At approximately the same time that the five runners were gathering in the kitchen to discuss their shared nightmare, the remaining occupant of the apartment was standing in his chamber fighting the urge to scream out his frustration, terror, and despair until the entire city echoed with the sound.
Gabriel stood at the window, his body rigid and trembling, staring out at the dimmed lights of Downtown without seeing them. He could see the shimmering beads of perspiration standing out on his chest, and feel them on his forehead. His hands, pressed against the glass both to still them and to steady his body, nonetheless shook uncontrollably.
He was afraid, more afraid than he had ever been in his life—and it didn’t matter. He knew what must be done now, and his own fear was no excuse for him to fail.
He had been awakened some time ago—he didn’t know how long it had been, but it wasn’t important—by the screams of his brother reverberating in his mind. Even after he had awakened the screams seemed to continue for several seconds before finally dying into nothingness, leaving him alone and fearful in his bed.
“Stefan...” he had whispered aloud, trying to reach out to his brother but touching nothing.
The dream had been terrifyingly vivid. Stefan had been there, in his mind, pleading for his help. “Brother... Gethelwain... please... do not leave me like this... you must help me... I am begging you... please do not leave me here... help me or destroy me... I do not care which... but I cannot endure this for much longer... “
In the dream Gabriel had closed his eyes, clenching and unclenching his fists, trying desperately to get to his brother but unable to reach him. For him there had been no escape from the chamber, no way to continue the search as, unbeknownst to him, the others had done in their own dreams.
Instead, there had been a presence.
At first he had been too preoccupied with the screams, with trying to find a way out, to notice it. But when he turned, it was there. He had frozen, staring.
The presence was familiar. Not this particular instance of it—that one had truly died and would not return—but the type, the essence, was one with which he was well familiar. It stood silently, watching his efforts. It smiled. The effect of that smile was not unlike the rainbow hue that resulted when the sun struck a pool of oily muck. He has found you, it said. Its voice was oily too, and it spoke without moving the disgusting thing that served it as a mouth. Good. We are pleased that our message was received.
Gabriel glared at the thing. “Where is he?” he had demanded. “What sort of trick is this?”
The thing laughed. Trick, dragon? There is no trick. You see what is. You hear what is. What you choose to do about it is the question.
Rage blazing in his eyes, he had tried to attack it. He had gathered his energy and focused it into a magical assault of such power and intensity that almost no living thing could have stood against it.
The presence merely laughed as the energy crackled around it and dissipated harmlessly away. You cannot reach us that way, dragon. You should know that by now. Especially since we have already reached you... It laughed again as if it had just told a particularly amusing joke.
Gabriel shook his head. “No longer. I have blocked your influence. I do not know why you seek us again, but you will reach neither me nor my companions any longer.”
The presence sneered. There are many ways to reach those we seek, it said. You can thank your brother for what has come before—we had not expected it to be so, but it was most amusing...he has given us a chance we never expected to have again...
Gabriel moved closer, fighting the uneasy disgust he felt for the thing. His eyes shone with his rage. “Enough!” he ordered. “You have made your attempt and we have prevented it! Go back to your holes and your dark places and leave us! Your tricks are not working!”
You have not yet seen our tricks, the thing said mildly, without moving. It seemed unaffected by Gabriel’s verbal onslaught. But that is not the issue here. What of your brother?
“My brother is dead. He died destroying one of your number, and destroying your plans.”
Is he? The presence chuckled again.
The screams started again.
Gabriel stiffened, his gaze moving around, trying to find the source as the sounds of Stefan’s agony cut through him. “It is a trick!” he cried again. “You seek to make me believe he is here, but I know better. I felt him die. He is gone. He is beyond your reach!”
His body is beyond our reach...but how can anyone truly know what occurs when the body is destroyed? The voice was almost gentle now, insinuating.
Gabriel could not suppress a gasp as that sunk in. No, he told himself. It is not possible. They cannot—
But do you want to take the chance, dragon? the voice cut into his thoughts. Of course it is possible that we are deceiving you. But what if we are not?
