Shadowrun General => Fan fiction => Topic started by: RowanTheFox on <11-17-16/2015:10>

Title: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-17-16/2015:10>
Since my internet at home is dead and the internet I still have access to is spotty at best, I'm breaking this up into smaller bite-size pieces.

Mercury Rising

   “Michael!” The young elf woman’s cry rang out amongst the gunfire. She fought against the two runners who were dragging her away. “Let me go!”
   The room spun around him. He was hurt and disoriented. A strong blow to the head had stunned him badly enough to force him back into human form. He turned his head, and was punished for it by a wave of dizziness and nausea. He reached a hand out. “Susanna…” He rasped hoarsely. He yelped as a heavy boot slammed down on his wrist, pinning it to the pavement. He looked up, and saw the blurry outline of a metahuman. The gun pointed at his chest, however, was clear and sharp.
   “Michael!” Her voice warped as the darkness closed in. He saw the gunman’s trigger finger tighten, and cast one last spell. “No, Michael!”
   A bright flash, and a piercing shriek. “MICHAEL!”
   He jerked awake and slammed his head against the cold metal. It was pitch black, and freezing cold. He felt around with his hands, his movements growing more frantic as panic set in. He realized he was in a body freezer and tried to scream, but he could barely catch his breath. He slammed his fists against the top of the freezer, and heard a muffled voice from the other side of the door. He felt a wave of dread wash over him. Who owned the morgue he was in? There was a loud click as the maglock disengaged. The slab slid out, and he sprang up to run. His numb legs had other plans, and gave out from under him.
   “Whoa, hey! Take it easy, omae.” Wait a tick. He knew that voice. He looked up and saw a kindly old man. He opened his mouth to speak while the man draped a trauma blanket over Michael’s shivering frame.
   “Susanna…” Michael croaked. “Th-they took Susanna.”
   “Who did?”
   “I would like to know that as well.” A female voice cut in. Michael looked up, and saw a dark haired elf looking at him with a mix of shock and concern.
   “Ghostwalker.” Nadja paled at Michael’s reply.
   “You’re telling me Ghostwalker is behind this?”
   Michael nodded. “His goons wiped most of us out, and dragged Susanna away. Probably so Ghostwalker can use her to find out where the remaining members of Assets Inc. are.” He shook, and his voice cracked. “Nadja, I have to get her back.”
   “No, we need to get you somewhere safe. You’re still weak, and if Ghostwalker truly is behind this, I can’t protect you. I came here to identify your body, and the bodies of your parents. I don’t want to have to come back down here again.”
   Michael leaped to his feet, and immediately regretted it. His head spun, and he staggered against the cold metal slab. He broke down into tears. “I can’t just leave her there. Do you have any idea what that fragging wizwyrm will do to her?”
   “Yes, actually.” She snapped. “Don’t forget that I was Dunkelzahn’s voice until his death.”
   “Then help me, dammit!”
   “Getting her back would be suicide. No one is powerful enough to challenge a great dragon.”
   “Actually, that’s not true.” The old man cut back in. Nadja and Michael swiveled their heads to look at him. A look of dawning realization passed over Nadja’s face.
   “Of course!” Michael gave her a look of confusion. “Harlequin! He dueled with Ghostwalker after Aina Dupree's death and might have actually won if the fight hadn't been stopped.”
   “Harlequin?" Michael sounded unsure. "Would he even be willing to help me?”
   “He despises Ghostwalker, and knew Ryan well. I’m sure you could convince him once he's informed of your father's death, and who is responsible for it.”
   “Ok..." He rubbed his temples. His head still hurt. "Where is he?”
   Nadja smirked. “Somewhere safe. I can get you there, but after that you're on your own.”
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-19-16/1602:14>
        It took months of backroom deals, bribery, and burning every last contact he had, but Michael was finally on a plane to Europe. Nadja had filled him in on the details of where he was going. Schwangau. It was the capital of Altarraum, a young kingdom in southern Bavaria. It had quickly turned into a haven for his kind, as well as other freaks, weirdos, and outcasts. It was also where Harlequin had been spending the majority of his time lately. Nadja told him that his contact would meet him there, and to wait at the local no-tell motel. His eyes darted around the plane with increasing paranoia. No one seemed to be paying him any mind, but that didn’t do much to console him. Finally, exhaustion got the better of him, and he drifted off to sleep.
   “Sir?” Michael jumped as a hand landed on his shoulder. A young flight attendant smiled at him. “The plane has landed, sir.”
   Michael rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. He nodded at the attendant. “Thank you.” He disembarked and picked his bag up at the luggage carousel. He walked up to the customs desk, and felt a nervous lump form in his throat. Would the fake SIN Nadja supplied be good enough here? Did it get burned back when he boarded the plane back in DeeCee? A hundred what-ifs passed through his mind, before the sound of a throat clearing snapped him out of it. A middle aged ork was giving him a judgmental stare over the top of her glasses.
   “Your passport, herr.” She spoke with a thick German accent.
   “Right, sorry.” Michael chuckled nervously as he sent his passport over from his commlink to hers. There was an agonizing pause as her commlink mulled over his paperwork. There was a happy beep, and he relaxed. The ork smiled at him.
   “Welcome to Schwangau, Herr Quecksilber.”
   He grabbed his bag and hoofed it out of the airport, and over to the motel. He had no money left for a cab, so he had to make the trip on foot. He was slightly taken aback by how eclectic Schwangau looked. The new blended seamlessly with the old. Gleaming plasteel buildings intermixed with the old German architecture. The city’s citizens were a modge podge of every metatype, metavariant, and metasapient. Orks, Trolls, Elves, Human, Dwarves, Naga, Sasquatch, Changelings, and he even saw a troupe of four Nartaki juggling in the city square, with a free spirit off to the side breathing fire for the crowd’s amusement. He could see Neuschwanstein Castle sitting up on the hill, overlooking the city. He paused and stared for a moment. Harlequin was up there, he had to be.
   He made it to his hotel after walking for what felt like hours, which wasn’t far from the castle at all. He trudged up to his room after getting his key at the front desk. Already paid for, thank you Nadja. He tossed his bag to the side, and flopped down on the bed. His mind was racing again. Would Harlequin be willing to help him? He knew the damned elf would want something in return, but what? He glanced at his hand, and fiddled with his wedding ring. His jaw tightened. It didn’t matter what Harlequin wanted. All that mattered now was getting Susanna back, no matter the price. He sighed heavily and leaned his head back against the wall.
   The sound of someone pounding on his door snapped Michael awake. He blinked to clear his vision and reorient himself. He didn’t even remember falling asleep. He rolled out of bed, and tried to fix his messy black hair, to no avail. He peered out the peephole, and saw a hooded figure staring back at him. “Who is it?” He asked. His voice betrayed his nervousness.
   “Your contact.” A feminine and distinctly German voice replied coolly. He rushed to disengage the maglock and opened the door. The woman stepped inside, and motioned for him to close the door, which he did. She pulled her hood back, and Michael paled. It was the queen. Nadja had set up a meeting between him and the fragging queen!
   “Your majesty.” He wasn’t sure what the proper procedure was, so he simply bowed his head. The queen chuckled.
   “Please, it’s Maisie.” She sat in the cheap plastic chair in the corner of the room. “I have been told you wish to speak with Harlequin.”
   “Yes, desperately.”
   “Your friend, Nadja, left out why.”
   The wheels turned in Michael’s head, but he decided to be forthright. “Ghostwalker destroyed the drake sanctuary, wiped out most of Assets Inc. and has taken my wife hostage. I need Harlequin to get her back.”
   “I see.” She seemed to mull it over for a minute. “You know he’ll want something in return.”
   Michael nodded. “My wife will most likely be held close to Ghostwalker. Probably in his lair. If Harlequin helps me get her back, he’ll get the chance to poke around the lair of his mortal enemy.”
   “That is tempting.” Michael jumped as another elf appeared beside him. Without the face paint, he almost didn’t recognize him. “So, Ryan and Azadeh are dead.”
   “They died defending the drake sanctuary, along with most of the others. A few managed to escape, mostly women and children, but I don’t know if they made it far. I haven’t found a trace of any of them.”
   “How did you survive?”
   Michael pulled his shirt to the side, revealing a nasty scar on his chest. “I almost didn’t. I cast a hibernate spell at the last minute, and it slowed my heart rate down so I wouldn’t bleed out. Woke up the next day in the morgue.”
   “Made it easy to dump your old identity as well. As far as anyone knows, Michael Mercury is dead.” Maisie interjected. “You’ll need more than just Harlequin to rescue your wife. You need funding, supplies, and a damn good runner team. I can supply those things.”
   “For a price.” Michael finished her sentence. Maisie nodded.
   “There is an empty seat on the High Council that needs to be filled. I’m offering that seat to you. Promise me your loyalty, serve my kingdom as a member of the High Council, and I will help you get your wife back.”
   Michael was flabbergasted. A seat on the High Council? What was she playing at? He narrowed his eyes at her, and there it was. There was the slightest hint of fear in her gold eyes. Her kingdom, and her rule over it was still young and hadn’t yet solidified. She needed allies to cement her sovereignty. Even though the average person would have no idea who he is, the dragons and the immortal elves certainly would. Having the son of Ryan Mercury by her side would give her more political heft within those circles. She needed that heft desperately, and was willing to pay well for it. He smirked.
   “Alright, fine. I’ll serve on your High Council.” His face took on a darker expression. “But only if Susanna is found alive. If she’s been killed, then I have no more reason to stay here.”
   “That is fair.”
   “It’ll take a lot of luck to pull this off, but I think I know just the runner who can do it.” Harlequin piped up.
   “Oh?” Michael turned to look at him. “Who?”
   “A man known as Wild 7s. He’s a free drake, and is probably the luckiest bastard on the planet. He also has his own reasons for hating Ghostwalker.”
   “He’s not just lucky. He’s also clever, and very good at what he does. He’s been in the game for a long time. Longer than I’ve been alive, actually.” Maisie leaned back and crossed her legs. “I will have one of my Mr. Johnsons contact him.”
   Michael heaved a heavy sigh of relief, and sat on the end of the bed. For the first time in months, he felt hope again.
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: Dwagonzhan on <11-19-16/1756:57>
Welp. Time to write a heist against a dragon lair and make the shadows proud.
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-21-16/1649:25>
Welp. Time to write a heist against a dragon lair and make the shadows proud.

