The Drawing of Three

Chapter Two - Part 2

The Road

The pickup truck stops short before them, and a huge figure leaps from the bed. The large man is clad in a suit of baroque armor, a polished silver breastplate complete with matching gorget, paldrons and gauntlets over a shirt of fine mail, with leather pants tucked into plated boots. His face is completely obscured by a full helm, crowned with a plume of fine hairs. At his waist hangs a wicked one-handed axe, bearing a wide curved blade opposite a mallet head, with a piercing tip above. A large shield hangs from his back, along with a brace of throwing axes looped into a bandolier slung over one shoulder. He makes a terrible crashing noise as he lands.

Behind him another figure exits the cab of the truck, stepping into the light to reveal a youth no older than 16. He is a young black human, his lean, latte-brown muscles showing beneath a form-fitting armor vest. He wears tight black jeans and sneakers, with a pistol holstered at his waist. His face has a handsome youthfulness, bespeaking intelligence and mischief both. His hair is in loose fingers of dreads, and his eyes are covered by futuristic sunglasses which stick to his face without stems.

The armored man removes his helmet and rubs his shaved head. His skin is a tanned caucasian, and he bears the pronounced tusks and pointed ears of an ork, though his horns are nothing more than a pair of raised nubs. The ork appears to be in his mid-twenties, and pleasant enough to look at. He smiles generously and claps Cain on the shoulder. “Mathus, it is good to see you still alive. Perhaps not all your dreams come true, old friend.”

He turns to address the assembled men. “So the Three are Drawn, at last. And the Book is in hand as well. I never thought this day would come. I am Thomas Behuniak, Cabalman and artificer by trade. This is Shane Dieyette, the youngest of the Cabal, our hacker and tank-gunner. He has an. . . unnatural predilection for the wireless world.”

The young man grins devilishly. “Come on Tommy, you know I’m all natural baby.” He winks at them, and the truck’s engine roars in response.

The ork shakes his head. “If only we could install an ICE program which would shut him up. Come, the convoy awaits, and our rendezvous is time-certain.”

Thomas hauls himself back into the rear of the truck, and Shane slides into the driver’s seat.

His frown fading, Kelraji reassesses his situation. He chuckles to himself, finally convinced that this is no elaborate trap. Or, if it is, he’s far too deep to get away now.

He slowly motors his bike over to the hag he bisected, where he removes his ripped T-shirt, replaces it with one from his backpack, equally dirty and white, but so far undamaged.

He looks the hag over for any items of value, wrapping them carefully in his T-shirt, staining now with blood, though most was washed away by the otherworldly rain.

As he finishes, he looks to Jake, and asks,

“Gunman, may I touch your dead? They have no need in this life of their wealth, and it may yet be of use to us.”

Linus, certainly not yet reduced to scavanging for goods off of corpses, makes his way towards the passenger side of the truck. As he does, he holds his temples and rubs them… trying to fend off a growing headache from his recent castings. Once at the truck, he will look for permission from the driver, then enter. Once in the cab, he’ll pull out the locket he is carying and attempt to ascertain its significance.

Jake nods. “You may.. be wary though. The trinkets they wear are cursed. Who knows what peril may be listening on the other side, or searching for them.” He shakes water off of his boots and climbs aboard the van with Behuniak and Dieyette.

Kelraji picks carefully over both halves of the hag, but finds nothing magical on her person. His vision still on the astral plane, Kelraji spots the wand she had been using lying on the ground nearby, and folds it into his shirt.

He approaches the other shaman’s corpse and locates her two magical items: a golden earring and a gunmetal bracer. He wraps them up as well and zips them into his pack.

Kelraji leans over to Mathus, and speaks quietly, but sincerely.

Linus opens the locket, looking at what image may be inside. He ponders for a moment, thinking twice about whether he should do what he is about to do… and then pulls the locket over his head and pushes it down under his coat and outerwear.

The summoner looks over the silver locket, at first struggling to grasp its nature. After a few minutes of assensing, though, the foci relents and makes itself known to him. It still carries the imprint of the little elven girl, as it remains bonded to her. Beneath this he can sense a previous owner, with a signature similar to the girl’s, but more mature and confident. The foci itself has been modestly enchanted to aid in banishing rituals, and is well used. It is an object of some value, a gift from the truly thankful.

Jake climbs into the rear of the truck, standing to grip the forward roll bar alongside the artificer.

Thomas leans out to speak to Cain. “Will you not join us, Mathus? Not all things are writ in stone.”

The old man shakes his head in resignation. “Other things come for me, Tom. I cannot escape my fate. I will wait here to meet my end, as a man.”

Behuniak dons his helmet, giving his voice a metallic ring. “You never could deny your own visions, Mathus. May God have mercy on your soul.”

The ork thumps twice on the roof of the truck, and they start off, heading West. Kelraji revs his Contrail and falls in behind them.

Kelraji leans closer to Mathus, and speaks intently. The hand closest to Mathus flashes slowly through a cadre of ritual symbols and gestures easily, unconsciously.

Finally, he stops speaking, and ends with his palm facing out, towards Mathus, fingers pointed towards Mathus’ toes, wrist by his waist.

Having heard his answer, Kelraji putters on after the truck, smiling serenly, his hand still in the strange array it was before, only now turned towards himself, awkwardly folding his arm in on itself. As he arrives as the truck, his smile dulls, and he places his erstwhile hand on the handlebars, and shouts,

“AS I SAID BEFORE, WE NEED GO!”

Kelraji twists his wrist, and the bike jumps ahead, pulling alongside the truck. He yells up to Jake over the over-loud exhaust of the ’mancer’s truck.

“Why do you leave a man to die without question but refuse to gather the dead? Do you not know Death?”

Jake holds his hat atop his head with one hand and yells back, “He who knows his destiny as Mathus does must know the path is inevitable! We are not like him; Destiny has not made our path plain and we are free to wander as we choose. The dead are certainly not our concern!”

In the cab Linus responds to Shane somewhat sarcastically. “Drive to kill, is it? Well let’s strive not to kill our unbuckled passengers in the bed, shall we.”

Shane laughs at Linus’ remark. “Well, you could throw Tommy down a cliff and he’d be okay. Let’s just hope Clint Eastwood back there can hold on.” The truck pulls out onto Macdougal and heads South, completely ignoring the traffic which comes screeching to a halt as he cuts them off. Linus notes with passing curiosity that the boy drives without touching the wheel or pedals, and is not jacked into the vehicle like a normal rigger.

The summoner pops the locket’s clasp with the blade of his fingernail. Inside is a faded portrait of a pretty elven woman, her fine blond hair braided over one pointed ear. She looks into the distance with a faint Mona Lisa smile. He lingers on the image for a moment, then closes the locket and tucks it into his shirt.

Kelraji speaks for a few minutes with Mathus in hushed tones, making gestures with his hand. The old man turns away from him, ending the conversation, and Kel guns his racing bike to catch up with the truck, splashing through puddles with abandon.

They drive slowly down Macdougal, passing by the NYU law building and the bustling nightlife of Greenwich Village. The traffic crawls, but what progress they do make brings a welcome breeze to cut the punishing humid air.

Out of the blue, Shane cocks his head to one side. “Getting some chatter on the Res—hold on, let me bring it up.” Each man’s commlink rings unexpectedly. Linus fumbles his handheld open, Jake slips his aviators on and activates the hands-free interface, and Kelraji’s Contrail transfers the call to his dashboard.

On each screen, a handful of AR images pop up, displaying their surprised faces in a semicircle around a translucent map of downtown Manhattan. Amazingly, the augmented reality skin does not match any of their phone’s operating systems. It seems to be cobbled together in real-time, small features and aesthetic details appearing spontaneously as the hacker thinks to add them.

Thomas’ image speaks angrily, his face hidden in shadow inside of his helmet. “God dammit Shane, what did I tell you about personal space?”

Shane’s face laughs back, sending ripples through the entire AR display. “There are no walls in the Resonance, Tommy boy. I got something you guys might want to see—bunch of goons on bikes a couple clicks West, talking on short-wave about an Indian dude on a motorcycle and ‘unacceptable casualties;’They’re between us and the pickup point. Do we engage or try to avoid them? Here, I’ll ping them on the overhead.”

Kelraji’s remaining amusement immediately wears away.

“See? This is why we needed to leave! They have find the witches, and now they know I’m involved! Did they mention the truck?”

Jake yells again over the rushing air, “By all means, let’s avoid any unnecessary entanglement! And my name is Jake, not Clint!”

Linus just mutters to himself: “Resonance, yes. Hmm. Interesting. Certainly quite engaging…” He does not seem to be completely tuned in to the the situation.

The boy’s sentences get shorter as more of his attention is given over to the digital world. “I don’t think they know about us. . . Hold on, I’ll patch the feed through our personal network—pretty choppy though, I’m threading the fucking decrypt on the fly.”

At first all they hear is static, then a voice starts to come through in garbled bursts. It sounds like a man with an Indian accent. “. . . orcycle. . . on his belt. . . ast known image distributed. . . call. . . New York division off. . . nough damage already. . . Sivahara. . . not lose the package again. . . peror’s dag. . . lease the roto. . . .”

The technomancer leans forward in his seat, head bent in concentration. The truck swerves as he stops paying attention to it, but the autonav quickly awakens and takes the wheel. “Uh oh, they’re up to something. Hotspot triangulation marks a half-dozen low signature devices—must be their commlinks, I don’t think their bikes are web-ready. A shitload more just woke up though, and they’re pulling down tons of data—definitely a drone network, maybe 8 or 9 bogeys. GPS marks are on the HUD map.”

Behuniak cuts in. “If we don’t get to that pier in 20 minutes the Cabal will scratch our pick-up.”

“A straight route will put us on an intercept course,” Shane responds. “We need a better plan than that, Tommy boy.”

