John Smith, the leader of the small mercenary squad “Blackstone Juggernauts”, flexed his bionic arm as he pondered who to pick for the next assignment. Alex, the Glitterboy, would be a good choice, but he currently busy re-assembling his Glitterboy power armour after the recent service and sending him into a potentially dangerous situation without his Glitterboy would be foolish.
Dan Whyte, a full conversion combat cyborg, had not yet returned from his bodyguard duty but was expected back any moment, but as the customer would be here in less than 20 minutes, it also ruled Dan out from participating on this mission, at least at the moment.
This left John with three remaining people. One of them being Sar-Mal, a newly hatched dragon that had recently joined Blackstone Juggernauts, would impress any customer. Jayne, a burster, a flaming and passionate personality that always made her a liability when negotiating with a customer, something John would prefer to not have to deal with. Finally, Maniol, an atlantean tattooed warrior with the ability to use magic through the tattoos covering his body.
John thought that a dragon and an Atlantean should be impressive enough for the customer and be sufficient for what sounded like a fairly easy mission. This would not make Jayne happy, but John rather not have to pay compensation for another customer set on fire, again. John activated his cyborg radio implant and called for Maniol to find Sar-Mal and join him in the briefing room to met the potential customer, a merchant named Mike Sanderson.
Maniol stretched and flexed his tattooed body as John’s message arrived in his ear piece. Out of habit, he let his fingers dance of the many tattoos, re-assuring himself that all was well as he called politely for Sar-Mal to join him in the briefing room. As they arrived to the briefing room, there was a bustle outside and a small army pulled up to the Blackstone Juggernauts’ head-quarter. From the most posh hovercraft, a pudgy little man stepped out, looking both arrogant and as someone with too much money for his own good. John swore to himself, he hated these sort of customers but they usually paid well and their assignments were often trivial to resolve.
“Welcome Mike,” said John as he shook Mike’s hand as he entered the compound, “I called in the best for you, a dragon and a tattooed warrior”. John’s hand motioned towards Sar-Mal and Maniol, the dragon watching the bite sized merchant with nothing more than a bit of curiosity and Maniol who tried to reign in his growing distaste for the wealthy merchant, his distaste had been growing as soon as he saw the gaudy decorated hovercraft. “Please tell us about the assignment you have for us, Mike, and start it as soon as we can” John said and moved them towards the table in the middle of the briefing room.
On the table, a holographic model of Stormspire was shown, something often used by Blackstone Juggernauts to establish strategy and tactics in missions. Blackstone Juggernauts had only been at Stormspire, the magic city known for its dabbling in techno-wizard items and weapons, for about 6 months and many areas was still a bit unknown to the mercenary unit, so the holographic map helped a lot.
“You need to safe my girlfriend”, said Mike, “she has been kidnapped.”. He dramatically waved his short arms in exasperation, “They took her and I want her back”. From the pocket of his rather expensive but ill-fitting suit, he brought out a holocube with one hand and wiped some sweat of his forehead with the other. “Her name is Rita Amoretto, yes, yes, like the drink, but she is absolutely enthralled in me and I want her back”, Mike said as he turned on the holocube. As the cube hummed into action it conjured a picture of a woman of stunning absolute beauty, so perfect that even Sar-Mal seemed to be impressed by it, and dragons were rarely impressed by any creature of any race except dragons.
“I know she was escorted from her house by some thugs from one of the gangs in the city 3 days ago and I’ve not seen her since.”, Mike paused and looked at John, begging with his eyes, “You must help me, I pay well, 150 00 credits in advance, as you asked and the remainder when you get her back to me”. John seemed pleased with the contract money and let Mike know that they would have no problems solving it. Maniol, quickly added before Mike had the time to leave, if he knew anything about the thugs. “All I found out is that they probably belonged to the east side boys”, he added and turned to leave, just to bump into Jayne who had arrived and was in the doorway listening in.
Mike, stared sternly at Jayne as he headed back to the hovercraft, his imposing exit ruined by the waddling gait. He and his small army of mercenaries speed away towards the inner circle of Stormspire.
John turned to Maniol, “If you need anything, just let me know” and then walked off to his office. Jayne took a few steps and stood very close to Maniol and ran a hand slowly down one the many tattoos on his body and grinned, her eyes burning like embers as they leered towards Maniol. “I accidentally picked up this”, she said as she dangled an strange looking key marked Rita in-front of him. “Someone must have dropped it recently just outside. I just can’t imagine who might have done so”, stifling a giggle as she spoke. With a husky “Good luck”, she pushed the key into Maniol’s hand and dodged to the side and headed after John.
Maniol, uncomfortable with Jayne’s flirting stared flabbergasted at the key in his hand. Sar-Mal rumbled an amused “She is crafty, that lady, I like her, shall we go?”. They quickly located Rita’s and Mike’s house on the holographic map and memorised where they needed to go. They also highlighted their current knowledge of the different gang territories around Stormspire and took note of the East Side Boys controlled regions.
As they stepped outside, Sar-Mal stretched his wings and looked curiously at Maniol. “No wings, no flight!?” he said more as a question than a statement. Maniol just smiled and reached with his hands to his back, where he touched the tattoo of a heart with large wings. The tattoo shimmered and with no effort, Maniol suddenly pulled out two large sparkling glowing blue wings from his back. He flapped the wings a few times as if testing their strength, blowing up dust from the road and turned to the dragon, “Lets go to Rita’s house and see what we can find”.
