It was almost 21:00 and fully dark by the time the black Dynamit left the main highway and headed up the smaller two-lane road that led into the hills. The driver was not taking any particular care to keep to the speed limit, but then, he never did. He was quite confident in his ability to talk himself out of any citations he might attract. Additionally, in this case, he had extended his masking magic to his car to make sure that he didn't gather any unwanted attention.
He was following the mental map he had made while on the astral plane, and had been relieved to discover that there were actually roads that roughly corresponded to where he was attempting to go. He would have liked to have gotten an earlier start, but he knew it had been his own fault. He had remained astral too long and had succeeded in nearly depleting even his massive resources; he had slept the entire day and part of the evening to recover. It was unfortunate that he had been forced to lose all this time, but it couldn't be helped.
Steering the car up the narrow road, he slowed and briefly shifted his perceptions to the astral to orient himself. This was definitely the right direction, and he was getting closer. He couldn't risk more than a glance without stopping the car, though. He switched off the Dynamit's lights, using his own powerful senses for navigation. Better not to catch anyone's eyes too soon if they were up here.
About two kilometers up the road he pulled off the road, parked, and got out of the car, looking around. It was very quiet up here, heavily forested and a fair distance from human or metahuman habitation. It was unlikely that he would be noticed unless those responsible for Telanwyr's death were still here; he doubted that they were.
He was dressed unassumingly in jeans, light shirt, leather jacket and heavy boots—at least if anyone did discover him, he would look the part of a wayward hiker without having to resort to magic. Aside from the normal, extremely well hidden masking spell he used to conceal his true form, he didn't want to employ other magic unless it was necessary. Sticking a small flashlight in his belt, he started into the forest.
It was easy to see where he was going; the moonlight coupled with his natural enhanced vision guaranteed that. The only problem was, he didn't know what he was looking for.
He moved slowly, slipping through the underbrush in utter silence. He would have been reluctant to admit it to anyone, but he was a bit fearful. Whatever was (or had been) here had killed a being far more powerful than he—he was not in any particular hurry to encounter it, alone here in the wilderness. He would do what must be done, but he would do it cautiously. He could not help Telanwyr by getting himself killed; especially since it seemed that he was the only one on Earth who knew that Telanwyr was dead.
After half an hour's searching, he had found nothing. No bodies, no empty ammo boxes, no tire tracks, no evidence of magic—nothing. This perplexed him: he had been so certain that this was the correct location, but as far as he knew it was not possible to hide the murder of a Great Dragon this effectively. There had to be some sort of trail.
Perhaps the spirit would know. In the exhaustion of his long sleep and his concentration on the search, he had almost forgotten the little air elemental he had discovered. It had been afraid, but it had promised him that it would speak with him. It might be the only link he had. Stopping, he projected his thoughts into the astral plane. "Are you still here?"
"I am here," came the small, hesitant voice after a moment.
He sat down on a nearby fallen tree. "Will you allow me to bring you here?"
A long pause. "Why...?" It didn't sound happy about the prospect. If it allowed him to summon it to the material plane then it would be in his power, forced to do his bidding.
"I will not harm you," he assured it. "I give you my word." Shifting his masking a bit, he let it see a glimpse of his true self. Even a tiny little spirit such as this would know that to his kind, one's word was something not given lightly and never broken.
The spirit gasped a bit (or whatever passes for a gasp among spirits). "I will come..." it said. It still sounded fearful, but now there was awe mixed with it. Great Dragons did not often deign to speak with tiny spirits.
Raising his hand before it could change its mind, he made a complicated gesture in the air and the small insubstantial form shimmered into being in front of him. "There," he said, still seated on the tree. Fixing his comforting gaze on it, he continued in a low voice: "Do you remember earlier when we spoke, you told me that there were others here? A large one, and many small ones?"
The spirit flared affirmative.
"What happened to the large one?"
It is gone.
"Where has it gone?"
It has ceased to exist.
The grief rose again in his heart; he submerged it. "How—did it cease to exist?"
Many small ones.
"What did the small ones do?"
Attacked the large one. Then they ceased to exist too. All but one. It ran away.
Pause. "Did the small ones destroy the large one?"
Again, the spirit radiated affirmative, but it was not strong.
"Is there something else?"
"Did anyone assist the small ones in destroying the large one?"
I do not—know. I think so.
He looked hard at it. "Did you see—any others such as I?"
Large ones? Like the one that was destroyed?
This time the spirit radiated negative.
"But you know that there was someone else aiding them?"
I could not see. It was hidden.
Again he paused. "Then—how did you know it was there?"
