Stan grimaced as he looked over the bloody battlefield. His shadowrunners were hastily wrapping up wounds, reloading ammunition, rechecking their weapons, and generally keeping an eye on the massive wave of enemies building up on the other side of the chasm.
The Enemy formed as a black wave of death, surging and subsiding like the tides. Myriad shapes that were normally seen only in nightmares took all too solid forms, complete with claws and all. A few more unique shapes could be spotted as the chasm narrowed, the commanders and higher ranked horrors that were obscenely powerful and could even give dragons a run for their money.
With that sort of scenery, Stan didn't feel too good as he checked the ammo clips for his Ares Predator. He had scarcely five clips left, and another four for the autopistol that sat in his belt holster. His supposedly enchanted magic sword was in danger of falling into pieces after taking one too many direct clashes with hardened enemy appendages. His Ares Industries Knight Errant special issue body armor was almost in tatters, while his own body had already taken quite a beating.
It had been a desperate battle even to get to this point. They had to fight through the entire Aztechnology army to get to the gate where they could arrive at the mana chasm. The interface was a necessary one for allowing those without magic access to the intermediate dimension, and while Stan did not know why Aztech had built it, he was not going to argue for it had enabled him to bring more people along.
The initial assault had been carried by the bulk of the American nations' armies and the security units of almost every megacorp. Combat choppers, high tech lasers, suicide drones, rigger controlled fighters, all had been employed in the desperate attempt to break through the cordon of Aztech troops.
It hadn't been easy to convince everyone, not even when Jane-in-a-Box had shown all the heads of states and the CEOs the undisputable evidence of the oncoming Scourge.
Magic, the source of a whole lot of miracles in the 21st century, was still a great source of contention for the hermetic theorists of the Sixth Age. But few of them would ever realize that magic itself was a double edged sword.
During the last period of high magic, the Fourth Age, the rise of magic had also led to the creation of certain links to the nether realms, or astral planes, or whatever term was currently in vogue at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Thaumaturgy.
One of those planes belonged to the Horrors.
In those good old days, the horrors had swept across the land, devouring everything in sight. The only people to survive the Scourge did so by hiding out in places with specially constructed magical defenses that could keep out the horrors. Those were called kaers.
Eventually the magic levels dropped, and the number of horrors infesting the land decreased as well. The inhabitants of the kaers were able to come out of their hiding holes and build new lives for themselves.
Much of this wasn't known to the leaders of the various nations or CEOs, of course, except for those damnable immortal elves and the few dragons that had taken a direct interest in politics and business, like the infamous Lofwyr, CEO of Saeder-Krupp.
Using the old kaer trick wasn't an option anymore either, not with humanity's discovery of the atom and what they could do with it.
It had been an obscene attempt by the evil mage Darke to bet everything on this last throw of the dice, but from what Stan could see, they were heavily loaded in Darke's favor.
Darke was dead, killed when Stan and Ryan Mercury had managed to trap him in the physical plane in his office in Seattle, unable to teleport or transfer his soul into another body, then torn apart by the cyberzombie assassin Hatchetman's chest mounted heavy machine gun.
But Darke's plan had gone ahead anyway, the blood sacrifice of thousands of innocents in simultaneous blood rituals all over the world, designed not to simply build mana bridges across the chasm, but to literally close the chasm.
And when the two sides finally formed a single land mass, the horrors would be able to swarm over unchecked from their realms to Earth, past the gate and into the world.
Disaster would be too mild a word for it.
Despite everything they had done to stop the blood rituals, it had all gone to naught, leaving them with just one last chance of stopping the Horrors.
"How are you feeling?" Ryan Mercury, shapeshifting drake, fiancé of the President of the UCAS, and all round good guy, walked up to Stan, looking him over with a critical eye.
"Fine." Stan lied through his teeth. "Though I could use more ammo."
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "You're not a very good liar."
"So what? It's not as if we got a choice." Stan said bitterly.
