Manhattan was not lovely this time of year. Not even at mid-day.
It was a little after noon when the oversized cab/shuttle bearing Winterhawk, Ocelot, Joe, Kestrel, and Gabriel rolled into Manhattan and headed toward ‘Wraith’s last known location. The air was heavy and damp, the sky choked by grayish-yellowish clouds. A faint faraway stench of decay hung in the air.
The five passengers were mostly silent, each content for the moment with the company of his or her own thoughts. They had arrived an hour ago in a small plane Harry had procured for them—they wouldn’t have been able to get out as fast as they had if the fixer hadn’t been able to arrange both the plane and the private airfield where they had landed. It had meant that the trip had taken longer than if they had taken a commercial plane, but it had also given them all time to grab a badly-needed rest during the trip. At the end of the four-hour flight they all felt refreshed enough to face the day, albeit still more than a bit apprehensive.
Harry had also arranged transportation for them in the form of a taxicab that looked more like a cross between a sport-ute and a minivan. The driver, a genial ork named Tony, was a rigger who did freelance work for Harry sometimes, and the armored cab was disguised to look like one of the ubiquitous fleet that cruised around shuttling Manhattanites from Point A to Point B and back again.
Tony had seemed a bit surprised when he saw his odd collection of passengers, but he didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he had just enquired, “Where to, chummers?” Oddly, he didn’t seem nearly as surprised to find out that they weren’t quite sure exactly where they wanted to go.
“We’ll know it when we see it,” Winterhawk had told him, and Tony had merely nodded.
“You got it. Just sing out if you see anything you like.” He climbed in after the passengers had settled themselves and began driving. All he had to go on was the brief description ‘Hawk and Gabriel had given him of a rather rundown-looking building surrounded by what looked like a marginal neighborhood.
“You think we’re gonna find it?” Ocelot asked, his tone dubious as he looked out the window at block after block of rundown-looking buildings in marginal neighborhoods. “It could be anywhere.”
“Well—we do know the general area,” ‘Hawk reminded him. “And we know it’s a place with a fair number of people—a place that feels relatively pleasant.” He’d managed to get that much before things had gone south with the watcher spirit. They had gotten a map and used some of the astral landmarks the mage had remembered to narrow the area down to about a fifteen-square-block area in one of the declining parts of the city.
“If he’s even still there by now,” Joe pointed out. “He could have moved.”
“Yeah,” Kestrel agreed, “but if this is all we have to go on, we have to investigate. If we get to what we think is the right area, we can ask around and see if anybody’s seen him.”
Ocelot nodded. “It ain’t great, but if it’s all we’ve got to go on I guess we’re stuck.”
The mode of operation was the same each time: Tony would prowl up and down each of the streets in the fifteen-block area designated on the map, then find a place to park (legally or otherwise) and let his passengers out to begin their investigation. They would fan out, question a few of the locals, and examine the homes and businesses in the vicinity for anything that looked like the place ‘Hawk and Gabriel had described.
They had completed eight blocks in one direction by the time the sky began to grow dim, and so far had come up with no likely places and no locals who had seen anyone who looked like ‘Wraith. The elf’s description was rendered more problematic by the fact that, as an albino, he usually preferred to wear some sort of makeup to hide his condition, but that makeup varied according to what ‘Wraith wanted to look like. Sometimes he disguised himself as an Aztlaner, occasionally as an African, and sometimes as a Caucasian. They did the best they could, but they were all becoming discouraged as they re-convened back at the car. “Anything?” Ocelot asked.
Joe shook his head. “I didn’t see anything.”
The others nodded in agreement. “Do we want to keep going tonight?” Winterhawk asked. “Or should we try to find a place to stay and pick up again in the morning?”
“I think we should keep going,” Kestrel said. “The longer we wait, the more likely it’ll be that he’ll move and we won’t be able to find him at all.”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, I agree.” He looked at Gabriel questioningly.
The young man also nodded. “Yes. We should keep going before the impressions fade.” He had a rather tense, driven look in his eyes.
“Okay, then.” Ocelot motioned toward the cab. “Let’s go.”
