The Duchess gets an Intervention …

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

I fraggin knew something was up once I walked through the door. It was in the middle of the day, the shop should have been open and busy. Star Flower never really closes during the day unless there was something wrong. Furthermore, she is just sitting there … waiting … for me? I subconsciously rub my wrist where the datajack was. I could feel her eyes burn as she glared at the implant. “Drek …” I said as she motioned for me to sit. I kept asking what the hell was going on, but she just kept sitting there insisting that I have a seat. I sat down and she proceeded to tell me how disappointed she was with me. How disappointed Raccoon is with me. “I will always support you, Jenessa, but you need to think about your life choices. I do this because I care about you.” She said as I sat down. She stood and lit some candles and incense. As the incense started to take hold of me, I could hear another voice. “Meet the Dweller

I was floating in nothingness. But then the giant face of Raccoon appeared. He wasn’t the same as I normally see the furry trash panda. His face was stern … unmoving … disappointed? He was saying that I needed to reconnect to my roots. “I don’t think it can be done … GIVE UP“. His words pounded in my head and still do. Was he abandoning me? “I don’t understand?” I kept saying.

The visage then turned to Wolf. “You choose to be in this life, but you want people like Walker, ‘Uncle E’, and everyone else around you to do the dirty work. You want all the glory and none of the dirt. You claim to want to learn the truth about your parents. Why they were killed. But you just want to take the easy road. Let that trust fund pay for everything. Let others kill for you. Anything so you don’t have to sacrifice. You shouldn’t be here.” “What??? I don’t understand? I have sacrificed plenty! I have killed people doing this!” I screamed.

After finishing that, the visage turned to the Yakuza person that I killed. I can never forget his face … ever. Only this time it was dead and withered. “You don’t even really want to be here. You’re only interested in the next way to destroy yourself.” He said, pointing to my wrist where the datajack was installed. “All because you had to bloody your hand … And to freak out over killing me. Foolish girl doesn’t belong in the shadows. If you knew how many people I’ve killed … tortured.” A smile starts to spread on his face. “My favorite job was that family in Mt Vernon. There’s an art to the order in which you kill a whole family…” He trails off before snapping, “You might have killed me, but I knew what I was and embraced it. I died doing my duty. You’re pretending to be something you’re not, and *it* will kill you. Go live the coward’s life you so desire.

Tears started to well up again. Raccoon and Wolf were … abandoning me and now the face of the dead Yakuza that I see every time I see a reflection is berating me for killing him. “I dont understand what you all are asking of me? What is it you want?” I screamed.

Then it switched to … mom? There she was, right in front of me. She looked sad … disappointed. The tears burst out “MOMMY???” I kept saying over and over again. “But now you’d rather play with chips. All because it got hard and you had to take some burden on yourself. Maybe you’re not strong enough … maybe you should turn back and give it all up … go back home to Rabbit, stick to going to the clubs, and let those with the will to run do it.” The disappointed, sad look on her face was too much. The tears just kept coming. “MOMMY!” I screamed as she started to fade away. “Don’t go … don’t abandon me too.” I screamed. Then she was gone. Star Flower, Raccoon, Wolf and … Mommy have all abandoned me. “Why did they leave me?” I softly asked myself, looking at the datajack.

Raccoon was there again. He asked me simply if I wanted to continue down this path. The tears stopped. The crying stopped. Matching the intensity in the look of Raccoon. “Yes” I stated.

Then help!” He said as I flew through Astral space. Everything was such a blur. There were seas of fire, a whirling vortex, crystalline structures, trees … wait, that is ONE tree … The sounds blended together. Buzzing, clacking, talking, screaming, whispers, squirming, all of them at once. It was almost sensory overload, then it all stopped. I woke up in a field beneath a tree. Overhead is a thick forest canopy that blocks out most of the sun. A cool breeze wafted over me as I see a furry creature running towards me. It took me a moment to realize it was Raccoon and he was frantic. Almost immediately, seeing him took me back to the stern look he gave me and how I should just give up. I shook the feeling loose as he runs up to me, holding a twisted bloated stick. I took a look at the stick and recognized the magic from my time with Havoc Squad. “A corruption has taken hold, help me to cleanse it.” I hear Raccoon tell me.

Without hesitation, I stood up and followed Raccoon deeper into the woods. “Damn your furry little ass can run.” I shouted out to him. We came upon a small clearing in the woods. Above was a horror that I have never imagined before. The creature seemed to be pulling an oil like substance from the ground, even though it was high in the sky. Then the stench hit me. The smell of decay and corruption permeated my senses. The area around the oil was blighted and corrupted.

There were corrupted water spirits that were being confronted by some beast spirits. They were battling while I protected and assisted Raccoon. I took a shot with my manabolt at one of the corrupted spirits, but figured my skills would be best used assisting Raccoon. I noticed the horror was also trying to turn the beast spirits. My mind thought of when the toxic spirit caused my raccoon beast spirit to turn on me. I couldn’t let that happen again. I attempted to disrupt these attempts when I could. However, I failed and it turned a fox spirit corrupt.

The other spirits were able to fend off the corrupted spirits, but the corrupted fox spirit sprang on me. I wasn’t expecting it since I was helping Raccoon with the clean up. Luckily it was enough for Raccoon to finally cleanse the area. The corrupted spirits dissipated. The horror took a lasting look at me and then disappeared back to where it came from. Raccoon was overexcited and ran around me in circles. I dropped to my knees and let the furball nuzzle me . I scratched behind his ear and under his chin. Our eyes met and he thanked me for helping him.

I found myself within the talismonger shop again. The incense and candles were still burning. As I found my bearings, Star Flower also came out of her meditative state. “Raccoon and I have a stronger bond than ever.” I stated. Star Flower simply smiled. I got up to leave and as I walked out, I realized how cold that sounded. Star Flower has also always been there and supported me. She even supported me with running the shadows even though nobody else really did. Frank would drek a brick if he knew the kinds of stuff I was doing. The trips to San Francisco, which I generally just played off as following a band or something. If he knew it was to run the shadows, he would be pissed!

