They left a little after dawn the next morning. Gabriel drove, as neither Aubrey’s old truck nor Stone’s little convertible would accommodate the three of them comfortably. Aubrey watched with wary interest as the young man guided the expensive sports sedan with a sure hand and a high rate of speed through the early-morning M25 traffic. “I guess I never thought of dragons as...needing to drive,” he commented about halfway through the trip. He was still getting used to the whole idea, but at least he was trying.
“Did you think we flew everywhere?” Gabriel chuckled. “That would be a bit conspicuous, don’t you think?”
“Besides, that way they don’t get to tear around the countryside like speed demons,” Juliana added from the back seat.
They arrived at the Sheffield Psychiatric Hospital almost exactly at nine o’clock, which was when they opened for visitors. “Are you sure about this?” Aubrey asked Gabriel. They had discussed the plan on the way up, but the caretaker still had his reservations.
The young man nodded. “Don’t worry, Aubrey. Just do it the way we discussed and everything will be fine. The most important thing is that we don’t arouse suspicion.”
Aubrey nodded and followed the two of them out. He was dressed as he normally was when he visited Dr. Stone; Gabriel and Kestrel both wore business clothes, which had struck Aubrey as odd since neither of them had had luggage. He didn’t ask, though. Somehow in light of everything that had happened, it seemed a minor consideration.
The nurse at the front desk looked at the three of them a bit oddly when Aubrey introduced the two newcomers as “Dr. Gabriel and his assistant Ms. Harvath, from America,” but it wasn’t her place to question these things. She buzzed them in and they were then led by another nurse down the hallway and up to the third floor. “How is he today?” Aubrey asked the nurse, a burly, kind-faced young man named Mike. Aubrey had met him on his previous visit.
Mike sighed. “Same. He had another episode yesterday, but Dr. Overton got him calmed down. He made it through the night without another one.”
Aubrey nodded silently. When Mike unlocked the door, he stepped inside and then moved aside so Gabriel and Juliana could come in behind him.
Juliana suppressed a gasp when she got a look in the room. The man who sat in the far corner, his legs drawn up to his chin and his arms wrapped around them, barely looked like the same man as the flippant, self-assured Alastair Stone (or Winterhawk) that the two of them knew. He was dressed in soft cotton pants, pullover shirt (no buttons, belts, strings, or other potentially dangerous items) and soft-bottomed slippers. He was pale but clean-shaven; it looked like someone had attempted to put his hair into some semblance of order, but that order had long since departed. He rocked slightly, muttering to himself, and did not seem to notice his visitors. His eyes were closed.
“Oh my God...” Juliana whispered under her breath.
Aubrey nodded. “He’s been like that for two weeks now.”
Gabriel stood for a moment, head bowed, one fist clenched until his knuckles whitened, and then he took a deep breath and relaxed. He moved into the room slowly, making no sudden moves. “Dr. Stone,” he called gently. “Can you hear me?”
There was no response, except possibly a slight increase in the tempo of Stone’s rocking.
From the doorway, Aubrey watched warily. Mike took up a position in the opposite corner of the room, there if he was needed but unobtrusive otherwise.
“Dr. Stone?” Gabriel moved up next to Stone and crouched down, resting his elbows on his knees. “Please open your eyes. It’s Gabriel. I’ve come to help you.”
Suddenly Stone’s eyes flew open. Without warning he screamed in terror, shoving Gabriel so hard he fell backward, and then leaped up and flailed at something that none of the others could see.
Gabriel recovered his balance quickly as Mike hurried forward, pressing a button on his belt. “You’d better go,” he said urgently. “The doctor’ll be here in a minute to get him calmed down, but it’s not safe to be here right now.”
Aubrey and Juliana retreated to the doorway, but Gabriel did not. As Mike fought to physically restrain Stone without hurting him, Gabriel reached out and gently touched his forehead. Stone stopped in mid-scream and stared at Gabriel, then his expression grew placid again and he sank back down to his sitting position.
