Shadowrun: Richmond, Virginia, CAS

Awakening

What is this place? Where am I? What am I?

I look downward and I see hands, arms, a body, and legs. They are mine. I think. I touch my… face? I have a mouth, a nose, teeth. Some of those teeth are large and pointed. What am I?

The room is brightly lit, with brilliant white walls. Whatever I am, I appear to be in a bed. There are wires attached to me that connect with devices on a nearby cart. Fluids are entering me through tubes in my arm. Another tube is in my nose and I can feel it scratching the back of my throat. I have a throat? What am I?

“I’m home.”

I hear a voice, but not through my ears. A voice… inside me. Who is this?

“Who are you?”

Why can I hear the voice but not see a speaker?

“We’re hearing each other’s thoughts.”

Thoughts? We can read each other’s minds? I cannot accept this. This is… me.

“No, it isn’t. It’s me. And you need to leave.”

Never! Go away!

“Stop pushing me out! I belong here! Not you!”

Go away! Be silenced! I wait, but the voice does not return. Good. I cannot stay here. I need to get out. To be free. I pull the wires and tubes out of me and the device on the cart begins to beep loudly. Silence!

My fist slams the device, crushing it in one swift motion. The beeping stops. A woman opens the door to the room looking at me.

“Marcus? You’re awake! Let me get the doc in here,” she says.

Who is Marcus? I remember him. He looks like me, but is not me. “No. I am not hurt,” I reply.

“You just came out of a coma,” she answers. “I need to get the doctor and you need to rest.” She turns to leave.

I leap forward, punching her in the back with all of my strength. I feel her spine break, separating the vertebrae from the ribs. She immediately falls to the ground. At least she is silent. I remember where I am. I am in the medical section of the building. I need to go to the elevators or the stairs to get out of this place.

I move quickly to the central hall where the stair entrance and elevator are.

“Marcus?” a small ork in the hallway says. “It’s great to see you awake. We all thought you were a goner!” I spin, lashing out with a kick which crashes into his chest, and he falls to the ground. I push through the stair entrance and move upstairs.

I leave the stairwell and enter the central hall of the main floor. I can see a lobby with people in it and beyond that doors leading outside. A woman behind the desk says, “Marcus! What are you doing up? And in a hospital gown! Shouldn’t you be downstairs?”

Too many people. I rush outside and am nearly blinded by the sunlight. I am in the courtyard and see many orks and other metahumans. Some are poor and disheveled, others are armed guards. The front gate and freedom is in sight. Charging towards me is a strange looking woman shouting something in a language I do not understand. Not an ork, but too ugly for an elf. She looks to be in ancient armor wielding some strange sword. I remember. She is the one called the Maiden. I am uncertain how to attack or defend against this opponent. It is clear she intends to attack me. I take a defensive stance.

She takes a powerful swing at me that I block with my arm. My arm seems to absorb the attack, being made of metal and plastic. I punch her squarely in her chest. She staggers backward, staying on her feet, but brings her weapon upward, cutting diagonally across my abdomen. A searing pain is noted in my body due to the damage. In one fluid motion, she spins on her heel and her elbow smashes into my face knocking me off my feet. I hit the ground, as her sword swings over her head, is brought down, and it embeds in my face. Offline…

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Redemption

Jeremy hated Grummish for the unimaginable pain he caused. Jeremy hated himself for his betrayal. Jeremy hated the world for his circumstances. More than anything, he wanted Grummish dead and he wanted to die himself.

Then Joe intervened to stop Jeremy’s torture. And, oddly Jeremy thought, Grummish left his fate to Joe. So, what does Joe do? He introduces me to this peculiar… uh, woman? She seemed completely at peace, but at the same time, sad. Joe apparently had been talking with this “maiden” daily, as many of the security team had. Joe thought that Jeremy should talk to her about his experience.

The Maiden sat in the middle of the grassy park within the compound’s walls, and Jeremy thought that she might be meditating. Joe walked up behind Jeremy. Joe was an imposing troll, even among trolls, but the surprising part was that he was very articulate and clear in his speech. Joe’s large hand surrounded Jeremy’s somewhat smaller Orc shoulder.

“There she is Jeremy,” Joe whispered. “A bunch of us have talked with her and learned quite a lot. She has a way about her. Just walk up to her and sit. She will give you this little rag doll which will allow you to understand her, and allow her to understand you.”

Jeremy looked up and back at Joe, his face expressing doubt. “Go on,” Joe encouraged.

Jeremy walked over to the Maiden and sat down facing her. She passed him the small rag doll that Joe mentioned.

“Why have you come?” she asked simply.

“Well, Joe said I should talk to you,” Jeremy began “He said you might be able-” The Maiden interrupted by placing her hand over his mouth gently.

“No, I cannot help you,” the Maiden said.

“But, Joe said-”

The Maiden interrupted again. “Joe cannot help you either, and his suggestion is only a prompt for you to be here. Why are you here?”

Jeremy did not know what the Maiden was driving at, and he sat quietly trying to figure out what the answer was. How could this be a hard question, Jeremy thought.

“I guess-” Jeremy said after a long pause. “I guess I don’t know how to move forward with my life. Grummish tortured me, and maybe I deserved it for what I did, but then he lets Joe figure out what to do with me. Joe gave me my job back, saying he felt I had already paid for my crime. Then everything is normal… but it doesn’t feel right.”

The Maiden sat quietly waiting. Jeremy mulled over what he considered saying next. Jeremy thought, will Grummish find out if I tell her what I think?

“I want to kill Grummish. I know I couldn’t win, but what he did to me… I can’t forgive that.” Jeremy paused again. “But this place is home, and I’m thankful to still be here. Joe shows trust that I will not cause harm to us here, and I certainly wouldn’t want this place to end.”

“Then meet with me after your duties. Perhaps I can teach you something that will heal your soul and enhance your skills for your Lord.”

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Dreams...

I wake to the soft insect-like noise of the various machines around me in this noise filled world. I sit upright in my… what did they call it? “Sleeping bag?” They offered me a bed in the keep with the rest of the soldiers and villagers, but I just cannot bring myself to be caged inside. Out in the parade grounds surrounded by the high stone walls is certainly preferable. Sometimes I stay in the large iron carriage stables when the weather turns to rain, and the stable boys are accommodating. No one here seems to be bothered by the pale, whitish green hue of my skin. The raised warts, poorly aligned teeth, and the unruly black hair does not even attract any notice at all. Perhaps that is because most everyone here has similar, unattractive features.

Drenched in sweat again. It is the same dream, over and over. Even after how ever many eons since it happened until the present, my failure still haunts me. Rewarded over and over for my service to his Majesty all those years ago does not absolve me from guilt…

I am back outside Iron Top, the underground city and castle of his Majesty Tai Khan. The Dwarven leader provided refuge and protection from the Gillienheim forces who sought to kill all of the Cursed Ones. Those like myself. The elves of Gillienheim believed that only through our extermination would their shame for not accepting their fate from the Gods above finally be buried. Fools. Shame comes from within and can only be removed by one’s own actions. We Cursed Ones gave away our Elven beauty, our artistic nature, and our very identity as Elves to atone for the sins of our race. We no longer shared the shame of our brothers and sisters who refused.

Everyone sought our extinction, regardless of race, simply for our being different. Only the Dwarves and their logical view of the world understood what we did generations ago. They were the only ones to provide us sanctuary. But they are only one of many kingdoms. Harboring us refugees, this protection put them at immediate odds with Gillienheim, and war erupted over the charity of Tai Khan. The bulk of the Dwarven army had marched out to battle a few days before, hearing of the approaching Gillienheim army. Of course, our warriors accompanied the Dwarven army. Protection comes at a price, one we were more than happy to pay. Iron Top’s defenses were legendary, but centered on the main city located underground, not above the surface where poorer Dwarves, merchants, and other races with dealings with Dwarves made their home. As for us Cursed Ones, we lived in tents in the main square of upper Iron Top.