The walk home, I felt a calmness that I have never felt before. The itching in my wrist where the datajack was installed was no longer there. However, one thing from the experience stuck with me. Raccoon telling me to give up. Wolf telling me to stop taking the easy road. To stop having one foot in the shadows and one foot out. The Yakuza telling me to embrace my job. My mom saying that I wasn’t strong enough. All of these kept flowing through my head. By the time I got home, I had just one thought on my mind. I needed to be stronger. I needed to embrace my path. I could no longer be Jenessa Greenley, the party going, trust fund brat. I looked in the mirror in the bathroom and seen my reflection. “I am Duchess …” I said. “I am DUCHESS …” I said louder. The faces of Raccoon, of Wolf, of my mom, of Walker, of Soren, of Kira, of Eternal, of Freecoil, of Betat, of Tatters, of the Yakuza man … of Acorn. A sharp pain hits me when I think of her. I couldn’t protect my love when she needed me. My eyes came to a sharp focus. Never again will I let that happen. “I AM DUCHESS!” I screamed. A smile came across my face. Gone was the girl … Here is the shadowrunner.

The Duchess Makes Breakfast Burritos …

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

So as it turns out, my breakfast burritos are starting to become legendary with both Havoc Squad in San Francisco and for my team in Baltimore. Both Soren and BetaTest really like them. They were one of the first things that I learned to cook. Frank found an old recipe card from my mom for it and gave it to me. I memorized it and havent really changed it much. The only changes I really made was for the soysage. I cant really stand it so I use real sausage and chorizo instead. A bit more expensive, but makes for a better burrito. The other change I made was using fire roasting the peppers. Getting that char on them helps bring out the yum on them. So here is the recipe for them.

6 eggs
3 to 5 fire-roasted jalepenos
2 fire-roasted green peppers
1 medium red onion, finely diced
1 large ripe red tomato, diced
3 to 4 small fresh mushrooms, sliced (I prefer white button or portobello)
1 lb pork breakfast sausage (fully cooked)
1 bag (1 lb 4 oz) refrigerated shredded hash brown potatoes
6 flour tortillas
2 cups shredded monterey jack / pepperjack cheese blend

1 medium avocado, sliced (optional)

First you want to fully cook the sausage and eggs. Now there are two ways to make these. I prefer to keep all the ingredients separate and then add individually to the burrito, but you can mix it all in the pan and just scoop the mixture into the tortilla and enjoy! Either way, you can top it with the fresh sliced avocado, but these go extremely well with some homemade guacamole as well!

The Duchess Gets Back to Work …

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

I got a message that Sabot had another job for us. I am not sure if I am ready to get back to work after the … well after the incident with the Yakuza, but I need to get back on the horse as the say. The job was to extract an Ares accountant. The negotiated pay was decent and we spent a few days researching the guy and casing his place. Him and his wife had an apartment near mine. We decided to first scout the apartment as a possible place of extraction, so we posed as perspective apartment hunters so that we could get a tour of the place. It was a pretty nice apartment overall. On the way out, security had some words with us since they picked up on some matrix security issues from BetaTest poking at the host. In the end though, they let us go without incident.

Security was pretty tight at the apartment so we tracked his routine. He was picked up by an Ares Arms shuttle outside the apartment and taken to work. This was repeated in the evening when he came home. There were multiple shuttle runs to the apartment building, but this guy took the same one each day. We decided we would grab him outside the apartment. The shuttle was an Ares Roadmaster, naturally, and it just so happens that Ironclad has a roadmaster. We made a deal with him to borrow the vehicle for the heist.

So the plan was starting to come together. We would snag the target outside the apartment using our roadmaster that would look like the shuttle. BetaTest is able to spoof the signal to make the target think that the shuttle arrived, which would draw him out of the apartment building and up to the vehicle. Once the door opened, however, he would notice that this was not the shuttle so we would need to grab him quickly.

The next part of the plan was to somehow delay the real shuttle long enough to grab the target, but not long enough to alert Ares and have another shuttle dispatched. I volunteered to use the Jeep for this. Sure we can just have BetaTest brick the shuttle to stop it, but that would raise red flags with Ares. I could also just cover the road with a sheet of ice an cause it to wreck, but again, that would raise suspicion. There was a one lane – one way stretch of road that the shuttle takes. This will be the spot that I use the Jeep to cause the delay.

Initially, I though about just throwing the Jeep in front of the shuttle. It would delay the shuttle for sure. Didnt really care if it hurt me at all, but decided on a safer route instead. I would pull the Jeep out of the parking spot and block the traffic a few cars in front of the shuttle. BetaTest would disable the ingition so that it cant start. Once the target was acquired, then he can re-enable the ignition and move the Jeep.

So now that we have a plan in place, I found a parking spot that would work perfectly. The dummy shuttle was parked nearby to assume the route with Soren and Freecoil. BetaTest was in his car providing overwatch.

It was still pretty early in the morning when we got to our places. As I sat there waiting for the shuttle, I pulled out one of the BTLs I had and twirled it around in my fingers. If memory serves right, this chip was supposed to be like a slow suffocation that makes you experience the brink of death. “We still have some time …” I said to myself. I was able to slot the the chip when BetaTest alerted us that the shuttle was within range. “Another time then” I said as I put the chip away. I broadcasted my true SIN instead of my fake one. The idea being that I didn’t want this incident to be tied to anything and only look like a stupid teenage driver that doesn’t know what the frag she was doing. If my fake SIN was checked and found out, it would alert them to something going on.

As the shuttle got into view, I made sure that it passed the last available turn off before jumping in front of traffic. A slight opening appeared and I took the sharp turn to pull out. It looked natural enough that onlookers may have thought that I was an inexperienced driver that took it too sharply and was now perpendicular to traffic. Man that lady in the blue comet is NOT acting very lady like. She kept swearing at me to frag off and flipping me the finger. I got out of the Jeep and popped the hood, which REALLY made her go off her rocker.

A few moments later, Ares security got off the shuttle and came over to see what the delay was. I told them it just died and wouldn’t start. “Somethings wrong with the flux capacitor or warp drive or something …” I said to them. The guy rolled his eyes at that. “Go ahead and try to start it, its not working for me” I offered. He muttered under his breath as the Jeep wouldn’t start. The roadmaster launched surveillance drones, but they kept a perimeter around the vehicle itself. It didn’t look like they were scouting out any farther. Just in case, I let the team know that the drones were loose.