Mike glared at Gabriel. “What did you do to him?” he demanded. Without waiting for an answer, the nurse squatted down to examine the patient. When he looked up again, his eyes were wide. “He’s all right,” he said, unable to hide the incredulity in his voice. “Well, as all right as he’s been. But you—that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone stop one of those episodes.”
Aubrey stepped forward, relieved, and played his role. “That’s why I’ve brought Dr. Gabriel here from America,” he said firmly. “He’s got some magical techniques he thinks might work to help Dr. Stone, but he wanted to examine him first.”
At that point another figure swept through the door: a short, slightly plump dwarf woman in a white lab coat. “What’s going on here?” she demanded, looking at Stone before taking in his visitors. “Mike, you called—”
Mike nodded. “He was having an attack, Dr. Overton. But this man here—” he indicated Gabriel “—he did something to stop it.”
Overton’s gaze immediately swiveled around to Gabriel. She looked him up and down and then looked at Stone. “You did this?” Her manner was abrupt but her regard for her patient was evident.
“It would be difficult to explain,” Gabriel said softly. “It is a magical technique that I have developed, one that reaches into the deepest parts of the mind. It’s still in its experimental stages, but when Aubrey called me, I thought it might prove helpful in a case such as Dr. Stone’s.”
Overton studied him with suspicion, but the results did seem to bear out his words. She looked at Aubrey. “These are the Americans Jeannette mentioned?”
Aubrey nodded. “Dr. Gabriel would like the chance to examine Dr. Stone, if you don’t object.”
Overton sighed. “How can I object? So far nothing we have tried has been effective. Two weeks isn’t a long time, but we should have seen some results by now if our methods were working.” She looked very tired. “Perhaps another doctor, with a different approach—”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Aubrey knew why he liked Overton—because she was one of the rare highly skilled physicians he had ever met who placed the interests of her patients completely above her own ego. If what she was doing wasn’t working and someone else could help, she would step aside.
She sighed again. “Don’t thank me—I was about to call in some other specialists myself.” She looked at Gabriel. “What do you need?”
“I can do the examination in here,” he said quietly. “I just need some time alone with him. You can watch from outside if you like, but don’t let him know you are there.”
Again Overton looked suspicious, but his last comment calmed her fears. “All right. We’ll wait outside, then.”
Aubrey looked back and forth between Overton and Gabriel—between the skilled doctor who was all but admitting failure and the unknown quantity who could well possess enough power to help where no one else could...if he could be trusted. With a last look back over his shoulder and a silent prayer that he was doing the right thing, he followed the others out of the room.
When they were alone, Gabriel studied Stone for a moment, then gently took his arm and helped him up, leading him over to a soft chair. Stone went along docilely, allowing Gabriel to sit him down and make him comfortable. “I’m sorry, Dr. Stone,” he said to himself, his eyes very sad. “I’m sorry you had to go through this. Believe me, had I known sooner I would have been here.” But it was too late for that now. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to Stone’s chair and reached out a hand to touch the mage’s forehead. He shifted to mental communication. “Dr. Stone? Can you hear me? It is Gabriel.”
There was no reply except for a slight agitation in Stone’s mind.
Gabriel abandoned communication for the moment and instead concentrated on discovering what had invaded Stone’s mind so he could block it. At least he had some idea of what he was looking for.
It turned out that if he had not, he never would have found it. As he probed, careful to go lightly, to calm Stone’s growing agitation at each step, he began to see familiar patterns deep in the mage’s mind. He shifted his perceptions once more, allowing himself to see through Stone’s eyes, to perceive what he perceived. The results caused him to stiffen in revulsion and shock.
No wonder Stone had gone mad! Using the mage’s vision, Gabriel looked around the room. Every inch of it seemed to be alive with something hideous. The bed oozed with bloody white maggots; rivers of blood ran down from the walls; the chair he sat in was a creature of some sort, soft and yielding, pulsating with power; the trideo unit, safely behind an unbreakable plastic screen and powered off, showed visions of unspeakable tortures; the door was veined and throbbing as if something large was attempting to get in. As Gabriel took in these sights and realized that they had become Stone’s world, suddenly the wall erupted across from them with a spray of gore and a sinewy, blood-streaked tentacle popped out, lashing at Stone with a lamprey-like mouth. Stone’s agitation immediately spiked higher—he struggled, thrashing left and right, a scream rising in his throat—
“Be calm, my friend,” Gabriel spoke softly, insistently in his mind, weaving powerful magic to block the horrible visions. “Be calm. You will be well soon.”
