“You can’t even conceive of what I’ve put into motion!” the man ranted, continuing to pace about the small control room, his too-expensive haircut marred by soot as the ship fell to fiery pieces around him. “What I started will outlive me, will outlive you, will outlive this very country!”

Acahya looked to her companions—bloodied, battle-weary, and emotionally drained after the prolonged siege that eventually, and at great cost, lead to their victory. She saw them trying to figure out Simon’s angle, his master plan. To glean some meaning of why he betrayed them so many months ago, burning their contacts and setting the world’s top corporations gunning for them. The act that instigated their globe-spanning efforts to stop him. One piece of his multi-layered plan.

Contrarily to her crewmates, for the Aztec shaman he wasn’t a deeper mystery to be solved, he was just another corporate suit, puffed up by his own self-importance and delusions of grandeur. His motives and machinations didn’t matter to her—just his actions. To her, he signed his own death warrant as soon as he ran afoul of their deal; she had never taken betrayal lightly, and if he had done his due diligence, perhaps he would have known that about her. By forcing her to go on the run, pursued by corporate hit teams no matter where they sought refuge, he all but ensured she was going to take the time to amass the resources, personnel, and firepower to reach him no matter where he hid.

A lot of honest and hard-working people died in the corporate assaults to find them, people who just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The major multinationals didn’t care much about “collateral damage,” so long as it didn’t make it on the afternoon news. In Acahya’s mind Simon was directly responsible for those slayings, and even as his whole world crumbled around him, she saw that he didn’t spare a single thought to the mountain of corpses he climbed to achieve his aims, whatever they were.

Her team had uncovered evidence that he was trying to orchestrate the creation a new megacorp, one backed by key players across the political landscape. He had used dangerous rogue AI to steal his competitors’ secrets and calculate the exact moment to make his moves, plotting and scheming for years to make his dreams of power a reality.

Acahya didn’t care about any of that, however. From the moment the team realized that their escape plan for the very first heist they worked together—the mission orchestrated by Simon—had been a ruse designed to get them caught, her only thought of him was seeing his throat squeezed by her hands. She was a devout follower of Raven, and her mentor spirit taught that disloyalty can only be paid for in blood. A lesson few—knowing her background and the rumors surrounding her exploits in Aztlan—would dare put to the test.

“Tomorrow a new Horizon dawns on the world—and history will be forever changed. My work is done,” the man smiled broadly, his perfect teeth reflecting the flames which licked at the walls as the heavily-damaged, critically-listing stealth attack ship began to groan and tear itself apart under its own weight. He spread his arms wide, as if expecting praise, applause, or both.

“Then you’ll die happy,” the shaman muttered, unimpressed. With practiced and deft control, she twisted and re-threaded the mana streams which connected all living things, rearranging them into a form much more to her liking.

Simon’s too-perfect features began to sag, losing cohesion as her powerful magic found purchase within his aura. His muscles and even bones began to droop, to melt. Dropping to the floor in thick, viscous glops, in seconds the shadowy figure who had been behind so many of their heartaches, setbacks, and close calls over the past sixteen months, was nothing more than a slowly-oozing pile of inert slop.

“Acahya, what the hell are you doing?” one of her companions yelled at her. “He would have told us why this all happened!”

She shook her head callously, ignoring the incredulous stares. “No, he wouldn’t. His mind was as full of corporate doublespeak and weasel-words as his mouth.” A new bead of sweat traced a rivulet down her sooty skin, the effort of maintaining the powerful transmutation spell adding stress and strain to the tally of magic she had already woven throughout the assault on the vessel.

Several of her newer companions raised their voices in protest before being quieted by other members of the crew—in all their travels together the two things they had learned about Acahya were her impossible stubbornness and her exacting sense of retribution. There’d be no talking her out of whatever she had planned.

She knelt beside the quivering puddle, the chunky puddle that used to be Simon—and which would be once again if she stopped concentrating on her magics. Closing her eyes, she spread her arms wide, and began to focus on a new spell, one she had never used in such a way before. Her breathing slowed.

The sounds of her companions, the death knells of the ship, even the encroaching flames, all fell away as she concentrated. She felt the pins and needles of the spells she had already cast, and the one she maintained on Simon, as waves of stinging nettles blowing across an empty plain, embedding deeply in her bare skin. Still, she did not falter, and she called her prayers to great Raven, her connection to the realms of spirit, by whose grace she was able to wield magic.