We moved our roadmaster back along the route and headed towards the apartment building. BetaTest still had the guy’s commlink looped to make it look like our shuttle was the correct one. As it turns out, most people dont really pay all that much attention to small little subtle queues.

Back to the Jeep, the security guy called in to have a replacement shuttle get moving. We didn’t have much time now and our shuttle isn’t there yet. “We can try pushing it back in the spot over there?” I said, pointing to the empty parking spot I pulled out of. I made a gesture to push the Jeep. A couple of guys from the security team went to push the Jeep. I sent BetaTest a quick message to lock up the brakes. It was cute how these big strong men tried and tried to push the Jeep, but it wasn’t budging. I laughed on the inside.

When the shuttle arrived at the apartment building, the target came out just as he was supposed to. When he walked up to the shuttle’s rear entrance, he was too busy looking at his commlink to notice Freecoil standing there. Before he knew it, Freecoil grabbed him, hit him with a tranq patch and had him on the ground. The shuttle left without further incident and headed towards the parking garage where we were to meet to swap the vehicles.

After the mark was nabbed, I had BetaTest release the brakes on the Jeep. I started pushing the Jeep again and it started to move. The guards seen this and started pushing again. With little effort, the truck was pushed back into the parking space. I apologized to the security team for the delay and they went on their way again. After the shuttle rounded the turn, I hopped back into the Jeep and left the area.

Since the security team seen my Jeep, I didnt want it to be seen anywhere near the fake shuttle. The others met up with BetaTest and moved the target from Ironclad’s roadmaster to his car. The Johnson set the drop off for 13 hours from now, so we need to lay low for awhile. Probably not a good idea to bring him to my apartment, nor to BetaTest’s. I do keep a run down hole in the wall apartment in the Brooklyn neighborhood that we can use. I rarely ever come here, but it would work for now. Its also near the drop off point. I gave the team the location and decided to stop and get some shopping done. Likely didnt have anything to eat there really and breakfast burritos sound really good right now.

I met them at the apartment and cast an invisibility spell on our mostly unconscious cargo. Freecoil and BetaTest helped carry him over to the apartment. Unfortunately, there were a few Yaks there. “Drek …” I forgot that they laid claim to the area. I quietly tried to summon up a spirit, however, my concentration was out of wack. All of a sudden, I got the person approaching looked like the Yak that I killed. The spirit denied my request and I felt the reverberations course through my body and my nose started to bleed a bit. Furthermore, it appeared that they seen through the spell.

We really couldnt afford a fight right now. I was still exhausted from the invisibility spell and now the failed summoning. I turned on the charm and offered him 1000 nuyen to shut the frag up. He accepted with a smile and turned around. We went up to the apartment and got situated. I kept scanning outside to see if the Yak dreks were making any move, but they didnt. I moved to the kitchen and started making breakfast. BetaTest was talking with the guy we nabbed about what his job was. Had to put a little fear into him first to make sure he didnt cause a scene or anything. He seemed shock when I gave him a burrito to eat. Were shadowrunners, not barbarians … jeesh. Even found an old bottle of tequila that was here. I have no idea when or how, but we passed around the bottle and gave the accountant a couple of shots as well.

After eating, BetaTest and I decided to have a little fun with the target since we still had a drek-ton of time to kill. He starting asking him questions in a customer service style about how the breakfast was.

Question 1: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the customer service you were provided?
Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the burrito you just ate?

I threw in the third question.

Question 3: On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the likelihood you would suggest these breakfast burritos to family and friends?

Apparently BetaTest was taking it a little too seriously and chastised me on changing the scale range from 1 to 10 to 1 to 5. It confuses people, I guess. We had a good laugh after that. Even the accountant seemed to relax a little.

When the time came to drop the mark off, we left and headed for the warehouse we were meeting the Johnson at. It was a really shady place and seemed … normal? I say that questionably since it didn’t seem right. Something was off, but I couldn’t sense what it was. Everything seemed fine in Astral and meatspace and BetaTest said the Matrix was clear … but something still felt off.

The Johnson arrived and I got out of the car to greet them and deliver the package. We got the credsticks for pay in exchange for the accountant. As we were leaving, I caught the Johnson saying that “he will do nicely.” It sent shivers down my spine at the sound of that. But whatever, a job is a job. We were hired to extract him for the client and that is just what we did.

I got dropped off back at the apartment to pick up my Jeep and I headed back home. As I left, the Yaks were still there. I nodded as I left and he did the same. I am still not sure if I like that or not. Might need to come back and have “a little chat” with the fragger, but not making that decision right now. When I got home, I plopped on the couch and curled up to sleep. “Drek, I need to go to the shop today …” I took a nap for a couple of hours and headed in. I haven’t really been in since I got the datajack. I don’t want to deal with Star Flower and her nagging, but I had an obligation to keep. I rubbed my wrist where the jack was as I walked in the door.

The shop was empty except for Star Flower. She was sitting at the table when I walked in. “Jenessa … we need to talk, child” she said in THAT voice. “Frag me …” I muttered as I closed the door and took the chair across from her.

The Duchess Meets a Raccoon …

[Baltimore, UCAS]

From what I can remember, Raccoon has always been with me. My earliest memory is shortly after my parents died. Frank, Star Flower and a few other adults were around talking about me and my parents like I wasn’t there. Like I didn’t matter. Like I was insignificant in this fragged up world. I was sitting in this room with all these adults when a furry little trash panda showed up. He skulked around the adults and came to play with me. He chased around the ball I had, curled around me, let me scratch behind his ears and under his chin. He likes that. I felt safe with him. I felt … like I mattered.

There wasn’t much that I remember with the discussions except that it was about my parents. It seemed whenever something important was mentioned, they switched to hushed tones. Again, they looked at me as if I was a by-product of some significant event … but was insignificant still. I looked around and tried to pay attention to what was going on, but Raccoon kept distracting me. Looking back, I can now tell that he was protecting me.