Kelraji’s frown deepens, and he yells to the men, pulling alongside the cab.

“They’re after me, not you! stop truck! I’ll put the bike in the back, and hide in the cab!”

Shane pulls the pickup over in the bike lane and drops the rear hatch. Thomas jumps down to assist with the cycle. In the back there is a large tarp, a jumble of bungee cords, and a toolbox.

Loading up the small bike with Thomas, Kelraji places the tarp over it and bungees the whole thing down as quickly as he can, laying flat in the bed, hiding between the side of the truck and the tarp, hopefully out of sight of their pursuit.

Shane waves his hand over the AR projector on the truck’s dash, bringing up a map of the West Village. A blue marker shows their location, with a green dot at their destination, a long pedestrian pier dotted with grass and trees. The enemy bikers are marked with red, surrounded by a swarm of slowly spreading red blips. “Okay,” the technomancer says, “how do we approach? Straight through the gauntlet, or try to route around? Either way, we’re gonna have to go fast.”

Kelraji, now in the truck, nods.

“Straight through, they have only seen me, and are only after me. With no me, there is no chase. The straightest line means the least time in their sights.”

Linus, hearing this, shrugs, and continues to talk on his com.

Thomas and Kelraji wrestle the Thundercloud Contrail into the rear of the truck bed, throw the tarp over it, then bungee it down. Kelraji slips between his motorcycle and the wall of the truck and pulls a corner of the plastic sheet over him. The heat of his bike’s electric engine immediately fills the space beneath the tarp, causing Kelraji to sweat uncomfortably.

Shane nods at the group’s decision and merges back into traffic, turning right on Bleeker to begin their Westward traverse. The technomancer curses, his distraction manifesting as the AR map flickers and warps. “Shit, their rigger is on to us, caught me snooping in their PAN. He’s throwing up electronic countermeasures; I’m engaging my ECCM form—drek, his deck is too hot, I think I. . . fuck-damn, I lost them.” The red dots on their map flicker from view, leaving nothing but an expanse of darkened space between their location and the pier on the far side of the city. “Guess we’re doing this the old fashioned way. Everyone keep your eyes out for aerials, probably rotor drones by their signatures.”

The truck continues onward, its occupants silent as they watch the sky for unmanned vehicles, save Linus, who continues to murmur quietly into his comm. Kelraji can do nothing but lay patiently beneath the tarp and mop sweat from his brow.

They cross 6th Avenue and continue up Bleeker street, the atmosphere shifting from the shouts of drunken students to the restrained babbling of drunken yuppies. Jake and Linus spot a Lone Star Dragonfly, VTOL couriers, and bumbling CBS micro-blimps , but nothing which matches Shane’s description.

Then, as the truck rolls past Leroy street in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, a sinister-looking roto-drone buzzes over an apartment building some 200 feet in front of them and pauses above the street to scan the traffic. Jake spots it first and discretely points it out to the others with a nod of his head. Even as he does so, the drone seems to halt its sweep to consider them, then quickly leaves its holding position to angle straight at them, seemingly intent on a closer look at the contents of the truck bed.

Kelraji, unaware of what is happening outside of the tarp, continues to sweat like a man in a wool suit on a hot june day. He does, however, unhook his vajra and begin nervously running through mudras, rumpling and disturbing the plastic tarp ever so slightly.

Jake peers at the drone more closely as it approaches, like a bird of prey scanning the ground for minute traces of prey. He is looking for weapons or obvious weakpoints—the cowling covering the engine, the rotor’s main shaft, cameras or radar domes.

The rotor drone is a fairly standard model, its chassis essentially a barreled, trashcan shape, with some accommodations given over to aerodynamics and style. Two slots run horizontally across the top of drone’s matte black body, from which twin rotor blades protrude to chop the air noisily in opposite directions.

The front of the flyer is dominated by a cluster of lenses and emitters which resemble the eyes of a giant insect. From the drone’s underside protrudes a snub-nosed automatic weapon of some sort, concealed partially within the rotor drone’s beetle-like armor.

The drone pitches forward to move closer to them. Jake notices that the flyer’s weapon does not rotate to track them as it moves.

Kelraji ensures that he is covered, and continues to bake under the tarp. Smiling as he relaxes and focuses, his hands continue their shift, rumpling the plastic fabric, and his mind drifts back to the humid, fetid, roasting slums of Jaipur.

The black rotor drone continues to fly directly towards them at a steady pace. Jake’s eyes narrow as he picks over the mechanical enemy for weak points.

In the front seat, Linus puts away his phone, then mumbles a few words to himself. Movement on the rooftops to the right draws their attention, along with the focus of the drone. It slows its approach, yawing sideways to watch as the water sitting in gutters and rain spouts springs to life and coalesces into a humanoid form. The water elemental waves two noodly appendages at the drone, the slaps its arms together, forming them into a solid spike of ice which rockets forth at the unsuspecting roto-drone.

The flyer pitches sideways to avoid the projectile, but reacts too slow, and the shard crashes into its rotor with a crystalline explosion. The drone, wobbling now with one bent rotor, orients itself, then releases a short burst from its nose gun. The rounds hit home with a showy splash, but the spirit continues its liquid dance, seemingly unfazed.

Behuniak whispers over the linked comm system. “If they weren’t suspicious before, they’ll know something’s up now. It’s only a matter of time before their rigger checks over the video logs and sees what that drone was inspecting before it was attacked.”

Jake crouches behind the cab of the truck and draws his cannons. He looks down at them and then at Behuniak beside him. “Do you have anything bigger than these guns? We’ll need to bring down a lot of these metal birds fast, and these won’t do it!”

Linus defends himself into the com:

“That drone was seconds away from determining there was a hot mechanical object and a person hiding under a flimsy tarp. It was just a matter of time… and now we have a chance that they engage first with my liquid friend. Why we didn’t leave that damnable bike behind is beyond me.”

Linus mutters under his breath as he communicates with his spirit.

“My last request, friend, then you will be free to return to your plane. Engage all hostile drones, but most importantly draw them to yourself. We will do whatever we can to assist.”

Thomas crouches in the back alongside Jake. “Aye, it was a good enough gambit, spellslinger. They would not have rested until they were sure we did not have the adept. Perhaps your spirit will buy us a few more minutes.”

The artificer turns to Jake. “We Crusaders do not carry guns. As Jesus said unto his disciples, ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’” The ork pulls a throwing axe from his bandolier to illustrate the point. “Shane may have something up front though. Shane?”

The technomancer produces a shotgun from the floor of the cab and hands it back through the rear window. “Just my dad’s Remington, but it should do. What’s our next move? Make a break for it or try to shake them in the back streets?”

Jake takes the shotgun and racks the pump action, checking the type of ammo in the chamber before laying it on the deck at his feet. He yells into the cab, “I think we should get off the main roads! The drones will have a reduced field of fire and the bikes will have trouble navigating the debris and narrow lanes.”

Linus begins to conjure a watcher to the astral realm.

“Let’s get some more eyes out there, we’d do well to scout open routes through the city.”

Jake collects the shotgun and pumps the slide, peering into the weapon’s innards. A red shell with a golden base tumbles into the breech. He thumbs the bullet up to inspect its killing end; A wide, bludgeoning round stares dumbly back. Slug, not shot.

The gunslinger tips the shell back in and releases the slide, then throws the longarm to his feet, freeing his revolvers once again. The inevitability of the coming combat brings upon him a familiar dry haze, the battle fever of his art. An old man’s voice rings in his ear. “Have you forgotten the face of your father, maggot?”

The truck peels out around the car in front of it, swerving into the oncoming lane as it picks up speed. Jake and Thomas drop to their sides to avoid being thrown free. The engine roars to match rotations as Shane downshifts, then finally catches, throwing them forward. They take the first right to careen down a narrow side road.

Jones street is lined with trendy restaurants and expensive bars, filling the sidewalk space with ritzy types eating ¥500 yen dinners by candlelight. Parked cars line one curb, but thankfully, there isn’t anyone else on the road. The technomancer builds more speed as he races away from the nearest contacts, causing the pub signs to bleed into one neon smear to either side.

His attention completely elsewhere from the situation at hand, Linus waves his hand at things unseen, conjuring a watcher with practiced ease. He snaps the flint on his lighter once in tribute, giving the diminutive spirit a toehold on their dimension. It bursts through onto the astral plane, then manifests its ghostly image into the physical world.

A translucent monkey with flaming paws soars alongside the summoner, clipping drunkenly through the truck as it struggles to orient itself with the physical plane.

A second burst of staccato gunfire rings out, drawing more attention to the exchange taking place behind them. They turn in time to see a second rotor drone careen through the intersection, strafing the water spirit’s position as it moves into formation with the first flyer, drawing a series of loud splashes. The water elemental flings another spike of ice, but it goes wide, crashing harmlessly into a brick wall across the street.

Jake glances back down the street in time to see yet another drone hove around the corner at the opposite intersection, some 200 feet away.

A throaty buzzing sound reaches the truck from several blocks directly behind them, like a dozen giant mechanical hornets flying to war.

Kelraji throws back the tarp, and scolds the mage.

“We try to escape, and you start a war. Why not let the bees buzz?”

He yells to the rest of the cab

“What awaits with your cabal? How safe are they?”

Then Kelraji simply sits against the cab, watching the rear, and the road as it spews forth before him.

Jake lifts his gunbarrel to his lips, shushing the assembled warriors. Best to be seen and not heard. Gunfire will draw all sorts of attention—drones, and other things.

Shane continues to charge down the narrow street, redlining the truck in his bid to escape the pursuing enemy.

The drone ahead of them begins to advance down the street directly toward them, shining a brilliant spotlight into their eyes.

