Monday, September 17, 2018

Homecoming and Holiday




November 25th, 2060

0300 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time


My car service sent an immaculate Euro Westwind to pick me up at the office. I rode home alone, having sent Lily and Rose back as I was leaving Djibouti airspace.  It was quiet, dark, wet and chilly in Seattle that night. I felt tired right down to my soul.

For me, years had passed while I was trapped in the tormenting darkness that seized me in the metaplane called the "Place of Gates". Now I was going home, feeling like I had spent an unforgivable amount of time away from wife and daughters.  Had it only been a few days?

The car pulled up into the driveway of my house.  I was home.  "You have arrived at your destination." the navigation app voiced over the speaker system.  I was startled for a moment by the disembodied voice, then opened the door and stepped out into the cold rain.  The front door chimed as I approached, the security system recognizing my biometrics and awaiting my entry code.  It took a long minute to remember the password.

I walked into my house, bracing myself for what I might find.  I knew, in the logical part of my mind, that I had only been away for several days.  But my heart, my very soul, felt as if I hadn't seen home in forever.  I felt old, and tired all the way to my spirit.  Aria was sitting up on the couch as I walked in, the sound of the door opening waking her.

Her eyes took me in and she rose from the couch and took three long strides to me.  She threw her arms around me and pulled me tightly against her warmth.  I dropped my bag and held onto her like a drowning man grabbing onto a lifeline.

"It's so good to have you home." she whispered.

"Home." was all I could say before tears flooded my eyes.

Aria, my beautiful wife and mother of my daughters, held onto me while I shook and cried like a frightened child.  The darkness had done things to me.  Showed me a life of horrors as it picked through my memories and made me experience things I would never wish to see.  I had endured years of watching my wife and children flee from me, die horrific deaths, or be swallowed in conflagrations of my own power.  I had forgotten that they were alive and whole, the darkness wiping that reality from my senses as it tortured my very soul.  I wept, not daring to let go for fear that Aria would evaporate and I would be alone in the darkness.

She held me close, her hands resting on my spine and in my hair, gently holding me fast in the reality that she was there.  I felt my tears rolling down my cheeks even as Aria's fell into my hair.  We sat there for a long time as I cried out anguish and despair.  I was home, and I could finally let it out.  I don't think I would have came through it sane without Aria being there, holding me and telling me she loved me.

When I sobbed out the last of my tears, Aria placed her fingers under my chin pressing my face up.  She kissed my forehead and ran her fingers through my hair, still stiff from the salts of Lak Assal.  "You need a shower, baby."

I nodded, stood on sore legs and let her lead me back to our bathroom.  She started the shower and helped me out of my form fitting body armor.  My skin was raw at every joint from the salts rubbing against me.  She gave me a gentle push and then I was under the warm water of the shower.  Aria joined me, a sponge in hand, and began to wash the salts off my sore back.  "The girls are going to be so excited to see you.  I think they've missed you..."

Aria told me everything I missed while I was away.  I heard of joy and laughter, terrible diapers and new favorite cartoons.  There were adventures with pureed fruits, the joy of discovering cookies, and the misadventures of stuffed animals covered in drool.

I found myself smiling under the shower, asking questions and hearing of wonders.  My wife and daughters had been safe and happy.  Aria had worried about me being gone so long, but she didn't blame me.  I could see that she was worried about me, her heart was breaking at the thought that something had happened to me.  I couldn't tell her the things I had been subjected to, not in the metaplane and certainly not in that hellish cavern beneath Lak Assal. I grabbed the soap and was clean in short order.  Aria rinsed, citing that she had showered earlier, then we were out of the water and drying off.

We climbed into bed, Lily shimmering into existence on the floor at my side of the bed.  Rose was in the babies' room, watching over them. "Get some sleep, baby." Aria whispered as she placed her arm around me and drew herself up against me. "I'll make breakfast in the morning."  With that I closed my eyes, feeling spent and glad to be home.  Sleep seized me, and dragged me down into a blissfully dreamless rest.

*****

0900 hours, Seattle Metroplex local time

I woke up to the smell of bacon cooking and the sounds of Jasmine and Violet giggling.  I forced my eyes open and found Aria sitting on the bed, the twins were between us as they emitted their tinkling laughter while Aria tickled their feet.

"Good morning," I said.  Jasmine and Violet rolled over and started scooting toward me.  I played with them, tickling their feet and asking them about their adventures. They cooed and giggled, squirmed and looked like the happiest human beings in the world to me.