"Having second thoughts?" Ryan asked.
"Oh yeah. Seeing all those horrors brings back a lot of bad memories." Stan admitted.
Stan wasn't a native of this planet. He arrived only after a botched portal experiment had somehow dumped him in the midst of a shadowrun, and this messy world of magic and machines.
He had long suspected that the error in getting him to this world might not be the simple labtech mistake it seemed to have been. In fact, his unique… qualifications in having fought horrors in a variety of environments had given him a vast advantage in experience over many of the present crop of adventurers and shadowrunners, few of which are slouches themselves.
One of those invaluable experiences was the trapping and killing of a high level horror. Stan would never forget the price his troops had paid on that mission. In the end, he had killed Qilas Torgan, stabbing the blood soaked vampire blade Helshezag into the Horror's heart, and unleashing a mana storm that had wrecked an entire city.
And right now, they were going to fight quite a number of horrors at about Qilas Torgan's power level. Stan didn't quite fancy their chances.
A tall elf with a face painted in white with black highlights over his eyes approached them. He was dressed in a scruffy black jacket, and the ever present cigarette held between his teeth.
"Harlequin." Ryan acknowledged the immortal elf's arrival. "Is everyone ready?"
Harlequin smirked. "Ready? We're going ahead even if we're not ready, chummer. Remember, it's not our timetable."
Stan groaned. "You don't have to remind me."
Harlequin's grin grew even wider. "We can always get somebody to replace you."
"And take the chance that they know what to do to close the door? Take the chance that they're prepared for the onslaught of god knows how many Horrors waiting to tear them apart?" Stan shook his head. "I agreed to the plan. We'll stick to it."
"And the spell artifacts?" Ryan took one long look at the groups of shadowrunners forming up in front of the three. There were street samurai and combat mages, riggers with their remote battle drones and adepts glowing with their inner power. There were humans, elves, dwarves, orks, trolls, and even a few t'skarang, windlings, and obsidianmen who had emerged after a further rise in magic levels. They were all prepared to do their part to preserve the world.
Stan reached out with his astral senses, and verified that the various wands, amulets, and knickknacks that they had equipped him with were still on his body. "Yeah, they're all on me, and they seem fine." He currently packed enough magical weapons on him to take out an entire city.
And that still might not be enough.
The idea for the entire force was to push through to the door where the Horrors would form up on their side of the chasm. Stan would get through that very same door, and shut it from the side of the Horrors' dimension, preventing any more horrors from ever threatening the world again from that path.
Therefore, the rest of the force would forge on ahead, and clear the path for Stan in order to preserve his energy. Then he would go on alone into the Horrors' home plane, and destroy the door.
Keep it simple, stupid. Stan reminded himself. Don't think about how you're gonna get out, don't think about how you're gonna survive, don't even think about how many blasted horrors are waiting on the other side!
"This is for you…" Shaken from his thoughts, Stan looked up to see the cyberzombie Burnout, long time guardian of the chasm, holding out an object in his hand.
It was a golden heart, throbbing with incredible power. The Dragonheart.
"Woah!" Stan exclaimed as he stepped back from Burnout. "I can't take this!"
"Why not?" Billy Madsen asked. His voice had an eerie overtone, sign of his dual possession by both the original soul of the body(or what was left of it), as well as the spirit Lethe. "This is our last chance. The Dragonheart will not matter if you fail, so it is best that you take it, to better your chances." Of survival, the words were left unspoken. He held out the heart again.
"If you say so…" Stan reached out for the heart slowly. He felt a weird tingling run through his body the moment he touched the artifact, then a surge of energy as the immensely powerful foci channeled mana into him.
"Here they come!" Winterhawk shouted as the chasm disappeared. Warriors from both sides were already jumping across the few narrow gaps remaining, and engaging each other in a no-holds-barred battle.
