Chapter Twenty-Six
(written by Shapcano and Shadorat)

Nestor cursed under his breath. Not only had his "temp help's" use of explosives dropped a segment of roof onto the uppermost level of dance floor when the plan had called for entering silently through the roof access door, not only had some idiot popped a flash-bang on the crowded dance floor to clear an area for his fast roping teammates, but now he was getting panic-filled reports from the rigger in the zeppelin that a draco-form circling the building. Madcap, wearing the form of a howling Wendigo, was obviously too caught up in that illusion to be creating the feathered serpent flying around outside, which meant that another player was attempting to gain the artifact.

So here I am at Guyver's freaking direction, with 40 freaking local mercs who don't understand either quiet or subtle. I'm knee deep in unconscious or wounded dancers, Lone star is on its way, our "quarry" knows that we are coming and my freaking partner is getting his jollies playing the bogeyman. On top of all this shit, now they tell me I've got a freaking Dracoform moving on my air transport. FRAG! It sucks to be me.

Janey was certain she was dying. The pills that Taylor had given her were mondo bad shit. Oh, God, Oh God she kept thinking. The ceiling fell on Shelly. It crushed her! I....I can't hear anything.....Oh, my God! My Ears are bleeding! Somebody help me, I can find Jimmy! Oh SHIT! Oh SHIT. Those guys on the ropes must be Lone Star, but....but, they're walking on Shelly! I gotta get outta here! I...... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The Wendigo roared in the face of the screaming dancer. Madcap giggled internally when he saw her lose control of her bladder and then, as his huge fur covered arm came towards her, watched as her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed bonelessly to the floor.

Tee Hee. Slitch passed right out. The small lunatic restrained a caper of delight. Now, let's find some REAL fun. As he scanned the chaos of the dance floor his eye was caught by a small red hared Asian woman. Oh-ho! The slitch is winking at me. The illusionist thought. Maybe I'll just trick or treat those almond eyes right out of her head.

The Wendigo roared as it made it's way across the body strewn floor.

All Hell was breaking loose, which was sort of ironic considering where they were, but Winterhawk and Ocelot weren't appreciating the irony at the moment. "Shit!" Ocelot repeated as all around them screams echoed, pieces of the ceiling fell, and chaos reigned. "Come on, 'Hawk! Up!"

"Up?" 'Hawk's reply was a little too loud and nonetheless nearly got lost in all the ambient noise. "Are you kidding?" He glanced upward again, barely able to make out the descending forms of numerous individuals coming down on ropes. "That's where this is all coming from!"

"I don't think it's all coming from there!" Ocelot yelled, neatly sidestepping to avoid a small knot of screaming dancers who were running by en masse, clutching each other. "Don't forget our friends back there!"

"Bugger! Well, stay together!" 'Hawk's gaze darted around, trying to make sense of the pandemonium, trying to differentiate terrified clubgoers from potential threats. And where the hell were their pursuers?

One of the shadowy figures who had been following 'Hawk and Ocelot shoved his way crossways through the crowd and grabbed his counterpart's arm. "Frag! What the hell is going on? Those aren't our people, are they?"

His partner almost didn't answer--he was too busy scanning the crowd for their quarry, both of whom were currently nowhere to be found but who couldn't have gotten far. "Of course those aren't our people, you fool!" Tapping his ear, he activated his comm unit and attempted to relay their position to the others placed strategically around the club. The screams were getting louder, and it was nearly impossible for him to hear himself think, let alone be sure that his message had gotten through. He tapped again as a tinny, badly garbled reply came through, and his eyes widened. "What? Repeat!"

"What is it?" his partner demanded, joining in the scanning. A panicked clubber slammed into him and then bounced off again, continuing on her way with a wicked-looking gash dripping blood down her face. "What the hell's going on?"

"There's a fraggin' dracoform up there!" The man's face had gone white as he realized just how much the situation had gotten out of their control. "That's what they said. They're coming down..."

The other was about to reply when all other thoughts were driven from his mind by the brief glimpse of a man with dark hair and white stripes. His grip tightened on his partner's arm. "There they are!"

Dracoform momentarily forgotten, the two men surged through the crowd before their objective was once again obscured by the crowd.

Watching the physical adept lead everyone out of hell further convinced Cag that he had been correct in his warning to Corwin. The long cloak could have been a coincidence, but something in the way the norm handled himself had sparked the Troll's memory of an instructor's warning, long ago.

Cag, along with rest of his training cadre, admired their heavily cybered, near legendary instructor, and seeking to emulate the "steel elf", constantly asked for advice about cyber enhancements. During one break in their grueling schedule, Barnaby sought to correct this dangerous trend and called them together with the warning that "Cyber by itself is not enough"

The instructor had related the tale of a cloaked phys ad defeating a full blown cyberzombie in single combat. When his students expressed their disbelief, Barnaby had been very detailed in his reconstruction of the fight, right up to the cyberzombie's second death. His account was so detailed, in fact, that it begged the question of his own action during this titanic battle. He had confessed at the end of the tale that he had missed the fight because of a previous battle with a shapeshifter who had ripped off his arm. "Oh, yeah," he'd added, "The phys ad in the cloak? He killed the wolfman, too." As the impact of this revelation sank in, Barnaby had said, "A dead man powering 6 or 7 million nuyen worth of cyber is enough to scare the drek outta anybody, but my cloaked friend didn't have the option of panic so he remained focused and won." The cybered elf then concluded, "Concentrate on your training, it's your brain, not your metal that keeps you alive."

