Pariah contacted me with the offer of a couple shadowruns he thought I might be helpful on a little over a week later. I was thankful for the news, as I hadn’t made any headway in raising funds for next month’s rent, which looms ever closer. They picked me up with a RV at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Third Street, just under the I405 overpass.
The first thing I noticed about the team was that Red was looking a lot more mobile. It looks like she used the time well, and I’m impressed with how quickly she recovered from what looked to be some damn serious injuries. Back in full form, she also oozed ballerina to me; just the way she held herself, and the ice in her eyes. Everybody was business, since we were venturing south into the Puyallup Barrens for a meet with a Mr. Johnson – excuse me, a “Mr. Yin,” who obviously was too new to the shadows to know not to use his actual name.
I was definitely overdressed for Puyallup in my Auctioneer suit, but I understood that our second meet would take place in an upscale club called Reno’s downtown later in the evening. I knew the place, but had never been inside. Besides, I wasn’t overdressed at all when one considers the ballistic armor weave in my suit’s thread count. As I rested back in my seat, I felt the reassuring pressure of my Prowler as it dug into the small of my back.
There wasn’t much information to share about either meet – Mr. Yin appeared to be of Japanese descent based on his name and the strong accent they heard over the phone. He needed some help and had gotten the number of the DV-8’s, which I suspect doesn’t show up in the Seattle LTG. The second meet Downtown seemed to involve a corporate Mr. Johnson. With little more to discuss, we caught up on the week went by. It sounded like Doc did a little recuperating of his own. Drake had been busy repairing his equipment that had gotten banged up in Vegas. Pariah didn’t strike me as the religious type, but apparently he’s a voodoo practitioner.
Eventually we reached the neighborhood where the meet was to go down, and Drake had to slow down so we could find the address. I’m amazed that we somehow avoided getting shot at for the drive through the Barrens to this point, but I cautioned Drake against stopping lest our luck change. Among the gutted buildings that surrounded us, the only landmark on the block of interest was a walled compound with a single gate providing street access. I spied the roof of a pagoda behind it, and we decided that it must be the place.
Sure enough, when Drake opened the door and managed to hit the buzzer, a Japanese voice greeted us and the gate swung open once we had stated our business. The inside was bizarre yet impressive. I had expected rock gardens and koi, but the grounds seemed to be a field of jagged obsidian to either side of the driveway that stretched up to the front of the four-story tall pagoda I’d seen over the wall. Leaving Drake behind with the engine running, the rest of us piled out of the RV to approach the building. We were met by a servant who greeted us in Japanese and asked that we wait outside while he fetched Master Yin.
I was expecting some oyabun or shaikujin big-wig, but the ancient who stepped out from the pagoda next was done up in some elaborate and traditional Japanese robes threw me for a loop. He shuffled his way down the walk to us where we waited, but then stopped some meters away to address us. “We have some unfinished business that I shall take care of now…” he intoned in broken English, and was suddenly engulfed in billowing smoke. It all sounded rather ominous to me, and I looked to the team to see if they understood what was going on any better than I did. The “oh frag” look I saw on their faces was all the explaining they needed to do. I whipped back to look at the smoke cloud in time to see an oriental dragon rear up out of it and step forward to loom over us.
I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I wasn’t going to be in front of a dragon if it was wanting to do a little grilling. I poured on the speed and raced out onto the obsidian field to my left, putting as much room between myself and the rest of the group as I could. I yanked my pistol clear of it’s conceal holster as I did so, although I suddenly felt very underdressed for the occassion again. Jagged chunks of obsidian skittered were kicked across the yard as I clambered over the shifting surface.
I turned back around in time to see Pariah making a stategic withdrawl towards the van, while unleashing a burst at the dragon with the SMG he’d brought to bear. Red was even faster in her head-long flight for the van, but she too took a moment to fire back at the beast. All of their bullets created little blue rings in front of the dragon as they hit some sort of force field. From at the dragon’s feet, I watched as Doc alone stood his ground. He seemed to be reaching out to the dragon with clenched fists and gritted teeth in some show of defiance. Until the group had started shooting, I didn’t know if this was standard business practice for dragon dealings or what, but their action assured me that I’d read things right and that the dragon meant to attack us for some reason – frag it if I knew why.
With my side-ways vantage point, I got to watch with dread as the fire travelled its way up the length of the dragon’s throat before blasting forth to wash over the team. It’s flames licked the edges of Red’s long coat as she ran clear. I fired off a couple quick burst at the dragon, but the same glowing force field ate them up. As the flames subsided, I was amazed to see both Doc and Pariah still standing their ground, aside from swatting to put out their singed clothing. A blue aura around Doc revealed why he looked so good despite having taken the blast point blank.