Blood exploded from her nose as she continued her chants, the staccato sounds of the Nahuatl language—the voice of her ancestral people—rising to a fever pitch as she prayed, every word focusing and gathering more astral energy to her cause.

Wounds she had suffered in the assault split open anew, as if ignoring the advanced medical care she received for her injuries. Dark bruises spiderwebbed across her olive skin. Still, she sang.

Her crewmates, even those who had been with her from the beginning, had never seen such a display, from her or any other practitioner they had encountered. In the ruddy light of the control room her jet black hair took on the appearance of oiled feathers, while the shadows of her downturned face seemed to suggest a dark, pointed beak. Haunting caws mixed in with Acahya’s increasingly raspy voice, and her outstretched fingers, bent and flexed with effort, could have been mistaken for powerful talons.

With blood coursing down her arms and dripping from the turquoise beads of her native bracelets, leaking out of a dozen wounds across her torso, and flying as thick spittle with every plosive syllable, she channeled all the cleansing magic, the purification and healing power she could muster, into the capricious pile of waste before her.

As she rocked back and forth on her knees, her voice breaking and barely audible above the rasping of her very breath, the mass began to change. The edges began to clarify, as if the milky ooze were withdrawing, leaving clear water in its wake. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, more and more of the puddle began to purify, the very essence of the corporate hatchetman boiling off, out of the puddle, vanishing into the ether.

And still Acahya sang, her hands clenched tightly to the point of drawing blood in her palms, her voice nearly inaudible, the magics channeled through her body taking a terrible toll. But still she sang, with the spirit of her people, the spirit of a healed Earth, the spirit of a world no longer plagued by the corruption of greed and gluttony, pride and avarice. She sang a song of hope, and rage, and retribution.

As the last of the milky chunks dissolved beneath the power of her magic, leaving behind only a crystal-clear puddle of the purest spring water, Acahya’s voice caught in her throat and her head snapped back, bloodshot eyes wide and wild. She couldn’t breathe.

The puddle exploded.

For the briefest of moments, the air was filled with a billion billion shimmering crystal droplets, all that remained of Simon, reflecting the faces of the triumphant shadowrunners, the sterile control consoles, and the billowing flames approaching from the aft hull. Hanging motionless, in a perfect moment of clarity, they then evaporated in an instant into the heat and smoke of the sinking ship.

Acahya fell heavily forward, barely catching herself with a hand as she coughed and sputtered, taking deep, gasping breaths, the strain of channeling such a powerful degree of magic—and its wholly unprecedented usage—threatening to drive her unconscious.

The crew looked to their captain, Dakka, who was a shaman of no small power himself. “Help her up, if she’ll let you,” he added. “That was more power than I’ve seen anyone try to use.”

Too weak to fight off the two who moved to support her, Acahya gave Dakka a wan, blood-filled smile, her lips cracked and split. “We finally got the bastard,” she rasped.

He nodded, unsure of what to say, before directing the remaining crew to pick up anything not nailed down on their way out of the derelict and actively-sinking vessel.

“But Simon’s big plans, and everything that comes next,” Nova began to ask, a teammate who had been with the crew through thick and thin though not from the beginning. “He said it’s happening even without him.”

Dakka shrugged and gestured up the passage, where everyone was scrambling to disembark before the entire ship succumbed to fire and the seas beneath. Specifically, he pointed to the half-unconscious Acahya being carried around the corner, just out of sight.

“That’s the difference between people like him and people like her.”

Nova cocked an eyebrow, questioning.

“He thought the whole world started and stopped with his grand design. That anyone he met or faced would be concerned with his plans. Acahya though, she didn’t give one whit about his plans. Everything she did this whole time, every run she went on, every person she helped, it was to get close enough to eventually kill him. Him the person, not him the mastermind.”

He paused, bending down to relieve a fallen corporate soldier of a particularly nice rifle and ammo belt, before continuing.

“There’s a lesson in humility there, I suppose. No plan is so great that it’ll keep someone from sticking a knife in your gut.”

“Or whatever the hell it was she did to him.”

“Or that.”

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, as first introduced in Team Dynamics.

Header image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay