Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fear the Reapers

"I want you to understand, precisely, what it is I'm ordering you to do.  This man is the most important human being on the planet to you.  If anyone tries to lay a hand on this man, you cut that hand off." Chief Commander Brady McBride (1993)


January 7th, 2060

I was 20 years old.

My pocket secretary started buzzing. I recognized the number as one Sheila X, my long time fixer and future mother-in-law, used.  I dried my hands and hit the speaker phone button. "Hello Ms. X, how are you today?" I asked.

"I'm fine, thank you.  Are you feeling up to working?" She asked.

"I'm sore but I'll live." I responded.

"Come sit in a meeting.  Crank will be here tonight at 2000 hours," she said.

"I'll be there." Sheila X hung up before I could say anything else.

I climbed out of the bathtub, toweled off, threw on my bathrobe, and walked into the kitchen.  Aria was there with Rose, the two of them were making homemade ice cream.  I tousled Rose's hair, and kissed Aria on the cheek.

"Did I hear your phone ring?" Aria asked.

"Yes, your mother called. She wants me to sit in on something tonight. Sounds like work." I said.

Aria turned and put my face in her hands. "Are you sure you're feeling up to that?"

"I'm fine honey." I said. "Don't worry about me."

Aria kissed me.  She held me there for a long moment, her body pressing into mine.  I returned her kiss and felt my body responding to her. She must have noticed because she gently pushed me away and said, "Later.  Right now the babies want ice cream."

I nodded and kissed her once more, then said "I'm going to get dressed.  I've got a good while before I have to be there so I'll catch a nap, then head out."

"Will I be going too?" Rose asked.

I shook my head, "No baby-girl, I need you here.  Look after the house and help Aria, please."

Rose nodded at me, "Of course.  I would like some ice cream anyway."

I went back to my bedroom and got dressed for my evening.  I pulled on my new suit of form fitting body armor.  It had top-grade thermal insulation, a Faraday pocket hidden on the right hip, and a set of matching gloves that sealed onto the forearms.  I climbed into a good pair of heavy denim jeans and felt a twinge of pain around the scarred gunshot wound in my abdomen as I laced and tied my combat boots.   A grey neoprene running shirt that was resistant to acid rain completed the ensemble.  I looked remarkably casual.  I thought about that a moment, realized I would probably stand out without obvious armor and decided to gear up a bit.

I slipped into my shoulder rig and holstered my sliver gun. I shrugged into my armor lined trench coat, and unpacked the newest addition to my equipment, a ballistic mask styled to resemble an Edo period menpo mask.  It looked much different than Pepper's had, but I had decided to pick it up to honor his memory, to help hide my features, and to give me an added level of protection.  The mask was black with silver tracings across the cheeks. I stuffed it into my coat pocket. "Might as well go all out." I told myself.

I grabbed another piece of new equipment from the lock box in my closet.  I checked the action on the Colt L36 and found it worked nicely.  I sat down on the bed and started loading the two magazines I owned for the small handgun.  In the first magazine I loaded wood pulp rounds and in the second I loaded silver rounds.  I prayed I wouldn't have a need for either.

The Colt L36 went into its concealable holster, which I clipped into the large right-hand pocket of my armored trench coat.  I had loaded the wood pulp clip to be prepared for the worst case scenario.  My knife went into my pocket.  I looked in the mirror Aria had installed in the bedroom.  "Dressed for the office," I told my reflection. "most people take notes and a data pad to meetings. I take two guns, a knife, and a squad of spirits."

I set my alarm and lay down on the bed to grab a nap before I went to the Brick Yard.  You never know when you'll sleep on a shadowrun.  Best to get sleep while you can.

*****
January 7th, 2060

1835 hours

I was flying over Redmond when I suddenly felt a presence at the edge of my awareness.  A hungry, alien sensation that carried with it a wrongness I had experienced far too often, vampires. There was definitely more than one nearby.  They were moving swiftly, getting closer, but staying low to the ground.  I reached for my viper sliver gun on instinct, then remembered the Colt L36 in my pocket. 

I pulled the small gun from its holster, thumbed the safety and chambered the first round.  The weapon was smaller than the viper, but I had fired it at the range before buying it. I knew it well enough to use it to good effect.  I focused on the presences I felt as the vampires rushed closer.  They were approaching from my left. I turned and saw the headlamps of motorcycles rushing along the pockmarked road. 

From thirty meters in the air I had a good vantage point, but I was also a great target.  Invisibility isn't any good against ghouls and I couldn't imagine it would be of any use against vampires.  I let the invisibility unravel, and soared backwards to put a ruined building between me and the oncoming horde. I placed my back to the crumbling brick and held my breath.

The motorcycles passed in a chorus of motor noise.  I watched, horrified, as I saw motes of light winking around the riders as they passed close enough for my detection spell to reveal them to me.  I counted the vampires as they passed, a cold knot of fear growing in my gut.  It took less than a minute for thirty-one vampires to pass.  Their motorcycles were a varied collection of styles but their jackets all bore the same stylized image of the Grim Reaper. 

"Vampire gangers," I whispered to myself.  "Glad I moved out of Redmond."  I waited until they passed out of the range of my detection spell, then hurried on to the Brick Yard.

My air elemental set me down in the parking lot.  I hurried into view of Little Rickie.  "Oi, you're good to go in." the large troll said.  He reached for the door but I held up my hand.  We were alone but I looked around anyway, my astral sight searching for any who might overhear.

"Rickie, there is trouble in the Barrens omae. I saw a pack of vampires on motorcycles on the way here." I looked up at the big man. "Rickie, I counted thirty-one vampires.  That's a LOT of trouble."

Little Rickie's brow furrowed as he looked into the darkness. "Any of them around?"

"Not within four hundred meters or so. I can sense them if they are that close." I told him.

"That's a useful thing to be able to do." Rickie nodded and continued to look around. "Anyway I could learn to do that?"

"Not something you can learn, but I may be able to fix the same spell to you.  Let me research it a bit and I'll let you know. I thought you should know about them.  They were flying the Grim Reaper as their colors if that tells you anything." He frowned at that bit of news.

"Redmond Reapers.  Two-bit gangers got knocked down a peg by the 'Nukes.  Been a while since I heard anything on them." Rickie scratched at his left horn for a moment. "Yeah, okay, I'll keep my eyes open.  Let me know if you hear them coming."

"Will do, and Rickie," I urged him "if you see one don't hesitate.  Blow the fanged fragger's head off."

Little Rickie nodded and opened the door for me.  I walked in, but kept my guns on me.  I wanted them close with vampires around.

There were several people in the Brick Yard that evening. I made my way to the bar and took a seat next to a burly orc.  Sandy paced over to me, "Lemonade?"

"Yes, thank you Sandy." I had time to eat, and ordered my usual sirloin platter, added orders for Sandy and her kids as well as the traditional rum for Solomon.  If Crank could work it out others might too. But if I broke pattern, it would draw attention. I decided it's better to be damned for being myself than for acting against my own nature.

"What's your story?" the orc asked. 

"I fight monsters," I smiled at him over my lemonade. I'm sure Crank would have been proud of me. "What's yours?"

"I train hellhounds. Take care of the little puppies, put out the fires until they learn to control themselves." he took a long pull of his beer.

"Chill!" I answered. "I wondered how people kept them from burning down their houses.  Care to talk about it? I'll buy you a round."

The orc arched his eyebrow but replied, "Sure thing chummer. They're really just dogs that happen to spit out fire." His name was Frank. He talked for twenty minutes about hell hounds and the difficulties in raising them as puppies.  I bought two beers for him, and finished my sirloin platter while he talked. It really was pretty interesting stuff, though to Frank it was just his job.