God's speed, my friend, and good luck. -tips cavalier hat and vanishes in a puff of silvery mist-
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-21-16/1946:49>
        Michael sat back in his chair and fumed. Months of planning had gone into this one heist, and she wasn’t even there. Susanna had been Ghostwalker’s prisoner for over a year at this point, and all he’d been able to recover is proof that she still lived.
   “So, what’s the plan now?” He asked without looking at the telecom screen.
   “We have one of Ghostwalker’s eggs. We’ve brought in the Sea Dragon to broker a hostage exchange. He gives us Susanna, we give him back the egg.” Harlequin replied with a hint of mischief in his voice. Michael raised an eyebrow and looked over at the screen. The elf’s smirk matched the tone of his voice.
   “You don’t plan on giving him the egg back at all, do you?”
   “How do you think we convinced the Sea Dragon to help us?”
   “Clever, but I doubt Ghostwalker will take that lying down.”
   “Certainly not, but the Sea Dragon’s involvement complicates matters for him. If he plays nice, then there’s a chance he can negotiate with her to get his egg back. If he doesn’t, he’ll never see it again.”
   Michael’s head spun. Draconic politics had that effect on most people. “Just get her back.”
   Harlequin’s face grew hard. “Michael, Ghostwalker killed my oldest and closest friend. I won’t let anything happen to your wife. I will get her back alive, even if only to spite him.” He nearly spat the last few words, and the telecom beeped off.
   He leaned back in his chair again and fiddled with the gold band on his left hand. He pulled it off, and read the Persian engraving on the inside edge. Ᾱtashé del-am, a phrase meaning “Fire of my heart”. Michael spoke, read, and wrote the language fluently, as it was his mother’s native tongue. Susanna had only just begun to learn before their wedding, and it was one of the first phrases he taught her. His mind jumped back to when they first met. He’d gotten into an argument with his dad, it seemed so pointless now, but he had stomped off with all of the annoyed rage that only a teenager can muster. He’d made his way to a nearby park, and sat on a park bench, glowering and resisting the urge to growl at passers-by. He had been staring at his feet when a small shadow fell over him. He looked up and saw a cute elf girl smiling at him, holding out a daisy. She looked to be about his age, and was well-dressed. He guessed her parents were reasonably wealthy, a corp kid perhaps?
        “Daisy?” She had a southern drawl, and her green eyes glittered with youthful innocence.
        “Uh, sure. Thanks.” He took the flower from her hands and twirled it between his fingers. He was surprised when she sat beside him.
        “What brings you out here?” She asked.
        “I could ask you the same thing. Corp kids don’t exactly fit in around here.” He grumbled. She scoffed, and hit him with the sleeve of her oversized pullover.
        “I am not a corp kid! My dad’s a doctor!”
        “Ok, ok, I’m sorry.” He couldn’t help but laugh. She was woefully innocent, probably sheltered by her parents.
        “I want to become a doctor too, but I’m not quite old enough to get into medical school yet. So,” She held up her basket of flowers. “I hand out daisies.”
        “That’s kinda weird.”
        “Not really. So many people live every day on the edge. Sometimes a kind smile or a pretty flower is all it takes to convince someone to take a step back from that edge.” She said it so matter-of-factly that it caught him off guard. Maybe she wasn’t so innocent after all. She smiled again, and spent the next few hours handing out her flowers. It didn’t take long for her sweetness to rub off on him, and he was soon helping her.
        “Name’s Michael, by the way. My friends call me Mike or Mickey.” No they didn’t. He stretched his arms out in a not-so-subtle attempt to flex his non-existent muscles and impress her. She gave him a sideways smirk that told him she saw through his bulldrek. Nice going, Casanova.
        “Nice to meet you, Michael. I’m Susanna.” The memory faded. He chuckled sadly, and put the ring back on.
        The hours ticked past at an agonizing pace, and he grew increasingly tense. Had something gone wrong? He perked up at a sound that drowned out the irritating ticks of the ancient grandfather clock, voices. He jumped up and peeked through the blinds, his heart jumped into his throat. He couldn’t make out what was being said, but he saw Harlequin pointing at the house where Michael was waiting for them. Running beside him was the drake, Wild 7s, and in the drake’s arms was Susanna. He ran downstairs and reached the lower landing just as they came through the front door. Wild 7s set Susanna down on her feet. She was dazed, and her wrists were bleeding from raw wounds left by some kind of restraint, but she was alive.
        “Dove…” After over a year, he could hardly believe it.
        “Michael?” She narrowed her eyes, as if she didn’t believe it was really him. Her voice was weak and hoarse.
        “It’s me, dove.” He held her wrists and healed them. She stared at them for a few moments, then looked up at her husband. Her face crumpled and her knees gave out from under her. He caught her and held her tightly while she sobbed into his chest. “It’s ok, it’s ok. You’re safe now.” He wiped her tears, and kissed the top of her head. “You’re safe.”
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: Dwagonzhan on <11-22-16/0528:01>
Wild 7s gave a curt, quick regard to Michael and Suzanna as he watched their reunion. He had a couple of important details to disclose to his client, including their extraction schedule and route for tomorrow, but opted instead to leave them to their moment. Retiring to a nearby room 7s removed his hazard vest, bow and quiver, reached into his overcoat's Faraday Pocket, fished out his commlink and thumbed it on.
His inbox displayed +5 messages with the 'Priority' tag. His runners, no doubt asking for their payment and debriefing.
"Load - Celia."
At the vocal command, a program loaded and automatically created an encrypted connection. When it finished, the commlink emitted a soft ping, awaiting audio sign-in.
"Call sign Arc Fortuna. Code. Echo-8-8-Charlie-Tango-1-Lima-3." A moment later, the commlink blinked back.  Login initiated. VERIFY BIO
He pressed his left thumb to a small matte device slotted into the bottom of his Hermes Cerberus. The signal quality was rather poor, and the encryption he was running didn't help the speed any.
After a minute or so, he finally logged onto his prime shadow account.