A booming voice emanates from the flyer, marred by static and a thick Indian accent. “By authority of Wuxing megacorporate law, pull your vehicle over! You are wanted for grand larceny and corporate treason! Submit to our extraterritorial warrant or we will open fire.”

Shit.

Without a word, Jake slips his sunglasses on and braces himself against the tumbling of the floor beneath him. The hammers are locked and his chambers are full. He rises to his feet in the bed of the truck and his heavy arms open fire.

Aiming his Warhawk’s first round at the spotlight, he squints through the glare to get his barrel on target. He aims the second shot for the rotors at the top of the drone, hoping to score a hit on the axles or engine underneath.
The hollow point strikes the spotlight dead on, then splinters into shards which expend their furious momentum by ricocheting destructively about the drone’s interior.

The rotor drone, its innards now so much mechanical soup, continues through the air by force of habit. Jake adjusts his aim and releases a round from his Ruger Old Army, catching the flyer in the propeller array and sending it spinning madly ass over end. The burning debris crashes into the sidewalk, sending up an oily plume of smoke on impact.

The nightlife all around them swarms into action at the sound of the gunslinger’s cannons, milling like ants under siege. Women scream and cling to their dates while some of the more heroic men draw flashy sidearms from their blazers and make a show of protecting the innocent.

The buzzing noise grows in volume, filling the street, drawing all eyes to the rear. As the truck nears the end of the block, a huge pack of motorcycles swings into view on the far end of Jones street, sleek black racing bikes ridden by men in dark leather jackets. A rider at the vanguard signals half of the bikes to continue West on Bleeker, surely intending to head their truck off as they tack back towards the river.

The lead rider tucks low and cranks the throttle, sending fingers of static discharge leaping from his tires to crawl across the pavement. Four more bikes fall in behind him, jostling to be the first one into the fray.

Linus mumbles to the watcher in the astral realm.

“Faithful watcher, go up up up and watch for those buzzing drones. I will know what you know and use it to protect us.”

Jake turns to address the new enemy, stance wide and arms akimbo in the bed of the truck. He sweeps his armored duster back from his shoulders and points his guns down the street, back the way they had come. The beetle-like carapace of the drone smokes on the right side of the street where it crashed, and the smoke rises into the air. Surely the other drones will be along shortly.

Like a dueller out of the lawless West, the gunslinger levels his weapons, drawing a bead on the nearest biker. He aims to blow the man from his steel saddle, and the concussive reports of his guns rattle off the high canyon walls and fire escapes which enclose their urban chariot race.

Kelraji unhooks his vajra, and sends the thunderbolt skidding down the bed of the truck. When the bolt hits the rear tailgate, he grabs the tarp with his left hand, and sends a jolt down the wire from his wrist, severing the cables and ties with ease.

He yells to Thomas,

“Cabalman, weight down the other edge, we will net them!”

Jake levels his cannons at the new enemies, judging the distance to adjust for bullet drop and the vagrancies of wind. Even with the gunslinger’s supernatural predilection for his chosen weapon, the other end of the city block is simply too far for his revolvers to reach. He lowers his guns to wait for a better shot.

Kelraji draws, slashes, and returns his monofilament whip with one continuous motion, deftly severing the bungees restraining the battered tarp.

Thomas nods at his suggestion, sheathing his throwing axe and dropping to one knee. He catches a toolbox sliding around the bed of the truck and upends it, sending spanners and screwdrivers tumbling everywhere. He works with a craftsman’s deftness, quickly tying random tools to the corners of the tarp with bites of the plastic sheet.

At the far end of the block, the lead rider shoulders an odd-looking gun, a large, boxy rifle with cables running out of it instead of an ammo clip. A lens catches the light where the weapon’s barrel should be.

A dazzling lance of red light leaps from the device, cutting sideways to strike the rear of the truck. Shane, his senses entirely subsumed within the Land Rover’s interface, reacts with impossible speed, swerving sideways to avoid the beam. Despite his efforts, the laser clips their backside, cleaving through the left-hand tail light and wheel cover like a welding torch through paper, sending molten aluminum flying from the wound. A loose scrap of body panel flaps limply against the rear tire, impeding its movement. Shane cries out in pain as the hot sim relays the damage through his nervous system.

Linus watches his spirit’s diminutive form shoot skyward, and reaches out with his senses, opening himself to the connections which bind him to his servants. From his water spirit, he receives impressions of its struggle with the enemy drones, the frustration of its ineffective attacks and the rain spatter of bullets on its impervious liquid body.

The watcher spirit climbs high above them, faithfully looking about so Linus can see through its eyes. At first there is only a confusion of city blocks, swirling with incomprehensible amounts of astral activity. Then the summoner gets his bearings, locating Shane’s truck and the bikers by their murderous aura. One contingent is pursuing them down Jones street, with the other group breaking off to intercept them as they turn West. He notes a handful of drones as well, scattered about by their patrol route, now flying across the city to meet them.

Linus returns his mind to the situation at hand and prepares to act.

The summoner links to the water spirit: “You have served as an adequate distraction, I release you”

With that, he leans back into his chair, closes his eyes, and connects with the essence of the flame. He feels his pulse quicken as he reaches into the beyond, and attempts to reach a more powerful creature from the depths.

Jake holsters his guns and picks up the shotgun, flicking off the safety and shouldering it, savoring the weight of the stock against him.

Linus etches the air ahead of him with a rune of flame summoning, the patterns and inlaid inscriptions as familiar to him as the edge of a stonemason’s favorite chisel. He flicks his lighter once and the ritual begins, the air writhing with unseen heat as the fire elemental struggles to break through to their dimension.

Shane downshifts as the intersection ahead draws nearer, cursing loudly as he notices the stream of traffic. “Shit, it’s a one-way street. Hold on, chummers!” The ’mancer drags on the handbrake and jerks hard to the left, throwing them into a sidelong slide. Miraculously, they slip into the traffic, heading against the flow of cars. The Land Rover fishtails as the heavy tires struggle for traction, leaving them stranded as a trash hauler bears down on them. The truck finds purchase at the last second, juking sideways to avoid the monster vehicle.

Shane takes them down West 4th, weaving like mad to make progress against the stream of cars. They pass Linus’ summoning glyph as a massive canine form leaps from the ring of fire, a huge orange-furred beast which gallops alongside the truck, streaming contrails of flame behind it from its tail and mane. The elemental leaps cleanly over an oncoming sedan, woofing angrily. Linus can feel the being’s powerful presence in his mind, both fierce and loyal. [The spirit owes you 5 services.]

The summoner wipes distractedly at a trickle of fluid coming from his nose, and is surprised when his hand comes away bloody. The continuous conjuring is beginning to take its toll. [You take 1 stun damage, for 3 stun total.]

He yells nervously to his comrades, relaying what he has seen of the enemy’s position through his watcher spirit. Jake turns to look down Barrow street in time to see the second unit of bikers, heading up 6th Avenue on an intercept course. Through the pack his sharp eyes make out a different vehicle driving among them, a three-wheeled contraption with an enclosure large enough for a single person. It tows some sort of trailer behind it, sporting a frame designed to mount something. There is space enough for nearly a dozen trash-can shaped objects, though none of the openings are currently occupied.

Thomas calls out, pointing to the sky ahead of them, where a single rotor drone bears down on them, preparing to make a pass.

Kelraji gathers his impromptu net to him, testing the artificer’s knots. The thing just might work.

Kelraji slowly swings the net around himself, jerky at times, but always flowing, trying to get a feel for the improvised weapon. Far heavier than the whip he is used to, he takes care not to entangle himself. Grabbing a severed piece of the ties with his left hand, he anchors himself to the back of the truck, and glances around himself, preparing to throw at the first approacher, or whoever seems the most vulnerable to screwdrivers tied to a tarp.

Kelraji, shifting side to side, repositions his left foot, placing it securely inside the shoulder strap of his go bag, resting his heel against the bag itself, toes toward the strap and rear of the truck.

Jake lowers the shotgun, keeping his keen eyes locked on the drone above. Steadying the longarm with his right hand, he draws his Warhawk with the left and fires a round at the drone hurrying towards them, intent on stopping it before it can strafe them.

Kelraji, unphased by the gunslinger’s indecision, uses the distraction to look around the bed of the truck, looking for something, anything, to give them an edge.

The truck shifts beneath Jake’s feet at the last second, throwing the gunslinger’s aim from true. His hollowpoint glances off the rotor drone’s carapace, throwing it into a brief tumble from which it quickly recovers.

The drone returns fire, raking Jake’s position with a short burst. The adept coolly ducks the incoming fire, letting it rain harmlessly on the Land Rover’s armored roof. The drone buzzes overhead, twisting in midair to continue its pursuit.

Kelraji goes to one knee, sorting though the rabble caroming about the truck bed. He looks up in time to see a storefront on the corner of Barrow go whizzing past, its windows coated with sheets of blood. He shakes off the distraction to return his attention to the task at hand, and begins his inventory: two toolboxes, one of which has been overturned, several boxes of nails, a cordless soldering iron, a half-full box of shotgun shells, three one-gallon jugs of water, a good length of coarse rope in a climber’s coil, and a greasy canister of gasoline with a plastic neck.

Behind them, the laser-wielding rider and his squadron swing around the corner, swerving through the incoming traffic in their haste to close with the truck. The leader slips easily between the bewildered cars, steadily building speed. The other bikers do their best to follow, whooping challenges and warcries as they weave through the civilian drivers. All but one make it through, the last unfortunate rider colliding head-on with a compact, sending him soaring through the air as both vehicles explode in a mushroom of dirty fire. The man twists through the air before swiftly transferring all kinetic energy to the pavement, ragdolling with bone-crushing force as he comes to rest.

The drone completes its turn and begins to trail them, firing off controlled bursts from its nose gun. The gunslinger, more exposed from this vector than from the forward arc, sidesteps to avoid the fire, but catches one of the pistol rounds in the shoulder, bruising his flesh and tearing the seam of his armored duster. [You take 1 stun.]

