Chapter Twenty-Eight
(written by Shapcano and Shadorat)

It was hard to tell which was worse--the hell on the inside or the hell on the outside.

'Hawk and Ocelot slipped their way neatly out through the eighth-level exit door only to find themselves in the middle of a scene every bit as catastrophic as they one they had just left. Their heads snapped up as one at the sound of the loud roar overhead, and thus they got a chance to see the wounded dracoform leaving the scene as the airship slammed into the side of the building. They exchanged glances and immediately began looking for a way out.

It was not an easy thing to find. All around them the hysterical ex-patrons of Dante's Inferno were discovering the true meaning of their erstwhile favorite nightspot's name as the night was lit up by the flashes of artillery fire and the bright flowers of explosions. The ground shook under the two runners' feet; they pressed themselves up against the building as they took stock of their situation. The air was full of the smoky acrid odor of the explosives mixed with the faint bitter tang of blood. All around them bodies sprawled, people ran, people screamed--

Ocelot tapped 'Hawk on the arm and pointed off to his right. "C'mon," he said. "Keep low and let's get outta here before somebody notices us."

"Not bloody likely in this mess," the mage said, crouching down to follow his friend. "Unless all this was for our benefit, and I'm not egotistical enough to think that it was." Still, he slipped his hand inside his jacket to make sure the staff was still there, and was relieved to discover that it was. Of course, there was still the matter of the men who had been after them before, but at least some of them were dead. Too bad we can't thank that ork for saving our necks, he thought idly as he glanced back over his shoulder.

Edge shook his head in wonder as his long-time partner pulled the grenade launcher out of his "bag o' tricks"

"Alternating load of Flashbangs an tear gas" the dwarf said. "Aint as bad as Sensei's stuff, but it'll give yer boys in black a hard time." Handing three clips to the Gillette he continued "black rims are High Ex, white are noisemakers and yellow are gas. Twelve to a clip. An stop lookin at me like dat" Manny said as he drew back the bolt on a Ruger 100 sport rifle. "If dat Albrecht slot wuz as good as his rep, I wouldn't be reduced ta usin dis popgun. You handle the black hats on the street, I'll make sure da clowns on da other roof keep their heads down and we'll hope dat Cloak can get the elf and the kid outta there with their butts intact. What's Speed say?"

"Moved bikes already. Worried. Wants in....." the taciturn Samurai replied.

"....but knows his best position is behind da wheel.... aw, drek dat sounds like the party's started. Some shotgunners..... HOLY CRAP!" Manny yelled as a huge piece of the zeppelin that had been arguing with the dracoform overhead crashed into the upper floors of the building the pair had chosen as a sniping platform. Both sams were knocked off their feet as the entire roof shifted.

Quickly regaining their feet and exchanging a nod, the two warriors prepared to get down to business. Edge moved to a corner of the roof that overlooked the choke points on the streets leading away from the Inferno while Manny sighted in on the nightclub's roof. Both sams immediately opened fire.

As soon as they were outside of the club, Cloak and Wolfman grabbed Rook and began running towards the flaming debris at the base of the building across the street. Squatting down behind some newly made rubble, the trio quickly analyzed the situation.

"Manny and Edge are up above us." Cloak said.

"Yes" Wolfman agreed "I believe the dynamic duo are providing us with fire suppression on both the visitors who crashed the party upstairs and those gentlemen at the end of the street."

"What about....." Rook began, but was cut off by a ricochet thwacking into the wall above him.

"Keep your head down," Cloak responded, "but give Speed a call and find out about ways out of here." Turning towards the handsome elf the phys ad asked, "This party for us?"

"Appears a tad heavy handed for a humble band of shadowrunners, but it pays to be cautious. I will say that our flaming degenerate host certainly seemed alarmed."

"I saw it that way too....."

"Speed's got the car on Oronoco" Rook interrupted "He wants to know......"

"Please ask him to wait with the engine running and tell him that we are making our way towards him." The Phys ad said.

As the young ork relayed the instructions, Cloak asked, "Wolfman, did you notice the pair that floated down as we were working our way up?"

