They landed once, though Sean wasn’t quite sure where except that from the look of the scenery and the length of the flight, they were somewhere in Europe. They remained there for about an hour, with the passengers doing as requested and remaining inside the plane. Looking out the window Sean could see that they were refueling. He wondered where they would go next and asked the question aloud.
“Don’t know,” Kestrel told him. She indicated Gabriel, who was leaned back in his seat. He appeared to be looking out the window but his eyes were far away. “I think he’s getting the story now—if so, he’ll tell us.”
Sean nodded and contented himself with putting together a small breakfast from the plane’s well-stocked refrigerator. Kestrel had done so awhile ago; Ocelot wasn’t eating, nor was Winterhawk, although the mage had made up a plate of roast beef and fish for Maya. The blackberry cat was now stretched out elegantly across the back of one of the seats, her paws draped over on both sides. Of the occupants of the small cabin, she was undoubtedly the most relaxed.
When Gabriel’s awareness popped back in, Kestrel looked at him questioningly. “Anything?”
He nodded. “We’re going to Zurich,” he told them. “They’ve secured a hall for the Council meeting there. The meeting itself will take place tomorrow evening.”
“That’s fast,” Sean said, surprised. “I guess dragons just drop anything and run for this, huh?”
“It is a rather important event,” Gabriel reminded him. “Remember, this is only the second such Council in this age. It isn’t something to be taken lightly.”
“So—all the dragons will be there? Even Lofwyr?” Despite their predicament, Sean was impressed. He’d seen images of the big golden CEO of Saeder-Krupp on the trid news, but he’d never expected to see him in person.
“Undoubtedly.” Gabriel looked significantly more sober than Sean did at that moment. “I suspect he will not be pleased to be called from his business dealings, but then I doubt that many of those attending will be pleased at the necessity.”
Sean nodded, getting serious again. “That’s got to be a pretty big hall to hold all those dragons...”
“They will be in human form.” Gabriel rose and began pacing around the cabin. “There are no longer structures in existence large enough to contain the world’s Great Dragons in their true forms.”
Sean was a little disappointed at that. The tiny part of him that was anticipating this event was sorry that they wouldn’t get to see dozens of dragons—maybe even more—all in one place. When he thought about it he was surprised by some of these feelings he was having—somehow he thought he should be more upset about the whole thing, but at this point he was still having trouble accepting that it was all real. He was sure it would be sinking in soon. “How far are we from Zurich now?” he asked.
“About an hour’s flight. We’ll be taking off again in a few minutes.”
Sean nodded. One way or another, soon this would all be over. There wasn’t much to do now but wait.
The small jet took off again on schedule and a little less than an hour later touched down again. Twilight was beginning to fall as they exited the plane at the tiny, picturesque airport. Sean looked around, impressed by the mountains looming around them. He had not traveled much with the Hunters and had never been anywhere in Europe; the scenery was a lot different than what he was used to in Connecticut. Kestrel smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder as she walked next to him.
There was another limousine waiting to pick them up, this time a white Mercedes with blackened windows. The group piled into the car and it headed off into the heart of Zurich.
Sean was surprised when they didn’t remain in the city but instead appeared to be heading outside it. “I thought you said we were going to be in Zurich,” he said to Gabriel.
“A short distance out, actually,” the young man told him. “There is a hall in the mountains that is normally used for corporate retreats. It will afford our meeting the maximum amount of privacy.”
Sean nodded. He hadn’t thought about that. “I guess all those dragons don’t really want just anyone knowing they’re getting together, do they?”
“No. But by the time the magical protections are in place there will be no awareness that we are there. The administrators of the hall will think only that a group of businesspeople have gathered for a meeting.”
“How did they get the place on such short notice?”
Gabriel smiled; it was an odd mirthless smile. “They’re dragons.”
“Would you want to tell them they can’t have the clubhouse for their meeting?” Kestrel leaned over the chair behind them.
Sean took a deep breath and settled down again. His mind wouldn’t stay still; it kept flitting back and forth between wanting this to be over and wanting it to last as long as possible. All his life he had admired dragons, and now he was going to be the subject of a meeting of all the Great Dragons in the world. Him! Sean Hunter, burbs kid from Connecticut, teenage nobody. All those dragons would be paying attention to him. He wondered if one of them would eat him if things went badly. He wondered if they even did that anymore.