"Mom is coming over in a couple of hours." Aria said.  "She's bringing the turkey."

"Turkey?" I asked.

Aria shook her head at me. "You forgot.  It's Thanksgiving day, baby.  Mom, Rickie, and Crank are coming over this afternoon."

"Thanksgiving."  I smiled. "It slipped my mind, I guess."

"Well, Rose is in the kitchen cooking.  Lily is 'helping' by tasting everything."  She caught Violet's foot as she kicked and squirmed. "Rose said something about you needing to rest.  I think that is a good idea.  Why don't you get dressed.  I'll take the girls into the living room and put on this old flatvid cartoon they like. Honestly, I think that they get that from you. They are very picky about their cartoons you know."

*****

I did my best to savor the Thanksgiving holiday.  Rose and Lily did a fine job preparing the meal with a little supervision from Aria.  The turkey Sheila brought was exquisite. Crank had showered thoroughly before coming over and didn't smell anything like the old landfill he lived in. (Truthfully, he smelled like peaches.  He went through a phase where he was very hung up on scented lotions.) We discovered that the twins loved cranberry sauce, didn't care for the green bean salad, and that they loved to pull on uncle Crank's horns.  Rickie defiled my plumbing, again, and I was quite grateful for the air purification system we had installed while Aria was pregnant.

The day passed in a blur of holiday movies, giggling twins, fantastic food and laughter.  We were being people, and it was so very nice.

_________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading my Shadowrun fan fiction.  I write these stories for fun and as a form of writing exercise.  These stories are based on game play and the stories of what occurs between them.  I am guilty of sometimes writing my own personal demons into these when I think they make the fictionalized accounts more fun to read.  I do hope you enjoy them.

I also design, write and publish role playing game material (though not for Shadowrun, unfortunately).  In order to fund art for those books I utilize crowd funding and I've had some very good results from that practice.  In a few days I will be launching a KickStarter campaign for my next book, Whispers of Persephone, which is a book on necromancy for the 5th edition of Gary's game. If you have enjoyed these stories, please do check out my KickStarter campaigns and share them with anyone who may be interested.

Art for Whispers of Persephone was created by: Christian Martinez

Screen capture from the playtest version 3.5 of
Whispers of Persephone
Artist: Christian Martinez


I hope to see for the next entry in Tommy's stories.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Operation Emerald, Part Five: Blazing Madness and Burning Souls (the conclusion)

The dark prodigy Ild
Illustration from "Whispers of Persephone"
Artist: Christian Martinez
All rights reserved

"Out of the frying pan and straight into hell!", Lucas Ramone, AKA 'Lucky Ray' Shadowrunner and accused terrorist, overheard during his arrest for "The Fort Lewis Incident" of 2072.

_______________________________________________________________


Jazz wasn't moving, and my ankle was screaming at me for landing hard on the rough stone. More monsters than I cared to count were preparing to eat me.  On my left, Lily was deftly weaving symbols of power in the air while, to my right, Rose wrinkled up the three faces of her angelic form in disgust.

"IGNIS EXIET ADHIBEO!" Rose's incantation rang off the stones surrounding us.  Flames sprang into existence millimeters from Jazz's right boot, the sole of which began to bubble from the heat.  A curtain of white flame stretching from the roughly carved steps to the cavern ceiling above, roared like a blast furnace as it erupted before us.

 A chorus of nightmarish howls rang out from beyond the flames.  I spared a glance down-slope and felt the cold fear of death hit me as dozens of creatures were rising from the churning waters.

 Lily's gestures ended as her hands became wreathed in flames. "SENTIRE IRMA MEAM!" Fire shot forth from her outstretched hands, engulfing a trio of troll sized monsters who were scaling down the cavern wall.

I yelled into my comm, "CREEP! GET YOUR ASS IN THE FIGHT DOWN HERE!" then grabbed Jazz's armored jacked and heaved. My spell enhanced strength was all that allowed me to move him, but I was able to pull him up to me.

Jazz was a mess.  His face was swollen and purple from the impact trauma.  He was covered in his own blood from a laceration along his scalp.  He was unconscious, and I couldn't tell if he was breathing.

 "Machine!  I'm seeing movement all over down there!"  Simon's voice was insistent but drowned out by the screams and howls raging all around me.

