Project Aphelion Solo Play #049: The Epilogue

I think it’ll come as no surprise that it’s time to wrap up this playtest. Tomorrow’s quest of finding her sister was successful, she has sorted out her life despite many curveballs she’s been thrown, and there’s nothing that can really harm her prospects. Long live the Witch of the Warrens.


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Seriously, the only thing that could be a problem for her, as far as Shadowrun is concerned, is Ghostwalker getting interested – only, as it happens, Tomorrow has literally saved the life of Nick Whitebird, a young eagle shaman that Ghostwalker will choose as his Speaker, and she has personally sent Night, a corrupted part of the Spirit of Denver (in a material form of Glennis Shand, the head of a militant anti-metahuman policlub Unity) into the astral plane in the final boss battle of our Shadowrun campaign. So, I think, convincing the dragon to just let her keep the northern part of the Warrens and make it into a livable place won’t be that much of a hassle.

What does this means? That there’s just some small bits and bobs that need sorting out, and then – well, I think then we’ll just say goodbye to Tomorrow and let her be happy.

We’ll also say goodbye, because Aphelion rules are getting a new iteration (feedback from group playtests is priceless), and there’s no point in testing the mechanics that I know we’ll be changed anyway.


Taking Care of the Business

We have a couple of things to resolve, before the characters can go their merry way:

  1. We need to take over the Shadowmarket, so Tonight won’t be bored
  2. We need to remove the Cutters as any potential threat

There’s a pile of smaller issues as well, but they’re mostly a matter of narrative. Things like getting rid of bug spirits (again) we can safely leave as Tomorrow’s plan for the future. She likes having a clear objective.

Let’s start with the Shadowmarket – Tonight has already finished the project for it, but as it’s a Payout 9 Scenario, we’ll send all three characters to it, to bank ourselves more net marks.

R5 (3) Crew: 5 dice, 5 skill, 3 Resistance, 3 Clout, 2 soak, 2 automarks. +3 automarks for 3 Actors
Scenario Payout 9
Legwork: Skipping to not waste a day
Threat Rating: 9v6 = 5 (-2 soak) = 3.TR 0-0 = 0
Challenge: Payout + 3 = 12.

R5 (3) Crew needs to score 12 marks. They are rolling 5 v 6 – 5 (skill) + 9 (Payout Resistance) – 3 (Clout) = 5v7, and start with 2 automarks, plus score +3 in each roll. Scenario rolls 9 v 6 – 3 (number of Actors) + 3 (Resistance) = 9v6, and gets hit with 2 points of Soak each interval.

T1: Offense: 5v7=1 +5 = 6. MT 6/12. Defense: 9v6=4 (-2 soak) = 2. MT 4/12
T2: Offense: 5v7=2 +3 = 5. MT 11/12. Defense: 9v6=3 (-2 soak) = 2. MT 10/12
T3: Offense: 5v7=3 +3 = 6. MT 16/12. Defense: 9v6=6 (-2 soak) = 4. MT 12/12  -> Offense wins, no net marks.

This Scenario has brought us a R3 Trading Post Facility, +9 Rep for all characters, +3 Influence points for the Faction, some learning ticks that there’s no longer the point of tracking. Consequence roll 5 +0 = 0, nothing else happens here.

This Scenario automatically reduces the Familiarity with BBs by 1+3 (from 9 to 5), but we won’t let it stand – first, we’ll gift them with 9 points of cash, as we literally bought the place out from them, which raises the Fam by 1 (to 6) and un-triggers the retaliation rules. After that, we’ll spend 6 points of Influence to bring the Familiarity back to 9, where we like it.


Moving on, let’s resolve the matter of the Cutters infringing on our territory. As it stands, they have no Assets (we’ve taken over all of them), and their first recourse must be getting some – otherwise they’re as good as gone. However, they have no mathematical chance of achieving this, as I’m about to throw all crews I have into destroying them.

This means that each day, our Faction is scoring:

  • Tomorrow: 4v1=4
  • Tonight: 4v1=4
  • Wheeler: 4v1=4
  • Sal: 4v4=2-3
  • Giorgio+Stella: 4v3=2-3

For the ease, let’s round it up to the output of 17 points/day, which means the Payout 5 project will be finished in 3 days, with 1 net mark. I’ll pay 2 extra points of Intel to make sure we won’t end up with negative consequences. Meanwhile, the Cutters won’t even manage to find any freelancers, so at best, they can create three R1(1) Crews out of extras and score up to 15 marks (statistically, 9).

