He had lost track of the time he had spent here, wandering the astral plane, but it had been long enough that even his indomitable will was beginning to flag. His senses, in addition to his growing fatigue, were telling him that if he did not find something soon, he would be forced to return to his body to rest, only to try again later.
He was alone. He dared not seek help among any others of his kind, because he was not yet certain that one or more of them were not responsible for the atrocity that had been committed. Although he was a potent force among the small ones, when dealing with his own kind he knew he must take care, since to them he was only a youngster. If this was some sort of conspiracy among his elders, then he was certain that he would be dealt with should he tip his hand too early.
This did not have the feel of his own kind, though, and that was the thing that disturbed him the most. If not they, then who? And, more importantly, how had they managed to hide their handiwork so efficiently that less than twelve hours later he could not find any evidence of it? Violent deaths left massive amounts of astral energy—the violent death of something as ancient and powerful as a fully-mature Great Dragon should have lit up the astral plane with such strength that anyone with any sensitivity at all should not have been able to miss it. He had not yet been awake when one of the greatest of their kind, Dunkelzahn, had been savagely and senselessly murdered, but even now, nearly two years later, he was still able to visit the site of Dunkelzahn's death and find easily detectable (if extremely bizarre) astral energy. Telanwyr's power had not approached Dunkelzahn's, but nonetheless with such a short time having passed, something should have been visible.
He had begun by concentrating his search on the areas Telanwyr had been known to frequent, beginning with his lair. At first, he had hoped that perhaps he had somehow been mistaken—that against all odds someone or something had been playing a cruel hoax on him, and Telanwyr was in fact still alive. But as he continued on, searching each place, calling for his friend, he was forced to admit that he had always known the hope had been in vain. Telanwyr was nowhere to be found. At each location his grief washed over him anew, many times requiring that he stop and gather himself before continuing. More than once he wanted to give up and yield to the grief, but he pushed himself on with the knowledge that he was possibly the only one who even knew something had happened. He would not leave the death of a being as close to him as his own father unavenged.
Now, though, several hours later, he was running out of ideas. Normally he would not have risked leaving his body virtually unguarded for this long, even behind the powerful wards he had constructed to protect it. Further, every hour he remained weakened him more, meaning that if he were to be attacked upon returning, his defenses would be severely depleted. He knew that it was not wise to do what he was doing, but he did not care. His grief at Telanwyr's death was so strong that it was overriding his normal judgment. If there was a price to pay for that, then so be it.
He stopped, pausing to collect himself one last time before returning. Was there anything he had forgotten? He was not at his mental peak now—it was possible that something simple had eluded him. He had checked Telanwyr's lair, as well as many of the places he knew his old friend liked to visit, and found nothing. Where else might he have had occasion to go? Where could a Great Dragon be killed without anyone noticing? And why had Telanwyr called to him, specifically, as he died? He had not seen his old mentor in several months—what, then, would cause Telanwyr to think that he might respond to such a call?
If he believed me to be close by.
The thought came to him suddenly and hit him hard. Perhaps Telanwyr had called to him because he had expected that he was near! But why would he expect such a thing? The older dragon's lair was in northern Europe, thousands of kilometers away. Even when considering the much more irrelevant distances on the astral plane, that would not qualify as "near." Had Telanwyr somehow been expecting him to visit?
That still didn't make sense, however. His friend's call had been loud and strong and unmistakable. Even someone as powerful as Telanwyr would have been hard pressed to send out a signal like that across such a distance. Perhaps he might have been able to do it if he had aimed it at a human or metahuman—someone who did not have his own level of mental shielding in place. But to punch through that level of protection as if it were not there—
Telanwyr had been very close to him when he died.