Finally, of all jobs they've done as my team, for once Shriekbat and Dr. C decide to be punctual. 7s thinks as he scrolls through the various notifications until finding Dr. Cauterize and Shriekbat.
He sighs for a second as he stares at Dr. C's new matrix avatar. Do I dare ask what the lemur is doing? Dr. C is the team's leader of sorts.
After hovering his thumb over Dr. C's contact button...7s reflexively dials Shriekbat, the team's Decker instead.

"Shriekbat here. Dr. C is lighting a firecracker under my arse about payment and props. You have an ETA on meetup?"
Punctual, AND professional? Surely these are interesting times.

"Sixteen hours from now at the Fonce' Mar'ee club in New Orleans. Ask for Alexander; he's a guy in a cool white suit. Play nice with him and y'all might even get dinner." 7's reply came in thick southern drawl.
The decker was not amused. "Real cute boss. You delivered the hostage alright?"
"She's a hostage no more Shriek, she's a-go'n home."
"Sweet. So uh, you 'a-coming' to pay us?"
"That's a negative Shriek. I have follow-up work to handle for my client, but your part is done. Alexander has your payment, plus a little extra for your material expenses."
"I hope that 'extra' starts at six figures. Cyber-6s don't just fall from the sky."
"No, but they can fall off trucks, specially' round the Fonce Mar'ee. They have good stock there, trust me."
"Right...are you sure you can't just pop in? Just to be safe."

"Shriek, you don't get far in our line of work doing things half-assed." 7s continued, letting his annoyance seep into his words. "Improvised? Yes, but never half-assed. I have contract obligations and that's that. If you're worried about getting paid, don't. Alex has your money, assuming her highness wired the funds."

"No boss, it's not the Nuyen." Here it comes. "Well...not just the Nuyen. it's just that Merl scored some really WEIRD drek in the lair and we figured someone like you would know what it is and how to fence it."
7s audibly sighed and rubbed his temple. They took loot and they don't even know what. His mind raced through the possible leads this gave their enemies. Material links and astral signatures, stealth RFID tags.
To-Go Box. They need a To-Go Box. Doesn't Merl have one?
"Shriek, I want you to ask Merl right this damn second, does he have a To-Go Box?"
"Uh...We didn't steal Ghostwalker's take-out."
7s ignored the snark. "A Biofiber box with a Faraday Mesh. Does he have one with him?"
"I'll get back to you about that." Shriekbat ended the call.

As he waited, Wild 7s turned his thoughts drifted back towards the mission. On one hand, he had every right to be proud. A successful extraction and negotiations with TWO Great Dragons.
That's a hell of a night for any Shadowrunner.
On the other...Sis..Eirika. Why?!
His commlink chimed with a call waiting, contact read "Merl". This time, when he answered, 7s spoke with his plain midwestern accent. "7s here. Please tell me I don't have to fly out to your safehouse."
Even through the fuzzy signal, 7s could make out the Texas Ork's wide toothy grin. "Rest your wings cousin, I packed two boxes and filled 'em with wyrm-loot. I've even got the boxes in a temporary lodge right now as insurance."
"I thought you had one...good. So, why scare the team?"
"Keeping them honest. That, and I wanted to know..."
"Know what?"
"Before we go completely off the grid here...I wanted to know If you were going to stick around in New Orleans as our fixer."

7s didn't have a good answer. The run had been successful, and yet he had failed. He slumped down on the couch as the bittersweet memory of the moment filled his mind.
What the hell did the dragon do to her? Why wouldn't she leave, come home with him?

"Hey. Boss? You alright?"