Good thing I’ve spent those points of Intel, because I’ve rolled [1, 1, 1] for consequences, and I don’t feel like resolving a negative consequence of magnitude 75 going my way. Instead, we end upon a 4 and no consequences other than the Familiarity drop (to 9) and the potential retaliation. We are reworking the consequences system, by the way.

In any case, Cutters go down to R4, which reduces their potential for marks scored to 4/day/R1 (1) Crew (statistically, 2/day/Crew). Meanwhile, we score 51/40 marks in 3 days, ending the project on August 8 and reducing the Faction to R3 and Fam 7 – they’re more than aware that we’re working against them. There’s just nothing they can do to stop us, especially as we get hit with positive consequences of magnitude 60:
A person from a character’s backstory gets involved with a new Faction in the Sector. That Faction will commit Projects with Payout equal to the magnitude to further that character’s personal goals. Pick which character it entails.

With a coin flip, it’s Wheeler’s backstory, which is a perfect moment to bring into the story his military past and the mentioned meeting with his father. We’ll get there, once we’re done with the Cutters. We will, however, just cash this in as Influence, as I cannot be bothered, at this point in the campaign.

Moving on, let’s jump directly into the next part of our project against the Cutters, and with the same stats, we’ll collect 34/30 marks in two days, ending up with 4 net marks, no consequences, Cutters’ rating dropping to R2, and Familiarity to 6.
As we’re now facing only a tiny Faction, we’ll let Sal and the rest of the smaller Crews get back to their lives. This reduces our scored marks per day to 12, but is enough to gather 24/20 in two days, which ends up with no consequences, Cutters’ rating dropping to R1, and Familiarity to 5.

One more day, and the Faction is gone, with 12/10 marks scored, and me rolling a 10 on consequences:
A person from a character’s backstory invites the player Crew to a Think Tank pushing that character’s background plot forward, with Payout equal to magnitude. Pick which player it entails.

A coin toss decided it’s Tomorrow, a roll on the contacts decided it’s Chloe, so I suppose it’s high time to get clean about everything that has happened. In any case, we’re scoring 15 points of intel here.

And that’s it, the Cutters are officially removed from Denver. Whatever Wheeler and Tomorrow decide to do, they’re on their own.

The two generated events are a perfect reason to give the characters some time off after this 11-day spree of weeding out the cartel.


The Epilogue

And that’s it, that’s the end of the playtest. Everything that follows is just the narrative. Time to resolve some tension and relationships, set up the future, and let the characters go.

I am going to miss them.


August 14th, 2056

As usual in Seattle, it is raining when they take a cab from the airport. Sarah shudders, looking at the gray sky, made even uglier by the smog painting the horizon with dirty mist.

‘No wonder you hate this city,’ she mutters, resting her head on Adam’s shoulder.

‘The weather is definitely one of the reasons. It’s also a rotten hive of scum and villainy,’ he agrees. ‘Not that Denver is much better, but at least we get to see the sun.’

‘How was it like to grow up here?’

‘Wet.’

Sarah chuckles and changes the subject. It’s not like avoiding it nets them any fascinating conversations. ‘Nervous?’

‘I have no reason to be.’

‘That’s not an answer to the question.’

Adam turns away, looking at the cityscape drowning in acid rain. His jaw is set, and his neck muscles tight, even as he responds in a perfectly calm voice: ‘It’s been a long time. I’m not the same person anymore. I’ve done so many things that I hope he’ll never learn about.’

‘If he’s anything like you, he’ll understand.’

‘He should. We discussed it all in detail, before I went undercover. It’ll be fine.’

Sarah entwines her fingers with his, hoping to support Adam at least half as much as he did while she was dealing with her family drama. As the minutes pass, and the landscape changes into the different-shade gray of the UCAS military base, the tension in Adam’s body only grows, and Sarah finds herself struggling to find the words of comfort.

I don’t know if it’ll be fine. But it won’t be long until we learn.

