Life in the Shadows

Wicker's First Run

BEEP BEEP BEEP

I absently slapt at my alarm clock, but the blasted thing just wouldn’t be quiet. Half tempted to blast the thing like I did that devil rat that interrupted my studies the night before, I suddenly recalled I didn’t set an alarm. I was going to sleep in after my late night studying. Opening my eyes I see the indicator light on my commlink blinking. A text from Deuce: “HEL”.

Duece is a troll I know, and even for trolls he isn’t that smart. But misspelling words is unlikely. He is what we call a fixer, if you need something he can fix you up. Mostly Deuce deals in guys, but he knows a lot of people and can sent you up with what you need. Which is good because the guy is a paranoid gun freak who in the same 10 minutes will give you a 10% discount for having a good face and pull a Super Warhawk on you claiming you flashed the secret of some group out to get him.

If he is sending me a text it is probably important, or a job… or with Deuce it could be another paranoid rant about astral spies. Either way a quick astral projection over to his trailer wouldn’t take more than a couple minutes.

Astral projection is a talent that comes with being a magician. The ability for the spirit to leave the physical body it inhabits to wander the astral plane. Not restricted by a body weighing it down, the spirit can travel at the speed of thought. So a trip across town that would take 30 minutes by car only took me a second.

Deuce lives in a trailer hidden in the middle of the barrens. Of course hidden isn’t really the right word seeing as all of Deuce’s clients know where it is. Not that that matters with the minefield, cameras, barbed wire, and high caliber automated turret. So whoever shoot up his trailer must have brought an army.

His trailer had been turned into swiss cheese and he is nowhere to be seen. There was a lot of blood around. And fresh, still glowing with the life force of those who shed it. With a little focus I was able to find Deuce’s astral signature in some of the blood. It looked like the blood lead from the trailer. In the astral plain living things look like a watercoloring done with fluorescent paints. Of course nonliving things all look like a black and white picture seen through a gauze bandage.I would need to actually travel to Deuce’s place if I was going to get more information.

I called up a cab service I use frequently and began to preparing for the day. If Deuce was kidnapped it was by some pretty dangerous people. I was going to need all my tools. I put on my custom tailored suit that was actually made of kevlar fiber with ballistic plates weaved in. My trusty gun cane which I had enchanted into a power focus. I also grabbed the fab watch I had turned into a sustaining focus and the two fetishes I used, a stick pin and old-fashion money clip.

Once at Deuce’s trailer I collected a vial of Deuce’s blood, it can be used as a link in ritual sorcery and can always be useful. A quick look around didn’t show me anything new nor anything about where or why Deuce was taken. So that left one more trick up my level, summon a spirit.

Another benefit of being a magician, other than slinging spells and wandering the astral plane, is summoning spirits. Spirits are a power manifestation of mana and will. Strong magicians though can summon and through force of will can control them. Spirits are useful for many tasks, and one is finding people. I summoned up a powerful spirit of guidance and set it to look for Deuce, depending on how far away Deuce was it could take hours. So I brushed off an old tire with my handkerchief and sat down to wait.

I was pretty sure if Deuce was in trouble he won’t have asked just me for help, so when a small drone fly up to me I wasn’t too surprised.

“Are you looking for him too?” asked the voice through the speaker on the drone.

“Depends who you are talking about.”

“I got a text from Deuce. It read H E L.”

“Yeah I got the same text. It looks like Deuce has been kidnapped. I am searching for him now.”

The drone flew off and a couple minutes later a delivery truck pulled up. The human that got out was obviously a rigger. What a wannabe. Metahumanity’s technology these days is just an attempt to recreate the awesome power of true magic. VR is a cheap mockery of astral space, and riggers like this guy wish they had the force of will to control actual spirits. But I was going to need a ride home.

“Do you know what happened to Deuce?” Or maybe I shouldn’t get in a car with someone this thick headed.

Pointing at the trailer filled with I repeated myself. “Deuce has been kidnapped…”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep. That is his blood leading to those tire tracks over there.”

“Oh… do you know where he is?” Yeah, this guy must still use a sippy cup.

“No, but as I said I am looking for him right now.”

“Have you checked inside?”

“I looked around. Seems like Deuce put up a good fight, but they obviously overpowered him.”

“Why do you say that?” Swing and a miss, strike three.

“Because they kidnapped him.” The rigger gave me a nasty look and headed inside the trailer, probably to do whatever it is hackers do in the matrix. It was no matter, I would know where Deuce was before sundown.

I took out a nice cigar and relaxed while I waited for the spirit to come back with Deuce’s location. These days it was getting to be that you had to come out to the barrens for a smoke. 2050, dragons flying through the sky, elves, trolls and vampires voting for the president, controlling computers with your mind, cybernetic implants to give you the strength to lift a car, genetic transfusions that make humans live to 300, and the cure for cancer developed 20 years ago. Yet you try to light a cigar in cafe and suddenly the manager is threatening to call Lone Star unless you “put out that filthy cancer stick.” Around 40 minutes later, as I was finishing the cigar, the spirit appeared and gave me an image of of a hangar at SeaTac.