I do not know. I sensed it. Something was hidden. It seemed to be becoming agitated; it shivered and flitted around in front of him.
"All right," he said softly, afraid he would frighten it out of whatever other information it might possess. Obviously something was blocking that part of the puzzle in the spirit's mind. "You said that there were many small ones. Do you know how many?"
Numbers were not this spirit's strong suit, apparently. He looked around at his feet, gathering up a handful of small stones. "I will count these. Stop me when I have reached the number of the small ones." Slowly, he counted out the stones one at a time into his other hand.
The spirit observed attentively until he had six stones in his hand. That many. They had large machines. Much destruction.
He considered that. "Large machines" and "much destruction" wrought by six individuals—enough to destroy a Great Dragon—would have made a great deal of noise, not to mention disturbing the astral plane for months afterward. "Are you certain? The small ones used their large machines to destroy the large one here?" He indicated the area around him.
Here. All around. Up high. Down low. The large one fought hard, but there were too many.
"How did the small ones cease to exist?"
The large one and his minions destroyed them.
Others such as myself. Of earth and fire. Larger, though.
So Telanwyr had summoned elementals to help him deal with the threat. Larger, indeed. If he knew his friend, Telanwyr would have summoned elementals of enormous size and power. "Where are the others now?"
"Where? Did they cease to exist too?"
Ran away. After the large one was destroyed.
"Could you find them?" Perhaps if he could talk with these elementals, which had to be much larger and more intelligent than this little one, he could get more information.
The spirit flared negative again, though. Far away. Don't know where. Its fear was returning.
He decided to try a different approach. Denizens of the astral plane, after all, were not limited to verbal speech. "Can you show me what happened here?" While undoubtedly the little spirit's impressions would be flawed and incomplete, at least it would be something to go on.
The spirit considered, then sent a cautious affirmative laced with fear.
Leaning back, he closed his eyes and opened his mind to the spirit's impressions. Slowly and then more quickly images flashed across his mind's eye: Telanwyr rising, already gravely injured, from the burning car. Shots fired from below. Helicopters and drones whizzing around him. More shots from below. His burst of flame, followed by the elementals. Screams. Pain. Fear.
His eyes flew open. He was breathing hard, shaking with rage at those who had done this thing. "Where—is the rest?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice steady.
There is no more.
He sat up a bit and fixed his gaze on the spirit, trying to bring his emotions under control. "You didn't show me what happened after he—died. Where is the body?"
I do not—know. The spirit appeared to be wrestling with something in its mind, but failing to grasp whatever it was.
"How can you not know? Did you not see it?"
I ran away. I cannot remember what happened after.
He sighed, his posture slumping. Then he got an idea. "Does this—lack of memory have anything to do with the being who was helping the small ones?"
Agitation. I do not know. Please do not hurt me.
"I gave you my word I would not hurt you," he reminded it, suddenly very tired. "But I need to know the truth. Are you keeping it from me, or do you truly not remember?"
I— It struggled. I do not remember. It is gone.
"All right," he said, standing. So close, and yet so far. He didn't doubt the spirit's words; it was far too weak to lie convincingly to him. He had one more thing to try. "The small one who ran away—did you see him?"
I saw him.
"Which of the small ones you showed me was he?"
He was in the flying machine.
The helicopter. That made sense. Someone in a helicopter could escape the area more quickly than someone in a ground vehicle. "Do you know where he has gone?"
"Can you find him?"
I think so, it answered after a long pause.
"Will you do that for me? Will you show me where he is? I must speak with him." Speak. Yes, said his rage, that is exactly what I will do with him.
It will take some time. I did not watch to see where he went.
He nodded. "All right. Then I will hold you in my service until you find him or until you return to me and tell me that you cannot find him. Then, I give you my word I will release you."
The spirit radiated confusion. Obviously it was not accustomed to being treated with such respect, especially by such a lofty personage as this. I will find him and return to you.
"Thank you." He stood, stretching his legs. "I must go now. I have only one more question for you: what has become of all the bodies and equipment that should be here following such a battle?"
It was almost dejected now. I do not know. They were here and then they were gone.
"All right. Go, then. Find him and report back to me."
Immediately the little spirit blinked out.
He stood there for a moment looking out over the forest. He suspected that it would be useless to continue searching; he knew he would find nothing. Something very odd and very dangerous was going on here. For the next step, he would have to wait for the spirit to return. Until then, he would work to keep his grief at the loss of his friend under control, and to harness his growing rage into useful pathways. He could not afford to allow it to take him over.
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.