7s feigned a cough, but found himself choking up a bit. "...I..may have a better answer for you after I finish my remaining objectives here." A distraction, a welcome distraction. Anything else to focus on. "Client transport and escort, just in case Ghostwalker decides to renege or leak our whereabouts to other ne'er-do-wells."
"Client escort? You mean that Mercury guy?"
"Quecksilber, yes. He and his wife are going over seas. I'm taking them safely to their vessel."
"Where to?"
"Need to know Merl."
"Sorry. Right. But do let me know what you're planning once you get a secure line. I need to know what jobs you've got lined up after this." Is he joking? Does he not know what this job pays?
"Merl you should probably wait until you get your cut from Alex. It may change you mind about work entirely."
"Honestly? That's what I was afraid of." His grin had mostly disappeared. Of all the runners on that team, 7s had worked with Merl the longest by far. "Ah shit, you're actually getting out, aren't ya?"
"Merl, I never said that..." Technically true, but it was bullshit all the same. 7s had little more to gain from running short of maybe a swift death, and what he wanted was beyond the reach of all the Nuyen in the world.
Maybe it's best this way. Maybe she will be happiest this way.
"Man, looks like I'm not the only one getting teary-eyed. This is really happening." The ork chuckled and wiped his face. "Shit, I'm gonna lose my rep if Shriek sees this."
"..Huh??" The drake put a hand to his cheek and found a small trail, his hand shivered at the touch. "Heh..y-yeah, I guess so. It's kinda like graduation, only the final was a solid week of mortal peril and pissing off a dragon."
Merl let out a long hearty laugh and nodded. "I'd recite the creed and all but uh, we kinda DID make a deal with a dragon today...TWO of 'em. So I'll just say this: Take care, and good luck. It's been a helluva ride."
Without another word, Merl pitched a laggy salute and ended the call.

Wild 7s sat there, motionless, silent. Even as the last rays of the sun vanished behind the horizon, he did nothing but sit and ponder in the dark.
Where next? What next?...Another run? Another job?
No. This job was it. 7s had planned this job for years. Made contacts, established plants in Ghostwalker's ranks. Fed misinformation to the ZDF for over a solid year just to establish a solid cover for his runners.
He had one chance to pry his sister from the dragon's grasp, and when the opportunity came, everything went right...Everything, except the one way it could go irreparably sideways.
She didn't want to leave.

Eirika Elikson was now forever beyond his reach, entirely by her own choice. Not for any trickery or malice. But because she loved Ghostwalker. She loved him like a father.
Ghostwalker had stolen his only surviving family away from him, and did so by earning her trust.
And the most painful part? She was probably better off for it.

"So...What now?" All he had left was tomorrow's job. Wake up, get Mr. and Mrs. Quecksilber to their transport.
7s stood up, wiped his face clean and walked out to brief his client..
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: Adamo1618 on <11-25-16/1120:04>
Desolator, ready!
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-28-16/1948:27>
Desolator, ready!

Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <11-28-16/2006:44>
        Maisie swirled her goblet a few times before taking another sip. Alcohol had little effect on her, but she enjoyed the taste of wine and felt this was as good a reason as any to finally crack open her bottle of Alamestra. Crazy bastards had actually pulled it off, and had been paid well…very well. She hadn’t ever doubted them, but it was still a truly impressive feat. Susanna was on her way home. Her mouth twitched downward. According to Michael’s report, Susanna was in bad shape. Ghostwalker had seriously fucked her up. She would require years, if not decades of mental health care to piece her mind back together. She would need a safe place to heal. Maisie’s eyebrows shot up and she looked towards the mountains. Satellite imagery had shown an anomaly in the terrain between the two tallest mountain peaks. Surrounding the mountain was a constant fog. It wasn’t dangerous, but would play merry hob with magnetic and electronic instruments in a manner similar to the mist surrounding Tir na nOg.  She had been wanting to investigate the anomaly since she first moved into Neuschwanstein Castle. Well, now was as good a time as any. She finished off her drink and set the goblet on the glass top wrought iron table beside her.
   She stood and glanced over the edge of the balcony. Plenty of space. She shrugged off her robe and set it on the chair. The breeze felt cool on her bare skin as she stepped up onto the balcony wall. She felt her bones creak and shift into their new shapes, and black spotted white feathers erupted from her flesh as she tipped over the edge. She shrank in size, her mouth morphing into a hooked beak. Her fingers changed to primary flight feathers, and caught a thermal just above the trees. The updraft carried her higher and higher until the people in the castle courtyard looked smaller than insects. Maisie allowed herself a minute or two of aerial acrobatics before getting back to her original goal. She caught a tailwind and rode it to the edge of the mist where the breeze abruptly stopped. Even with the powerful wings of a Gyrfalcon, she struggled to stay aloft inside the mist. It was unnervingly calm here. She flapped her wings hard and managed to rise up above the fog where the breeze picked up again to carry her up and over the bizarre meteorological phenomena. The view took her breath away.
   The fog hid a lush valley. Far more so than one would expect to find here. It was also bigger than expected. A large spring fed a waterfall that filled a sizeable pool at the bottom of the valley. Deep green moss with tiny white flowers clung to the wet stones. Large tulips, crocuses, snowdrops, and daisies surrounded the pool and, surprisingly, deer grazed on the flowers and grass below her. She suspected some sort of hidden mountain pass allowed them to travel up here. Finding that pass and securing it would have to be a priority. It would take time, and careful work to build a sanctuary without damaging the purity of this place, but it could be done. She perched on a gnarled tree that was firmly rooted into the sheer white rock and overlooked the valley once more. It was perfect, and more importantly, it was safe. Not only for Susanna, but for the large number of free drakes seeking refuge in her small nation. A number which was slowly but steadily rising.
        Maisie inspected the fog in the astral, and would have scowled if her avian features had allowed it. It was an undulating, opaque mass which was impossible to see through. It rippled with blinking and swirling multi-colored lights like an astral rave party, and was mildly headache-inducing to look at. Further investigation to ensure the fog was safe would have to wait. Exploring it alone would be foolish, especially without any armor or her foci. Her complete lack of knowledge on the phenomena also kept her at bay until she was better equipped to sate her curiosity. Perhaps Harlequin would know more, but he was currently on the other side of the world, and she balked at the idea of inadvertently setting him off on another rambling tangent that would only answer her question in the vaguest sense. She perked up and took off back towards the castle with sudden urgency, being sure to avoid the fog this time. She had a flight to catch of the more mundane variety, and she was running late. She hoped the transport could still arrive on time, but she made a mental note to kick Wild 7s a little extra Nuyen for the inconvenience if she was late by more than a few minutes.
        Compared to the colder climate of her home, the heat here was downright oppressive. She had prepared for the warmer weather, but was still struggling to stay comfortable. Brisingamen sat heavily on her neck, but the yellow metal remained cool to the touch despite the heat. She could barely feel the weight of her diadem. An ornate piece of jewelry with twelve stars incorporated into the design. Each star held a different colored jewel, save for three that held black jewels. She glanced over at the heavily armored Thronwache beside her, and pitied him. If she was getting overheated in her flowy green dress, she could only imagine how he felt in his heavy mil-spec armor.
        “Joshua.” She knew all of her personal guards by name, and referred to them by those names unless circumstances demanded otherwise.
        “Ja, your majesty?” Despite his efforts to the contrary, the Fomorian’s voice betrayed his weariness.
        “Why don’t you head inside and cool off? I don’t want you getting sick from heat exhaustion.”
        “Of course.” The Draco Foundation had their own forces keeping watch for any trouble, so his presence was mostly for show anyway. Maisie watched her guard stomp heavily up into the modified t-bird. She looked back down the road leading up the hidden landing pad and saw the armored transport kicking up a cloud of dust as it approached.
        “Feckin’ finally!” Jack’s voice came over the outside speakers, and Maisie couldn’t help but smile. “Ya pulled me outta retirement to sit n’wait!”
        “Patience is a virtue, Uncle.” She looked over her shoulder to see him watching her through the bulletproof cockpit window.
        “Pog ma thoin, lass. I wanna fly!” She saw his stretch his arms out. “Like a bird! Like an overgrown metal bird capable of breaking the sound barrier in point six seconds.” His arms dropped. “So, not like a bird at all, really.”
        Maisie rolled her eyes and turned back towards the car. It had come to a stop, and Harlequin was the first to climb out. He took a cursory glance around, then was followed out by the others. She looked to Michael, who held Susanna close, supporting most of her weight. She looked even worse than her husband’s report had implied. “Ready to head home?”
        He nodded. “Yes, your majesty.”
        She nodded slightly in acknowledgement as they boarded the t-bird, then turned to the drake runner. “What about you?” She pointed a thumb over her should at the VTOL. “There’s room for one more, if you’re interested.”
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <12-10-16/1656:11>
        "My contract is fulfilled." 7s nodded, then jolted upright, struck with realization. "..Your, majesty." 7s eyes narrowed briefly. "But if you have an offer, I'm listening."
        Maisie chuckled. "I've been thinking about rebuilding a new drake sanctuary within Altarraum. I believe I may have found the perfect location, but it needs to be investigated more thoroughly before I can make a final decision on the matter. Nothing more than a simple surveying job with the possibility of needing to remove dangerous wildlife. If you're interested, I can explain further on the way." She started to turn away, but stopped and turned back. "Oh, I'm also offering you legal Altarraum citizenship and all of the benefits therein pertaining, if you want it. I feel you've earned the right to a life without worry of a great dragon's goons kicking in your door as you sleep."
        "You're offering a known career criminal amnesty? Very...proactive." 7s lowered his gaze before continuing. "It's unconventional, but I suppose unconventional has got me this far." He reached into his vest, and past his undercoat, and retrieved a small coin. "Call it right, and I call you my Queen."
        Maisie smiled. “Alright, I’ll play. Heads.”
        The drake runner let a wry grin cross his face as he flipped the coin skyward. Maisie caught a brief glimpse of the shimmering copper-gold object, and an eye-full of a narrow gold-green streak of light tracing from its point of origin as it raced upward and out of sight.
One...two...ten seconds passed. No 'ting', no 'tunk', no drop. The coin never landed.