They’re stopped several times, before they get to the residential part of the base. Their paperwork is in order, of course – down to the passes and invitations sent over through the CIA contact. Sarah still cannot shake the feeling of unease anytime somebody checks her SIN, even though it’s been almost a year since she has purged any trail of her criminal record. Each time, they’re being let through without any hassle, and soon, the automated taxi stops on a small parking lot, surrounded by trees and buildings.

‘We used to have a house here,’ says Adam quietly, looking around with a soft smile on his face. If not for the patrols, fences, armored cars, and people in military fatigues, it would look like any other suburb. ‘Well, a couple houses. We’ve moved a lot, from one base to another, and then some, as Dad raised between the ranks and was entitled to better living conditions. That’s where Chris and I used to play after school.’ He points to a small playground, tucked away between the buildings. ‘I’ve fallen from this swing so many times…’

‘Poor baby Adam,’ coos Sarah. ‘I hope to see all the photos and hear all the stories.’

Adam nods sharply and takes a deep breath. ‘Right. No point in standing around in this weather. This way.’

She barely has the time to react, when he grabs her hand and guides her up a winding path between the metal fences. After a short hike and one more checkpoint, they arrive at a red-brick three-story building, with a plaque confirming the address. There are no names on the display in the lobby, just a bunch of numbers on the intercom, probably for security reasons.

‘I guess there really wasn’t a point in keeping the house,’ says Adam suddenly, forcing Sarah to retrace his thought process in her head. It’s not that hard to follow, not with everything she knows about his family. She smiles and hugs him briefly. He’s been awfully quiet the whole trip, and while Sarah can understand his trepidation, she hopes at least one of them will be given some parental love and acceptance.

‘You’re back now.’

He nods, finally pressing the button on the intercom. They listen to the soft jingle for a couple of seconds, before the call connects, and a strong, male voice calls out: ‘Hello?’

‘Hi Dad.’

‘Adam…!’

I never knew one word can contain that much joy. I guess that means it will be fine, after all.

The door unlocks, and Adam’s father urges them to come in. Sarah watches her husband as they climb the stairs, but his face is neutral and composed, not a sliver of smile, just pure, unadulterated tension in his jaw.

Well, one of us is misreading the situation.

As they reach the second story, the apartment door on the far end of the corridor opens, and a gray-haired man looks out. The resemblance is uncanny, and Sarah suddenly feels as if she’s looking through time.

Hope he won’t get tired of my bullshit before we get there.

‘Adam.’ The man crosses the corridor, his steps quick and steady on the carpet. In casual trousers and a shirt, he looks just like Adam – only about thirty years older. He comes to a stop right in front of them and pulls his son into a tight embrace without a second of hesitation.

‘Hi Dad,’ repeats Adam, and this time there’s lightness in his voice that was missing this whole time. Lightness and a bit of embarrassment. ‘Good to see you.’

The man lets go of the hug and takes a step back, looking Adam up and down. ‘I’m so happy you’re alive,’ he says plainly after a pause. ‘Welcome home. And excuse my manners…’ The gray eyes turn to Sarah, and their joyous, open expression makes her respond with a wide smile. ‘Would you care to introduce me to your lovely companion?’

Adam laughs, and the tension in his shoulders my dissolves. ‘Dad, please meet Sarah – my wife.’ There’s still a poignant inflection on that word, and it makes Sarah giddy. One day, they’ll get used to it – not yet, though. ‘Sarah, my dad. Obviously. Do we really have to do it in the middle of the hall?’

‘I don’t mind,’ she notes lightly. ‘It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, sir.’

‘Call me Robert, please.’ His handshake is strong and warm, both reassuring and comforting – or maybe she’s reading far too deep into this, and it’s just how normal families work. She has no way of knowing. ‘Adam’s right, though. Come inside.’

The flat is comfortable and obviously taken care of. Wherever Adam got his spartan taste in interior design, it couldn’t have been at home. The wooden floors are decorated with tasteful carpets – if a bit too big for the space – walls are heavy with family photographs, and the living room sofa is covered in soft pillows. A commlink lying on the coffee table, obviously abandoned the moment they arrived, still displays an open newsfeed, and from the hidden speakers, quiet sounds of classical music are flowing through the air. A peculiar, faint, lemony scent flows through it as well, reminding Sarah of deep cleaning her parents’ house before the religious holidays.

