Azriel (Mantotohpa)

A fallen Seraphim


I don’t remember many details about my childhood. Then again, those memories tend to slip away for everyone as the years pass. I remember living in the compound for CATCo where my parents worked. My life was comfortable and we wanted for nothing. All our needs were met and we lived a happy life. But no matter how many vids or sims there were or how many friends I had, the best times were always with my grandfather.

He always called me his Young Cub, I would spend hours, days with him as he told the stories of our people. Grandfather told me of our life before the Sixth World. He would tell me the stories of our ancestors, passed down from generation to generation in our oral tradition. He told me of the Legend of the White Buffalo, and how the one named “Miracle” born in 1994 was a powerful omen that foretold of great change coming to the people. Grandfather said how he was just a young man when these things began happening. Children born to look like creatures of lore, more and more people seeing the spirits of the world, and then he told me of the great sky spirit that arose from a land far in the east and how with him the world was forever changed. The magic of our people came back, and with it we regained our place in the world.

In many ways I was closer to my grandfather than my own parents. He would teach me of the our ancient ways of survival in the natural world. He always believed that depending on the new and faster technologies that were coming out would take us away from ourselves and sever our bonds with the Great Spirit, and I soaked in every lesson I could.

For a long time I did not understand what I was seeing. Grandfather would take me into the lodge with the other elders for ceremonial dances and rituals, and I would see shades of things dancing with them. As I got older, more and more I would see these things; shapes of men and beasts and amorphous things that nobody noticed, but they noticed me. I spoke to my grandfather about this and his eyes welled up with great joy.

“You are a spirit seer, young one,” he said. “The great spirits of the world are there for you. Learn what you can from them for many will look to guide you. But be wary, for there are those who would seek to lead you astray.”

It was when I was only eight that I was visited by the first one. In my room late one night, I was awakened to see a great bear standing at the foot of my bed.

“Fear not,” he said, “for I am just the first. Allow your heart to remain open and we shall teach you the things you will need to survive in years to come.”

Then he vanished. I told grandfather of this encounter and he bade me to heed what they say, that the spirits of bear will impart great lessons on to me and that I was blessed to have them. Over the course of time, I learned a great many things. Brother Black Bear taught me how to find food in the wilderness and how to climb the sheerest of trees. Mother White Bear taught me her tricks of stealth while hunting and swimming and showed me the importance of protecting those who stand with you and under your care. Father Brown Bear showed me how to be strong and fight with claw and fist when all other technologies fail. Finally came Grandfather Grizzly. He imparted to me the wisdom of healing, of mending the body faster than normal and gave me the gift to shed off pain. “With these gifts you will serve those you care for better,” he said. “But at a price. For those who would seek to cause you and those under your protection harm, they will face the rage of the bear that boils inside you. But fear not, for I shall always be there to watch and guide you as friend and mentor. My name is Askuwheteau.”

After I told this to grandfather, he said that it was time for me to go before the council of elders. While there, they bade me to share my story with them. Once I had, they told me that I had become Awakened and that my new life was set to begin, and with it a new name was bestowed upon me. Mantotohpa, “Four Bears.”

It was not long after this that I was recruited into the company to become a member of the Seraphim. I was only 10 but mother and father were very proud, but when I said good-bye to my grandfather, there was a note of sadness in his eyes.

“Remember my lessons well and never forget where you come from, Young Cub. You are an old soul, so trust in your heart. Always remember that those you love will always prove to be your greatest strength and weakness. Care for them well.”

I didn’t know that was the last I would ever see him. He died peacefully not long after I left. My life felt a bit more hollow at his loss, but Askuwheteau stood by my side and kept me whole. From there I threw myself into my training.

Over the years, my team had become my new family. In many ways we were closer than family. The five of us were all but inseparable, and our runs for the company had become our life. Micheal was our leader, a dedicated and strong street samurai. Gabriel, our hacker and medic had a kind heart and open mind. Perhaps to open for a technomancer, which got her into her fair amount of trouble. Uriel was our demolitions expert, though he insisted that we call him Crowley. But of all of them, I was closest with Raziel. Or bond was greater than that of family or friends. Her spirit cat Bask and Askuwheteau formed a sort of bond immediately, similar to how she and I did. I remembered this demure elf girl from back in the compound, which is probably what helped. I was never very good at making friends, and she lacked the combat skills that were so often called for on our runs, so we made a perfect compliment to one another. M&M the started to call us. Maki and Manto. She was the sneak and I the muscle to keep her safe. That was how things usually played out on most runs where we had to separate to achieve multiple objectives, and that was just fine with us.

