“I wish to possess the Gem of Knowledge,” Lofwyr said. “Give it to me and I will give you each anything you desire,” after a short pause he added, “within reason. Think on that, you could have your hearts’ desire.”
Wildfire looked Lofwyr in his enormous eyes and immediately said, “I want my brother Rapid back.”
Lofwyr returned his gaze and replied, “I said within reason. I cannot bring back the dead. But I could help you enact vengeance on the responsible parties.” Wildfire looked away and thought that somehow Lofwyr would probably think that ripping Aztechnology down to its roots and freeing all of their prisoners and metahuman slaves would also not be ‘within reason’.
The runners’ imagination ran wild. Lofwyr was the richest, most powerful dragon in the world, so he could very well grant what he promised. Thoughts and dreams swirled in their minds…mountains of money that a hundred people couldn’t possibly spend in a hundred lifetimes…retiring to a private island with a mansion and a staff to indulge your every whim…access to deltaware clinics and the nuyen to get delta grade cyberware and cultured bioware…access to magical libraries, closely guarded arcane knowledge and items beyond belief…all of it could be theirs if they betrayed their client Hestaby.
The runners told Lofwyr that they would need a moment to discuss this amongst themselves and then moved back through the arch behind them for privacy.
Once they were out of earshot, Kus said, “This is it, the brass ring. Anything we want. Anyone thinking of taking him up on it?” He glanced around the circle of runners and no one jumped at the chance.
Whip stated, “I’m not betraying our employer, no matter what he offers.” There were grunts of agreement from some of the other runners.
Smokey spoke up, “I’m concerned about Lofwyr’s intentions toward what he thinks of as the ‘lesser’ races like us. Earlier in the metaplanes he appeared and said that the dragons were going to wipe out the younger races. Maybe that was just part of the metaplanes testing us, or maybe that is what he really wants to do. I don’t want to have any part in helping him add to his power or complete his plans.”
“On the other hand,” Wildfire said, “do we want to risk royally pissing him off by thwarting him? I hear dragons can get bitey when they’re upset.”
“Hestaby told us that he can’t hurt us directly,” Tool stated.
“As I recall,” Wildfire replied, “she said that none of the other dragons could directly hurt us or directly intervene during the contest. As soon as we hand the Gem of Knowledge to one of the dragons the contest is over. Hestaby never said that she would protect us forever and Lofwyr never said that he wouldn’t seek vengeance after the contest was over. They’re dragons, they probably never gave much thought as to what happens to the pawns after the game was over. But I bet that one wave of Lofwyr’s claw and we’d all become a small footnote in history, assuming anyone ever hears about what we did here in the metaplanes.” He slowly looked around the circle of his teammates’ faces and saw their expressions of deep concern.
Smokey cleared his throat, “I still say that if there is even a minuscule chance that Lofwyr is thinking about destroying the other races then we can’t give him the Gem. Raccoon would agree that our lives aren’t worth that risk.”
Kus chimed in, “Well, we know the upsides and the downsides. A carrot big enough that all of us together couldn’t consume it all in a lifetime; a stick that’ll likely pound us into the ground until we’re all six feet deep. Either way we risk the wrath of at least one dragon and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Did I miss anything?” He looked at the other runners. “Sounds like we need to take a vote.”
Whip blurted out, “I already told you how I’m voting. I won’t betray our employer.”
Smokey said, “Like I said before, I vote no to Lofwyr. It’s too risky and the wrong thing to do, even if it kills us.”
Kus looked up, “Ah, to hell with him. I vote no too. I would love delta wired reflexes and some cultured bioware, but I’ll earn it on my own, by my rules, and I won’t owe anything to some overgrown wrym.”
Brick added, “The same goes for me.”
Tool smiled, “Who wouldn’t want to be the heroes that saved all of metahumanity? Lofwyr can kiss our ass. I might even make up some commemorative team t-shirts! Maybe something like, ‘I saved the world from the Dragon Apocalypse! And you only get to see this stupid t-shirt.’” Upon hearing his team’s groans he replied, “Fine, we can work on the slogan later; you know, if we live.”
The runners turned to Wildfire. He said, “The only thing that Lofwyr could possibly tempt me with was bringing back my brother. Since he can’t do that he can go to Hell. I’ll get the man responsible for Rapid’s death by myself if I have to. And I’ll rip Aztechnology down brick by brick to free their slaves and prisoners by myself if that’s what it takes. We get to save the world and not betray our employer; sounds like a win-win to me. Let’s do it.”
The runners went back through the archway to stand before Lofwyr. They respectfully declined his offer and watched his face transform as his eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He couldn’t seem to understand how they could turn down the promise of their hearts’ desire. He tried offering them more; more money, more power, more of everything. They listened patiently to him and when he finally paused, trying to decide what else to offer them, they let him know that their minds were made up and that the subject was closed as far as they were concerned.
Smokey took a few steps toward the Gem of Knowledge, but stopped short at the baleful glare that Lofwyr gave him. There was a tense moment of silence before Wildfire said, “Screw it chummers, he can only kill us once.” Wildfire sprinted forward and grabbed the Gem of Knowledge with both hands.
