Chapter 8

Seattle, 1 November 20xx, 11:43

“All right, all right, you two! Settle down!”

Marika opened the back door of her van and was nearly bowled over by the gleeful, furry forms of her two dogs as they barreled out of the back of the van and enveloped her in sloppy canine kisses. The two Huskies’ tails were wagging madly; they danced around her, barking in that joyful tone that they always assumed when they were reunited with their beloved pack-mate.

Near the front of the van, Paul grinned at his sister, watching Furball and Aurora make a fuss over her like they did every time they saw her, it seemed. “They sure are glad to see ya,” he said. It made him happy to see that they loved her so much, though sometimes he got a bit jealous in a little-brother sort of way that she occasionally seemed to love the dogs more than she loved him.

“And I’m glad to see them,” she agreed, one arm around each dog’s neck, hugging them fiercely. She hated being apart from them; the first thing she had insisted on doing after getting her van back was to go over to the home of the Dog shaman she’d left them with and get them back. The van was now parked in front of the tiny house that she shared with Paul and the two dogs. “How are my sweet puppies doing today? You missed me, didn’t you, loves? Oh, yes, I missed you too.”

Paul grabbed the remains of the breakfast they had gotten at a drive-thru on the way home, shoving the last of his third soyburger in his mouth, wadding up the paper and stuffing it in his pocket. Indulgently, he followed his sister and the gamboling, barking dogs up the walk and into the house. He’d bring his gear in later; no way would anyone see it through the van’s blacked-out windows.

Everything that had happened over the previous few days was still plaguing him, and he suspected it was bothering Marika as well. Their plans were in ruins--Mr. D’Amanico was dead, and without him they had no contact in the shadow community. The two hotshot runners Mr. D. had hired to look out for them were out who knew where, being chased by all kinds of unspeakable things that Paul would just as soon not even have known about, let alone had anything to do with. He didn’t have as hard a time as Marika did with taking their advice to leave, but he still felt like things were--well--unfinished somehow. Maybe if Ocelot and Winterhawk managed to get through all their problems and come out on top, they might give him and Marika a call--though there was a small voice in the back of Paul’s head that wondered if the shadow life was really what he was cut out for. Stuff like that was out of his league, and even the macho troll that he was, he didn’t mind admitting it.

Marika opened the door and the dogs surged in ahead of her in their usual playful way, determined to check out the house and verify that it was safe for their favorite human to enter.

At the end of the hall leading to the living room, they stopped short.

Marika looked at Paul in concern. The dogs sniffed, but would not pass the threshold to the living room.

Paul knew enough about the dogs’ behavior to know that this was very strange. His hand moved to his jacket pocket, where his Predator pistol was always stowed. He motioned Marika behind him, wishing now that he had brought in his larger gear. They were preparing to move quietly down the hall and confront whatever was in the room when a figure stepped into the hallway.

For a moment, the two just stared at each other. The man standing in front of Paul and Marika, paying no heed to the dogs, was young, maybe mid-twenties. He had a cheerful, handsome face, curly ash-blond hair, and alert blue eyes. Dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow patches, slightly wrinkled pants, and a large green scarf wrapped around his neck, he did not look threatening in the least.

Paul and Marika had seen too much in the past few hours, though, to go on appearances. Paul brought up the Predator and leveled it at the newcomer. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded. “And how’d you get in here?”

The stranger brought up his hands, showing that he was not carrying anything dangerous. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I need to talk to you. It’s quite urgent.” His voice was pleasant and British-accented, though he sounded a bit stressed at the moment.

Marika’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?” Quickly, she spared a glance for Furball and Aurora, who, inexplicably, did not seem bothered now by the man.

“Name’s Roger. We have a mutual friend. That is, if you two are Fang and Striker.”

“Who?” Paul demanded, but Marika already knew.

“Winterhawk,” Roger said. His pleasant expression changed to one slightly more worried. “So I assume you are, in fact, Fang and Striker? Please, may we sit down? This is, as I said, quite urgent.”

Marika took a deep breath. “Uh--sure. Come in.” She motioned past him into the living room, to which they all adjourned. When they were seated, she said, “So, Mr.--Roger...why are you here?”

“Because our mutual friend is in a lot of trouble, and he asked me to contact you,” Roger said. “He and his friend Ocelot are both in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?” Marika asked quickly.

“I didn’t really get all the details,” Roger said with a sigh. “Watcher spirits are notorious for not getting all the details straight. Stupid things, but quite useful sometimes. But there’s something about a creature--something awful, from the sound of it. Does any of this sound at all familiar?”

Marika stared at Paul, her color fading. “Oh, no,” she breathed. The dogs curled up at her feet looked up at her in concern.

“You do know,” Roger said. “Good. Then I won’t have to explain it to you. Perhaps you can explain it to me, some other time.” He took a deep breath. “They need your help. The watcher said you were the only ones he could think of to call.”

“Watcher spirit?” Marika asked. “You mean--he sent a watcher to find you? And you’ve come all the way over here?”

“All the way from England,” Roger agreed. “Had to do this in person.” He shook his head. “I’m quite worried about him. He’s never done anything like this before. I think his life may be in danger. Will you help?”

“Wait a second,” Paul said suspiciously. “We saw him last night. You can’t get all the way here from England that fast, can you?”

The young man smiled self-consciously. “Not normally,” he said with a sigh. “I didn’t really want to tell you this, but I guess you’ll be needing to trust me if you’re going to help.” He turned to face Marika. “You see, I’m what’s known popularly as Winterhawk’s ally.”

Paul looked confused, but Marika’s eyes widened. “You’re a spirit?”

Roger nodded. “In the--um--flesh.” He leaned forward in his chair. “And I need your help. Winterhawk and his friend need your help.”

“Why can’t you get him out?” Paul asked. He still wasn’t quite sure he trusted this stranger who had just appeared in their house.

“I can help,” Roger said, “But I can’t do it alone. I don’t think I can fight this thing, if it’s as strong as the watcher seemed to be conveying. You’ll likely have better luck, especially if Winterhawk and Ocelot are in any shape to help you. Please,” he said. “I need to know now. If you won’t help, then I’ll have to go try it on my own. I don’t think they have much time left.”

Marika searched her feelings, trying to get a message from Dog that would tell her what she should do. There was none. In the end, it was the fact that her dogs were comfortable around the spirit that made the decision for her, along with the fact that her perceived lack of loyalty to the two veteran runners had been bothering her ever since she and Paul had left them. “Of course I’ll help,” she said. “Paul?”

Paul took a deep breath. “I don’t know, ‘Rika,” he said doubtfully. “How do you know this guy’s really who he says he is? Maybe that thing is after us too.”

“I trust him, Paul,” she said gently. “And we owe Winterhawk and Ocelot. We owe them a lot. I can’t just desert them if they’re in trouble. It’s up to you, but I’m going.”

The troll sighed. “You know I can’t let you go alone, ‘Rika. And you’re right. We do owe them. I just hope we don’t get ourselves killed.” He stood up. “Let me get my stuff outta the van. You know where they are, right?” he asked the spirit.

Roger nodded. “Generally, yes. Not exactly. But well enough I think we can find them.” He, too, stood up. “Thank you. I mean that. I think between the three of us, we might have a chance.”

It was that might that worried Paul, but he thought it wiser not to say anything about it.

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Copyright ©1996 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.