Sandy collected my plate and I excused myself then walked back to Sheila's booth. I found some familiar faces sitting there. Angel was sitting next to Sheila while Crank and Gitti sat across from her.  I squeezed next to Gitti. "Hope I'm not late," I offered.

"No, you're right on time" Sheila said. The curtain pulled closed with a whisper of fabric.

"A lot of work going around right now." Sheila X started.  "People trying to crack Renraku, or break out their chummers who tried to.  Lockdown happened and everyone lost their fraggin' minds." Sheila shook her head at that. 

"Some of the news agencies are offering nuyen for reliable intelligence from around or inside the arc'" Angel offered. "A lot of chatter and speculation about what happened floating around Shadowland, but not a lot of hard data. I haven't found anyone who can verify they've been inside."

"I was there the last week of November," Gitti offered. "Did some shopping.  Security was 'bout the same as always. Nothing stands out."

"I've never been inside," Crank responded.

Sheila X looked at me.

"I was there when the lock down happened," I said. "Barely got out, got shot somewhere along the way."  Everyone was looking at me.  "First thing I noticed that was out of the ordinary was that there were more security personnel than normal.  I wasn't too worried about that, but they started massing up at the exits and I thought I may have been recognized."

It was harder to talk about than I thought it would be.  I took a drink of my lemonade and continued. "I started walking toward this security check point and saw two sec-guards tranq another.  I thought that was some weird drek, so I started walking toward the food court.  I get a few meters away and the sec-guards call for me to stop.

"I turn and make the nice talk but two of them got right up in my space. I stepped back and told them they were too close and they told me something about how 'maybe you witnessed a crime, we want to talk about it'.  I told them to go ahead and ask their questions and we could talk about it right there.  Then some guy got dragged down by sec-guards over at the entrance. I looked to see what was up and these two fraggers try to nail me with stun batons."  I took another sip of lemonade.

"I set two of my spirits on them, and that goes well.  But all hell was breaking loose." I closed my eyes and focused on the memory.  "Security gates came down over the store entrances.  Security was moving along shooting people with these glowing gel rounds.  They had drone support too.  Small, sleek, hi-tech looking roto-drones. Security on those upper levels fired on people without a moment's thought."

I took a deep breath and opened my eyes and stared straight into Sheila X's face. "I was down on the causeway entry level, southern end of the Arc'. I finished with the two sec-guards, put them down but not dead, and four more showed up.  They had a pair of those sleek drones with them and they weren't playing around.  They had riot guns and they didn't look too concerned about using them.  I had a spirit knock out the drones and I broke the sec-guards with a powerball spell.  They went down and weren't getting back up."

Gitti interrupted, "Anything about the sec guards you remember?"

I turned to face Gitti, "The first two were damn fast.  Not as fast as Adam, but just about as fast as I am.  It was tough to stay out of reach and not get clobbered. The next four didn't get a chance to act. I hit them before they could kill me."

I looked back to Sheila and said, "The guards I dropped with that spell lost their helmets.  They all looked like they had new cybereyes.  They were green and looked creepy as hell."

"You weren't able to get anyone else out?"  Crank asked.

"Crank, I had my hands full, I managed to get me and Aria out.  I was out shopping.  I didn't have a gun or any foci on me. I did what I could to get out alive.  I was flying toward the exit and a mage burnout started throwing spells at me. Then the security doors were closing, and I was just trying to escape."  I took a breath, took a moment to collect myself then continued.  "It was a drek storm.  Drones and automated guns were gunning people down left and right. I left as soon as I could and almost bled to death from the gunshot wound I earned along the way."

"That's the kind of information people are paying for, first hand observations.  If you take any runs against the arcology grab video, take notes, collect evidence and make it pay." Sheila glanced around at us.  "You aren't the only runners around but you're among the most reliable. If you pick up information on the arcology, I'm interested in those first-hand accounts."

"One other thing," I said. "My electronics were fried by the time I got home.  Everything was dead, my DocWagon band, my pocket secretary, all of it.  Same with the Aria.  Her phone, DocWagon band, even the image unit in her locket, they were all bricked."

Angel whistled, "That's pretty damn thorough."

"We didn't even notice until I got home." I said.

Crank shifted a bit in his seat, "I was having a friendly chat with a rat shaman I know under the Alaskan Way Bridge when the lockdown went up.  I heard the gun fire all the way out there.  The guy I was with scampered over that way but he never came back.  He hasn't been answering his phone."

"Crank, if he wasn't invisible then he would have had a problem.  It was like a war zone around there." I shook my head as I told him.  "If I had been on the ground, instead of flying around, I'd be dead without the guns even trying.  They chopped up the area pretty thoroughly."

"UCAS troops on the ground aren't just your regular forces." Getti interjected. "I saw insignia's for the First Special Forces out of Fort Lewis.  Those guys don't go anywhere to just stand around.  If they're on the ground then they are ready for operations.  Expect their drone support to include the kind of ordinance that knocks out armored vehicles, not to mention what they can call in from Navy assets or local artillery.

"As far as small arms, they are a tough bunch.  We're not talking about your average grunt out for a drink and trouble.  These guys control their lanes of fire, work together as a unit, and their load outs will fit the job and then some." Gitti paused a moment his face tense. "These are not guys your average street samurai can tangle with.  Those with reflex enhancement are going to be as fast as I am or better."

"Local wireless is pretty much useless." Angel said. "Forget trying to remote in, you need to clamp onto a hard line or all you'll get is static.  I tried the other day and the line went nowhere.  May have better luck inside, but the lines into the building seem to all be dead fiber."

For thirty minutes we bounced around data we had gleamed from our own observations. Sheila passed out a certified credstick to each of us.  The amount wasn't huge, but was certainly worth the time I spent getting there and sitting in on the meet. "When any of you have more data, just remember I'm in the market.  If I buy it I expect it to be exclusive too, so don't try sprinkling it around."

I put the credstick in the interior pocket of my lined coat.  "Always a pleasure doing biz with you." I told Sheila.  I was taking a drink of lemonade when I felt the wrongness, the hungry presence of vampires.  There were many of them and they were very quickly getting closer.  I choked on my lemonade for a moment.

Gitti pounded my back for a moment, "Don't die on us omae," he laughed.

I took a deep breath and realized the vampires were now less than two hundred meters away.  "Vampires.  Sheila, we've got vampires getting closer."

Sheila X didn't flinch. "You told Rickie about some vampires earlier. Same bunch?"

I thought about that a moment, "I don't know, but I hope so.  I would hate to think there were more than one large group of vampires in Redmond.  They're about a hundred and fifty meters away now."  The curtains parted quickly and I slid out of the booth.

I started walking toward the door, "Fifty meters, Sheila" I called out.  I saw Creep come running out of the men's room.

"You feel that too?" He looked nervous. "They're getting close."

"Yeah, I know.  Put your game face on Creep or we'll have a lot of dead people around."  I pushed through the doors and stepped outside.  Little Rickie's gun went off twice before I made it to his side.  Motes of light danced around gangers on motorcycles.  I opened my astral sight and saw that a handful of motorcycles had corpses strapped to them or draped over the handlebars. Half of the vampires pulled into the parking area while the other half came to a stop in the street in front of the entrance. A vampire was picking himself up from the street, his motorcycle still skidding down the pockmarked plascrete.  He had two huge holes in his chest that were closing as I watched. 

"I always heard you wuz fast," the vampire made a show of dusting himself off. "I'm gonna' rip your fraggin' head off and drink you like Ice Cola."  The vampire blurred across the ten meter distance between him and Rickie.  Rickie's boot met him firmly in the crotch and threw the vampire five meters into the air.