Years later, Star Flower took me under her wings and taught me the ways of being a magician. Frag, I must have been 10 or so then. Started out as basic stuff, but then we started exploring the Astral space around Baltimore. It was here that I started to feel the same fear as I did when I was in the living room as a kid. Fear of the unknown, I would say. While she was teaching me about auras and how to read them, a powerful fire spirit attacked us. I did my best to stay out of the way while Star Flower handled it, but there was little I could do. The spirit landed a direct blow on me. I could feel my body burn with the pain. I closed my eyes was back in the living room again, hearing the adults talk about adult stuff. The same burning pain coursed through my body then as it does now. When I opened my eyes up again, Raccoon stood between the fire spirit and my crumpled body. Star Flower stood next to him, a look of shock at the giant beast spirit that came to my aid. The fire spirit didnt stand a chance.

Afterwards, Star Flower and I had a long discussion about Raccoon. I explained that I have been seeing him ever since my parents died and that he has helped me through the difficult times. It was then that she started teaching me about mentor spirits and how they exist to assist us. She taught me how to accept Raccoon and to ask Raccoon to accept me. I remember thinking that the “quest”, as she called it, was pointless since I already accepted him and he apparently has accepted me.

Star Flower helped me to build a lodge to protect me during my quest. She kept reinterating why I need to make sure that I was protected while projecting or leaving my body. There were some apparently nasty beings out there that would inhabit the bodies of mages while they were unprotected. Once the lodge was completed, I projected into the Astral plane.

Almost immediately, Raccoon was there. We discussed various topics, mostly on how to treat spirits. We mutually understood that magicians, such as myself, needed to respect spirits, ask for thier assistance and thank them when finished. When I respect the spirits, they will be more willing to assist me. However, I didnt no believe in binding them to serve me. I know other mages do it and Raccoon was ok with it, but it seemed barbaric in its “Master – Slave” relationship.

We also discussed me and how I have developed over the years. He took me back to the living room when I was a child. Instantly, the fear and pain came back. I could see myself, as a child, play with Raccoon while everyone else discussed adult topics. Even then, none of the words made sense. When I asked why I was brought back to this place, Raccoon simply sshhhhhed me. “Really, you going to shhh me?” I said. Then the stern look came from the furry creature. Its hard to imagine a scolding look come from a raccoon, but it got the point across. There were … papers??? … being shuffled around. These seemed to be the details of my trust fund and how Frank will be the trustee involved with that. Then there was an old manilla folder and pictures of … the car accident? “Wait a minute …” I thought to myself. The realization of who one of the people in the room was just hit me. He was an investigator of some sort. A single word changed my life forever during that quest. “Murder

After that, Raccoon has been my mentor, friend and sounding board when needed. Shortly after this quest was when I got the note that started my career as a shadowrunner. Still to this day, all I know is that something happened to my parents and it was not an accident. With Raccoon’s help, I WILL find out the truth.

The Duchess Escapes Reality…

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

Duchess sat on her couch in her Baltimore apartment that looks over the harbor. Night has come and she hasnt moved since she picked up the BTLs from Dr. Feelgood. She held one of the chips in her fingers, staring at it … pondering on whether or not to slot it. She picked up a new commlink with an illegal hot sim module that will allow her to get the full experience of the BTL through her datajack. Memories of past events flow through her mind. The violent death of Bowjack … eventhough Walker tried to shield her from most of it. The insect shaman and his … bugs, shuttering at the thought of crawling through those tunnels. The toxic mage and his turning her Raccoon spirit against her. Her continued relationship with Acorn. The disappointment in the face of Star Flower when she got her datajack. The face of the Yakuza that she killed … All of it was too much. She needed to flee … she needed to run away … she needed an escape and the BTL she held in her hand was the ticket out. All she had to do was slot it. Then she remembered her first run in Baltimore and the extraction from the BTL den. All of those trippers there. Most of them have forgotten about the world. They forgot they needed to eat and to sleep. They forgot to remember simple things like brushing their teeths or exercising. They forgot to … live. They forgot to detach from the ride. She didnt want this to happen to her. All she wanted was just to escape for awhile. She slotted the chip and booted it up.

The feeling started out simple enough. She found herself walking along a tropical beach on a warm sunny day. The warm breeze and sun enveloped her. Her skin tingled in the rays of sunshine. It tingled in the salt spray of the waves. It tingled as the warm sand pushes between her toes. She sat in the sand as the warm water started to reach her. How long has she been sitting here, she wondered, as the tide came in. Nobody else was around and she realized she was naked. The salty ocean water sprayed across her body. She could feel, smell and even taste the individual drops of water. The next wave came upon her. Time slowed to a crawl as she watched the water crash into her. The drops of water seemed to crystalize into shining diamonds. The sound of the ocean rush her ears, the smell of the saltwater invaded her nose, the salty taste of the ocean on her lips and the wet feeling of the water enveloped her entire body. The feeling was … indescribable, intense and strangely erotic. Another wave crashed into her naked body, but this time she was waiting for it. She wanted it. She craved it. The intense ecstasy she felt as the water rushed over her topped anything she has ever felt before. She imagined herself with Acorn and even this was better than the time spent with her. She readied herself for the next wave … but it never came.

Duchess found herself in back in the apartment, her body still throbbing from the experience, so much so, she had to go change her clothes. Then it hit her. The extreme loneliness, the despair, the misery of living in this world came crashing down on her. It literally brought her to her knees as she curled up in a fetal position in the bathroom. Her body went cold and chills ran up and down her spine as the crash continued. She screamed out as the excruciating headache came. She thought of things that made her happy. Raccoon, Acorn, Magic, the campout she had with Walker … none of it helped. Magic has betrayed her. Raccoon was turned against her. Acorn and Walker were disappointed, even mad, at her. Everyone was against her. She thought of her parents, of Frank, of Star Flower. They were all disappointed in her. She let them all down. Then there was the Yak. His face returned to her. She grabbed the katana and swung at the image, but nothing was there. “NOOOOO!” She yelled as his face appeared again. She swung down with the sword as in drove into the face of Acorn. She dropped to her knees again, her eyes filled with tears.

