Women of Fire

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« on: <03-16-12/1920:39> »
This was originally part of an idea and storyline that I wanted to pitch as part of The Twilight Horizon, but it didn't seem to get any interest among the others and I never got to work on the book, but I feel comfortable posting this now that the book has been published.

   Synthia sat in the “Railroad” McHugh’s that sits at the junction of I-40 and I-15 sipping her coffee and appreciating the custom-made noise-cancellation earbuds a client gave her as she listened to music on her commlink. It was early as fuck in the morning/predawn and there was a car load of tourist kids running around like maniacs while their parents, dead tired from driving all night tried to caffeinate themselves enough to make it to Fun City by dawn. It was bad enough that the cheap hoodie she wore to throw attention off of her appearance had slipped off to reveal her hair as its bioluminescence shifted from a light pink glow to pitch black as the kids approached her. It wasn’t enough that her Glamour ability attracted unwanted attention, but kids tended to have zero self-control in responding to her ability’s effects. At least they couldn’t see her reflective silvery eyes behind her shades.

   It was only by some unseen grace that she also drew the attention of a group of off-duty SecForce soldiers who shooed the kids away as they sat down at the table next to her. She smiled at them as she readjusted the hoodie back over her head before looking back down at her dataslate. She had thanked them and waved off further inquiries with a suggestion that she was unavailable, hoping that they were more concerned with their own nonsense coming off-duty than to bother her. But the fact that she wasn’t really a part of their clique emboldened the tourist kids, and hence her appreciation for the earbuds.

   A few minutes passed with nothing really happening when her expected visitor arrived. She was a tall Persian elf whose striking green eyes could be seen from several meters away as she walked into the dining room. Like Synthia she was clad in exceedingly casual attire; specifically, a high-end velour track suit plastered with an intricate design that would only be recognizable upon first glance by people in Steve Ridgemont’s closest social circle, handmade by a hot-shit Hub artist who happened to be a free plant spirit. Her commlink broadcasted the SIN and identity of a woman named Farah Tafti. Synthia knew her as Firebird, a free fire spirit and a DIA spy.

   As Firebird took a seat between Synthia and the soldiers, she looked over to them and said hello in English, Spanish and Tewa. She’d been a combat support spirit for a UCAS Army mage for decades and continued to work alongside soldiers and other military personnel for the fifteen years since her summoner was killed on a mission inside Chicago. She loved uniformed personnel, and even though she spent a great deal of time with officers and civilians, she had come to feel a kinship with the enlisted.

   “Sorry I took so long. There was a bit of a snarl on the way over.” Synthia smiled at what could only be one Hell of a euphemism since she arrived via metaplanar travel. She could have waited for the spirit to materialize inside her car as she waited, but she couldn’t bear the idea of waiting in the car after driving from Ontario so she had come inside, leaving the commlink in the car for when Firebird did appear.

   “Well as long as you made it here safely. We’re going to be late if we don’t get going, though.”

   Firebird nodded, and within seconds both of the women were almost to the car. It was a sturdy all-wheel drive SUV. Synthia activated a self-executing agent that hacked into the rental car as soon as she left the lot so that as far as the company was concerned she was headed to Baker, which necessitated the all-wheel drive given the poor state of the roads up there. In reality, the women were headed for a rendezvous with a group of Anasazi shamans out in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

   Both women drove in silence. It wasn’t that they didn’t have any business to catch up on, but they knew that once they made it out of Barstow and the combined military presence of the PCC, several megacorps and mercenary units that the shamans would have them under surveillance. Sure enough, the glow leeches lit up like Christmas when the first watchers entered the passenger compartment. They could pretend that they didn’t notice and probably sell it to the watchers, but there was no point in doing so. The shamans already knew that they were into some shady shit with a couple of mercenary spirit wranglers. To pretend they didn’t expect or notice the watchers would have just been insulting.

   While the autopilot approached the preset coordinates near Ubehebe Crater, Synthia did consider the cover one more time; how she had been introduced to Farah through Omar al-Masri, whose father Mohammed is the leader of the Kharijite terror network. Synthia had been working with Evan Corcoran, an influential local businessman who also happened to be inhabited by the most powerful master shedim in DeeCee (North America, in fact). Farah was a Hamburg-based expert brought by Corcoran as an independent appraiser of the deal with Ms. Schroeder. Synthia had let it be known she was working alongside Farah, and that prompted the attention of the shamans. Farah Tafti had a run-in with a spirit in Kibera who had gone to fight alongside the native spirits there against the corporations before returning to Ubehebe. These shamans wanted Synthia to connect them with her in order to curry favor with the spirit, especially since they had little luck themselves after Halley’s Comet passed in calming the spirits down themselves.

