The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, the brilliant rays of the sunrise illuminating the stark loveliness of the mountains and forests outside the massive windows of the suite.
Of course it was all fake since they were underground, Sean thought as he dressed in the new suit that had appeared in his closet last night to replace the old one, but the holographic window-views usually mirrored the conditions in the real world and it was a particularly impressive sunrise.
Just the thing, he thought.It’s nice that it’s a pretty day, seeing as how it’s probably my last one alive.
He hadn’t slept much the previous night; his mind kept going over the arguments, all the things the dragons had said both against and in defense of his father and his actions, and his mother’s last-minute plea for understanding. He hadn’t realized until yesterday just how much his father had been through, how much he had done since Awakening in the Sixth World only a little more than twenty years ago. Had Gabriel and his friends really saved the world from some kind of extradimensional evil? And what about the brother both Neferet and Kestrel had mentioned? Sean couldn’t remember what his name was, but apparently Gabriel had a brother who had sacrificed his life for their cause. Every time he turned around the story got stranger—and more intriguing.
He was tempted to pinch himself but a little afraid to, wondering what he would do if the pinch worked and he woke up in his own bed in Bainbridge—woke up and discovered that none of this had actually happened. Would he want that? No, he decided. Although he wished profoundly that his adoptive parents, the Hunters, could be returned to life, he would not want to give up any of the rest of this. In the past few weeks he had realized what he had been born for—why he had been driven from the time he was a small boy to take risks, to push his limits, to seek some mysterious thing out there that always eluded him no matter how hard he pushed himself. This was why he existed. He wasn’t a suburban boy from Bainbridge, destined to go to college, grow up, and take his place among the community of upright but unremarkable citizens. He was the son of a Great Dragon and a shadowrunner, possessor of powers he was afraid to even speculate about, and his destiny was in a completely different direction.
Your destiny, he had told himself sourly as he stared at the inside of the shower enclosure while the warm water beat at his body, is probably some dragon’s dinner tomorrow.
He immediately chided himself for being overly dramatic. Whatever happened—whether they chose to kill him or send him into exile with his father or simply overlook the whole thing and pretend like it had never happened, Sean didn’t doubt that the situation would be dealt with in the dragons’ usual efficient way. He wondered if dragons these days did actually eat anyone, and decided they probably didn’t. They might be orders of magnitude above what they called the “young races” in experience and intellectual capability, but somehow Sean couldn’t see them settling down to a nice meal of Sauteed Elf and Dwarf a l’Orange. The thought made Sean chuckle in spite of the gravity of the situation, and he was grateful for that. He could use a little humor in his life right now, even if it was of the decidedly black variety.
He shrugged into his pants and shirt and knotted up his tie, struggling to get it set right (it wouldn’t do to face his fate looking like you’d dressed in the dark) and thought about his father some more. He realized suddenly that Gabriel (Gethelwain, he reminded himself—that’s his real name; the other is just a disguise) hadn’t been around this world much longer than he himself had been. Kestrel had told him that he had only Awakened a couple of years before Sean was born, which meant that, at least with regard to experience in this Age, Gabriel’s apparent chronological age was just about right. Sean wondered if he would allow himself to age as he remained here longer, or if he would simply continue to present himself to the world as such a young man. Maybe he could ask him later—after.
He got the tie about as done up as it was going to get and put on his jacket. The suit was blue today, its dark navy color matching nicely with his light hair, pale blue eyes, and healthy tan. Not that he particularly noticed, though—they could have given him shapeless gray pajamas to wear to the proceedings and he would have simply put them on the same mechanical fashion. Might even have been better, considering that pajamas didn’t have ties. He glanced in the mirror, ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to set it into place, sighed and decided he’d better comb it after all, and was out of the room only a couple of minutes later.
Winterhawk was out in the common room, looking out the holo-window at the last colorful streamers of the sunrise. He turned as he heard Sean. His expression was neutral but kind. “Morning.” Unlike Sean, who was all ready to go, ‘Hawk was dressed in faded jeans, a sweatshirt with the London University crest on the front, and socks.
“Morning.” Sean paced the room, wondering if the others had actually managed to sleep. They didn’t have to be at the council chamber for almost two more hours, after all. He wasn’t sure why he’d gotten up and dressed so soon, but whatever impulse had driven him to his actions had obviously affected the mage as well—at least the getting up part. “Couldn’t sleep?”
Winterhawk shrugged. “Not really. I’m not surprised you couldn’t either. Care for a cup of tea? I was just thinking about making one myself.”
Sean shrugged. “Sure, why not?” He wasn’t the least bit interested in the tea and he suspected the mage knew this, but he would rather talk to someone than wander around like a lost soul for two hours. “Where’s Maya?”
“Still asleep. I saw no point in waking her—she doesn’t like tea anyway.”
He followed Winterhawk out to the suite’s little kitchenette and perched on one of the counters as the mage gathered the tea, filled the teapot with water and set it to boil. “Have you seen anybody else this morning?”
‘Hawk shook his head without turning from his task. “I think I heard Kestrel and Ocelot leave awhile ago to have a workout. Haven’t seen Gabriel all night. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s off somewhere either by himself or consulting with Neferet.”
