Set up

by Psuedo Nihm

Judge's Note: I enjoyed this story quite a bit--obviously the author is familiar with 'Hawk and his habits, and the writing style was very nice. I would have liked to have seen more--my only real issue with it is that it was too short.

Winterhawk gave a slight sigh as he set his suitcases inside the door and scanned the room. Everything was just as he’d left it, with the exception of a few months worth of dust that had accumulated.

But that was to be expected.

He was glad to be back. It wasn’t the city, or the apartment that had drawn him back to Seattle– it was the challenge, the chance to match his wits and research against the real world situations that Seattle provided.

He was about to begin unpacking when he noticed the telecom’s message light was flashing. He’d checked for messages before he’d boarded the plane at Heathrow and there had been none then.

Now, back less than an hour, there was a message waiting for him. He was going to ignore it, but as he moved about the apartment the light seemed to follow him, flashing enticingly.

‘Bugger,’ he sighed as he activated the phone’s messaging system. There was no anger in his voice, only an odd amusement.

As he listened, his expression turned to one of interest. It was from Harry, his fixer.

“Should have known you’d figure out when I was back,” he told the recorded image.

“‘Hawk, I have something that you might find interesting.”

Winterhawk snorted derisively. “‘Might’ indeed,” he answered, his usual, sardonic amusement being tinged by a hint of excitement.

Harry knew just what to say to pique ‘Hawk’s curiosity and he seemed to have pulled out the stops on this call.

Replaying the message, ‘Hawk forgot about everything but the case. He knew it was late, but he also knew that Harry would be waiting for his reply.

Harry was not disappointed.

Harry allowed himself a slight smile as he watched ‘Hawk go over the reports and information that the client had supplied.

He was staring at them with an almost child-like excitement that belied his experience. It was rare that he truly got to exploit his potential as a mage, and this case had Winterhawk’s name all but embossed on the cover. Harry schooled his expression as ‘Hawk looked up and nodded. He could see the excitement in the mage’s eyes and the hint of a smile that threatened to break through.

It was rare when all the pieces fell into place this perfectly.

With ‘Hawk’s approval, he arranged the meeting between the mage and Gloria Dey, of the Pandinus Society.

“She’ll meet you at the ‘Glass Spider’ to go over the details,” Harry confirmed.

‘Hawk nodded and then headed back towards his apartment. There were still a few things he had to take care of before heading to the meeting with Ms. Dey. He trusted Harry implicitly, or as implicitly as you could trust the fixer.

Harry would have checked the woman’s credentials, but experience told ‘Hawk to do the best he could to keep the odds in his favor. That meant insurance from the First Bank of Paranoia– and its CEO, Ocelot.

Everything was a little too perfect for Ocelot’s liking. ‘Hawk had filled him in on the details and the whole thing screamed ‘set-up’ to him.

He’d told the mage as much, but whoever was running this operation knew what things to say to grab the mage’s attention. ‘Hawk was hooked.

Winterhawk loved a challenge, it defined him. That and his damnable curiosity, and this ‘Gloria Dey’ had managed to arouse both.

The other thing that set Ocelot on edge was the entire subject of this woman’s ‘study’... insect spirits and other awakened creatures– in this case– Scorpions. He hated bugs, almost as much as he hated ‘Hawks reminder that scorpions were not ‘insect spirits’, but rather arachnids.

Ocelot had been around enough to know that he wanted nothing to do with insect spirits or arachnid ones. But, ‘Hawk was a friend, and teammate and someone needed to be the voice of reason.

That should have been a warning to both of them, but ‘Hawk was too busy reviewing the information Harry had handed him and Ocelot was too busy trying to figure out just how wrong things could go. At least the mage had enough sense to ask for backup, and from the looks of things he was going to need it.

Ocelot arrived at the glass spider two hours before the meeting was scheduled. Grabbing a beer he took a seat that gave him a good view of people entering the bar, and of the doorway to the private room where Winterhawk waited for the woman.

Winterhawk for his part, arrived half an hour early and prepared the room for their meeting. They’d used the back room before and were fully aware of the surveillance the bar supplied, ‘Hawk spent fifteen minutes augmenting it with his own particular protections– then waited.

The woman arrived and only gave the other patrons a cursory glance before joining ‘Hawk in the back, but Ocelot was more interested in the three men who followed her into the bar and staked themselves out throughout the room.

Ocelot’s eyes narrowed slightly as he watched not only where they went, but how they moved. It was obvious that they not only knew what they were doing, but what they were looking for... him.

That more than anything screamed ‘set-up’ to him, but there was no way of warning ‘Hawk without giving these three exactly what they wanted, and Ocelot wasn’t quite ready for that. Not until he’d called in a little insurance of his own.

Trusting ‘Hawk to take care of himself for now, Ocelot finished his beer and headed out, trying to remain as nonchalant as possible.

Winterhawk studied the woman as she entered the back room. She paused briefly inside the doorway, allowing her eyes to adjust to the room. He noted how she stood in the doorway, rather than to its side.

Knowing that a runner would have moved to the side, putting the wall to their back, ‘Hawk started to relax. Maybe this was on the level. He was about to speak when he noticed something odd about her aura.

Her eyes flared as she realized that he was scanning her astrally. It was not something she’d expected but she adapted quickly as the mage’s eyes widened with a combination of fear and surprise.

With a quick look to her left she moved in on him, allowing the illusions to fall. Instead of facing the woman alone, he found himself having to deal with her and a very dangerous looking companion.

“It would seem you don’t need me to research Scorpion Spirits,” He stated as he watched the two of them.

The woman actually laughed and turned to her companion. “I told you he was smart, this one.”

The thing next to her chittered slightly and she nodded. She turned towards Winterhawk, her expression growing darker. “Yes... perhaps too smart–“

Hawk had only enough time for one mana blast before her companion moved in, jabbing him with its stinger. He gasped as white fire burned through his shoulder. All too quickly the pain was replaced with a numb lethargy.

“You should not have done that,” the woman objected. a hoarse whisper echoed through the room. He moved his head up, trying to meet her gaze– trying and failing.

His mouth formed the question, but his voice was not co-operating.


She smiled at him. “You are known in this community...”

‘Hawk felt his stomach turn as the scorpion spirit drew him closer by flexing its tail muscles. He felt an alien presence in his mind and fought to push it out. With an almost animalistic growl he tried to wrench himself free.

He shuddered as he felt rather then heard the creature’s thoughts. His breath caught as he understood its purpose– to replace him, use his reputation to get closer to.... ‘Wraith.

Then he saw the young scorpion clinging to its mother’s back. He swallowed now understanding why it was there.

He could feel the approval and satisfaction as it radiated through the scorpion spirit. “He will do.”

His mind was filled with revulsion and pain as the creature drew him closer, its stinger contracting.

The venom in his system was taking its toll making thought difficult. He was barely aware as the creature’s tail exploded around him. He could see Ocelot fighting through the creature and its companions. He could sense the magic around him– directed at Ocelot, but his attempts to counter it were met with a bone aching pain.

It was over quickly– and to his relief, when he was rolled over, it was Ocelot looking down on him.

“Bloody well... ‘bout time he groaned.

Ocelot rewarded him with a grim smile. “Still curious about bugs?”

“Arachnid...” ‘Hawk objected.

“Whatever... “ Ocelot replied as he helped ‘Hawk to his feet. “Lets get you taken care of.”

‘Hawk tried to nod, but found the venom too much. His last thought before blacking out was about the now missing offspring.

(c) 2000 (Don't put your name here yet--I don't want to know who you are until after the contest is over). Used with permission.