Monday, July 16, 2018

Wedding Bells and Burning Hells (Part Two ~ Power in the Blood)

"If you're going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill


0715 hours, operational area local time

The carvings on the walls, floor and ceiling moved on their own.  Figures appeared to breath, limbs moved, eyes followed you, and figures sometimes traversed the entire surface of the magnetite block they were carved into.  The strange carvings made no sound.  I felt their eyes on me as the rest of the team climbed down and we took that first room.

The first room was a square, ten meters on each side with a three-meter-high ceiling.  Three passageways opened from the room.  My compass was useless as it just spun lazily in the magnetic fields I was wading through.  I oriented myself and identified that the corridors ran from the north, east, and south side walls.  That the western wall had no passageway may have been significant in some way.

Simon set up the first repeater and hooked it to a cable Zero had lowered down.  While he worked, Jazz set Wolf and Fey to cover the southern corridor, Tom and Puma to cover the eastern corridor, and tasked Ace and Taz to come with me.  I left Creep with Jazz for additional support.  Dee and Amy were topside protecting Zero.

The passages were little more than two meters wide which made for a tight fit.  The two weapon specialists loaded silver ammunition into their Colt submachine guns.  The sound suppressors fixed to the barrels were a welcome sight.  The bumblebee drone that had spotted the dead flashlight had landed atop it and was awaiting our arrival.  It was time to find some answers.

"I've got point, Taz you're behind me.  Anything that looks dangerous shows up, I'll drop down to clear your line of fire.  Ace, you've got drag, keep anything from biting us in the ass."  I pulled my menpo-style ballistic mask onto my face and stepped into the dark corridor.   Taz and Ace followed close behind.

Twenty meters in, the corridor sloped down and began to curve to the west.  I shook out a light stick and left it laying on the black stone of the floor.  The eyes of a strange beast stared into the pale green glow.  I passed the first repeater drone as I lost line of sight to the square room. The small drone hovered in the middle of the corridor, its four electric motors giving off a barely audible hum.  I continued down, my feet falling on the dark stones and my eyes searching for any signs the drones may have missed.

I found the flashlight laying on the floor. The bumblee drone was resting atop the handle and fluttered up as I bent to retrieve the first evidence that someone had been there.  There was a peculiar smudge across the lens and in the darkness my low light vision wasn't sufficient for me to tell what it might be.  I pulled my pen light and inspected it.  There was a smudge of dried blood on the the plastic lens covering the lamp.

"Yeah, that's what I figured." I said out loud.  My voice softly echoed around me. "Blood on the lens.  Eyes up and weapons free people."  I dropped the flashlight into my rucksack and continued down into darkness.  Every twenty meters I dropped another light stick.

The corridor spiraled down in a long, cork screw fashion.  The signal degradation Zero had promised was making it difficult to send a live feed.  I killed the video stream, going to audio only, and set the video file to store on my pocket computer.

"Zero, how many repeaters do you have left?" I asked.

"Twelve *static* ...or.  Signal is getting bang *static* should be like this until we *static* out" Zero replied.

"Confirm. You say we have twelve remaining?" I didn't like the thought of being out of communication range.

"Copy that, Machine. Twelve *static*" Zero replied.

"Send the rest down, this goes deep." I keyed the com and headed down until I began to receive a signal warning from my commlink.  We waited for flock of repeater drones to arrive, then continued down into the depths.  We had one repeater drone remaining as the corridor ahead ended in wide stairs that dropped into darkness.

I signaled a stop and keyed my comm. "Zero.  Float that bumblebee down a bit.  I want to see what's down there before I poke my head out."

"*static* that, *static* one tic" Zero's voice came over broken and fuzzy.  The little bumblebee drone came alive and flitted down to the steps.  I pulled my ballistic mask up and pulled on my AR goggles.

Faint specs of light dotted the scene below.  Wide boulevards vanished in the distance.  Buildings standing four stories high were laid out before me.  The vast chamber was lined with the same black stone blocks, the ceiling supported by columns of stone that stretched from floor to ceiling. Nothing moved below.  The city below us was dead in the darkness.

"Zero, relay this to control. Keep the drones on station and streaming data.  We'll have them rotate with the remaining drone to keep them charged.  Jazz, we're coming back."  Ace, Taz and I hurried back to the others.