I thought these were supposed to take these away. I thought that these were supposed to stop.” She said out loud to the empty apartment. She then noticed the pile of chips that she purchased sitting on the nightstand. This must be why the people in the BTL den kept slotting these. She picked up another chip and stared at it. Pondered on slotting it to take the pain away. “I just want to escape for awhile.” she said softly …

The Duchess Camps With Wolf …

[San Francisco, CFS — 2074]

Walker and Duchess head out to Big Sur, south of San Francisco, to go on a camping trip and get back in sync with Wolf and Raccoon. They park the Jeep at a campsite, pull up a log and get camp set up. The sat on the log overlooking the fire, staring at the embers as the fire crackled in the night.

The young mage breaks the silence and looks over to Walker. “So just how was it that you came to know Wolf? I mean, was it by happenstance or did you seek him out?

Walker looks over at the girl as he fiddles with his necklace. “Uhm…” He stops for a moment, sighing a bit. “It definitely wasn’t my intention to bond with Wolf originally. He sort of found me at one of my worst moments.

Duchess looks at him … waiting for you to say more, but not wanting to pry. “It must have been a pretty bad time …

Walker just stares back at her, getting the inkling of what she wants. “Heh. Alright. Yes, it was. I ran in a gang when I was younger. Let’s just say that one day, things finally came to a head. I was looking death straight in the face, and Wolf came in to help me. He gave me the strength I needed.” He starts messing with the necklace again, slowly rolling it around in his hand. “What about you? How did you find Raccoon?

I was getting familiar with the Astral plan with my mentor, Star Flower. We were attacked by some spirits and Raccoon came to my aid … so I guess the same as you.” She pauses for a moment. “But I remember seeing him way before then. I remember first seeing Raccoon when my parents were killed. I was just a little girl and I was sitting in the living room as Frank, Star Flower, and others were discussing adult things. I was sad, but then this furry little Raccoon wrapped itself around me … almost shielding me from what was being discussed. I petted and played with him, rubbed him behind the ears and scratched under his chin.

Walker smiles a bit as the teen recounts her memories of the raccoon, but he frowns as he registers what she said. “Well, I think it’s good your spirit showed up so early for you. I only wish mine had made himself more prevalent when I was coming of age.” He looks at her a moment, as if contemplating his words. “I am… sorry about your parents. I never thought to ask.

A somber look comes across her face. “It’s ok … its been a long time. Frag, I was like six when it happened.” She stops for a moment and goes into her almost trance posture as she summons up a low force Raccoon spirit. “I don’t know what happened, I just know that there was a car accident. It wasn’t up until a few months ago did I start to think there was something more to it. I found a note that simply said ‘Look to the Shadows to shed the Light’ It was then I started being a shadowrunner. Hell, it was Calypso that originally introduced me to it and that is when I met you guys.” She stops to look at you with her intense green emerald eyes that are just barely on the edge of breaking down.

Walker just looked back with his own bright orange eyes, softening his gaze as she seemed to wither a bit. “Hey…” He muttered. “It’s alright.” He wrapped an arm around the girl, trying to soothe Duchess a bit. “I’m sure the more you look into it, the more you are likely to find. You’ve made it this far in the Shadows. The end can’t be too much farther at this rate.” He pulled her just a bit closer with a small smile. “I mean, you’re pretty damn tough as it is. I’m sure you’ll push your way to the info you need.

yeah …” she says with the same somber look. “But what will be the price for that? I mean, everyone keeps on talking about how everything has a price, but what could that price possibly be?” She looks blankly at nothing, then goes into another trance and summons up a low level wolf beast spirit. The two beast spirits play and chase each other around. “I grew up with secrets. I still live with secrets … hell we work in secret. Have you ever just wondered what life would be like with all these damn secrets…

If what? If we discovered all those secrets that had been locked away from us?

More like if all those secrets that we each hold so dear were suddenly no more. How liberating would that be? Granted, we wouldnt have jobs, but the world would be a better place … atleast I like to think it would be

Walker goes silent for a moment, thinking quietly as he just had a hold on her. “I think… I think that’s very positive thinking. But, I also think that it’s impossible. Secrets have their own use in the world.” He sighs quietly. “I think you’re right. Some secrets are burdens. We carry them and all they do is weigh us down. But, some secrets give us comfort. Things that only we know that let us feel the more positive side of life every once in a while. But, I doubt secrets are the main problem for the world, little one.

After a few moments, Duchess straightens up a bit. “So what did it feel like … I mean, to see that Wolf was there at that moment?

Walker looks at her for a moment, trying to judge her. He just sighs a bit, looking away. “To be honest, I didn’t see him. Not at the moment he appeared anyway. I felt him. There was something like a brush of fur and just this… this feral anger, this need to fight that I hadn’t felt before. Afterwards, I saw him when I finally made it back to my home, he was just standing there in the street. I looked at him, and he walked away.

Duchess closes her eyes for a few minutes and tries to steer the conversation away from her parents. The memories of when she first met Raccoon and all those adults talking about her and her parents like none of us where there was starting to get to her. She looks at the two beast spirits playing. “Have you ever considered leaving Wolf or looking for another mentor spirit? I mean, I couldn’t imagine my life without Raccoon.

Walker looks at the two beast spirits messing about. Then, he turns his gaze to Duchess. “Duchess… what color are my eyes?

She doesn’t even look up from what she is staring at. “Orange” she answers without hesitation

Walker smiles at her a bit, just out of her gaze. “Good. Now. Do you think they were always like that?”

The question caught her by surprise. Her eyes have always been green, but there are people that get them changed with surgery or implants. “I dont know?”

Walker chuckled a bit. “I would not have really expected you to. Believe it or not, they used to be a dark brown when I was younger. It was a nice offset to the color of my hair.” He ran a hand to push his dark red hair back again. “They changed the day Wolf came to me. When I looked at him on that street and he disappeared, I went back inside to wash my face and nearly drekked myself when I noticed the bright orange staring back at me. Like a Wolf’s eyes in the darkness.” His hand came to the totem again, gripping it now. “To answer your question, I have thought about how I would be if Wolf hadn’t come to me. As far as I’m concerned though, he is now a piece of me. He gives me the strength to protect those around me, and he’s been with me through times even I wish I could forget. My eyes… I believe they’re his mark on me, so I don’t forget.

