He was probably right. I doubted he had any friends. "So, what have you come up with?  Any insights as to what is going down in the Willows?"

"Nope.  Nothing solid.  Maybe there is an aspected mana line or mana eruption that draws the infected to the area.  Maybe it's just that bad neighborhoods draw in the monsters to prey on those who can't call in police contractors for protection.  I don't know."  Creep tapped his hand on the arm of the chair.  "I may look into that mana line scenario.  If that is what keeps drawing them in, then the feng shui needs to be corrected.  A man could do a lot with a mana line if he can clean it up and chase off the infected.  There may be power to tap there."

"They say power corrupts." I replied. "Is it worth the risk of running into the infected over and over again just for power?"

"Oh yes." Creep said dreamily. "The things I've seen since I came here, well, let’s just say I don't like the idea of facing them with what I have on hand. Tapping into greater power may just help me live longer."

"I can appreciate that.  There are other paths to power though.  Study, initiation, or a power enhancing focus can all enhance your magic."  I told him.

"Don't forget blood." Creep said lazily. "They say there is power in the blood."

I felt a knot form in my stomach.  "Blood magic is a perversion, Creep. I don't know and don't want to know anything about it."

Creep shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'm just trying to cover all the paths to power in this conversation.  Don't forget about the rites of blood. Just because you won't use them to enhance your power, doesn't mean some other magician out there isn't bleeding out a victim right this minute."

"Doesn't mean it’s a path I want to follow." I replied tensely.

Creep smiled at me. "Not right now.  But what if you REALLY needed the power?  Maybe to save Aria or Crank?"

"Or you?" I asked.

Creep laughed at that. "Oh, don't give me that bulldrek. You wouldn't piss on me if I were on fire."  He giggled for a moment. "You can't think I haven't noticed it.  All that aggression in your aura and you think I didn't see? Wow, chummer, you must think I'm really stupid."

"I don't think you're stupid, Creep.  I think you're insane. I think you like to hurt and kill people and I think you don't really care who those people are."  The truth really is very easy to tell. "I think someone paying you is just a convenient excuse for you to create mayhem. I think you like the fire and the blood and the death. You're sick, Creep, and you give off a weird vibe that lets everyone know it.  I don't look into your aura. I don't try to read you. I don't want to know what's there."

Creep kept the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye as he turned to me. "Would you really have Jazz kill me if I go off mission?"

"Yes." I replied.

"Damn." Creep whistled. "Honesty from Tommy Gun.  Who would fraggin' believe that. You sit there hiding behind a mask, like there isn't blood on your hands up to your shoulders. You know what the difference is between me and you Tommy?  I'm a monster, and I know it.  You haven't figured it out yet.  You're still a monster, you're just trying to be a man.  One day you'll show the world who you really are.  Who knows, maybe we'll be setting the world on fire together."

"Get out of my office." I said quietly.

"Yes sir, Machine." Creep replied.  He had a huge smile on his face as he slowly pulled the door closed behind him.

I waited five minutes then walked out and headed to Jazz's office. I made certain to lock my office door when I left.


Friday, July 23rd, 2060

0801 hours

I had been at the office for thirty minutes.  I was in the restroom when my pocket secretary chimed as it notified me of a message forwarded from my desk.  I read it, swore profusely and headed back to my office to change.  I called Aria, told her I was going out of the office for 'work', and then headed to the meeting Samantha Goode had called.

The meeting room was full.  We had eight weapon specialists, Jazz, Zero, Creep, myself, and a new tech specialist (read that as 'decker') call sign: Simon.  Samantha was already there as we filed in.  "Ladies and gentlemen let’s get to it."

I pulled on my AR goggles and saw several images floating in the space over the meeting room table.

"Arcano-archaeologist Dr. Sheena Louise." The image of a pretty, red haired woman blew up to twice its size. "She's been on a dig with her team in an area south of Shahr-e Sukhteh.  Three days ago, they stopped transmitting.  Satellite images shows no activity at their encampment.  We've remotely accessed the onsite recordings and found that they had discovered fitted stone works beneath a layer of sedimentary stone and were working to excavate it."