 "Jazz is down!  We are falling back!  Creep, we need fire support! NOW! DAMNIT!"  A gesture and a bit of magic had Jazz levitating before me.  "Girls! We are leaving!"

 "Soon would be best father," Rose shouted over the howls. "There are too many, we cannot hold."

 I scampered up the stones, heading back up to the landing I had leapt from. Creep appeared at the edge of the landing, his demon women laughing behind him.  His face betrayed a moment of terror as he plucked a vial from his pocket.  As I climbed he poured a dark, thick liquid into his palm.  Madness and fear fought for control of his expression as he opened his mouth and intoned a spell I hope I never see again.

 "PAIN OF VICTIMS PAST. FIRE OF SOULS BURNING FAST. ENDLESS SUFFERING COME HERE AT LAST.  IGNIS NUMEN MORTEM!"  Blood ran from the corners of Creep's eyes as mana burned across his outstretched hands.  He had pushed himself past his limits and was paying the price.  A column of flame, five meters tall, appeared in mid-air over the ruins.  It screamed.  It cried out in a sound of purest agony.  I watched, stunned by what I was seeing, as the column took on a woman's silhouette.  It, she, writhed in agony and continued that horrible scream.

 "Father!" Rose cried out.

 I turned and saw the wall of flames reduce a pair of monsters to ash as they forced themselves through.  Below us a legion of the beasts howled in challenge to the flames blazing above them.

 I heard Creep swear a terrifying oath to the flames above, "Kill them all, and you shall be free."

 Lily picked me up and hurried me to the landing while Rose hurled lances of flame at creatures that were climbing toward us.  Hellfire lit the cavern as the six demon-women began to hurl down balls of baneful fire at the monstrous horde.  I made the landing with Jazz levitating before me.  Smoke was streaming from Creep's hair and his hands were covered in blood.

 The screaming flame, the burning woman, fell upon monsters below.  She washed over them, searing flesh from bone.  Rock cracked from the intensity of her heat.  Her screams made my skin crawl.  Creep laughed, a low rumbling chuckle that rose in pitch until he was cackling unashamedly.

 "Girls, see to Jazz." I lowered him to the stone, then joined the demon-women in hurling down death at monsters clawing their way toward us.


1308 hours, Operational area local time

Rose and Lily cast their healing spells on Jazz, maintaining them while Creep, his demon-women spirits, the screaming burning fire-woman and I hurled down death.  I couldn't spare a glance for them, so I trusted my spirit-daughters to see to him and to protect us against anything that came up behind us.

 There seemed to be no end to the monsters who came for us.  They rose from the churning depths to charge into the fray, heedless of the charged corpses of their fellows.  They were terrifyingly fast and utterly fearless.  They died by the score, the air in the cavern becoming thick with acrid smoke and the stench of charred flesh.

 Creep continued to laugh madly. He cackled and cursed, hurled fire and old profanities, shook his blasphemous wand and breathed fire down upon our enemy.  He was insane, a complete lunatic.  But he was OUR lunatic, and he was pointed in the right direction. 

"MACHINE!" Fey screamed next to me.  "We've got to get the frag out of here, omae!  We stay here, we die here!"

 Fires blazed below us and along the cavern's ceiling.  That baneful screaming of the burning woman continued as she flowed over monsters and blazed at the very stones of the Earth.  Creep's demon women giggled and danced on cloven hooves while hurling blazing balls of hellfire down into monsters that continued to advance.  They died only to be replaced by another of their number and no end of them was in sight.

 "Get the rest of the team down here!  Task two to evac Jazz! Cycle Simon and Sherlock out after him.  The rest of us, hold here."  I shouted back to her.

 "We CAN'T hold here!" Fey protested.

 "We can't hold anywhere, but at least here the terrain slows their approach!" I felt a flash of hot anger come over me. "Damnit, Fey get it done!"  I was angry, scared drekless, and exhausted from spellcasting.  Fey, fired three more rounds down at the nearly impervious monsters below, then started calling down the rest of the team.

 "It's like Christmas!" Creep cackled.

 "Father, we've done all we can." Rose whispered in my mind.

 "How is he?" I was dreading the reply.

 "Much of his essence has long been torn away.  The machines in his body make healing magic very difficult.  Whether he survives or not, only time will tell us." Rose's thought-voice sounded sad.  "He fought bravely."

 "He's not dead yet." I replied.  Weapon specialists began to hurry out from the tunnel.  "If you've got incendiaries, use them!"