Maya seemed to pick up on his agitated thoughts, as she once more carefully picked her way across the various laps and settled herself in Sean’s. He smiled, stroking her, and looked up at Winterhawk.
“I think she’s taken quite a liking to you,” the mage told him. He seemed amused by it.
“I’m glad.” Sean stroked her behind the ears and she purred. He was glad—her attentions were once more taking his mind from having too many apprehensive thoughts.
The limo soon left the main highway, turning off onto a smaller road that snaked through breathtaking scenery and steadily climbed upward. Sean saw other cars ahead of them and wondered if they were going to the same place. He craned his neck upward, trying to spot dragons in flight, but saw none. It made sense, he supposed—if they were trying to keep the meeting quiet, it wouldn’t do to have giant winged creatures making landings on the roof. Perhaps they were flying invisibly. Or maybe they’re just driving, he told himself wryly.
They remained on the winding road for another half-hour or so. As they rounded one last curve Sean got a good look at the place: it was built into the side of the mountain, and someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it blend in with the surrounding scenery. The tall, vertical windows shone like diamonds in the fast-ebbing sunlight, looking like giants had cut into the mountain and revealed the treasures beneath for all to see.
Gabriel appeared to be getting instructions again as the limo pulled up at the hall’s massive front entrance. “A suite has been prepared for us,” he told them as he switched back in. “There is no need for any sort of check-in procedure. One of the spirits will show us the way.”
And indeed as they got out of the car they could see a hovering form waiting for them. It bowed respectfully and indicated for them to follow.
“Spirits?” Ocelot asked, looking around. “How do they explain that to the folks who work here normally?”
“There is no one currently here who works here normally,” Gabriel told him. “The Council has taken over the entire complex for the duration of the meeting. All the servants and workers you will see are spirits or have been otherwise brought here by the participants.”
Sean followed along behind them, amazed at the amount of sheer clout the dragons could muster when they wanted to. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised—even one Great Dragon could pretty much have what he or she wanted just by making the desire known—but still, this was so far outside his realm of experience that there weren’t even proper words for it. He looked around as they entered the main lobby, taking in the thick carpeting, the soaring stone walls, the crystal chandeliers, and the elegantly dressed individuals moving about their errands. He wondered which of them were dragons and which were spirits or servants, and noticed that occasionally one of them would glance surreptitiously at Gabriel. Some of these wore expressions of curiosity; others, of ill-concealed anger.
Their suite was, by the indicator on the elevator, underground. The silent spirit led them down the hallway, making no sound as it floated a few centimeters off the floor. The hallway itself contained only four doors, widely separated by expanses of stone walls. Clearly this was either the VIP area or someplace where few people stayed. The spirit opened a set of double doors at the end of the hall and swung them wide, motioning the group inside.
If this was any sort of prison or holding area it certainly did not look like it. The suite was huge, containing a central sitting room with a fireplace, small kitchen and bar, and a panoramic view of the mountains outside (which, due to their location was no doubt holographic, but it was impossible to tell this just by looking at it) surrounded by several other doors that undoubtedly led to bedrooms. After determining that the suite was acceptable, the spirit bowed and left them alone closing the door behind it.
Gabriel immediately went over to the “window” as Ocelot, Winterhawk, and Kestrel flopped down on various couches. Sean remained where he was, looking back and forth between them.
“Now what?” Ocelot asked. “We just wait here until tomorrow night?”
“We are free to move around the complex,” Gabriel told him without turning away from the window. “There are numerous recreational facilities, bars, restaurants, gyms, and other diversions available should you wish to visit them. Sean and I have been asked not to leave the complex. It is possible for the rest of you to leave if you wish, but I would advise strongly against mentioning the purpose of your visit here.”
Kestrel shook her head. “I don’t think any of us are in a hurry to leave.” She looked over at Sean. “How are you holding up?”
Sean shrugged. “This is weirder than anything I’ve ever done in my life. Okay, I guess—all things considered.”
“That’s the spirit.” She smiled a little, then looked out the window. “Switzerland. That’s quite a view. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. Remember, Gabriel?”
Again he nodded without turning. “I remember.”
“It was only a few days before you—uh—started out,” Kestrel told Sean, getting up and moving over next to Gabriel at the window. “That’s another story somebody should tell you one of these days.”