"Ya' not welcome here." the big man said. 

I pulled the Colt from my pocket and realized that Creep was nowhere to be seen. "That slimy fragger."

The vampire hit the street, about five meters away, his hands on his crotch.  A riot of laughter went up from his chummers.  I sent out a call into astral space and felt the trio of spirits I had bound respond. 

"I 'tink he got da' bes' of ya' Romeo!" A burley orc stepped off his motorcycle laughing.  "Ya' lucky ya' don' want any squeelers."  The vampire stepped up to his fallen comrade and looked over to us. "Rickie, ol boy.  Long time.  T'ings change omae but you still 'ere."

"Tank, not glad to see you. You and yours aren't welcome here." Rickie answered. 

"Who 'dat wearing the elf suit?" the vampire responded.  "Some elf wannabe? True words omae, ya' never would 'ave let this poseur in back in the day. 'Ya gone soft Rickie?"

Little Rickie shot the vampire in the blink of an eye.  A hole, larger than my fist, appeared just to the right of the vampire's sternum.  The monster fell to lay next to the first vampire. "Doesn't seem so Tank"

Vampires climbed off their rides in front of us. I couldn't see the vampires in the parking lot. To my astral sight the vampires before me looked essence hungry.  Their auras were faint and spotted with the same dark, tiny fanged mouths I had always seen on vampires. They were ravenous for the essence, the very souls, of some hapless victim.  Little Rickie and I were the only two people dumb enough to be outside to meet them.

The vampire named Tank laughed.  He and Romeo stood back up and faced us.  "Rick 'ol boy that was not chill. Now I' gonna' have to kill you and your elf wannabe too." Tank nodded at Romeo and the vampire took a lazy step toward me.

"I'm gonna pull those ears off you before you die.  You look like a tasty morsel though, so I'll make sure you live long enough for me to eat you up right." The vampire smiled at me as he took another step.

I aimed the Colt at him.

Romeo laughed at me, "You think that little thing is gonna' stop me." He slapped his hands together then spread his arms wide. "Take your best shot you slitch."

You can't ask for a better straight line than that.  I sighted down the short barrel, exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The little gun made a 'pop' sound and Romeo hit the pavement.  The small motes of light around his body winking out as dark blood welled up from the hole in his chest, just over his heart. "How's that?"

The door to the Brick Yard burst open.  The thunderous roar of gunfire announced that Crank and Gitti had left the building. 

The vampires in the street screamed out in a chorus of curses and anger so loudly I could hear it over the cacophony of Little Rickie's hand cannon, Crank's 'good luck charm', and Gitti's sub-machine gun. Tank sprang up and flashed across the distance to Rickie, punching the large man in the stomach and sending him crashing into the doorway.  Metal screeched as the doors tore free and Little Rickie tumbled inside. 

I shot Tank in the temple.  He didn't drop right over and die. He staggered for a moment, fangs bared for all to see, a confused look on his face. His lips moved as if to say something as he began to tumble over and the motes of light around him began winking out.

Essence starved vampires rushed towards us.

"We can't take you anywhere!" Gitti yelled at me.

Crank and Gitti kept firing but the vampires weren't impressed.  They rushed through the barrage ignoring the wounds they received.  Three of them were knocked off their feet but even they didn't seem bothered.  They were only a couple of meters from us, arms reaching for us and fangs exposed in the dim light.

A spell erupted in front of us.  My whole world went white as the mana flashed across my astral sight.  I smelled brimstone and old tacos.

Creep yelled out, "Did you start this drek?"

"Where the frag were you?"  I yelled back.  I squeezed my astral sight closed with a painful effort.

"Had to get my stick. They made me check it at the door." He waved a weird looking wand around, it had bits of string and what looked like bits of bone, dangling from it.  I looked over and saw the vampires picking themselves up off the street. 

Little Rickie erupted from the doorway and snatched his hand cannon off the street.  "THATS IT!" he yelled. He brought his weapon up and blew the head off a vampire that was pushing itself up from the plascrete. 

Gitti dropped the magazine from his SMG calling out "Reloading!" 

"Stay down!" Crank shouted as he decapitated a vampire with the roar of his shotgun. 

Six fire spirits, each with horns, cloven hooves, and naked feminine forms materialized in front of us. "Ladies, if you would please." Creep's voice had an oily, perverse tone.  Each of the spirits blew him a kiss, then leaped upon a vampire. 

One vampire, out in the street and at the rear of the pack, jumped on his motorcycle and cycled up the engine.  "Oh hell no!" I yelled.  I pointed at him and yelled "INGIS MAGICAE!"  A white hot ribbon of fire streaked from my finger like the tail of a comet, burning through the vampire and catching his clothes on fire. The vampire panicked and began swatting at the flames. 

Gitti brought his SMG up, it burped out three rounds, and the flaming vampire's head exploded.

Vampires screamed in pain and terror while demonic flame spirits laughed with girlish glee.  The air was rank with the stench of burning flesh and bubbling plascrete.   I swept my gaze about and didn't see any other vampires.  Creep's spirits tore the weakened vampires apart in seconds.  I looked around, my small Colt at the ready, but didn't see any other threats.  The spell I had woven to my senses all those months ago assured me there were no other vampires around {See "Bloody Business"}

I walked to the corner of the building, opened my astral sight, and looked into the parking lot. 

There was a human magician standing in the lot.  I recognized him from Brick Yard but didn't know his name.  Adam was standing next to him, his fists glowing with mana energy.  An orc, a dwarf and a troll stood in front of them shotguns lowered to the ground.  Ashes lay on fallen motorcycles.  The smell of burnt hair fighting against the odor wafting from the front of the building.  Three shotguns spun my way and I ducked around the corner on instinct. 

"Not a vampire!" I yelled. I backpedaled from the corner and turned to see Little Rickie looking down at the vampire he had called 'Tank'.  I walked over to the big man and looked up at him. 

"Been a while since I seen him" Rickie said.  "Sonuvaslitch would have eaten me."

I looked down at the corpse.  There were no motes of light, no eye sockets full of blood. "He's good and dead now.  He won't be eating anyone else."  I sent out a command to my air spirit, and it began laying out vampire bodies along the fractured sidewalk across the street.

Little Rickie nodded and holstered his weapon. "Figure out if you can do that thing so I know when these fraggers are about.  Let me know.  They rode up like they wuz anyone else." Little Rickie looked down at me. "I wouldn't have know'd they wuz vampires if you hadn't told me."

"Null sheen, Rick. I'll try to figure it out." I replied.

I counted out the bikes and realized, with a sense of dread, that we only had twenty-four of them and a corresponding number of dead vampires.  Creep and I went through their pockets, careful to avoid contamination, and removed their commlinks and an assortment of handguns.  I used my sterilization spell over the salvaged gear as an added precaution.  After we had both looked over the items from the astral plane, we pronounced them free of contagion and packed them up.

"Thought you were dead," Creep said.

We were alone, across the street from anyone who could have heard him. "That's a secret Creep. Is there going to be a problem?"

"Nah, its chill Tommy.  Just remember that any magician who knows you is going to see you." Creep made my skin crawl on the best of days.  At that moment, as we collected gear from the corpses of dead vampires, I gave serious thought to committing murder.

"Yeah," I said. "Good thing there aren't too many magicians around who know me."

"That's lucky," Creep said.  I looked and saw him smiling at me.

"You smell like tacos." I told him.

Creep laughed at that, "I work at a Taco Haus during the day.  Have to meet normal people somehow."