The ninth block began an area that was a bit different from the previous eight. Of most of the blocks they had already searched, the buildings were primarily residential—apartment buildings, decaying townhouses, rooming houses—with only a few business interspersed between them. The ninth block looked like the beginning of a more commercial area, dominated by small shops and bars with fewer residences. By this time of the night, most of the businesses were closed. “This shouldn’t take long,” Ocelot observed. “Nobody much to talk to.”
Nonetheless, the runners repeated their process: Gabriel and Kestrel went off in one direction, Ocelot and Winterhawk in another, and Joe by himself in a third. They had their small radio transceivers with them so they could keep in contact in case something should happen, but up until now all they had done was inform each other that they hadn’t found anything.
After half an hour, Winterhawk and Ocelot had had no luck at all. They had seen a few people, but no one who recognized their description of ‘Wraith, and most of them were reluctant to talk to strangers, especially after dark. They were about to pack it in and head back when the radio crackled in their ears.
“Hey, guys—” came Joe’s voice through the tiny earpiece. He sounded excited. “I think I’ve got something.”
Everyone else quickly reconvened at Joe’s location to find the troll in conversation with another troll, this one shorter and older than he was. Joe grinned as his companions approached. “This is Rufus. He says he might have seen our friend.”
Rufus nodded. He was dressed in a Jets sweatshirt and had an easygoing, roll-with-the-punches kind of expression. “Yeah. Maybe so.”
“Can you describe him?” Winterhawk asked quickly. “I mean—what was he wearing? What color was his hair?”
Rufus thought that over. “Well...the guy I seen was kinda weird-lookin’. Real pale skin, light color hair. You know—really light. I didn’t see him up close or nothin’, though. He was wearin’ reg’lar clothes—jeans, shirt, you know.”
Ocelot nodded. He too was getting excited—it certainly sounded like there was a good possibility that Rufus had seen ‘Wraith, which meant it was their first solid lead all night. “Where’d you see him? How long ago?”
“It’s been a week or so. I guess I just ‘member him ‘cause I saw him talkin’ to Alfonso. Me and Alfonso, we sometimes hang around together. One time we—”
“And where did you see him?” Gabriel asked, gently cutting him off before he could get up a full head of steam. “Was it near here?”
“Yeah.” Rufus didn’t seem to mind being denied the opportunity to tell his tale. “Somewhere by here. Don’t ‘member exactly, though.” He brightened. “Ya know—you should ask Alfonso. He’d know, if he was talkin’ to him.”
“Where’s Alfonso?” Joe asked. “You know where he lives, Rufus?”
The troll nodded. “Sure. He lives over on Bleecker. At the shelter. He kinda helps look after ‘em—you know, keeps ‘em safe—and they give him a place to stay.”
Kestrel checked her map. “Bleecker Street. That’s the next one over.” She smiled at Rufus. “Thanks. You’ve helped us out a lot.”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, you bet you have.”
“Let’s get going,” Ocelot broke in. “It’s not gettin’ any earlier, and if we don’t get there sooner they’re all gonna be in bed.”
“Uh—” Rufus spoke up, tentatively trying to get their attention, sensing correctly that he was no longer their focus now that he had delivered his information.
Joe turned back to him. “Yeah, Rufus?”
“You guys—uh—that is—you wouldn’t have a little money for a meal or nothin’, wouldya?” He sounded almost fearful to be asking.
Joe gave the others a ‘let me handle this’ look and dug in his pocket. “Sure, Rufus. You helped us—only fair we help you.” He handed the troll a small sheaf of the low-denomination bills he carried. “This do?”
Rufus’ eyes lit up. “Thanks...” His gaze took them all in as he stowed the cash. “I sure hope you find your friend.”
“We do too, Rufus,” Gabriel said quietly.
Jonathan, because his room was on the first floor of the shelter along with Mrs. Muldoon’s and the one shared by Alfonso and Luke, was one of the first to hear the knock on the front door, followed by the sound of the bell ringing.
He didn’t know what time it was exactly, but his innate time sense told him that it was late—eleven o’clock at least. He had been preparing for bed (the shelter was generally awake and functioning early and most of the residents were asleep by ten or eleven at the latest) when the sound came. It was odd but not unheard of for new people to arrive at this hour, especially when they were in trouble.
