With coat collars turned up against the beating winter rain, four figures made their way through the evening suburban downtown, eyes alert to any potential dangers. None of their old contacts knew they were back in Seattle—and hopefully none of their enemies did either—and while they carried themselves with all the gruff “don’t frag with me” energy they could muster, the streets could be an unfriendly place. If they were to make a good impression with the Johnson they needed to arrive on-time and unharried by toughs looking to make a quick buck.

Neon lights from nearby bars and diners cast an eerie glow on the wet pavement, the sound of raindrops pitter-pattering against the ground a constant companion. They had only been away from the Metroplex for six months, and some in the group were surprised to realize just how much they missed the sound, the smell, of inclement weather. The occasional car drove past on slick streets, heightening their attentiveness and anxiety in equal measure.

Nyx fretted with her overcoat as they walked, trying to protect as much of her sleek business wear from the rain as possible. She could feel the reassuring weight of her Ares Predator V in the small of her back, the heavy pistol an constant companion since the team’s flight from the city the summer before. It was one of only two guns she was able to take with her, and it was far less conspicuous for daily carry than her long-barrel hunting rifle. She unconsciously cracked her neck, as if expecting conflict, wirelessly scanning local Matrix activity to spot potential interlopers.

To her right, Cecil walked with rugged detachment. An experienced smuggler and wheelman, as each new sheet of rain washed over him he actively lamented the team’s lack of reliable transportation. With his large fists stuck into jacket pockets, he was mentally going over the numbers, trying to figure out how many jobs it would take for them to afford a car that he could really make purr. Their fixer had gotten them a good deal on a cramped bolt-hole they could call “home” for the time being, but it was in a part of town where any vehicle worth having would be picked apart for scrap the moment he took his eyes off it. Priorities, he thought to himself. First a home, then some wheels.

Shorter than her companions by two feet or more, Rosanna was glad that, even in the midst of their stressful walk toward a job, they remembered to slow their steps so she wouldn’t have to jog just to keep up. With her hood pulled as far over her face as it would go, she toyed with small trinkets and charms in her pocket. She hadn’t taken the time to imbue any with magical potency, hoping that this would be a friendly meet and greet with a new employer, but as she watched the alleyways cloaked in deep shadows, she worried she had made a mistake. She unconsciously cheated in toward her friends, putting them between her and the dark recesses. She knew there would be predators out and about, and her small stature was too often an invitation for the kind of trouble they didn’t need before a gig.

Towering over the rest, and broad enough to fill the sidewalk, Kyle trailed his companions, seemingly unconcerned by either the weather or the urban environs. His bulk enhanced by plenty of cybernetic enhancements, if anything he seemed most worried by what color his iridescent Mohawk should glow. Hues flowed from electric green to fire red, before he ultimately settled on a cobalt blue, putting his oversized commlink back in his pocket, before withdrawing it halfway, his lips pursed with indecision. He smiled as Nyx gave him a thumbs-up, satisfied that he had made the right choice. He wordlessly read the advertisements and burned-out store signs as they passed, his lips moving with every syllable.

As the team walked through the sodden air, whiffs of ash from deeper in the district caught their attention. It shouldn’t be anything they need concern themselves with, but details of the job they were being hired for were sparse and almost anything was on the table. Maybe they would be hired to pull something from the wreckage, or maybe nothing related at all. Overhead street lamps flickered, casting shadows that danced on the wind. The wails of far-off sirens keened in the distance, adding to the atmosphere of anticipation and doubt.

Passing the old brick buildings which were once part of a prosperous commercial district but now sat abandoned by local businesses, they noticed the occasional figure huddled in a doorway or in the entrance to an alley, faces hidden by trench coats and thick jackets, hats pulled down tightly against the elements. The sound of footsteps echoed off the walls, and the group couldn’t shake the feeling that the shadows themselves were watching, judging, sizing them up.

Despite the darkness and the rain, the nervousness and the danger, there was a sense of energy and excitement in the air—of opportunity and familiarity. They were on their way to a job, their first real job in their real hometown since being forced to flee all those months ago.

They were home, and home was beautiful.

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