I didn't know what to make of that, but as we collected the last of the electronic gear I noticed his odd wand.  It looked to made from real wood. What I had thought was string was actually bits of braided hair.  There were teeth braided into locks.  I felt a cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

The magician in the parking lot was known as 'Shade'. I had heard of him but hadn't worked with him before.  Sheila X paid Adam, Crank, Gitti, Shade and his crew for putting down the vampires.  She tried to pay me too, but I told her, "Consider it a wedding gift." Sheila nodded at that, and not another word was ever said about it.


2000 hours

The crowd at the Brick Yard had thinned out after the fight with the vampires.  I spoke with Sheila X and pointed out that there were still vampires from the Reapers that weren't accounted for.  She made an offer for the gear Creep and I lifted from the vampires and Creep jumped at the opportunity.  I nodded my head in agreement.  We handed the loot over to Sheila. I imagined that she would soon be farming interesting data from the commlinks.

Creep left the Brick Yard around 2015.  He said something about having a girl he needed to see.  I felt sorry for her, whoever she was.  Creep wrapped an invisibility spell around himself and simply vanished from sight.  To my astral sight he was clearly visible, wrapped in a layer of magic, and surround by demonic looking fire elementals.

"I don't like him."  The voice surprised me.  I turned as I jumped away and saw Shade staring at me.

"Damn, chummer!  You nearly made me piss myself." I said.

"I don't like him," Shade repeated. "He shows several classic signs of a sociopath.  His magic seems tainted as well."

"I don't know anyone who likes Creep." I responded. "But if you need some magical mayhem, he's a good choice."  I could see that Shade was watching astral space too.  He looked at me for a long moment.

"You're not an elf." he said it flatly.  It sounded like an observation, like saying 'the car is red'.

"You are not wrong," I replied.  "That's a handy trick you pulled earlier.  How did you do it?"

"Sunburst spell.  I invented it during my last year at the University.  I was hoping to make some money from the licensing rights, but they ruled it was work product from my time there, and the university kept the rights to it.  I never made a dime.  Not really a big loss though, I don't think it's as profitable as I originally imagined."  Shade paused a tick, still watching Creep as he walked away. "It creates a violent burst of actual sunlight.  Great against vampires and anything else with an allergy to sunlight."

"Any chance you would be willing to teach it to me?" I asked.

"Don't really have time to teach right now. I'm busy for the next couple of months with some enchantments.  I can sell a spell formula for it though. I also created a formula for a focus object to help cast it, but it will be about three months before I can take the time to create one."  He took a deep breath then added.  "I'm going home.  Don't get killed.  Just tell Sheila what you want and she'll arrange the meeting for me to bring you the formula."

Shade turned back and hitched his thumb in the direction Creep was taking. "I'd watch out for that guy, if I were you.  Something about him is just not right."

I raised a thumb in agreement. "Good work on the vampires, Shade.  I'll keep you in mind if I need another magical asset in the future." Shade gave me small nod, turned and walk out of the Brick Yard.

I walked back to Sheila X's booth and sat down across from her.  She raised an eyebrow at me.

"Do you have ten minutes?" I asked.

"Yes."

*****

January 7th, 2060   Redmond Barrens, the Brick Yard

2115 hours 

Sheila X put out a call to a few people possessing talents I had an immediate demand for.  I made a deal with Angel, and she set to work on a handful of the commlinks Sheila had bought from Creep and I.

I grabbed Crank and Gitti for a quick talk about the importance of finding the remaining vampires and putting them down.  I appealed to their metahumanity and compassion for others.  Pointed out that the surviving vampires would beget more vampires and we'd soon be locked in a battle for our lives every night if left unchecked.

When that failed to convince them I offered them each ten thousand nuyen to help me kill them.  Crank argued the price and we settled on twenty thousand, each.

"You're robbing me blind Crank." I protested.

"You're trying to get us killed." Crank replied.  "Besides, I told you after the last time you took me monster hunting it was going to cost more."  Crank gave me a broad smile that showed bright, well-polished teeth and tusks.

"I've had bad experiences hunting vampires before." Gitti interjected. "I can't believe I'm doing this again."

"I've learned a few things about vampires," I said.  "I have a plan, but first we have to find them.  I've got a spell that will help, but I am waiting on a little digital wizardry to peg them down."

"Don't underestimate vampires," Gitti warned. "The ones tonight must have been new.  They weren't as fast as others I've seen."

"They were starving.  They didn't have the essence to fully fuel their vampire powers.  It slowed them down."  I told him.  I looked to Gitti and Crank and explained. "The vampire feeds on life essence.  The soul of a metahuman.  The vampiric virus destroys their own essence and consumes what essence they steal from their victims.  The vampire lives on it, so they get hungry for more as they run out of essence."

"Would it be really wrong if we just called it 'soul food'," Crank asked.

I looked at Crank, not sure how to respond.

Gitti moaned, "That's not funny chummer."

"Anyway, the vampire virus spreads to the victims of this essence loss.  The people the vampire eats become vampires unless something happens to prevent it." I continued.

"Like blowing the corpse's brains out?" Gitti asked.

"Exactly." I responded.

"I always wondered about that," Gitti muttered.

I took that in for a moment.  Crank looked at me with a question in his eyes.  I gave my head a shake.  Gitti was a chummer but he had contacts with the mob.  I was guilty of forgetting that he didn't know I was his old chummer he had fought vampires with before.  I liked Gitti, but the mob has a way of working information out of people.  I couldn't let him know I was the same friend he once knew.

"So, we do this smart. I've got some more muscle coming.  We're going to find these fanged fraggers and burn their doss down after the sun comes up.  We'll force them out into the light to maximize our advantage, and hopefully keep any of us from being killed."  I felt a momentary twinge of guilt about Joe, John, and Jim, as well as for the injuries Suzi sustained that eventually took her life.  I wasn't up for making that mistake again.

"I like the 'keep any of us from being killed' part of this plan," Crank said.  The large troll nodded thoughtfully. "But if we're just going to burn them out and into the sunlight, why get more people?"

"In case we aren't enough," I replied.

"It's your nuyen," Crank replied.

"Hey, I just want to make sure we all get to spend the money.  I don't know about you two, but most of my money comes from jobs I take through Sheila.  I'm certainly not going to waltz down here for biz if the place is a vampire buffet."  I stared at them both, two rock-solid street samurai who I'd come to respect, and rely upon.  "I don't want these fraggers getting away.  If even one of them escapes we'll have this problem again in few weeks and maybe worse.  Who knows how many people they'll eat and infect in the meantime."

Gitti nodded thoughtfully, "I've agreed to do this, and I will.  But don't you think you should come clean to Crank and Angel at least?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied.

Gitti looked at me, frustration building in his face.  He turned to Crank, "Oi, chummer, think about it. Anything about our friend here remind you of anyone?  Orders lemonade?  Spends a lot of time with Aria?"  Gitti turned to me and pointed a finger at me. "I know it's you Tommy. I'm not stupid."

Drek.

"Gitti, I know you have biz with the mob.  I didn't want anything to come down on Aria and I didn't want you sent after me."  I looked him in the eye.  "I'm sorry I lied to you."

"If the mob figures out you're alive there won't be a rock on this planet you can hide under Tommy."  Gitti shook his head at me.  "I'm the last thing you should have worried about.  I'm sure Crank would have figured it out soon too.  If you're going to hide, change towns and your routine.  You're a creature of habit and it's going to get you killed."

"I'll work on it," I said.