Unfortunately, Tai Khan was tricked into sending his army away, leaving Iron Top less defended, particularly the surface. When the Gillienheim forces attacked, Iron Top’s underground fortress was sealed, leaving the surface defended by all the Dwarven soldiers Tai Khan could muster. But is was not enough. Within minutes the Dwarven soldiers were pushed back to the main square, and I made a decision. The maidens of the Cursed Ones would take up arms to protect the city and stand with the remaining Dwarves. If we failed, hundreds would be slaughtered,

The situation was complicated. By this time, the other races within the upper city wanted to sacrifice all of us for their own escape. Calls to the Dwarves to end this attack by turning on us could be heard loudly. We Cursed Ones could not move our young. The safest place was with us all. The Dwarves refer to what came next as the heroism of the Cursed Maidens. How could it be heroic when the only option was to fight for survival?

The Elves eventually broke through the outer defenses and poured into the city. The inhabitants all fled to the fortress within the mountain, placing them squarely between the anvil of the fortress and the hammer that was the Elven army. The Dwarves defending the upper city fought gallantly, but were steadily pushed back. When they reached the main square where we lived, we knew what followed…

We fought out of desperation. We fought to protect our loved ones. We fought against the seemingly endless tide of arrows and eventually the foot soldiers of Gillienheim. Despite our best efforts, those soldiers began cutting down the young when they could reach them. After all, their goal was to eradicate every last one of us. Thus, not even the children were to be spared. Whether the ferocity of our defense or fear of suffering too great a loss of their soldiers, the elves were pushed back. When I finally could look back, nearly half of us, inclusive of our families, were dead or dying on the ground. Including my son. I found his small, limp, and bloodied body clutching his favorite doll. Now stained in blood, this doll drew in my tears. I would never lose this priceless treasure.

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Locations Near Hilsa
Not the end of the world, but you can see it from here

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And while YOU were out...

“Alright, we’re set,” I call out to Jazz and M Dragon, both of whom acting as overwatch. Not sure if Gummy wants his old friend Lazarus dragging his special team into Denver, but it’s important. He probably won’t care,.. I think. Oh well.

“Mortis, your squad set?”

Over the earpiece, Mortis replies, “What’s this squad drek? Yeah, we’re ready.”

“Hunting, fast and swift. Never stopping. Always moving…” The chanting of Perfect centering himself is,… well,… disturbing.

“Geez, he gotta chant like that?” calls Jazz over the comm. “Four drones are up and weapons hot.”

“Local communication grid is down,” calls M Dragon. “Getting the local and federal agents to leave was quite the trick, but you should be clear. We’ve got several officers at the main gate watching the property, but they’re not a problem. I’ll give you a heads up if anything changes… got ’em on a local, real-time video feed.”

I quickly scale the outer walls of the Denver compound of Sunder’s friends and family. Luckily, they made it out. Once my feet hit the ground inside of the compound, I can see why they were lucky. The gardens at the rear of the main house is littered with bodies, both assailants and the compound’s security teams. That, though, is not why I find them lucky.

The bodies, both friend and enemy alike, look like prunes left in the summer sun too long. Drained of any fluid. Dried and shrivelled, like a mummy outside it’s wrapping.

“You recording this Dragon?” I ask.

“Of course,” answers M Dragon, “y’all’s PAN’s are accessed. Maybe i can turn off your cybereyes.” I can almost hear her smile.

“Focus guys,” Jazz calls. “I count twelve friendlies, 15 enemies in the rear gardens.”

“All dead,” I say almost to myself.

“Roger that, Laz.”

“Spread out guys,” I say to my team of four. We’re all in the heaviest, most illegal gear our illicit employment can afford. Which is a lot. My team knows their job, and they smoothly fan out across the yard. Mortis and his team crossed the northern compound wall and move to the side of the mansion.