He repeated it like a mantra, his voice soothing and gentle, until once again Stone calmed down. He took a deep breath. Already he knew that he was not strong enough to completely drive the foreign influences from Stone’s mind here. There would need to be a ritual, which meant they would have to get Stone out of here, and soon. The longer those influences had to take root in his mind, the smaller his chances were of being able to counteract them and expel them.
Concentrating on strengthening the magic he was using to temporarily block the assault on Stone, Gabriel reached out to him again. “Dr. Stone, please listen to me...All will be well, but you must let me reach you...”
From outside, four faces watched through the small cutout in the door. Juliana’s face showed calm confidence; Aubrey’s, fear; Dr. Overton’s, sharp curiosity; Mike’s, worry. They all watched as Gabriel sat down next to Stone and, aside from touching his forehead, appeared to do nothing else. They watched as Stone built up to another episode, and they watched as he calmed down again before the episode took hold. Still, Gabriel did nothing—he did not move or speak. The only thing they noticed was the look of shock that crossed his features at one point before the episode arose.
“He’s doing something,” Dr. Overton murmured. “I can sense the magic. But it’s like no other magic I’ve ever seen before.”
Aubrey hoped so. He repeated his prayer and continued to watch, holding his breath.
“Dr. Stone, can you hear me? I know you’re in there. I know you’re hiding. But I am not your enemy. You recognize my voice, don’t you? It is Gabriel. I am here to help you.”
“Please, Doctor...Alastair. Listen to me. The things that were disturbing you have been blocked for now. They won’t bother you again as long as I am here. But you must help me. I can’t reach you if you don’t help me.”
It was a small voice, soft and fearful, like that of a child who had been punished too many times and was afraid to trust.
“Alastair? Is that you? Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, Alastair. It is Gabriel. I’m here to help you. Kestrel is here too, and Aubrey. We all want to help you. Can you come out now?”
“The bad things are gone now. I’ve stopped them. But you’ll have to help me stop them permanently. Can you do that for me?”
“You need to come back to us. We have to take you away from here, back to your home. But you have to show them that you’re ready to go.”
“Home, Alastair. Back with Aubrey and Maya, who miss you. They want you to be well. I do too. Can you help us make you well?”
“...they’re...everywhere...Won’t go away...”
“I promise, Alastair—I’ll keep them away. You don’t have to hide anymore. You did a good job of hiding—of protecting yourself so they didn’t take over. But now you have to come out, or we can’t help you. Will you do that?”
“...Promise...? No more...things?”
“No more things. I give you my word. I will do everything I can to help you, but I can’t do it alone. Will you help me?”
There was a very long pause. When the mental voice spoke again, it was stronger. “I will help you.”
Outside, Aubrey’s eyes widened as Gabriel stood and put his hand on Stone’s shoulder. After a moment, Stone also stood. Together they came to the door.
Tentatively, Dr. Overton opened it, with Mike right next to her in case there was trouble. She looked questioningly at Gabriel.
It was, however, Stone who spoke. His voice was soft, infinitely weary, but unquestionably sane. “I think...I am...ready to leave here, Doctor.”
After that, it took about an hour to do all the paperwork, but there was no significant objection to Stone’s leaving. Aubrey took care of most of the details, saving all the things Stone had to sign for last. He still wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do, but so far it looked better than anything else. He was beginning to suspect that this mysterious young man (this mysterious dragon, he reminded himself) was his employer’s only real hope of making it out of this with his sanity intact.