"Work harder." Gitti pointed at my boots.  "Same brand.  I get that they protect your feet.  I understand that from way too many klicks on the march."  He pointed at my viper sliver gun, "Same brand of gun.  It's not common for magicians to carry guns unless you're looking at combat mages.  If you're going to pack a pistol get a different one.  The Colt was a surprise to me, but you need to pack the viper up, melt it down, or put it in the ground.  Change yourself up a bit, don't be stupid."

I looked around to see if anyone else was listening and found no one nearby.  "This is the only life I know Gitti.  I've been doing this since I was sixteen. I get what you're telling me and I'll make the changes." I looked to Crank.  "Hell, I should have changed some things when Crank punched me in the jaw after he figured it out."

Gitti looked to Crank, who smiled back at him, "I'm a lot smarter than you Gitti.  Don't take it personally."

Gitti may have laughed a bit.  Then turned back to me, "Reminds me, that little colt.  Is it magical?  You put down two vampires with two shots.  What gives?"

I pulled the magazine from the Colt, ejected the round from the chamber and caught it before it got away.  I put the bullet on the table.  "Wood pulp rounds.  I picked up some of these and some silver ammo for special problems.  I had the wood pulp loaded as a 'worst case scenario' and figured for anything else I could just the viper or magic."

Gitti picked up the bullet and looked it over. "Hand loaded?"

"Yeah, I know a guy." I responded.

Gitti passed the bullet to Crank, who examined it as well.  "After this is over, I'd appreciate it if you could introduce me.  What else does he do?"

"I got his information from Creep, of all people." Crank handed the small bullet back to me and I loaded it back into the magazine. "He built that assault rifle Creep carries around.  He does some custom work on firearms.  He did the grips on my viper for me."

"Actual gunsmith then, if he's building custom assault rifles.  Creep is a slimy little fragger but his weapon is a work of art." Gitti admitted. "Yeah, what's this guy's name?"

"I just know him as 'Roy'."  I said.

"Okay then, after we kills all of these vampires, let's get an introduction. In the meantime, we've got vampires to find and a little arson to plan." Crank interrupted.

"Who do you have coming in on this?" Gitti asked.

"Angel is working on the communications to see if she can narrow down where the remaining Reapers may be. I've got a call out to Ratchet, he should be here in a bit.  Adam went to get his spear so he should be back in an hour or so.  Sheila put me onto a merc who does some shadow work, mostly heavy weapon stuff.  I'm told he goes by the name 'Goblin Mike'.  I've also got a handful of FNG street samurai trying to break into the biz. Sheila says they have potential, but I suppose we'll see what they're made of."

"So we're going to war against how many vampires?" Crank asked.

"I counted more than thirty when I first saw them on my way here.  We put down a total of twenty-four so my math says there are likely to be at least seven more.  If they've fed, they'll be fast, strong and dangerous."  I put it bluntly.  We had each seen first-hand the difference between a hungry vampire and one that had fed.

"You gonna call Ed?" Gitti asked.

"I tried, but he didn't answer." I shook my head. "Sometimes Ed just disappears for a few days."

"He's probably at the clinic," Gitti replied.

"Is he sick or something?"  I looked to the two street samurai.  Crank was biting his lip as if to hold something back.

"Nah, he took the money from the last job and had a new testicle grown.  You know he lost one the last time you took us vampire hunting." Gitti was able to say it without a hint of sarcasm.

Crank couldn't hold it back anymore and laughed.


2300 hours

Sheila X had some contractors come out and repair the door.  I don't know how she convinced them to come out to the Redmond Barrens in the dead of night to fix it, but they came.

Angel narrowed down some common contacts from the captured commlinks and phones.  She excluded the devices we had, which left her with eleven contacts common to all of them.

"More than I expected," I said.

Angel nodded her head and smiled. "It's not as bad as you think.  I've pulled the communications, and one of these numbers is for a joy girl who is very popular with a handful of these losers.  Another is a chip dealer, which is weird because a couple of them called him before they came out here.  There is a pizza place they all have in their directories, but none of them have called there in a few days.  Then the rest seem to be fellow gang members or hangers-on.  I'm compiling an org chart of people so we can see who goes with whom, and all that.  I've accessed the comms from the remaining members and I've managed to pull their access logs.  Give me another hour, maybe two, and I'll be able to tell you where they spend most of their time."

"You've got the phones tagged from the remaining members?" I was shocked.  Angel had always been a top notch decker but this was amazing, even for her.  {You're welcome ~ Angel}

"Yeah, GPS is offline but they still ping off the cell networks.  I've lifted some selfies and videos these fraggers have taken tonight."  Angel's smile disappeared. "I can show them to you, but it's pretty bad. Seems they are 'recruiting' while they are on the hunt.  Mostly women too, seems these fraggers may be lonely."

"Long time until sunrise." I felt horrible sitting there, knowing that out there in the streets people were dying to feed an unnatural hunger. "We have to do this smart, or a lot more people are going to die."

"You should know that one of those numbers keeps trying to reach the dead ones. I've been putting out a connection error message.  Hopefully, it will keep the vampires satisfied until you can go down there and kill them."  Angel plugged herself into her cyberdeck and went to work.

Goblin Mike came down in a roadmaster with Ratchet.  Adam arrived shortly thereafter.  Each agreed to take the job.  Sheila provided a hundred rounds of ammunition for Crank's 'good luck charm', two hundred rounds for Gitti's sub-machine gun, four fragmentation grenades, and an incendiary device, (yes, it was a bomb but 'device' sound more professional), which we secured to a small roto-blimp drone. She provided a belt of ammunition for the heavy browning machinegun Goblin Mike brought with him, and a case of belted ammo for Ratchet. Crank carried the case out to the roadmaster for Ratchet.  The two of them came back moments later.

"Angel has a lead on where they fanged fraggers are.  Once she has it narrowed down further I'll do a quick astral recon before we leave, to verify location and see what we're up against.  We'll roll from here so we arrive on target at dawn or shortly after.  I don't want to fight these things in the dark." I said.

"That is because fighting vampires at night is stupid," Goblin Mike interjected.

I couldn't argue that point. "Right, so we'll roll on target in time to put us there at or after sunrise.  I'll know more after the astral recon.  Newbies should be here soon.  Everyone be professional and let's get this job done.  Grab a meal.  Skip the alcohol, I'll need you to be sharp.  We'll rest up here, Sheila has already okay'd it."


January 8th, 2060

0022 hours 

I was twenty-one years old.

My pocket secretary buzzed with a message from Aria, "Happy Birthday. Be safe and call me when you can."

"Hey honey," I whispered.  "Thanks for the birthday wishes."

"It's okay baby. Any idea when you're coming home?" Aria asked.

"Sometime in the afternoon, I suspect.  You take care of yourself and the babies.  I'll be fine here." I was smiling and trying to be reassuring. "I can't wait to come home and take a shower though."

Aria laughed, "Well, if you're really good, I'll come visit you in the shower."

That brought several interesting images to mind.  "You're the best honey.  I've got to go so I can get this done.  I love you."

"I love you too." Aria's voice was a wonderful contrast to my night.

The newbies walked in at 0035.  They were late, which didn't bode well for them.  Five well-muscled humans, four young men and a young woman, came over to my table after being direct by Sandy.  The shortest, stockiest of the men spoke up. "You the guy?"

"I suppose so," I responded.  "Sheila says you folks have potential.  I've got a tough job going off in a few hours. I need some extra gun hands."

"What you killin'," he asked.

I took a slow breath and leaned forward, opening my astral sight so I could gauge his response more clearly. "Vampires. Are you guys up for it?"

"Drek, dude! We kill vampires every day." he lied.