Sean nodded slowly and sighed, drawing his long legs up and wrapping his arms around them, perched with precarious but perfect balance on the edge of the counter. “You know, part of me is scared to death, and part of me is just glad this is going to be over with today.”
Winterhawk turned now, setting two cups on the counter next to the tiny stove. His electric blue eyes were kinder than before. “I don’t doubt it,” he said softly. “None of this has been easy for you, has it? You’ve gone from a normal life—the only life you’ve ever known—and gotten yourself dropped into the middle of a bloody weird situation. I’m frankly surprised you’re bearing up as well as you are.”
Sean shrugged. “What else can I do? Going to pieces over it isn’t going to help things. But—this feeling of having everybody staring at me, knowing that most of them hate me for something that isn’t even my fault, knowing that they’re going to be the ones who decide if I get to live, and if my father gets sent into exile for something that sounds like it wasn’t even his fault...” He sighed. “This is pretty heavy stuff for a guy who up until a few weeks ago was worrying about passing his calculus final and getting the hell out of Bainbridge.”
Winterhawk nodded. “Well, you managed the last part of it,” he murmured with a tiny smile that clearly wasn’t meant to be mirthful.
“Yeah...and I did pass the calculus final. But you know what I mean.”
Again the mage nodded. Behind him at the stove, a cheery whistle announced that the teapot was ready. He paused a moment to pour the water and situate the teabags, then turned and handed a steaming cup to Sean. “I know exactly what you mean. I suppose over the years I’ve gotten used to some of the weirdness, but when one spends any significant amount of time with your father, one comes to expect a little weirdness in one’s life. He seems to be a magnet for it.”
Sean stared down at the teacup in his hand. Its pleasant, slightly bitter odor wafted up to his nose and he discovered that he was in fact hungry. Leaping down gracefully from the counter he rummaged around in the cabinets and began gathering a makeshift pre-breakfast to go with the tea. He glanced questioningly at Winterhawk but the mage shook his head, content with just the tea. “Is it true what they said yesterday, about you guys saving the world? Speaking of heavy stuff—it’s not often you get to meet somebody who did something like that.”
Winterhawk shrugged. “I suppose we did. It was a long time ago, and I think we’re all trying to forget about it. Things were stranger back then, right around the time Dunkelzahn died. And as usual, if there was oddness to be involved in, your father was involved in it.” His expression suggested amusement.
“And what about his brother? Did you know him?”
“Stefan? Oh, yes. We got to know him rather well before it was all over.”
“Stefan?” Sean frowned. “I don’t remember what they called him yesterday, but I don’t think that was it.”
Winterhawk took a sip of his tea. “No. His real name was Sildarath, but none of us ever called him that. He went by Stefan like your father goes by Gabriel. Dragons don’t like letting their real names get tossed about too much, at least not among non-dragons.”
“What happened to him?” Sean had managed to gather a couple slices of bread, two energy bars, and a banana to go with his tea; he resumed his position on the counter and began to eat without appearing to pay attention to his actions. “They said he died—that he sacrificed himself.”
“That he did.” Winterhawk nodded soberly. “That’s a story I don’t think we’ve time to go into in detail right now, but that’s exactly what he did. Your father and his brother didn’t get along very well at first, but all that changed as time went on. If it hadn’t been for Stefan’s decision, none of us, including your father, would be here today.”
Sean paused to consider that. There was so much he didn’t know, so much he wanted to ask, and so little time to do it. Maybe so little time left for him to live. He glanced at the kitchen clock and saw that they had been talking for about half an hour. The others would be back soon, and in only a few hours his fate would be sealed. He sighed. “How do you think the vote’s going to go?” he asked suddenly. He realized that he had abruptly lost his appetite and was barely able to swallow the mouthful of banana that had instantly turned from sweet fruit to bitter sludge in his mouth.
Winterhawk sighed softly, his expression carefully neutral. “I’d be lying if I told you I had any idea,” he said at last. “But I will tell you that I think they would be fools if they allowed ancient laws to bind them to the point that they would send an innocent to his death and allow someone like your father to be exiled from them.”
“But you’re not a dragon,” Sean said, staring into the remains of his tea. “You don’t know how they think any more than I do. They might just decide that law’s more important than anything and never mind the rest of it.”
“They might,” Winterhawk agreed without looking at him. “You’re right—I’m not a dragon, and even after all this time as your father’s friend, I still don’t have the barest idea how their minds work. Especially since your father, from what I understand, isn’t exactly typical in that regard. But the fact remains that if they remember what he did all those years ago—and one thing I do know is that dragons have long memories—they might surprise us all. We’ll just have to wait and see.” He looked like he was going to say something else, but didn’t.
“What?” Sean asked.
The mage turned back around. “What?”
“You were going to say something. What was it?”
Winterhawk paused for several seconds as if trying to decide whether to speak. Then he sighed again. “All I was going to say,” he told Sean softly, “is that I hope that they do decide in your favor, not only for the obvious reasons, but because I’m afraid of what your father might do if they sentence you to die.”
Copyright ©2001-2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
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