Duchess looks at the totem … she is familiar with foci from spending so much time at the shop, but this one seems different than others she has seen. “So if Wolf left his mark on you, why hasn’t Raccoon left one on me?” she says as her voice trails off …

Walker pulls up the arm that he has around her to rest a hand on her head. He speaks softly, in a gentle voice.”Maybe he has, kid. It’s possible that you just haven’t noticed it. Maybe it’s how you interact with him. The control you have over spirits and bargaining with them, along with talking to Raccoon. It’s different from me and Wolf.

She thought to herself. “Yeah, maybe … I seemed to always been able to talk to the spirits and they seem more than happy to help when I ask them to.” She pauses for a moment as the Raccoon spirit comes to her side.

Walker just watches it silently for a moment before he speaks. “Well, I think that’s special. A connection with spirits like that. I know I never learned such a thing.

The morning sun broke the horizon to light up the forest. “Wow … it’s already morning?” She turns to the two spirits and pets them both. “Thank you both“. She closes her eyes and dismisses the spirits.

She gets up from the log they were sitting on and she gets some stuff from the back of the Jeep. “I am making breakfast, you hungry?” At the fire, she gets the pan hot and throws in the veggies and sausage. The smell of the sausage was a telltale sign that it was REAL sausage. After it was done, she threw it all in a toasted tortilla, rolled it up and presented it to Walker. “This is going to be the best breakfast burrito of you life!

Walker just smirks at that. “I’m sure you’ll tell me, even if I say otherwise.” He takes the offered food and proceeds to eat. His face comes up with a small smile. “I’ll have to give it to you, kid. It definitely tastes better than Soy.” The man continues to eat until he is finished with the meal.

The pair of mages talked some more as they ate breakfast and enjoyed the fresh air and woods. The time spent there relaxing was rewarding for both of the mages.

The Duchess Gets Some ‘Ware …

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

After a few days, I finally decide its time to get out of the house. Theres no food and I need to get some sun. I made up a list and … drek, Rabbit is out of food too … but I needed to finally get the supplies I needed to build up a lodge. The lodge will let me learn the spells I want and give me a place to center myself. It would also protect me while I explore the Astral space in and around Baltimore and San Francisco.

I also had a thought about establishing Punky Raccoon LTD. I have been doing some research on the Matrix about seetting up business and decided that I should launch my own AR fashion line. I just need to pick up a few things that will allow me to create what I want. I remember seeing a relatively cheap cyberdeck at the electronics shot awhile back and that should work for what I need. Hopefully its still available …

After I got the list made and ready, I headed out and picked up what I have been wanting. The grocery shopping took a few hours and stocked up on some cat food for Rabbit. I swung by the shop and picked up a couple of spell formulae that I have been wanting to learn. The run with the ship proved I needed to expand my spell skill set to include Levitate. I also went ahead and picked up all the supplies I needed to build the lodge that I keep putting off. I passed by Radio Shack on the way home and the deck I wanted wasnt there anymore. I ended up getting a new fancy commlink that the salesman said would work for what I wanted to use it for. The salesman was also talking about how I should get a datajack to help create a better direct neural connection. This will allow my thoughts to become action immediately, but at a cost for me. For as long as I could remember, Star Flower has always told be the evil of cyberwear and how it eats at your very being. “Frag it” I said and jumped on it. I decided that I wanted to have the jack on my wrist so that I could just pull out the cord and plug it in. It would also be slightly hidden as well. A few hours later, I had the new datajack and a shiny new commlink! I tried it out at the shop and holy drek things were sooo much faster. The datajack was installed in my right wrist and would open up into multiple panels and AR displays at just a thought.

When I got home, I started setting up the lodge and getting some tutorials online done with some fashion design software and read up on current business laws that I needed to know to launch this endeavor. After a few days, the lodge was complete and I spent alot of time in it as I learned the spells I picked up and roaming the Astral plane around Baltimore. I knew there was a price to pay for the datajack, I knew this, but the price was the cost of my magic. I noticed that my connection with the mana was less than before. When I looked at my arm, it was just a dead zone and empty. I shook away the feeling of loss and continued on the projects I was working on.

A call came in about a job, but I declined. I could use the money, but I wasnt ready for it again. I was still dealing with the events that occurred on the last job and was busy with learning these spells to get wrapped up in more work.

When I showed up for my shift at the shop, Star Flower got that look in her eyes when she seen me. I knew this look. This was the look she got when she seen people with cyberware walk into her shop. “drek …” I thought to myself. She pulled me into the back office and went on an hour long tirade about how I was giving away my soul for this and how my parents would be as disappointed in me, just as she was. I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran out of the shop and left. I hopped in the Jeep and just drove. I don’t know what, why or how, but I ended up at Dr. Feelgood’s corner. I hadn’t talked to him in a long time, but somehow I ended up in this drekhole of an apartment.

He answered the door and it looks like he hasnt slept in ages. The normally scrawny human was even more scrawny than normal.

You need to eat a taco or something” I told him as I walked in. My skin began to crawl as I surveyed the filthy apartment.

Shut up you snobby slitch,” he replied. “What the hell do you want.”

I need an escape.

What kind of escape? I got some novacoke, some psyche, bliss. Drek, woman, what is it you want?

The mere mention of novacoke took me back to San Francisco. The thought of Bowjack, the rigger for Havoc Squad, slipped in her mind and how violent his showdown with SFPD was. “No novacoke … ever for me.  Give me some BTLs … dream and moodchips …

The scrawny shell of a man reached into a cabinet and pulled out a handful of chips. Also a sim module that I needed to attach to my commlink to allow it to be used for these. I slipped him some creds for the chips and left.