He was desperate, hungry, and throwing all caution to the wind.  It was all bluff and bravado.  Inside he was scared.  Which meant he wasn't as dumb as he looked. I looked to his chummers, each maybe a year or two younger than I was.  Was I ever that young?  Was I ever that clueless?  The answer, of course, was 'yes'.

None of the newbies had any cyberware.  They were raw street muscle.  "Sit down, all of you, let's have a word." I said.  They grabbed chairs, and pulled them up.  I waved Crank and Gitti over.  "These are my associates, Crank and Gitti." I indicated each in turn.  "We've seen a lot of drek together.  If you take this job, you listen to us and you do what we tell you.  You'll live longer.  We know what we're doing."

"Sheila didn't say how much we were getting paid for this," the stocky one interrupted. "Before you go on assuming we're in, why don't you spill how much we're talking about."

I took a page from the scariest Mr. Johnson I had ever met. "Thirty thousand.  This is not a negotiation."  I stared calmly at the younger man.  His aura flashed in shock at the figure. His muscles tensed and relaxed.  I had his attention.

"You get paid when we're done, tomorrow afternoon. We're finding the targets now and we'll roll from here in time to make it to the target by dawn."  I waved at Sandy and she hustled over.

"Sandy, is the kitchen still open?" I asked.

"Yes it is.  We're keeping it open longer tonight," she replied.  She had a worried look on her face.

"Chill, I'm hungry again.  Can I get the boneless wings and a lemonade?" I turned to the street samurai. "What do you guys want?"

They stared at me.

"I've got weapons to clean before we do this," Gitti said.  "I'll grab some sleep after that."

"Same," Crank interjected.  The two of them walked toward the back of the Brick Yard and claimed a booth.

"Okay then, Sandy can you get a sirloin platter for each of my new chummers here please. Another rum for Solomon since he's working late, and can I get a peanut butter pie when were done.  The whole pie here, and one for you to take home as well."  Sandy nodded, gave me a weak smile and hurried to the kitchen.

"We ain't kids," the young woman growled. "We can order our own."

"Yeah, but I don't have time to wait.  I need an answer and I can at least feed you while you decide." I responded.

One of the young men looked to the stocky one and said, "Angelo, thirty thousand split five ways is six grand each, omae."

I could hear the urging in the young man's voice.  I focused on the stocky street samurai and waited.

After they ate, they agreed to take the job.

I found a booth in the back, set the alarm on my pocket secretary, and took a nap.

*****

January 8th, 2060

0625 hours

The alarm on my pocket secretary buzzed away, lifting me from a dreamless sleep.  The Brick Yard  was dark. I heard a rumbling snore, and the metal on metal sound of a magazine sliding home.  I crept to the bathroom and cleaned up.

When I came out, Crank was pulling on his armored vest, Gitti was snoring away, Goblin Mike was laying on a sleeping bag, and the five newbies were still asleep at a booth in the corner.  Sheila X was behind the bar.

I walked over and sat across from her.  She pulled out a clean coffee mug, then looked at me and asked, "You want a cup?"

"Yeah, thanks, and good morning." I yawned.  "A quick cup before I go take a look at what we're facing."

Sheila poured me a cup and said, "Aria sent me a message.  Asked how you were doing.  I told her that was between the two of you."  Sheila X shrugged and poured herself a cup. "Not my place to report on what you're doing.  If she knew, she'd be worried though.  It's a tough time for her."

"I know. Which is why I didn't tell her what was happening." I blew on my coffee and took a sip. It was terrible.  "Tastes just like the coffee I make."

"Yeah, I never got the hang of the settings on the coffee maker." Sheila replied. "Aria used to make mine for me.  I suppose I'll have to wait until I get here, hire a personal chef, or let the damn robots take over my kitchen too."

"Rose makes a good cup of coffee.  I could ask her to pop over to your place and make a pot, but I'd have to know when." I said.

"No.  Rose might be okay for you and Aria, but I don't want her just appearing in my house.  I'm glad you have her to help out, but it's just a bit too creepy for me."  Sheila X seemed to shiver for a moment, then took a drink of her own coffee.  "Yep, it's terrible, just like always."

"I'll have Crank and Gitti keep an eye on me. Angel says the Reapers are down in the Willows." I saw Sheila X give me a questioning look. "I don't know why.  I think it's just a coincidence, but there may be something down there.  I'll do some research once this is done."

"Rickie wants to know about getting that spell attached so he can see vampires too. I think they shook him up a bit last night."  Sheila X looked at her new door.  "He knew Tank years ago.  They used to be friends.  Amazing what that curse can do to you."

"Vampiric virus, yeah it makes you into a monster." I replied.

"I meant friendship," Sheila replied. "If it were just a vampire it wouldn't bother him.  But Tank used to be a friend.  Granted, a friend he hasn't seen or spoken to since they had a falling out years ago, but they were tight once.  I think this will bother Rickie for a while."

I didn't know what to say to that.  So I stuck to the biz I did know something about. "I should only be gone for a few minutes.  If I'm not back and walking around within an hour or so, get another magician to check on me."  I looked around to make certain no one was in earshot. "If anything happens to me, I've got Aria set up in my will.  Rose knows who to talk to."

Sheila nodded and leaned in close to me. "Tommy if you die and leave my pregnant daughter mourning your miserable ass, I'll have Creep torment you in Hell."

I did not piss myself, but only because I had already been to the restroom.

0655 hours

The sun was coming up soon.

Crank and Gitti had cleared a spot on the floor for me.  I stretched out, closed my eyes, and let my astral-self slip free of my body.  I floated out of the Brick Yard and into the street.  There were lingering echoes of the screaming vampires mixed with the perverse joy of giggling demonic fire spirits.  I shuddered and hoped those would fade away soon.  Angel had tracked the commlinks that belonged to the Reapers down to the Willows.  I knew the area she described pretty well, and set off at the speed of thought.

I made it to the Willows in less time than it takes me to tell it.   The building I was looking for was an old Super Shopping Center of the kind that was popular before drone delivery killed most brick and mortar stores.  It was a place I had seen in passing, several times, but I had never explored it.  Now I was drifting around it checking for wards.  I didn't find any on the walls or on the roof.  I picked a spot on the northeast corner, where the roof had partially collapsed, and drifted into darkness.

The astral space there was tainted with the murky presence of fear and hunger.  I floated along the insubstantial grey walls lit by the aura of mildew and molds growing with unchecked abandon.  I stayed near the ceiling, hoping to keep out of reach of any vampires I might find.

I found the first body in a bathroom.  She was dead, but there were dark swirls of energy playing at her corpse.  The corpse twitched and I backed away from it.  She was dead and the vampiric virus was resurrecting her into the monster she would become.  She was still only present in the meat and bone world, not yet astral active, so there really wasn't much I could do without warning every vampire in the place that I was there.

I slipped through walls, and hid behind vents, peeking about to avoid detection.  I found dozens of bodies tainted with the dark swirling energy of the vampiric virus. I found the Reapers in an old walk in freezer unit. I stuck my head through the top of the old unit and saw several vampires.  I pulled back quickly, frantically trying to avoid detection, and soared out of the ruined building and into the sky.

I hurried back to my body.


0735 hours

The sun was just cresting the mountains and spilling a pale glow through the morning cloud cover.

"Crank, you and Gitti take Goblin Mike and cover that back loading bay.  If the vampire's make a run for it, gun them down.  Hell for that matter if anyone comes out that isn't one of us, put bullets in them.  There were corpses in there. I don't know how many, but they were turning.  Kill everyone other than us."  I looked at the three men.  None of them had any comments, just stone faces and ready weapons.

"Angelo, which of you is best in close quarters fighting?" I asked.

