Winterhawk had been in the bedroom for several minutes before he realized he was just standing there at the window, staring out over the city and thinking about absolutely nothing.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. Tired, that’s all. That’s normal after all this. Sighing, he crossed the room, sat down on the bed, and bent to take off his shoes.
It would be good to finally have a night’s sleep that wasn’t haunted by either madness or worry about his friends. Despite the fact that he had been the first one Gabriel had tracked down and warded against the Horrors’ attempts at control, ‘Hawk’s mind had been anything but easy over the last few days. There had been too many unknowns, too many episodes of concern about what sort of personal hells the other team members had been experiencing. As each one in turn had been located and Gabriel had worked his magic over him, a bit of the disquietude troubling the mage had dropped away—but there had still been the subtle but constant presence of fear that the spells would slip, that the madness would return, that they would all be lost. It didn’t make for easy nights’ sleep by any means.
That was gone now. ‘Hawk closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to find any trace of it left in his mind. He found nothing. All that was there now was the fuzz of fatigue and a vague pleasant feeling—sort of the mental equivalent of how it felt after taking a shower when you hadn’t even realized how dirty and sweaty you’d been before. Stop dwelling on it, damn you, he told himself sternly. It’s over. You’re going to have to deal with it—we all are—but not tonight.
He nodded to his little inner voice. “Good idea,” he agreed aloud. He tossed his shoes aside and began the rest of his preparations for bed. In a way he would have preferred to have been home in his own bed where he felt more comfortable, but there would be plenty of time for that later. There was something to be said for spending your first night back from hell in a dragon’s apartment.
He smiled a bit to himself as he climbed into bed and settled down. The bed was quite comfortable; he lay on his back and looked out the big window on the other side of the room, watching the moon and the lights of some of Downtown’s other tall buildings. He didn’t even remember falling asleep.
Winterhawk tossed uncomfortably in bed, rolling over, the restless movement of his legs turning the covers into a disorganized wad.
Help me...please...someone...I cannot endure this for much longer...
He moved again, gathering his pillows up and clutching them tightly, unaware of the light perspiration breaking out on his body. He muttered something unintelligible, then dropped down to a deeper level of sleep.
He was standing in a room where everything was dark, but yet somehow he could still see without difficulty. The walls and floor were made of the same black stone, fitted together to form an eerie, windowless chamber.
He stood in the middle of the chamber, unsure how he had gotten here. It was as if he had simply appeared here, spirited away from his bed. The room felt oppressive, not hot or cold but simply heavy—the weight of the very air around him seemed to be pushing down on him from all sides.
“Who’s there?” he demanded, his voice sounding oddly small and dead. There was no echo in the room, no sense of his voice reverberating off the walls; the sound was absorbed almost the instant it escaped his lips.
He whipped around, looking for the source. The room had no doors, no windows, no way in or out. The voice came from far away; it was full of weariness and despair, the voice of someone who had been making similar pleas for a very long time and no longer expected them to be answered. “Who’s there?” he cried again. “Where are you?”
“Please...help me....You must help me...I beg you...”
He closed his eyes and tried to center in on the direction from which the voice was calling. There was something familiar about the voice, but he could not as yet put his finger on it. It was too far away, too weak. “Keep talking! I’m trying to figure out where you are!”
“You can...hear me?” Now the voice sounded surprised, tinged with a tiny hope that had not been there before.
He turned, facing what he thought was the proper direction. “I can hear you, but I can’t see you. Who are you? Where are you? How do I get out of this room?”
For a long moment there was no reply, and then the pleas began anew: “Help me...please...Don’t leave...If you are here, do not leave me to them...I beg you...”
He let his breath out slowly. “I’m coming!” he called. “Hold on—whoever you are, hold on. I’m coming!” He moved to the wall in the direction that seemed to lead to the voice. As he approached, he saw what he had not seen before: there was a thin thread of a crack in the wall, in the size and shape of a door. It was difficult to see, but it was there. Tentatively, he pressed on one side.
Nothing happened. The door—or whatever it was—remained stubbornly unmoving.
Picking up the unseen captive’s sense of urgency, he quickly moved to the other side of the door and pressed again. This time, the thing swung inward on silent hinges, opening a doorway slightly taller than he was and about twice as wide. Beyond was a hallway wreathed in darkness. “Can you hear me any better now?” he called down the hallway. “Is this where you are?”
“Hurry...” The voice sounded a bit more distinct now, but still far away.
He stepped into the hall. It smelled wet and musty, with a faint mossy odor. Far in the distance he picked up the sound of trickling water; there was a dank chill in the air that had not existed in the previous chamber. Taking a deep breath, he set off in the direction of the voice.
