• Published 29th Aug 2013
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A World Without Shadows - MiriOhki

Luna owes an ancient mentor a debt and, despite his recent death, plans to repay it. Even if it means taking on a strange student, and breaking one of the wisest rules of the streets: Never cut a deal with a dragon...

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Prologue: Deal With A Dragon

It had been a very long time since Princess Luna of Equestria had sent her spirit past the bonds of her body. Not since the... Incident. She didn't like to think about the origins of Nightmare Moon, mostly because she believed that the fault rested solely upon her. It was for that reason, that she refused to roam the planes beyond the corporeal until this night.

But duty and an ancient debt countered her reluctance. She had felt a familiar ripple across the Astral plane, then suddenly cease several days ago, and after arranging things with Celestia, began a journey across the plane.

A voice like a tectonic shift sent a shiver through her mind and pulled her out of her musing. "I assume you are the one I seek."

Luna turned toward the source of the voice. A wyrm. Ancient and powerful. The average dragon in Equestria was a lazy, aggressive firebreathing hoarder. The wyrm before her was none of the above. His eyes blazed with immense intelligence and a dangerous craftiness, the gaze of a chessmaster planning his first twenty moves before his opponent even finished his first. Luna thought she could hold the dragon to a standoff if it came down to it, but she definitely did not relish the idea, or just what a confrontation would cost. "I have met one of your people before."

"That is why you and I are here," the wyrm replied. "We have both lost a mutual... associate," it explained.

Luna felt a catch in her heart. The only other great dragon Luna ever met was also, in some respects, a mentor and even a friend, after a fashion. "I see," she replied hesitantly.

The wyrm looked at her, then said, "I owe him a debt, and with his death, I could not find a way to unburden myself of it, until recently."

Luna looked at the dragon curiously.

"I know that you also owe him a debt. This opportunity could alleviate them both. That it could help others is merely collateral benefits, and good business sense," the dragon explained, a hint of mocking self-deprecation in his tone at the last part.

Luna nodded, confused but unwilling to interrupt, believing it was a reasonable thing to let the ancient being talk. Talk was good and safe in this situation. And she did find herself intrigued by the opportunity the wyrm hinted at.

"He had a fascination for the younger races, particularly the children thereof. And therein lies the opportunity. He would occasionally observe people, both insignificant and notable, and his attention was on one person, some vapid musician, if you could call her screeching music. At one point, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A group of... outside consultants were performing an objective raid upon a facility she was touring, and she was almost killed," the dragon explained.

"It was the almost that brings us here. One of the... consultants, streetsmart but somewhat naive, rescued the singer from the crossfire, despite jeopardizing her mission. This drew our associate's attention," the being contined, starting to look a bit hesitant, as if forced to admit a mildly annoying secret. "I have no great love for the younger races, but once in a while, they can show a bit of true nobility."

Luna looked at the wyrm. "So what would you have me do?" she asked.

"To be blunt, her employment is likely to get her killed. It would be a waste of good material, and forgive the sentimentality, a slap in the face of a noble act, fueled by nothing more than greed. I would suggest extracting her and taking her in. Perhaps her skills could be of use to you," the wyrm explained.

Luna tried not to show her distaste at the callousness, and considered the options. It would satisfy her debt as well as her sense of justice...

A wise ork once told Tina, "A good run requires about thirty hours of planning, requires about three hours of preparation, and requires about thirty seconds to well and truly shag the shin tzu." Tina thought Carl massively overestimated things.

In all honesty, the run had gone south three weeks ago. The Johnson who hired their little band told them that the Renraku facility they were investigating was just a dumping ground for unprofitable technologies. Ones that would be useful, but either impractical or incomplete. It wasn't until Jackie finished the data dump that they realized that the Johnson had been lying out his hoop.

Unfortunately, Ace was too dazzled by the amount of zeros next to the nuyen symbol to see that they were being played. Which led to the events of now. It was grimly fitting that Ace paid for his mistake first: a 11mm Armor-Piercing Depleting Sabot (APDS) round punched a hole in the troll's skull, right between his horns.

Jackie was the next to get her ticket punched. She was trying to get a warning signal out to the rest of the team, and got her throat cut by a Renraku Security thug while trying to recover from Dump Shock.

Greaser, a rigger and a fair shot with the Super Warhawk he carried under his jacket, was supposed to be their getaway driver. The front sight on the oversized revolver the dwarf packed got snagged on the inside of his jacket, while the corp-cop already had his own SMG in the dwarf's face. A face that was now disintegrated and spread all over his pride and joy, a customized 2043 HummerX.

Tina had lucked out. She was supposed to be where what was left of her getaway driver was slouched. A need for a bathroom break and a Stuffer Shack raid to curb her bioware-boosted munchies kept her from getting geeked along with the rest of the team.

The yell of "AB, run!" followed by the muffled rattle of silenced automatic fire warned Tina of the total failure of the mission. A wiser, more cynical runner would have just backed into the Shack, playing it off as a civvie wanting to get out of the crossfire. Maybe even put in a call to Knight Errant or Lone Star like a good little wageslave, and let the Cop Company take care of them. A rookie or an idiot would have probably just have turned the tap on the bullet hose. Likely getting themselves killed too.

Tina made a split second decision in panic, and fled. The Renraku thugs decided it meant she was involved, and pursued.

"We really pissed off the wrong people," she muttered to herself before a small flash blinked in the corner of her eye, a signal from the tactical communication system built into her right forearm and sent to her eyes via a retinal shunt. With the slightest thought a channel opened to the only other survivor of the team, as a synthesized voice transmitted to the inner ear implant.

