|Enchanted skull Cup|
From: Whispers of Persephone (coming soon to Kickstarter)
Artist: Christian Martinez
Astrally projecting through natural elements is extraordinarily difficult. Spirits can manage it easily, if the element in question is the one from which they originate. Whatever had grabbed Rose had dragged her under the mana charged water, plunging her into an element that would be difficult for her to operate in. Lily had dived in after her. I dove in after my spirit-daughters, colliding with the element of water. While a human's physical body is largely at home in water a person's soul is not. I struggled, pulling after my daughters and falling further behind by the second.
"It has me." Rose's thought voice reached me clearly through the dazzling haze of elemental energies I was trying to swim through.
"I'm coming, sister!" Lily exclaimed.
"Hang on baby-girl! I'm coming to get you!" My thought voice sounded fuzzy to me. Trying to force my way through the water was like trying to swim in gelatin.
"I will do violence." Rose's thought voice rang in my skull. A moment later, there was a blinding flash of mana energy.
The water around me was blasted away and my astral form was blown into the air along with the fine spray. I was trying to orient myself when Rose and Lily appeared next to me. "We should leave," they said in unison.
"If I didn't know better, I would think you were twins too." We flashed away from the flooded streets, found the carved steps and shot up the polished tunnel. Behind us, a baneful howl reverberated through astral space. Lily, Rose and I appeared in the cavern and were confronted by Creep and his flock of demon-women.
"What the hell was that?" Creep demanded.
"Don't know but it tried to make off with Rose." I said. "It was hiding under the water, grabbed her and dragged her under. Definitely has a physical body, too."
"Well, let's kill it and be done with the thing then." Creep's proclamation was punctuated by a second, echoing howl that rang about astral space within the cavern.
"I've never heard an echo in astral space before, have you?" I asked.
"No, my first time too." Creep replied. His astral form looked pensive and I saw a growing glow of anticipation and tension building in him.
"It is coming." Rose's thought voice was calm. She was facing the tunnel, hands outstretched and readying spells. Lily stood ready at her side. Power was building within them, ready for violent release.
"I don't like the idea of confronting it in the ruin again. The water concealed its approach. I never had a hint it was there until it snatched Rose." I nodded my agreement to Creep. "You're right, we kill it here."
"Groovy." Creep snarled. Around him, six demon-women laughed.
I turned back toward the carved tunnel and cried out into the astral, "Shut up! If you're going to growl and fuss about it, come get us you lazy bastard!"
"Thanks, Machine." Creep drawled.
"Remember, girls, it's astrally active or else it couldn't have grabbed Rose. Stay in the astral where you're at your strongest. I don't want you tangling with this thing in the physical world unless absolutely necessary." I took up a position between them while Creep and his demons flanked us.
"Of course, father." Their thought voices reached me directly.
I was waiting for the creature to come for us and was still surprised by the speed with which it attacked. One moment I was facing a dead, lifeless hole in the living rock and the next moment I was batted across the cavern to slam into the unyielding Earth. Pain flared through me as screams of rage erupted from Lily and Rose, drowning out the cries of demons and the manic laughter that rang out from Creep. I was dazed and watched as the monster, for it fully deserved the name, raged and clawed at my girls. Creep's demons threw sizzling bolts of mana at the thing to no obvious effect.
It was huge. Five meters tall and three meters broad. It's body was covered in scabrous lesions that seemed to ooze a sticky puss. The thing had a stink to it that somehow extended to the astral plane. It was shaped like some monstrous giant, with a head bearing four eyes and a broad mouth filled with rows of fangs. The monster's thick legs ended in wide, webbed feet and it moved with inhuman speed. The monster lashed out at Lily with a massive, clawed hand as if to rend her to bits. I saw Lily's face full of rage as she grabbed onto the outstretched arm and twisted with all her might, spinning the beast forcefully to the cavern floor. Rose drove her fist down into the monster's exposed neck.
