Outside, it was late. The faint pinkish sun still hung high above, but the sky around it had darkened, casting a blood-colored dimness over the land.
Gabriel opened his eyes and for what had to be the hundredth time glanced over to the tiny barred window behind which his friends were being held. There was no movement over there, no light coming from the cell. Were they asleep? Were they even still there?
He didn't know.
He was back on his knees again; he'd tried standing for awhile, but between his injuries and his exhaustion, he had been unable to remain upright for long. A simple levitation spell would have solved his problem instantly, but that option was not available to him.
No magic, they'd told him. They had wanted him to suffer.
After they had led him away from his friends, the creatures had worked him over, secure in the knowledge that he could not fight back. He knew that as long as they did not kill or seriously injure him, the Horror in charge of this foul farce would not object.
And they had not injured him severely. They had set about their task with the efficiency of a team of mafia enforcers and the enthusiasm of a horde of schoolyard bullies. When they had finished with him he was battered and bloody, but with no injuries that would have been considered permanent on a human body.
As they had done the job, he had fought against it the only way he was permitted—by sending his mind off elsewhere, focusing on his friends, on the changes in Stefan, on the battle that lay ahead. He even indulged himself with a few thoughts of what he might do to his captors were he somehow permitted to change to his true form and have his way with them. The sort of guilt he normally got on the rare occasions when he had thoughts like that did not exist here—this was the Enemy. The only guilt would be in surrender.
Several hours had passed since he had last spoken with Kestrel. Her voice had been like sunshine in his mind—just the act of speaking with her for those few moments had given him an extra measure of resolve. He was doing this for her. He was doing it for all of them—even Stefan—but mostly for her. The thought brought him pleasure.
The pleasure was short-lived, though. Invariably it was driven off by thoughts of what was to come—and of what had come before. It had seemed so long ago that he had felt Telanwyr's death-agony echoing through his mind; had it really only been a bit more than a week ago? Time passed differently in the Netherworlds, so he could not be certain how long they had been about their quest—he wondered if Harlequin and Jane Foster had been successful in vanquishing the Enemy that had come through the gateway, and if they were still waiting in his Seattle apartment, watching over their still bodies. If he and his friends did manage by some miracle to survive this, they would have quite a story to tell the elf and his student.
He allowed that thought to divert his mind for a few moments. Sleep was, of course, out of the question, since he was not yet tired enough to simply pass out from exhaustion. The dull, incessant pain in his arms and the sharper pain of the manacles biting into his wrists would only get worse without even the minimal effort he was exerting to keep himself upright. The temptation to relieve the pain with magic was almost irresistible, and yet he continued to fight it. It was not so much that he minded breaking his word to the Enemy—although he would not do so, since that would bring him down to their level—but rather that he knew what would befall his friends and his brother if his resolve wavered. The weight of such responsibility settled heavily on his young shoulders, but there was no other way. He remembered something he had thought back when he was fending off Stefan's attacks as his brother had sought to reclaim the dragon statuette: pain was simply the way to know that you weren't dead yet. In that context it was almost welcome.
"Well," came a voice from behind him. "You're holding up better than I expected, young one. You'll prove to be a better sacrifice than your brother, I think."
Gabriel made no attempt to turn his head. He would not give the thing the satisfaction of exerting effort on its behalf.
Chuckling, the Horror came around in front of him. It was cloaked once again in its elven form, dressed as it had been when it had first visited Stefan. Its roiling eyes scanned Gabriel with cold amusement. "I see my—assistants—have had their fun with you. I do hope they didn't hurt you badly. Of course, it doesn't really matter. You'll be all healed up good as new before the ritual begins."
Gabriel did not answer. He watched the Horror without moving.
"Oh, such a stoic young dragon!" The elf-thing began pacing around in front of him. "So concerned for his friends that he's volunteered to take his brother's place—even though his brother was foolish enough to be suckered in the first place, just like his brother's equally foolish father—just because he thinks a motley collection of street scum and one disgraced dragon can pull some sort of last-minute rabbit out of a hat!" It laughed again as Gabriel's gaze came up to fix on it. "Oh, yes, I know all about that. I've been listening to their little plans, and I want you to know that they aren't going to work." It paced in silence for a moment, grinning, then turned back to the young man. "It's not as if we're planning to do anything to stop them, mind you—in fact, I expect it to be highly amusing watching them try to put aside their hatreds long enough to attempt anything. That's why I'm letting them live—for awhile, at least. They're fun to watch. Just like that association of idiots I hired to destroy your friend."
Gabriel's breathing picked up a bit, involuntarily. The Horror must have noticed it, because it began to laugh again. Reaching out, it brought one finger up under the young man's chin and pushed it upward, moving in close. "That was quite a sight to see. Too bad you missed it. But then, I guess you didn't miss it, did you? I was watching when you tore it out of the mind of that insane rigger—and when you killed him. Nicely done! I didn't think you had it in you. Threatening to eat him was a very nice touch." It paused, pulling its finger back. "That's when I really started to think that I might have a chance at you, you know. When you killed Slyde. Before that, I'd thought you to be some sort of gold-plated, too-pure-for- your-own-good, incorruptible little princeling. It was nice to know that even you had your limits. Kind of restored my faith in the way of things." It grinned. Then its eyes widened in exaggerated surprise. "But I just realized something! You haven't seen all of it, have you? You couldn't have, because I didn't let Slyde keep it all. Most unfortunate, but necessary—couldn't let you have too much at once, or you might have figured things out too early and spoiled all our fun. But now—" It reached out again, this time clamping its hand over Gabriel's forehead. "—I think it's time for you to see the rest of the show."
Gabriel fought to resist the visions that began flooding into his mind, but he could not do it. There was a power behind this elf-thing—a power far greater than it could have possessed on its own—and it drove the images past his weakened barriers before he could stop them. Telanwyr...the helicopter...the laser...the screams...and then—
—and then the red glow. The things in the air. The things devouring Telanwyr's body. The sickening pink miasma—then the image of a massive corpse, rotting away on a reddened plain—
"No!" Gabriel cried, shaking his head violently back and forth, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.
The images faded as the Horror's laughter rose to a crescendo. It stepped back, threw its head backward, and laughed madly up into the sky. "Oh, young one! You are more foolish than your brother if you think that you can triumph over us! My Master is older than the oldest of your race! Do you think that you could deceive us, youngster?" It patted him on the head as one would a puppy. "I'll leave you with those pictures to give you company while you sleep—if you can sleep. And you can go on believing that your pathetic brother and your street scum friends can do anything more than simply watch you die. Whatever it takes to get you through the night. Ta." Its laughter died down to a mild chuckle as it turned and headed back off toward the town.
Gabriel watched it go, his eyes narrowing, his handsome face distorted with hatred. The compulsion to destroy the thing where it stood with his most powerful magic was almost impossible to ignore.
It would be so easy—
Slowly, though, his features returned to calm. Despite the Horror's attempt to torture his mind and lay open the darkness within him, he knew something that the Horror did not—and could not—know.
Hatred was not the answer.
"It is not yet over, Telanwyr..." he whispered to himself.
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.