Alleycat grunted, getting knocked back a good foot by the sudden explosion of chitin. He rolled with it, pushing to his foot and instinctively gripped the handle of his sword, kneeling as he watched the insect spirits crawl out of the ground. Ant spirits, soldier class, the teen's mind automatically noted as his eyes darted between the six chittering monsters, his ears folding back, his tail flicking. Two meter ants, heavier armor than the workers that usually ambushed him, and they didn't look happy. Great, he mused as he rose to his feet, must be a hive nearby.

Only in Chi-town could one be this unlucky on a regular basis, as he was. He cursed the dumbass who botched the job when Ares Firewatch had stormed the huge multi-breed hive, releasing the host of it to the public, before returning to the current world a split second later. He was going to have to deal with this fast, before the queen, or worse the shaman, noticed him. Speaking quietly in his native Japanese, the changeling prayed to his Ancestor Spirits. "Ā senzo, watashi no inori o kiite, anata ni watashi no hogo o ataete kudasai.*"

As his body calmed, and the spirits guided him, his mind passed over to earlier points of his life. To back when he was a bored, lonely young child of a well-to-do executive of a AA Japanacorp. When his Talent manifested itself, magic burning out of him in a shockwave as he screamed in anger at the teasing of the older jocks, his body all bone and skin with no muscle to speak of. As he stared in horror at what he had done, his hands rose unbidden. Clenched into fists in front of his face, as Alijin's younger, still human self realized what it was, knew what that meant living in the magophobic Imperial Japanese State.

A slash into a leg joint was deflected, but Alleycat let the momentum reverse, using his blade to block a downward strike from another ant as his mind continued down memory lane. He didn't search Japanese-hosted sites as he searched the Matrix, needing guidance. If his father knew what he was doing he would no doubt be outraged that his son refused to merely ignore his Magic and let it die. He was born with this. . . this Gift, years of brainwashing undid themselves slowly, but it was a Gift even if he still had troubles reminding himself of such, and he wanted to hone it. Wanted to use it. Needed, he corrected himself, to use it. Needed /something/ in his young life that felt distinctly /his/ to control.

He jumped back, dodging the trio of legs stabbing down at him. Grunting, the shaman quickly weighed his options, summoning his own Beast Spirit to help him, a large tiger-like creature that roared in challenge as he telepathically ordered it to fight alongside him. Damnit, but times like this he wished he had an ally spirit. Next time, he vowed to himself, as his mind drifted to a different spirit summoning. His first, when he first summoned a spirit. His Ancestor spirit, his guardian. Hiroki Kurosora. Standing tall, the young teen bowed and thus began to learn both magic and swordplay from the fallen samurai, pouring blood and sweat and tears and nearly every nuyen he made into honing his skills. Into finding a way to take control of his life.

Alleycat willed his body to be engulfed in flames, the world's natural expression of mana outside of life itself. With the added energy and power he moved quickly in between the three remaining insects, fighting in the kind of perfect sync with his his spirit that only a telepathic link could provide. But as he did, he couldn't help but remember when he became nearly as animalistic as the spirit now fighting alongside him. He'd told his teachers that he sensed something off, but they didn't listen and continued with the field trip. Then, the mana storm hit, followed by the searing agony that knocked him out, and altered his life irrevocably and forever. When he awoke, he was still screaming, still in agony, almost a full hour after the change was complete. His everything burned, nothing felt right, down to his very bones was destroyed. He stumbled to his feet, then grunted as he fell right back on his face. Looking down, he saw what was no doubt the cause of the gawking crowd which he was just now becoming aware of: he had changed, not to a metahuman, but to a changeling. His legs were now jointed like a feline's, his skin had sprouted orange and red fur, and he had a TAIL. He gawked at that, then felt his ears twitch- wait WHAT! Nothing was right, and he knew then that it never would be again.

A quick slash from mandibles opened a hole in his left arm, nearly making him drop his sword as he cried out in pain. His spirit partner quickly returned the favor, pushing the insectoid monster back long enough for Alec to dodge the next strike, kicking off the third leg attacking him at the same time, before a hard chitin-covered body slammed him to the ground, several feet away. He yelped as he landed, groaning. His mind drew the comparisons to the fights at school after he became a Changeling, the numerous beatings and smacks that his bigoted classmates gave him, the many whispers behind his back and taunts to his face he suffered. Girls who once had admired his skill with a wooden blade now steered clear of him, and those few that didn't cared nothing about him, seeing him as some pet or, worse, a fetish to be exploited to satisfy their own sick urges. Friends whom he thought he could trust seemed to compete to see who could stab his back quickest, and the teachers made his life hell, singling him out for things that he didn't even do, all because he did not conform to the IJS' idea of what was proper; that is to say, mundane and human.