Rose beat at the thing while Lily held it pinned fast against the unyielding stone of the cavern. It howled in rage and pain, and thrashed about trying to escape Lily's grasp. Creep's demons rained down spells upon it, but it seemed to shrug them off. The cavern rang with unearthly howls.
I pushed myself off the cavern wall realizing, quite suddenly, that I had been badly hurt by the monster's first strike.
"Try this on for size!" Creep laughed. I saw him pull in energy from the abundance of magic in the cavern and weave it into his spell. The slimy little fragger laughed and babbled as his spell coalesced and flashed into the beast. I saw it's astral form fracture at the point of impact, and cracks along its astral body began to bleed out essence. The monster's howls became screams of pain. Lily stepped in, placing her foot firmly between the monster's shoulders, and snapped its arm at the elbow. Rose struck down at the thing's head, driving its face into the stone.
The fight was brutal. Creep's demons abandoned their spell casting and fell upon the beast, tearing at it with claws and fangs or stomping at it with cloven hooves. I watched, my astral form battered and hurting everywhere. It took about two minutes for the thing to die.
Lily and Rose appeared beside me the moment after the monster's aura vanished. "Let's get back." I told them. We rose up through the steel seal, up the shaft and into the airlock. Creep appeared a moment later and we both returned to our physical bodies.
"Oh, frag that hurts." I complained. "Creep are you back yet?"
"Yeah, I'm here," he replied. "What the hell was that thing?"
"Close and seal the hatch. I have no idea what that was. I want more people ready to go before we head down there in the flesh." Creep closed the hatch for me as Rose and Lily materialized in the airlock. It was cramped but their presence was most welcome.
"You are badly hurt." Rose's voice sounded worried in my mind.
"I heard another howl from the tunnel as I was coming back up." Lily reported. "There is at least one other down there."
"It was terribly fast." I said out loud. "We'll need to warn the team before we move on down there. I'll talk to Jazz about how we'll secure our exit route."
"Good idea. I don't like the idea of getting cut off by one of those things." Creep answered. "Assuming, of course, that there isn't only one more."
"Right, assume the worst so you're not disappointed when it happens to be the case." I closed my eyes and felt the pains flaring through my body. "I need you to stay here and cover the shaft. I'm going topside to report to Control and get some shut-eye. I'll relieve you in four hours and bring down some back up. I'll schedule our breach of the seal after I speak to Control."
"Looked like that thing knocked you pretty hard. You gonna be okay?" Creep asked.
I opened my eyes and saw the slimy little fragger smiling at me. "Yeah, Creep, null sheen. I took harder hits than this in the Barrens." Technically it wasn't a lie, I had been hit harder in the Barrens before. Thankfully, that hadn't happened often.
November 23rd, 2060
0200 hours, operational area local time
Samantha had taken the report of the monster in stride. She had no insights to offer on what it may have been. She ordered the seal to be breached and for exploration of the ruin, and recovery of artifacts to begin. I recommended that we leave Sherlock behind until after we cleared the ruin of hostile creatures, but Samantha instructed otherwise. He was going down with us in the first trip.
Jazz and I spoke at length about how to secure our route back out of the ruin and cavern. Neither of us liked the options we came up with, but we settled on the best plan we had. Zero was going to be staying top-side, in camp and standing by in case we had to initiate our GTFO* maneuver. Simon would be going down with us to set up comms, and maintain drone recon.
"We don't have enough people." Jazz said flatly. "We're spread thin between camp and the site."
"What should we do? Move the camp into the cavern?" I asked him. "I don't think that's a good idea, Jazz."
"Me neither, but it consolidates our firepower." Jazz shook his head. "Of course, it also traps us meters deep in case some random asshole drops a grenade down the lake on top of our airlock. Damn. We just don't have enough people."