Behuniak lifts his shield from his back and a handaxe from his bandolier, roaring with battle fever as his orkish blood takes over.

Linus’ fire spirit continues to lope alongside the truck, trailing tendrils of caustic smoke from its slavering maw.

They reach the major intersection ahead of them, ignoring the light as they barrel into the busy avenue. Time seems to slow as adrenaline takes its grip on all involved. The men in the truck look to their left to see that the second group of bikers is right on top of them, charging recklessly forth on an attack run. The front two riders brandish clubs and steel pipes which draw sparks across the pavement, readied to strike as they pass. Behind them rides a man clutching a glass sphere filled with orange liquid, topped with a rag which gutters with oily flame. The last biker is armed with an SMG, and after him comes the three-wheeled personal transport, a human figure barely visible beneath the tinted canopy. The motorcycle’s running lights draw dizzying patterns in the nighttime haze as they swoop forward, adding to the confusion of the already busy downtown traffic.

The gunslinger occupies the front right corner of the truck bed, with Thomas in the front left, hunkering indomitably between Jake and the oncoming vehicles. Kelraji occupies the rear of the truck bed, his makeshift net still clutched in one fist. The men can make out the whites of the closest biker’s eyes as they charge down upon them.

Jake stands behind the armored knight and brings the butt of the shotgun to his right shoulder, cradling the barrel in the crook of his left elbow. He sights down the attacking bikers and fires two slugs as they approach; one at the man carrying the molotov, and another at the one wielding the firearm. The pipes and chains do not bother him half so much as the thought of more bullets headed his way.

Kelraji readies his net, prepared to engulf the first rider to attempt a pass on the truck, looking forward, trying to ensure he nets one going by at top speed for maximum damage. He considers the vajra, but realizes that further antagonizing isn’t his best move.

Jake lets the grazing impact to his shoulder carry him back against the rear of the truck’s cab, using it to brace himself as he finds fresh targets. He props the shotgun up with his right arm and extends the Ruger in the other, his motions fluid with the chilly resolve of his caste. A rough voice like a desert wind sounds in his ear. He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.

The scattergun recoils aggressively against the gunslinger’s shoulder, spitting out a slug which buries itself in the firebomber’s gut. The massive chunk of lead punches clean through the man’s torso, tearing out a cone of meat from his flank, yet somehow the biker clings to his mount, wobbling only slightly before recovering. He raises the glass sphere above his head, determined to hurl it before he loses consciousness.

The Warhawk roars next, catching the next assailant squarely on the bicep of his riding arm. The hollowpoint loses coherency against the man’s armored sleeve, amplifying the round’s destructive footprint in exchange for penetration. The resulting blow rends the man’s arm clean off, sending it twirling away in a spiral of gore. [Your gunplay pool refreshes.]

The biker flails uselessly as he falls sideways, meeting the cracked pavement at over 50 miles per hour. He dies instantly, his limp corpse skidding wetly as it decelerates. The motorcycle leaves its wheels, throwing sparks and chunks of chassis as it bounces down the street.

The enemy rigger’s vehicle swerves wildly to avoid the wreck, careening headlong into a curbside fruit stand. It sends a colorful swath of produce soaring through the air before finding the road again.

A flash of light from behind them signals the laser rifle’s discharge, but this time Shane is ready for it, swerving to one side as the ruby beam sweeps past. The coherent light carves an angry gash of molten blacktop where their truck had been moments before.

Behuniak bellows from the shelter of his kite shield, his bassy voice echoing inside his helm as he hurls an axe at the baton-wielding biker. “Death to the enemies of the righteous!” The cutting edge thunks firmly into the motorcycle’s armored windscreen, providing nothing more than a minor distraction.

Kelraji reflects bemusedly upon his own interpretation of righteousness as he sets about his task. He grips the screwdrivers at two corners of the plastic tarp and plunges them into the flimsy metal fuel canister, which immediately begins to slop gasoline all over his arms and the floor of the truck bed. The monk utters a silent prayer to Chhinnamasta as he raises the entire tangled fetish of inventive destruction above his head and swings the tarp once before loosing it at the man with the pipe. Amazingly, a corner of the fuel-soaked sheeting drapes across the unsuspecting biker, dragging him from his mount with the weight of the gasoline container.

The entangled pursuer crumples to the pavement, bouncing once before being run over by his own steed. The remaining two motorcyclists quickly follow suit, their tires spooling up the tarp as they drive over it, creating a bolo effect which brings the vehicles crashing together. Somewhere in the confusion of man and steel the molotov is ruptured, setting the entire stretch of road to flame in one giant blossom of heat.

The first wave of riders lies spread out across the road in various stages of immolation, save the rigger’s unarmed transport, now shying away from the pursuit and covered in the pulp of a dozen fruits. The remaining batch of bikers continues to tear after them, some 100 meters out and gaining. Two additional drones join the fight, with even more on the horizon, adding the thrum of their rotor-blades to the scream of the motorcycle engines.

Linus watches the inferno behind him with a mix of horror and relief, and thinks also of divinity, a gnarled form bound to stone and beset by carrion feeders. The Fire-Bringer’s anguished cries echo in his ear, joined by the labored panting of his fire elemental as it strains against the bonds of its summoning like a bloodhound at the end of its lead.

Linus looks back at the ensuing carnage with horror. If the evisceration of the witches were not enough, he is now nearly as frightened of his new companions as he is of these seemingly incompetent corporate mercs.

He connects to his spirit and sends his wishes:

“There is no time for us to converse. Stop these cyclists, perhaps with your breath as they round the corner, then engage the drones.”

Kelraji seems distracted and unimpressed by the pyroclasm, and begins to repeat a sign with his left hand, a total of four times before he is startled by the hurtling ball of fire so close to his own gas-soaked arm. He visibly relaxes as it passes, and his right hand makes a different sign.

Linus adds, at the last moment to the spirit:

“Try to stay between the man with the laser and the car, and engage with him last. That device has potential.”

The fire dog’s claws skitter on the pavement as it slides to a stop, its teeth bared in a slavering grin.

The Land Rover continues safely through the intersection, heading West on Christopher street, the last leg of their escape to the pier. The rolling mass of flaming steel and Wuxing agent rolls on behind them, spreading out on the busy street like a yard sale from Hell.

Linus’ elemental trots calmly into the guttering intersection, sniffing curiously at the burning bodies. Finding one man still breathing, the spirit holds his torso down with one massive paw and closes its mouth over his head and shoulders. The biker’s muted screams sound from inside the beast’s maw as it tears him in two with a jerk of its head.

Above, the two drones fall in behind them, strafing the men in the truck bed with small arms fire. Most of the rounds go wide as Shane swerves through traffic, though Kelraji only narrowly avoids catching a bullet as he ducks behind the Rover’s rear hatch.

The Wuxing rigger, suddenly without his escort, wheels backwards onto the sidewalk, finding some cover behind the barricade of a subway entrance.

The elemental licks blood from its lips as it watches the next group of riders bearing down upon it. It fills its lungs in one great gulp, then spews forth a sickly green cloud as the lead cycles come into range.

The leader ducks easily away from the path of the noxious gas, but two of his men are caught in the deadly cone of fumes. They are engulfed for a moment, then burst from the cloud, hacking and coughing laboriously. One rider goes down, clutching helplessly at his chest as the arcane toxin invades his body. The other manages to keep his hands on the controls, even as the gas streams from his mouth and nose.

From their vantage point, Jake and Kelraji can just make out the face of the man with the laser rifle through the flames, some 40 meters away on the far side of 7th Avenue. He is a young Indian man wearing a blood red jacket, the exotic rifle tucked under one arm, with a line running from it to a satchel at his waist. Both men sense in the rider’s movements a litheness and preternatural reflex akin to their own—this one will not be as easy to bring down as his grunts.

The fire elemental stands between them and the three remaining bikers, who are now nearly on top of each other. The motorcycles are traveling far faster than Shane’s truck, swiftly closing the distance between them. The enemy rigger’s PMV protrudes from behind the subway’s partition, now barely visible. Overhead, two drones continue to trail the truck, even as a third hoves into view ahead of them.

The gunslinger tests the weight of his steel, eyes narrowing as he chooses his next target.

The gunslinger ducks his head as small-arms fire from the drones whizzes around them, burying itself in the pavement. Trying to keep a cool head about him, Jake squints back through the busy intersection and gauges the distance to his new target.

He drops the shotgun to the floor of the truckbed again with a clatter. The range is long, and the forward sight on his magnum obscures his target… aim with your eye. His right hand flashes to his waist and he quick-draws the other revolver, firing the weapon from his hip as he squeezes the trigger in his other hand. The glass eye of the laser looms large in his mind.

Jake’s hand blurs to his waist with the fluidity of a striking viper, hauling and discharging the cannon in one complete motion. The slug flies true, but the enemy rider slips sideways on the road, letting the shot ricochet from the face of his cycle. The gunslinger volleys with his left, aiming to crush the man’s gods-blasted beam thrower, but he twists in the saddle, lifting the weapon safely out of harm’s way.

Jake’s eyes, ever vigilant, catch a cocky smirk on the boy’s face. The gunslinger feels the touch of a long-forgotten sensation wash over him, a memory cast across worlds in a vessel of flesh and blood. What had the old man called it? Battle fever.

Kelraji clings to the rear of the truck, tensed for another poorly-placed barrage from the pursuing drones. He snares his backpack with his foot, then swings it onto his back, his oily hands spreading petrol everywhere. The monk tightens the straps down, feeling the press of the old man’s large book mixed in with the odd bulk of his other magical loot all pressing against his back.
Kelraji looks to the cab, and shouts “STOP THE TRUCK.”