1130 hours, operational area local time

Exploration of the eastern and southern passages revealed what appeared to be store rooms.  Shards of ancient pottery littered each of the rooms.  The archaeologists had set up battery powered lamps in each room.  We collected three of the lamps and brought them to the entrance and ran power to them from the solar system above.

Zero continued to report no signals and no contact on the surface.

Jazz was getting restless. "Where are they, Machine?"

"Probably down in that town.  It's huge, they could be anywhere." I replied. "Let's grab a bite, then we'll head down there.  Bring down the machineguns and we'll leave Wolf and Tom behind them to cover us from the top of the stairs."

"We don't have enough people to search that whole area quickly." Jazz whispered. "We'll be down there for a while."

I nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I know. But those people went somewhere and I'm betting its down in that town.  Maybe one of them found something they shouldn't have and the rest went to help. Who knows, we may even find survivors."

"Thousand nuyen says we don't." Jazz muttered.

"I won't take that bet." I replied grimly. We took twenty minutes for food and biology, then headed down to the stairs.

Stairs beyond the passage were ten meters wide.  Each step appeared to be a solid slab of stone, and each was covered in the animate carvings we'd seen on every surface.  We left Wolf and Tom behind medium machineguns at the top of the stairs while the rest of us descended thirty meters into darkness.  The stairs ended on a wide platform surrounded by five-meter-high walls of the same black stone.  An iron gate stood ajar ahead of us with crystals the size of softballs giving off a faint light.

"What's powering those?" Fey asked.

Creep paused and stared the crystals. "Magic, but nothing like I've ever seen before.  The magic is weakening, like its dying."

"Creep, call up your lady friends.  I don't like this." I said.  I whispered into the astral and was soon joined by a fire elemental, an earth elemental, and two water elementals.

Creep grinned and said, "Ladies, if you would please."  Six demonic looking women sporting horns, barbed tails and cloven hooves appeared around Creep.  Wisps of smoke drifted up from their bare skin, and I caught the scent of brimstone.

A whispered levitation spell brought me to the top of the wall.  It was far broader than I expected, fully ten meters thick.  A satchel lay on the fitted stones, its contents spilled out.  "Creep, Jazz, get up here." I brought out my light and looked over the satchel.  Bloody fingerprints had dried on one nylon strap.  A tag sewn on the back read "Dr. S. Louise".

Jazz and Creep joined me on the wall.

"It's for defense." Jazz said. "Classical access control.  The wall channels people through that narrow gate.  If you need to keep people out, or keep them contained within, it lets you maintain control of this area with fewer people.  It's solid too.  You'd need explosives to breach this, small arms fire isn't going to cut it."

"Same stone, and the moving images are still as unsettling as ever." Creep chimed in.  "Those crystal lights are on both sides.  So maybe this wall is meant to do both.  Keep people in and keep other people out.  What do you think?"

"Sounds right." Jazz replied.  "We should probably bring Wolf and Tom down here.  They'll have a better lane of fire, and easier time controlling access to the stairs."

"Okay, bring them down." I replied.

1235 hours, operational area local time

We moved the machineguns into place.  I found a hairbrush in the satchel, with hair that I hoped came from Dr. Louise still in the teeth.  I whispered into the astral and an air elemental appeared before me. I pulled the hair from the brush and handed it to the spirit of wind and sky.  "Find she whose hair this is, then return and tell me where she may be found." The spirit writhed, uncomfortable below ground, then vanished into the stale air.   I sat down on the wall and waited.

1300 hours, operational area local time

The air elemental appeared before me.  Errant veins of lightning danced about its being.  I got the impression it was agitated.  It reported its findings in a flash of mental images.  Dr. Louise wasn't in the town. Her trail had gone cold as she had crossed into a metaplane.  THAT was a surprise!  I received a mental image of the direction the spirit had gone as it had followed her trail.  With that, the air elemental made a slight bow and vanished back into the astral plane with a faint 'POP' sound.

"Okay, let's go, we're burning daylight." I said.  We took the boulevard at the gate and headed east into the long dead city.