"So, we have Zero keep drone coverage up at camp and we leave Ding up top to cover him. We bring the rest of the team down and point their guns into the dark and hope we can kill anything that tries to eat us." It was a terrible idea.
"Problem is that makes getting out quickly impossible. We can cycle up to two men at a time through the airlock, that just isn't enough time to get everyone out." Jazz gritted his teeth and looked me in the eye. "Your call Machine. There isn't a good option."
"Split the team then. Fewer guns under the lake, but more topside to keep us covered. Also allows for the potential of a rescue effort if need be. We can call down reinforcements if we need to, and also cycle out people for rest periods. If anyone gets injured we can replace them from top-side personnel." Jazz nodded grimly. "I think it's the best option."
"I'll make it happen." Jazz replied.
"Oh, Jazz, have everyone load silver. I don't know what that thing was, but it shrugged off most of the spells thrown at it. Let's err on the side of caution." I said.
"And if the silver doesn't work?" Jazz asked.
"We leave, weld the seal closed, back-fill the shaft and say 'Frag It'." I replied.
1100 hours, operational area local time
I was tired. Creep and I had astrally projected down into the cavern while the seal was being cut away. Spirits were at the ready and watching for any sign of danger. The cavern walls were alive with the energy of the living Earth and the carved tunnel loomed like a dark maw waiting to swallow us.
Time ticked by slowly.
"Why don't we go look for the whatsit? Hunt it down from the astral and kill it off with the spirits." Creep asked suddenly.
"No. We wait for the team. That first one had a helluva punch to it." I replied.
"We're going to have to head down there sooner or later." Creep murmured. "Why take the gun-bunnies with us? They'll just slow us down."
"No. We wait for the team. We need the backup just as much they need us." I didn't dare to look away from the tunnel. "It took all we had to take out the first one. Don't underestimate these things, whatever they are."
"Sure thing, Machine." Creep replied.
"Creep. You do know we're going to come down here in the flesh once the fire team is down, right?" My question lingered on the currents of mana for a moment.
Creep's reply was a quiet. "Oh."
1120 hours, operational area local time
Jazz was the first man to arrive in the flesh. He roped down quickly, his AK-97 coming up as soon as his feet hit the cavern floor. The team came down one at a time. Fanning out with weapons trained toward the dead hole in the living rock. From the astral plane I couldn't tell how they could see in what must have been pitch darkness but they moved well.
I drifted away from the tunnel and hovered near Jazz. He had squatted down and was rummaging through old bones. I watched and waited until he stood and raised his arms, crossing them at the wrist. "Creep. I'm coming down in the flesh. Once I'm down, you come down too."
"Yeah, copy that Machine." Creep's response did not sound enthusiastic.
I opened my eyes, still hurting from the earlier encounter with the monster. The stink of chlorine and the foul stench of the monster, mingled with a strange smell of old water and earth. A simple levitation spell lowered me down into the cavern. Headlamps gleamed from the helmets worn by each of the weapons specialists.
"Jazz, report." I whispered.
"It's dead, Machine." Jazz answered. "Bits of it strewn about, but yeah you guys killed it ugly."
I looked around at bits of the monster we had killed in our earlier encounter. Its remains were strewn throughout the cavern. Bones that looked as if they had come from an arm were near Jazz. On the far side of the cavern, the skull and what could have been ribs lay bare among old bones. There was no sign of flesh on any of the remains of the thing. "Jazz, we didn't strip its flesh or scatter its bones. Something or more likely, several somethings, tore it apart and ate it."
"Just what I was thinking." Jazz replied. "Notice that parts are clumped together in different areas? Different things dragging off parts to eat away from the rest of the feeding frenzy."
"Yeah. So five different piles, five different things." I didn't like what I was hearing.
"No, at least six. Those five dragged parts away from the corpse. Nothing dragged the torso away, just parts of it. Spine is right there where you said you guys killed it. It was eaten there, most likely by a few of whatever these things are." Jazz looked at, a strange expression on his face. "What are these things?'