The image of Dr. Louise shrank back down and a second image, one of a intricately carved stone block enlarged in its place. "The stone carvings hold similarities to certain so-called 'fourth age' relics as well as..."

"Looks like the stonework from the ruins in Laos." Jazz interrupted.

"I was getting to that." Samantha continued. "As well as being similar in size and stylistic rendering as was seen in previous sites in Laos and Amazonia. Given the experiences with those as-yet unidentified awakened threats at the two previous sites we're mobilizing to rescue Dr. Louise and her team. Terminate any awakened threats you find. Retrieve relics of significance."

"There is no way in hell they're still alive after three days if any of those monsters are down there." Jazz said plainly.

"Verify that. Eliminate any awakened threats. Retrieve any artifacts of significance." Samantha looked around the room. "Questions?"

One of the new guys, call sign 'Dee', spoke up. "About those 'unidentified awakened threats', what can you tell us about them?"

"They're the reason we have new guys." Creep chirped in.  "Big scary monsters."

"Not helping, Creep." I interrupted. I looked each of our FNG's* in the eye as I continued. "We've seen a lot of spirit animated corpses working in servitude to creatures we haven't been able to identify.  I've been on two such missions, and the big threats were wholly different from each other, so I think it’s dangerous to speculate.  Of the animated corpses we've seen two types: one that is animated by these dark spirits that suck the life out of you if they can touch you; and the second type that seem to be spirit forms bound to, and tormented within, a corpse.  Both are terribly dangerous but can be dealt with if you keep your head. Jazz and I will go over tactics while we're in flight."

Another new guy, call sign 'Taz' offered, "I know that area.  There's nothing there.  Some rusting hulks from the desert wars and the old tourist trap at Shahr-e Sukteh. At night you can hear this wind that sounds like voices.  Locals say the area is haunted."

"Probably is." Creep replied. He wasn't smiling but that glint of madness was twinkling in his eye.


Saturday, July 24th 2060

2250 hours, operational area local time

We boarded the Osprey in Dubai and flew out over the Gulf of Oman.  Zero was flying low enough that we were leaving a wake on the surface from the downdraft of the rotors. We buzzed overland, narrowly avoiding power lines as we crested the coastline, then headed inland toward our target.

The Osprey was full of hardened, well-armed people.  Jazz was awake, reclining against the hull and cradling his AK-97.  I keyed my comm and opened a channel to him alone. "When we arrive on site I'll jump with Creep and we'll do a quick astral once over.  When we clear it you bring the rest of the team down.  Take Creep and four of the new guys to the camp and check for signs of life.  I'll take Simon and the other four and cover you."

Jazz gave me a thumbs-up and closed his eyes.

We flew for a couple of hours in blacked out in the darkness. We were mere minutes from the excavation site when Zero's voice sounded in my ear. "We've got clear skies and no surface contacts.  Local chatter is nonexistent. I'm going to do a fly over then put you over that eastern hillock."

"Copy that Zero." I replied.  "Creep, we're up."

We jumped from fifteen meters above the hill and levitated down.  The Osprey pulled away into the night while Creep and I scanned the astral space surrounding the area.  I opened myself to the astral plane and the region came alive with spirits, clouds of strange colors, bright currents of mana, and a storm of sounds.  I heard screams of terror, battle cries, the crying of men of and women, and a chorus of animal noises. Centuries of emotional impressions lingered, fermenting into a cacophony of color, sound, and emotional currents.

"Well, drek." Creep whispered next to me. "Going to be hard to pick anything out in this soup."

"Agreed. Focus and look anyway.  Anything hiding in this is something we don't want to surprise us." I stared into the energies around us, looking for anything that could pose a threat.

"Yeah, good point." Creep's hushed voice reached my ears.  "Hey, look at that."