It seemed that he had been walking forever. The hallway stretched out to a length that seemed infinite; all around him the voice continued to call for help, joined by the echoes and whispers of—what? He did not know. He shivered, wrapping his arms around himself against the chill, which was growing worse with each step he took. From above him, things occasionally dripped onto his hair, his shoulders, his arms—he fought the urge to stop, to turn back and abandon this strange quest. He ignored the drips and the whispers and the cold and kept going.
Eventually—he lost track of how long it had been, if indeed time had any relevance at all where he was—something began to resolve itself ahead of him. He stopped for a moment, squinting as he tried to pick it out, and realized at last that he was finally drawing near the end of the hall. What he was seeing, far ahead and still tiny, was another doorway.
“Help me...please...Do not let them do this to me...Help...”
The voice was definitely louder now. “I’m coming!” he called. “Hold on! I’m getting closer!”
It seemed to take him almost as long to reach the end as it had taken to cover the previous part of the hallway, but at long last he stood in front of a heavy wooden door. It was set into the stone of the passageway, bound with black metal straps. It was the kind of door one would use to hold in something powerful. Strangely, it had a handle but no apparent lock. “Are you in there?” he called through the door, then pressed his ear against it to hear the reply.
“Yes...I can hear you. You are close. Please help me...” The voice was fearful, growing desperate. “Please!”
He paused. His sense of urgency was increasing now: he was sure the voice sounded familiar, but still he could not quite place it. But what was on the other side of the door? Was it a trap? Was there any way for him to know that?
He made a decision. Grabbing the heavy iron handle, he swung the door open and entered the room—
“My God...” he whispered, as the awareness that had been trying to come to him since his arrival in the original chamber hit him with the force of slamming into a wall. “No...”
The man on the other side of the room was upright, but that was only because he was attached to some sort of barbaric apparatus. His arms and legs were bound to a frame by what looked like living ropes; they cut into him so tightly that blood oozed from around their edges. Not all of it was new blood, either.
Worse, some of the ropes, which looked more like tentacles on closer inspection, seemed to be growing through the man’s body at various points around the frame, poking up through his flesh and waving around like vile worms as if seeking something new on which to feed.
“No...” he repeated, his voice unable to rise to anything above a whisper.
The man on the frame raised his head. It was an exhausted gesture, the gesture of someone who had given up hope but who was willing to give it one more try—always one more try—because there was nothing else he could do. “Help me...” he pleaded.
He took in the man’s dark hair, his hawklike features, his eyes, which had once been piercing but were now hollow and lightless. For a moment he could not speak. Then, at last, one word escaped his lips: “Stefan...”
Then suddenly darkness descended on the room and the man screamed.
Winterhawk’s eyes flew open.
The room was dark, peaceful, quiet. Normal.
His heart was pounding in his chest; the sheets were soaked with perspiration. His hands were clenched around the covers. His gaze darted around the room, but there was no threat, no one else in the room.
He was alone.
Slowly he sat up, having to send a conscious thought to his hands to disengage them from the covers. He noticed in passing that the fact that he had been gripping them had probably been the only thing that had prevented him from digging his nails into the palms of his hands.
He willed his breathing to slow. “Just a nightmare...” he whispered. “That’s all it is...”
He froze for a moment, remembering the dream, remembering the fact that his previous madness had started with dreams—but he could not remember those dreams. This one was all too clear in his mind. The images were still there, not fading away as dreams were often wont to do.
Closing his eyes, he searched his mind and his feelings for any sign of the madness. He didn’t know if he would know what to look for even if it were there, but what he found encouraged him. The satisfied, cleansed feeling he had experienced at the end of Gabriel’s ritual was still there. Fundamentally he still felt right in a nebulous sort of way.
But the dream—
Why would I dream about Stefan? Why now? He’s been dead for months. And why would I dream that he needed my help?
He sighed and shook his head. Trying to make sense of dreams was better left to professionals—or at least amateurs who weren’t as mentally fried as he was at the moment. He made a perfunctory attempt to straighten out the covers and put the pillows back in order in anticipation of crawling back into bed before realizing that the chances that he would get back to sleep any time soon were somewhere between slim and none. Bugger these dreams anyway. First night where I might actually get a decent night’s sleep and this had to happen. No sense arguing with it, though. P’raps a cup of tea might do me good. I wonder if Joe got any tea in all those bags of his.
That decided, he pulled on the slacks and shirt he had worn the night before, as none of them had brought any extra clothes, and padded barefoot toward the kitchen with his shirttail untucked. Aubrey would be appalled if he saw me now, he thought wryly; the thought calmed him a bit, reminding him that there was a real life out there and soon he would be returning to it.
Deep in thought, he had reached the end of the hall before he realized there was a light on in the kitchen. He stopped a moment, then nodded. Probably Joe grabbing a midnight snack.
But it wasn’t Joe. As Winterhawk rounded the corner and paused in the kitchen doorway, he saw Ocelot seated at the table, a bottle of scotch open in front of him. “Evenin’, ‘Hawk,” he said. “Want a drink, or you want to hear some weird shit?”
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.