Clean the windows for Jesus, she chuckles inwardly. Adam wasn’t the only one who got nervous.

A few minutes later, they’re already sitting in the living room, hot coffee on the table in front of them, and the basic pleasantries taken care of. Robert sits himself down in the armchair next to the sofa, still radiating happiness as he looks at his son. Adam, on the other hand, looks mostly overwhelmed.

‘So, Dad… How’s life?’ he asks finally, his eyes wandering from one photograph to another.

Adam’s father gets his face under control and replies in the same casual, noncommittal tone: ‘Decent. Keeping busy until everybody around here tires of me and tells me to finally retire. How about you?’

‘Oh, you know, same old, same old. Mostly working. Got married two weeks ago.’

‘I see…’ Robert nods a couple of times, his lips pursed in a thoughtful expression. He picks up the coffee mug and slowly breathes in the scent. ‘Not much, then?’

Adam chuckles and leans back on the sofa, letting the pillows embrace him in a soft hug. ‘Not much,’ he laughs. ‘It was about as awful as you said it will be.’

‘That’s not as nice thing to say about your marriage.’

Sarah chokes on her coffee as the the joke catches her completely unawares. She coughs into her hand and fails to fight back the grin spreading across her face. Robert looks at her innocently, but a shadow of a smirk in the corner of his mouth betrays him. ‘Yeah, especially in front of your wife,’ she adds once speaking is again an option.

Adam looks between them and shakes his head. ‘I knew it will end up like this.’

‘It’s only just starting. You’re staying for at least a couple of days, I hope?’

‘As long as you want, love,’ replies Sarah to Adam’s questioning glance. ‘What would be the point of this whole ordeal if you couldn’t take a holiday?’

‘Great. We’ll go fishing tomorrow. It was no fun without you.’ Robert takes a sip of coffee and relaxes in the chair. ‘Now, tell me everything.’


August 18th, 2056

‘As you can see, nothing blew up while you were gone. Quiet, peaceful. You should leave more often.’

‘I’ve missed you too, Sal.’

‘In your dreams, birdbrain,’ says Salazar derisively and sighs when Tomorrow responds with an obnoxious, flirty wink. ‘How was Seattle?’

She laughs at her friend’s bemused expression. ‘Good. Went on a fishing trip and played catch with my new dad. It was more fun than Dallas ever was. But I’m glad to be back.’ She takes a look at her old-flat-turned-laboratory. All signs of Chloe ever living there are gone, replaced with books, schematics, notes, and data chips carefully labelled and stored in cases on her desk. ‘I got so much work to do.’

‘I hope so. You’re a danger to us all when you’re bored.’

‘Go be dramatic elsewhere- no, wait.’ She reaches out with her hand, as Salazar is already getting up. ‘Sit your ass down, please. How’s the gang doing?’

The mage looks at her for a moment, his eyes narrowed and calculating, but he finally sits back on the bean bag. ‘I don’t even know. There’s not much of it left. We talked, but… Caw-Caw’s out. She decided to become a street doc and made a deal with Harmon, so I suppose now you have a healer mage in your clinic. Good for you.’ His voice is bitter, but Tomorrow can feel it’s not aimed at her. ‘Ahab likes the security gig and he’s spending all his free time doing research with Crowley. He was always the best mage of all of us; the escape from Chicago just cost him fucking everything.’

‘So that leaves the two of you.’

‘Yeah.’

Tomorrow waits for him to elaborate, but Salazar is just looking through the window. He doesn’t seem to be avoiding her gaze specifically, just… Not yet ready to speak. Patience, she tells herself, giving her friend the space.

‘Nick and I have talked a lot lately,’ he starts quietly. ‘Maybe running a gang is not what we want to be doing long-term. Every time I think about recruiting, it just reminds me of the people we’ve lost. Hellhounds aren’t a fucking corp, I can’t just replace them. Maybe, one day – but not yet. It’s been what, three months?’

‘So yeah… I don’t know what we’ll do yet,’ he continues after a brief pause, turning towards her. ‘We like it here. I don’t hate working with you and Wheeler. It’s a good plan you’ve made, at least until everything goes to hell. But until then… I’ll just find something interesting to do.’

‘I was hoping you can help me, actually.’