He wondered if he should go out, but decided against it—Mrs. Muldoon, accompanied by Rick or one of the trolls, usually handled late-night arrivals. In the past month or so he had been here, there had been three such instances—one where an ork mother had been abused by her boyfriend and needed a place to stay with her two children; one where a runaway street kid had needed a safe haven for the night (he had disappeared early the next day and not heard from again); and one where a young ganger had been beaten and sought refuge. In the latter case Mrs. M. had patched him up and sent him on his way, thus improving (at least marginally) the shelter’s reputation in the eyes of the local gang. In all three cases, Mrs. Muldoon, Rick, and Alfonso and Luke had handled things. If they needed Jonathan, he knew they would call him. They only time they had was in the case of the ork mother: Mrs. M. had wanted to know if their accounts contained enough spare cash that they could give her a little before she went on her way. That had been the next day, though.
The question of whether he should venture out settled in his mind, Jonathan continued his preparations for the night’s sleep. Tomorrow he would have to work on the presentation he was pulling together to convince an influential store owner to make a sizeable donation to the shelter, so he would need his rest.
The runners and Gabriel had little trouble finding the Bleecker Street Shelter using Rufus’ directions. In fact, it was listed in the local directory when Kestrel looked it up. Tony stopped the cab a few buildings down to let them out and then cruised off to find a longer-term parking spot. He would stay in radio communication and be there in a hurry if needed.
They decided that it would probably be best if they didn’t all approach the place—together they made a rather formidable-looking assemblage. After a hurried conference it was decided that Gabriel and Joe would go—the latter because they were seeking information from a troll, so another troll might make him less nervous about being roused in the middle of the night, and the former because his manner and appearance tended to put people at ease. The others would position themselves around the area, keeping a lookout for any trouble. Not that they expected any, but they had all been in this business long enough to know that trouble didn’t pay much attention to expectations.
The shelter was a largish, rather ramshackle two-story building that looked as if in one point in its history it might have been an apartment building. Despite its rundown appearance, it showed evidence of care: its windows were all intact, the door was solid and secured by a new-looking lock, and the well-kept sign next to it announced, Bleecker Street Shelter — All are Welcome. There were a few lights on, mostly on the second floor, but most of the windows were dark. “Must be asleep,” Joe whispered.
Gabriel nodded. “It’s unfortunate that we must wake them, but we are growing short of time.” He had been quiet during most of the search; even now he seemed preoccupied.
Joe approached the door and rapped gently but firmly. When that did not bring a response, he pressed the button off to one side. A far-off tone sounded.
After a few minutes’ wait, they heard a voice through the closed door. “Can we help you?” it called. It was deep and male.
“Forgive us for disturbing you,” Gabriel called back, “but we are seeking a friend. We were told that one of your residents might have some knowledge of him.”
There was a long pause. “Can’t you come back tomorrow? We’re kinda closed up for the—”
“Please,” Joe called. “Just let us talk to Alfonso for a minute. That’s all we want.”
Another long pause. Then there was the sound of an old-style bolt being thrown and the door opened a few inches, revealing a troll face. “I’m Alfonso. Do I know you guys?” Suspicion and confusion battled for control of his features.
“No.” Gabriel stepped forward. “My name is Gabriel, and this is Joe. We’re looking for a companion of ours. We met Rufus, who says he is your friend. He says that he remembers seeing you talking with our friend about a week ago.”
“You guys know Rufus?” Alfonso tilted his head, then looked back and forth between Gabriel and Joe. “Who’s this friend?”
“He’s an elf,” Joe told him. He described ‘Wraith’s height and general build, but left out specifics about his appearance since none of them were sure exactly what he looked like these days. “He got lost, and we think there might be something wrong with him. That’s why we’ve gotta find him.”
Alfonso’s expression grew suspicious. “How do I know you guys are this elf’s friends?” he asked. “I’ve never seen you around here, and I know pretty much everybody in this neighborhood.”
“We’re not from around here,” Gabriel told him. “Please—may we come in? We’ll be very brief.”