        "How curious." A warm breeze blew by the Louisiana field. "Alright, I guess that settles that. Check your left palm." Wild 7s pointed to her hand. "...My Queen." He knelt down and bowed his head. "The one thing I've learned in all this is the nature of luck. You can't own it, or control it. It just comes and goes as it pleases. That's why no mortal will ever possess Luck. If anything, luck possesses us."
        "Oi!" Jack's voice came over the speakers again. "Get on the feckin' bird ya dozy twit!"
        Maisie waved him off and giggled. "That would be Jack, my uncle. Great pilot, but he's kind of...well."
        "Crazier than da Seelie Court!" Jack cackled. "Let's go lass!"
        "Seems like the sort I shouldn't keep waiting." The drake rose, and moved towards the open bay door of the T-Bird. "I have all I need on me. On your mark, your highness."
        Maisie eyed the coin in her hand and flipped it once before pocketing it. She waved her hand in a circle over her head. "Fire her up, Jack!" The engines whined to life as she boarded the craft. She plopped down in one of the plush seats between Harlequin and her guard, who had stripped off his armor and stowed it in a bin behind the pilot seat. The body suit he wore under the armor still offered a level of protection, but was much less oppressive.
        7s ducked the intake and found an open seat. He removed his collapsible-frame composite bow and quiver, and secured them in the overhead locker. As he strapped in for takeoff, his commlink chirped.
*1 NEW MESSAGE, PRIORITY* He thumbed the commlink open and steadied it against the rumble of takeoff.
'Hidden Blades, Re: Contract Terminated.
Your 'Plan-D' is officially gone as of today.
I don't know who talked you into it, but I'm most glad you finally decided to terminate your contingency hit.
A small line of takers were starting to ask unpleasant questions, particularly about the fickle nature of the contract.
Wherever you're going, or whatever you're doing, be well and look sharp.
~Ian Greene
P.S. If you're leaving the New Orleans scene proper (as I suspect), I some have contacts very interested in meeting you in Wales.
Yes, they're fellow Tir subjects but I know they're playing straight this time.
They want your insights on a certain type of Ritual Magic; said you would "know what they meant"?
Get back to me when you're on a secure node. The usual list, minus Cuba.
(That node has been compromised, much to my embarrassment)
P.S.S. Little Teraline says 'Hi!' and adores the bow you made her. She's already out-shooting thrice her age in competition.
Even I can't get you into the Tir proper with your current I.D. so I was thinking next time she's out of school, we could go on holiday somewhere else and meet up then? Again, Wales isn't so bad for that.
        7s smiled. Teraline would be turning 9 next year. He looked up and saw the Louisiana marsh line vanish into the lower frame of the window, the remainder filling with blue sky. He pocketed the commlink quickly, in preparation for acceleration. After a moment or two of thrumming the VTOL into position, the Thunderbird roared ahead full speed. 7s closed his eyes, letting the the G-force push him back into his seat as it accelerated up to cruising speed.
   “You’re Queen Margaret?” A shaky voice grabbed Maisie’s attention. “The one who bankrolled my rescue?”
   “I am.” Maisie replied to the waifish elf with a kindly, reassuring smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Susanna.”
   “Thank you, but why?” She tilted her head quizzically. “You’ve never met me before.”
   “Growing up, I watched a lot of good people die because no one was willing to help them. I always wanted to help, but never had the means. Now I do, so I am.”
   Susanna nodded weakly. “It’s sad that we live in a world where compassion is so rare, and even seen as silly.”
   Maisie’s smile broadened. “Well, I hope to fix that. Even if only in my little corner of the world.” Her smile vanished as alarms sounded from the cockpit.
   “We got company!” Jack bellowed.
   Maisie rushed to the front. “How many?”
   “Three banshees, lass! Closin’ in fast!”
   “Each carrying three true drakes, Dollmaker’s.” Harlequin stated, his gaze not breaking from the back of the t-bird. A grin abruptly spread across his face, and he looked at Maisie. “Want to see a neat trick?” He didn’t wait for a reply before vanishing.
   “Strap her in!” Maisie ordered Michael and threw open the door. She looked back just in time to see two metahumans fly out of one of the pursuing banshees and fall into the sea below. The banshee’s engines burst into flames, and Harlequin reappeared in the t-bird. Maisie watched the flaming craft crash down and flinched as bullets ricocheted off the t-bird’s armored hull inches from her.
   “Close that door!” Jack yelled. “Sit down and strap in!” More bullets struck the hull. Susanna cried out in fear and clung to her husband. Jack cursed in Gaelic and hit the brakes, sending everyone not strapped in flying towards the front. Their pursuers zipped past and Jack punched the accelerator. Once they were in range, he opened fire. Another banshee went down, and drakes flew out of the last remaining craft. One of them slammed into the side of the t-bird and punctured the armor with its claws. Susanna screamed and hunched forward. Blood dripped from the back of her head where a claw had clipped her. “For fook’s sake, sit!” This time they listened to him and strapped themselves down. Jack rolled the t-bird over and over until the drake finally let go with a furious scream, taking a chunk of the hull with it. It spiraled towards the water until a gaping maw leaped out of the water and snapped shut around it.
   The Sea Dragon shook her head and roared. The drakes pulled away in fear and retreated. A silver-green tail emerged from the water and swatted two more drakes out of the sky. She called after the fleeing drakes before diving back into the dark water. “Tell your master that he gave his word!”
   Able to finally move against the G-forces, 7s reached forward and pulled the hatch switch for the bay-door. His runner instincts were already working, the scent of blood hit his nostrils in seconds. "Everyone, body check and sit-rep!" he glanced around at the lot before snapping his Nightingale First Aid system up from his locker, locking it onto the gear-access-attachment on his forearm guards. He looked down the line to the rest of the back-seat crew before checking himself. "Not me this time." The drake's gaze turned to the claw-holes in the side of the T-bird, drawn by the hissing, whistling wind that had manifested once the door closed.
        "Pilot!" 7s blinked and corrected himself "Er…Jack! We have an armor breach back here. Damage control supplies, where are they?"
        "Behind the copilot's seat. No damage to the engines, small blessins. Anyone hurt?"
        He drew a deep breath. "Acknowledged. I'm whole here." He took another look around as he undid his harness, and began moving towards the supply hatch behind the co-pilot's seat. As he passed the various figures, his gaze settled on Michael and Susanna. The smell hit him strongest. "You folks alright?"
        Michael fussed over his crying wife and held his hand over her wound. "I'm fine, but she got clipped by a claw. Looks worse that it is, she'll be ok." His hand glowed a pale yellow and the injury healed.
        The drake nodded at Michael, before looking directly at Susanna. "Hey…" He leaned forward. "Stay with us Suzie. We're out of the worst of it. That white scaley bastard won't be getting any of us today." The last couple to check on his way up were the Immortal pair, and he was already certain the old ass elf required no such attention, but old habits demanded a full scan. The remaining passengers were the queen's personal guard; hardened soldiers. “Jeez. I probably seem like a coddling dolt to half the crew in here.” He thought. He suppressed a small chuckle and worked the release lever for the hatch. Within a minute, he had retrieved and was prepping several PIT-DENTA emergency patches, metal clamps and nano-metallic epoxy strips, taking care to work around the distraught singer of the south and her husband.
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <02-07-17/1915:48>
Maisie sat stiffly in her seat, grinding her teeth and wringing her hands in post-traumatic anxiety. She glanced around the cabin, wondering if anyone noticed. An arm draped over her shoulder and a sudden feeling of calm answered her question.
“Deep breaths, kid.” She heard her mentor’s voice in her head. He wasn’t looking at her, but was watching the older drake repair the ragged hole in the hull instead. She watched him for a moment longer before a realization came to her.
“Do you think he realizes that, with the old sanctuary gone, he’s now probably the oldest living non-indoctrinated drake?” She asked the old elf mentally.
“No, and it probably best not to tell him.” Maisie swore she heard a pang of remorse in his voice. “He’ll figure it out on his own.”