That was how it was on that one night. We had broken into Ares Corp. that night. Metatron had said our mission was a simple smash and grab. Get in, get the files on the new experimental tech that they were developing, and get out. Getting in was the easy part, and that was all of it. Not only were the files not there, but in their place was probably three full squads of trained security waiting for us.

The memories of that night are a flurry of images. I remember hearing the order to scatter and Raziel and I making a mad dash down a hallway for our lives. When we got separated I don’t know, but I do know that I remember finding myself alone with several guards after me. The bullet that ripped through my shoulder barely registered in my mind. All I do remember was Askuwheteau telling me that it was time to learn to fly.

The glass shattered in slow motion as I dove through that window to the outside. It was a long way down from up that high, but the building across the way was apparently just close enough. Crashing onto that fire escape was not the ideal landing, but it offered me the chance to get to the roof and away from there the best way I knew how. Brother Black Bear had taught me to climb and how to use the trees and rocks as separate avenues of movement, and that’s exactly what I did.

I don’t know how far I ran or for how long. All I know is that when I reached the brothel, Lilly was kind enough to hide me for a short time. The basement wasn’t the prettiest place, but it had a mattress. Exhaustion swept over me and all went black. When I awoke, my shoulder had been patched, my broken arm splinted and my dislocated knee reset. The trek back to base was long and painful, but once there, I found it swarming with corporate security.

In the span of one night, everything I had known came to a crashing end. I had heard that the Seraphim had staged a coup and a hostile takeover of CATCo had happened. I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t find my team and I didn’t know if any of them were even alive. So with just the equipment I had, I left.

Over the next few years I traveled to different cities, finding work where I could. A run here or there, private bodyguard work, selling my skills where I could and never staying in one place long enough to allow those hunting me to catch up. Every now and then I would hear on the news about a renegade Seraphim who had been caught or killed and couldn’t help but wonder how my former team was faring. Even Askuwheteau was missing them, we spoke often and he always wondered and worried most about Raziel and Bask, just as I did.

Eventually I made my way to Quebec, finding myself in CATCo’s backyard of Montreal. I had plenty of contacts there still from my days in training before being stationed in Seattle. One of them turned me on to a young lawyer who didn’t believe the media stories of the Seraphim betraying CATCo. It was a gamble, but it was the best chance I had of clearing up my name and the names of my team.

I met with Tony several times and each time neither Askuwheteau nor myself got the sense of any ill intent. Over time we became very close. Eventually he offered me a permanent place to stay with him. It was the first time in nearly three years that I had a place to live that wasn’t glorified squalor. For three years we continued our work, and we became very close. It was almost as if I had found the sense of love and family that had been taken away from me so abruptly. I still went on the odd run to make some extra creds and keep my skills sharp and kept my ear to the ground with my contacts for any bit of information that could help us, but with Tony I wanted for nothing.

One night, I got a late call from one of my contacts. Skip was a hacker who regularly delved into places he shouldn’t in search of information he shouldn’t have. He told me that he came across what he thought was an old Seraphim code and that he thought I should see it. It took some time for me to remember the decoding sequence, but when I finally got it the message was from our old Metatron. It read that he had found something to clear our names gave contact information. Tony implored me not to, and even Askuwheteau said it wasn’t the best idea, but I still had to try.

Metatron told me of some files that would clear our names held inside CATCo headquarters. This was my chance. I called in every one of my contacts for help. Eventually one of them pointed me in the direction of a man named Syn. I met with him in a dive bar and after much haggling, and enough bottles of a heavy ale that would kill a normal man, we made a plan to get in and get what I needed.

The night of the run, I had reservations about my comrades ability after meeting up with him and seeing an empty bottle of whiskey in his hand, however it was too late to turn back. Getting in was easy enough. The night shift guard was still a friend and was more than willing to help. The lab where our objective was supposed to be waiting held a different kind of truth. The silhouette of a human shape beneath the sheet on the table was an odd enough sight. But peeling it back, I very nearly wretched in the corner. Gabriel was laid out of the table and split open like a lab rat. The look of horror frozen on her face was almost too much to bare. I knew that the corporations were looking to try and figure out how Technomancers work, but I had never imagined this. Syn said it looked as if they were experimenting on her, but even he had difficulty hiding his disgust. I closed her eyes and said a prayer my grandfather had taught me over her body, and then our search continued.