"Argent Blade," the voice spoke without inflection, masking the stress the speaker was under. "Renraku's got us by the balls. Everyone else is dead. Get the hell out of here. If I survive, I'll cont- Signal Terminated." And with Gordy's death, Tina was alone again.

She fled down alleys and up back streets. She knew of a flophouse she could hide out in, maybe get out of the city. All she had to do was lay low and-

The roar of a shotgun was nearly deafening, even with the auditory cutouts. But the pain in her ears was insignificant into the inferno in her stomach. Her vision was a blur of white and digital green. Get up, she screamed to herself. Run!

Unfortunately, everything below her colon was not responding, due to the simple fact that said parts were no longer attached to her. A weapon capable of tearing a basketball sized hole in a troll was more than enough to tear a teenaged elf in half.

She was rolled over, but didn't see the massive gun barrel shoved in her face. She even stopped feeling the pain. All she could see was the fearful but beautiful azure eyes before her. A smile crossed her face as she gazed back into them, and the last thought that crossed the brain of Tina McAndrews was how beautiful those eyes were.

Just before one final roar turned that brain into a smear across the cracked pavement.

Is this heaven? Hell? Newark? Where am I? Who am I?

Images drifted through velvet blackness. Singing in front of a Christmas tree. Curling up under a spread wing. Staring at a pair of shoulders ending in bandaged stumps. Arguing with a horned face. Fleeing from a corporate orphanage. Drifting through a haze with a huge phantasmic figure. Watching an ork in a labcoat soldering something inside her right leg. Staring across a barren moonscape. A giant hand closed around her own left hand, guiding the barrel of a Predator II while muttering advice. A pair of purple eyes looking back, offering advice.

And then a pair of voices.

"...can't hold onto her...

"... too damaged..."

"... Improvise then. Not like we could do wor..."

Then nothing.

The blackness was still there, but it was almost comforting. She felt bandages over her eyes, and her whole body felt like a lead weight, but the only pain was in her forehead. Concentrating for a moment, she sent a diagnostic signal to her TacComp.

It was then, when she started to realize something was not right. Usually she saw most of the world overlaid in small digital Latin letters, describing tactical situations, medical and cybernetic diagnostics, and various program interfaces.

Now the darkness was pierced by flowing script in a language she knew but did not recognize. More concerning was what the script was telling her.

Almost all of the cybernetic augmentations she had received from the day she lost her arms in a car wreck, to the upgraded combat assistance augments she had received a year ago, were either altered, damaged, or flat out missing. In fact, the only things that seemed intact were the razor-sharp combat spurs concealed in her forearms. And even they seemed displaced.

The pain in her head was increasing the longer she looked at the diagnostic nightmare sent to her eyes, and with a slight whimper, she banished the display. To her shock, the her vision went completely black again, not even showing peripheral data. But even stranger, the headache started to fade sharply as soon as it did.

"You need to rest, dear," a pleasant voice said. "No magic until the doctor has cleared you.

She flinched at the word magic. She couldn't have said that. The docs told her she could never-

"Leave us please," a familiar voice spoke.

An unfamiliar sound echoed through the room, receding as presumably the nurse left, making her wonder what kind of shoes she was wearing.

"How are you feeling, Argent Blade?" The voice asked, causing another start to ripple through her. How could the voice know her street name unless she was in deeper drek than she realized.

"Why am I still alive?" she asked. "There's no way you corporate bastards would have kept me alive unless you wanted something out of me."

The voice paused, then replied, "I am not with this 'Renraku'. And you are alive because you deserve to be. And because you fascinate me."

If that wasn't creepy enough, Argent Blade thought to herself. "Fascinate you, huh? Who are you?"

There was a pause, before a voice said, "Call me Luna."

"Luna huh..." Argent said, her voice dropping as flashes went through her head. "What the hell?"

Luna's voice spoke as something pressed against Argent's hand. It was only then that she noticed that something was very wrong. She couldn't feel her fingers, but she could feel the pressure against her hand. Yet the diagnostics said the arm was there and active. Only Luna's tone managed to keep her from panicking.

"You were... almost killed," Luna replied. "I did everything in my power to save you, but to do so, I had to... make some changes."

"New cyberarms?" Argent said, calming a bit. Sure, that would make sense. The Renraku jerks probably damaged her old ones, so Luna got some chopshop to replace them and not all the bugs have been worked out. She remembered it taking almost six months before her original arms were working at 100 percent.

Luna didn't respond for a moment. "Not... quite."

"Wait. Something's not right. My legs feel off too. What is-" Argent froze as the barrier concealing her memories from her started to unravel, and her body felt a deep chill. "I was shot..." she gasped, shaking.

"Yes, my dear," Luna spoke as she moved closer. "If I had acted a second later, you would have been dead. Your body was destroyed. I had to create a new one for you."

Argent's mind filled with the horrors of rumors some people had said, of some of the nastier Megacorps turning people into cybernetic zombies or worse. "I'm... some robot monster!?" she whimpered out in utter terror.

"No, my dear," Luna replied calmingly. "You're... like me now. You're still a po.. person. I promise. I want you to take a deep breath while I remove the bandages. And close your eyes for a moment, the light may be a bit bright."

Afraid, Argent closed her eyes, the terror still flooding her veins, but clinging to the promise that she was not turning into a monster.

"Alright, I want you to open your eyes slowly," Luna said.

Argent shivered, terrified, before mustering up the courage to open her eyes.

Wonder clashed with terror and utter bewilderment as she looked at the face before her. The Awakening had brought about many changes to the Sixth World. But nothing in her wildest imagination prepared her for her first look at Luna. "I... what are you-" Argent froze as she saw the mirror out of the corner of her eyes and whipped her head toward it. "What am I?"

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