"Me and Alexia hand to hand, knives, or what not.  Alexia with handguns, by far.  The rest of us are shotgun kind of guys." Angelo responded with an easy confidence that he faked beautifully.

"Okay, then Adam and Alexia are with me.  The rest of you stick with the Ratchet and cover him and Angel.  Ratchet and Angel are on drones and comms, they know their jobs so if they tell you to do something, do it."

"I've got the micro drone inside." Ratchet interrupted over my earpiece.  "You were right, a LOT of dead people. I've zeroed the freezer you spotted and I've got a pair of wasp drones checking for any other way out they may have."

"Chill," I replied. I looked to Angelo and his chummers. "Use the comm only for important drek and then don't hesitate.  We're burning this whole place down then mopping up.  Don't try to be hero, do your part and you'll be fine."

Angelo bristled, "Hey we know what we're..."

Crank interrupted him with a tap on the top of Angelo's head. "Hey, new guy, he's done this before.  Shut up and listen.  People die doing this drek even when things go right.  He's trying to make sure you can make it home to frag up another day."

0745 hours

Ratchet had parked the roadmaster two blocks from the old ruin.  Crank, Gitti, and Goblin Mike followed the plan beautifully and slipped off to the north end.  Goblin Mike moved swiftly, quietly, and sent me a quick "Locked and loaded," once he had his machine gun in place.

"Ready on this end," Crank whispered over his mic.

"Launching roto-drone one." Ratchet's voice came over the channel calmly.

Adam, Alexia and I were making our way to the front of the old super center.  Its facade had faded as the decades of acid rain had worn at it.  It was a hollow eyed skeleton of its former self.  Once, decades ago, people had come here to shop for things they needed.  It would have been lively, full of voices and people.  Now it was an empty shell full of corpses and monsters.

I saw the first roto-drone soar over the building and take up a position over the east end of the structure.

"Launching number two," Ratchet sounded off in my ear again.

Adam was in the lead and pointed to the face of the old building. "If Goblin Mike opens fire from the end we'll be down range. We need to stay on the west end of the building, so we aren't in his line of fire."

"Okay, good point." I replied.

Alexia was silent.  She carried her Ares Predator in her hands and kept her eyes moving.  She stayed slightly behind me and to my left, well out of my natural firing arc.  I pulled my Colt L36 from its concealed holster, thumbed the safety, and chambered a round.

"I'm zeroing the signals on their comms.  I've got one that isn't in the freezer.  Ratchet is sending a micro drone to check the signal source." Angel whispered.  "I've also got movement in the street a block south of your position.  Looks like some squatters."

"Copy that, keep me informed." I replied.

Seconds ticked by.

"I've got the source on that last commlink, put your AR on I'll patch through video to you." Ratchet reported.  He had an odd tone in his voice. "I'm not sure what I'm seeing."

I pulled on my AR goggles and watched as the feed came through.  It was dark inside but the little micro drone's low light cast everything in a dim luminescence.  There was a dark space, simply a black blob that occupied a space a few meters across, like a giant dark bubble.  I had never seen anything like it before.  I pulled the AR goggles off and handed them to Adam, "mean anything to you?" I asked.

"No fraggin' idea," he said.

I looked to Alexia and handed her the goggles, "Look familiar?"

She held the goggles over her eyes for a moment then shook her head.  "Never seen nothin' like that," she handed me the goggles.  I powered them off and stuck them back in my pocket.

"Ratchet, I don't know.  Task the drone to keep an eye on it.  If it becomes an issue we'll figure it out.  First thing though, let's fry these fraggers.  Angel you're up, Crank, Adam get ready with the grenades." I whispered the command over my mic, and watched as the little roto-blimp floated down and drifted in through one of the empty windows.

"We're approaching on target," Angel whispered. "Ready in thirty seconds. Are we go or no?"

"We are go," I responded.

It was a long thirty seconds before the bomb went off.  A plume of fire belched ten meters above the building's rooftop.  On cue, Adam sprinted forward and pitched an incendiary grenade into the entrance.  It exploded in white and red plumes that ignited everything they touched.  I heard the second grenade go off a tick later.  I sent out the mental call and my fire elemental manifested.  "Burn that building down," I commanded it. The pillar of flame gave a slight bowing motion, then sped across the parking lot, leaving bubbling plascrete in its wake.  It leaped upon the building and began scorching and burning at the aged structure.

I saw flashes of tracer rounds stitch through the building to the east, a fraction of a second before I heard the report of Goblin Mike's heavy machine gun.

"Contact!" Gitti yelled. "We've got contact coming out the back!"

Rachet's voice was echoing the sentiment, "I've got contact on both sides.  Multiple targets!"

"Weapons free." I said.

Light machine guns from the roto-drones opened up on vampires running to escape the fire that threatened to engulf them.  Goblin Mike's heavy machine gun roared as he poured rounds through the the vampires trying to flee out the loading docks.  I couldn't hear Gitti's sub-machine gun over the noise but I was certain he would be firing away.  Crank's 'good luck charm' boomed in a steady pace.

"Sunlight is doing its job," Angel called out.

"Confirmed!" Gitti yelled, "they're burning up really good over here"

"Adam, put that second grenade in there." I called out.

Adam nodded, primed the small explosive and pitched it past the conflagration roaring in the entrance.  I advanced, with Alexia close by, to stand next to Adam.  Twenty meters away the entrance to the old store was ablaze.

"Not too bad," Adam said.

"It's not over until it's gone. We've got to be thorough." I reminded him.

"I see something moving," Alexia said.

I followed the direction her gun was pointing.  I saw a dark figure moving among the flames. Motes of light winked about like a small cloud of stars.

"Open fire!" I yelled.

Alexia didn't wait.  She snapped two shots into the dark shape. It raised it's right hand and I raised my left in a warding gesture.

Fire exploded all around us.  It scorched the plascrete, melting it into bubbling goo just a meter from my outstretched hand.  I smelled burning hair as my eyebrows singed, and saw Adam slapping at the his armored vest as it caught fire.

The spell fire disappeared a moment later, leaving us standing on a circle surrounded by molten plascrete.  Alexia fired two more shots, but I couldn't see the dark shape from the flames in the entranceway.

"Adam, you okay?" I shouted.

"A little cooked but fine," he replied.

"I've lost her," Alexia shouted.

"Her?"

"Definitely a woman," Alexia called back.

"Ratchet, anything on that drone feed?" I asked.

"Negative, micro drone is non-responsive.  Bomb must have knocked it out." he replied.

"Targets are down on north side," Gitti called out.

"Make sure they stay down," Angel responded.

Adam jumped over the three meter span of bubbling, molten plascrete.  "Come on, it's getting too hot and you don't want to be stuck there if it comes back."

I couldn't leap that distance with a short step and Alexia didn't seem confident of doing so either.  I called out and my air elemental manifested and lifted us up and set us down twenty meters further away from the building.

The old super center was ablaze.  Dark smoke was spilling out the roof and through the empty entrance.  I raised my hands, and called out 'IGNIS MAGICAE'.  My own fireball exploded deep in the old store.

"Think you got her?" Alexia asked.

"No. I don't." I replied.  "Stay close, she's up to something."

"She can't just let the whole place burn down on her.  She'll have to come out." Adam said.

"Yeah, but she doesn't have to come out here."  I had a sudden realization and keyed my mic.

"Ratchet.  If you see an area of darkness come out I need to know about it." I said.

"Good timing then," he responded.  "One just came out the west side emergency exit. It's heading this way."

"Open fire on that area.  Put everything you can on it, I'm on my way." I told him as I took off running.  Adam and Alexia kept pace with me.