Sean looked surprised. “So this is where I—” There was an irony there that he wasn’t sure he thought was amusing or not.
Kestrel, however, shook her head. “No. Actually, it was in Gabriel’s lair.”
Gabriel’s expression was sober. “Yes—and we will tell you about it sometime, Sean. But I don’t think this is the time.”
Sean nodded, not wanting to pry into his parents’ business, although his curiosity was strong. Up until Gabriel’s announcement at the Golden Dragon, it hadn’t even occurred to him that dragons and humans could mate and produce children. Everybody knew dragons—at least some of them, and none were forthcoming about which ones—could take human form, but he’d always thought it was some kind of elaborate illusion designed to fool the puny humans and metahumans.
“We have a lot of stories to tell you, “ Kestrel said, smiling. “And I’d imagine you have some to tell us, too. We weren’t able to keep close tabs on you because it would have been too dangerous for you, so there are a lot of things we don’t know about your life.”
Sean shrugged, smiling a little. “It sure wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as yours, that’s for sure.”
“But was it happy?” She seemed genuinely concerned about his answer—he could sense faint guilt behind her expression.
He thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, it was,” he said softly. “The Hunters were...great. They took good care of me, even though I wasn’t the easiest kid in the world to raise.”
“Oh?” She didn’t seem disturbed by this, but rather more amused. “Not the model son, huh?”
“Let me guess,” Gabriel put in. “You were always getting into trouble because you weren’t able to simply go along with what was expected of you.”
“How’d you—?” He grinned. “Oh, yeah. You’re a dragon.” He flopped down into a chair. “That’s about it. No serious trouble: I never got arrested or anything like that. I just—” Shrugging, he realized he couldn’t find the words. “Yeah,” he finally finished lamely.
“Not surprising,” Gabriel said. “I did nothing to alter your personality—only hid your abilities and your nature. Dragonkin children are almost always risk-takers who have trouble fitting in with their societies.”
Sean nodded. That sure sounded familiar to him. “In a way it’s a relief to find that out. I didn’t always want to be like that, but it was like I couldn’t stop. Whenever there was something to try, I had to try it, just to see if I could. The Hunters thought I was overcompensating for the fact that I didn’t test as a physical adept.”
Kestrel laughed. “Well, you’re your father’s son, that’s for sure. You two should get along great. Gabriel’s been a daredevil ever since I first met him.”
“You’re not exactly home tending your knitting yourself,” Ocelot pointed out from the other side of the room.
“Hey, I’ve slowed down some,” she protested. Then, in a quieter sheepish voice, added, “...a little...”
Gabriel smiled and turned away from the window. After a pause, he said a bit reluctantly, “If you’ll forgive me, I’m afraid have to deal with a couple of things before tomorrow so I’ll have to ask you to excuse me for awhile.”
Kestrel nodded. “We’ll be fine. I should probably at least try to get a nap in, and I’m sure Sean and I will have a lot to talk about later on this evening.”
“Yeah,” Sean agreed. “I’d like that. If you’re going to have a nap, I think I’ll go exploring for awhile. I can’t sit still and I doubt I’ll have any luck trying to sleep.” He didn’t say so aloud, but he also wanted a little time alone to let the events of the past few hours sink in.
Gabriel seemed to understand immediately. “It’s a big complex, but you should have access to most of it. Anywhere they don’t want us to go will be locked. Just don’t leave—I suspect they will try to stop you if you do.”
“I won’t. I just need some time to think. We can talk later on, okay?”
Kestrel smiled. “You got it.”
After he left the suite Sean just wandered aimlessly around the complex for an hour or so, letting himself drift in whatever direction his instincts took him. Gabriel had been right : the place was big, and probably designed to handle many more people than were apparently attending this meeting. The fact was, he didn’t see anyone at all in the halls—no spirits, no humans or metahumans, and certainly no dragons. He wondered if they would all show up tomorrow, arriving at the last minute. Dragons had to be busy creatures, he mused—far too busy to cool their heels waiting around for things to happen.
He let his breath out slowly as he rounded a corner and passed a couple of large dining rooms. Half dragon! He was still halfway convinced that he’d wake up back at Crank’s place and discover that the whole thing had been a bad dream. People didn’t just discover they shared ancestry with the biggest, baddest, smartest creatures ever to walk the earth. I guess most people don’t, he thought wryly.