"No idea." I replied. "But they appear to be hungry."
1200 hours, operational area local time
Simon came down with a number of small drones and a pack full of power cells. Sherlock, came down last. Jazz put two men behind machine guns to cover the tunnel entrance, and left one behind with Simon who had set up a repeater directly below the seal. Simon sent a pair of drones down the tunnel, and gave us our first visual of the ruins below.
There was a dim level of ambient light around the ruins. I couldn't see the source. The drone cameras revealed that the streets before us were flooded. The stone structures rose to the cavern ceiling overhead. I saw a sudden flurry of motion as the waters thrashed violently. I heard an eerie howl echo from the tunnel.
"Weapons free." I whispered into my mic. Creep's demon-women manifested in front of the tunnel. I heard the actions cycle on weapons all around me. I lifted my Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum (tm) and leveled it at the dark whole that loomed before us, carved from the living rock.
"Drone is picking up motion in the tunnel." Simon muttered. "Moving slow and coming up quiet. Nothing on visual."
"Creep." I looked at the lunatic and gave him the order he would certainly enjoy. "Fireball. Make it hurt."
His face split into a smile that made my stomach roll.
"Hell's burning light, damnation and darkest night" the incantation rolled out of his mouth as easily as if a normal person were saying 'hiya'. "Feel the pain of burning spite, and suffer the wrath of my might!"
Fire erupted in the tunnel. I felt a blast of heat wash over me causing sweat to break out over my body. An inhuman screech, a scream out of nightmares, echoed out of that fire blasted hell. The stench of brimstone assaulted my nose as Creep's laughter rang painfully in my ears.
"How's that!?" He croaked out between his chuckles. "Hey, Jazz! Fire in the hole! Am I right?!"
Jazz cocked an eyebrow, but otherwise kept his AK-97 trained on the tunnel.
"Jazz, pick three and you're with me. Creep, fire support for the rest of the team. If anything gets past us, kill it hard. Sherlock, stick close to Simon. Everyone, we do everything we can to keep each other alive. Nothing touches Simon or Sherlock." My thought voice reached out to Rose and Lily, "Girls, stick close to me. I know I'm going to need your help."
We plunged down into darkness. Acrid smoke assaulting us as we moved down the tunnel. We found a charred corpse twenty meters down.
Creep's spell had burned the creature's flesh to an ashen grey char. It had been a biped, with long arms and squat legs. Its four eyes had exploded in its skull, leaving blackened holes that looked out at nothing. The stench of the burned monster was unlike anything I had ever encountered.
"Chalk up another confirmed kill for Creep." Jazz said softly.
"Is anyone keeping count?" I asked.
"I'm sure he is." Jazz focused his attention down the tunnel. "Any idea why we couldn't see it what the drone?"
"Invisibility maybe, or perhaps something like the color blending that you see in some para-critters. Not sure, really." I opened my astral sight and beheld the burning vista of the tunnel I was in. Ghostly flames licked at the dead walls of carved stone. The blackened corpse was awash in impressions of pain and surprise. Small dark motes, grey and fleeting, formed a trail that led down the tunnel toward the ruins. I had to strain to close my astral sight, the effort earning the beginning of a headache for me.
1235 hours, operational area local time
We made our way down the tunnel and out to an flat stretch of stone that overlooked the ruins below. The air was thick with the scent of mold and open water. Small glowing fungal growths sprouted at random along the walls, looking like clumps of glowing pods on the near wall and like distant stars hanging from the high cavern ceiling and the distant walls.
I heard water splash violently in the flooded streets below us.
"Machine, we have a problem." Jazz had his AK-97 to his shoulder training down the roughly carved steps that led down to the water.
I followed his aim and beheld shapes rising from the water. Broad shouldered beasts, mockeries of metahumanity, with large sloped heads holding two pairs of red eyes. There were perhaps a dozen of them, three as large as the one Creep and I had killed hours before, while the remaining were smaller, roughly the size of an adult troll. They sprang to the steps and hurled themselves toward us.