‘With the ley line?’ Salazar follows her gaze towards the detailed map of the northwestern Warrens, covered in detailed diagrams of the wards, spells, and calculations of the local background count. A thick magenta line cuts it on the diagonal, running under Best Western and the astral gate, then south-east, disappearing deep in the Warrens.

‘For a start… You see, I was thinking…’

‘Never a good sign.’

‘Shush, little brother. I was thinking you would like to get on that geomancy deal. The ley line is big enough for the two of us.’

‘You don’t need any help,’ says Salazar, hesitation clear in his voice. ‘I don’t know much about geomancy, but I think I know what is your plan for it. It’s going to be one powerful line of influence, right? Giving you a spellcasting link to anybody in the area?’ He waits for a confirmation and continues after Tomorrow nods. ‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. Why would you want to share it?’

‘Reasons,’ she answers simply. ‘You’re interested in listening to them all?’

‘Not really. Is it a gift, a bribe, a noose, or a trade?’

‘You don’t accept gifts, you’re already on my side, and I never act against my family.’

‘So, a trade.’ Salazar looks up at the map again. His brows furrow as he calculates the distances and compares them with the population density, considering his options. When he speaks up again, the levity is gone from his voice, replaced with careful, measured expectation. ‘What do you want, raven?’

‘Teach me.’

‘Teach you what? Ninety percent of the time I’m using your notes.’

‘Sal.’

‘What? Oh. Oooh.’ The blood mage turns away from the map and looks at Tomorrow with a peculiar expression. ‘Absolutely not.’

It is so hard to stop her eyes rolling in exasperation, she doesn’t even try. ‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s my dark, bloody bullshit, that’s why.’ Sal pulls out a pack of cigarettes, stares at it for a moment, then pushes it back into his pocket. ‘Also, Wheeler would kill me,’ he adds with a wince. ‘It’s dangerous and fucking addictive. Why do you even want it?’

‘Because I’ll never be a mage,’ she explains calmly. ‘I have limits and no matter how much time I spend on studies and experiments, I’ll always be just an adept with some tricks. You said it yourself. Background count takes away almost all of my spellcasting. Most of it is on a freaking lease from Raven, and I pay for it every time I use it. I’m tapping into the mana spill from the astral rift to power most of my summoning and binding, because I can barely do it otherwise. I’ll have to spend the next half a year on damn geomancy, because I can’t make this place safe without the ley line.’

Tomorrow sighs, then continues, as Salazar doesn’t seem about to interrupt her. ‘Everything I’ve achieved is an effect of hard work and literally thousands hours of prep. It worked so far, because I’ve been stacking the deck for myself for over a year. But there’s no chance it will always work. And if I’m ever caught with my pants down, I’m dead. You know it better than anybody else. If you wanted me dead, I couldn’t stop you. You wouldn’t live long afterwards, but that’s beside the point… I don’t want to die, Sal. And this game we’re playing now is at a level way too high to pretend I’ll always be several steps ahead of all my enemies.’

‘And who’s gonna bleed? Wheeler? You?’ scoffs Salazar, but his voice is surprisingly soft. He knows, just like she does, how this conversation will end.

Tomorrow’s fingers slide across the scar on her wrist; the long pale pink line running along the vein is barely visible, but they both know it’s there and won’t ever disappear. She breathes out and her form changes into a black-furred wolf. The sharp canines gleam in the lights of Tomorrow’s study, and the claws scrape the floor in a precise gesture. A second later, the animal form fades and Tomorrow retraces the scratched-out sigil with her fingers.

‘Whoever forces me to use it, that’s who,’ she says. ‘I don’t need an athame for that part.’

‘Are you sure? Didn’t Chloe say…?’ 

‘I told you to not mention it,’ she grumbles. ‘Just because my sister freaked out seeing me cry after committing a mass murder, doesn’t mean I need you to treat me like I’m some dainty flower. I’m the fucking Witch of the Warrens. Will you teach me or not?’

Salazar looks at her for a long while. She understands his hesitation – the secrets of blood magic keep Sal above the usual power level of a mage of his talent and training. Exchanging the secret for the access to the ley line is a fair deal… But even more importantly, Tomorrow has spent a year teaching him everything he wanted to learn from her. She has shared every shred of research.

Whether they say it aloud or not, he owes her. 