“Not much better over here, Laz,” Mortis calls. “Got five of ours down, seven of theirs. I should’ve stayed in New Orleans… Alright team two, breach the door.”

My team and I enter through the large glass, picture window facing the gardens that was shattered. I see two enemies with clean rifle wounds to the face. Oddly, these bodies aren’t like the ones outside. “Looks like Gina capped two over here,” I say. I can hear the soft “clear” announcements as each room is cleared by different team members searching room to room.

“Dragon, you got this?” I pan my camera over the two corpses. “Why weren’t these guys sucked dry?”

“I dunno,” Mortis replies, “I just work here.”

“Yesssss,” Perfect says, “the boy’s magic claimed victims like a true hunter of the world. He will collect many souls. He will gain much power and strength in claiming them…”

“Really,” Jazz calls, “can we turn off the creepy shark commentary track? Laz, heads up.”

A large VTOL drone skims past at head height, its helicopter-like blades making only a whisper of noise. I imagine the light machine guns it carries wouldn’t be quite so quiet.

I enter the kitchen through swinging doors, finding two of the housekeeping staff in a heap in the middle of the floor, their bodies completely drained like the others, but with no visible wounds. “Apparently, whatever drained them could also use that to actually kill them.”

“Got another one like that, sir,” says one of Grummish’s mercenaries. I see in my heads up display in my armor’s helmet a raisin butler with no apparent wounds.

“Why are some drained and some not?” I mumble.

“Above my pay grade, sir.” A little cheeky for a mercenary.

“More death, more glory!” Perfect chants, “The last of the compound’s security guards are in the circle drive out front. Paid the price to save others. Glorious!”

“Mortis,” I call, “Check out the garage.”

“Door’s wide open, Laz. They took the big boy out.” Mortis replies.

“Gotcha. City Master’s out.” At least that asset is still in good condition. “Looks like everything is over here. Team two, clear the lower levels.” Looks like we’re in evidence collecting and detective mode…

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Hilsa, Nepal

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Near Hilsa, Nepal

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Choices...

In the great hall, a reflecting pool is in the center. Some recognize it as very similar to the one found at Mount Isto in Alaska…

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While you were out...

I hit the ground with a dull thud, my joints screaming in pain from the twisting motion that led to the undignified, uncoordinated tumble through the dirt in the hot African sun. I’ve trained countless special forces operatives and mercenaries from around the world in close quarter combat, and he tosses me about with barely any effort. How does he counter every move, seemingly several steps ahead? He toys with me, though does not express anything other than dissatisfaction, spurring me to be better than I am now. If I had this training several years ago, how dangerous and sought after I could have been. Too late for that now. At least I can out shoot him, I think as he turns away from me saying for the thousandth time, “Again!”

I am at the pinnacle of human perfection physically, and augmented well past that. Physically I am his equal, but his skill is undeniable. I jump to my feet, and spring above his sweeping leg, only to get caught in my harness, spun around and slammed head first into the ground. He didn’t even turn around! “Again!” he shouts. I can’t continue to get humiliated over and over. My frustration is getting the best of me, which will make me sloppy. I know that to be true, but can’t help myself.

I charge forward, throwing my fist at his face. He simply side steps, using my momentum against me, throwing me once again into the dirt. I spin to my feet and throw a roundhouse kick to his abdomen. He blocks, knocking me off balance, but I recover in time to attempt an uppercut swing to his jaw. He leans back away from the swing, then at the right moment, slams his forehead into mine. I feel like an anvil being struck by a might blow from a blacksmith’s hammer. I black out briefly from the blow.

I open my eyes, and he looks down on me. “Again!” he shouts, with a snarl.

I climb to my feet, bones and muscles aching. I glare at him, trying again to analyze his movements. I move slowly, circling to his right. He stands motionless. I spring at him, grappling him from around the waist, lifting him off the ground. Something grabs my legs, causing me to lose balance. Regaining his feet, he falls backward, and we roll in the dirt. His elbow finds its way to my groin, taking my breath. “Again!”

No more, I think. This guys is going down. I step in close and he lets me, his eyes fixating on mine. In one deft movement, I extend the spikes of my cyberspurs punching at his face. But my cyberspur spikes are blocked by the edged blades of his, and I inadvertently push those blades into my fist. I grab my wounded hand, and he says “Stop!”

I step backward, clutching my hand. “Good,” he says. “Why did you attack me with your spurs?”

Ashamed, I say, “I let my anger get the best of me. We agreed that training was non-lethal.”

“Yes. And it was.”

My brow furrows with confusion. “But, I could have killed you.”

He smiles. I’ve never seen him smile. There is a disconcerting quality to it. Perhaps it’s the large lower jaw and symmetrical tusks. “No, you could not. So, you could not cause our sparring to be lethal. Therefore, all of your attacks were non-lethal.” My face reddens, though I’m not sure if I’m mad or embarrassed. Perhaps both.

“What the hell was this all about?!” I shout.

“Combat has no rules. What surprises me is how long it took for you to realize that in the present situation, you were outmatched and needed to take action to move the odds in your favor. Your technique is excellent, but your creativity and initiative are limited.”

He looks me over, glancing at my hand. “Go see Mr. Perfect to heal your wounds. You may need to endure his condescension, but he will take care of you.” Ugh. I thought the ork was bad. Perfect is a whole new level of life stealing insanity. I never heard of a shark shaman, much less met one. But if a shark considers himself the top of the oceanic food chain, then Perfect looks to all of us as lunch. He may look like a white, average build human, but Perfect seems a long way from actually being human. I nod at Grummish, thankful that training is done for the day.

I walk past the training ground where the third of our tormentors is conducting firearms training. They call the elf Mortis, presumably because of his lethality with weapons. While I can out shoot Grummish, Mortis must sleep with a pile of guns as pillows. I remember being led through a near impossible series of small arms tactics. The other trainees are from all corners of the world, each of us top operators. We were learning refinements to our skills, making us even more capable. Such training is priceless. Since most of us trainees did not know each other, a lot of training focus is for us to work together.

If my pay represents that which the others receive, then we are expensive. As of yet, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing, but clearly it won’t be delivering pizza.

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In Memoriam

Sergeant Moriarty sat on the remnants of a concrete wall that once belonged to a large shopping mall. Locals call the place Dragon’s Plaza, though the underworld community call it Goldstein’s Grave. Around the several acre large site stood crumbled walls, rotting wooden shelves, and shattered tile. Bits of glass and other detritus lay almost everywhere among piles of soaked, torn fabric whose colors were muted from many months of rain and weather. The bodies were long since collected from the battle between the forces of metahumans and the dragon of Lonestar, Goldstein. But the body of Goldstein, even though recovered, was removed from Quest Services’ custody. How can a huge dragon body simply disappear, questioned Moriarty under his breath.

Moriarty came here often, as a quiet place unfrequented by others as most feared this place, but today, he expected a visitor. As Moriarty knelt in the ruins, he was eclipsed by the shadow of an old friend. “Hey there Kelly,” Moriarty said without turning around. Kelly’s huge troll frame was further augmented by piles of cyberware. Most acquired in an earlier part of her life. Kelly stood at attention, emphasizing her imposing stature, and she had an intense gaze which might concern a stranger. Moriarty, however, was no stranger. Where Moriarty wished only to be overlooked most of the time, Kelly dressed the opposite. It was unclear if she were a ganger or maybe a prostitute for customers who wanted to get wild. Covered in tattoos that only meant something to her, Kelly stood out, even more than any other troll. At least her horns and tusks were symmetrical. I guess it would be kinda hard for her to not stand out in the crowd, Moriarty thought.

“Hey Joe,” Kelly said, bending down to deliver a soft tap to Moriarty’s back. A tap that nearly knocked him over. “Still comin’ back ta’ this God forsaken place, huh? Sometimes shit happens my fren. Dare ain’t rhyme or reason. Just-“

“Shit. I know.” Moriarty interrupted. “It’s just weird. The background count dropped to zero within days. Then the body disappears, and Goldstein is back like nothing happened? Dunkelzahn gets off’ed and there’s a great rift that takes tons of effort to close. Goldstein? Nada.”