Gabriel and Juliana sat quietly, one on either side of Stone. The mage had not said anything beyond short, simple answers to questions since he and Gabriel had emerged from the room. His gaze roamed edgily around Dr. Overton’s waiting area, obviously not recognizing anything about his surroundings. “He seems... better...” Aubrey had said carefully to Gabriel at one point during the paperwork, “but—are you sure he’s...well?”
Gabriel shook his head. “No. He’s not well yet. But we must get him out of here before I can begin the next stage. I don’t think even a dedicated staff of physicians like this would look kindly on the sort of ritual I’ll need to set up.”
Aubrey had taken a deep, slightly shuddering breath, and let it go at that.
When they left Sheffield Psychiatric Hospital, everything had been taken care of so there would be no suspicion. Stone would return home for a few days, and then be flown to another private hospital located outside Boston, where Dr. Gabriel and his assistant would continue pursuing his experimental course of treatment. During the hour when the papers were being signed, Juliana had disappeared for awhile to make some arrangements with some decker friends; any inquiries directed at the hospital in question (which did not exist) would be politely dealt with and promptly lost in red tape.
Juliana drove now as they headed back toward Stone Manor; Stone sat in the middle of the wide back seat, with Aubrey on one side and Gabriel on the other. Gabriel seemed somewhat tired and preoccupied as if he was concentrating hard on something, so Aubrey did not bother him. Stone, for his part, was silent but calm. He did not seem inclined to talk, but at least he appeared to have the delusional episodes under control.
When they drew up in front of the wrought-iron gates that led to the Manor, Stone snapped out of his lethargy for a moment, smiling at the sight. He looked right and left, noticing his companions. “Aubrey...”
Aubrey smiled. “Hello, sir. It’s good to see you’re feeling better.”
Stone nodded vaguely, though it was not clear whether he had heard the caretaker’s words. He turned the other way and seemed surprised. “Gabriel? What...are you doing here?” Once more he didn’t wait for an answer; his gaze wandered off again.
When they were inside (with Stone being supported by Aubrey and Juliana as they ascended the steps to the front door), Aubrey wanted to immediately hustle his employer off to a warm bed with some soup and hot tea, but Gabriel vetoed the idea. The concentration was taking a lot out of him, it appeared; he looked more tired than before. “No. We must begin the ritual. I cannot hold the spell I have on Dr. Stone forever, and without further preparations, he can’t leave my presence or it will fail and we will be right back where we started—or worse.” He sighed. “I won’t be able to do the full ritual now—it’s too dangerous, and too likely that someone will notice.”
Juliana looked at him questioningly. “You aren’t going to—make him better now?”
“Better, yes. Functional...but there will be more that needs to be done, once we return home.”
“Home?” Aubrey looked indignant. “Wait a minute—he is home. You’re not going to take him away, are you? He should stay here, where he can be taken care of—”
“That will be Dr. Stone’s decision,” Gabriel said softly. “Not mine.”
Aubrey sighed. “He’s in no shape to make such a decision—”
“He will be.” Gabriel gave him an encouraging look. “Aubrey, please. I know this isn’t easy for you. It isn’t easy for any of us. I wish we didn’t have to do this. But the situation has been taken out of our hands.” He looked over at the area of the main hall, where he had changed to his true form the previous night, as Maya padded from wherever she had been hiding and alternated her gaze between him and Stone. “May I use this?”
For a moment Aubrey was confused, then he nodded reluctantly. “Of course. If there’s anything you need—”
“No...just time. This will take awhile. If you’re hungry, this might be a good time to eat something.”
The caretaker nodded even more reluctantly. “All right. I think we could all do with a bit to eat. I’ll see to it.” With a quick worried glance at Stone, he left for the kitchen.
“Okay, so what aren’t you saying here?” Kestrel asked Gabriel after Aubrey had left. “Why can’t you do the whole ritual now?”
Gabriel answered as he paced around the hall, measuring and noting the positions of its various sides. “Somehow the Enemy has reached his mind, as it did mine. The manifestation is different, obviously, but the signs are there. Every time I use magic, I increase the chance that they will notice us and take further action before we are prepared.”
“So you’re telling me you can’t use magic?” That would be very bad.