He turns back down the street, and yells as loudly as he can " Āpa hanumāna kē rūpa mēṁ lē jātē haiṁ, bhā’ī nipuṇa, mujhē akēlē laṛanā! "

Kelraji begins to shift his weight, preparing to jump out when the truck slows enough to allow it.
The bed of the truck pitches forward as they brake, throwing the occupants back against the cab. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” Shane yells back in a worried tone.

The pursuing drones overshoot the truck as it slows, peppering its hood as they continue to struggle for a decent shot. Jake notes that the buzzing mechanical insects have switched from indiscriminate fire to more deliberate bursts, and as a result were beginning to come closer to their marks.

The remaining three riders zoom past the fire spirit, barreling across the avenue and into the confined corridor of Christopher street. Linus’ elemental gallops after them, snapping at the agent’s retreating tires. The great beast spits another gout of its noxious breath, engulfing the two remaining grunts and sending them tumbling from their mounts, only to be trampled by the hound as it chases after the last of the cycles.

The man in red stands in his saddle, screaming after them as he shoulders the laser rifle. “Kelrajiiii!” His English is colored with a well-honed post-colonial Indian accent. “Surrender the knife or die!” Even in the midst of such chaos, the man’s voice reminds Linus of his young graduate student back at Duke, a place which felt worlds away from the night still unfolding before him.

The summoner’s reverie is broken by a strobing flash as the lone rider fires again, slicing at them with a silent beam of impossible energy. Shane swerves, once more avoiding cataclysmic impact, but the sudden movement combined with the instability of deceleration prove too much for the truck, which begins to fishtail violently. The Land Rover clips a double-parked Roadmaster and goes into a mad counterclockwise spin, subjecting all within to an overwhelming centrifugal force.

The truck comes to a sudden halt as it crunches sidelong into a parked SUV, but the men in back retain their momentum in Newton’s cruel grip, pitching violently out toward the middle of the road. Thomas manages to cling to the side of the bed with his free hand, but Jake and Kelraji are sent soaring through the air.

Adrenaline and mystic faculties combine to slow the two adept’s worlds as they tumble purposefully through the ether. Jake twists in midair to find the last biker bearing down on him at an incredible speed, now only meters away, his beam gun already leveled for another shot. The rider seems to be haloed in a ring of flame as the massive fire demon keeps pace behind him.

The monk follows the gunslinger through the air, cordless soldering iron and vajra still gripped in his greasy fists.

The gunslinger floats through the air like a blade of grass, letting the pace of his fall carry him over his axis of rotation. His feet no more than brush the pavement and he is already diving out of the path of the bike, continuing to follow his momentum and falling into a low shoulder row with his guns tucked up around his head.

Kelraji lands roughly, scuffing his jacket in the process, but manages to roll quickly to his feet, if not an upright position. With no time to fuss over his once respectable clothes, and with his supposed companion, Death, striving so pitifully to avoid his own, he has only one choice. And so he springs up from his crouch towards the vexing cyclist.

Hanuman can leap and fly with the best of them, but even the most agile need a place to land.

Motorcycles don’t dodge with anywhere near the litheness of the preternaturally aware awakened.

With his backpack still on, if rumpled, and his left hand by his chest, with his pinky and index finger extended, the rest in a ball, in a gesture vaguely reminiscent of the ‘punk rock’ gesture of America, Kelraji flicks out his vajra, sending the line across the immediate path of the bike, ready to flash the line down, hoping to sever an axle, a brake line, a steering column, anything. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Kelraji begins flexing his shoulders to roll should he need to.

The monk sends his monowire spooling out before him, leaping into the air as his enemy rides past and swinging out low to catch the motorcycle’s lead tire with his weapon’s silken thread. The well-placed strike skins off a rubber hemisphere of the heavy outer tire, rupturing the thin inner tube with a satisfying pop. [You have spent 1 point of edge, 1 remaining.]

The bike lurches into a high-speed endo, throwing the mysterious rider into his first ungraceful moment of the night. He twists in the air, managing to land shoulder-first into a painful skid. He rolls over on his back to train his laser on Kelraji as they travel apart, his armored jacket protecting him from the worst of the road rash as he slides. [The rider has spent 1 point of edge to survive the crash, but did not use full defense.]

Linus brushes broken glass from his lab coat, congratulating himself for putting on his seat belt. In his mild haze of summoning sickness and shock, he remains cognizant enough to take in the battle which is suddenly unfolding in front of him, rather than behind: His new-found swarthy ally lashing out at his apparent pursuer and sending him earthward, yet still dangerous; Linus’ own elemental charging after them, billowing plumes of righteous flames all around it, trailed now by four drones all swooping down the street with singular intent. The summoner calculates that the whole procession will travel past him in a matter of seconds.

Linus reels from the screeching halt, and feels up around his head to be sure he isn’t bleeding. For a moment, the street goes out of focus, and the mayhem of the scene just seems to ripple like a strange dance. Like a candle. A candle…

In a flash, Linus focuses on the drones and his mind races. Wuxing. He thinks he can remember something about their control mechanisms… but what was it?

Linus grips his temples, prompting his formidable mind to disgorge what it can on the organization known as Wuxing. He turns his senses inward, hunkering into the fervent data-recall trance of his graduate school days.

Linus is familiar with the corp through his research on imbuing mundane artifacts with magical properties, particularly in the field of binding astral beings to specialized hardware. Wuxing is a China-based megacorporation which has recently elevated to triple-A status, earning them a seat on the corporate court and real estate on the extraterritorial Zurich Orbital Habitat. Their influence extends throughout Southeast Asia and across the globe in typical megacorp fashion, dealing mainly in commerce and consumer goods, with a decided interest in spirits, Wujen and the elemental arts.

A light goes off in the scholar’s head as the correct neuron cluster in his memory center finally fires its chemical payload. He recalls reading a Jstor article a few years ago in connection with his research on applied astral-electronic circuitry. Although it was not directly relevant to his data search, he ended up reading the entire thing out of pure intellectual interest.

The focus of the study was to document the social patterns of insect spirits in the Chicago ‘rad zone in the hopes of streamlining the group behavior of drone networks. The astro-scientists had found that a strain of ant spirit, when ranging far from the colony in foraging parties, were led by a ’prime’ or ‘synapse’ being who carried enhanced biomorphs which allowed it to receive the psychic communications of the hive mother from extreme distances, then relay the data to other workers. This ingenious system allowed the bug spirits to save previous resources when birthing their young by only requiring a few spirits out of each clutch to have the advanced biological relays necessary to maintain hive contact.

This concept was then successfully applied to a network of drones, by designating one of the units the ‘prime’ vehicle through which all of the rigger’s commands would be relayed, allowing the entire network to utilize one high quality interface to command the whole squad, rather than equip each drone with sub-par firewall and signal equipment. Which was all well and good as long as no enemy hackers knew of the prime’s weakness…

And the corp backing all of this research had been Wuxing, Linus was sure of it. He turns excitedly to Shane, doing his best to sift out the pertinent bits of information. If they could just identify and disable the synapse unit, the rest should fall like dominoes.

Even as he completes his thought, the drones in question release another volley at the men outside the truck, their actions like that of a single machine. The rounds trace the paths of the two mobile adepts, biting close at their heels as they move. Still more rounds spatter against Behuniak’s upturned shield, eliciting a roaring challenge from the ork.

Linus’ fire elemental, having dutifully saved the bike leader for last, leaps over Kelraji’s intervening form, spitting a gout of magical fire at the rider as he slides across the pavement. The man rolls frenetically sideways then kips-up to his feet, any semblance of grace to his movements now gone as he struggles to evade the continuing attacks against him. The massive beast merely angles its head to match his movement, drawing the stream of flame over his position.

The rider screams as he is enveloped in flame, dropping his weapon as he performs his dying dance.

Kelraji watches the fire elemental pass overhead, crouching low to avoid grazing its orange-furred chest and the licking flames emanating from its mane and tail. Regardless, the overwhelming heat of the spirit’s aura washes over him. Suddenly, Kelraji’s upper body bursts into flame as the gasoline soaking his arms and torso react to the elemental’s proximity. Pain replaces surprise as the petrol burns away, his flesh replacing the gas as the flame’s source of fuel. He can feel his skin tightening as it loses moisture and begins to sear. [You take 3 physical damage. More damage will be inflicted at the end of each combat turn you are still on fire.]

Thomas leaps heavily from the rear of the truck, his battle axe in one lobstered gauntlet, its haft somehow glowing with pulsing red light. He strikes the pavement with the blade as he lands, which responds by splitting apart in a line running out toward where the rider stands. The crack turns to a fissure which spits globules of molten lava, opening the very earth beneath the burning man and threatening to swallow him whole. Even with his body fully ablaze, the man’s hardwired reflexes cause him to leap clear of the crevice, extending his life for a few more moments.

Shane nods to Linus, clutching his own forehead as he applies his mental powers to the drones ahead of him. He leans back after a moment’s concentration, smacking his lips in annoyance. “You were right about their lead drone, he’s here,” the technomancer points out the drone second from the right, “but his firewall is hot, and I’m not much of a hacker. I’ll keep trying to spoof the subroutine, but bringing it down the old fashioned way would also do the trick.” [Linus’ relationship with Shane Dieyette has increased to +1.]

The gunslinger completes his shoulder roll, his worn-out cowboy boots scraping neatly across the sidewalk before coming to rest. He hefts his steel and surveys the madness before him. Watching men burn is quickly becoming the overarching theme of his night.

Jake sees the Indian man burst into flames in front of him but can’t stop to help, as the combat rages around him. The fire elemental and the laser-wielding adept are battling in the street, the rest of bikers… where are they? Jake’s quick eyes whirl around him, taking in every detail, looking for good cover near him to shield him from the drones. He also looks out at the busy intersection, trying to gauge the distance to the rigger’s vehicle behind its cover.