‘I’ll teach you what I know, but it’s honestly not that much,’ he admits finally. ‘Santiago has only taught me the basics before he got geeked. He needed soldiers, not students, and never bothered with any theory behind it. I don’t know how useful this will be for you.’

‘We’ll figure it out. And then, we’ll improve upon it.’

Suddenly, Salazar laughs, a mischievous glint in his eyes. ‘What else is new?’

‘I don’t care that much about raw power,’ she responds with a shrug. ‘I’ll never beat a real mage in that race, although yes, I’ll take it if that’s what I need to survive. But Sal, what we did with that tracking spell? What I saw there… It has such potential. Familial relations, blood bonds, heredity, medical applications… I want to study this. There is just so much to discover outside of this simple power boost.’

‘Especially if you connect it with geomancy.’

Tomorrow grins. ‘Now you get it.’

‘Obviously.’ Salazar puts his hands behind his head and stretches. ‘Fine, we’ll help one another. We’ll create an ultimate home ground, and nobody will ever stand a chance against us. Just how secret are we making this?’

‘Adam knows, if that’s what you’re asking. He’s not particularly thrilled, but it’s not going to cause any problems. Just… Expect yourself to do most of the spellcasting. I’ve promised to keep it light and mostly theoretical on my side. Other than that… I see no reason to advertise and show our cards to the public.’

‘You know blood magic will get outlawed sooner or later. Once people stop pretending it doesn’t exist.’

‘Sal.’ Tomorrow looks at him with a patient smile, waiting for him to catch up. ‘When it does, we’ll need to deal with it anyway. Whether it’s just you or both of us, doesn’t matter.’

It takes him a couple of seconds, but he catches up, and a crooked grin appears on his face. ‘It’s a family business after all.’

‘Always has been.’


August 21st, 2056

One can almost forget about everything that has happened to us.

Chloe puts down the plastic soda cup and continues her long-winded story about the latest camping trip they took with Fayette, enjoying the newfound freedom of travel. As she recounts the perfectly mundane and lighthearted events between the bites of a soyburger, gesticulating widely and laughing at the memory of her girlfriend’s shoe mishap, her audience finds herself with a smile and a heart full of pure joy.

I will never get bored of this.

‘Leave it to you to pick literally the worst forest trail,’ teases Tomorrow. ‘You’re completely lost without the Matrix.’

‘Well, there was no reception…’ Chloe finishes her soda with a loud slurp. ‘Imagine that: studying astronomy helps shit-all when trying to navigate by stars. I’ve never felt so betrayed by my education.’

‘Have you decided what you’re gonna do with uni?’

‘Going back. Aztech has sorted out my outdated visa, and they’ve been kind enough to give me back my scholarship, so I might as well become this astrophysicist I’ve always wanted to be. Hacking is fun, but it’s not…’ she pauses, looking for a word. ‘Unless I’m actually cutting through some ICE, it’s just all so basic. I need a challenge. I need science.’

‘That’s gonna be a lot of work to fit between your job and personal life.’

‘Honestly?’ With a sigh, Chloe stares at the cross-section of her burger. ‘The job’s boring. I have so much dead time there you wouldn’t believe. I thought it’ll be more exciting.’

‘Maybe your scale is off.’

‘Duh. You’d know.’

They eat in silence for a while, paying little attention to the crowds milling around them in the shopping mall’s restaurant quarter – just enough to stay safe. Tomorrow looks at her sister above her paper-wrapped burger, considering her options. Can she? Should she? Chloe has only just organized her life, but if she’s dissatisfied with it…

‘I could find a job for a freelance hacker if you’re that bored. Before the semester starts, I mean.’

Chloe chews slowly, her head turned to the side. ‘You-you? Or Adam’s folks?’

‘They are no longer in the picture.’

‘Huh.’ Chloe’s eyes follow the lines of the walls and the plexiglass ceiling, casually looking for cameras and microphones. ‘In a good way?’

‘Best possible. I’ll tell you all later, but the business is basically just Adam’s and mine. I mean it: if you need a challenge, come visit. Things are different now.’

‘Is that why Dad stopped bitching?’

‘Might be. Did he apologize?’

‘He did. We had a talk, a long one. I don’t know if it will change anything, but at least they’re making the effort. It’s their last chance anyway.’