Thoroughly confused now, he considered this new possibility. Had Telanwyr somehow been nearby? And if so, why? Had he come to visit him? It seemed odd that he would do that unannounced. Perhaps he had been in the area for some other reason entirely—business, possibly. That didn't make sense either, though, given what he knew of Telanwyr: he did not often interact with humans and metahumans, and he had no business interests other than an impressive and convoluted series of investments that practically managed themselves. Telanwyr had always been the type who liked to keep to himself and confine himself to his own affairs.
He didn't have much longer now; if he didn't turn up something in the next hour or so, he would have to return later. By that time, any traces or clues that remained might be swept away. They might already be gone, but it was best not to wait. Gathering his exhausted mental energies, he flung himself through astral space back toward the Seattle area.
When he finally found what he was seeking, he almost missed it. He wasn't sure whether it was because he was tiring or because the energy itself was so faint, but for whatever reason, he had almost passed over the area in question before stopping, unsure as to whether anything had been there. When he returned, however, and took a moment to examine the area carefully, he could feel a definite something. He wasn't entirely certain what the something was, but it had the dim but unmistakable feel of Telanwyr to it. Something had happened here, and it had not been long ago.
Again he stopped. Mapping the astral precisely to the material plane was not an easy thing to do, but it seemed that the affected area was a short distance to the north of Seattle—he guessed perhaps fifty to two hundred kilometers. In Salish-Shidhe territory, he thought. I wonder what he was doing there?
Already beginning to feel the faint tuggings of his corporeal body trying to reclaim his astral form, he hurriedly began trying to orient himself so he could find this place again on the material plane. If this is where the murder occurred, then he would have to go there in person to investigate. The astral traces were too dissipated to be of any use.
He had almost finished when he became aware that he was being observed. Looking up, a bit startled, he noticed a small form flitting away quickly. It radiated fear of a sort exhibited by a prey creature escaping a predator. Wait, he called. Do not run away.
The little thing nervously slowed, then stopped. It was a small spirit of some sort—perhaps an air elemental. Do not destroy me, it pleaded.
He crouched down, still watching it. I have no wish to destroy you, or harm you, he said, keeping his emotional tone soft and non-threatening. His astral form was masked so he could pass unnoticed as an unremarkable human mage; his true form would attract far more attention than he wished to attract at this point.
It didn't come any closer, but its fear quieted a bit. Why are you here?
I am seeking something.
Seeking what? The fear was coming back again.
He remained in his crouch, ignoring the increasingly strong pull of his material body. I believe that a friend was killed here recently. I am looking for information about who was responsible.
The large one, the spirit said. Then, as if afraid it had said too much, it made as if to run away again.
No—please do not go! He raised up a bit, but then forced himself back down. You know of this?
Reluctantly the little spirit radiated affirmative. Gone now.
Yes, but what happened to him? Who else was here?
The spirit paused. Many others. All gone now.
Many others? Other—large ones? Had he been wrong in his failure to suspect others of his kind?
This time the spirit's aura showed negative. Small ones. All gone.
All gone. Dead? This was going to be difficult. A spirit of this size would not have a great deal of intellect. Getting anything useful out of it would be like trying to cross-examine a four-year-old child. He was, however, patient.
Almost. One ran away.
As much as he needed to continue this conversation, the pull was too strong for even him to ignore now. He was risking death by remaining any longer. Desperately, he said, I must go away now. I will return later. I will come to this place. Will you speak with me again? I must learn the truth. Will you help me? He put every ounce of his considerable persuasive powers into the entreaty, hoping that the tiny spirit would be able to overcome whatever had caused its fear.
I will try, the spirit said after a very long pause. It was very obvious from its aura and the emotional content of its tone that whatever had frightened it had had a profound effect. Overcoming it would not be easy.
I will return as soon as I am able, then, he said. Then, unable to maintain his connection any longer, he allowed to pull to take him back to his physical body.
In the penthouse apartment in downtown Seattle, Gabriel's eyes snapped open as his two halves were once more reunited. The dragon allowed himself a brief glance around the vast room to verify that everything was as he had left it, then his head dropped as he fell into an exhausted sleep.
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.