Your welcome!” I heard him say as I left the apartment. I hopped back in the Jeep and in the rear view mirror, seen the disappointed faces of my parents looking back at me. “Frag it!” I screamed and sped away back home …

The Duchess Gets a Jeep! …

[San Francisco, CFS — 2074]

I got word from Calypso that she had a line on a job, so I hopped a flight to San Francisco. Just before landing, we had a meet with the Johnson through the Matrix. He was a bookish researcher for Stanford University that was investigating condors or something. He was thinking that TerraFirst! was attacking and burning down nearby stations, farms and campsites and wanted them stopped before they endangered his research stations. He was providing transportation as part of the deal, but would let me keep one of the Jeeps … yet anyways. After the deal was made, I had Walker set up a rendezvous at the old church and headed out. There were a few … changes to Havoc Squad since I last ran with them. There is another girl there that was the same age as me with cat ears and skates, but the biggest change was that Eternal had quills! Apparently SURGE has hit him and now he looks like an overgrown porcupine with a ballistic mask and sword. I couldn’t help but to poke him, but the bad thing is that he poked back and dammit those quills hurt.

We piled into the pair of Jeeps and started making our way out of the city. Along the way, we had a run in with some bike gangers, but we were able to easily persuade them to stop pursuing us with an ice sheet and some fireballs from Walker. After we left them in a pile of wrecked bikes, we proceed on to the area where the attacks were taking place.

We past by a little farm that looked like it was run by Wuxing and there were some armed gaurds patrolling. I pulled over to see how things were going and if there was anything that we should be worried about ahead. The gaurd was talking about how everything was closed due to some eco nutjobs. I directed us back to the freeway, but we continued on. When we arrived at the first campground, there were plenty of notices in AR that said the campground was closed, but we decided to investigate. It looked like a whirlwind blew through the campground. Tents and debris were strung all over and some of the buildings were demolished. Ace and Sledge were attacked by some snake. Not sure why there was so much commotion, it was just a fraggin snake, not like it was bugs or anything. Assensing the campground left me feeling uneasy about it. The mana in this area seemed … off … seemed corrupted in some way. I convinced the team to leave the campground and spend the night just outside of this place. I asked a raccoon spirit to watch over us while we slept in the Jeeps.

The next morning we picked up the trail that lead to the remains of a Ranger station. There was a spirit of man there, but it was unlike any spirit of man that I have seen. It was all twisted and covered in oozing sores. Eternal used his sword to dispatch it with ease before it could attack us, and before I could really get a look at it. There was definately something corrupted about it.

We investigated further, going offroad with the Jeeps and alot of hiking, but ended up at another destroyed logging camp. There were animals here, but they were also corrupted and toxic. It was sad to see these beasts in this state. We easily dispatched these spirits as well. For some god awful reason, Ace wanted the paw of the cougar. We found a survivor of the attack and got some details on it. The attackers were using explosives and seem to attack with a speed that caught the guards sitting on thier asses. They easily mowed over them and the guards fled.

The next day, and some more research and scouting, we narrowed down where the attackers were encamped. I decided to zip there Astrally first so that I could confirm that it was the location we were looking for. I ran into a corrupted spirit there as well, so it was the place. I retreated back to my body and worked to get a plan of attack going. I asked for help from a pair of raccoon spirits and they assisted us. Ace, who apparently IS some sort of mage, tried to summon a spirit as well. From the start, I could tell that his gestures were all wrong. One thing about spirits, if you dont respect them, they will refuse to help you and it can be painful, even deadly. With the furry little trash pandas as support, we snuck into the encampment and engaged them.

The spirits were less effective than I was hoping. I pained me to see one of them get tore up by one of the corrupted wolf spirits and … how could this happen … The enemy mage corrupted my other raccoon. Ace ran and hid his bitch ass behind a rock and the others engaged the mage and toxic spirit. I was distracted by the events with my poor raccoon spirit that I did not see the attack coming. The spirit tore into me and I went down. The last thing I remember was the distorted black mask of the raccoon spirit and a splash of my blood.

I woke up in Walkers embrace some time later. He healed my wounds and kept me safe while the rest of the team finished off the enemy threat. We eliminated the threat and got alot of the research notes that the toxic mage had. Sledge and Ace found a stash of commercial explosives and loaded them up in the Jeep (not mine). When we contacted the Johnson, we were able to secure more money for these notes AND get one of the Jeeps for me! Such a nice guy he was. With the job complete and pay secured, we headed back to the city. Sledge and Eternal were in the Jeep with the explosives and Walker, Acorn, Ace and I were in my Jeep. Just after we entered the city, I spotted an SFPD cruiser behind us. We took the offramp, while the other Jeep kept going. The police car followed me off of the freeway and pulled me over. I quickly switched from my fake SIN to my real SIN. Apparently, they wanted Ace and Walker for questioning or something. They took them into custody and let Acorn and I go. We held hands as we walked back to the Jeep and left, making sure that the Jeep’s pilot system was controlling and not me. Walker shot us a message to let us know that everything was fine, but I am not having it. Need to come up with a plan, but first, I need to get out of these clothes and cleaned up.

I mentioned to Acorn that Calypso and I were headed to a rave in an old warehouse and asked if she wanted to join. She was down, but also needed to change first. I got a hold of the elusive Tatters to help with cleaning the Jeep and making it mine. One of these days, the two of us will be on a run together, but for some reason, he never wants to go on runs that I am involved in. Not sure how I feel about that yet, but he seems pretty solid and Walker trusts him, so I am good with that. After I got cleaned up, I got a cab, picked up Acorn and headed to the party. I pulled Calypso aside before hand and discussed what was going on with Walker. Between her and Tatters, we should have enough to bail (or rescue) Walker from the SFPD. I will work with them, and the rest of Havoc, once we know more, but for now, I need to drown myself in reggae music and the smell of pineapple rum.

P.S. I wonder how I can steampunk out the Jeep ……

The Duchess Has A Nightmare …

[Present Day — Baltimore, UCAS — 2075]

Its been a week since the incident on the ship occurred, yet it still feels like its that morning. I haven’t gotten much sleep this last week. I constantly toss and turn in bed and wake up screaming in a cold sweat. The last few nights have been the worst. I was caught in a dream where I relived the event over and over and over again, the same as it has been the previous nights. The dreams always end the same way, me slumped next to the body of the Yakuza sobbing uncontrollably. But the body stood up and leered over me, the katana still buried in his chest … and laughing at me. Laughing at me for killing him, laughing at me for crying, laughing at me for deeds that I have done and yet to do. In the last one, the dream replayed me flinging the katana in his chest again and again. Each time, he stood up and laughed at me. It startled me awake and I found myself flinging the katana into the wall. Rabbit was sleeping on the bed by my feet and barely notice the fact that I flew out of bed.