He thought of the people he had met today. He liked them. In a way, he was sorry that Ocelot wasn’t his father. He’d felt an instant kinship with the man, and they did have a lot in common. My real parents... He visualized Gabriel, so young and—well, un-parentlike—and Kestrel, with her hard beauty and twinkling eyes, then pictured Kristi and Grant Hunter. He still felt a strong sense of loss when he thought about the Hunters. Part of him wouldn’t allow him to fully accept that they hadn’t been his parents, even though he knew it wasn’t so. You didn’t grow up for almost eighteen years thinking people were your blood kin and then suddenly throw that all away. He wished they hadn’t had to die for all this to be set in motion.
He glanced up, realizing that he’d still been walking while lost in his reverie, and now he was at a part of the complex he didn’t recognize. That didn’t bother him, though—his sense of direction had always been good and he had no doubt he could find his way back. A glance at his chrono did startle him, however: he’d been walking for more than an hour. Also, there was something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. A feeling. He turned quickly and looked behind him, half expecting to see Shaozu or one of his employees there, but he saw nothing. The hallway was deserted. Why, then, was he getting the feeling that somebody was watching him?
Dragons, he thought. Maybe they, or at least some of them, were here already, hidden away in their secret places where he’d never find them. Watching me? The thought made him nervous. He didn’t think he would be the most popular person around here in any case—if they were watching him, why were they doing it? He decided he didn’t want to wait around and find out.
As he turned and moved back toward the familiar areas and the suite, he picked up his pace a little faster than before.
When he got back Sean found Winterhawk lounging in the main room, reading a magazine on a datapad. Maya was curled up on the chair behind him. The mage looked up and smiled as Sean came in. “Sean. Didn’t hear you come in.” He put the datapad down on the table next to him.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Oh, I’m quite disturbed enough already,” Winterhawk said cheerfully. “Have a seat if you like. Been out exploring?”
“Yeah, a little. I didn’t want to go too far—I kept getting the feeling that I was being watched.”
Winterhawk nodded. “I try not to let it bother me. I figure with this many dragons about, if they want to know my innermost thoughts they’re going to do it with or without my consent, so why worry?”
Sean nodded, perching on the edge of the chair. “I guess that’s a good way to look at it. Is Mom around?”
Winterhawk shook his head. “No—she was having more trouble sleeping than she thought, so she went out looking for Gabriel.”
Sean paused. “Do you mind if I ask you some things?”
The mage shrugged. “Go right ahead. I can’t guarantee I’ll know the answers, but try me.”
“How exactly do you know my father? He told me you used to be a shadowrunner, but you’re not anymore.”
“That’s right.” Winterhawk nodded. “Gave that up years ago. These days I teach magic.”
“At University. London. I’m heading up the Thaumaturgy Department there. I suppose your father told you about what else I do?”
Sean lowered himself down fully into the chair. “He said you did some freelance work for the Draco Foundation.”
Again Winterhawk nodded. “I’m in charge of the British arm of a little group that investigates odd magical phenomena.”
“Dad said dangerous.”
“That too,” he agreed. “We look into them, try to figure out what’s causing them, and if need be, deal with them.”
Sean smiled a little. “That sounds like a great job. How did you end up doing it?”
‘Hawk leaned back, reaching up to stroke Maya, who was half asleep. “It’s all your father’s fault. After a few adventures we had together—your father and Ocelot and Kestrel and a couple of others and I—and after you were born, he decided he wanted to have a bit more active role in the world. He went to the Draco Foundation and basically volunteered to do some work for them. As he’s a dragon they were glad to have him and set him up his own little division. He was looking for someone to handle the European end and asked me.” He shrugged. “I was already thinking about cutting back on the shadowrunning, and it was right about that time that I’d married and my son was born—”
“You have a son?” Sean was interested. “He’d be about my age, then, yes?”
‘Hawk nodded. “About, yes. Ian’s a year or so younger. He’ll be starting University this year.”
Sean nodded. “Does your wife do this too?” he asked, thinking about Ocelot and Kestrel. “The weird-magic hunting thing, I mean?”
The mage chuckled. “Oh, no. For one thing, I’m not married anymore. We’ve been divorced for years, although we’re still the best of friends. Marriage was the worst thing that could have happened to our friendship, I think. It was good we both realized it and got out when we did. No, Cynthia’s a clothing designer. Jet-set, world travelling type. Ian’s with her now. I think they’re in Milan.” He looked at Sean. “You’d be about ready to start University yourself, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m due back this fall.”
“Where, if you don’t mind my asking?”
‘Hawk nodded noncommittally. “Good school. You’ll actually be not too far from Ian. He’s going to be attending Dunkelzahn University. He wanted to get away from England, and their thaumaturgy program is first-rate.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard that. Georgetown offered me a football scholarship, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to get cyber or nanomods.”
“Understandable.” The mage tilted his head a bit, looking at Sean with a probing gaze. “Have you given any thought to changing your plans, now that you know more about your—situation?”
Sean realized then that he hadn’t. He hadn’t exactly had time to, but he hadn’t allowed himself to think about it. “No. I guess I just want to get through this. It might all be useless anyway.”
Winterhawk picked up the tiniest little shake in his voice. “Sean,” he said gently, “It will be all right. I’ve known your father for many years, and despite the fact that he insists that he’s young and has little influence with the other dragons, I’ve never seen him fail in anything he’s set his mind to. I know he’s got one or two major aces up his sleeve. He isn’t going to let anything happen to you.”
Sean lowered his head. He wanted it to be true, but wasn’t sure he could believe it. “Yeah, but—even if that’s the case—what about him? I don’t want to see him get some kind of terrible punishment for this either. I don’t want any of this to be my fault, and it is.”
“No, it isn’t.” Winterhawk’s voice was very firm, his gaze even sharper than before. “Listen to me, Sean. None of this is your fault. How could it be? You were no more at fault for your existence than any child born in less than perfect conditions is. If there is any fault to be assigned—and frankly, I don’t think there is, given what I know of the circumstances—it lies with your parents, not with you. Do you understand?”
Sean brought his gaze up to meet the mage’s electric blue eyes. “Yeah. In my head, I do. In my heart—I just don’t want to see anybody get hurt because of me.”
Winterhawk nodded. “Of course you don’t. And that’s very honorable, given that you’ve only known most of this collection of miscreants for less than a day. I’ll just tell you this—I can’t guarantee how things will go. I don’t presume to understand the affairs of dragons. But I do know that Gabriel isn’t someone to take lightly. He can hold his own against this lot. What he lacks in political power, he more than compensates for in intelligence and sheer chutzpah.” He smiled. “So try not to worry, even though I know that’s an impossibility at this point.”
Sean smiled. He liked this cynical mage; someone to lighten up the situation was welcome. “Well, we’ll see. And if I do get out of this, I’d like to meet Ian.”
“I’ll arrange it. That’s a promise.” The mage looked at him a little oddly. “You know, this is just a suggestion, but after all of this is over and Gabriel’s given you back your abilities, you might want to consider rethinking your University plans. Georgetown isn’t known for their magical programs.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sean’s tone was a little bitter, and he hoped Winterhawk didn’t notice. One of the reasons he’d chosen them aside from their impressive academic program was that they weren’t known for magic, which meant that there were very few physical adepts on the athletic teams. “I’ll think about it,” he told him. “After, I mean.”
‘Hawk nodded. “If you’ve got the grades to get in, I’m sure your father could pull a few strings to get you enrolled late at Dunkelzahn.” He shrugged. “As I said, just a suggestion.” He stood, picking up his datapad and stowing it in his pocket. “If you don’t mind, though, I think I’m going to try to get some sleep. I slept a bit on the plane but that’s never terribly restful.” He held out his arm, and after a moment Maya made a soft meow and draped herself lazily over it.
Sean grinned at the sight. “Hey...thanks. For talking to me, I mean. I appreciate it. I don’t think I’m going to get much sleep. There’s too many things to find out.”
“You’re quite welcome.” He smiled. “It’s good to see you’ve turned out so well. Last time I saw you, you were much shorter—and much louder.” Without waiting for an answer, he turned and headed toward the door to his room. As he reached it, Maya craned her head around his arm and meowed at Sean.
“What’d she say?”
“She said ‘don’t stay up too late’. Good advice, though I doubt you’ll be heeding it.”
Sean just smiled at her and didn’t answer.
Copyright ©2001-2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.