As the O’Shant—an 80 meter luxury yacht-turned mobile piracy headquarters—reemerged from a crackling magical portal in the calm doldrums of the Bermuda Triangle, the collective stomach of the crew leapt into their collective throat. Returning to normal space from a demiplane where time had no meaning—where one could spend a month in meditation in the same span others could eat a sandwich—meant their bodies had to “re-sync” with the local time stream; a process that was neither expected nor fun.

Getting their bearings, it appeared the ship had emerged in the same waters it had departed from; the crew had been chasing legends of mysterious technology and magical artefacts near the center of the Triangle when they were sucked into the otherworldly plane. Their clocks told them nearly six weeks had elapsed, though for some of the crew it seemed like they had spent whole lifetimes in the “other place.”

Everyone’s commlinks chirped in unison as the rigger piloting the modified ship got a reading on its sensors. “Something big—check that, lots of big things! Port side! Starboard! All around us!”

A sinister fog, coalescing from a crystal-clear sky, swirling though there was no wind to propel it, soon surrounded the vessel, blotting out the sun above. When the crew first entered the doldrums on their way to the portal, they were beset by a spiritual apparition—a nineteenth-century Spanish galleon, who demanded they turn back or suffer the consequences. Not afraid of literal ghost pirates, the crew plunged headlong and vanished into the forbidden rift leading to the hidden plane.

This time, it seemed the ghosts weren’t interested in letting the modified yacht simply sail past. The calm waters began to roil and from the depths rose dozens of ephemeral ships, from all ages of Atlantic exploration. Galleons narrowly missed scraping hulls with iron-clad Civil War-era frigates, native canoes, and 20th century cutters, all fully-crewed and with cannons, deck guns, and even bows trained on the interloper. Their hulls trailed green smoke and the frothing waves began to pulse with an eerie, otherworldly glow.

The Spanish captain who had issued warnings a month before grinned cruelly from the prow of his ship, his bearded face looking maniacal, lit as it was from beneath. He raised a cutlass toward the yacht and its de facto captain Dakka, who had spurned the pirate on their first voyage.

This time the ghost had brought friends, and they were committed to sinking the high-powered, twenty-first century pleasure ship.

“Boys!” Dakka called from the foredeck, backing up several paces. “It’s time to prove who owns these waters!” Charging forward he launched himself off the yacht, sailing through the air toward the galleon, his antiquated long-coat flapping behind him. Landing heavily on the wooden deck of his opponent, he drew his own blade—a monofilament edge recently purloined from an Ares weapon division storehouse—and, with a grin spanning from ear to ear, made to duel the ghostly Spaniard.

As the O’Shant’s automated turrets were primed and aimed at the many ships circling it, the crew—all experienced shadowrunners with more than a year of history working together—each took up their own arms. Some drew blades to repel boarders, some large-bore rifles, and others began to glow with mystical power all their own.

Acahya, the neo-Aztec shaman who had helped lead a multi-continent campaign against the megacorporation who murdered her parents and poisoned her homeland, was unimpressed with the ghosts’ showing. She held great disdain for all things “unnatural,” and while months and months spent in meditation within the timeless place had softened her stance on technology—seeing it as a tool rather than an evil in and of itself—it had done nothing for her opinion of the undead, the likes of which she had faced before.

Calling out to the great spirits of land and sky, she focused her attention, her desire, and her raw will into the astral plane, into the unbridled essence of spiritual energy which pervaded the world. With eyes closed tight she whispered one name over and over, beckoning a power greater than she had ever before attempted, convincing it to enact its dread purpose on her behalf.

Sensing the bands of magical aether she wove snap like too-tight rubber bands, she felt her ribs break and blood poor from her chest. With labored breath she fell bodily to the deck, heaving and wracked with pain.

“Acahya, you good?” yelled another crewmate, fighting off a ghostly British officer and his viper-like cutlass. The sounds of cannon fire began to fill the air, and the yacht began to shudder with the impacts. It may have been protected by state-of-the-art armour, but each shot was filled with magical energy, and they began to take their toll on the vessel.

The shaman nodded, not even looking up, a dark pool of blood spreading out beneath her. “Xipe Totec has answered my call, and these seas will be cleansed.”