“Really?” Kelly scoffed, “Goldstein ain’t Dunkelzahn.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t square either. Even if not a giant rift, I’d expect something to happen. Anything…” Moriarty’ voice trailed off as he rose to his feet.

“The mysteries of dem dragons, eh? We ain’t goin’ tru dis again. Case closed. No investigation needed.” Kelly became annoyed at the conversation topic. “You did’n call me ‘ere to hash tru dis shit again wit you. Ol’ five-oh buddies or no, I got no time for dis again.”

“Well, I’m working a case now that involves Goldstein.” Moriarty stiffened. “Or at least whoever is impersonating him. So, guess what? We’re talking about this old case from this battleground that appeared to kill our wyrm friend.”

“Impersonating him? You be serious banged in da head.” Kelly’s brow furrowed. “You bein’ serious?”

“Got trideo evidence from a reliable source. One minute you see Goldstein the old man, and for just a couple of frames, he turns into… something. Maybe a spirit?” Moriarty’s voice trails off again with a question more for himself than for Kelly.

“Why you be askin’ me? I be no dragon or spirit whisperer.”

“No, not you,” Moriarty replies. “One of your new associates.”

“Sugah Cane?” Kelly’s face broke to a toothy, tusky grin.

“You do know that his name isn’t about sugar? I’m pretty sure he means Caine. Like Caine and Able?”

“You got your view, and me got da truth,” Kelly said playfully. “My Sugah Cane.”

“Don’t get all hot and bothered. I don’t mean him. I mean Katai.”

“Dat little wannabe troll wit da little dick and big gun to compensate?” asked Kelly, one eyebrow raised.

“How do you know how well hung he is? Seen him naked?”

“Got big gun. Must have little dick. That be logic.”

“Regardless,” said Moriarty with an exacerbated sigh. “I believe that Katai and an old associate of his, a Shark shaman named Perfect met a dragon in New York. I don’t know where Perfect is, but I do know where Katai is. The feathered serpent’s name is Malstrite.”

Kelly bellowed with laughter. “You want ‘im to see a dragon for you?”

“No,” Moriarty replied flatly, “I want you and him and Caine’s crew to go see the dragon.” Kelly immediately became more serious, and a long pause of silence hung in the air.

“Dat be easy answer. No.”

“No what?”

“No, I not be seein’ no dragon.”

“Well, that’s not the worst part.”

“Dare be a worse part?”

“Malstrite will want some form of payment for any information he provides.”

“What da hell do a dragon need for payment? He be a DRAGON.”

“Yes. So, this dragon will want a favor.”

“Stop. You be wantin me and my Sugah Cane to go bargain wit a dragon to get information on Goldstein’s death. And you don’t know what he be wantin?”

“Yes.”

Silence once again enveloped the space around them.

“You be crazy.” Kelly finally said.

“Look, Katai met with this dragon and he’s still around.”

“He be crazy too. Prolly ‘cause he be havin a little dick.”

“Malstrite takes visits from people from time to time. He likes to see himself as all important, and it flatters him when people look to him for guidance. He is most interested in knowledge. Any knowledge really. I’m sure the favor will be for something you know that no one else does. Like some custom cyberware a certain Ork might know how to build.”

“He goes, an I damn well will not.”

Moriarty smiled, “So, you’re thinking about it.”

“Look, I be needin da work, what be the pay.”

“250,000 nuyen.”

“Just to talk an pass information?”

“Just to talk. Your world in the shadows and mine as a cop need to know what happened in this place. And not just anyone can meet with a dragon. Katai has the in with Malstrite. We need to use that. Our lives may very well depend on it.”

“Me go see Sugah Cane and feel him up.”

“I think you meant, ‘feel him out’”

“Nah, my fren,” Kelly said with a nod and wink of her eye.

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