Gabriel staggered backward as the thing approached him. He felt the adrenaline surging through his body, submerging the pain in his head, his arm, his side, driving off the exhaustion. None of it was gone—he could feel it all there, waiting to engulf him worse than ever when this was done—but for now it had to be a minor consideration.
This was it.
He had to win this fight or all would be lost.
The thing was advancing on him slowly, a sickening smile on its ugly, fang-filled face. It was like a cat toying with an injured mouse, knowing that the mouse had everything to lose and could not possibly prevail against its might. The thing could afford to wait.
Gabriel moved back again, matching speed with its advance, mentally kicking himself for losing sight of the fundamental truth—the Enemy were liars. They did things only to further their own ends. They could not be counted upon to keep their word, to honor their promises, or to remain true to the rules of any game they controlled. Still, though, even with this knowledge, Gabriel knew his decision would have remained the same. As long as he was still alive, still on his feet and able to move, he would fight. If it was possible to defeat this thing, he would do it.
He had to do it. There was too much riding on it. His friends and Stefan were depending on him now.
He stumbled a little as his foot hit a rock and threw himself forward to regain his balance. The Horror-thing watched and its smile broadened. It moved closer.
The runners were all standing up now, pressed against the side of the cage closest to the battle, watching with unblinking eyes and tense bodies. “Bloody hell...” Winterhawk muttered. “He can’t beat that thing. Not without his powers. Not injured—”
“He’ll give it his best shot,” Kestrel growled. “He’s hurt but he’s still got his mind.”
Joe blew air through his teeth. “Damn it, I want to be out there fighting, not stuck in here like some zoo animal.”
Ocelot’s teeth were gritted. “Damn straight,” he agreed. The confinement had already played hell with his mental state—the only reason he hadn’t lost it completely was that the bars were open so he could see the outside. Not that there had been much to see up until now. He watched the Horror moving slowly in toward the much smaller Gabriel. “Too bad he ain’t got a sling,”he said almost to himself.
“Don’t think it would help,”’Wraith replied in his usual monotone. His mood had brightened somewhat (not that anyone could tell) at the return of Winterhawk to their party. At least now he was talking.
“Couldn’t hurt,” Winterhawk muttered.
Ocelot watched for a few more moments. Across from them, Stefan was also observing the battle with great interest. He had tried once more to pull free of his chains, but with no more luck than he had had before. Failing that, he was now fixing a look of intense concentration on his brother. “Guys...” Ocelot said under his breath. He spoke slowly as if thinking through what he was saying before he gave it voice.
“Yeah?” Joe, next to him, replied in the same tone.
“Were you watching that thing when Gabriel told it to heal us instead of him?”
The troll gave him a perplexed look. “Huh?”
“I was,” Kestrel said. “Why?”
“Did you see anything—I dunno—weird?”
“Like what?” Kestrel, like the others, searched her memories for anything out of the ordinary.
Ocelot took a deep breath. “Like—it fuzzed out for a second. Kinda—shook. Did you see it?”
“Yes.” This time it was ‘Wraith who answered. “Don’t know what it means, though.”
“Me neither.” Ocelot watched the Horror advancing on Gabriel again as he spoke. “But—it did it once before. During Gabriel’s test, when he decided to go after the school bus instead of straight to Kestrel. It was almost like—that thing was pissed at him for doing it, and it couldn’t cope with it.”
“Interesting...” Winterhawk mused. “Can you be more specific than fuzzed out?”
There was a long pause as Ocelot tried to recall the exact picture in his mind. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “It was only there for a second. It’s body got fuzzy like it was shakin’ itself apart. Then for a little longer it was the same sorta thing, but just in its eyes.” He paused again. “The really weird thing was that after I saw it, Stefan was lookin’ at me. He couldn’t say anything, but he kinda glanced at the Horror and then nodded, like I’d just seen something important.”
“But what’s it mean?” Joe asked. “If it’s important, it must mean something. There’s got to be a way we can use it to help.”
Ocelot shrugged. “I dunno. If you figure it out, tell me. I’m just reportin’ what I saw.”
Winterhawk sighed and leaned back against the bars. “If anyone’s going to figure it out, they’d best be about it. I don’t think Mr. Ugly out there is going to be drawing things out much longer.”