Alfonso was silent for a moment. Gabriel and Joe could hear the muted tones of a conversation, and then the door opened. Alfonso stood framed in the doorway, a medium-height Latino troll in jeans and a white tank top; next to him stood a tallish, middle-aged dwarf woman who, despite the size difference, still managed to convey that she held the authority of the pair. “Come in,” the dwarf said. “I’m Molly Muldoon. I run the Bleecker Street Shelter. And you’ve already met Alfonso.” She and the troll stood aside and motioned the two newcomers in. There was a little sitting area with a scruffy couch, a couple of chairs, and an old table nearby; Molly directed them to it with the air of an old-fashioned lady of the manor welcoming honored guests. When they were seated (all but Alfonso, who leaned against a wall and kept a watchful eye on them), Molly settled her attention on them. “Now—about this friend.”
Inside his room, Jonathan could hear the voices. He couldn’t hear what they were saying from his bed, but his sharp ears picked out the sounds of a conversation. He recognized two of the voices without difficulty: Mrs. Muldoon and Alfonso. The other two he did not recognize, but he could tell they were both male. One was deep, the other very soft, so soft he could barely hear it at all.
It was odd that it would be two adult men. Men almost never came to the shelter, especially not in pairs, unless they were very young, elderly, or, as in his own case, injured. Perhaps one was injured and the other had brought him here to a place of safety until they could get to a hospital.
As he lay there and continued to half-listen while trying to will himself to sleep, Jonathan gradually became aware that a strange feeling was suffusing him. He didn’t notice it at first; it crept in like a slow-rising river raising its level in a series of tiny increments, lurking in the back of his consciousness as outside the conversation continued.
The feeling was dread. They’ve got something to do with me.
He didn’t know how he knew, but when the thought finally bubbled to the top of his awareness several minutes later, it had incubated sufficiently that he was ready to accept it. They’re here about me.
Moving very, very quietly, he got out of bed and crept barefoot across the tiny room. Pressing his ear against the part of the door where there was a quarter-centimeter crack because it didn’t quite line up with the frame, he strained to pick out words from these suddenly disturbing newcomers.
Mrs. Muldoon was troubled. “You mean...there’s something wrong with his mind?” She perched on the edge of the couch, regarding the handsome young human and the Amerind troll skeptically. “But—he seems fine to me. A bit confused, sure, but he’s settled in quite nicely—”
Gabriel nodded soberly. “We’re quite sure of it,” he told her. He and Joe had been unable to believe their good luck when Mrs. Muldoon had informed them that, not only had both she and Alfonso probably met the elf they were seeking, but he was in all likelihood living here under this very roof. She had hesitated when they had asked to see him, though, holding out for a little more information before she revealed him to strangers. “We don’t know exactly what is wrong with him,” Gabriel continued, “but judging from past experience, odds are good that he is delusional in some way.”
“Delusional?” Her brow furrowed. “Jonathan might be a little odd, but I wouldn’t say—”
“Jonathan?” Joe spoke up. “Is that what he’s calling himself?”
Mrs. Muldoon looked suspicious. “Don’t you know his name? If he’s your friend—”
“That’s not the name we know him by,” Gabriel said. “Although I believe it is one he has used before.” He glanced at Joe, who nodded, remembering. When they had gone to the metaplanes, ‘Wraith’s true name had been revealed as Jonathan Andrews.
“How did he come to be here?” Joe asked. “And how long?”
“He’s been here about a month,” Alfonso said. “Some street scum had worked him over a little, but Rick—he’s another guy who lives here—and some friends managed to find him before he got messed up too bad. He’s been here ever since.”
Mrs. Muldoon nodded. “He’s done wonders for the place, too.”
“In what way?” Gabriel asked.
The dwarf lady smiled. “He’s managed to wring quite a bit of value out of our tiny little bank account—and actually get people to add to it. I’ve never seen someone who’s so good with money.”
Gabriel and Joe exchanged glances. This was a facet of ‘Wraith neither of them was familiar with.