"Stylish longcoat with what could only be a street sam hitching a ride?"

"Yes. They were the targets of some hostiles in the club. Don't know if it has anything to do with all of this but it may be worth checking out. See if you can spot them while I look for friend Corwin and his party."

"By your command" the elf said as he faded from sight.

"Don't take too many yarns" Cloak responded and grinned as the muttering from thin air moved off.

Focusing his combat sense while scanning for Corwin's troop, he felt rather than heard the invisible troll's approach the other side of the rubble. "Your message?" he asked as soon as the movement stopped.

Frag, it's got to be him Cag thought, How could he have known I was here? I got no shadow which means that Billie's invisibility spell is still workin and I know I didn't make any noise....

"Bad time for games" Cloak said calmly, reminding the troll of his mission.

"Lord Corwin says if all this is for you that perhaps the matter is for the council. He says it may also be too dangerous. He says he will meet you in the matrix. Gunchers. Two hours."

Before the Phys ad could respond the rubble and all the lose debris in the street was in motion. In seconds it approximated a humanoid shape and Rook breathed "Oh frag, a city spirit".

Picking their way through the rubble and carnage that had resulted--hell, that was still resulting--from the chaos around them proved more difficult than Winterhawk and Ocelot had expected. They crept forward, staying close to the building and trying to use the large chunks of rubbles as cover as they attempted to make their way out of the parking lot. Disappearing into the night and regrouping somewhere safer to contemplate their next move seemed to be the most intelligent option at the moment. However, the other participants in the pyrotechnic production number weren't cooperating. Everywhere they looked they could see the Star forces moving in, trying to round everyone up so they could sort them out once they'd gotten the situation under control. There were too many people running around for the Star to get them all, but they seemed determined to draw their net around as many as possible as quickly as they could.

"Any ideas?" Winterhawk called forward to Ocelot, who had taken point and was choosing their route.

"Can you make us look like rubble?"

'Hawk knew his friend was kidding, but he replied nonetheless: "Somehow, I think moving piles of rocks might cause attract a bit more attention than two more chaps trying to get out of this insanity."

"You mean like that?" Ocelot stopped so suddenly that 'Hawk almost ran into his back, pointing off to one side. 'Hawk spun, following Ocelot's line of sight to what looked like exactly that: a pile of rubble rising up out of the ground as if animated by some unseen force. "Bugger! City spirit! Things just got more interesting. But then again, p'raps it'll--" He paused suddenly, his attention diverted, his gaze darting madly around.

Ocelot's hand fell on his shoulder. "What is it?" he demanded.

For a moment, 'Hawk didn't answer. When he did finally speak his voice was distracted: "There's someone here."

"Where?" Ocelot looked around but didn't see anything.

"Invisible. Damn good, too. Can't quite get a bead on--There! All right-- I've got him!" He began gathering energy for a spell. Louder, to the air, he called: "Show yourself right now, or things could get quite unpleasant for you!"

"Hold your fire, sirrah." responded a voice from thin air. "I assure you, had my intentions been hostile we would already be embroiled in a duel arcane." Wolfman dropped his invisibilty spell and quickly said "My team's leader noticed you were the subject of some hostile action in the club. He believes that, coincidentally, we are also in the opponent's crosshairs, so to speak, and suggests that we may be of mutual aid. While negotiating the fine points of such a mutual assitance pact might normally be the next order of business, I fear yon city spirit demands my immediate attention. You are welcome to contribute what mystic might you may, but I am afraid that, for the nonce, duty calls."

The handsome elf turned and sprinted back towards the growing spirit while preparing a devastating magical attack.

I hate this , I hate this, I hate this! Speed Racer thought as he fidgetted, smacking the Westwind's shift knob. I can't cover the boss in whatever drekstorm he's in 'cause I gotta wait with the fraggin wheels. He glanced again into the rearview mirror and watched as the outclassed go gangers made futile speed runs at the well entrenched mercinaries on the corner. Can't even help those poor slots with some extra firepower, he thought as he gripped the Colt M-23 Assault rifle across his lap. For the 7th time in the past 4 minutes he ejected the clip, checked to see that it contained all 40 rounds and then slapped it back into the weapon's reciever. As he completed his reloading he heard another squad of Lone-star choppers fly overhead as they approached Dante's Inferno. Aw Frag it! If the enemy of my enemy is my friend then I gotta help these bikers fight the clowns giving the team trouble the ork thought as he opened the door and ran towards the firefight.