“Swan One to Heart of Gold, we are approaching your coordinates. We have sustained heavy damage and are transporting high-value cargo.” Jack spoke over the radio. The t-bird was rapidly approaching a massive ship on the horizon. “Requesting permission to land.”
“Roger that, Swan One.” A male voice with a slight German accent replied after a momentary pause. “You are cleared to land. Repair drones and medical personnel are on standby.”
Jack circled around the Mobius yacht to the helipad, landing as gently as the injured bird would allow and quickly shutting down the overheated engines. He lowered the rear hatch to allow the others to disembark while he finished powering the t-bird down. A dark-skinned ork with kind eyes that were just starting to show visible wrinkles greeted them on the pad with a friendly smile. She had been a crisis nurse at an Atlanta women’s center, which was exactly why Maisie had hired her. Susanna hesitated, giving the nurse a once over. Her tusks and teeth were yellowed slightly from years of copious soycaf consumption, and her thick, curly, black hair was speckled with flashes of silver. Her scrubs were bright blue with a teddy bear design, and a silver locket hung around her neck.
“It’s alright, darlin’. You’re safe here.” The sound of her southern accent was familiar to Susanna, and helped her relax. “My name’s Delilah, and I’m here to help. Is that alright?” Susanna nodded and Delilah draped her arm around the traumatized woman. She looked back to Michael. “You should come too. It’ll help to have someone she trusts.”
She led the couple down to the lower decks, part of which had been converted to a small hospital unit. The scent of medical grade disinfectants made Susanna feel oddly at home. Delilah walked ahead to a short cabinet and pulled out a hospital gown, setting it on the bed beside a folded white blanket. “Go ahead and get changed into this so I can take a better look at you. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She scurried out and shut the curtain behind her. Susanna didn’t move at first, just stared at the folded gown.
“I’ll leave if you want me to.” Michael suggested, turning away.
“No.” His wife reached out and grabbed his hand. Her voice trembled. “Please stay. I don’t want you to see what he did, but I don’t want to be alone either.”
“Ok…” He gave her hand an encouraging squeeze, and tried to force a smile. Her aura was a turbulent storm of sadness, trauma, fear, and grief. She was hurt in a way he couldn’t fix, and it ripped his heart out. “I’ll stay right here. Let’s get you changed.”
It only took a few minutes for her to change into the gown. Her sundress was nearly falling apart anyway, but Michael set it aside instead of tossing it in the trash. It took all of his willpower to not cry at the sight of her battered body. Scars covered her half-starved frame. Some looked like burns, as if a hot iron had been raked across her skin, while others looked like they had been put there by blades or claws. Some were fresh, while others had long healed. Her torso, arms, and legs were covered in bruises of varying ages, and the raw skin on her wrists still oozed slightly. Every fiber of his being wanted to heal her injuries, but they had to take pictures for evidence first. “Oh, dove…”
“We ready?” Delilah’s voice chirped from the other side of the curtain.
“Yea…” Susanna wrung the papery material of the gown between her fingers. She watched Delilah swoop in and scoop the sundress into a clear plastic bag marked with a bright red “EVIDENCE” label.
“Alright, hun. I’m going to start off by getting some vitals, ok?”
She nodded and held out her arm for the biomonitor cuff. “My dad was a doctor. I know how this all works.”
“Is that so? Well, then this should be easy!”
“Yea, Dr. Adamms.”
“Jeff Adams, from Atlanta?”
“Um, yea. How’d you know?”
“I did my clinicals at his practice way back in the day. Before you were born, I think. Either that or you were real young.” Delilah nodded up towards the stairwell. “I wonder if her majesty up top knew that when she hired me.”
“I’d bet money.” Michael replied. “Coincidences like that don’t just happen.”
Delilah picked up a different, larger device from the counter. “Alright, so this doohickey here is going to scan and record your injuries. Completely non-invasive, you won’t feel a thing.”
“Doohickey?” Michael raised an eyebrow.
“Yessir! This doohickey here is connected to that doodad over there,” She joked while pointing a thumb at the computer in the corner, bringing some much needed levity. “And it goes beep when there’s stuff. Clear as mud, right?”
Susanna giggled for the first time in months and laid back so the scanner could do its work. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Susanna…”
“What?” She opened her eyes and looked at her husband, who was watching the nurse.
“I thought I heard you say something.”
“Wasn’t me.” He squeezed her hand. “Try to relax. She’s almost done.”
She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath. “I see you, Susanna. You can’t hide from me.” This time she realized the voice was coming from inside her head. She jerked and looked around the room. Michael leaned over and smiled, but it looked wrong. The gunshot scar on his chest started bleeding profusely, pouring over her hand and the bed. His grin widened creepily. “I’ll kill them all for taking you from me.”
Her eyes darted over to the nurse, but she looked wrong too. Her skin was rotted, and maggots spilled from her empty eye sockets. Delilah looked at her and frowned. “What’s wrong, darlin?”
Susanna screamed, thrashing wildly and nearly kicking the nurse. “No, leave me alone!”
“Suzie!” Michael grabbed her wrists and held them to her chest to stop her flailing before she hurt herself. Her aura betrayed the telltale signs of ritual magic. Someone was casting an illusion on her, and a very powerful one. “Dove, snap out of it! It’s not real!”
She looked at him wide-eyed with terror and struggled to break free from his grip. “Please, please don’t hurt me! I don’t know anything!”
Michael’s attempts at counterspelling were utterly ineffective against the force of the illusion. He looked up at the frightened nurse. “This is Ghostwalker’s doing! Get Harlequin, he’s the only one who can stop this!” Delilah darted up the stairwell while he struggled to keep his wife restrained.
Tears rolled down his face as the biomonitor sounded several alarms, alerting him to the high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in her system. In her malnourished and battered condition, it was more than her heart could take, and the biomonitor flatlined. Her face blanched and she went abruptly limp. “Warning! Cardiac arrest!” The monitor spoke in a robotic monotone.
“Dove?” He shook her, to no avail. “No…no, no, no! Help!” Two other nurses in blue scrubs rushed in.
“Sir, I need you to step back.” One nurse guided him away from the bed and shut the curtain to block his view. Delilah ran past him to help with the code, and Harlequin skidded to a halt behind and slightly to the side of him.
“Was all of this for nothing?” Michael spat towards the old elf, who avoided eye contact and sighed heavily.
“I was worried about this…”
“About what?” Michael spun around and got in Harlequin’s face. “That Ghostwalker would literally scare my wife to death?”
“I got a pulse!” Delilah’s voice called out. Michael closed his eyes and inhaled sharply through his nose before continuing.
“If he can get to her here in the middle of the goddamn ocean, then he can get to her anywhere.” He stomped away, slamming his shoulder into the elf’s as he passed.
“No!” He snapped and turned around. “Just shut the fuck up, ok? That overgrown lizard has taken everything from me! My home, my family, my friends…everyone I ever cared about is gone! He even stole the woman I love away from me, leaving me with nothing but a broken shell, and has now made it clear that he can take that away too! He’s won, get it?” His voice cracked under the weight of his grief. He didn’t try to hold back the tears anymore, and they flowed freely down his face. “Ghostwalker has won.”
Harlequin let the man walk away. Michael didn’t know it, but the mad elf understood his pain all too well. The curtain snapped open, revealing a scowling Delilah. “How is she?”
“Barring any more incidents like that, she’ll live. I have her sedated for now.”
“Good, I’ll stay here just in case. Michael needs some space.” He sat beside Susanna and heard the unmistakable screech of a furious and bloodthirsty drake. He rested a hand on top of the sleeping woman’s, knowing her husband was about to do something extremely stupid. He leaned back in the chair and slipped out of his body, zipping towards a place he hadn’t dared step foot in for decades.