I heard shotguns firing as I made it to the street on the west side of the inferno.   Angelo was leading the other newbies toward what looked like a half-globe of darkness that was moving toward them at a walking pace.  The four street samurai were firing blindly into the darkness.

"Fall back, maintain suppression fire!" I yelled.  "Angelo!  Fall back!"

"Frag off! I've got this!" Angelo snapped back.

The darkness surged forward, engulfing the street samurai, and their guns suddenly fell silent.

I opened my astral sight and saw Angelo and the other three samurai falling to the ground, their bodies empty, their auras shattered. Standing in their midst was a monster that had once been a woman.  She was brilliant with the stolen life essence of her victims, and wrapped in spells that were protecting her from the daylight and hiding her from our eyes.

She started walking toward the roadmaster as she cast Angelo's lifeless body to the ground.  She made another twenty meters when she came under fire from Ratchet's roto-drones and Goblin Mike's heavy machinegun.  Most the bullets missed her completely, while the few that hit her failed to even knock her down.

She boldly strode from our kill zone, seeming intent on the roadmaster.  I threw a bolt of sizzling mana energy into her.  It hit her and she stumbled.  Bullets hailed down on her but she ignored them. Turning to face me and my two companions who were blissfully blind to the monster.  She moved, closing the hundred meters between us in a flash and kicking me in my abdomen.  Every atom of air I had in my lungs was forced out and I tumbled down the street for ten meters or more.

Adam and Alexia jumped away as the roto-drones continued to rain fire down the dark orb.  I had a moment of panic as I couldn't catch my breath, and saw the enraged vampire raise her arms toward me. I raised my hand in a familiar warding gesture, continued to gasp for air, and mentally screamed out to my fire elemental.

The vampire's spell shattered on my defenses but drove me back down to the street.  My fire elemental erupted in the darkness, engulfing the vampire, and doing its best to devour her.  I lay there, while bullets rained down, my elemental began to scream, and winced as the sun hit my eyes.  I had a crazy idea hit me, and I rode the insanity for all it was worth.

I slipped from my body and into the astral plane.  I charged forward, screaming like a madman and battered at the spell the vampire had woven to protect it from the sun.  I beat at it even as the monster who created it fought and tore at my fire elemental.  The elemental screamed again as the vampire tore it apart. Then the vampire turned to me as the darkness spell collapsed.

It had once been a woman.  Now the vampire was exposed before the morning sun as it struggled to pierce the Seattle sky.  She erupted in flames, flailing about and screaming in rage.  Then Ratchet's drones opened fire on her with horrific precision.

Ratchet claims he shot the last vampire eighty-five times before she fell.  From the mess he made of the corpse, I believe him.

I flew over the area, and for blocks every direction, and didn't detect any more vampires.  Still, we had to be thorough, so we watched as the old building collapsed from the flames.  As the fires died down early in the afternoon, I took to the astral plane once more, drifting among the wreckage and searching for any surviving vampires.  There were none.

I paid the team, thankful that Sheila X was footing most of the bill.  I sent a text to Sheila that read, "Mission successful, four fatalities, no other injuries.  I'm going home."

Sheila responded, "Get some rest, see you tomorrow."

I had no idea what she was referring to.

Alexia didn't cry over her dead friends.  I imagine she was holding it in for when no one was around to judge.  Shadowrunners are harsh like that sometimes.  We incinerated the corpses, leaving their gear to Alexia. I gave her a credstick with thirty thousand nuyen on it, and she took it without a word.

"If you want more work, I can always use a good gun hand." I offered.

"Maybe," she responded.

I said my goodbyes, wrapped an invisibility spell around myself, and flew home.

*****

I landed in my backyard.  I checked the security panel and found it read normal.

I sent out a mental message, "Rose, is everything okay?"

"Everything is fine.  Aria is worried for you, though I told her you would be well." Rose responded.  "She says the babies will make her emotional. Is that true?"

"I'm afraid so, Rose.  So don't take anything too personally.  If she seems upset it may just be the pregnancy hormones." I felt a profound sense of relief and I walked in.

"Aria, I'm home honey!" I called out.

"Tommy!" Aria yelled from the back of the house.  She came out in yoga pants and a sports bra.  She was sweaty and had just a bit of a baby bump.  She strode over to me and threw her arms around my neck. "You smell like smoke baby. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  Just a little fire." I brushed a stray lock of hair from in front of her eyes.

"Mom wouldn't tell me what you were up to." she protested.  "I know you don't want me to worry, but I do."  She pulled out a chair and pointed me to it. "Sit. I want to know what happened."

I sat down, still smelling of smoke and fear-sweat, and told her the whole story.  She got very worried when I told her about the Reapers at the Brick Yard and Little Rickie getting knocked through the door.  I had to assure her that he was okay and that her mother wasn't hurt.  I told her about the dead bodies and the energies coursing through them, changing them into monsters.  I told her about the fire, and the dead runners.  I told her about it all.

"Then I saw you and I knew everything was going to be just fine." I kissed her.  "I need a shower, and you look like you've been hitting the yoga.  Want to join me?"

Aria looked at me, a tear had formed in her eye at some point. "I'm just glad you're home. Yes, come one I'll help you get clean. You stink, Tommy Gun."

Rose piped up and said, "I will stay in the kitchen while the sexing happens.  I will make dinner."

Aria blushed and we did, eventually, manage to get clean.

*****

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.

You've all been a wonderful audience and I appreciate your comments.

I hope that if you have enjoyed this story and that you will share it with others.

As always, I want to clarify that I do not own Shadowrun.  These stories are derived from game play, and have been fictionalized to make them fun to read.  I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

I do write role-playing game materials, for other games (not Shadowrun), which you can find on drivethrurpg.com 

I use KickStarter to fund costs associated with producing those books, and I hope you'll check out my projects there.  You can follow me on KickStarter, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook (Sinopa Publishing LLC).

I have a project coming soon to KickStarter (targeting May of 2018 for this campaign) for a book of exotic weapons from around the world.  This source book, titled "The Steel Road", includes fifty weapons and an example of an enchanted, 'legendary' version of each.  Each weapon and it's enchanted counterpart is fully illustrated by Zachary Viola!

After fulfillment of "The Steel Road", I'll be launching a Kickstarter for my second rpg source book, titled "Whispers of Persephone" a role-playing resource for necromancers containing new spells and a new arcane wizard tradition for the 5th edition game mechanic. "Whispers of Persephone" will be illustrated by none other than Christian Martinez!

This summer I'll also be crowdfunding my first comic book, "47 Furious Tails" which is illustrated by the very talented Alexia Veldhuisen!!!!


This year will also see the release of "Luther's Revenge", the sequel to the much loved adventure "Tale of the Wizard's Eye" which was the first adventure I published.  Art for Luther's Revenge will include work by Lotus Blair as she makes her art debut as a contributing freelancer in this bloody adventure.


Tarot Adventures, Book Three: Death comes to Glenfallow is also slated for 2018 crowdfunding and release with art from one of our foremost contributing freelancers.  So look for plenty of RPG books coming out in 2018 as I work to bring the best materials I can to your gaming table.

W.S. "Sam" Quinton


P.S. :  If you are a comic book fan, check out this cool KickStarter campaign!




{Note:  All "Tarot Adventures" are trademark of Sinopa Publishing LLC and copyright of W.S. Quinton; "The Steel Road" is copyright 2018 by W.S. Quinton, "Luther's Revenge" is copyright 2017 by W.S. Quinton, "47 Furious Tails" is copyright 2017 by W.S. Quinton}

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment chummer.