"What do you mean you're taking fire on the roof?!" Nestor screamed as he tore the balaclava from his mishapen head. "When you outlined this plan, you told me that the weight of numbers would overcome any resistance!"

"That was before we lost the LTA to a GOD DAMNED FEATHERED SERPENT" The Merc leader yelled. "Before the FRAGGIN targets got out of the building to the motherfraggin street, before the ROCKSUCKIN Star sent over a dozen choppers and before my men started taking sniper fire from some PUDLICKIN Stunter on the next building!!! On top of all that, I got no idea who the frag is down on the street ambushing the crowd and fightin wit the go gangers!!! In other words, pal, YOUR INTEL SUCKS!!! Now, we gonna review the fraggin history of the fraggin world or are you gonna make a MOTHERFRAGGIN DECISION, DREKHEAD??"

Quickly analyzing his options, Nestor responded, "Alright, damn it, abort. We can't fight runners, the star, the crowd, club security and whoever else is involved. Get your men out as expeditiously as possible. I'm going to re-aquire the target and follow. I'll call you later if I need backup."

"Right" the merc leader responded, his tone making clear what he thought of the odds his mercinaries would be employed by the Atlantean foundation in the near future. "86" he yelled into his wrist com. "E and E to rally point delta. Execute."

Ocelot's hand was halfway into his jacket, ready to draw a weapon as he dropped into a combat-ready crouch, watching the elf head off.

"What the--?"

"That was my first question," 'Hawk said grimly. "Took him all bloody day to say it, but it sounds like we might have finally found someone who might know what the hell's going on. At least he didn't sound hostile."

"Yeah, whatever," Ocelot said. He was still trying to work his way through the elf's circumlocutions. His eyes swept the scene. "So what now?"

"I think we should at least talk to him." The mage surreptitiously patted the side of his coat, verifying that the staff hadn't moved or somehow been whisked away by the elf or another unseen accomplice. Satisfied, he turned his attention to the battle raging across the parking lot. "Looks like if we want to, though, we'll be needing to help do something about that spirit."

"Oh, great." Ocelot sighed. "Somehow, I thought that was what you were gonna say." He withdrew his monowhip from its concealed sheath and gestured with a quick head motion toward the spirit. "Let's get it over with, then. You know how much I love fighting magic stuff."

'Hawk didn't answer. He was already moving toward the spirit, skimming lightly over the rubble and ruined terrain with his levitation spell. As he had turned away, he'd had an odd gleam in his eye. Ocelot recognized that gleam. It was 'Hawk's Oh, good. I finally get to do something gleam. Normally Ocelot would have agreed, but tonight a nice hot shower and a warm bed (with or without commercial affection) was looking nicer and nicer. Wonderful, he thought, following. Why do I get the feeling this day's gonna get even more fun before it's over?

Cloak gave himself a few seconds of concentration before launching a devastating palm strike at the giant golem's concrete leg. The brick-breaking strike blasted through the rubble that constituted the spirit's leg, but in the blink of an eye other chunks of building material flew and flowed into the gap. At the same time the giant humanoid form brought up both its arms in preparation of utterly crushing the small figure before it.

"Oh no you don't" Wolfman uttered under his breath as he saw what was about to happen. The elf mage quickly blasted the spirit's torso with a devastating spell. Although the spell had the desired effect of temporarily driving the spirit out of much of it's material manifestation, there were two unfortunate side effects. First, the pyrotechnics of the spell's strike were spectacular enough to distract the unprepared phys ad battling the spirit and second, the physical residue (read-much of the destroyed building which the spirit had animated) was suddenly animated solely by the pull of the earth's gravity. The net result of these two side effects was that Cloak found himself unprepared for the several hundred pounds of falling debris rapidly descending from above him.