After a short flight, Sar-Mal and Maniol set down gently outside Rita’s home, if it now could be called a home. It was more like a large, tall concrete bunker with two entrances, one obviously designed for vehicle access and one for humans and creatures. Maniol moved his hand to to his rear of his neck, touching the tattoo of a crow with its wings stretched out. Gingerly a crow crawled out of the tattoo and perched on Maniol’s shoulder. “Scout around this building, if any entrances is found, caw and ensure I know”, he said softly to the crow and it immediately flew from his shoulder circling the building.
While the crow flew around the bunker, Sar-Mal and Maniol inspected the doors, found where the key could be fitted. While the key itself did not seem magic, the door-lock did and Sar-Mal added that it would probably only respond to this particular key, or one just like it.
A sharp caw caught Maniol’s attention, moving to the side of the bunker, he could see the only entrance the crow could find, a single window close to the roof, about 8 meters up high and too small to comfortable fit a dragon.
With this in mind, they tried the key and the door swung open. Maniol and Sar-Mal entered, Maniol with a bit of carefulness and Sar-Mal with the pride and arrogance befitting a young dragon. They found themselves in what was a very large room, a single room occupying the whole of the bunker space. In the far end, Maniol spotted his crow, which picked at the window with the beak and shuffling back and forth along the window ledge.
The door behind them closed, as by magic, but nothing else moved inside the bunker. Sar-Mal studied the tables, noting down the valuable magic items upon them, but also the inscribed circles or wards around the tables.
“Careful,” he advised, “they look real and feel”, he paused and took a deep smell, as if that assisted him with understanding the magic in them and then added “powerful, very powerful”. Maniol touched his left shoulder, which had a tattoo of an eye, and gently drew his fingers along his skin to his forehead. The tattoo flashed, and an eye appeared in the centre of Maniol’s forehead and he leaned forward looking at the tattoos with all three of his eyes. “Three effects, one strong deterrent or damage, one very strong, possible dimensional, notification and the most powerful protection ward I’ve seen”, Maniol stated, “Then again, I’ve not seen many, this is rare magic for earth”.
Sweeping the eyes across the tables, Maniol quickly summed up the value of the goods here and then whistled impressively. “The value of this outstrips Mike massively. How did this pudgy merchant get Rita to be his girlfriend?” he asked rhetorically, “She is richer than him and she has looks that could get her any man she wanted.”. Sar-Mal peeked as Maniol as trying to figure out something, then discarding the issue as something that belong to humanity. For dragons it was much easier, all you did was establish who had the most matching genes and as much magic as possible and you had your partner.
“There must be a clue here somewhere”, Maniol said as he started looking around in the cavernous room, “This is not even fit for living in, where does Rita sleep, eat or even perform other necessities. Something is wrong here – if she was kidnapped, there is nothing here that indicates battle and the value of the goods on the tables are surely more than they can get from Mike. Sar-Mal, help look for something odd, and do not touch anything on the tables or break the wards”.
After a bit of further searching, they found an trapdoor, well hidden in the corner of the bunker. With no apparent magic or wards around it, they lifted it open and peeked in. The trapdoor had a short set of stairs, leading to what looked like a metal door, on the side of the metal door was a keypad and some sort of terminal. “Oh uh”, Maniol muttered, “This is beyond our abilities – both wards and high tech locking mechanisms, Rita ain’t playing nice”. Let’s get someone here that understand these things. Maniol radioed in to Blackstone Juggernauts and asked for someone with good hacking skills. John quickly said he could send down Alex, who was a bit of nerd, down there to assist.
After a brief period, Maniol opened the door to the bunker and let Alex in, advising him as he did so to not touch on or even walk close to the tables. Alex worked with the look for a bit with sensor tools and an electronic pick lock. At Maniol’s raised eyebrow, Alex cleared his throat and explained “I borrowed it… from Jayne” as if that was the get-out-of-jail-card if law enforcement would catch them. “There!”, Alex said as the multiple door shunts pulled away from inside the door and the door swung open.
Just beyond the door was the unmistakeable shape of a dimensional gate, with a bit of trepidation, Maniol, followed by Sar-Mal, they stepped through. As they disappeared through the gate, Alex coughed out “I keep guard back here, I did not bring my armour”.
A sliding door made of brass opened on the other side of the portal. As they stepped out on some sort of ledge, or balcony, they saw an eerie cave seemingly made entirely of brass or some alien looking equivalent. ,All looking magnificent in its own way, but at the same time, both alien and disturbing. A lake made out of black water below, pillars of brass with organic shapes, tearing up through it up to the roof of the cave. No flat surfaces can be seen, walls and corners rounded and the etched, embossed and alien design of almost organic design.
Extending their wings, both Maniol and Sar-Mal took off to explore around to see if they could find any clues on what this place. Eventually from far away, they spotted what looked like a camp-site surrounded by brodkil demons and a wizard. Deciding that they be better approaching it a bit more discrete, Sar-Mal transformed to a dolphin and dived into the water, Maniol, utilising one of his tattoos to provide air also dove down.
As they was near the ledge for the camp, they could hear the wizard hurrying on the brodkil to prepare for a trap to spring upon “her”, whoever her was. Maniol and Sar-Mal decided that what-ever this was, it was not for any good and appeared out of the water in attack formation. Sar-Mal, once again back in dragon form, reached out with his large claws and grabbed the wizard, disabling him by holding him in his grasp.
A quick battle commenced, where one of the powerful brodkil demons died, before using their ability for flight to get away, leaving the brodkils on the ledge, sending stray shots into the vast darkness after them.