I followed his pointing finger and saw a trail of awe and excitement.  A recent impression, overlaying the desperate moments of a dying man killed centuries before.  "Good catch." I said. "Let’s make sure there isn't anything we need to pop, then we'll bring the team down."

"Copy that." Creep responded.

We didn't find anything that wanted to eat us, so five minutes later the rest of the team came down the ramp from the Osprey as its rotors cycled down.

Creep and I met them halfway down the hill.  "Creep, go with Jazz."  said.

"Wolf, Dee, Tom, Amy, you're with me. Weapons free folks." Jazz called out.  Creep followed behind and on Jazz's left-hand side as they crested the hill and headed down toward the camp.

"Simon, help Zero with the hardware.  Rest of you are with me."  I paired up my four weapon specialists, placing the two trolls and their medium machine guns on top of the hill, and the other two with me watching over the camp.

"Machine," Zero's voice found my ear. "That hill makes a great spot for the repeater."

"Sub-zero. Let's make that happen." I replied.

"Copy that. Once we have the rotors at full stop we'll get the netting over the Osprey." Zero and Simon busied themselves with the comm gear.

I was watching astral space, looking for anything that might be hostile.  Lesser spirits, faded ghosts, and elemental sprites were present in abundance.  "Haunted is right." I said.  The mana currents shifted and washed up along the hill like the banks of a river, foaming up bubbles and threads of energy and running down toward the camp.  "Creep, you've got a spike in the local mana field about to hit you."

"Understood." he replied.

"Machine, nothing odd here other than no people.  Looks like people went to work and haven't been back yet. No sign of struggle." Jazz reported. "I've got some cases here with some bits of stone, maybe some broken pots, that's about it."

"Okay, round them up and bring them back."  I waited for Jazz and his team to get back then we all hustled to put the camouflage net over the Osprey.


0645 hours, operational area local time

We found the excavation site about a hundred meters from the camp.  The solar power panes had become covered with dust, but otherwise seemed operational.  Zero and Simon restored power and we looked down into a three-meter-deep hole littered with tools.  Sunlight fell into the hole, revealing a smaller hole in the bottom corner that dropped away into darkness, a knotted rope was anchored to a pair of pitons sunk into the stone.

"So.  Who is going to go into the dark hole to find the missing people that were likely eaten by monsters? The same monsters that are likely hiding in that hole with their brand-new snacks?" Simon chimed in.

Jazz turned around and stared at him.  Simon's smirk disappeared. "This ain't funny tech-head.  Places like this have a way of killing people.  You keep your eyes open and shout if you see something important."

"I was just…" Simon started.

I remembered something I once heard Crank say. I smiled and clapped my hand on Simon's shoulder. "Hey, new guy, he's trying to keep you alive so you can frag up another day. Don't over think it."

Jazz looked down the hole. "Four point three meters down and ends on a floor.  Fitted stone."  He looked at me, his AK-97 trained on the hole. "How do you want to do this, Machine?"

"Just like landing in a hot zone.  Creep and I will send down spirits and float on down.  Zero stays topside with Dee and Amy for back-up.  Simon is with us." I turned to Zero. "First thing though, get a look at what's down there before I stick my neck out.  Let’s get a repeater down there along with a camera."

"On it. Simon, give me a hand." Zero set to work and Simon jumped right in.  The two of them had a pair of drones floating down the hole five minutes later.  I pulled on my AR goggles and watched as the drones floated down.  It passed down between cut limestone blocks, past a layer of dark hexagonal stones, and into the chamber below.

The chamber was constructed entirely of black stone blocks.  Each was precisely cut and fitted into place.  Every inch of the walls, floor, and ceiling were covered with elaborate carvings. There was static in the image, and no sounds to be heard.  "Zero, what’s up with the signal?" I asked.

"Not sure yet, equipment checks but I'm reading a lot of EM interference."  Zero responded.  "Which is damn weird since we don't have any signal out here other than our own."

Simon walked over to the far side of the hole where the archaeologists had arrayed the stone they had removed from the shaft.  He found a dark stone block and spent a few minutes looking it over.  He pulled out a microtronic tool kit and pulled the probes from the volt meter. "Hey, Zero!  Take a look at this."