I shouted, "Open fire!" and reached out to Lily and Rose.
Jazz and the three weapon specialists he had selected, fired a hail of bullets. Silver streaked invisibly through the distance between us and the monsters. The bullets struck home, to no effect.
"IGNIS MAGICAE!" Flame leapt from my out-stretched finger tip, burning across the hide of one of the five meter tall giants. It screamed in pain and fury, its flesh bubbling and lesions bursting to spray puss a meter into the air.
Lily and Rose cast out their hands, each of my spirit daughters hurling a devastating ball of violent mana energy down to detonate among our monstrous foes. The spells erupted with the stench of ozone, and no obvious impact on the deformed creatures.
"Machine, we definitely have a problem!" Jazz shouted out.
"Girls, fire based spells, now! Jazz, we're falling back!" I was still calling out my order as I turned to face back toward the tunnel behind us. Two of the giant sized monsters had somehow scaled down the wall behind us, and landed with solid impacts upon the stone. Their huge bulk blocking sight of the tunnel, and cutting off our escape. They opened their gaping maws, exposing rows of shark-like teeth, and bellowed triumphantly.
"IGNIS MAGICAE!" Lily's voice rang out like a bell. A lance of flame, as thick as my own arm, roared past me and caught the monster on my left full in the face. Its head exploded in a shower of stinking puss, roasting brain tissue, and charred fragments of bone.
The monster on my right blurred forward. Behind me I heard Jazz scream, 'Grenade!'. We stood on that patch of rock, dozens of meters below Lac Assal, as the monsters came at us.
In the back of my mind I heard Aria's voice. "You come home to me, Tommy."
The monster coming at me was inhumanly fast, but it had a few meters to close before it could reach and kill me. I reached out with a spell I often used at play with my daughters, only with this casting I put the full force of my magic behind it. The levitation spell lifted the beast from the stone. Its forward momentum and churning limbs caused it to tumble in the air as my spell lifted it meters overhead. It passed over us, thrashing and howling in infernal rage.
"IGNIS MAGICAE!" Lily's voice rang out again as her second flame spell seared skyward, cutting off the screams of the giant above us by searing its body to the bone.
"FALL BACK!" Jazz screamed over the muffled blast of the grenade far below, the sound of gunfire and blazing spells. The rest of the team turned and ran for the steps. Jazz took a long stride to follow, but a large hand reached over the lip of the carved steps below us and grasped his waist. The monster jerked him violent backward. Jazz's head snapped forward and slammed against the stone step before he disappeared into the darkness. His AK-97 clattering on the rocky landing.
I jumped off the landing toward the monster making off with Jazz. Rose and Lily appeared right beside me. Meters below me, the water flooding the streets of the ruins continued to churn as more of the monstrous creatures erupted. Below me, Jazz hung limply in a hand of the giant. The monster lifted him toward its gaping maw as the girls and I plummeted after him.
"IGNIS MAGICAE!" My voice was joined by Rose and Lily's. Our spells shot forward, striking the beast's arm, neck and its malformed head. The creature's head exploded in a gruesome spray of flesh and bone fragments. Its arm was severed, and fell to the stone steps with Jazz still held fast in its grasp. I landed hard, two steps above Jazz's limp form. The monsters before us gathered themselves to pounce.
*to be continued in part five*
*GTFO: 'get the frag out', based on an earlier saying from the turn of the century.
Thank you for reading my fan fiction. I hope you are enjoying these tales.
I also write and publish role-playing game material (though not for Shadowrun), and will soon be launching a KickStarter campaign for my next title Whispers of Persephone. I hope you'll check it out!
Your comments are always most welcome. If you like these stories please do share them with others.
Until the next installment, where we conclude Operation Emerald, shoot straight runners.