“No. Just that I cannot use powerful magic, except under carefully controlled circumstances, without taking a risk. It is the same reason I can’t summon elementals to search for people—any astral contact is dangerous.”
“So what are you going to do now?”
Gabriel paused, pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket (Kestrel didn’t even ask him where he’d gotten it) and marked some figures on the gray stone floor tiles, then moved on. “This ritual is to strengthen the spell I cast earlier, to block out the Enemy’s influence on Dr. Stone’s mind. Later on, when we’re back at my lair, I can shield us well enough that I can finish driving them out of his mind completely.”
Kestrel looked at Stone sitting in his chair, staring at the embers of last night’s fire. “Is he going to be like that? Like a zombie, until you get him home?”
Gabriel shook his head. “No. This ritual should impede enough of the influence that he should be back to fairly close to normal. I can also block the worst of what he experienced, so he won’t remember everything. He should be all right.”
“What...did he experience?” Kestrel’s voice was soft; she was thinking about Gabriel’s own episodes, especially the last one at the lair.
“Hallucinations.” Gabriel marked another spot on the floor and continued. “Bad ones. Constant. It’s a wonder they didn’t drive him mad before this.”
Kestrel took a deep breath. “I don’t mind admitting I’m a little scared here, Gabriel.”
“So am I, Juliana,” came his soft answer. “We will do what we can do. I hope it will be enough.”
By the time Aubrey returned carrying a tray heaped with sandwich fixings and pitchers of water and juice, Gabriel had chalked up almost the entire floor of the main hall. Aubrey stopped, careful not to step on anything, and studied the intricate drawings. He looked over at Stone, who still sat where he had been before. He too was looking at the circle. Maya was padding precisely around the perimeter of it, never touching, but never far away.
Gabriel and Juliana were on the other side of the room, conferring. They both looked up as Aubrey came in. “Are you—done?” the caretaker asked.
“Yes.” Gabriel indicated the circle. “I’m ready to begin now.”
“Will you have something to eat first?”
He shook his head. “No, thank you. I’ll eat afterward. You and Juliana are free to do whatever you like, as long as you don’t touch the circle. I’ll need Dr. Stone’s participation.”
“How long...do you expect it will take?”
Gabriel looked at the circle for a moment and sighed. “There’s no way to be certain, but I would estimate two or three hours. This is only a fraction of the full ritual.”
Aubrey took a deep breath. It was clear on his face that he didn’t like this, not one bit. The main hall of Stone Manor was not the place for dragon rituals and extraplanar madness. It was also clear that he knew he didn’t have any other option. He moved over to the other side of the room next to Juliana, set the tray down, and watched.
The actual ritual was not very exciting. There were no glowing sigils or multicolored shafts of light or luminescent magical haze—there was just Stone, floating suspended over the center of the circle, and Gabriel, standing next to him, deep in concentration. The two of them remained in those positions for the entire course of the procedure; the only sign that anything was happening was the look of increasing fatigue on Gabriel’s face as time went on. Aubrey was surprised to see the sweat standing out on the young man’s brow—he had always thought of dragons as somehow possessed of enough power to effortlessly do anything they put their minds to. The fact that they apparently had limitations too (albeit on a far higher level than mere humans) both comforted and frightened Aubrey. But he continued to stare, alternating his gaze between Gabriel and Stone, as the ritual progressed.
And then, with no fanfare, it was over. Gabriel backed off a bit, let his breath out slowly, and lowered Stone to the floor. “Dr. Stone?” he called softly. “Are you back with us?”
On the floor, Stone’s eyes opened. He blinked a couple of times, as if coming out of a long sleep, and looked around. “G...Gabriel?” he asked uncertainly. “What—are you doing here? And why am I on the floor?”
Aubrey, weak with relief, slumped into the nearest chair. Juliana hurried over to the edge of the circle.
Gabriel reached down to give Stone a hand up. His breath was still coming fast, his face pale and glistening from his effort, but he looked pleased. “That is a long story, Dr. Stone. How do you feel?”
