It was already dark by the time they got back. When they started getting close to Seattle, Ocelot pulled out his portable phone and called Harry.
This time, though, the fixer hadn’t managed to pull any rabbits out of any hats while they’d been gone. “No luck yet,” he said. He sounded frustrated. This was supposed to be what he was good at, but yet he was still without results. “About the closest I’ve managed to get is that I’m about 90% sure he’s in Manhattan—or at least he was a couple of weeks ago. I managed to find some guys who’d seen him, or somebody who looks a hell of a lot like him, but they didn’t know where he went. He sighed. “Sorry, kid. I’ll keep lookin’, but so far no dice.”
Ocelot thanked Harry and hung up. He looked at the others; the frustration in his eyes mirrored Harry’s. “So what the hell do we do now? Sit around and wait for Harry to turn something?” His tone of voice suggested that was the last thing he wanted to do—and could probably not be persuaded to do it even if the team thought it was a good idea.
“I don’t think we can afford to do that,” Winterhawk said slowly. “From all our experiences, this doesn’t seem to get any better as time goes on. Who knows what might happen if we wait too long?”
“We can’t wait too long.” Gabriel’s soft voice spoke from the driver’s seat, startling everyone. He hadn’t said a word the entire trip back.
The others turned to look at him, really noticing for the first time in awhile how tired he looked. “What do you mean, we can’t?” Joe asked.
Gabriel shook his head. “The ritual I cast over the three of you, the one blocking the Enemy’s influence, requires me to devote a certain amount of my concentration to maintaining and monitoring its effectiveness. A small amount, to be sure, but as more of you are protected by it, that small amount becomes more significant. I cannot maintain that focus indefinitely. If we don’t find him soon, we have two options.” He paused a moment, then continued. “I can perform the more permanent ritual on the three of you without ‘Wraith, or we can attempt to use some sort of magical means to locate him.”
Winterhawk was looking at him, a very sober expression on his face. “And the implications?” He sounded like he already knew the answer, but wanted to hear it anyway.
Gabriel sighed, brushing his hair back off his forehead. “The implications of either are potentially not pleasant. If ‘Wraith has been affected by the Enemy’s influence, which he almost certainly has, then there will be a point after which there won’t be anything I can do about it.” He regarded Winterhawk for a moment before turning back to the road. “We had almost reached that point with you, since as a mage you were more susceptible to the influences. If we reach it with ‘Wraith—”
“You won’t be able to bring him back,” Joe finished.
Gabriel nodded reluctantly.
“And what about the other?” Kestrel asked.
“If I attempt to use magical means to search for him, it leaves me open to allowing the Enemy to—” He let that trail off.
“—to get hold of you again.” Ocelot shook his head. “That’s not an option. If they get you again, we’re all fucked. There’s no way we can fight you.”
“And no way to ensure that what happened after I—hurt Kestrel will happen again and allow me to block it.” Gabriel’s voice was very soft, very weary.
“What about me?” Winterhawk asked suddenly.
Gabriel shot him a questioning look.
“Could I do it? With you to watch over me, to block anything that tried to attack me, would it be possible?”
For several moments Gabriel didn’t answer. He concentrated on the road ahead, staring far off into the distance. “It would be dangerous,” he said at last.
“I know that,” ‘Hawk said. His tone was sober. “That’s not what I asked.”
“‘Hawk, don’t be an idiot.” Ocelot leaned over the seats to get a better angle on the conversation. “We’re not gonna be any better off if you let the Horrors make you crazy again.”
Gabriel spoke as if Ocelot had not. “If it were quick, I think I could shield you well enough to prevent them from detecting the attempt.” He sighed. “But I don’t know, and it’s not a risk I want to take.”
“It’s a risk we have to take,” Winterhawk pointed out. “If we’re to get him back, we’ll need to do something soon. You said that yourself. I’m willing to take the chance—to trust your judgment that you can keep the Horrors from attacking me again.” He turned slightly in his chair, facing Gabriel. “Besides, I think it can be done with a watcher spirit. That’s safer than my actually searching for him astrally, isn’t it?”
