Kestrel stood in the elevator alone, her hands pressed against its back wall. As it continued upward, taking her toward Gabriel's penthouse apartment in downtown Seattle, she closed her eyes and tried to come up with any rational explanation for what had happened.
He had not given her much information in the brief mental communication he had sent her while he'd looked into her eyes. "I think something terrible has just happened," he'd said, his tone full of sadness.
"Terrible?" she had asked. "Dangerous?"
"I don't think so—not for any of us, at least. Please, Juliana—I must go and find out what has happened."
He didn't often call her by her real name; when he did, she knew he was very serious. Reluctantly she had let him go, but it had been against everything her heart had been telling her to do. Not, of course, that she could have stopped him should he have decided to go without her agreement.
She didn't have any idea if he was actually home or not. His black Dynamit was in its usual place in the garage, but that didn't mean anything. He could have just dropped the car off and gone anywhere from there. However, since she didn't know where else he might have gone, this was the best place to start.
The elevator door opened on the gray-carpeted hall. Slowly she made her way down to the large wooden door at the end and knocked on it. "Gabriel? It's me. Are you in there?"
There was a long pause, and then a soft voice spoke in her mind: "It is open."
Kestrel shoved open the door and entered the apartment, not sure what she expected to see. Ignoring the high, sweeping windows, the huge columns, and the small inviting groups of furniture clustered around the enormous room, she stopped a few steps in and looked only at him.
He was in dragon form, crouched in the middle of the vast floor, his golden scales shimmering in the scant light. As she watched, he swiveled his head around so he could fix his gaze on her. "I thought you might come," he said. His tone sounded ragged and weary.
"I was worried about you," she said. "The others were too. Will you tell me what's happened?"
The dragon sighed, dropping his head back down on his front legs. His long tail was curled tightly around him like a cat's; even in an apartment this size, it was hard for him to stretch out completely without knocking things over. "It would not mean anything to you," he said sadly.
She came over to him, showing no fear at being so close to his sharp teeth and wicked-looking talons. "Gabriel—" She paused, and then: "Gethelwain. Please. If you don't want me to pry, just tell me. But something's obviously bothering you a lot. I want to help, if you'll let me."
He regarded her for a long moment without replying; she could feel his warm breath as she stood before him. Then, at long last, he shifted and changed form, becoming once more the handsome young man. This time, though, instead of the Seahawks jacket and jeans, he was dressed more in his usual style: pale gray tailored suit and purple silk tie. The look of sadness had not left his eyes. Turning, he went over to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows and stared out over the lights of Seattle. "A dear friend has died," he said softly.
Kestrel came quickly over to stand next to him. "How—do you know?"
He lowered his head. "I felt it," he whispered. "He—cried out to me as he was—dying."
"Is that—" she began, picking her words with care. "Is that what happened to you at the stadium?"
He nodded without raising his head. "Yes."
"But—how? Who—who was it?" She watched his face intently as she spoke.
"Kestrel—" He brought his gaze up to meet hers for a moment, then dropped it. She didn't think it was possible for someone to display such profound grief with nothing but his eyes. "It—" Shaking his head, he sighed. "You wouldn't know him. I've never spoken of him to you before. But I've known him for a very long time."
Gently, she took his arm. "Are you—sure? I mean...with nothing but the astral energy—"
"I am sure," he whispered. "He is dead, and there was nothing I could have done to help him. He called for me, and I wasn't able to help."
Kestrel took a deep breath. She was at something of a loss as to what to do. What did one do to comfort a grief-stricken dragon? She didn't think offering him a drink would be the right approach. Finally she went for the direct method, asking quietly, "What can I do to help?"
Again he shook his head. "I don't know," he said. His voice was very quiet and very ragged. He looked up at her with haunted eyes. "I don't know what to do myself. I know he is dead, but I don't know where, or why, or who has killed him. I don't know where to start," he added in despair.
Kestrel was afraid, but she didn't want to show it. Gabriel was always in control of himself; with the single exception of his confrontation with his brother six months ago, she had never seen him show any sort of negative emotion. Now, though, he seemed to be coming unglued, and she had no idea how to deal with him in that state. "Come and sit down with me," she said, keeping her tone soft and soothing.
Listlessly he allowed her to steer him over to one of the soft leather couches near a window. He dropped down into it and continued to stare straight ahead.
Kestrel sat down across from him, taking his hands in hers. "Tell me what you want, Gabriel," she said. "You know I would never pry into your business if you don't want me to, but I can't just leave you like this."
He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as if centering himself. "I don't know what I want," he said. "I want to find out who did this, and why. But I can't even think straight right now."
For a long time she did not answer. The whole situation was overwhelming her a bit: as much as Gabriel currently looked like he was almost young enough to be her own son, he was still in reality an ancient creature, thousands of years old, with thought processes she could not hope to follow. When he was in his human form and acting like his normal self, she sometimes was able to forget that. Now, though, it was clearly obvious that she was in uncharted territory. Anything deep enough to mess up the mind of a Great Dragon wasn't going to be something she could easily cope with. To assume otherwise, she knew, would be highly presumptuous on her part.
Instead, she decided to approach him in the most honest possible way: from her own human perspective. If he needed more than that, she knew she could not give it to him and he would have to seek it elsewhere. "Remember," she said hesitantly, still holding his hands, "back when I found you in the cave on the island? I had just lost my team then. My family, almost. You—asked me to tell you about them. Told me that then they would live in your memory too. I did that, and it helped me. Remember?"
Silently, he nodded.
She swallowed. "Maybe—maybe if you told me about your friend, it might help you."
He looked up at her, then back down at their clasped hands. "Kestrel—" he began, then paused. "I—" Again he paused, his hands tightening on hers. "I will tell you of him. But not now. I truly apologize for my—reluctance to discuss this right now, but—" he trailed off, his gaze coming back up. When he spoke again, it was in the manner of his true self, the words forming in her mind: "Please, Juliana. This is not easy for me. But it is something that I must face alone. When the time is right and I have done what I must do, then I will tell you all you wish to know of him. He deserves such a memorial, and he will have it."
Slowly she nodded, barely aware that he had not spoken aloud. "All right, Gabriel," she said. "Please, though—tell me one thing."
"If I am able," he said, speaking normally again.
Now it was her turn to speak in halting tones. "The—last time you left, saying that there was—something you had to face alone—"
"—was when we fought Stefan," he finished for her. At her nod, he shook his head. "I am not going to fight anyone," he said. "This has nothing to do with Stefan. I am merely—seeking truth."
Squeezing his hands gently, she asked, "And what will you do when you find it?"
"I don't know," he said. "That will depend on what I find." He looked up at her. "I must—go away for awhile, so please don't be concerned if you can't find me. I'll return when I've found the answers I seek."
She nodded. "Are you sure—you don't want me to go with you?"
"I am sure. I must do this alone." He rose, but did not pull his hands away from her. With a faint imitation of his usual smile, he said, "I'll come back, Kestrel. I promise."
"Yeah," she whispered. "I know you will." Pulling him in to her, she gave him a brief, hard hug. "I know you will." Before he could see the tears forming in her eyes, she turned and quickly left the apartment.
Copyright ©1998 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.