Jak Koke: Stranger souls

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Jak Koke Stranger souls
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    Stranger souls
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Jak Koke

Stranger souls

Book 1 of the Dragon Heart Saga


The year is 2057.

Magic has returned to the earth after an absence of many thousands of years. What the Mayan calendar called the Fifth World has given way to the Sixth, a new cycle of magic, marked by the waking of the great dragon Ryumyo in the year 2011. The Sixth World is an age of magic and technology. An Awakened age.

The rising magic has caused the archaic races to re-emerge. Metahumanity. First came the elves, tall and slender with pointed ears and almond eyes. They were born to human parents just as were dwarfs shortly thereafter. Then later came the orks and the trolls, some born changed, like elves and dwarfs, but others goblinized-transformed from human form into their true nature as the rising magic activated their DNA. Manifesting as larger bodies, heavily muscled with tusked mouths and warty skin.

Even the most ancient and intelligent of beings, the great dragons, have come out of their long hiding. Only a few of these creatures are known to exist, and most of them have chosen a life of isolation and secrecy. But some, able to assume human form, have integrated themselves into the affairs of metahumanity. They have used their ancient intellect, their powerful magic, and their innate cunning to ascend to positions of power. One is known to own and run Saeder-Krupp-the largest megacorporation in the world. Another-Dunkelzahn-claims to seek the improvement of the metahuman condition and has just been elected to the presidency of the United Canadian and American States.

The Sixth World is a far cry from the mundane

environment of the Fifth. It is exotic and strange, a paradoxical blend of the scientific and the arcane. The advance of technology has reached a feverish pace. The distinction between man and machine is becoming blurred by the advent of direct neural interfacing. Cyberware. Machine and computer implants are commonplace, making metal of flesh, pulsing electrons into neurons at the speed of thought. People of the Sixth World are a new breed-stronger, smarter, faster. Less human.

The Matrix has grown like a phoenix out of the ashes of the old global computer network. A virtual world of computer-generated reality has emerged, a universe of electrons and CPU cycles controlled and manipulated by those with the fastest cyber decks, with the hottest new code.

It is an era where information is power, where data and money are one and the same. Multinational megacorporations have replaced superpower governments as the true forces on the planet. In a world where cities have grown into huge sprawls of concrete and steel, walled-off corporate enclaves and massive arcologies have superseded two-car garages, vegetable gardens, and white picket fences. The megacorps exploit masses of wageslaves for the profit of a lucky and ruthless few.

But in the shadows of the mammoth corporate arcologies, live the SINless. Those without System Identification Numbers are not recognized by the machinery of society, by the bureaucracy that has grown so massive and complex that nobody understands it completely. Among the SINless are the shadowrunners, traffickers in stolen data and hot information, mercenaries of the street-discreet, effective, and untraceable.

The Sixth World is full of surprises, not the least of which is the recent election of the great, gregarious dragon, Dunkelzahn, to the presidency of the United Canadian and American States. Never before has a great dragon been elected to run a country. Never before have so many been so polarized about the results. Many people are ecstatic, enthusiastic, and optimistic about Dunkelzahn's ability to bring hope and faith back into their lives. But just as many are envious and resentful, full of hatred toward the wyrm.

As the magic level continues its inexorable rise, Dunkelzahn has attracted a great many enemies with his high-profile campaign. Some think he has gained too much power. Some are afraid of what he might do next.

9 August 2057


The ancient amusement park tower stuck into the Texas sky like a rusty needle, its tip piercing the sliver of the low-hanging moon. A presence climbed the scarred metal ladder of the long-dead tower in silence and darkness, a droplet of black ink moving against gravity. A shadow, unnoticed in the night.

A hundred meters up, Ryan Mercury clipped his safety harness to a metal rung and took several deep breaths to center himself. Ryan was large for a human, just over two meters tall and weighing in at a dense 130 kilos, all of it well-conditioned muscle, magically enhanced and accelerated flesh. No cyber, no bio. Not so much as a datajack for this chummer.

Ryan's coppery red hair was tucked into the skin-tight black hood of his plycra nightsuit. He was deep undercover behind the Aztlan border, and if discovered would be tortured and killed. His olive skin was painted in monochromatic black and white to hide the shadows of his face-the recognizable shape of his sharp nose, the hewn angle of his jawbone, the glint of his silver-flecked blue eyes. He leaned slightly against his harness, testing its strength.

The heat of the night air baked around him, bringing a prickle of sweat to his brow. Trying to ignore it, he studied the scene down below through his night binoculars.

Far beneath him, down the hill from the tower he had climbed, work crews excavated the bottom of the lake. Underwater lights glowed below the crystal clear water, twenty meters down. Crews in wetsuits and submarines dug and cleared away the limestone, vacuuming out the silt as it was stirred up by the trenchers.

Where is it? he thought. Did they really find one?

Then Ryan saw it, a smooth black surface, unmarred and perfect. The submarines cleaned the river dirt and blasted rock from the obsidian glass as he watched. The rock seemed to absorb the light from the flood lamps, leaving nothing to reflect. And, as the crews continued, Ryan saw the rock take shape. Its edge was perfectly flat, cut like a gemstone, and obviously created by man or some other sentience, before being buried here long ago. This was no naturally occurring rock. And it was huge, at least ten meters on a side, and seemed to be diamond-shaped, though Ryan had no idea what it would look like once they'd finished the excavation.

Ryan's gut sank as he watched. I'd better tell Dunkelzahn, he thought. The dragon will want to know right away. Even if this is inauguration night.

Dunkelzahn had sent Ryan here on the suspicion that Aztechnology-the corporation that owned the Aztlan government-was searching for a Locus. A Locus, as far as Ryan understood it, was an ancient and extremely powerful magical lens that channeled arcane energies through manalines.

Ryan was Dunkelzahn's most trusted undercover operative. The dragon himself had orchestrated Ryan's instruction into the magic of body motion and the senses, teaching him the powers of a physical adept. Dunkelzahn had shown Ryan the Silent Way-the path of stealth and disguise. Of crucial action behind the scenes.

Ryan's current mission was explicit, not subject to interpretation. "If you discover that Darke has found a Locus," Dunkelzahn had said, "you must contact me immediately. Understand, Ryanthusar? Immediately."

Ryan wasn't absolutely certain that this black stone was really a Locus, but it matched the description Dunkelzahn had given him. Close enough to give him the chills when he looked at it. And Ryan never questioned Dunkelzahn's instructions. Never.

Which means I make contact now, he thought. Regardless of the fact that it puts me at great risk.

Ryan put his binoculars back into his belt case, then he tipped his wrist toward him and punched up the private LTG number for Black Angel, also known as Carla BrooksDunkelzahn's head of security. She would know how to connect him with Dunkelzahn.

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