Something was wrong. Stefan could feel it.

He sat at his desk, the chair turned around so he could stare aimlessly out the tall window over the brightly-lit Boston skyline. He didn't see any of it.

His hand was inside his jacket pocket, rubbing the small stone dragon figurine that had not left his person since the elf had departed his presence three days ago. A few times he had tried to leave it somewhere—even as close as his desk drawer—and move away from it, but it always called him back, pulling at his mind until he reclaimed the statue and returned it to his pocket. He wanted to touch it. He wanted to feel its contours in his hand and feel its comfort in his mind. Most of the time that didn't concern him, but occasionally, late at night, he caught a corner of his consciousness wondering what he had done. It was at those times that the very fact that he almost always wasn't concerned disturbed him even more.

Tonight was the night when the operation was to reach its conclusion. He did not know the exact time, nor did he know the plan. Operating on a kind of foggy autopilot, he had made the arrangements the elf had directed him to make, impersonating his brother to hire the driver and to contact Telanwyr. His performance must have been good, because neither suspected anything. He would not have expected the dwarf to be suspicious—his illusions were powerful enough to fool even the most perceptive of the small ones, a category into which the dwarf did not fall—but Telanwyr had been a more dangerous proposition. Stefan had not known if he would be able to adequately impersonate his brother's mannerisms, his voice, his appearance, well enough to deceive one who knew him better than any other living creature.

Fortune was with him, though, because Telanwyr was not by nature a suspicious being, especially where his young friend was concerned. It was almost as if the older one had expected at some point to hear from Gethelwain, and so when it occurred, he did not question it. Stefan had been very careful to say only what was necessary, and to inject just the right amount of mild distress into his tone. Too much might have caused Telanwyr to investigate further, while not enough might have cast doubt on the immediacy of the situation. The elf had said that the plan had to move ahead quickly, because even Telanwyr, given enough time to mull over the inevitable minor inconsistencies in Stefan's duplicity, would eventually contact Gethelwain to obtain answers to his questions.

Stefan leaned back in his chair, the statuette still cupped in his right hand, and wondered when it would be over. He tried to muster some enthusiasm over the fact that soon his way would be clear to destroy his hated brother at last, but he could not do it. Every time he pictured Gethelwain's destruction, his mind came back to Telanwyr's. He forced himself to think of the child's pack of friends who had helped to humiliate him in Seattle. He even tried to think of things that had occurred thousands of years ago, things that he did not often consider because they inevitably threw him into a rage that he could not easily control. Nothing helped. His hatred of his brother was each time overridden by the feeling that he had done something terribly wrong.

Flinging himself up from the chair, he began pacing around the office, his hand still in his pocket. His fingers moved almost feverishly over the statuette, but it did not register on his mind that they were doing so. He wished that the elf would give him some indication of what was going on, but so far tonight communications had been stubbornly silent. Perhaps once he knew that it was over—

The statuette tingled in his hand.

He stopped, startled, his fingers tightening around it. Slowly, he pulled it from his pocket and stared at it.

It was glowing.

The veined red stone appeared to be pulsing with a strange inner light; in fact the whole figure was pulsing rhythmically, almost like some sort of bizarre heartbeat. The two ruby eyes, even though they were fixed in place, seemed to be staring back at him. There was something malevolent in their gaze.

It is done.

The words spoke inside Stefan's mind. It was somewhat like the manner in which dragons spoke while in their true forms, but subtly different. His brain protested the intrusion and he was filled with the feeling of something unclean being inside his head.

He is dead.

The voice in his head spoke one more time and then was silent. Slowly, the statuette ceased its pulsing and returned to its quiescent state. The eyes went dark last of all.

Stefan stood in the middle of his vast office, his breath coming in quick gasps.

What have I done?

He closed his eyes, his grip tightening around the statuette again. Suddenly angry, he flung the stone dragon across the room with all the strength he could muster—but before it hit the ground, he used a levitation spell to return it to his hand.

What have I done? he thought again. Fear was not an emotion that was familiar to him, but the edges of it were creeping around his consciousness as he looked once more down at the thing in his hands.

Somewhere off in the distance, like a faraway echo, he heard the sound of laughter. Returning once more to his desk, he dropped into his tall leather chair, spun it around, and propped his elbows on the desk's smooth obsidian surface.

Your way is clear now, he thought despairingly, trying to summon the hatred, the envy, the rage. Anything to drive away this feeling that something had changed within him, something over which he now had no control.

He was already beginning to regret granting the unspecified favor to his visitor.

The dragon statue regarded him silently. In it, he could almost see the grinning face of the elf.

And something else.

What have I done?

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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.