Pariah realized the benefit of spreading out rather than making a bee-line for the van, and started trotting in my direction, while letting loose with another couple of bursts from his SMG. Red continued her headlong flight towards the van, and for the first time I noticed Drake inside it, totally oblivious to the situation as he headbanged to some tune he had jamming on the music system! Red had seen it too, as I could see from the angry expression on her face when she swung around, dropped to one knee and fired off a round at the dragon’s head. Despite the blue ring that surrounded the bullet, I saw the “spak” of blood and scale splash the air where she had aimed.
Doc was still holding his fists up and I was starting to wonder if he wasn’t just trying really hard to drek his pants in terror. He took a few steps to the right to increase the gap between himself and Pariah, all the same.
The dragon seemed to delight in the way Pariah had shifted his position, and I swore an oath as he eyed up the narrowing gap between Pariah and I with malicious glee. I had just enough time to cover my head with my arm and make myself small before flames and the stench of methane flooded over the two of us. I moved to increase the gap between us again, and get off the burning ground, while firing off another quick burst. I dropped my magazine and jammed another one home before turning my attention to damping the flames crawling up my pant leg and arm.
Shots rang out around the courtyard, and as the last ember dropped from my cuff sleeve I looked up to see that the dragon was gone from where he’d stood and was now looming over Red and the van. The ground around her was on fire, and she was as scorched as the rest of us. Drake was peering over the edge of the driver-side window at his name-sake and seemed to content to enjoy the RV’s protection. Doc was excitedly waving at us in invitation to fire at the dragon, so I took a shot, despite the range. Remarkably, there were no blue rings this time and one of my rounds managed to punch through a scale. Red seemed as delighted as I was as she saw her own rounds strike home. She rolled forward underneath the dragon’s belly and started scrambling back towards us.
Pariah unleashed with another burst at the beast’s head as it tried to turn around and follow her. In what I suspect was growing agravation or frustration, the dragon took a swat at Red with a claw that threw her forward down the sidewalk. She seemed to use the momentum to her advantage, however, as she neatly rolled up into another crouch facing the dragon and emptied another couple of rounds near the thing’s left eye. I watched as a force wave streaked across the air to slam into the dragon from Doc’s direction.
The dragon had had enough, and suddenly vaulted straight up into the sky and vanished. Doc let out a shout of surprise, and I could see that Pariah and he were looking off in the same region of the sky beyond the RV. All three of them, let loose with a stream of spell and bullet at whatever it was they saw, presumably an invisible dragon, until it had flown out of range. I collected my spent ammo and magazines.
We limped back together and Doc looked us over. A few bandaids and some salve later, we were all grimacing a lot more at the state of our burnt clothing rather than from any pain. We looked across the way to the front door of the pagoda and decided that “to the victor go the spoils.” We jandered up the walk-way and skirted a small fountain pond with koi before climbing the steps. The doors opened before us, and the servant we had first met stepped outside before closing the door behind him.
“You must leave now,” he stated.
“Step aside,” Red growled, and I motioned with my pistol as I calmly told him to leave in Japanese.
He replied in Japanese himself, “you have defeated my servant, but I will not let you enter my home!” That naturally gave me pause, and I translated his statement out loud for anyone in the group who might’ve missed it as I eyed him over. Despite his bravado, I couldn’t help notice that he was quivering like a leaf. Apparently Red had noticed the same thing. As I was busy translating I heard the quiet “wheeee” as she switched on her shock glove and started advancing on the little guy. Little guy responded by taking a step back into a karate stance, and the tremor left him as he completed his kata and found his balance. I winced as I read what was about to happen.
Sure enough, as Red swung her right hand out to slap at the guy, he took her wrist with his left hand and levered her arm skyward, creating the perfect opening as he stepped forward and carried his own open right palm up under her chin. Her momentum, his momentum, her head snapped back as he lifted her up off the ground and then slammed her back down to earth on her back. Red let out an “ungh!” as the air was forced from her lungs, and then she lay still and sprawled like she’d just dropped from the sky.
Pariah let loose with an “oh!” of excitement like he’d just watched his favorite urban brawl player dish one on the other team. His amusement rather than anger at the scene made me check the clean shot the guy had given me by getting Red out of the way, and I put my Prowler back in its holster. Apparently reading our change of tone, as well, the little guy beamed as he again told us to “wait right here!” and dashed back inside. He returned a minute later, laiden with part of a suit of samurai armor. This wasn’t just any samurai armor, though, as it was crafted out of precious metals – gold, silver, and jade. He handed each of us one piece – Pariah the mask, myself the helmet, and Doc a wakizashi. For Red, he bent down and placed a silver and gold rose on her chest.
We all bowed in acceptance of his gift, and he returned it in acceptance of the honor. Then, shaking our heads, Pariah and I hefted Red and her rose back to the RV. This meeting had wrapped up rather sooner than expected, but we had to clean ourselves up a little bit before the next.