Indeed, it appeared as if Winterhawk was right. In the center of the amphitheater the Horror-thing was already tiring of its cat-and-mouse game. “You have no chance against me, Dragonboy,” it boomed. “How does it feel to know that?”
Gabriel’s only answer was to crouch quickly, snatch up a rock, and fling it with all his strength at the Horror’s face. Unfortunately his broken arm was also his throwing arm, forcing him to use the other—the throw was powerful but awkward. The Horror batted the rock away with its spear, laughing. “Hopeful to the end, I see. Don’t you realize I have won already?”
“You can’t kill me,” Gabriel yelled back. “You can’t kill me and I know it. I don’t think you can kill any of us!”
“Do you think that matters to me, even if it were true? I do not need your death—your suffering will be the same, eternal even without death. See how I already control you?”
Gabriel winced sharply, swaying on his feet and staggering sideways as he gripped his side. “No—you—won’t—”
It chuckled. “Ah, but I will. Do you see how easy it is? You are already mine, young one. You simply have not accepted it. You and your cursed friends managed to cut off my connection to my Master for now—but you could not kill me—none of you could, because I am stronger than all of you. As long as I live, you will suffer. One day the Master will be here, and until that day arrives, I will keep you safe for him.” Moving with sudden great speed, it closed the gap between them and swung its spear, catching Gabriel in the side with the blunt end.
Gabriel toppled, rolling, his face twisted with pain. The Horror watched as he got back to his feet, more unsteadily this time.
“How long do you wish to draw this out?” the thing asked, moving in closer again. “I have all the time you like.”
Gabriel’s gaze darted back and forth, looking for something, anything, to use as a weapon. There was nothing on the clean-swept red ground except occasional rocks, none of them bigger than the one he had thrown before. There was no Chasm nearby to lure it over, no other sources of aid. Beyond the Horror Stefan was watching him, but Stefan was a captive just as his friends were. He backed off again, forcing himself to increase speed, trying to give himself more time to think. There had to be an answer. He would not simply give up. There had to be a way!
In the cage, the runners were feeling more helpless than ever. They had attempted to yell encouragement at Gabriel, but their friend gave no sign that he had heard them. They tried again to break the bars, to slide through them, anything to get free of the cage, but to no avail. Their prison was too strong. “Anybody got any more bright ideas?” Ocelot asked the air. He was pacing now, doing his best imitation of his namesake. When nobody answered, he began slamming himself into various parts of the cage in the vain hope that one of them would give way. His friends didn’t try to stop him; they saw no reason to.
The Horror grinned down at Gabriel. “Oh, this is pathetic,” it drawled. “This isn’t any kind of show to put on for your friends and your brother. Is this the way you want them to watch you die—running away like a coward? I thought you were braver than that.” It shrugged. “Either way, it’s boring. I think it might be more exciting if you actually tried to defend yourself.” It raised one hand; the air shimmered around it for a second and then a sword, much smaller than the spear it already held, appeared there. It tossed the sword on the ground near Gabriel. “There. It doesn’t make any difference to me if you fight back—in fact, it might even be amusing.”
Gabriel looked down at the sword and then back up at the Horror. He pointedly ignored the offering. “Do you think that I would accept anything from you?” he asked contemptuously. “I’ve had enough of your tricks.” He paused a moment, then stood straight, glaring at the thing. “Do you know what else I think? I think you are stalling because you know you can’t hurt me, not truly—not until you corrupt me. You haven’t managed to do that, have you? You’ve tried. That’s what all this has been about. All these little scenarios and tricks and tests—they’re all about trying to corrupt me so you can claim me. But they didn’t work. I think you’re afraid now, because you know they aren’t going to work. You’re trying to trick me into giving into you, and I won’t do it.” His eyes blazed. “Do you hear me? I won’t give in, and you cannot have me without my consent!”
The Horror studied him for a moment. Then it burst out laughing. “Ah, Dragonboy!” it managed between spasms of laughter. “That was a fine speech—one of the finest I’ve heard in many an eon. It’s too bad that you’re putting your faith in such a belief, because you see—you are wrong!”
Before Gabriel could react, before Stefan could cry out a warning or the runners in the cage even realized what was happening, the Horror raised its spear with frightening swiftness and let it fly.
Kestrel’s scream joined with Stefan’s bellow of fury as the spear found its mark, piercing Gabriel’s chest and driving him down, pinning him as it buried its point in the reddened ground.
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation and Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.