Gabriel nodded. “It is—but there is still the risk of the path back to you from the spirit. The longer it takes the spirit to find him—”
“—the more danger I’ll be in.” Winterhawk nodded impatiently. “I know that. But what other choice do we have? We don’t know any other mages or shamans who know him well enough to describe him sufficiently to allow a watcher to find him. I don’t even think Trixy knows him that well—even if I wanted to bring her into this, which I don’t.”
Again Gabriel was silent. The other occupants of the vehicle also remained quiet. They all knew how potentially disastrous this course of action could be, but they also knew that if they were to have any hope of getting ‘Wraith back, they would have to do something. Finally Gabriel sighed. “Let me think about it until we get back,” he said softly. “I want to make sure I consider all the implications before I agree to it.”
Nobody argued with that.
When they reached Seattle, their first stop was Joe’s place. Jake and the other gang members were glad to see him, though he had to put up with some good-natured ribbing about the state of his clothes. The others waited in the common room for him while he showered, changed clothes, and packed up what he would need. When he returned downstairs, he had his duffel bag and his axe with him; he reclaimed his spear from Winterhawk, with whom he’d left it for safekeeping. Gabriel had spent the half an hour or so they had been waiting staring out one of the windows, deep in thought. His friends had left him alone.
“So,” Winterhawk said when they got back to the truck, “have you decided?”
Gabriel nodded. He studied the mage for a moment, his eyes serious. “If you are willing to take the chance, then I will do everything I can to protect you.”
Kestrel, from the other side, looked at him in sympathy. She, more than any of the others, knew how hard it had been for him to say that. She knew he wanted to do it himself, but the danger was too great—Winterhawk didn’t have the power to protect him, but Gabriel had the power to protect Winterhawk. Even so, she knew he wasn’t certain this was true; she could see it in his eyes. His agreement might end up sentencing a friend to irrevocable madness. She climbed into the shotgun seat next to Gabriel and touched his arm gently. He covered her hand with his own for a second or two, and then the others were inside and they were driving back toward the heart of Seattle.
The summoning would take place at Gabriel’s Downtown apartment, as the magical protections were strongest there. The actual deed didn’t take long at all—Winterhawk had summoned hundreds of watcher spirits in his magical career. Gabriel watched him intently (as did the others) as he visualized the necessary formula that brought the shimmering little spirit into being and gave it a mental impression of ‘Wraith. “Find him, then come back and show me where he is,” the mage told it. He supplemented the impression with one of the New York City area, telling the spirit to start there and work its way outward if necessary.
When he finished, he slumped back on the couch. The effort had not tired him: summoning a watcher was one of the simplest of magical techniques. However, the knowledge still remained that they weren’t out of danger until the little spirit returned. “Well, that’s done,” he said, forcing himself to sound brisk even though he knew his friends could see the tension in his face. “Now we wait.”
“How long?” Ocelot asked.
‘Hawk shrugged. “I put a bit of power into it, so we’ve got four or five hours. I figured if it finds him quickly that’s best, but I wanted to give it some time in case things took longer.”
“So—” Joe said slowly, “We’ve got four or five hours to wait while we worry about something following the link from the spirit back to you?”
Winterhawk nodded. “Looks that way, doesn’t it?” He took a deep breath and got up, his body like a tensed spring.
“You should try to get some sleep,” Gabriel told the others. “If the spirit finds ‘Wraith we’ll have to leave again quickly.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Kestrel asked.
Gabriel shook his head. “All there is to do now is wait.”
She nodded and headed for one of the other couches. Like any longtime shadowrunner she knew the value of grabbing catnaps when she could.
Ocelot was tired too but he knew there was no chance he would sleep now, so he paced. So did Winterhawk, for whom sleep was the last thing on his mind. Joe, who was the only one of the group who was well rested, sat down on another couch and kept alternating worried glances between Winterhawk and Gabriel.