Ryan and Harlequin moved to the front, using their devastating spell and adept attacks to carve a path through the massed throngs of Horrors. A suit of armor made of pure light appeared round Harlequin, even as a sword of light burst from his hands, as he resumed his ancient battle with the Enemy.
Ryan's hands were a blur as he employed his distance strike technique to tremendous effect, pulverizing Horrors from up to fifty meters.
All around them was the hoarse roar of fighting. Fireballs and lightning bolts flashed through the air, while the sound of machine guns and man-launched missiles thundered across the battlefield.
The shadowrunners were holding their own, but the emergence of yet more Horrors from the door would eventually overwhelm them. There would also be more horrors immune to mundane physical damage, and that would pose a tricky tactical problem as the battle progressed.
Ryan and Harlequin spearheaded a group as they charged towards the door in a wedge formation, with Stan at the center. It was a frenzied and unending collection of Horrors they blasted a path through, as they made a beeline for the door that was at least two kilometers away.
At least most of these are mindless low level horrors, Stan remarked to himself as he channeled into the astral plane, resulting in a bloatform being sliced apart from the inside out. They never said I had to be a spectator.
A street samurai off to one side screamed as a horror managed to invade his mind, turning his brain into a mushy mess even as he collapsed to the ground with his cybernetic limbs twitching. A mage fearlessly cast a self-immolation spell on herself while five gnashers surrounded her. The resulting blast knocked four more approaching wraiths to the ground. A rigger's drones exploded as they were swamped by a mass of wingforms, the dwarven rigger clutching his head in agony from the feedback as his drones died.
Every meter gained was a hard fought victory, every step taken forward bringing another snarling(if it even had a mouth) nightmare from hell straight into their faces. The enemy attacked from the skies, from sudden teleportation among them, and even from under the ground.
The shadowrunners pushed on steadily, their numbers dwindling, but getting ever closer to the door. The enemy seemed to sense what they were doing, and resistance was stiffening.
Nevertheless, Stan saw their chance. Only two hundred meters separated them from the door, a tear in space, glowing brightly with myriad colors. An all out attack should be able to clear the path for him.
Evidently, Ryan and Harlequin knew it too.
"Now!" Ryan shouted as almost every remaining mage and adept left focused their spells and abilities straight at the door. The resulting glaring blast almost blinded Stan, but he instinctively charged forward almost before the spells had been completed.
No time to waste! He thought as he shot one last look at his friends. He met the eyes of many hurt and injured warriors and mercenaries, and their momentary glances told him more than words ever could.
All in my hands now. Stan dove into the door. All or nothing.
He emerged into Hell. It was every bit the place the travel brochures in the Bible had described, filled with fire, lava, and a generous helping of sulphurous smoke. The protective artifacts Stan carried kicked in immediately, protecting him from the toxic atmosphere, the intense heat, and generally anything that would leave an unprotected human as a charred corpse.
They wouldn't last long in this environment, of course, but he didn't plan for a permanent stay.
Stan already had several wands out, and he unleashed every one of them in rapid succession, a blast of True Water from his ground zero position, an enchanted and expanding radius of liquid destruction that should keep the horrors away for some time. For obvious reasons, fire and earth spells might not be too useful in the environment he was in.
Another bunch of trinkets enabled him to lay a series of trip defenses both between him and the door, in case any smart aleck Horror decided to backtrack through the door, some invisibility and teleportation negating wards, and some more trip defenses to protect himself from the inevitable Horror charge right into his lap.
Doing that just about exhausted his entire store of artifacts, a veritable fortune taken, begged, or just plain stolen from various megacorps.
Now for the door itself. Stan already had a theoretical working concept of how to construct such a door, or shadow gate, and several long discussions with Harlequin and Tommy Talon had revealed to him the way to pull apart the pattern threads that held a door together.
It would not be easy, nor fast, and he unraveled the threads as fast as he dared without having the threads snap back into their original places. He could hear the blasts from the traps he had laid down, the unceasing roars of the enraged Horrors, and the sheer presence of something even more powerful than Qilas Torgan.