Remembering the dreams of glory that had dominated those days of training for the Tir's security force, Cag compared his mental pictures of the cloaked phys ad in Barnaby's tale with this shadowrunner. Thinking of the tale that might be told about the troll who eliminated such a figure, he idly imagined laying a crosshair over the phys ad's smooth moving form. When the cloaked man chose that moment to turn back and look directly at him, he was first embarrassed and then more convinced than ever that this was the hero from his instructor's tale. Feeling greatly relieved that he had stopped his principal from "playing" with the phys ad, the troll re-focused on his duty.

"Why ya think it's a separate group?" Manny asked as he and his partner studied the ground level group of unmarked mercenaries. "They could be cover…." the dwarf suggested, but went no further when Edge pointed out the cover and positions the black clad group had selected.

"Not guarding a way out. Set up facing likely exits. Ambush." Edge said succinctly.

"But their friends roped down from the…." Heavy machine gun fire from the zeppelin caused the armorer to pause. "Oh, drek" he said as he looked up and saw the dracoform's first run at the LTA ship. "You're right. Two teams here at the same time. Sensei will have to handle the ones working down from the top. We'll have to deal with the reception committee."

The two long time partners exchanged a nod and set out to ambush the ambushers.

"Down!" Winterhawk clenched his arm up close to his side, protecting the staff as two more panicky ex-dancers narrowly missed careening into him in their headlong flight toward what they thought was safety. He gritted his teeth and fired off a sleep spell at one of their pursuers, then swore in frustration as the spell took down several revelers but not the man it had been intended to dispatch.

Ocelot was, meanwhile, in the process of realizing that his original plan wasn't going to work. He glanced up again: more guys coming down on ropes, and the screams, at least from his perception, seemed to be louder from up there. He caught himself wishing that he'd paid closer attention the last time he'd been here, but that had been a very long ago and he'd had other more pleasant things on his mind at the time. "Is there even a way out down there?"

"There's got to be!" 'Hawk's words were cut off by the staccato sound of gunfire from above, followed by a shriek as a body plummeted downward and slammed into the railing not two meters from them before continuing its descent. 'Hawk caught a glimpse of a terrified troll face before the body was gone. One of the bouncers.

His momentary pause coupled with his lapse in attention allowed one of the two men who had been pursuing them to finally surge forward and draw up next to him. 'Hawk's eyes widened as the man, dressed in a trendy suit that somehow looked wrong on him, stretched out his arm and clutched at the mage's jacket, his eyes half-determined, half-frightened.

He didn't get a chance to react, though--one moment the man was there, the next he was falling, his face frozen in agony, his last scream carried away by the chaos. "Come on!" Ocelot yelled in 'Hawk's ear, grabbing his other arm. 'Hawk got a brief impression of a bloody cyberspur retracting and then they were away.

"No!" the other pursuer yelled as he saw his partner go down under Ocelot's attack. He fumbled in his coat for his gun, but he was too late. The two were already away, leaving the dead man to be trampled under the feet of dozens of escaping partiers. He activated his comm unit, still trying to keep the mage and his companion in sight but knowing it was futile. "They're going down!" he called. "Repeat: down! Do you copy?"

There was no answer; he could only hope that his message had been received, because there was nothing more he could do at this point except try to stay out of the way until the crowds had either killed each other (which was looking increasingly likely--he had already seen two women shoved over the railing by the crush of the crowd) or dispersed. And what was with the dragon upstairs? What the hell was going on here? Surely this whole assault didn't have anything to do with one mage carrying a magical artifact, but if not, then what?

Grimly he pushed forward. He wasn't going to get the answer to that question, not anytime soon If he could do nothing else, at least he could cut off their escape route should they decide to come this way. He checked the clip in his Predator and continued.

Speed Racer sweated as he watched the swift, darting movements of the dracoform. No matter where the rigger in the zeppelin aimed his chain guns, the feathered serpent was always a second or two ahead. The quickness of the awakened creature was awesome, and it took an act of will for Speed to break away from the serpents hypnotic pattern and get back to his role as the team's eyes outside.

"Uhm.... OK, listen up. We got a feathered serpent playing tag with the zeppelin that just dropped approximately 40 hostiles to the roof. No logos visible which means mercs, or, at least some form of deniable assets. Dracoform seems to be amusing itself with the LTA but it may be waiting for......oh, shit. Check my last. Snake is flaming the LTA's gondola. Damn! LTA is responding with missiles."