   David was the first. He stood right up against the spirit, feeling the ambient heat coming off the stone façade of its form, reflecting its hot-tempered nature, especially towards humanity. Beads of sweat began to form under his arms and groin, where the joints pressed skin against itself as he stood at rest. More began to bead along his hairline. The heat emanating off of the spirit increased in intensity in a symbiotic relationship that increased the amount of sweat coming off of David. His breathing grew shallow even though he wasn’t actually breathing at all. Firebird stood just beyond arm’s length, and as they performed their ritual the fire in her eyes grew with increasing intensity of movement and brightness. David became light-headed, but felt a warm feeling of ecstasy as well that increased as his sweating increased. Drops of sweat collected and then fell into space to hover between them. It pooled into small blobs. He grew increasingly warm himself, feeling a bond form between himself and the spirit, making him feel good even as he was giving up a part of himself. The sweat created sheen soaked his entire body, and droplets pooling into one increasingly larger single blob of water that finally grazed against his chest and the rock face of the spirit’s form.

   Firebird stepped in, placing a hand on each of the figures—on David’s shoulder and on a pointed corner of the spirit’s rock face. The heat from the spirit diminished, and the man’s sweating stopped. David stepped back, dizzy and head swimming from the experience. He felt lighter; looked lighter; was weaker by any sense of his being. All of that work that he had done to become a better fighter over the last three months was gone. He would feel slower, physically and mentally. The blob of sweat was slowly pulled into the rock face, creating an ever-growing dark spot where it would pool and then absorb into the spirit’s body. Once it was fully absorbed, the dark spot remained; about the size of a basketball.

   Firebird pulled then pushed David further away from the spirit, and looked at the blank rock face of the now more powerful spirit, her hand remaining on the pointed outcropping. She closed her eyes, and dust and pebbles fell onto the back of her palm and arm. They melted on contact with her skin, disappearing into the ether before anyone else could notice.

   Shawntel took David’s place as he wandered back into the black tunnel, slowly feeling his way and bracing his weakened self as he sought the cavern entrance. Back in the cave, the young ork girl walked up to the spirit. Unlike the man before her, her aura manifested on this plane as a pixyish sprite who released dust that reflected her mental image of the granular form of being that composed her growth and being. The dist spread across the spirit’s rock façade to create a blanket over the spirit’s body until Firebird stopped the ritual. The blanket enveloped the spirit like a layer of snow, or more apt to the surroundings, volcanic ash. As the girl walked back from the spirit, the liquid from her predecessor leeched out of the rock face to create a mud which quickly hardened to increase the size of the spirit by about two inches. Again, no one noticed that Firebird was still in contact with the spirit and that some of that mud spread across and into her form.

   Finally, the last Anasazi shaman approached the spirit within his domain. This shaman, appearing as a fearsome-looking dwarf warrior-mage, unleashed a primal scream as pictograms burned outwards from his aura’s flesh and through his “clothing” in bright crimson, creating glowing glyphs which reflected the magical knowledge and martial traditions which formed the core of his being and identity. He pressed his hands to each of the glyphs burning from his astral form, and laid his hands onto the rock façade, leaving a bloody glyph on the spirit with each touch. He continued to place these glyphs on the spirit’s form until it produced a pictographic story of the trials and events of his life which were now being contributed forever into this spirit.

   Once the last ritual was complete, Firebird conversed with the spirit silently before -turning to speak with the Anasazi shaman team leader. She summoned him over to the spirit, and he stood before the rock face as the other shamans had done.

   “Place your hands against the rock,” she commanded. The shaman complied, and he immediately felt a surge of energy course through him from his hands to his core. He saw and felt and knew about the Earth Plane as the spirit imparted to him knowledge of magical essence in the Earth and an understanding of geomancy and how magic moved and pooled through the surface of the planet. When the spirit was done, the shaman staggered away, his mind awash in his newly-granted knowledge of the higher paths of geomantic magic.