This is going to leave a mark. He thought before the consciousness robbing second of impact.

"Bugger!" Winterhawk snapped, watching in horror and frustration as chunks of the spirit rained down on the physical adept. He skidded to a stop in midair, gathering energy and concentration for a spell.

"Fuck!" Ocelot agreed, pounding up behind the mage just in time to see the spirit's disrupted form begin to pull itself back together. It was smaller than before, sure, but getting punched out by a one-story building was not significantly better than getting punched out by a two-story building. Either way it was going to hurt. He glanced down at the monowhip in his hand, up at Winterhawk, and over at the elf mage who had simultaneously improved the situation and made it worse. Yeah, bed was definitely looking like the best decision right about now. Too bad he couldn't take it. That guy, whoever he was, wasn't going to last very long buried under all that rubble.

The spirit, for its part, seemed to be momentarily preoccupied with re-establishing its structural integrity. Pieces of rubble, parts of crushed cars, and other debris of the ruined parking lot flew to it and joined the confused knot that was returning to vaguely human-shaped once again. It glanced around with almost humanlike dazedness, shrieking the sound of screeching bumpers at the one who had injured it.

"All right, you," Winterhawk muttered under his breath, a blue nimbus forming around his upraised hands. "Let's see what you think of this!" He could feel the sweat running down his face and wondered if he'd have it together to try another attack if this one failed. Like Ocelot, he knew the physical adept's time was limited if they didn't help, and aside from that, he was likely the one the elf mage had been taking them to talk to. He'd just have to let the thing have it and hope it was enough. Drawing back and focusing his mind on the single pattern of one of his most powerful destructive spells, he let the energy fly with a cry of anger and triumph.

The blue nimbus flowered around the spirit and it screamed, rearing backward and bellowing into the sky. If it had sounded bad before it was terrible now--the desperate cry filled with the sounds of traffic accidents, collapsing buildings, buckling pavement, falling power lines: the sounds of a city in agony. It flung its arms out, sending chunks of rubble spinning out to barely miss the elf mage, Ocelot, and the few others who were brave or injured enough to still be in the area, and then collapsed into a heap of debris as its motive power was at last fully disrupted.

Winterhawk sagged, floating slumped in midair, his breath coming sharp and fast. Ocelot grabbed him and lowered him down, supporting him as he got his feet under him. "Nice job," was all he said.

"Thank you." 'Hawk's voice was barely there. He wiped sweat from his brow and glanced up. "Go. I'll--catch up. Help--him."

Ocelot regarded him for a moment, then nodded and leaped away toward the pile of rubble.

Wolfman, Rook and Ocelot arrived at the site of Cloak's premature internment at the same moment. After exchanging a brief look the shadowrunners began heaving pieces of collapsed masonry off the pile. As the three were shifting a large block, they were suddenly shoved aside from below as Cloak, surrounded by a terrible purple radiance, erupted into the air.

"HACARR!!" an impossibly huge voice boomed as the phys ad hovered a dozen feet above the pile, stretching as if from a long nap. Lightning flashed between dead white eyes as the floating form surveyed the carnage. The street, which had been filled with the sounds of pandemonium became eerily quiet as the figure's terrible power held everyone in thrall.

Surveying the rubble, the piles of dead and dying, the armed groups facing off with each other, a look of amusement and satisfaction appeared on the floating figure's face. His attention passed over most of the participants, eventually settling on the isolated mage in the longcoat. With great deliberation the cloaked figure held out his hand in an unmistakable gesture of demand. Winterhawk, with equal determination, shook his head.

"BIRATAHK" the figure boomed, pointing at Winterhawk's exhausted form. The mage's determination not to give up the artifact hidden in his coat was absolutely apparent. Despite his exhaustion, Winterhawk's adamantine will resisted the entity's demand. A slow and wholly evil grin spread across the face of the possessed phys ad. At a pace which simultaneously demonstrated absolute confidence and the cruel sport of a cat with a captured mouse, the purple nimbused figure drew the staff from his cloak and aimed it at the mage.

[Shapcano's Shadowrun Stories][Magespace]