And then all at once, as the screams continued to echo around him, he knew.
One moment the certainty eluded him—the next moment it was there.
The presence laughed. Ah, you are beginning to see the light, young one! It fairly wriggled with anticipation. But you have not yet stepped from the darkness. You have not yet seen the entire picture...
“What do you want?” Gabriel demanded.
What do we have, you mean... There was a pause, and then the thing leaped forward, fingerlike appendages splayed, extending itself toward him. He tried to ward it off, but it slipped around him, past his defenses—
He heard himself scream as it touched his mind, as it plunged its filthy essence into his being.
And, far away, he heard Stefan’s screams join with his own.
He awoke with such a violent response that he had leaped from the bed and stood, breathing hard, heart pounding, in the middle of the room before he came fully awake.
What do we have, you mean...
That was what it had said before it had attacked him.
And then, afterward, he had known.
He knew exactly what they had—and what they wanted.
He dropped to the floor, head bowed, and buried his face in his hands.
He didn’t rise again for several minutes. When at last he did, he crossed the room and took his position at the window. Reaching out, he could feel the others—they were awake. As he continued to observe, they congregated in the kitchen. Their auras showed the dull red of agitation, the bright red of fear—
They had had the dream too. All of them had. Even Juliana.
What did they know?
He hated to observe them without their knowledge, but he had to understand. Were they even now discussing what he himself had seen? Did they know what he knew? He closed his eyes and watched for a moment, listening silently as each one described what he or she had seen.
His shoulders slumped as they finished. Now at least he had his answer. They had part of the picture, but not all of it. Not the most important part. He watched as they debated whether or not to wake him, to tell him what they had experienced, to ask his counsel. He was touched by their faith in him, and racked with a brief sense of disgust: I am not worthy of their faith.
But they did not come to him. Juliana—bless her; I am likewise not worthy of her love—had convinced them to wait until the morning. Thank you, Juliana—I can do what I must and none of you will suffer because of it... He leaned forward until his forehead touched the cool glass of the full-length window and tried to gather his thoughts. The small scar on his bare side throbbed slightly, as if mocking him.
He knew what he had to do. There was no other option open to him. None of them would ever be safe again, he knew that now. Not unless he acted. It was what they wanted all along. And Stefan—
I am sorry, brother. It is not your fault. You did the only thing available to you, and I will do what I can to help you. You had no way to know what would happen.
He took a deep breath. There was no more excuse to wait. The longer he waited, the worse things could become—and the harder it would be for him to gather the courage to do this.
The others must not be involved.
Moving with the absolute silence he rarely employed while in his human form, he left his bedchamber and entered one of the rooms he used as an office. He glanced briefly at the dataterminal, then shook his head. Instead, he opened a desk drawer and withdrew a sheet of fine paper and an old-fashioned fountain pen. He sat down at the desk and regarded the blank sheet for several seconds before he began to write.
They deserve this. They deserve to know the truth.
When he finished, he carefully waited for the ink to dry, then heated some wax from a candle to make an old-style seal. He folded the paper, sealed it, and took it with him back to the bedroom.
He paused a moment, considering, and after a time silently left the folded message on the pillow of his bed. Then he left the room, heading out to the front part of the apartment. Looking around, he drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, allowing his gaze to travel over the vast main room. He liked this place—he had liked it ever since he had moved in more than a year ago.
He hoped he would see it again.
He moved slowly but without hesitation, closing and locking the front door behind him. A hidden stairway took him to the roof.
It was cold up here, but very beautiful. It was a rare clear night—the wind whipped his hair and knifed at his unprotected skin; the lights of the stars and the buildings and the few passing planes winked on and off against the black of the moonless sky.
Gabriel moved to the edge of the building. He climbed the small lip and stood for a moment without fear like a high-diver on one of the corners. “Goodbye, Juliana,” he whispered, and jumped.
If anyone saw the plummeting body of the young man suddenly shift and grow into the graceful winged form of the dragon and take off into the darkness, they only saw it for a second or two before invisibility cloaked him and made him one with the night.
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.