Jake’s icy blue eyes scan the battlefield around him with the consummate ease of a sportsman on the field of play. The enemy biker continues to burn, stumbling crazily about near the fissure in the pavement which opened between him and the armored knight. His Indian ally is also aflame, and has already reversed the direction of his charge, running toward the beamgun rider with his exotic lash flailing about him.

The fire beast stands panting serenely above the crumpled bodies of the other bikers, watching its target burn with witch-fire, apparent satisfaction upon its alien face.

The electro-shaman’s carriage stands where it came to rest across the street from the gunslinger, damaged but still running. He can see the mouths of the two men within running steadily, focus etched on each face, but cannot make out their speech.

Four of the beetle machines continue to buzz above the street some 40 meters away, still spewing artless bursts of small-caliber rounds at him and his newfound ka-tet. The street extends beyond them nearly 100 meters, though all sight of the rigger’s three-wheeled vehicle has been lost at the intersection’s bend.

A lamppost stands between Jake and the drones, offering scant shade from their fire. Better cover lies to his immediate left in the form of an alcove leading into a seedy saloon, providing a handsome corner of coarse wood for him to stand behind.

The adept, inflamed by both his own emotions and literal flames, feels the pain, a dull sensation in his body, nagging at his brain to focus. So he does.

The rifleman will not escape. He never stood a chance. Flames or not, Kelraji will finish this man. His acrobatics notwithstanding, the man has no chance to survive.

Kelraji quicksteps towards the man, spooling his weapon with quick wrist motions as he goes, his left hand slowly working its way through a series of gestures, as if in meditation.

As he approaches, making sure to steer clear of the massive elemental, he flicks the whip to his side, loops it quickly once, and sends it darting towards the fleeing and flopping lieutenant, insistent on ending the battle before the man recovers from his wounds.

As he passes by the elemental, well out of range, Kelraji yells:

“No more flames, bakrichoden!”

Jake steps sidelong into the shade of the saloon, ignoring the patrons and their frightened shouts. He has much more pressing matters at hand; looking back at his dark-skinned companion he is worried by the fire licking at his bare skin. The warrior charges the laser-wielding biker nonetheless; is he truly immune to pain? ‘The man is a monster’, the gunslinger muses.

He crouches a little and takes aim with the Old Army at the drone nearest him. ‘Time to clear the skies.’

The gunslinger’s revolver cracks, putting a hollow point through one flyer’s guts and blowing it to pieces from the inside. The remaining rotor drones reverse thrust, climbing into the air and receding out of sight behind the surrounding apartment buildings, their nose guns silent.

The burning monk’s headlong charge brings his monowhip within range of the beleaguered rider. He lashes out savagely, his weapon cleaving through armor, flesh and bone to bisect the man from shoulder to navel. The biker slips apart in two wet pieces, the last pumps of his heart sending up founts of blood which dampen the fire still clinging to his corpse.

The flame clinging to Kelraji, however, receives no such dampening, and continues to char the flesh of his arms and torso. The pain recedes somewhat as the nerves of his upper dermis wither and die. The sickly sweet stink of his own burning flesh fills the combat monster’s nostrils. [You take 2 boxes of physical damage, 5 total.]

Kel’s backpack falls from his shoulders as the straps burn through, its contents spilling onto the pavement as the fabric turns to ash. A mess of clothing and some gear scatters across the pavement, all in various stages of becoming ruined by fire. The satchel containing Mathus’ book tumbles out, the hide slowly succumbing to the flames as well. The wind witch’s wand rolls free, blackened but not burning, and comes to rest against the truck’s tire. Another package comes loose as well, a mysterious object bundled in cloth about a forearm’s length and diameter. A black handle inlaid with gold pokes out from one smoldering corner.

Without delay, Linus immediately uses his shape flame skill to quench the fire burning Kelraji, slapping his hands together and rubbing them as if to smash a bug.

That completed, he brazenly sticks his head out the window and yells: “Hey! Crazy people! Someone pick up that laser! It might still be working and I can think of at least a few good uses for it. I don’t know why you go getting yourselves off into trouble, the hound is quite capable of taking care of these things, aren’t you my Barghest! Indeed!”

He pulls his head back inside the truck cab and turns to Shane: “Have the drones been called off just now, or need we fear their return?”

Pleasantly extinguished, Kelraji’s body quickly spins back around to take a quick survey of what goods he has left.

He immediately quicksteps to the handled parcel, coiling and securing his vajra as he goes, and taking off his own burned jacket. When he reaches the parcel, he bends quickly to grasp the handle, and secures the item under his left arm, his hand covering the handle, like an american securing an old timey ‘foot-ball.’ With his right hand, he throws the quite ruined jacket over the remains of his pack, attempting to extinguish the remainder of the gear, slowly coming back to his senses.

His nose crinkles as he smells his own flesh, and his eyes begin to register the pain that he is in, though his actions do not betray the devastation of his cindered flesh.

Jake stays put behind the wooden barricade, ears cocked for the sound of the rotor drones returning, sharp eyes locked on the last known position of the rigger in the intersection, waiting to see if he makes a move.

His body aching, but out of immediate danger, Kelraji begins to gather what items survived the devastation. After tamping out the remaining licks of flame with the jacket, he surveys the contents.

The fire in the bag done, he hastily piles the remains in the armored jacket. He will sort out what has been lost to the fire once he finishes his immediate tasks.

Zipping the jacket and carrying it by the sleeves, Kelraji attempts to move the contents to the bed of the truck, tossing the wand in for the ride as well.

His right hand firmly grasping the sleeves, neck, and waist of the charred jacket, his left hand slowly and deliberately makes gestures, alternately pointing towards the ground, circled towards his own body, and a third more complex gesture. His eyes begin to glaze as he walks, and he glances around himself, seemingly dazed, and focused inwards.

Seeing that no one is particularly interested in the laser, and not completely sure what condition it might be in, Linus curses under his breath, then opens the passenger door and hops out onto the battlefield of the street. Seeing that there is probably not much time to waste, he runs down the street towards where the laser was thrown, and quickly checks how badly it’s damaged.

Linus reaches out with his arcane touch and exerts his mastery over his chosen element. He takes hold of the million million electrons dancing in and around his Indian companion’s body and forces them down, closer to their parent atoms, squeezing them into lower orbits with his hands as if he were juicing an orange. The flames flicker out, leaving Kelraji’s flesh blackened and smoking.

The gunslinger keeps to his cover, his eagle eyes taking in all there is to see downrange. The street they are on runs at an odd angle to the avenue where the rigger’s biker group engaged them, obscuring a proper view of the intersection. The subway station which the three-wheeled vehicle hid behind is out of sight around the bend.

Shane reaches out through his truck’s advanced sensor suite to probe for the enemy drones. He turns to Linus and shrugs at him in response. “Flyboy’s called his UAVs back, but they’re still right on top of us, out of sight over the roofs and behind buildings. Hundred yen says he’ll keep tailing us, even if he’s not willing to let Dirty Harry out there buck down all his toys.”

The summoner, seemingly satisfied of his own relative safety, climbs out of the truck and runs over to inspect the deceased man’s laser rifle. It is large, bigger than the average assault weapons he has seen, and more cylindrical in design. The outer casing is blackened and marred in places from the spirit’s fire breath, but as far as Linus can tell the damage is only cosmetic. He brings the weapon closer to his face and adjusts his glasses to read the text stamped onto the side of the barrel: ARES MACROTECHNOLOGY MP LASER 3 – CAUTION HIGH VOLTAGE COMBAT LASER, and below this: PROPERTY OF WUXING INCORPORATED JAIPUR ACQUISITIONS DEPT. The lense is all in one piece and unscratched, and the firing mechanism seems to be in working order, although nothing happens when Linus gives the trigger a tentative squeeze.

He follows the heavy duty cabling running from the handle and soon discovers why—the cord running from the weapon’s battery satchel has been badly frayed in the crash, and the battery itself has ruptured in the fire. Linus catches the distinct laboratory stench of ether leaking from the charred lithium ion power pack and kicks it away dejectedly, certain it is ruined without its electrolyte. Regardless, the scientist happily collects the laser array itself and places it gently in the rear of the truck before climbing back into the passenger seat and buckling in.

Kelraji bends to compile his collected loot into his wrecked armored jacket, feeling his skin literally crackling as he makes slow, ginger movements. Blood begins to trickle painfully from the small fissures in his dried-out skin. He moves to return to the Land Rover, but pauses over the remains of the lead rider, checking over his burned-out corpse for valuables. The man’s fashionable red leather riding jacket is not only completely scorched from the flames, but also bears an incision running from the shoulder diagonally down the back from the vajra’s killing blow. His pants are equally ruined, although from his pockets Kel recovers a badly burned comm, two credsticks, a crumpled shock glove which seems to have made it through the fire unscathed, and a photograph of a pretty young Indian woman with her back to the camera, looking out over a skyline which Kelraji recognizes from his youth. Her sari is a lovely lavender hemmed with golden thread which matches her earrings.

Linus’ fire spirit, satisfied that the last of the bikers is dead, turns to look skyward, contemplating the second prong of its command. It emits an unearthly whine from the back of its throat as it searches fruitlessly for the enemy drones, then disappears in a puff of smoke as it returns to the astral plane in continuance of its hunt.

The city street is oddly quiet, largely emptied of the usual Greenwich Village nightlife by the intense street fight. A trio of passing orks too chromed to know fear pass by on the sidewalk, muttering under their breath about how there seems to be wannabe shadowrunners everywhere these days.

Behuniak approaches Kelraji and joins him in gazing upon the flame-licked photo, speaking solemnly, his deep voice ringing inside his helm. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Surely, God is good, if He willed that even those come to take arms against his holy servants should have one such as her. Come, friend, the convoy is only minutes away from Manhattan now. Is the book secure?”