I cant go back to sleep … not now. I walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water and stood in front of the floor to ceiling windows, in just an oversized t-shirt, overlooking Baltimore and the harbor. As I stand there drinking from the glass, it occurred to me. Good thing the building has mirrored windows … Then theres the face that appears. The light toned skin with a slightly unkept beard. The brown eyes … The spiky hair … His smile All of it, its all there. Its like he is laughing at me because of my actions. What shadowrunner has ever just dropped to her knees and started crying because she … killed someone. A wince of pain shoots through me as the fight replays through my head again. Rabbit decided to get up apparently and I felt him rub up against my leg. I reached down to pet him. Wait … thats not Rabbit, he isn’t that big. I looked down and there was a wolf there. I didn’t feel any fear when looking at it, but a sense of … understanding? I ran my fingers through the rough fur of the wolf and thought of Walker, the wolf shaman from Havoc Squad, again. I turned back to the table by the couch and grabbed my commlink. When I turned back, the wolf was gone.  Its late, but I decide to give him a call anyways. I punched in his commcode and he answered after a few rings.

Walker groggily picks up his commlink, sighing as he sits up in the bed. “ergjff, hello?

Walker? its Duchess. Do you have time to talk?

What? Oh, yeah. Yeah. I got time to talk, kid. You doing alright?

no” she somberly says as she is close to coming to tears

I was on a run and …. how …. I dont know how to deal what what I have done

“Hey, hey, hey.” Walker lowers his voice a bit, calmer and gentle. “Just breathe kid. It’s alright. Just tell me what happened.

A moment or two and a few deep breaths pass. “We were on a run to get a crate off of a van that was on a cargo ship. While we were planning it, we caught sight of another team shadowing us Figured we were after the same thing, so we moved on it faster. It ends up they were a Yakuza hit squad, but they were after the crate as well. We got into it with them and stuff, but ….. I killed a few of them. Its not the death of them that bothers me, I have seen that before, nor the fight itself.  But when Kira went down during a sword fight with one of them, I flung her sword into the chest of her attacker and then into another one of the Yakuza. Moments later the fight was over and I went to Kira to check on her. ” Sobs are now becoming more noticeable “and I saw his face.
I literally had to be carried off the ship to complete the run
I know you have killed people while you were a merc and a runner, how do you deal with it?

How do I deal with it…?” Walker went silent for a moment in thought.

…Honestly? It’s a bit of a pick and choose. There are some deaths I can never get over, Duchess. Some that still follow me around even now. Others, I tend to forget them. Wolf guides his warriors, and a warrior can’t dwell on every man killed in battle. So, for me, I suppose Wolf is my comfort or even Black Cat.  Someone to speak to.

I saw Wolf just before I called you. I haven’t been able to sleep really in the week since it happened. I woke up earlier and found myself flinging a katana into the wall … still not really sure where or how I got that. My dreams are filled with replaying everything over and over in my mind and all I see is his face and he is smiling at me. I talked to Raccoon and he helped to comfort me, but the furry little trash panda kept on about how I need to accept this and move on. Only, I don’t know how to accept it. I took his life. Yeah, he was a Yakuza, yeah I am sure that he knew death was a part of his job, just like us, but he was still a person. He was the son of a mother and father. He may have been someones brother or someones …. father. What if I created another orphan just like me. ” Sobs turn to crying …

Duchess. Duchess. Don’t do that to yourself. You can cry over the fact you took a life. But don’t do it over these ‘what-if’ scenarios. Do you think someone like that would have felt bad for killing you? A teenage mage on the middle of a run that went against them? The way to acceptance is that you have to realize that they made their choice. Everyone is someone’s child or parent or brother or blood. But everyone has a choice. You chose to save your friend, despite the consequences. Was that wrong?

No, defending Kira was not wrong and I would not second guess doing that again. Hell its happened numerous times with you guys, but I have always just knocked them out or had a spirit assist us. I never had to take a life and worse, I didnt really even realize that I was doing it. It just … happened. I seen her go down and he stood over her with his sword. Soren already hit him with spells, but it wasnt enough. So I just used Kira’s sword to finish him. Also without a second thought, I flung it over into the other Yakuza. It was like I wasnt myself. I hear of Eternal talking about how Beserker sometimes takes over, but it didnt seem like that either. I knew what I was doing, but seemed sorta out of control.

You’re seeing Wolf now. Maybe… Maybe you got a warrior within you yet, Duchess. Adrenaline in battle can make one do crazy things despite their own coherence. You were protecting one of your own. That comes with it’s own instincts.

So … is this something that should be embraced? It scares the drek out of me. I dont know if I could handle killing someone again, even if it was to protect someone.

…Duchess. All I can say is that if you’re going to continue in the shadows, you’re going to have to make these choices. I wouldn’t say you should embrace it. Few people can really embrace the taking of a life. But, you can learn to accept it. There is nothing that says you should massacre every enemy that you come across. It is up to you to choose how you will continue on.

Accepting it is the hardest part, but its what both you and Raccoon keep telling me. I think I just need to do that in some way … somehow …. I know its late, but I really appreciate taking the call. You were the first person I talked to about this because I knew you would understand. Hopefully, one of these days, I can get a good nights sleep and deal with this somehow. For now I am going to step out of the shadows for some time. Thank you, Walker and I hope the puppy is doing good.

Yeah. He’s doing great kid. Growing. Just like you are… Call me if you need me alright? Maybe I’ll even come down at some point to see you. Take care of yourself, Duchess.

Thank you.” And she hangs up.

Walker returns to bed, rolling over to see Wolf at it’s edge, sitting next to the slightly smaller wolf pup. “Look after her.” Then, he goes to sleep.