No Rose Without a Thorn

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No Rose Without a Thorn
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From the Journal of Magnus Lasker, dated March 2079

In which, I find my running legs again.

I should be thankful that my body is the only thing that is taking time to recover. My lead on Ellie paid off. Not only did she agree to do my legwork for jobs, but she connected me with an shadow organization she has worked with before. From what I can see, it's fertile ground.

In my inaugural run, I was paired with a charming woman who went by "Ashe". Apparently the run was intended to fly under the radar, as it was just we two. The Johnson was a rather elusive gnome who set up a convoluted meet in Everett. Surprisingly, the job parameters turned out quite straightforward: fly halfway across the globe, infiltrate a 13th century castle, steal a mysterious artifact, and then turn around and do the whole thing in reverse. As "sink or swim" scenarios go, I suppose I picked well.

Upon arriving at a remote shack in Poland, we were met with a gruff local who seemed as much a part of the wilderness as the forest. He was well-acquainted with the area, and connected us with the infiltration suits the Johnson had sent ahead. I'll admit, while I can't fault the craftsmanship, I think I'll stick with a well-tailored dinner jacket. Ashe, on the other hand, seemed to take to hers quite naturally. During our initial recon of the medieval fortress, she put it to good use evading drone patrols.

The occupying force at the castle seemed to have been there a while. Their encampment was well-supplied, and there were enough security devices to make most thieves think twice. Luckily, we were not most thieves. Taking down the motion sensors outside the camp was simple enough, and Ashe scaled the outer fortress wall to avoid detection. The cameras proved no trouble for the sprite-augmented winter stealth suit she had on, and she was inside without so much as a whisper. Inside was a bit, well, medieval, in both the ambience and security. We had a near miss with a pressure plate, and entrance to the main hall was via a rickety (and likely boobytrapped) bridge. I should note, in our original research, we made contact with another runner team that had attempted to hit the place six years back. In the main hall, we found the remains of most of them. Apparently only their rigger had made it out alive, and only then because he was never inside to begin with.

The target itself was held in the depths of the castle, in a dank, unlit room. The artifact, an arcane-touched rose with a dark past, was surprisingly unguarded. When Ashe lifted it from beneath its glass case, we (and the nearby guards) discovered why. The rose must have had a deep connection to the spirit of the castle's original owner, as the ghost of the mad king himself suddenly arose and possessed his decaying skeleton still seated upon his throne. Luckily for this pair of thieves, the king, in his mad rage, seemed more intent on driving out the obvious invaders than finding the lone operative who had awakened him. As he charged out the gates of his crumbling fortress, leaving bodies in his wake, Ashe picked quietly behind him.

On the battlements, the scene was a bit less quiet. A security patrol must have spotted her and began ascending up the elevator build onto the side of the castle walls, carrying a contingent of armed guards. Luckily, I managed to redirect the elevator back down the wall, removing three of them from the equation. The remainder, a troll of furious dedication, tore off the roof of the car and climbed back up to the top. Unfortunately for him, his cyberlegs made him a matrix marionette, and I let him hop himself right back off the side of the wall. Ashe made the climb down without trouble, but was spotted by a snowmobile patrol. After I failed a bit-too-ambitious hacking attempt, I fled from the host, leaving the woman to her own devices. Perhaps my long stay in stasis has made me jittery, but she took care of the pursuers with a single shot from her sprite-laden rifle, disabling the vehicle permanently.

With the camp in disarray, the rest of our visit to the snows of western Poland was uneventful. The delivery was in Berlin, and I must add: it was good to be back. I have not seen my birth home in years, and its liveliness still grips me. Apparently the Johnson was affiliated with the Romani, and I have heard I made something of an impression. I find this acceptable enough, and the payment...well, it is good to finally feel the flow of resources beneath my fingers again.

I'm back in the game.


Ashe walked through the door of her apartment, laden with bags of gear brought back from a run gone well. As the door closed behind her, she dropped the bags and made her way to her kitchen. Finally, a change for a good drink! She sure needed it after that run. Ashe couldn't help but chuckle a little bit as she remembered the meet while mixing her margarita. She was glad no other runners were around to see them sit down and try to meet with the wrong Johnson, but that gnome woman had played the role of a child well. Still, the job she offered was interesting enough, assault an old castle in Poland to retrieve an artifact.

Ashe finished stirring her margarita, then decided to grab a wok and some soy sauce and stir fry a big bowl of noodles. That trans-Atlantic flight made her hungry. She checked the time, too late to call Cobra, she'd just be cooking for herself tonight. As the air filled with the aroma of noodles, Ashe remembered the shack they used as an base of operations. The caretaker was friendly enough, clearly experienced with the area, and made surprisingly good soup. He also presented the two with the equipment that Johnson had promised: Ares Polar Stealth Suits, it had been a while since Ashe had used one. Ashe frowned and tried not to think about that part of her past right now. What followed was standard enough fare for a stealth op: drone patrols, armed guards, perimeter security, hostile terrain, all things Ashe was prepared to handle. What was not standard fare for a stealth op was what she encountered inside.

As Ashe's stir fry finished she dumped the contents of the wok into a bowl, fetched a pair of chopsticks, and took her noodles and margarita to her couch. She was definitely about to need that drink. Scaling the wall and entering the castle went smoothly, with assistance from her matrix support, and she found the rose quickly in dark, underground chamber. When she touched it, though... she felt the thorns dig into her hands and fill her mind with visions: battle, carnage, wars fought by the mad baron who built the place. It passed in a moment, and Ashe was able to slip the rose in the container Johnson provided. And when she did, there was a terrible sound from upstairs. Ashe cautiously approached the source, to be greeted by the severed head of a guard rolling across a doorway. The body of the mad baron had sprung to life, possessed by a spirit of some kind, and had set upon the guard. Ashe watched from a position of concealment as Baron Hornik quickly dispatched a squad of guards with a long sword, and rampaged outside to find more. Cautiously, Ashe followed him. He was taking the only exit she was aware of, and with luck, he'd cover her escape.

Ashe finished noodles, and set the bowl aside. Her luck mostly held. Baron Hornik occupied most of the security forces' attention, and her matrix support dealt with the lone team sent to deal with her. Ashe smiled as she finished her margarita. She'd only had to fire a single shot on her escape, to disable a snowmobile team that had tried to intercept her. One shot sent the vehicle tumbling and spilled the crew. She had disappeared into the treeline before they recovered and regained their firing positions. Delivery in Berlin went smoothly, even if Johnson chose an odd place to meet, and Ashe was swiftly on a flight back home.