Michael caught a tailwind and rode it towards the Florida coast. His thought was that the surviving attackers would have to stop there to repair and refuel. As he approached the beach, he saw that his assumption was correct. He didn’t bother with an invisibility spell, he knew the drakes would see him anyway. He was outnumbered, outgunned, and didn’t give a shit. He glided headlong into the hail of gunfire and rained fire down on them, aiming for the surviving true drakes and their gunship.
Ghostwalker felt a familiar presence slip past his wards and growled. “Come to pick another fight?”
“No.” Harlequin was surprisingly calm. “I’m actually here to warn you.”
“Is that so? I’m not frightened of some young drake. He will either be indoctrinated or killed soon enough, just like the others.”
“That’s cold, even for you.”
“I have no more patience for those who refuse to accept their place in life. The drakes were created as servants.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is slaves.” A crimson thread of anger arced across Harlequin’s aura. “Do you know whose wife you just tried to murder?”
“Enlighten me.” There was sarcasm in the wyrm’s voice.
“That young drake is the son of Ryan Mercury.” He paused to gauge the dragon’s reaction, but there was none. He scowled. “He’s not exactly the type to roll over and take it, and you have imprisoned and tortured the only family he has left. You have sown the seeds of rebellion in him, like Alamais did in my kind so many millennia ago. You and I both know how that ended.” Finally, he was getting a rise out of the wizwyrm. He smirked crookedly. “You’ve started a war I can’t stop, even if I wanted to.”
“He would be a fool to fight me, just as you were.”
“You misjudge him, Dollmaker. Take his wife from him, and there will be nothing to hold back his thirst for your blood. It would behoove you to leave Susanna unmolested from now on. I mean, you wouldn’t want to lose another egg, would you?” Ghostwalker reared up in fury and unleashed a volley of spells at the impertinent immortal. By the time they hit their mark, Harlequin was long gone.
The painted elf slipped back into his body and heard muffled alarms blaring through the decks above him. He walked up to the top deck of the Heart of Gold, and barely avoided colliding with an airborne drone. Maisie was barking orders to her guards while the ship’s combat drones zipped off towards a pillar of smoke in the distance. “Whoa, what I miss?”
“It would appear as though the young Herr Mercury has gone a-snouting.” Her pronounced accent betrayed her stress at the not-entirely-unexpected turn of events. “I sent a spirit for recon, and it came back to say he’s picked a fight with Ghostie’s remaining true drakes.”
“Is he winning?” He joked. She replied with a sharp glare. “Alright, alright. I’m on it.” With a completely unnecessary snap of his fingers, he vanished. 
Title: Re: Mercury Rising
Post by: RowanTheFox on <02-19-17/1713:45>
        Michael kept his head on a constant swivel. The thermal smoke dropped by the drones obscured his sight, but also hid him from the slotted off Talons. Pain fueled his wrath, but his last remaining bit of common sense told him he had bitten off far more than he could chew. These Talons were true drakes, not bred ones like him. They were larger, stronger, tougher, and far more experienced in combat. He’d managed to land a few solid hits, but their armor was too thick for him to do much damage. He bled from a myriad of injuries, his wings were shredded, and his right eye was swollen shut. None of the wounds were deep, but they stung from the warm and salty sea air. Death by a thousand cuts. He snarled at a soft popping sound beside him and was knocked flat by a powerful blast spell. His doubled vision saw a set of anaconda skin boot clad feet come to a stop beside him.
   “That’s enough of that for one day.” The painted elf’s annoying voice chided him.
   “No, let me do this!” He jumped up and the sudden change of blood pressure made his head spin. He shifted back to human form and slumped to the ground. “You…bastard. Let me…do this…”
   Harlequin knelt down and put a hand on him. “No, not yet.” Michael’s world melted around him and faded to black. Reality reappeared and Michael found himself below deck in what looked like a brig. He could move, but his body punished him for trying. Harlequin opened a reinforced durasteel cell door and unceremoniously chucked the drake inside. “You can come out once you’ve calmed down.” With that, he slammed the door shut and locked it. He lowered the hatch on the small window and peered through. Michael could almost see his smug grin. “This cells was built to house beings far more dangerous than you, so I would advise against trying to break out. Sleep tight!” He snapped the hatch shut before Michael could reply and walked away, whistling.
   Michael worked up on last rush of energy and charged the door. He bounced off the unyielding metal and hit the equally unforgiving floor hard enough to knock the wind out of him. “You son of a bitch, let me out!” He could still smell the elf’s scent and hear his steady breathing through the thick durasteel door. The bastard was just standing there, waiting patiently. Michael’s anger ebbed slightly. “At least give me some damn clothes. It’s cold in here.”
   The slot in the door opened and Harlequin tossed in a set of medical scrubs before snapping the slot shut again. “I understand, you know. How it feels to watch someone you love suffer and not be able to do anything about it.”
   Michael paused for a second to process what the man had just said, then finished tightening the drawstring waistband. He grabbed the shirt and pulled it over his head. “What could you possibly know about that?”
   “More than anyone seems to think I do.” There was a hint of “how dare you?” in his voice. “Look, I get it. You’re hurt, you’re angry, and you want to lash out. You want to hurt Ghostwalker just as badly as he’s hurt the woman you love. It’s understandable, but it’s also stupid.”
   “That didn’t seem to stop you.”
   The slot snapped open again, this time more forcefully. Gold-flecked green eyes peered through with a glare that could petrify a basilisk, causing Michael to reflexively flinch. “That’s because, unlike you, I didn’t have anything to lose.” The slot clicked shut and the elf stomped away, muttering angrily under his breath in a language Michael didn’t understand. Harlequin skidded to a stop at the bottom of the stairs at the sight of a thin, pale figure limping down towards him. “Mrs. Mercury,” He acknowledged her with a hint of shock in his voice. He hadn’t expected her to wake so quickly, never mind be up and walking around. “You should be resting.”
        Susanna didn’t even glance at the motley elf as she shuffled wearily past him. He wasn’t sure if she even noticed him in her brutalized state. A condition that spurred a desperately codependent single-mindedness in her shattered psyche. The grey, woolen blanket draped over her shoulders seemed to weigh her down as she held it in place with an almost skeletal hand. She slumped soundlessly against the cell door with an expression of exhaustion and pain. Her green eyes were clouded and unfocused as her hand fumbled with the slot on the door. Michael’s hand reached through the opening. The tan skin granted to him by his mother’s Persian heritage seemed even darker in contrast to his wife’s translucent white skin. The half-dead elf smiled weakly at his touch, and clutched his hand as if she’d drift away if she dared let go. Tears dripped down her face as she opened her mouth and began to sing.
        Every flesh-and-blood person on board stopped to listen as an incomprehensibly beautiful sound drifted through the ship and brought most of them to tears. Even the bitter old clown was brought to his knees as memories of the songbird flashed though his mind to the tune of the hauntingly familiar melody. Her song faltered, replaced by a barely audible rasp of pain as her trembling legs finally gave out from under her. Harlequin lurched forward as if pulled by invisible strings and caught the unconscious woman before she smacked against the metal floor.
        “Dove!” Michael reached out through the opening, but was unable to reach her.
        “She’s alright.” Harlequin replied, carefully assensing her aura. She was injured and weak, but still very much alive. She was also completely mundane. She didn’t have a lick of magical talent in her, so how had she done that? How she have channeled her…unless…No, it couldn’t be, could it? He cradled her frail body and stood, looking at the young drake through the opening. “Listen to me very carefully, Michael. No matter what, no matter the cost, Susanna must live. Do you understand?” Silver-flecked blue eyes glared back at him with a flicker of confusion blending with the anger, but there was no reply. Harlequin turned away and carried Susanna back up to the medical bay.