Stone slowly rose, holding tight to Gabriel’s arm, and took stock of his status. “Ghastly,” he finally admitted. “But somehow I think I shouldn’t worry too much about that, should I?”
Gabriel didn’t answer, but Maya did: ignoring the circle, she hurried over and twined herself around Stone’s ankles, purring happily. Stone didn’t think he had ever seen her looking more delighted.
It wasn’t until later that night when Stone, Gabriel, and Kestrel were safely on the private jet Gabriel had chartered to get them back to Seattle that Stone finally got the whole story of what had happened. They had bade goodbye to Aubrey and Maya earlier in the day; the caretaker had been reluctant to let Stone out of his sight now that he seemed to finally be well again, but Stone had been adamant once Gabriel had explained enough to convince him that the process wasn’t yet finished and couldn’t be until they got back home. They had said their goodbyes while Gabriel made arrangements for transportation. On the way out the door, Aubrey had pulled Gabriel aside for a moment.
“I don’t know how I can ever thank you for what you’ve done,” he said, his eyes glittering with unshed tears. “If you hadn’t come, he—”
Gabriel shook his head. “There is no need, Aubrey. Part of this was my fault. I had to do this. I told you, Dr. Stone is a good friend.”
Aubrey nodded. “I know, sir. But still—” He looked down at Maya, once again attached to Gabriel’s ankles as if she sensed he wouldn’t be there much longer. “Take care. All of you.”
“We will.” Gabriel crouched to give Maya a last scratch behind the ears. For a moment they appeared to be communicating, and then he rose, smiling. “I’ll do my best,” he said to her aloud. And then he was gone with the rest.
“So,” Stone said when they were on the plane, leaned back in sumptuous leather seats and watching the darkness speed by outside the tiny windows, “Now what? This isn’t over, is it? I’ve a feeling it won’t even be over after you’ve finished your spell on me.”
He had listened quietly as Gabriel had explained to him what had happened, his eyes widening with incredulity as the story got more fantastic. He remembered everything up to the last day, the one when he had lost it at the seminar. Beyond that was fuzzy due to Gabriel’s spell, so he had to rely on the two of them to fill in the blanks. After that, he had been very subdued, thinking over what he had been told. This was the first time he had spoken in several minutes.
Gabriel sighed. “I don’t think so,” he admitted. “If this has affected you, then it has probably affected the others as well. We will have to find them and do what we can for them.”
“The others?” Stone gripped the arms of his seat and leaned forward. “You think they’re going through the same sort of thing?”
The young man took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t know. I suspect they’re probably suffering from some sort of manifestation of this. Whether it is the same as yours—” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Things were coming back to Stone now. “Gabriel...the one thing you haven’t told me yet—I don’t know whether you’re avoiding it or you don’t know, but—what caused this? How did you know to come for me?” There was an odd tone in his voice, as if he already knew the answer and wasn’t sure he wanted it confirmed for him.
Gabriel bowed his head.
“It’s the Horrors again, isn’t it?” Stone leaned forward a bit more, lowering his voice to a murmur.
The young man didn’t answer; he didn’t have to.
Stone let his breath out slowly. “All right...” he said with measured care, “Why don’t you tell me the rest of the story? I think I’ll be needing to know it since it looks like I’m right in the middle of this with you.”
Gabriel was looking very desolate. Kestrel put a gentle hand on his shoulder; he covered it with his own. With eerie calm, he told Stone the part he had not yet told him—what had happened in Switzerland followed by the events that had occurred at his lair up to the point when he healed Kestrel of the injuries he had caused.
Stone stared at him. “So then—after you realized that the Horrors—or at least some subset of them—were looking for you again, you thought p’raps you might not be the only one they were after?”
Gabriel nodded. “Kestrel tried to reach you and the others, and had no success. We decided we should return and find out what was happening. I had hoped it would be nothing—that all would be well.” He sighed.
Stone considered that for a few moments, leaning back in his seat. “So what now? Do you know where the others are? Do you know if they’re all right?”