Gabriel, for his part, merely remained seated in his soft leather chair. His eyes were closed, but nobody believed he was asleep.
An hour passed with no word from the spirit. Kestrel woke up from her nap feeling refreshed; after a whispered conversation with Ocelot she retrieved a big towel from the bathroom and a pair of scissors from Joe and, sitting Ocelot down on the towel, spent the next half hour making his newly shortened hair look like a haircut instead of the aftermath of several crazed weasels attacking his head. When she finished she was pleased with the results: she wasn’t exactly skilled in this area, but anything would have been an improvement.
Winterhawk had grown tired of pacing and settled back down in his original position on the couch, but he still didn’t look relaxed. Gabriel hadn’t moved. Joe had gone over to one of the room’s enormous floor-to-ceiling windows and was taking in the skyline.
Suddenly both Gabriel and Winterhawk stiffened at the same time. Winterhawk gave a slight gasp, his eyes widening as he sat bolt upright on the couch.
Ocelot was instantly alert. “Oh, shit—” he whispered, he and Kestrel moving as one from where they had been talking on the other side of the room. Joe joined them quickly, his eyes full of concern.
Neither of the two subjects of their attention seemed to notice them. Gabriel had leaped up from his chair and moved over next to Winterhawk, clamping his hand over the mage’s forehead. His jaw was tight with tension, his eyes closed. Both he and ‘Hawk were trembling.
The little drama didn’t last long: only about five minutes had passed before Winterhawk let his breath out and fell back against the cushions and Gabriel dropped to his knees in front of the couch, his head bowed. When he looked up at the observers, they got a brief impression of his eyes changing from the slitted pupils of the dragon to their normal human appearance. Both he and Winterhawk were pale.
“What—happened?” Joe ventured, hauling Gabriel gently up and helping him sit down next to Winterhawk.
“Something attacked, didn’t it?” Ocelot asked, even though he already knew the answer.
Gabriel nodded wearily, brushing a damp lock of hair off his forehead. “The spirit returned...but it had something else with it when it came.”
Winterhawk brought both hands up and scrubbed at his face. His breath was still coming fast; as he got it under control he looked up at his friends. “I felt it again,” he said, his voice faint and fearful. “The madness. I felt it trying to reach me again.” He lowered his head, shuddering. “I can’t—I—”
Gabriel put a gentle hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him even though the fear had not completely left his own eyes.
“Did you find ‘Wraith?” Ocelot demanded. As he said it he realized it might sound harsh, but he knew that if they hadn’t found the elf, all of this had been for nothing.
With effort, Winterhawk raised his head again and made a small gesture. Instantly the little shimmering form reappeared in front of him. Closing his eyes, he was silent for several moments and then the form disappeared. It was hard to tell, but it appeared that even the spirit was a little shaky. “He’s in New York, all right,” he said. He looked at Gabriel. “Did you get that?”
The young man nodded. “I think we can find him, but we must go now.”
“Wait a minute,” Ocelot protested. “What just happened there?”
Gabriel was already getting up. “Something—undoubtedly the Enemy—attached itself to the spirit and, just as we feared, followed the link back to Winterhawk. I was able to stop it and free the spirit, but the Enemy is getting bolder. Once we have ‘Wraith back, I think we must go on the offensive.”
“Go after the Horrors?” Ocelot’s eyes narrowed. “Are you crazy? They almost trashed us, drove us all nuts, and you want to go after them?”
“Do you want them to keep coming after us?” Joe asked quietly. “I sure don’t.”
“Yes, well,” Winterhawk said, slowly getting to his feet, “why don’t we take this one step at a time, shall we? Let’s get ‘Wraith back first, and then we can decide where to go from there.”
Kestrel nodded. She looked at Gabriel, who didn’t answer. She wondered if it was because he had nothing to say or because he was afraid to share what he already knew to be true.
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.