The Citadel faded away, replaced by endless darkness, lit only by the Gem in Wildfire’s hands. The runners floated there for an indeterminate time and then appeared on a mountain plateau. The plateau was surrounded by snow-capped peaks under a clear sky.
Arrayed in a circle around the plateau were a dozen or so dragons; eastern, western and even feathered serpents. The runners recognized enough of them from their adventures and the trid to know that they were all great dragons. Hestaby was closest to the team, sitting on her haunches with her wings folded against her back. She turned her head to look at them and they noticed that she was glowing with a multicolored light. The runners looked around and saw that the other dragons and even the runners themselves were surrounded by an aura of multicolored light.
The dragons looked up as the golden form of Lofwyr appeared overhead. He glided silently down to his place in the circle. The other dragons bowed their heads to him in greeting. He glanced around at the other dragons before rearing up to his full height. The runners felt something in the air that they didn’t understand. They thought that it might be some kind of communication between the dragons. One by one the dragons dropped their heads into a low bow and kept them there until only four heads remained up. Ghostwalker, Alamais, Hestaby, and Lofwyr looked at each other until Alamais almost sheepishly lowered his head. Ghostwalker’s head followed, his expression cold and unreadable. Hestaby then bowed her head and Lofwyr reared up, spreading his wings.
Hestaby rose up and spread her wings. The runners suddenly found themselves in the center of the ring of dragons, standing before Hestaby.
“Orange Queen,” Lofwyr said. “Why have you brought these outsiders to our council?”
Hestaby lifted her head in a defiant gesture. “It is my right,” she replied, “and they are instrumental in settling this matter once and for all.”
“Now,” Hestaby’s thought voice said in the runners’ heads. “Present the Jewel.” Wildfire walked forward and presented the Gem of Knowledge to Hestaby. She took the glowing crimson gemstone in one claw, lifting it for the assembled dragons to see.
“Behold,” she said. “The essence of the Jewel of Memory, the lore and knowledge of the dragonkind made manifest. It lies in my grasp and is now mine by right, according to our ways.”
There was a long moment of silence as a flurry of thought messages similar to the ones that the runners had felt earlier flew around the circle of dragons. One by one the dragons bowed their heads toward Hestaby until only Lofwyr was still standing. He slowly lowered his head toward Hestaby.
Hestaby moved toward Lofwyr with the glowing Jewel held in both her claws. She gently placed it on the ground before him. Lofwyr lifted his head slightly and the other dragons glance at each other in confusion.
“You have been a good caretaker of this, Gold-Master,” Hestaby said. “More importantly, Far-Scholar intended you to have it. So I return it to you. Guard it well.”
Lofwyr said nothing, but scooped the Jewel from the ground and held it in his claws while Hestaby turned to the assembled dragons.
“This contest is done, but I will not claim the title of Lore-Master. As I have maintained from the beginning, it is time for us to change our ways. Far-Scholar showed us a beginning, a new path to follow where we exist in cooperation with the Young Races and take our places in this new Age that has grown up around us. I embrace this new path, and I encourage you all to do likewise. We can all be Lore-Masters and share our insight with others, learning from them in turn. As such I declare that the dispersal of Far-Scholar’s hoard shall stand as he intended it. We will respect and honor his memory, and I hope that we will not forget his vision for us as well.”
At the end of Hestaby’s speech, the runners saw the plateau fade to black and suddenly found themselves back in their bodies, lying on couches in Hestaby’s lair. Radek was there with their payment; one million nuyen each on certified credsticks. He also offered them a private plane ride to their choice of destination anywhere in the world.
The runners talked over their destination. They wanted to be far from Seattle to keep Rowena guessing. They needed it to be somewhere urban because they needed access to cyber and bio clinics and magical research centers. Someone suggested Berlin, but that was quickly shot down as it was Lofwyr’s backyard and no one wanted to tempt fate. Ditto for Aden and the Middle East.
They decided that London fit the bill and left immediately. Once in London they found good accommodations and took some time to rest and relax. The street samurais found clinics and made appointments for cyberware and bioware upgrades. Tool cleaned and repaired the team’s gear and shopped for additional electronic goodies. Whip found a good dojo and worked out in between giving money to charitable causes and room service/spa treatments. Smokey made a local lodge and did some spell research in between trading drinks for stories with the local shamans. Wildfire gave away a lot of money to various metahumanity relief charities to generate good karma, while he improved some skills and summoned new elementals.
After about two months off R&R in London, Wildfire received a call from one of his Seattle fixers, Black Streak. He informed Wildfire that Manuel Cortez was in Settle right now and he didn’t know how long he would be in town for. Wildfire couldn’t wait to get his hands on Cortez, the man who ordered the hit on his brother Rapid. He contacted the other runners and asked them to go with him to Seattle to settle a couple of very important scores.
Karma 7: (for surviving the run, completing the metaplanes quest, making a good decision on the Gem, and for the previous write up)
Official Kill/Knock-Out Stats: N/A because in the metaplanes nothing is real.