The rigger came out about 20 minutes after that saying he had accessed Deuce’s security cameras and found out that Deuce had been kidnapped by a group of men in two black trucks. I informed him that I had located Deuce in a hangar at SeaTac. He nodded and then got that blank stare that people get when they use commlinks, one I hope I don’t get.

“Hey this is the guy from earlier. How is Loche? He is up, good. Can you connect me to him? Hey its Armatige. I am at Deuce’s and he has been kidnapped. Let me guess, SeaTac. There is a magician here who tracked him down. Send it to me. Hmmm… I will swing by and pick you up, be there in 15.”

The rigger turned back to me. “Another of Deuce’s buddies knowns were Deuce is. Apparently he also knows who took him. It is some cyber’ed up Yakuza hitter with a grudge. We are going to SeaTac, want to come?”

“Sure, you’re driving.”

About 40 minutes later we were driving through the security gate of SeaTac to the private hangars. We had stopped to pick up Loche who has the type of person that called himself a Street Samurai, but since he had an assault rifle and no sword I didn’t really get it. Loche had told us how he and a troll named Cooper had stolen $200 million from the Irish mafia only to get double crossed and caught. The mafia had let them go after they had hunted down their employers and retrieved the money. During a firefight another magician had dropped a plane on the Yakuza hitter, but apparently that didn’t kill him. Now he has Deuce and Cooper and told Loche to met him at SeaTac.

We parked a in sight of the hanger. The doors were wide open but nobody was in sight. Nobody had to say anything because we were all thinking the same thing: trap. Armatige sent one of his mini-drones to sweep the outside of the hangar and see if its sensors could pick up anybody hiding inside. His sweep revealed to heat signatures in the back office of the hangar, but nothing else.

It only took a second to sweep the whole building and find that the heat signatures were just some sides of beef hung in the office. Also inside the office was a large chest freezer and a table with a vidplayer on it. Returning to my body, I informed the other two and summoned up a weak task spirit to retrieve the vidplayer and open the freezer. The freezer turned out to contain the bodies of two Irish mafia elves that had been with Loche when he killed Lady Orange, the Yakuza hitters lover. The vidplayer had a recording of Loche’s magician buddy being tortured. It looked like the hangar was a dead end and we were going to need to search for Deuce again….

Loche looked up from the vidplayer puzzled “Do you guys hear a diesel engine?”

In 2050 cars pretty much drive themselves and accidents almost never happen. But when a guy in an armored truck rams you I don’t think accident is the word. The impact was loud and the delivery truck slide about 10 feet, but none of us were injured. I hadn’t removed the seat belt I was wearing and Loche got lucky that he didn’t crack his skull open on any of the hardware in the back. Armatige was locked safely in his little cocoon and since the truck immediately started to pull away I guessed he had survived as well.

The armored car gave chase. The back of the truck rolled open on its own and Loche dropped flat in the back hooking his arm throw a strap to keep from sliding out. He open fire on the armored truck and so did a couple of the drones in the back. A grenade fired by the drone went off and took out a guy manning a turret on top of the armored truck, but barely strached the truck itself.

Using real magic isn’t about waving your hands or mumbling an ancient language. All it is, is using your will to manipulate the mana around you. A little bit of concentration and I focused the mana between me and the truck and electrified the air. A bolt of lightning shot out and struck the armored truck and its engine died.

Loche unloaded two bursts at the slowing armored truck, taking out the windshield and then the driver. Another man appeared in the turret and opened fire on us, but was only able to damage some of the drones in the back with Loche before Loche took him out.

We circled around and pulled up next to the armored truck. I focused on the mana around the truck feeling for life signs, but it was clear that everyone in the truck was dead. Loche hopped out of the truck and tried to open the armor truck’s back door to no success.
I called out to him that everyone in the truck was dead and not to bother, but he still decided to check anyways. Next time he will probably take my advice, because when he opened the driver side door and checked the driver he set off a booby trap.

Even with a frag grenade going off a foot away the guy still didn’t complain. You do have to give the guy a little respect for that, even if he is only a mundane. Then again the guy has shoved so much ‘ware in his body, he is only half alive anyways, so I guess it is a wash.

We drove off before any SeaTac security spotted us. Armatige said the cameras were looping video from a few hours ago, so we weren’t going to end up on the news later. Of course we were still nowhere nearer to finding Deuce and now Cooper and V’Zier had been added to the list.

I summoned up another spirit and sent it off to find Deuce again while Armatige drove use around the city for a while. When the spirit came back with an image of a pagoda style building in out in The Sprawl I used my commlink to find an address and passed it off to Armatige. I then traveled through the astral plane to the building to make sure Deuce didn’t get moved while we were on our way.

Hovering over the building in astral space it was clear there wasn’t any magical defenses, but something did look off. Living things glow in astral space and instead of the world being light from the sky by the sun and lights over head, the Earth itself glows with life and lights everything from below. But this building was shining on its own. I had seen a similar effect around my own magical lair and it was the reason I had chosen that spot. As best as my research had uncovered the location had be the site of a powerful magician in the Fourth Age and his constant rituals had left a permanent mark on the mana of the area. But it wasn’t nearly as strong as the Pagoda. Something was very wrong here….