Gabriel shook his head. “No. That is why we’re going back. The ritual I have performed on you should keep the Enemy’s influence at bay long enough for us to locate the others, and then we will return to my lair for the final ritual. I would prefer to do that one only once, as it is very long and draining. I have already taken too many chances that the Enemy will notice us, and I will have to take more before we are done.”
“You used magic to find me, didn’t you?” Stone leaned forward. “You’re saying that every time you do, the Horrors might notice?”
Gabriel nodded to the last part of his question. “I didn’t use magic to find you, and I don’t plan to for the others.”
“Then—how did you find me? I didn’t think Kestrel had my number in England. Ocelot does, but I didn’t think you found him yet.”
Gabriel didn’t look like he was happy about what he was going to say. “I found you through Harry. He told me how to reach you.”
“Harry?” Stone’s eyes narrowed. “How did you manage that? I’d have thought Harry would keep that sort of information a bit more to himself. Not that I mind your knowing, Gabriel, since I know there’s nowhere I could go to hide from you anyway, but I’d like to think that he isn’t passing on my personal data to anyone with a few nuyen.”
Gabriel shook his head, looking even less happy about the whole thing. “That wasn’t what happened. He was very reluctant to reveal anything about you or any of the others. To get the information I had to give him something he wanted very badly.”
“What?” Stone leaned forward a little more.
“I had to tell him who I am.”
Stone stared at him, stunned. “You mean, you told him you were—”
The mage blew air through his teeth. “I see.”
The young man lowered his head. “Somehow, in light of all that has happened in the last few months, my—masquerade doesn’t seem as important as it did before. If it takes revealing what I am to make this right, then it is the least I can do.”
“Gabriel...this isn’t your fault,” Stone said quietly. “You didn’t ask for this any more than the rest of us did. I think the best thing for us now is to find the others quickly and then go from there. Did you get anything else from Harry?”
When Gabriel didn’t answer, Kestrel shook her head. “He didn’t know where the rest were when we left, except that Ocelot might be in CalFree, Joe is probably somewhere near Seattle, and ‘Wraith went to New York.”
Stone nodded. “That sounds about right. Ocelot goes to San Francisco, although I’m not sure exactly where. I might be able to help find Joe. ‘Wraith, I’ve no idea about.”
“Harry said he would continue checking while Kestrel and I were gone,” Gabriel said, raising his head. “I promised to keep him apprised of what we’ve found out.”
Once again Stone leaned forward. “You didn’t tell him about—?”
“About the Enemy?” Gabriel shook his head. “No. I told him I thought you might be in serious trouble. Once I revealed my true nature to him, he didn’t ask any more questions about what sort of danger that might be.”
Stone chuckled mirthlessly. “Yes, I can see that. Harry might be more curious than I am, but he’s not a fool.” He paused a moment. “I suppose it wouldn’t be wise for me to do anything magical either, would it?”
“No.” Gabriel looked out the window for a moment and then back at Stone. “Simple combat spells and such should be all right if necessary, but anything involving placing your mind in direct contact with the astral plane—projection, ritual sorcery, even perception—is dangerous.” His expression grew very serious. “I don’t want to frighten you, Dr. Stone, but your mind’s hold on sanity is very tenuous right now, irrespective of the likelihood that the Enemy might notice what you are attempting. If I were you, I would be very careful.”
Stone’s expression mirrored Gabriel’s. “Don’t worry, my friend,” he said softly. “I’ve grown rather fond of my sanity, such as it is, over the years. I will indeed be careful.” After a pause, he added, “If we’re going back to Seattle, probably best if you don’t call me Dr. Stone anymore.”
Gabriel nodded. “Right.” He looked at the clock in the plane’s cabin. “You should probably get some rest—it will be several hours before we land. We’ll talk to Harry and depending on what he finds out, we’ll make our decision. I hope that perhaps the others aren’t affected—you, as a mage, would be by far the most susceptible of the four of you to the Enemy’s influence.”
“You’re a real comfort, Gabriel,” Stone said half-teasingly, half-sourly. “Let’s just hope you’re right. It will make things a lot easier.”
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.