   Sitting in the parking lot of a convenience store just inside the San Bernardino city limits the two women looked around at the vehicles in the lot. The Anasazi didn’t send watchers after them on the way back from Ubehebe, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t other forms of surveillance that they had to watch for. Once they were sure that no one had followed them or was watching them, they were confident in communicating.

   “Everything went according to plan. I appreciate your assistance, counselor. The payment has been delivered to the usual account.”

   “Excellent. And the other business?”

   “Oh, yes. My contact in the Justice Department has agreed to the plea agreement. It’s a lucky thing that he happened to know something that would otherwise fall under attorney-client confidentiality.”

   “Indeed. You can never tell what kind of information a thief will come across.”

   “Indeed.” Firebird unclipped her commlink, and turned it off. “Anyway, here’s this. It was a pleasure doing business with you again.”

   “Same here… ‘Farah.’” Synthia smiled at the joke as Firebird faded out of existence on the material plane.

   Firebird sat in what seemed to be a modernist bar, except that everyone else in the bar was an avian spirit. They were either man-sized birds or birdmen or something uncategorized. A murder of man-sized crows in one corner squawked incessantly amongst themselves while a pair of humanoid thunderbirds chatted on the other side of her. Across from her sat the spirit she had dealt with at Ubehebe. He had taken on a more anthropomorphic form, and stared warily at the murder of crows as they looked back at him with their cold, black eyes.

   “How do you get a pass here? I always heard that strangers to the Aerie get ripped apart within moments, and frankly I’d just as soon not be taken apart and used as nesting.”

   “You’re a tool.” The spirit looked at her coldly, not sure if that was a joke or if she was serious.

   “No, really. What gives.”

   “What gives is that I put you into a whole new stratum of power within your little clique.”

   “From what you didn’t take for yourself.”

   “You knew the terms when we agreed to that deal.”

   “If you say so. I’m pretty sure you were skimming extra.”

   “I wouldn’t even be involved if you all hadn’t gotten bent out of shape after the comet passed.”

   “Whatever. We have our reasons.”

   “So I hear. But that’s not what I want to hear now.”

   “Rain.” Firebird said nothing. She simply stared the spirit down and waited for him to continue.

   “He was born near the locus of the Earth and Water poles, coming from within the great serpentine river that runs along the axis and through both realms. Those spirits are an interesting bunch. They take a long perspective that reflects the interplay of earth and water shaping each other, and most of them have been around for centuries—including your friend Rain. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of positive regard for humans, which is why he’s been tasked to exploit them. Rio. Denver. Kilimanjaro. He’s waged war on them just about any chance he could get. So whatever he’s doing, consider this context. He has an agenda, and it’s not in humanity’s interest.”

   “I was afraid of that. Who is he serving? I cannot seem to figure that out.”

   “I have no idea. He disappears into the deistic planes to escape watchers. There are spirits who have it in for him for bad dealings, old grudges, and shit like that. He’s made enemies in his time. However, someone powerful is backing him. That is for certain. And I mean powerful. I think it may even be a Totem or, worst-case, an Abstract.”


   “I’ll keep looking.”

   “For what I’m giving you now, you better be. These desert-dwellers think something’s changed, and it’ll work out to all of our benefit so long as I see the value in letting it continue.”

Firebird paused, and looked over at the crows. Some of the younger males were getting aggressive and vocal at their presence. Even though she was given a pass to travel through the Aerie alone thanks to a deal she made with the spirits who controlled this space, there was always the chance that something might arise.

   “Let’s go,” she said. “We’ll discuss this again later.”
« Last Edit: <03-19-12/0720:37> by James Meiers »


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« Reply #1 on: <03-16-12/2114:28> »
Nice piece, shame it didn't make it into the book. Where would it have been? Is this the same Synthia from Artifacts Unbound?
REJOICE! For bad things are about to happen.
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« Reply #2 on: <03-16-12/2207:04> »
Yes, it's the same Synthia.

I wanted a much more substantial section on the Mojave than what's in "Vegas, Baby." It would have gone before that.


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« Reply #3 on: <03-18-12/1724:29> »
oh man that story rocks, dude
May god grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the firepower to make the difference.

Suicide is never the answer, now homicide on the other hand, that has posibilities.

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« Reply #4 on: <03-18-12/2109:14> »


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« Reply #5 on: <03-19-12/0651:31> »
Really nice story

Deplore killings made in the name of religion. Can't it just be for fun?