That wasn’t the only thing that was troubling them, either. ‘Wraith had been brought into a shelter, injured by ‘street scum’? ShadoWraith, the ultra-paranoid master marksman whose reflexes were faster than the vast majority of beings on earth had managed to get taken down by ‘street scum’? Something was definitely wrong here. “Mrs. Muldoon,” Gabriel said slowly. “Would you mind telling us a bit more about Jonathan? About the way he’s been acting?”
Mrs. Muldoon shrugged. “He’s quiet, keeps to himself, but he’s always pleasant to be around. He does what’s needed, although lately he’s been concentrating a lot more on the business end because that’s what he’s good at.” She looked at them. “He does seem...troubled, though. Occasionally, when he doesn’t think anyone is looking, I’ll notice him looking a bit...bewildered. Like he’s not quite sure where he is.”
Gabriel nodded. “That isn’t surprising. He’s been through a great deal. That’s why we want to find him—so we can help.”
“Can we see him?” Joe asked. “I know it’s late, but—”
Mrs. Muldoon pondered. She looked the two of them over again, then nodded. “All right. But if he doesn’t want to see you—”
“We’ll deal with that if it happens,” Gabriel said, his tone soothing.
“All right, then. I’ll—”
The crackle of a radio transmission sounded softly in Joe’s and Gabriel’s receivers. “Guys—” It was Ocelot’s voice. “We got something out here. Looks like ‘Wraith, and he’s takin’ off down the street like somethin’s chasin’ him.”
He didn’t want to—he was loath to leave the only situation he’d found in a long while where he was beginning to feel comfortable—but he knew it was the only way.
It was the man from the hotel room. It had to be.
After moving over to the door so he could hear more clearly what was going on, he had spent the next few moments listening. His eyes had widened, tension filling his body as the conversation had continued. The strangers were here to see him. They said there was something wrong with him. They said they were his friends.
Jonathan knew better. He didn’t recognize either of the voices—not the deep one or the soft, persuasive one. Whoever these people were, they were not his friends.
All at once he knew he had to see them. After that, he could make up his mind what he had to do.
With infinitesimal slowness, he turned the knob on the door and swung it open. Fortunately it did not squeak: Rick was good about keeping the place up as well as he could on their budget, and hinge oil was cheap. Jonathan slipped out and tiptoed down the hall, moving on silent bare feet. He knew there was a place where he could look around the corner and see into the sitting area with minimal chance of being spotted. Most of the lower floor was dark, while the sitting area would be well lit for the visitors. It was a chance he had to take.
It felt like nearly forever before he reached the end of the hallway. He stopped, pressing his back against the wall, and held his breath. The newcomers, Mrs. Muldoon, and Alfonso were still talking. It sounded like they were convincing Mrs. M. that they should see him. He knew he had to hurry—he was concerned not only for his own safety, but for that of the shelter residents if there should be a confrontation.
Carefully he turned around so he was facing the wall, then slid sideways a bit so he could glance around the corner with one eye.
Mrs. Muldoon was in her usual spot on the edge of the couch, intent on the visitors. Alfonso stood nearby, his attention also fully engaged. Jonathan took a few seconds to examine the two newcomers: the deep-voiced one was an enormous Amerindian troll, dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and huge combat boots. The soft-spoken one was a young human barely into manhood, dark-haired and handsome, wearing a fine suit.
Jonathan paused. He had never seen either of these two, he was certain of that. Neither of them could have been the man in the hotel room: the troll was out of the question, and the young human was not nearly tall enough or elf-thin enough to share clothing sizes with him so perfectly. So who were they, then, if not—?
They work for the man in the hotel room.
Of course! Jonathan’s whole body tensed as the thought came to him. Of course. Whoever was in the room wouldn’t come looking for Jonathan himself. He’d have hired men to do that sort of thing. They would grab him as soon as they were alone with him, and take him back to—what? He didn’t know, but whatever it was it couldn’t be good.
He knew what he had to do now. Retracing his steps back to his bedroom (a little faster this time—there was a sense of urgency that had not been as strong before) he slipped back inside and hurriedly pulled on his clothes, including the heavy synth-down jacket Mrs. Muldoon had given him. He shoved his feet into his boots and climbed up on the bed to open the window.