A flash of lightning rippled through the heavens above and, for a second, it seemed that all eyes were drawn skyward. A powerfully-built Aztec warrior, standing hundreds of feet tall and with blinding white eyes as luminous as the sun, bent down beneath the clouds to survey the battlefield. His disapproving growl shook like stampeding horses or rolling thunder.

Spreading his arms wide—his reach extended far beyond the swirling mists of the ghostly battlefield—he suddenly clapped them together with enough force to send the 80 meter yacht rolling in the shockwave, deafening the crew and breaking the mainmasts of many smaller ephemeral vessels.

Lightning arced from the clouds, striking angrily around the seas, each blasting parts of the ghost ships to pieces. More than one was sunk in the barrage as the dread Aztec spirit’s anger seethed and his temper flared.

Then, as if something more interesting than the dozens of undead ships and hundreds of pirates had caught both his eye and his aggression, he dove silently beneath the waves, the last bolts of lightning ringing across the clouded ocean. The strange green glow from beneath the waves began to flash and jitter, as if a hidden battle was taking place between two titanic forces, far below the more military engagement above.

As the yacht’s crew began to take the day—the number of ghost ships nearly cut in half by Xipe Totec’s fury—someone slapped a trauma patch on Acahya as they ran from one raging battle to another, its concoction of amphetamines, plain blockers, and clotting agents working to stem the terrible damage done to her body by the mystic forces she sought to wield.

Slowly able to turn herself around, facing upward to the sky, Acahya smiled to the heavens as the first notes of starlight began to pierce the thinning fog. Her chest pounded in places it wasn’t supposed to, her clothing shredded and ruined, and she lay in a spreading pool of her own blood in the shape of the great thunderbird, but for the first time since she was a child she had felt the touch of a god, and she was at peace.

When the wise-woman Lou’opa first told her parents that young Acahya had potential for “the sight,” it was a celebration for the whole family. Far away from the corporate enclaves and their rigorously-enforced secular education, the family practiced animism, the belief that all humans had a twin spirit in the animal kingdom, and that the spoiling of natural resources would directly corrupt the soul of human civilization. There was power in the natural world, and some select people were called to wield it, entrusted to defend the world against excess and greed.

After months of practice, training, and education, Acahya followed Lou’opa to a secret cave late one evening while her parents slept. “They do not have the sight,” the old woman whispered, “they cannot see what you will be able to, if the gods be willing, and if your conviction is strong enough.”

Acahya walked into that cave a young girl who had her whole life ahead of her. She walked out a fledgling shaman, having sworn to defend the earth and its natural inhabitants, to honor balance and fight against corruption. Her path was set, and her charge given directly by the god Nextepehua, lord of ashes. He laid a sooty finger against her forehead and awakened within her the power to see, to call, and to control the magical energies which formed the other half of the world. In return, she would bring all that threatened the natural order to his realm—she would crumble their empires to ash and cast them to the four winds.

Thirty years later, all but bleeding out on the deck of a stolen yacht, watching the swirling ghostly mists dissipate as her crew dispatched the rest of the pirates, she couldn’t help but feel unending serenity. She closed her eyes.

“Goddamnit Acahya,” someone said, taking her pulse as they knelt beside her. “What the hell was that thing you called? It was massive!”

She laughed, which seized her torso in shooting pain, blood violently coughing out of her mouth. “Xipe Totec, the god of storms and natural order. He has a particular hate of the undead.” She smiled to herself, satisfied.

“Well whatever he’s doing, it looks like he’s still doing it,” they said, glancing over the railing, where the ocean continued to boil and froth, flashing lights strobing from deep beneath.

“I asked him to solve a problem,” she wheezed. “Sometimes the right prayers get to the right ears.”

“Dakka says we’re heading out. He took some nasty cuts from that ghost captain, but you’re up next in the auto-doc.”

“I’m happy to lay here all the same,” Acahya whispered peacefully, slipping off into a medically-induced slumber.

She had the most wonderful dreams.

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, as introduced in Team Dynamics, expanded on in ¡Viva Aztlán!, more fully revealed in Plumbing the Depths, triumphing in The Seeds of Revolution, recovering in A Piece of the Dream Americana, and musing on the future in Logística.

Header image by Pexels from Pixabay, a great resource for royalty-free stock images