"Got a second group of maybe 10 black hats at street level. Looks like they are setting up to welcome any targets coming out of the club. Manny and Edge are moving to deal with these."

"No response from Lone Star. Police bands are clear. Figure that either the flyboys or the ground squad have major matrix help keeping John Law tied up. Sorry guys, we're on our own. I'll keep everybody up on the outside situation as it develops. Speed, out"

Kit wanted to throw a manaball at the dwarf illusionist, to strip his Wendigo disguise and leave him in a heap. As satisfying as this might be, before she began the spell, a sudden inspiration came that made the red hared woman smile. With a few gestures she created two illusions among the mercenaries who were attempting to herd all of the dancers to one end of the Plexiglas floor. The huge, roaring, white furred figures, with the aid of some judicious "magic fingers" began attacking "allies" and throwing the mercenaries across the room.

"Trick or treat" she whispered as the hired guns reacted predictably and attempted to blast the attacking beasts. The previous pandemonium became, by comparison, a placid day on a calm lake, as some teammates killed each other by shooting through non-existent Wendigos, and others zeroed in on the known illusionist who happened to be wearing the form of a Wendigo at the moment. Lacking any underlying loyalty and believing they had been betrayed, the mercs opened fire.

The first rounds that found Madcap enraged the dwarf. His armor provided him enough protection for him to cause half a dozen mercs to believe in spontaneous combustion as they saw themselves become screaming pillars of flame. The mercenaries who were not affected saw their teammates running, rolling and beating themselves while screaming in agony and correctly adduced that the illusionist was affecting their minds. This unified and magnified the amount of ordinance directed at the illusionist, eventually ventilating his small form rather thoroughly.

Life, unfortunately, rarely imitates art and where trid show ammo either hits the target or goes to limbo, real rounds continue to exist after bypassing intended stopping points. A second unfortunate vicissitude of the life/art dichotomy concerns the world of fashion. Armored long coats and bulletproof body wear may be derigueur for shadowrunning but they are uncomfortable and unwieldy for booty knocking on the dance floor. The combination of these two facts not only cost Dante's Inferno dozen of clients, but it motivated a revolution of sorts among the survivors.

An SMG was taken from a dead merc here, a street shaman readied an offensive spell there, an orc roared defiance in another place and suddenly the hapless mercenaries found themselves up to their ears in angry, bloodthirsty, mob. Add to this the sudden activity of the Inferno's truncheon waving Troll bouncers and total chaos found a literal definition.

'Hawk and Ocelot were having a harder and harder time keeping together as they fought their way forward. There seemed to be about the same number of people trying to work their way up as there were people trying to work their way down, resulting in a mad mishmosh of humanity and metahumanity, most of whom were getting almost nowhere. Above, the sound of gunfire continued.

"We have to go faster!" Ocelot yelled. "There's no way we're gonna get outta here at this rate!" He was losing his patience with the crowd, and a little afraid of what he would do if he lost it completely. The temptation to cut a swath with his monowhip was getting stronger, even though he knew that would cause more trouble than it would solve.

"Up?" 'Hawk yelled, pointing not directly up, but rather making sort of a broad upside-down "L"-shaped gesture with his arm as he shoved a burly human slightly to the side with his other.

Ocelot had worked with the mage long enough to catch the gesture, even if he missed the words. It was risky, but better than what they were doing now. "Yeah!" He made one last push forward and grabbed 'Hawk's shoulders, clamping his arms him. "Go! Go!"

'Hawk did not hesitate. As soon as Ocelot's hold was secured, he activated the spell lock that held his personal levitation spell and up they went, soaring about two meters above the top of the tallest crowd members. Free of the crush of people, he sent them quickly forward toward the entrance to the next level down.

"Hurry!" Ocelot yelled, trying to look everywhere at once. He knew they were sitting ducks up here should anyone decide to take potshots at them. Their only hope was to get out fast.

Then he saw the three suit-clad figures just past the vacated bouncer station. All three of them were pointing toward the two of them, their hands going for their jackets.

"Oh, shit!" Ocelot said under his breath. Did this ever get any better?

"There they are! Up there!" The first of the now-augmented pursuers pointed upward, and his two companions immediately trained their gazes on the spot, already going for their guns. The though was on all three of the men's minds that they wished their magical backup was here, but the two group mages were far scattered, one up at the top level and one at the bottom. It was doubtful they would be a factor.

"Get them before they get down to the next level!" The second man yanked his pistol from his coat and aimed it at the fast-moving duo, firing somewhat wildly in that direction. Everything was moving far too quickly to get a good bead on them--even though they were up higher than the rest, the flashing lights and the decor kept getting in the way. One round ricocheted off some steel scaffolding and took out an elf woman several meters away; she screamed and dropped.

"Hit them, you fool!" the third, apparently the leader, screamed, his own gun already in hand. "If they get past us--" There was no chance to finish the thought, as his voice cut off abruptly to allow him to concentrate fully on his target. He carefully tracked the weaving path of the mage and his companion, and just as carefully squeezed off a round.

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