He felt bad about doing this—Mrs. Muldoon and the rest of the shelter folk had been good to him, helped him when he needed help, and they deserved at least a note—but he didn’t have time to spare. I’ll call them from somewhere once I’ve gotten away, he told himself. They’ll understand. He wished now that he had shared the story of the hotel room with the dwarf, because then perhaps she might have turned the strangers away saying he was not there, but it was too late for that now. They were here, and he had to go.
He shoved open the window and slid out into the night air, closing the window behind him. He couldn’t lock it, but he knew they would discover it soon enough after they found he was gone. They would lock it then.
Gabriel and Joe made no indication that they had heard Ocelot’s voice over the radio. They couldn’t answer him without giving away the fact that they had friends outside, something they didn’t want to do at this point. It would just make Mrs. Muldoon suspicious.
The dwarf was already rising. “I’ll go see if he wants to see you,” she said. “You wait here with Alfonso, all right?”
Gabriel nodded. “Thank you.”
He and Joe looked at each other, then settled back to wait for what they knew would come. The voices continued on the radio, mostly Ocelot with a little of Winterhawk and Kestrel, and the two inside contented themselves with listening.
“That’s him, all right!”
“He’s afraid of something—watch out for whatever’s chasin’ him—”
“There isn’t anything chasing him. He’s just running.”
“He came out of the back—”
“Why’s he goin’ so slow? If he wanted to get away—”
Gabriel and Joe could hear the sound of heavy breathing as the three outside converged on ‘Wraith’s position.
“Hey, ‘Wraith! Stop! It’s us!”
“Shit! He’s runnin’—”
“Get around in front! Don’t hurt him—”
There was silence for a moment, then Ocelot’s voice came back online. “Guys—I know you can’t say anything, but we got him. Had to Narcoject him, though—he was pretty stressed out when he saw us. Can you wrap it up in there?”
He didn’t get an answer and clearly didn’t expect one. “Okay, hurry up if you can. We’ll be in the car.”
Again Gabriel and Joe exchanged glances, nodding slightly.
At this point, Mrs. Muldoon came back. She looked concerned. “He’s not in there!”
Alfonso frowned. “What do you mean, he’s not in there? Is he in the can or somethin’?”
She shook her head. “I checked there and in the kitchen. And Alfonso—the window in his room was unlocked. It looked like he might have sneaked out that way.” Remembering at that moment that they had visitors, she regarded them with suspicion. “You two don’t know anything about this, do you?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Muldoon,” Gabriel said, rising. “We have no idea why he might have run away.” That much was absolutely true.
Joe stood as well, and sighed. “I hope he’s okay. I was afraid something like this might happen.”
Gabriel nodded. “We’ll have to keep looking.” He turned to Mrs. Muldoon. “If he should return, please tell him we mean him no harm. We’ll check back in a few days.” He paused, pulling out a credstick from one of his pockets. “In the meantime, we apologize for any inconvenience. I’d like to make a donation to your shelter, if I may.”
The suspicion hadn’t entirely left the dwarf’s eyes, but nonetheless she took the credstick. She wasn’t quite able to suppress a slight gasp when she saw the amount it carried. “But—”
“It’s for a good cause,” Gabriel said, already heading for the door.
“He’ll write it off on his taxes,” Joe added, following on his heels. Before Mrs. Muldoon or Alfonso could say another word, they were gone.
Back at the car, Ocelot, Winterhawk, and Kestrel were in the back when Gabriel and Joe arrived. They were regarding the unconscious form of ShadoWraith, who lay stretched out across one of the back seats. Ocelot looked up as the two got in. “I don’t know what the hell is going on,” he said. “He was runnin’ like somethin’ straight from hell was chasing him, but he was just going...normal speed.”
Kestrel nodded. “When he saw us, he looked panicked. Even then, though, he didn’t try to fight back or run any faster. He just turned and went a different direction.”
‘Wraith was dressed in faded jeans, a plaid button-down shirt, and what the team recognized as his own custom-made boots. A heavy synth-down jacket was in one corner of the seat where he lay. Joe looked him over. “So now what?”
“He won’t be awake for quite awhile,” Ocelot said.