I don’t know which was worse, seeing my friend splayed out on the table for some sick scientists perversion or not finding the documents that Metatron said were there. I didn’t have time to consider though because it wasn’t long before squads of corporate security were storming towards us. It was Ares Corp. all over again. Despite the amount of booze my friend had imbibed, he handled himself with a grace and deadly accuracy of a true professional. It was a running firefight all the way to the lobby where I found my contact laid on the floor with his throat gaping open.

I don’t know how we slipped them, but Syn made his way to his safe house and I to mine. However every one I went to was reminiscent of the night after Ares again. Each contact I had had either been arrested or killed. A horrifying thought flashed through my mind and I raced back home as quickly as I could.

The hole in Tony’s chest wasn’t immediately apparent, but even before I saw it I knew. I just sat there next to the body of my friend and partner, numb to the world. I don’t know how long I was there, nor did I hear them as they came in, but once I saw the two men, all I could think of was all the friends I had lost tonight and then all went black.

Syn got there just as I was exiting the building. Apparently my visage was disturbing enough to stop him dead in his tracks. That’s when the fire really took hold. The windows of my former home above burst outwards as flames started licking their way up the buildings side; an old trick Crowley had taught me once. Twice now I had seen my life go up in smoke. We had little choice but to leave the city, and the only place I could think to go where I had any contacts left was back to Seattle.

The trip back was long and hard. Many times we had to move through wilderness, but the echos of the teachings from my grandfather and Askuwheteau rang in my ears and I managed to feed and shelter us as much as I could. The strange thing was seeing Syn try to drink fresh water and choke on it. Twice he accused me of trying to poison him. The fellow was becoming more and more curious by the day, but his medical skills were just as good as Gabriel’s, so I returned the favor by managing to find some fermented apples which he sucked down like a man possessed. Eventually we arrived back in Seattle and I began to try and reconnect with old friends. Unfortunately most had either died or moved on. Only Lilly remained. We had been apart for so long that I thought we would be little more than acquaintances; but she welcomed be back with open arms and the kind of warmth and love that left your head ringing in more ways than one. She was always the best, and I was always one of her favorites. Other than my other team members, she was the one I had cared and worried for the most, but I was glad to see that she had flourished in my absence. Over many a drink, slap, and kiss we finally came to the crux of things and she pointed me in the direction of a very familiar sounding fellow.

It wasn’t long before Crowley came calling to Lilly’s establishment. He looked as if he had seen better days, but nonetheless it was great to see him alive and well. If I was happy to see him, I was elated to hear that he had found Raziel again. She had started a new Runner group called Gray Sky Company and he would bring us to them.

Now I live with this new group of people in a small flat, but its like home again… after a fashion.

Jackie “Hammer” seems competent enough in combat and explosives, even if she does seem to be somewhat unbalanced. Nonetheless, if since Crowley has become a sort of sponge (Seraphim take care of their own after all,) its nice to have someone who can fill those shoes, even if she does have the energy of a gerbil on crack. At least there will never be a dull moment with her. Just make sure gets her coffee….

Scot is like able enough, what little I’ve spoken to him. He is very quiet but a kind soul with a knack for talking to devices the way Gabriel did. He doesn’t say much but he seems to have a bit of a dry wit, and Raziel speaks highly of him.

The fellow Balthazar is a tough one with a bit of a hero complex. A strong warrior with a great sense of honor, but I fear it may get him killed one day. Despite this, I feel there is a mutual respect and even a kind of friendly competition between us. He would have fit in well with the Seraphim; especially with Michael.

The one called Judas I cannot be sure of yet. He spends an inordinate amount of time away from the group when not on a run which makes him difficult to trust. There is a definite sense of vanity and arrogance that I get from him, but he is a good shot, and his drones could prove useful. Maybe its just his adopted name and the story behind it, but I can’t bring myself to fully trust him yet.

Syn is a friend whom I have come to trust. He watched my back and I his. We’ve gained and lost everything together, and survived it all in a very short time. Plus having an extremely high functioning alcoholic with you can have some benefits. I do think, however, that if he ever stops drinking, the collective hangover would probably kill him.

And then there’s Raziel. I cannot describe how good it feels to be back with her again. Though she still tends to sub vocalize her thoughts still, its nice to see that some things haven’t changed. We’ve fallen back into our old habits and I intend to keep her safe until we can get our lives back. This is the fourth life I have started, and maybe this will be the lucky one. After all, with a name that translates to Four Bears, maybe each of those bears needs his own life.

Azriel (Mantotohpa)

GDL Shadowrun DanielHoffman