Tomorrow nods. ‘They’ve so wasted all the previous ones.’

‘Well, we don’t need them. We can visit on Christmas. Between Fayette and Adam, both Mom and Dad will be out of their wits. It’ll be fun.’

‘I think Dad is actually fine with Adam now. It’s a whole thing. Again, not a story for this place. Just… He’s closer your current line of work than what Dad used to think.’

Chloe groans. ‘Of course he is. These kinds of things have honestly stopped surprising me. Should I even know about it?’

Tomorrow finishes off her food before responding. ‘You’re my sister. I don’t want to hide my life from you.’

‘No more than necessary.’ The words are pointed, but it’s obvious that Chloe isn’t holding it against her. After what they went through… It’s only been six months since they have reunited. There are many stories yet untold on both sides, and some of those stories will remain untold.

‘No more than necessary,’ she agrees. ‘Listen, Chloe… You know my life is messy and dangerous. It’s gonna be, one way or another. I don’t want to drag it onto your welcome mat. You and Fayette had enough for several lifetimes. I love you and I’ll always be there for you, but most of all, I want you safe and happy.’

‘Have you seen the state of the world…? Best I can do is self-satisfied and with a good life insurance.’

Tomorrow sighs and lets the topic go. After all, what is she supposed to do? Push her sister away to keep her safe? That one sure worked out perfectly when they were teens. ‘Guess it must be enough. Are you self-satisfied with the therapy?’

‘I haven’t caused any deaths lately, so it’s going pretty good,’ quips Chloe, then continues as her sister doesn’t pick up the joke: ‘No, it’s really fine. It’ll take a while, lots to unpack there, from home to Hawai’i. And then some. Did you know our compulsive need for productivity stems from a childhood of struggling to get any acceptance from our parents?’

‘You’re paying real money for this? I could tell you that over coffee… Keep it to yourself, though. I have a reputation to uphold.’

‘Yeah…’ mutters Chloe, her voice light and carefully unconcerned. ‘You may want to keep that reputation contained. At least for a while. The two of you are on more than one radar, and I doubt you want people looking too closely at your allegiances. Whatever they are.’

Oh.

Tomorrow can feel her stomach curl up at the thought of being on the radar of the Aztechnology intelligence, but she copies her sister’s casual body language and tone. It’s not like this is a surprise – she went way too deep with Aztech during the d’Venescu thing, and it’s only expected that they keep an eye on her and Adam. Still… ‘We had to sort out a couple of important things lately, but we can now lay low and watch the clouds pass above us,’ she confirms, relieved that she doesn’t have to lie. ‘Nothing big in front of us, just quiet research work and running the business. If everything gets chill, maybe even some actual family stuff. I was promised a honeymoon in Europe, once all the mess is behind us.’

‘Will it ever be?’

Most certainly not.

‘We’ll see.’


August 25, 2056

Tonight slides her fingers over the buzz-cut hair on the side of her head, her green eyes staring at Tomorrow, but hazy and unfocused. It has been at least a couple of minutes since her voice trailed off in the middle of the sentence, but Tomorrow has found that she doesn’t mind waiting. If it were urgent, they’d communicate by thought alone. It might be important – but if the spirit needs more time…

The changes are more and more visible, she realizes, watching her former ally spirit in silence. Not physically, of course – Tonight will always look like she does now, and Tomorrow won’t age much either, so unless something drastic happens, they’ll always look like sisters. But the differences in behavior, in the mode of thinking, in opinions… With each passing day, with each experience, Tonight becomes more and more her own person.

Good.

A moment later, the free spirit snaps back to reality and shakes her head. ‘Excuse me, I had to put some thoughts in order. Apparently, I do not know what I want to do with Foxtrot. I don’t particularly like having him around, but I can’t forbid him to use the Market either. Especially not on the grounds of annoying me with his astral form. He brings good money and isn’t wasting my time. I suppose the main problem is that I don’t like how he’s looking at me.’

‘Which is how?’

‘With interest.’

‘Shoe on the other foot?’ chuckles Tomorrow, remembering Tonight’s casual flirting with anybody who could potentially get affected by the view of her naked, astral body. ‘Just tell him you’re not interested, and if he doesn’t back off, I’m sure I can get Sal to send Foxtrot packing to whichever metaplane he came from.’