The streets were made from fitted hexagonal slabs of the same black magnetite.  Graven images writhed in our lights, disturbing fine dust that covered everything in sight. Footprints in the dust told of people who had walked this boulevard recently, their prints leaving a legacy of exploration as they walked from one building to another.  Two hundred meters ahead, an orb of light glowed brightly on the street ahead.

"We should check these buildings. They may be hiding in somewhere, or there may be something unpleasant waiting to eat us."  Jazz's voice carried over the comm.

"Take Creep, Fey, and Puma.  We'll do these one building at time.  Simon, Ace, Taz you're with me, we'll stay in the street and cover the entrance."  I pulled out my little Colt and kept my eyes on the eerily quiet street.

Jazz led them into an ancient stone building. Minutes ticked by, then my comm buzzed with static in my ear. "Machine, I've got *static*static*static*, we'll be right down."   Jazz lead his team out a moment later.  They brought a man in his mid-twenties with them.

I pulled up my mask and put my AR goggles back on.  I ran through the information on the archaeology team and found a match.  Michael Smith was a doctoral candidate who had accompanied the dig team.  According to his file he was an expert on '4th Age' relics.  The man before me had his face but his eyes were bloodshot and rimed with salt from his tears.  He was disheveled and reeked of sweat, piss, and terror.  Smith was babbling from the moment they brought him out of the building.

"It's here!" Smith whined. "Please, we have to hide, or it will get me."

"Michael, we're here to rescue you and your colleagues.  Where is, Dr. Louise?"  I asked him.  His eyes rolled up in his head and he muttered something I didn't understand.

"It's fed. It took them all." Smith fell to his knees, sobbing. "God help me! I'm next!"

I looked down at the man and opened myself to see the astral and beheld the tragedy of his soul.  Pieces of Michael Smith's soul had been torn away.  Small blobs of essence bubbled up from the wounds.  As I watched a piece of his soul broke away and floated off up the street in the direction the air spirit had indicated.  Michael Smith screamed in anguish.

"Jazz, take your team and get him back to the gate.  Tranq him and leave him on the stairs.  We'll pick him up on our way out."  I forced my site closed, fighting against the mind-trapping enchantments laid into every stone on the street I stood upon. Jazz and Puma lifted Smith, who had degenerated into a sobbing heap.  Fey applied a tranq patch to Smith's neck and he slumped into unconsciousness.

1325 hours, operational area local time

Jazz, Creep, Fey and Puma returned, and we advanced up the street, one building at a time.  We found no sign of any survivors in any of the buildings we checked as we made our way to the next cross street.  Ahead of us, the glowing orb beckoned, a lone light in the darkness.

We were crossing the intersection of the two streets when I saw a flurry of darkness heading toward my face.  My spell enhanced reflexes saved my life as I ducked under a vicious barb attached to a long, tail of ebon darkness.  Bat-like wings beat against the air as the creature, whatever it was swooped away.  From out of one building down the street, a chorus of chittering noises rose up and dozens of bat-winged monsters took flight and descended upon us.

The soft popping sounds of suppressed submachine gun fire erupted all around me.  Jazz, Fey, Puma, Taz, and Ace turned their SMG's to the airborne menaces. Silver munitions struck dark figures and blew through them, shredding the beasts and sending them spiraling down to the stone street. It was over in an instant.

"What the hell are those things, Machine?" Jazz asked.

"No idea. Let's take a closer look." I replied.  I walked over to one of the battered corpses of the winged beasts.

It was about a meter long and looked very much like an eel.  It had wings that were shaped very much like those of a bat.  Where I expected to see a maw of fine teeth, I instead saw a chitinous beak.  The tail of the thing ended in a translucent stinger that looked to be formed of amber colored crystal.  The thing twitched as died.  I pulled out a Mylar(tm) sample bag and levitated one of the dead creatures into it.  I sealed the bag, marked its label, and placed it in my satchel.

"That's real ugly." Puma whispered.

I nodded my agreement.  "Watch out for them.  They have a stinger and that usually means poison. Eyes up everyone."  We moved down the following street, checking buildings and finding nothing but dust and relics of an age unknown to history.