Every door had its own pattern thread, and Stan was grateful that Harlequin and Lofwyr had been able to show him a glimpse of the overall pattern of their world, without which he would never have been able to identify the correct threads to pull.
Got it! As he pulled the final thread from the door, thereby destroying its pattern, the brightly colored door started to shrink into itself, like a collapsing balloon being drained of air.
Woohoo! He wanted to cheer. That world was safe now, at least from attack from this side. True, the horrors might decided to go the space route, but that might be a trifle more difficult than they expect.
His cheer died in his throat the moment he turned around. A literal walking mountain of tentacles and mouths with sharply serrated teeth stood only meters away.
Verjigorm, the Great Hunter, was not exactly something a mere mortal could defeat, not even with the Dragonheart in hand, and most assuredly not on its home ground.
You insolent pest! The sound thundered in his mind, as Stan desperately ran to one side, his mind reeling from the shock of seeing one of the vilest beings in existence. You will pay for that!
Stan recovered just enough to shoot back psionically. Go fuck yourself with those tentacles. He stuck out his left middle finger for emphasis.
Verjigorm roared in anger, and Stan fought down the urge to cover his eardrums as they were almost shattered by the Dark One.
He drew upon the Dragonheart, shaped an arrow of pure mana, and flung it at Verjigorm while the Horror Lord threw its own mass of dark energy at him.
The two opposing attacks met each other in a tremendous blast, canceling out each other in an flare of mutual destruction.
Stan took the opportunity to look around desperately for a way out, even as Verjigorm threw an entire salvo of energy blasts at him, intent on wiping him out.
Ducking and dodging, he managed to avoid most of them, but just the two blasts that did hit nearly crippled him. He could feel the dark energy playing over his body, punching little holes for his lifeblood to seep out.
Stan snarled away the pain, and he ran helter skater for a small door that he had seen open just a few hundred meters away. Horrors were already lining up for their turn through, and Stan saw that as his only chance to escape this proverbial hellhole.
Verjigorm was deceptively fast for a being with the mass of a mountain, and it took every bit of mana Stan could draw from the Dragonheart to increase his own speed to outrun the horror, evade Verjigorm's blasts, and form shields to block off the worst of the blasts that did hit.
"Passing through!" He yelled as he fired his Ares Predator at the line of horrors waiting to go through the door. The rounds stitched carelessly into the head of more than one humanoid shaped horror, but Stan knew that these were not fatal shots. He slashed at a horror that tried to interject itself between him and the door, hacking a limb off as he shoved it to one side.
Stan slammed into the door, trying not to think about what could be lying on the other side. He tried not to think of acidic sulphur dioxide atmospheres, freezing arctic environments, beasts lying in wait to devour him, or anything that could happen without proper reconnaissance.
Therefore, he was surprised to find himself not on an intermediate planar dimension like the one between the previous world he was in and the door he had just destroyed, but rather already on a proper surface.
There was grass beneath his feet, clean cool air charging into his lungs, a nice respite from the heavily polluted air of 21st century earth, and tall trees around him.
He also noticed the houses on fire, and the rampaging horrors hacking down what seemed to be people. A few warriors in armor, obviously the defense, were getting their asses wiped, from the looks of it.
Welcome to Oz, Stan told himself tiredly.
Palin Majere, not for the first time, wished he had his magic back. Except that this time his wish was all the more fervent, for he was seeing friends and good people killed without being able to do anything to help.
His wife of many years, Usha, yelled at him as she drew her blade and kicked away one of the demons. Palin understood in time to duck his head from a claw swipe that would have taken off his head. But he lost his balance and tumbled to the ground.
All around them was chaos, the likes of which had not been seen since the end of the War of Souls three years back. The people of Krynn had largely tried to rebuild their lives, save for the tragic elves, who were even now fighting desperately for their lands.