Zero put the drones on a holding command and walked over to see what Simon was going on about.  The two of them conferred a moment, looking over the meter and Zero's tablet. When they came back to the shaft Zero looked grim.

"We've got a problem, Machine.  That black stone is probably magnetite, it’s an iron ore and is often magnetic." He glanced down in the hole. "That whole room is basically a Faraday cage that is also throwing off its own EM signal.  We'll be limited to line of sight communications down there so if the place has a lot of twists and turns we're going to lose comms and there really isn't anything I'm going to be able to do about it."

"Drek." I swore. "How many repeaters do we have?"

"We've got twenty, and I can piggy back a weak signal on a few bumblebee drones, but they'll still need to have line of sight to each other. You're going to have harsh signal degradation along the way too.  It won't be pretty."  Zero shook his head. "If we had all the time in the world I could lay fiber and connect to static repeaters to get around the degradation, but with what we have there isn't anything I can do."

"Okay, good to know. With any luck it’s just that first room that's bottled up like that.  Go ahead and float the drones down and let’s get a good look at what we've got ahead of us."  I watched as our small fleet of drones hovered down.  Zero had then networked together and began to float them down corridors.  We watched as corridors of black stone were revealed.  Of the archaeologists, there was no sign. The static in the signal became more pronounced as drones moved further into the ruins.  Bare chambers were revealed that opened off the corridors.

We discovered the first sign of the missing archaeologists when a bumblebee drone spotted a dead flashlight laying on the dark floor.

"Okay, we've got a place to start.  Simon, grab some glow sticks and flares.  Jazz have everyone load silver.  Creep, you’re with me.  Have your ladies show up as soon as we're down."  I cast my spell as simply as I could.  I wanted to save my strength for anything that might be waiting for us.  I took my Colt in hand, flipped the safety off, and chambered a round.  Then I floated down into the ruin.

Creep landed beside me a tic later.  "So, we're in an iron box?"

"Basically." I replied.

"Does it seem odd to you that ALL of the archaeologists are missing?  That they didn't leave someone topside?"  Creep had his wand held before him.

"I don't think they all came down here willingly. Maybe they were compelled or dragged off. I'm going to look into the astral. Watch out for anything that might like to kill us." I was whispering.  The place had the feeling of a mausoleum. It was a place of quiet, or reverence, and darkness.  I was also firmly convinced it was a place of death and monsters.  I opened my sight to the astral and was bathed in brilliance.

The room around me was a fortress of magic and iron.  Mana was woven into every stone and through each carved image. The patterns of energy were beautiful to behold and threatened to draw my mind into the multi-dimensional constructs that buttressed the room. I felt drawn to the patterns and had to steel my mind against them. I wanted to slip into the astral and glide along the patterns, to explore those strange places, and with that longing I recognized the trap I had stepped into.

It took me two very long minutes to force my astral sight closed.  "Creep, don't look.  It’s a trap. Like Laos but far more powerful."

Creep frowned. "But I liked the pretty lights."

Ghost save me from psychotic fools.

"All right, just kidding." Creep sighed. "Damn Machine, take a joke."

"Eyes up and stay frosty."  I tossed chemical light sticks down each of the three corridors that opened out from the room we had arrived in.  Nothing came out to kill us. "Jazz, come on down. Let's go to work."

{To be continued in Part two}

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction!  I hope you have been enjoying the stories of Tommy's adventures throughout his Shadowrun career.  These stories are derived from game play and from down time activites.

I also develop, write and publish role playing game titles (though not for Shadowrun).  You can find my projects on KickStarter and on Drivethrurpg.  I'll hope you'll share these stories with others.

Your comments are most welcome.  I answer as soon as I can.




2 comments:

  1. I wasn't invited? ~Angel

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deckers had better things to do than get killed.

      I think you were working against Deus at the time, if I remember correctly.

      Delete

Thank you for your comment chummer.