The adept’s corpse is completely devoid of an astral signature, save the lingering particles which dance about it from the flame spirit’s breath attack. In fact, judging by the faint traces of life essence still seeping from the man’s broken form, he appears to have heavy body work, with dark, unnatural lines running throughout his limbs, a spiderweb network which radiates out from his spinal cord.

As Kelraji’s bare hand touches the handle of his prized meteorite dagger, his vision is suddenly filled with rapid, violent flashes, images from a place he does not know, landscapes consumed in mist, and a castle built of pale white stone which seems to fade into nothingness. His world is black, then a figure appears in the darkness, his face shrouded in shadow. Through the inky dark Kelraji can make out flashes of the man’s adornment—scaled armor plates of exquisite manufacture cover his chest, arms and legs, and a ebony crown sits upon his head, all hewn of the same material as his dagger and etched in the same brilliant gold. Upon the figure’s waist hangs two weapons, Kel’s own dagger and a matching saber. The man reaches out for him with one hand, beckoning ominously.

Just as rapidly, the monk snaps back to reality, once more standing upon a New York street at night, surrounded by an assortment of strange fellows. The pain of his severely burned body rushes back to him all at once. He does his best to shake it off, and bends to search his latest kill for items of use.

Kelraji finishes securing the items in his newfound satchel, and nods as Behuniak speaks, saying “Well fought, my brother in arms.”

Glancing quickly at Thomas, almost startled, Kelraji returns his gaze to the dead Indian, continuing to talk. “Should I ever find your love, I will inform her of your turning of the wheel. Surely she will be proud of you.”

Kelraji bends down, his skin crackling, and contorts one hand of the dead man into an open palmed gesture, fingers touching the ground, palm to the sky.

Picking up his satchel once more, Kelraji walks quickly to the truck, and says “The book is safe, but we are not. The rigger must die. We cannot risk being followed still, or attacked again. This is not a request, but a fact.”

Kelraji winces as he places the charred and cindered materials into the bed of the truck, and turns to face the rest.

“So, how do we kill the man who is the drone brain?”

Linus, buckling in again, looks through the rear window quizzically at Kelraji. “My good man all that would require is a request of my hound!” He chuckles to himself, then adds: “Perhaps you might find it wiser to leave things to him, next time. You’ll see of course that my friends are quite capable of handling things while we keep a safe distance. They and I serve the same master, and they follow me willingly, though the flame can be,” He points at Kelraji’s burned flesh… “difficult to control, and dangerous to approach.”

Mentally, he communicates with his watcher, muttering under his breath aloud so the others may know his intentions: “Find the drone rigger, he remains a danger to us.”

Then to his hound: “Have you found the drones above? Do not feel dissatisfaction if you cannot engage, you have fought admirably.”

Blurry visions of his spirits’ world swims into the summoner’s vision as he opens his mental link to his charges.

The watcher comes first, presenting a dizzying view from high above their block, the city streets swirling with conduits of astral energy in patterns which match the bustling flow of human activity. The little monkey grunts inquisitively in Linus’ ear as it struggles to understand his words. Linus sends a mental image of the rigger’s three-wheeled car, and the watcher hoots excitedly as comprehension dawns on its simple consciousness. It swoops low, darting among the traffic, eager to perform its new task. The little spirit howls in frustration when it does not immediately locate the oddly-shaped car. The little thing will need more time to sniff the rigger out.

Linus transfers his attention to his fire elemental, the monkey’s infantile presence replaced by a predatory cunning demonstrating full sentience. Linus sees a rooftop through the beast’s eyes, colored with the otherworldly palette of the astral realm. Several of the drones are visible, though only as lifeless gray shapes, devoid of a presence on the astral plane. The hound’s voice fills his mind. “The iron gnats cower above the man-burrows. They will burn, my master.” An electric tingle rolls over Linus’ spine as the flame spirit re-emerges onto the physical world, its flesh and bones remade again by the spirit’s power as it prepares to strike once more.

Linus shivers, then a wry smile spreads across his face. “Yes… all will be taken care of soon enough. Perhaps we should make haste for the meetup point? Time is of the essence.”

Kelraji shakes his head, focuses his eyes on Linus. Whatever pain the man feels is once more out of his mind, and his eyes narrow as he speaks.

“Your cur is careless, simple, and undiscerning. Our fight is not with the whole of the city, and I would not have the man disappear as I have many times before in such a place. I will see him and only him dead. Then we can go on. You do not understand those who pursue, or the distance they will go.”

Suddenly the man’s hands fly open, and his eyes brighten, and he says jovially, “and plus, neyrd, don’t you also want his tricycle?”

Thomas climbs heavily back into the truck, sheathing his enchanted axe and broad shield. He leans against the rear window and speaks conspiratorially to Shane. “Mathus foresaw the three must choose, aye, but what happens when they don’t agree?”

The technomancer shrugs, slumping back and resting his hands on the wheel. He glances at the truck’s dashboard, which begins to flick restlessly through trideo channels. He settles on a show portraying an orange car with a first secession-era confederate flag painted on its roof soaring through the air over a country road. “Fuck if I know, Tommy. I’m no seer or true believer, I just know the old man knew things we never could.” He turns to Linus. “I think you guys better decide soon though, or we’re gonna miss our train out of here. I’m already picking up the convoy’s pings on JFK’s air control radar. They’re somewhere over Brooklyn and headed this way fast.”

Linus’ eyes narrow. He pauses. Then suddenly his eyes open wide. “My God, those were Wuxing corp mercs… and we just obliterated them. Catherine might be in danger. No no no no no…” as he trails off he tries to get Catherine on his com. He is now completely oblivious to his companions.

Linus, waiting for his wife to answer, looks irritated at the distraction. He looks at Shane. “Fucking Step on it then!”

Turning around and addressing the other two of three: “If you fucking lunatics don’t get in the goddamned car fucking immediately I am going to bring my demon back here to burn this whole fucking contingent and me with it! What the fuck are you going to do? Run around the city with that ridiculous whip and your ancient shotgun looking for a goddamned tricycle somewhere in the tristate area?”

Kelraji sighs, looks at his arms, and tries to wipe away the blood. The very touch of his own hand causes visible pain.

“Very well mage. They have seen us, and they no doubt know what we look like. The death of the one robot man won’t turn me back into an unknown, and it certainly won’t save your family, if indeed they are in trouble. Let us go from here, and in doing so leave behind these lives.”

Kelraji shrugs, winces, and opens the passenger door of the truck.

“I’m sitting inside this time.”

Satisfied the enemy is defeated for now, Jake puts light pressure on the hammers of his weapons, letting the single-action triggers catch and release until they click softly against the striking pins. He removes his shades and casts a stony stare at the patrons in the saloon, then slides his guns into their crossed holsters with a satisfying leather slap.

He walks across the street, eyeing the charred remains of the Indian biker, now picked over by his companion. Tasteless, that, but a necessary move for the trials ahead; no resource can go wasted.

He arrives at the vehicle and peers inside. Satisfied that the technomancer and magician are unhurt, he clambers back into the bed and picks up his discarded shotgun. A loose shell rolls past his boot and he stoops to shove it into the magazine, listening to his companions quarrel.

“Let’s go to the drop off point. Kelraji, our quarry cannot follow us onto the water, we will be safe there. But our time grows short and our friends are few.” He nods to Shane, as if to say, ’now, before he can change our course.

As Kelraji gingerly sits on the front seat, he looks back to the gunslinger, and speaks.

“So, friends is it? It has been a long time since I have fought alongside anyone. And even longer since I have called a anyone a friend. But, I suppose, as you American’s say, my friends are the enemies of my enemies. So, who are you, and what brings you to this city?”

The truck drops into gear, whipping around with a squeal of tires as they exit the scene of battle. The Land Rover drives over one of the biker’s corpses with a disquieting thump-thump. Somewhere above and behind them a fiery blast erupts from the rooftops, followed by a crash of metal.

Shane speaks as they race down Christopher street towards the Hudson river. “Alright, on the road again. Convoy is in radio range, they’re hailing us. I’ll put them through the closed network.” Crackling static fills their ears before a voice comes through, female and colored with the cool arrogance of a professional pilot. “This is Harrier three eight, sending sit-rep interrogatory, over.”

Thomas presses a finger to the side of his helm. “Behuniak reporting. Shane and I are fine. The three are with us.”

A moment of silence follows before the radio crackles again. “Godfather sends interrogatory—where is Cain?”

Thomas shakes his head. “Mathus stayed behind, as he said he would.”

Another pause. “Interrogatory—the book?”

There is triumph in the Crusader’s voice. “Aye, we have the tome. Dust us off before anything else happens, by God.”

The voice on the other end crackles once more before the connection goes silent. “In the pipe, five by five. Harrier three eight out.”

Shane pilots them easily through a crowded intersection, bearing them ever closer to the water’s edge. Behuniak sighs as he doffs his helm, hooking the plumed cylinder to his belt. “Ready yourselves, you three. We will be collected by fast-rope, so you had best secure anything you wish to bring to Albionon now.” He turns to Jake, grinning around his tusks. “I would hear your tale as well, gunman, while we have a moment’s respite.”

Linus’ comm buzzes in his hand, signalling a connection. He brings the device to his ear and listens.

Catherine’s voice comes through with a mix of anger and worry well known to the summoner of late. “Linus Rutherford Templeton, what the hell is going on? Are you going somewhere? Another one of your ‘business trips’? You do have a family, you know? Do you remember that?”

Kelraji shrugs, and nods, looking around the cab and bed for something to stash his scattered pieces in. Checking over his clothing and gear, he begins to sort, mentally at least, the charred rubble from the salvageable from the intact items. Hopefully a few of his more expensive items made it, though they were the most delicate.