It was supposed to be a quiet and pleasant night at the Inn of the Last Home, before a bunch of tomb robbers had actually managed to blow apart the door of the Tomb of the Last Heroes, and tried to steal its treasures.
They had barely gotten five meters away from the tomb when the town militia, alerted by a group of picnicking kender visiting their greatest hero Tasslehoff Burrfoot, stopped them in their tracks.
Then the demons had appeared without warning, killing the guard captain and almost half his men in a sudden wave of death, then proceeding on to an orgy of burning and killing before the townsfolk were able to organize some resistance
In any case, they weren't being very effective. These demons were extremely powerful, and the few mages and clerics that had fought back were quickly singled out and killed. That left Solace with only a few Knights of Solamnia and Steel Legionnaires passing through to try to defend their homes. The battle had been going on for the better part of an hour, and it showed no sign of letting up.
The demon tried again for another swipe, but it was suddenly stabbed through before it could deliver a killing blow to Palin.
Palin scrambled to his feet to thank his rescuer, only to confront a smoking, burnt, and bleeding wreck of a man. The man wore strange black colored clothing, torn in many places. He held a badly chipped sword in his right hand, and a… machine in his left that vaguely reminded him of a gnomish device. In the night, his mouth was drawn in a wolfish sneer, his bright eyes darting and alert.
Before Palin could speak, the man turned away, and moved with impossible speed towards a stricken knight abut to be impaled by a tall humanoid demon, the only demon who wielded a weapon, a massive two-handed blade that was as tall as a person.
Stan grunted as his sorry excuse for a sword clashed with the Horror's gigantic blade. Although there was no way his one arm could hold back the weight of the two handed sword, he had another equalizer.
Stan grinned as his left arm pressed the muzzle of the Predator against the horror's chest, and squeezed the trigger. The horror jerked back as a full clip was unloaded into it, falling away in shock at Stan's tactic.
He followed up with a mana blast straight into its guts, but the horror was able to shrug off the hit almost immediately, which had him pretty worried. The horror closed in again, its sword swinging for Stan's body.
Unable to dodge, and unable to move at all because of the wounded warrior behind him, Stan could only pray for his battered blade to hold itself together long enough for him to think of a way out. God, please don't let it break!
His prayers were not answered as the sword shattered under the blow, sending him flying through the air.
Stan landed on his back, his fall cushioned by the soft soil under the grass. Unconsciously, he reached out with his right hand.
And touched a sword hilt. He automatically picked his new found weapon up, since it felt… funny to him.
Thank you god, thank you god, Stan whispered fervently in thanks as he realized the sword he now held was glowing slightly, a sure sign of magic enhancement. He hoped it would last longer than his last magic sword.
Time for Round Two, he grinned to himself as he loaded one of his last ammo clips into the Predator.
Well, I had to go ahead and do it. The story of Stan… no last name yet, unfortunately. And no rank either, since I don't want to give away too much at this juncture.
The first few sections were from the Shadowrun world. Almost classic cyberpunk, except for the trifling little matter of magic and dragons running around. More importantly, Shadowrun is preceded by another game setting called Earthdawn, which also has an extremely rich background.
Ryan Mercury and Burnout were taken from the Dragonheart trilogy for Shadowrun, while Harlequin was first featured in an adventure pack, and more prominently in the most difficult and exciting(and complex) ever Shadowrun adventure, Harlequin's Back.
Verjigorm the Great Hunter is from the setting of Earthdawn, as are his horrors. He has plans for the world of Krynn, and he doesn't want a Lightbearer like Stan snooping around.
Stan is my own creation, but his caustic attitude seemed to have come from nowhere, since I didn't intend to write him like that! Strange how characters can develop their own features in just the first chapter…
Anyway, the sword he managed to acquire has been featured quite prominently in the Dragonlance story. I only thought it right and proper for it to be used again instead of sitting uselessly in a tomb.