 We fought with spirits and fire, with grenades and useless bullets, we were battered by defiant howls and the screams of a damned and burning soul.  Jazz was hurried out of the cavern, up the shaft, then up to and out of the airlock.  I heard Zero report that the two divers with Jazz had surfaced safely.

 Below us the monsters were slowly gaining ground.

 I looked out across the flooded, ruined city beneath Lac Assal.  A place hidden from the knowledge of man and filled with monsters who knew no fear.  I heard one of the weapon specialists quip, "Wish someone would turn off the faucet these things come pouring out of."

 What?

 There was something to that. "Lily, stay here and keep up the fight.  Rose you're with me. Fey, I'm going to see if I can cut these things off before they get here." I turned to the laughing maniac, spittle foaming at his lips as he threw death down at the creatures who sought our lives. "Creep, kill them all. Make it hurt."  I reached out to Rose sending my thoughts to her in a blast of insight.  My hand fell upon her mane as she took on her pegasus form, and I leapt onto her back.  With a powerful flap of her wings we lifted into the darkness and plunged toward the flooded streets.

Rose and I were pursued immediately.  A five-meter-tall giant of a monster leapt fearlessly from the scorched stone he had clung to.  Its outstretched hand missed Rose by less than a meter.  The foul creature howled in a frustrated challenge, heedless of the thirty-meter fall into the black waters that foamed from the thrashing of uncounted monstrosities below.  Rose climbed and sped away from the landing, taking us over the flooded streets of the ruins.  Behind and below us the horde of monsters gave chase, only those who were scaling the rocky cavern walls toward the team remained.

"Well, that wasn't quite what I had in mind." I said to Rose.

"Father, we should leave and soon.  They will kill you." Rose sounded worried. "I do not wish to mourn you, nor to tell Aria of your death."

"I'm not dead yet baby girl." My reply sounded weak, even to me. "If I don't survive this, or any mission for that matter, I want you to tell Aria, Jasmine and Violet that I love them. "Rose flew on in silence.  I opened my astral sight and began my search.

The monsters chasing us were not what I expected.  Their auras revealed them as strange spirit beings.  They radiated pain and hunger, thirst and despair, and their cries and howls echoed throughout the astral space within the cavern. I realized they were trapped in the drowned city, buried alive in the darkness.  There was an alien quality to them.  They had no place in our world but seemed determined to consume all they could from it.

Mana energy flooded the cavern and hummed in the stones of the ruins.  The place was alive with raw magic energy that flowed out toward the boundaries of the cavern, splashing against the living stone.  The cavern was a place of incredible power, and the mad creatures chasing me contaminated it with their stench and insatiable desires.  We flew against the mana currents, looking for the source.


1329 hours, Operational area local time

Static erupted in my ear as my comm came alive. "Machine, *static* Fey. We're *another burst of static* here. Please advise."

"Fey, fall back and begin evacuation. We are leaving." I replied.

"*static* again, Machine?" Fey's voice carried a tone of disbelief.  "I say *static* clear."

"Father," Lily's thought voice reached my mind. "The creatures have been destroyed. The team is reloading and awaiting orders.  The one called Fey cannot understand you."

"Lily, tell her I said she is to fall back and begin evacuating. I'll catch up as soon as I can. Stay with them and keep them safe, baby-girl." I told her.

"Yes, father. I shall keep them safe until you get back." Lily's thought-voice had a resolute edge to it.  I closed my eyes and focused on Lily, seeing through her eyes and listening through her ears.  Fey swore vehemently but hurriedly got the team moving back up the tunnel.  It took me several seconds to realize that I didn't see Creep anywhere.

"Lily, where is Creep?'" I asked.

 Lily's thought-voice bore a surprised tone. "I do not know father, I did not see him leave."

The astral currents were becoming thicker as we drew nearer to the far side of the cavern. Rose beat her wings harder as she forced her way through the air and the rough astral seas. I put the mystery of where Creep had disappeared to out of my mind, as my eyes fell upon a waterfall of mana energy cascading from tower carved from the living rock.  The tower stretched to the ceiling above and bright mana energy flowed from large portals carved near its top.  The mana became clouded, murky as it mixed with the existing magical energies of the cavern.

"Rose, head for the that tower.  Get me to the source of that energy." Rose beat her wings, mimicking the flight of a true pegasus.  We climbed toward the cavern ceiling and the tower's topmost level.  My astral sight was dazzled at the sight of mana energy pouring out in colors I had no name for.  It was pure,  pristine magical power.  Below me, uncounted hundreds of monsters churned the black waters as they drew closer to the tower.

Rose shimmered, assuming her angelic form as we touched down in the carved entrance to the tower.  Mana flowed like a river, threatening to wash my astral form away.  I had experienced something like this before, and a nagging suspicion came over me.  I waded through the magical current that rose to my chest, pushing myself along finely carved stone of the tower.  Rose held onto me, fighting her way along even as the currents threatened to wash her away. We pushed forward, wading down a short corridor toward the source.

My hand grasped at empty air as the stone wall vanished beneath my fingers.  My face splashed down into crystal clear waters.  I kicked and surfaced, taking a deep breath of clean air.  There was a small island crafted of fitted stones protruding from the surface of the water.  Standing stones ringed the island, behind me a stone arch revealed a glimpse of the tower's passage.

 "We have entered a metaplane." Rose whispered. "It is beautiful here."

 I had to agree.  The water was clear, and the sky was a brilliant shade of sea-green.  A pair of suns, one small and yellow, the second large and red, warmed my face. I tread water in that sea and stared at the sky, counting seven moons in all.  Each moon was of a different brilliant color and hung in the sky like jewels.  There was a sense to those moons, a feeling that each was its own far flung place of strange wonder.  I knew at once that I wanted to return to that place.  A pillar rose from island ahead of me.  Atop the pillar blazed a fiery light.  I swam toward the light, and that shore of stone.

 I don't know how long it took me to reach the island, or what time it may have been. My chronometer was working while I was in the metaplane.  Time had no real meaning as I swam the short distance to the island, which I found to be a column of fitted stones that plunged beneath the waves.  Only a meter of the column protruded above the gently lapping waters.  I pulled myself onto the stones and marveled at the great expanse of ocean all around me.

 "Rose, keep an eye on the gateway we came through.  If any of those creatures try to come through, put as much fire into them as you can manage.  I don't want them in here." I looked to the pillar at the center of the small island.  It was twenty meters away and climbed ten meters skyward.  A brilliant light blazed at its top.  "I'm going to check that out."

 "Yes, father." Rose replied, then added, "Please be careful."

 "Sure-thing baby-girl. You stay safe yourself."  It was a short walk over smooth stones to the pillar's base.  Its surface was beautifully carved with images of fish, mermaids, seabirds, stars and planets.  I walked around it, taking in the details and admiring the craftsmanship.  A soft incantation and a wisp of power wrapped a levitation spell around me. I floated up, circling the pillar and examining every detail carved into the stone.  At the top I found what I feared would be there, a spindle-shaped totem, capped in orichalcum, blazed with magic power.  I circled the pillar and noticed that the standing stones circling the island were other stone archways, each aligned with one of the seven moons.  The moon above the archway I had come through was a blue orb that hung beautifully in the sea-green sky.

 There were archways aligned with each moon, though the one that sat below the inky black orb of a moon, had cracked and its lintel had fallen away.  I looked up at that moon and suddenly felt it staring back at me.  I was jerked violently toward the ruined archway, a foul pressure falling upon my mind.  Strange images, eyes without end, impossible geometric shapes, screams that tasted like ashes, and sensations so alien I can't process the memory of them assaulted my mind.  I heard a thousand colors and watched as screams rippled through the vast emptiness of time.  There was something there, something reached out to me.  In all that chaos I understood a longing, and a promise.

 "Repair.  Repair." The message there, pressed upon my mind among horrific sensations.  Repair the damage and be rewarded with death and power.  Power beyond anything I could imagine. The presence demanded that I serve, that I repair the damage and invite it to behold and devour the moons.  It picked through my memories, surrounding me with my fears and assaulting me with the memories of dead friends.  I saw Isabellix playing with Pepper's son, my parents rocking Jasmine and Violet, and held Aria while she and everything I knew and loved were devoured in inky blots of soulless darkness.  I screamed, my sanity unraveling as I endured years of struggle against a power I couldn't control.  My presence brought death and all who beheld me worshiped my power and were snuffed out of existence to feed the growing darkness.

Rose screamed in agony, and the sound echoed throughout the darkness that had engulfed my mind. There was only torment. Years of being torn apart and hurled through torments that attacked my very soul.  "Repair.  Repair." it demanded.  The knowledge of how to restore the archway was branded to my memory, my mind was seared with knowledge no one should possess. Repair the archway and achieve godhood, grant the thing access to the seven moons and become an avatar of darkness.  I struggled, helpless against the darkness that held me so tightly.

Rose continued to scream, her pain laced with an anguish I had never heard from her. "Father!"

I could hear her.

My mind had been invaded, my very soul had been abused, but I could hear her.  "Rose, Lily, help me." My thoughts were weak against the intangible darkness, but they heard me.

I felt warm hands on my face as my head was torn away from the tormenting nothingness.  Darkness receded, and I found myself held above the pristine ocean.  Lily and Rose were holding me aloft, while darkness oozed from my eyes only to evaporate in the light of the twin suns.

"Don't look back Father," they said unison.

"Thank you, girls." I gasped. "I think I would have been trapped forever if not for you two."

"We are family," Lily began.

"Family protect each other," Rose finished the familiar litany for her.

We landed on the island and I collapsed in an exhausted heap.  "I don't know how we're going to get out of this one, girls.  Those things are too fierce and there are way too many of them to fight. How long have we been here?"

"Minutes and hours." Lily replied.

"Then we've been here too long."  I looked up at the blazing light from the totem. I couldn't risk taking it with us. "We'll use the power this relic is pouring out into the city to fuel our magic. We burn them to ash and keep our distance as best we can. They climb easily, so watch the walls and ceiling. Keep your distance from them, and don't let them drag you into the water."

"We are going to attack?" Rose asked, clearly surprised.

"We are." I told her. "We're going to hit them with everything.  Char the flesh from their bones and shatter their being.  I don't know what kind of spirit creature they are, but they are corrupt and rotten and eat the flesh of their own.  We kill them all, so they never see the light of day."

"I will do violence." Rose and Lily replied in perfect unison.

"As will I."  I took their hands in mine and we flew toward the archway beneath the blue moon.


1355 hours, Operational area local time

What to me had been years of torment and hours of examining the pillar had passed in span of minutes.  Lily, Rose and I passed under the archway and into the carved stone passage beyond.  We rode the mana currents and shot out into the air above the ruins, magical energy held ready for violent release.

The ruins were draped in flames.

The screaming flame, the burning woman, had been joined by two other pillars of fire.  One took the form of five-meter-tall troll, his pained cry rang from it as it engulfed monsters trashing about on the tower.  The second pillar of flame was shaped like an elf woman and the sound of her suffering threatened to bring tears to my eyes.

Floating ten meters from me, surrounded by six hellfire hurling demon-women, Creep cackled madly.  Streaks of dried, bloody tears clung to his face.  His obscene wand rattled as the teeth tied to it clicked against the wood. "BURN BABY! BURN!!!" He screamed, then resumed his mad laugh.

Below us the water flooding the city was marred with patches of flame that burned at the surface.  Pieces of monsters, those corrupt spirits who had sought our lives since we first entered that hellhole, burned away into nothingness.  The air was thick with smoke and only the spells I had woven to my being allowed me to breathe.

"Machine!" I heard Simon's voice in my ear.

"Simon, sit rep!" I ordered.

"Team is cycling through the airlock but its slow going.  Creep is unresponsive.  I think he's finally lost it.  I've got drones floating around the city trying to find you and restore communication.  Jazz has flat-lined and we're working on him now."  Simon rattled off his report crisply with just the slightest note of tension in his voice. "Orders?"

"We are leaving.  I'll get Creep and we'll fall back to the first cavern.  We're engaged here.  Keep comms up and have Fey grab the torch and a second pair of hands. I want that seal welded back once Creep and I get clear.  Have Sherlock get his ass in the water and prep the dredge, we're back filling that hole before we GTFO*" I flew up to Creep, ignoring the leers of his demonic spirits.

"OI! Chummer!" Creep laughed. "Welcome to my bar-b-que!"  He cackled with laughter at that. "Get it, Machine? My bar-b-que!"

"Yeah, I get it Creep." I said calmly. "Hey, we're going to go ahead and leave.  You wanna come with us?"

He snorted and cackled before roaring with laugher. "Oh, yeah Machine. *snort* yeah." He looked around still chuckling. "Tommy, am I dead?"

Oh drek. "No. No Creep. You're not dead.  Why do you ask?"