Tilting his head after a few seconds, Kelraji speaks aloud, focused on something on the rear.

“Dieyette, I need your old toolbox for now. And feel free to start anytime, cowboy.”

Linus whispers into the com: “Catherine, listen to me very closely this is extremely serious: I just had a violent run in with some Wuxing corp reps. They were after someone I happen to be traveling with but they clearly had orders to terminate with extreme prejudice, and I was forced to defend myself. I have no idea what kind of reprisal can be expected, since I have no idea if these were corporates or just contractors. I want you to take some of those vacation hours you’ve been saving up and take the kids on a little trip, away from Wuxing territory. I’ll have Sanjay help me to see whether we have come up on their corporate blacklist, but until I have time to do that I need to know that you are out of harms way. I am not joking around about any of this, do you understand me?”

The gunslinger starts slowly, both unsure of how to start and unsure of the truth of his own existence in this world. “Well, I don’t know what brings me to this city, any more than you may know the reason for your own birth. I cannot remember my own pasts, any of them, and there are many. The only certainty I have in this life is written by ka—by fate—and my footsteps always lead down the same path.”

“One day, several weeks ago, I awoke in my apartment as if from a long slumber, remembering nothing. The possessions in the apartment were strange to me, but in them I found my father’s gun and knew it was what binds me to this world.” The gunslingers hands idly begin reloading his weapons as he talks about them, adding the spent rounds to his brass bag.

“I saved the girl at the fountains from a rapist and she asked me for freedom. Her boss’ muscle tried to stop me but I shot them down, the troll and ork both. After that, I stepped through my doorway and met all of you.”

Turning back to Kelraji and Linus, he repeats the question. “What brings you two to New York?”

Kelraji nods as he looks around, listening to the gunslinger talk.

“New York is one of the largest cities left in the world. Where better to disappear?

Wuxing Corporation is a collection of thieves and untouchables with no respect for Brahma, the castes, or even the sanctity of our religion. They would steal from me what they once stole from my order and tried to auction. That cannot, and will not, happen. I, and my items, will be found and retrieved by my own kind, to carry on what must be done. Until I am retrieved, I seek to hide, to escape, and to protect that which must be returned."

He exhales deeply through his nose, in acceptance of what he has said, and steels himself, speaking again.

“You may ask questions of me as you wish, but I do not promise answers. I speak in general to avoid discovery. I am of the Kshatriya caste, a warrior for my gods, and I fight for a group responsible for the sustenance of the entire world. I am told that horrible actions took me from my parents, and I was taken in by a local temple. We children were trained to work hard, and do for ourselves, and live in accordance with the gods and the wheel. Some of us, myself included, found ourselves maturing in more ways than one, and were taught what little true mysticism the underbelly of a crumbling city can muster.”

Blinking rapidly, he continues.

“Local officials tried to raze the temple to build a corporate resort. A five thousand year old temple, and they would obliterate it so some filthy Vaishya can rest his head. I was 14. I tailed the elder priestess and her son to a meeting with the officials to negotiate a deal. They met in a nice restaurant, in the middle of town. I was not allowed inside. From what I was able to gather, our priestess would not be swayed, and the negotiations became threats. On the way back to the temple, the priestess and her son were ambushed. Surrounded by gunmen, and themselves unarmed, they were overcome. I ran as the gunfire started, and hid among the roofs of the houses. It was over quickly, and I cried for a great while before returning to the temple.

You cannot imagine my state at that moment. A man who treated me as his younger brother and a woman who was a mother as much to me as any, gone at once. When I arrived, out of breath and tear-streaked, I was ushered indoors, out of sight. I was taken to a room I had never been before, the inner sanctum, and told to sit.

I sat. Then I prayed. For hours I prayed, and prayed. And then, my third eye opened, and I was able to see the world beyond our world, the fabric of our lives. And from there, everything changed."

The warrior leans back in his seat, sloughing off patches of skin, bleeding, and winces.

“Are we there yet friends? I would greatly appreciate some water, or some bandages, or even food or a bed.”

Linus is obviously touched overhearing this story, but continues to speak to his wife on the com in hushed but urgent tones.

The unlikely truckload of men passes largely unnoticed through the West Village as the newcomers weave their tales, swiftly putting city blocks between themselves and the carnage behind them. Gouts of flame go up in the distance, now almost completely lost behind the hurried scroll of urban terrain.

Behuniak produces a large swath of cloth gauze and medical tape from his kit and passes it up to Kelraji through the back window. “Use these if you can, brother, though either Vontarion or the mercenary’s medic will tend to you once we’re aboard the plane. If you can convince Von to get off his high horse first.” Shane snorts and grins, shaking his head knowingly.

Kel spreads his ruined armored jacket in his lap to survey what is left of his worldly possessions. The bronze of his weapon focus is blackened but unmarred. He clips the exotic haft to his belt and continues, shaking his bulky chameleon suit free from the smaller trinkets. Kelraji tests the active camo and is pleased to find it still responds, matching the hues of the cabin interior in abstract pixelations. In this company, the suit’s thermal dampening upgrade would be worth its weight in gold. He finds his gecko tape gloves and matching booties tucked away in the camo suit’s chest pocket.

The Cabal’s book is also still in good order, tucked away in its own leather satchel. Something in the adept doubts anything so mundane as gasoline and fire could harm such an object. The witches’ wand, earring, and bangle are also fine, if a little singed. The sister’s macabre aura still emanates from the enchanted foci.

He looks over the rest of his less interesting objects. Most of his tools survived the flames, though both of his phones and his autopicker have been lost, their cheap plastic casings reduced to big globs of petroleum product. His hand-welder, binoculars, and earbuds all seem fine, and even his credsticks look usable. The monk pauses to consider the chances that he would need nuyen where they were headed.

The truck enters an underpass which ducks beneath a large building spanning the road. The suddenly confining space throws wild echoes of engine noise back at them as harsh yellow lights mounted at quick intervals along the tunnel’s flanks throw hypnotizing waves of light across their faces.

A wide expanse of water greets the men as they leave the passage, backdropped by a shimmering cityscape on the far shore. To Linus, it is just another skyline from a city he barely knows; to Jake, it is an alien land filled with unknown haunts; for Kelraji, it is merely Jersey City, an undesirable hive of crime and poverty.

The gunslinger glances up absently, checking his blind spot on the off chance an enemy would drop down into the open carriage bed from above. He looks up in time to see the silhouette of a mammoth aircraft catch the moonlight as it rumbles into view directly overhead, its steel belly almost skimming the roofs of the last row of buildings. The cargo ship dips toward them as they travel across the last set of double-lane roads, matching the truck’s trajectory as it accelerates toward the water’s edge. The plane’s four huge propellers produce a deafening cacophony which shakes the men to their bones.

The pilot’s voice bleats from the truck’s speakers, barely audible now. “Package, we have you in visual. Dropping the bay—stick ’em and rip ’em.”

Linus looks up from his phone conversation to discover that Shane is racing them toward a pier which extends out across the Hudson River. The rear hatch of the cargo plane appears directly ahead of them, mouthing open to reveal a row of figures arrayed across the breach’s lip, their assorted clothing flapping violently in the wind as they lean against short stays which tether them to the plane’s deck. Most of them look to be traditional soldiers, dressed in indistinguishable matching camo uniforms and helmets. At the center of the soldiers stands a cluster of individuals. The men can make out a tall figure in blood red robes trimmed with gold, a huge, stocky form draped in a fur pelt, and a female figure, uniformed like the soldiers but without a helmet. Her close-cut blonde hair whips fervently against her face, concealing her features. Behind these assembled troops, the chasm of the plane seems to be occupied by a row of giant metal boxes. Jake makes out a tread and what look to be tail lights on the closest one’s back end.

The woman gestures to the soldiers, who throw out a half-dozen heavy black ropes that snake out behind the plane. Shane races the Land Rover’s engine, its wheels rumbling across the wooden slats of the pier with an ever-increasing tempo. The technomancer manages to bring them up to speed, putting the truck level with the low-flying cargo plane until the carabiners at the ends of the fast ropes thunk dully against the hood of the truck.

The end of the pier draws steadily closer. At this speed their vehicle will run out of track in little more than a minute. Thomas roars over the thrum of the propellers. “To the fore, God blast you! Move! I’ll take the laser, just get on that rope!”

Linus can tell his wife is yelling something through the comm, but her words are completely lost in the chaos of reverberating noise.

Jake balks at first, unsure of his footing on the bucking truck. ‘Do they really expect us to do this?’ He looks worriedly at Linus, unsure if the mage has it in him to crawl out onto the hood of a moving vehicle. Nevertheless, he empties one of the boxes of shotgun shells into his jacket pockets, then plants one boot on top of the cab and pitches forward into the rushing wind, crawling on his stomach across the ceiling and down the windshield in order to reach the dangling carabiners.

Linus shakes his head and stares vacantly at the plane and the ropes, mesmerized. Then, as if suddenly returning to earth, he shouts into his com:

“Watch the News Catherine, I think you might see us on it. Protect the girls!”

He opens the passenger door, heaving against the pressure as they race at top speed down the pier. He climbs up on the door, one foot in the space in the window, one on the seat behind him, one hand grasping the ceiling handle inside the passenger side cabin. His lab coat whips around maniacally in the wind as, desperately, he reaches out for a rope.

His only hope is to lock the caribeener to his belt and hold on for dear life.

Kelraji sighs as he begins to move, wrapping his remaining items in the chameleon suit, putting on those he can. The bangle goes on a wrist, the earring on a finger, and the gecko tape gloves make it on before he finishes wrapping the rest of his goods in the chameleon suit, which he then zips under what remains of his armored jacket.

Then he yells out the side of the car

“Hey, pass me one of those!”

He sticks his head out the window, the gecko tape left glove on the front of the roll cage, holding him solidly in place.

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Crusher

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