He took the spearing pincer to his rib,adding to the numerous cuts he'd gotten in the fight, idly wondering how he'd survived this long but attributing it to the boost of his spirit protectors. He remembered the looks of his mother and sisters, once smiling and loving, now pitying and oddly terrified of his feline features. It took some getting used to, having a not only differently shaped legs but also a tail. His hearing had sharpened, which was murder in the busy metro of Neo-Tokyo. His nails had become retractable claws, inch-long razors that required so much adapting and reconditioning to as he relearned how to do. . . nearly everything. He was depressed, in a slump, barely hanging in there. Some days he struggled to find the motivation to get out of bed, other days he often lacked the energy. So it was no surprise that he didn't put up a fight when his father declared that he was to be moved to the family's Hong Kong home.

He let his Talent flow, heightening his reflexes as he dodged and weaved through the melee, mind seeing another, much shorter, melee as his body and instincts tuned out all else. He'd decided enough was enough. He felt trapped, caged, enslaved. He'd felt he needed out, and he found a way by contacting a Fixer, hiring Shadowrunners to extract him. It had started off easy, they dispatched or avoided his wardens- "guards" according to his father, but he knew the truth. Knew he was a prisoner in this fancy ass house. They got him out, and were on the way to the airport when the technomancer riots broke out. Forced to go on foot, it wasn't long 'til they were accosted by a group of rabid thugs. Alijin didn't think, just let instinct take over as his claws emerged. The blood sprays, the smell, the barely released death screams were all he knew for the ten seconds it took him to kill the three with his claws, before they knew what had happened. It was that day that he earned his new name: "Alleycat."

He backflipped once, twice, three times as he dodged the onslaught of pincers and legs. His spirit likewise dodged, albeit less agilely than the shaman. He remembered when Beta, his friend, teammate, and once-rescuer, brought home Sophia. With her uncertain attitude and long brown hair, he was immediately reminded of one his younger sisters. He remembered his concern when he found out that she was from another reality, that string theory had become somehow subverted by mana. He couldn't remember when he fell in love with her, or even when he'd realized he had, he just knew he wanted that sweet girl in his life forever.

He cut down another ant, grunting as his katana got caught in the chitin even as the spirit fell. He leapt back, drawing his second sword and slashing at the next ant to approach him, all in the same fluid motion. He pivoted, slashing down to drive it back, as he remembered Hendron, his team's A.I. The draconic icon he used was often the first indication that they were about to receive lifesaving information. He remembered grieving, remembered turning from Beta and from Sophia and just screaming his frustration and anguish and rage. He remembered rushing in blindly, body bursting into nova-like heat from his Flame Aura as he mindlessly charged in against the security team, mindlessly hacking and slashing as he thought nothing, felt nothing save anger and loss and the need to avenge his friend, his teammate. He remembered how it was Sophia who calmed him down, his fire dying as she held him from behind over the last corpse, letting him sob and shake and weep as she just held him, giving him the quiet comfort he didn't know he needed.

Down to his last foe, he grunted. His body and mind were being pushed to their limits, and his spirit was in a bad shape he felt, rather than merely knew. He'd have to be careful with this last foe, worn down as he was by the previous five. As he continued to battle, his mind drifted to his last goodbye to Sophia. The energy warping around them as he looked at her, tears in his eyes as he vowed to be there if she ever again returned to his timeline. Beta, yelling that they had to go. Fury's panicked tapping on an AR keyboard only he could see. A Saeder-Krupp wagemage, watching wide eyed, too awestruck to even attack the shadowrunners. He didn't see any of it at the time, though. Didn't hear any of it. He couldn't, too focused on her, on the girl he'd fallen in love with but could never have to love. In that moment, she was the only thing real to him, and he hated himself for it.

He sighed as he dismissed his spirit, letting it heal and rest from the battle. These hybrid forms, their heads would be worth a pretty nuyen, and they could use the coin. Four grand a head meant twenty-four thousand nuyen, enough to keep them in gas and ammo for a few months at least. Without other options, he used his sword to hack off the heads- couldn't get the money without proof of the kills. He cut one, two, three heads before the exhaustion and bloodloss caught up to him and he slumped to the ground, katana clattering to the ground. He closed his eyes, preparing to welcome the darkness when he felt someone catch him, a familiar male voice by his ear. "C'mon kid, don't go soft on me now." Alleycat's eye cracked open as Beta helped him to his feet, the blond elf's cyber eye whirring as he no doubt took in the scene. "Not bad. . .ya did good, kid. Now take a breather by the bike, I'll finish up."

He was too young at nineteen to be feeling half this old, he knew as he trudged off to the adept's Indian Pathfinder, but running the shadows was his life, his chance at both control and respect in his life. In the shadows, no one cared that he was a changeling, and his magic actually made him highly prized as as a shadowrunner. They cared that he got results, and he did. He was a shadowrunner, and his life was drek but he owned it, and that was enough. He'd opened his eyes and woken up from the chipdream the megacorporations used to keep the wageslaves in line. Alijin the boy was dead. In his place stood Alleycat the shadowrunner.

"They say that when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. It's true, omae. I've seen the same sequence numerous times, right before nothing more than pure luck pulls me out of the fire. That's what it means to run the shadows."

*Oh ancestors, hear my prayer, and grant me thine protection.