‘I am interested. Or maybe more… Curious.’

‘Then go for it… What is the problem?’ she asks, noticing Tonight’s expression growing even more pensieve. ‘Are you in need of dating advice?’

‘From you? Hard pass.’ The spirit tosses back her long green hair and corrects herself: ‘Soft pass. We’ll see how it goes.’

‘You’re an anima, twin. You can do whatever the hell you want and if what you want to do right now is sex with another free spirit, there’s literally no reason not to. Have fun, get back home before midnight. Or don’t. It’s your life, do with it what you wish. If things get awkward or dangerous, poof, you’re in the metaplane and he probably can’t follow you there. I mean, he doesn’t feel like an air spirit, so…’

Tonight leans back in the air, assuming a more relaxed position. As if it mattered to her. More and more metahuman each day. If only she started acknowledging gravity.

‘It’s weird, you know?’ she says after a while. ‘I used to think mostly about you. We were both so focused on your life that I still haven’t figured out anything in mine.’

‘I know. Sorry about that.’ Tomorrow winces. ‘It was rather selfish of me.’

‘Well, if you weren’t selfish, I wouldn’t exist at all, so I think we can count these six month a fair payment for my life. But now…’

‘If I can help you, I will.’

The spirit nods slowly. ‘I think it’ll come down to a series of trials… We don’t do errors, after all. Not anymore.’

‘You want to keep the market?’

‘I do. I’ve rebuilt it. Not under my name, but I did. And I’ve learned to like the people there, watching their constant struggles and intrigues. They amuse me.’

‘Ah. I see the superiority complex stayed unchanged. Made in my image.’

‘Well… Should I feel bad about it?’

‘I don’t.’ Tomorrow lets any pretenses drop. Tonight has been in her head enough times to warrant full honesty. ‘Just remember it’s there, next to the narcissism, and keep it in mind when making assessments about people and things. They are usually smarter than we give them credit for… Though not much. And as almost nobody can lie to you, not without masking their aura, just use it to your advantage, and things will be fine.’

‘Being like the others,’ she adds after a while, ‘is really not that hard. Folks are gullible and they’ll love to underestimate you, because of – everything, really. Let them, then skin them. Just keep some trustworthy people around so you don’t have to pretend all the time.’

‘I have you.’

‘For as long as I’m alive, twin, you got me.’


August 31, 2056

The wind is exquisite. It rushes past her as she folds the wings, falling sideways like she often saw real ravens to do. The scientists were still baffled by this behavior, trying to understand the point of such flight pattern…

Glad you’re having fun.

Raven’s voice in her head makes her laugh, and the loud cawing sound that escapes her makes her laugh even more. The Warrens stretch below her, and as she gets out from the tumble and stabilizes her flight, there’s nothing but dark, dilapidated buildings under the grey, stormy sky. But the calmness is just an illusion. There’s life in the buildings, there are people, there are monsters, there is pain, and struggle, and hope, and…

Opportunities, she explains. Unending, ever-changing opportunities, just waiting to be seized.

In the midst of chaos and despair.

You say it as if it were a bad thing.

She listens to Raven’s laughter, opening her beak in the best imitation of a smile, then finishes her rounds and lands on the roof of Best Western. She can feel Steven’s magic surrounding her with a protective shield, but even with that, those trips are not safe. Nothing is safe in the Warrens. She knows what lurks in the buildings, in the old sewers under them…

And yet, it’s home.

She turns back to her elven form, only fleetingly wondering which one feels more natural at this point. Stretching her arms, tired after an hour of flying, she looks at the horizon, where the setting sun’s last rays manage to piece the dense clouds’ cover. The air already smells of rain, and the ozone will soon follow, as the summer storm brings some respite to the scorched city. People must be running out of water by now.

You’ve made it your nest, agrees the voice in her head. There will be many who will try to take it away from you. You’re just a raven, after all. People aren’t afraid of ravens.

And that’s why we’re hanging out with the wolves.

The clouds gather right on time, exactly when they should – she did call them, after all. The power of the astral rift is right there under her feet, and the distant, quiet hum of the ley line echoes from below ground. She claimed them both. She needs to protect them. Protect this tiny piece of universe they have carved for themselves.

This is not where my story ends, is it?

Oh no, dear child. This is just the beginning.

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