The orb of light proved to be a crystal, much like those at gate in the wall.  It was blazing with light.  There was a dried, bloody hand print marring its surface.  I shuddered, and took another risk.  My astral sight revealed wisps of essence, fine strings like cotton candy, stretching from the bloody print and down the street.  Energy was being siphoned from the essence and the crystal was thrumming with the power of it.  I tore my gaze away and saw Creep, his astral sight illuminating his own features as he gazed after the trail of essence leading down the street.  I forced my sight closed and felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.

"That's weird." Creep proclaimed. "Someone's alive."

"Let's see if we can keep them that way." I said as I stood up and tapped Creep on the shoulder. "You okay?"

"Yeah," he responded. "It's kind of the same thing we saw in Laos. It brings out that feeling you get when you need to kill someone.  You know, to let the bad feelings out. I'm okay, it's just trying to trap my mind.  There are things here to see, but I think it is just a lie.  A trap to lure your soul away, never to return."

"Yeah, it's pretty damn hard to look away." I offered.

"It sure is." Creep sighed. "There are places there I want to explore, places I want to see."  He shook his head.  "Wow, that is hard to shut out.  I'm okay, though. I can see how this would make a great defense against astral predators though."

I had thought about that at length since Flick and Tap had died. "Maybe that's why we found that creature in Amazonia.  Maybe it got in and then couldn't get out."

"Hadn't found its way through all the traps?"  Creep nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe, but that means that whoever lived here built it to keep them out and with that contingency should those measures fail.  Makes you wonder how long it took to build and enchant this place."

"Yep. Question for another time and for other people." I took a step back from him and waved the team forward. "Get your game face on."

"Need some magical mayhem, Machine?" Creep asked.  His smile was disturbing. "Wanting me to lash out with fire, spill blood, and bring on death to whatever we may find?"

"That is why you are here, Creep." I replied.

"This time don't get the giggles." Jazz interrupted.

Creep checked the action on his assault rifle.  "I'm good."

We moved down the street following the direction of the threads of essence and the directions I received from the elemental.  I checked the astral space at every intersection.  At the third intersection we turned left, following the essence.  Ahead of us lay three glowing orbs of light and dozens of the small eel-creatures which took flight and raced towards us.

Creep's demonic fire spirits were ready this time.   Blue flame exploded before us, the flying beasts screeching out in pain as their bodies were seared.  They fell from the air, their charred wings breaking upon the suddenly hot stone road.   We stomped those that were still screeching to death, then advanced to the trio of lights.  Three corpses lay there in pools of dried blood.  The crystals blazed with pure white light.

The corpses had been picked at by the eel-things and had been mostly devoured.  We couldn't identify the corpses but by the smell they had been dead for a few days.   "Body bags.  Let's get them back to the gate as well. Creep keep a look for more of those eel-things."  We bagged up the corpses and made our way back to the gate. We reloaded our weapons then headed back.

1410 hours, operational area local time

The trail of essence led us to one of the stone columns which rose to the ceiling above.  It was twenty meters across, and carved steps wound up its surface.  The trail of essence was faint and spiraled around the column.

"Well, someone is up there." I said.  "We're heading up people.  Keep your eyes  open for anything flying up to take a poke at us."  I holstered the Colt and drew out my heavy revolver.  My left thumb stroked the wedding band on my ring finger.

We climbed higher into the darkness while below us, the city lay shrouded in dust and silence.  Near the top of the column I saw a flicker of light from an opening leading into the stone.  I crept up and peeked inside.

My first impression was that I had discovered a shrine of some kind.  A dias was situated in the center of the room, upon which sat a meter-tall totem that bore a striking resemblance to one I had seen before.  Images of mana flooding through a downtown office building, magicians having their astral forms swept away, and the scent of mana-burned flesh erupted from my memory.  I shook off the past and focused on what lay ahead.

On the other side of the room, directly across from the totem, light flickered out from a hellish landscape.  Flames flickered in pits, the scent of brimstone assaulted my nose, and the cries of the damned were carried to me.  I looked out from the physical world onto something I had only ever read about: a gateway into a metaplane.   The floor of the shrine was littered with the corpses of four of the dig team, their flesh torn and their blood splattered on the totem, walls and floor.

"Oh, drek." I heard myself whisper. I turned and saw Jazz looking up at me with questioning eyes.

(To be concluded in Part Three ~ Requiem)

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

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

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

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