As I traveled through the walls and floors of the three story pagoda gathering intel, I found the source. The Yakuza hitter wasn’t some cyber’ed up street sam, he was a cyberzombie. A spirit ripped from its body then magically imprisoned in its own corpse and kept alive through science. Nobody is sure whether it is the torment of the spirit or the bonds needed to capture the spirit, but cyberzombies become a well for mana. It collects around them and builds up until the whole area around them is saturated with mana.

The Yakuza being a cyberzombie means that Loche and Deuce have bigger enemies than some guy upset about a lost lover and a deal gone bad. Cyberzombies require a team of magicians to capture the spirit of the person and teams of doctors and scientists to keep the body alive. Things were going to get interesting when we arrived.

My scouting revealed that V’Zier was in the garden out back, Deuce was on the third floor, and Cooper was in the basement. Not including the cyberzombie there were 12 other guards in the building, and two of them were magicians. The plan was simple, ambush the guards in the garden then enter the building at the top floor drawing the guards up so that we could trap them between Loche and I and Armatige’s drones.

I flew myself up to the roof and placed a magical sound barrier around the garden so the guards inside wouldn’t hear the firefight. Loche hopped the small stone wall around the garden and Armatige flew one of his drones in. The fight was over before the guards knew what was happening. Loche took down a guard with a quick burst of fire, I dropped one with a blast of mana, and Armatige’s drone took down the last guy.

We left V’Zier hanging over the pond in the back as I floated Loche up to the third floor balcony with me. I summoned up a powerful spirit of air to aid us in the coming fight and Loche took a couple practice swings at the door with his axe. My handheld sensor showed two three people in the room with Deuce: two gunmen and one of the magicians.

As Loche broke down the door the magician called up a wave of acid and flung it at him, but Loche was able to just barely move out of the way. I took a quick pot shot at the magician with my gun cane distracting him enough for Loche to take him out with a quick burst of his assault rifle. The spirit sent a blast of frigid air at one of the gunman who was firing at Loche. Loche took out the other gunman just as he was about to fire, but the shots spun him around and he ended up killing his own squadmate.

Loche unchained Deuce, but for all the good that did Deuce was out and collapsed to the floor. I checked my handheld sensor to make sure nobody was on the mezzanine floor below us then summoned up a sound barrier around myself and focused the mana around me to bend the light. Now completely invisible and silent I slowly proceeded down stairs and found the rest of the guards waiting in ambush on the first floor. Luckily the magician with them wasn’t smart enough to be watching the astral plane.

Sending a quick message to Loche to come in on my signal I began weaving the mana in between a group of three gunmen and the magician into a massive soundwave. The blast that went off completely disoriented the four men and I stopped focusing on the spells that were keeping me undetected and instead took what cover I could behind the railing.

Loche came around the corner across from me and unloaded on the cyber zombie below me. The gunmen returned fire, but the three disoriented by my spell weren’t able to hit anything. The magician summoned a blast of fire to take out the supports of the walkway Loche was on, but that was the least of Loche’s worries. The cyberzombie unleashed a spray of bullets unlike anything I had seen. Loche’s cyber-enhanced reflexes allowed him to avoid the brunt of it, but it was obvious a number of rounds had ripped through his armor.

The spirit of air sent a huge blast of air sending one of the gunmen flying across the room. Loche took a quick shot at the magician to dropping him before he destroyed the walkway anymore. I summoned up another sonic boom to take out three of the gunmen, only to slump to my knees not realizing how much I had overexerted myself within the mana rich building.

Loche took another torrent of bullets from the cyberzombie as he returned fire. The spirit took out the last of the gumen, but the cyberzombie was still up and running. Loche looked like he was on his last leg so I used the same spell as earlier to make him invisible to the cyberzombie. But in the end it wasn’t needed. Although the firefight had only lasted a few seconds that had been how long it took Armatige to drive his drones to the front door and blow it down.

With the combined firepower of the air spirit, Armatige’s drones, and Loche the cyberzombie didn’t last long. I felt it when the tortured spirit of the departed Yakuza hitter finally faded into the ether. It would take a while mana of this area would return to its natural levels, but things shouldn’t be too bad.

We loaded Cooper, Deuce, and V’Zier into Armatige’s van and, although it took some convincing, I loaded in the body of the cyberzombie in the van as well. It would be extremely useful to study and maybe glimpse into how the rituals were performed. We also checked the bodies for anything worth taking, we found some cash to split that we split up and I located some magical materials as well.

Deuce recovered a couple days later and thanked us for our help. He said he owed us one and would cut 25% off the cost of anything we need from now on. I was more glad to hear about the discount than anything. With the acquisition of the cyberzombie I am going to be needing a lot of magical materials for my research.

Loche seems more than capable in a gunfight and his slow wittedness will only make him easier to control than the usual mundane. Armatige might be a different story, though he does not wield the true forces of creation, he is at least smart enough to realize how weak he is in comparison. In the end I don’t think there will be much of an issue with working with those two again. And if push comes to shove then both can easily be replaced….

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EliDavidBrown

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