Winterhawk was already pulling out his phone. “Will you be needing another large location to do the ritual?” he asked Gabriel.
The young man shook his head. “No. It’s getting more difficult for me to maintain the spells on all of you. There’s no point in performing the stopgap ritual and then immediately performing the major one. We need to get back to Seattle.”
“So we’re not going to—your home?” Kestrel looked surprised.
Again Gabriel shook his head. “I don’t think we have the time. It will be a bit more difficult to do it at my apartment in Seattle, but I have everything I need there.”
“Let’s head ‘em out, then,” Ocelot said, then communicated same to Tony. “Tell you one thing—I ain’t sorry to be leavin’ this place.”
‘Wraith woke up when the plane was about halfway back. They had made him as comfortable as possible in a little makeshift bed near the back of the cabin, and kept a watch of at least one of them on him at all times to make sure he didn’t try anything or hurt himself if he woke up.
They needn’t have worried. When he opened his eyes and saw Joe sitting in the seat nearest him, his eyes widened in an expression that was half fear, half resignation. “All right,” he said wearily. “You’ve got me. Will you at least explain what this is about?”
The others, who were alert to sounds coming from that part of the plane, moved back to take other seats near ‘Wraith. “Don’t you recognize us, ‘Wraith?” Winterhawk asked, leaning forward a bit.
“What do you mean, ‘what this is about’?” Ocelot added. “What do you think it’s about?”
‘Wraith sat up slowly, propping himself against the wall. His gaze scanned the four of them. “No...it isn’t any of you. So you must be taking me to him, right?”
“Taking you to whom?” Gabriel asked softly. “Jonathan, I assure you we mean you no harm. We want to help you.”
The elf settled his attention on the young man. He didn’t look like he believed the part about their being there to help him. He sighed. “You’re taking me to the man from the hotel room. I don’t know why. I’m sorry I took some of his things, but I needed them to get out—”
“Jonathan,” Gabriel continued as if ‘Wraith hadn’t spoken, “does the name ‘ShadoWraith’ mean anything to you?”
‘Wraith pondered that for a moment, then shook his head. “No. Is that the man in the hotel room?”
“What hotel room?” Ocelot couldn’t stay silent any longer.
‘Wraith looked startled. “The one...the one where I woke up. I didn’t know how I got there, or who else was there. I thought I’d gotten away, but I guess I didn’t make it after all.”
“You said you took some things from the man in the hotel room,” Gabriel said, still speaking in low, soothing tones. “What did you take?”
There was a long pause, as if the elf was deciding what, if anything, he should reveal. Finally he bowed his head. “I took a coat—a long one. Armored. I took a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and some boots. And his watch-phone. But I left the gun and the briefcase,” he added hastily.
The four others exchanged glances as things began to come clearer. “Jonathan,” Gabriel continued, “do you remember anything before you woke up in the hotel room?”
He shook his head. “No. I woke up and everything was—wrong.” He closed his eyes, trying to dredge up thoughts that had become indistinct during his time at the shelter. “Everything was wrong. My apartment was...gone. My father—his business—everything was gone. Everything was—different.”
Winterhawk tensed as the implications of that sunk in. “Jonathan,” he said, “how old are you?”
The question gave the elf a little trouble. He frowned a bit, then nodded. “Thirty-one.”
The runners and Gabriel looked at each other. As an elf, ‘Wraith didn’t age like a human, so it was difficult to tell his actual age from just looking at him. His teammates, however, knew that he was older than all of them, which meant that his answer could not be correct.
Gabriel nodded. “All right,” he said gently. “You rest, Jonathan. If you’d like anything to eat or drink, just let one of us know. We’ll be home soon.”
“Where’s—home?” ‘Wraith asked. He still sounded fearful. These strangers might be relatively non-threatening at the moment, but the fact remained that one of them had shot him with some kind of tranquilizer dart and they had kidnapped him to this airplane against his will.
“We’re going to Seattle,” Kestrel told him. “That’s our home, and yours too.”
“Try to relax,” Winterhawk added. “It will all be clearer to you soon.”
‘Wraith gave him a look that suggested that he did not believe this to be true, but because he was out of options, he would wait.
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.