"It's just that, I don't like the water.  Now I'm under a fraggin' lake, in a fraggin' cave, surrounded by man-eating spirit beasts. *cackling laugh* Excuse that, will you? They just keep coming. It's like I'm finally in my own hell." He smelled of burned hair, blood, and sweat.  I found myself missing the stink of old tacos.

"No, you're alive. We're just in a shitty situation." I replied. "Come on, I'll get you out of here."

"Are you going to kill me, Tommy?" he asked.

I told him the truth. "Not today, Creep.  Today you saved a lot of lives."

"Damn, that's funny." he said.  Then he laughed and didn't stop.

Fey met us at the tunnel. A dozen weapon muzzles were pointed our way as we soared into the cavern.  Behind us the tunnel was lit from the flames of the tormented, screaming flames Creep had brought into the world.

"Machine. I thought you were dead." Fey smiled. "You're one crazy spell-slinger."

"Good work on getting the team back here.  Any casualties?" I asked.

"Not sure yet." She replied. "Zero says Jazz flat-lined and I haven't heard anything more yet."

"Understood.  Take Creep up with the next airlock cycle.  Sedate him once he's topside."  I turned to Creep, who was shaking with hoarse laughter. "We're going to give you something to help you sleep once you get top-side."

He slapped his knee and croaked out, "...saved a lot of lives today!"

Fey's eyebrows climbed an inch up her forehead.  "A strong sedative." I told her.  She nodded slightly.

*****

We evacuated the cavern as quickly as possible.  Fey and I were the last to leave, pitching a pair of incendiary grenades down the tunnel for good measure.  Fey welded the plate back down, then we added a poly-synthetic spray weld over the top for good measure.

Nothing came tearing through to kill and eat us.

Zero evacuated Jazz and Creep, then returned six hours later.

It took most of a day to disassemble the airlock, then Fey and Sherlock spent five hours back-filling the shaft.  I stayed out of the water of Lac Assal. I didn't trust it.

I had the team clean up all traces of our presence there.  We loaded the dredging rig while Zero cycled up the Osprey's engines.  We left Djibouti airspace in the pre-dawn hours.  Simon set up a satellite link and I filed my final report on Operation Emerald.

Back in Seattle, I was met at the helipad by Danny, the always lovely and terrifying Samantha, and a rather dour-looking Mr. Johnson.  They asked questions, and I told them the truth.  We spent a great deal of time talking about my torment in the metaplane, which struck me as very odd at the time. After hours of debriefing, Mr. Johnson asked "What would it take for you to go back there?"

"Back to Lac Assal?!" I asked, suddenly startled.  Hadn't he been paying attention?

"No, back to the metaplane. The Place of Gates."  The look on his face was wholly unreadable.

"I was thinking of going back there anyway, one day. Why?"  My question escaped my mouth before the realization hit me. 'Place of Gates', he knew of it.  The light coming on in my brain must have shown through my eyes because Mr. Johnson smiled slightly at my epiphany.

"Yes," he whispered.  "you would be curious about it wouldn't, you." Mr. Johnson rose from his seat, a satisfied look on his face. "Go home, get some rest.  We've got real work to do soon."  With that he turned and walked out of the room, Danny followed closely behind him.

I looked at Samantha, her brown skin and lovely elf features hid a well of magical power I held in fearful respect. "How's Jazz?"

She looked me directly in the eye. "Alive. By whatever miracle happened down there, he's alive. There was considerable trauma. He'll need a bone graft to repair the skull fracture, but he should be up and about in a few weeks."

"Thank you, Samantha." I meant it.

"Don't want to know about Creep?" she asked.

"He's insane and his magic is corrupt." I replied. "As it happened, he was exactly the right tool for the job down there.  Doesn't mean I want to work with him again, but if he regains his senses, I suppose I could if I had to."

"He's sedated. Each time he wakes up he starts laughing and won't stop.  He wasn't at all coherent when he last woke." Samantha turned and headed for the door.  "Go home, Tommy.  Get some rest. You're going to need it."

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Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  I hope you have enjoyed it!  I write this material for fun, and as a writing exercise.  I enjoy writing this material and I'm grateful to you for reading it.

I also design, write and publishing material for role-playing games, though not for Shadowrun(tm). The illustration at the top of this story is from my coming book, Whispers of Persephone which will see its Kickstarter campaign launch on September 22nd of 2018.  That campaign is being conducted to raise money for art to go into the book.  I hope you'll check it out, support it if you can, and share the link to that campaign on social media to help me raise the money to bring that book to the world.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.