She was gone.

The darkness and ancient books his only witnesses, he softly vowed, 'I will.'

Sam looked down at Sally Tsung. She was a beautiful woman. From her artfully tinted ash blonde hair streaming across the pillow, to her slim and shapely feet poking from beneath the rumpled blankets, she was the stuff of a lonely man's dreams. Only she was no dream, and he hadn't been lonely for months. He just didn't understand what she saw in him.

Sally was tall and trim, fleshed where a woman should be fleshed. But hard muscle underlay those shape defining curves. A Chinese dragon, vivid in its tattoo colors, slithered along her right arm. The beast's bewhiskered chin rested on the back of her hand, whose slender fingers were half closed into a fist, almost hiding the missing last joint of her little finger.

She had never told Sam how she had come to lose that joint. Despite what he knew had been an adventurous life, she carried no other scars. Her lack of scars she laughed off, attributing her smooth skin to the power of magical healing. Whenever Sam tried to ask about the finger, she found something more interesting to talk about. If he pressed her, she always had an appointment for which she was late. He had given up trying.

The real issue wasn't the history of her finger. As free she was with her body, she had never let him touch her past. He hoped that in time she might open up and trust him, but as yet his hopes were unfulfilled. Sally Tsung remained mysterious.

A cold nose pressed against his naked back told him that he was not the only one awake in the apartment. Rolling carefully to avoid disturbing Sally, Sam slid from the bed; its ancient springs squeaked only a mild protest. Inu lapped eagerly at his face, and Sam rumpled the dog's fur in an equally happy greeting.

Sam showered and dressed while Inu waited patiently by the door. Sam grabbed his fringed jacket on his way to the door. He really didn't think he'd need its ballistic cloth lining for his run with Inu. Dark hadn't fallen yet, so most of the predators were still abed. Still, the armor lining functioned as insulation, making the fringed synthleather the warmest coat he had.

His runs with Inu gave him time to think. Or more precisely, time to worry. Tonight was supposed to be another magic lesson, and he wasn't looking forward to it. The lessons were not going well. No matter how patiently Sally explained the theory, Sam seemed incapable of grasping any but the simplest of spells. Even those only came after he'd had time to work out his own symbologies. The texts he'd gotten from Professor Laverty seemed only to confuse matters more. Sally insisted that he'd have more luck with ritual magics, but so far she had respected his refusal to even try them. Conjuring spirits seemed wrong, almost unholy. Why couldn't it have been target practice night, even if that meant dealing with Ghost? With a magic lesson on the docket, facing Ghost's coldness seemed preferable to Sally's vituperous condemnations of his intelligence. Sam knew that intelligence had little to do with getting a spell right. Even Ziggy, that street kid who dogged Sally's steps, could get the spells going. He had an IQ several points below Inu's. Still, if it had been gun night, he was sure he would have preferred it to be magic night.

His last several months among the shadowrunners had gone through more ups and downs than a Mitsubishi Flutterer skirting a storm front. Despite it all, he had found himself coming to like life in the shadows. It wasn't always pleasant and certainly lacked the everyday comforts of his former corporate life, but he felt he had been given a chance to make a difference. Here on the streets he wasn't just a faceless minion among other faceless minions, plodding to the company's tune. The street folk were individuals, some extravagantly so. Once they came to trust a person, which wasn't quickly or easily, they were true friends. He found such company exhilarating. He was pleased that, under Sally and Dodger's sponsorship, he had been accepted into their circle.

One of the biggest downs was the estrangement of Ghost Who Walks Inside. The big Indian had seemed pleased to see Sam leave the corporate world. He had even been eager to help Sam redress the wrongs caused by Haesslich's plot. Sam felt good about that; he was impressed by the Indian's quiet strength and focus of purpose. But then something had happened to change Ghost's attitude toward Sam. Since the night they had settled with Haesslich, Ghost had refused to take part in any runs with Sam. Ghost still helped train Sam in the ways of the shadows, but he held aloof, appearing for the lessons and vanishing when the instruction was over. Sally shrugged and Dodger told him it would pass, but no one else would talk to him about it.

Inu finished his business and they headed back to Sam's squat. Turning for home set him to thinking about Sally again. Their relationship seemed increasingly fragile. One might almost say it was deteriorating on every front, except perhaps in bed. There the passion seemed as strong as ever. From her first invitation, he had fallen quickly for her. But now, months later, he realized that he really didn't know her at all well.

When she wasn't with him, he had no idea where she went. She admitted having her own place but had refused to take him there, saying that it wasn't his kind of place. He had never tried to follow her; that would have been a betrayal of trust. But he had wondered a lot about where she went.

No one could spend as much time together as they had and not get to know something about the other person. Between the shadowruns, the training, and their time in the sack, he had come to know something about her personality. He wasn't very sure he liked what he had learned. As far as he could tell, money was her principal motivation. She was mercenary almost beyond ethics; her principles were for sale to the highest bidder. All she knew of honor was what affected her reputation. Loyalty she understood; at least, within the bounds of a run where reliance on the team was, by necessity, absolute. But she only gave that kind of loyalty when she was sure that it had already been given to her. If she had the slightest doubt, she would arrange failsafes, backups to ensure that no one betrayed her. At least she hadn't shown such suspicion toward him. She didn't seem to understand that a shadow team had to be a family. In fact, she didn't seem to understand family at all. Of all her sins, he couldn't forgive the way she always tried to talk him into forgetting about his sister. Even for her, he would not forget Janice.

Inu won the race up the stairs as usual, but Sam was^ not winded as he would have been last summer. His

She gave him a look that left no doubt that she didn't agree, but she didn't say anything. Her stony silence indicated that she had taken the subject as far as she thought necessary. Sam didn't want to take it any further, either. They would be snapping at each other again soon enough.

'Are we going to do some exercises?' 'What for? You wouldn't learn anything. You're too pig-headed.' Sally gestured, casting an illusion spell, and Sam knew that to a viewer he would appear to be literally pig-headed. It was juvenile of her to resort to such a poor joke.

'I haven't given up trying to learn,' he said. 'Have you given up teaching?'

She snorted. 'You don't pay me enough for this lost cause.'

Wondering how serious she was being, he said, 'I didn't realize I was supposed to be paying you.'

Scowling, she breathed a long sigh. She shook out her hair and turned to stare through the grimy window. Her voice was distant. 'Drekhead. You want to learn something tonight, you do it on your own.'

Conversation ended; sentence pronounced. There would be no point in Trying to change her mind. Sam found that he didn't mind. He almost felt relief. As much as he knew he needed to learn, their sessions had become increasingly difficult. Another teacher might be better. Professor Laverty had offered; so had the dragon Lofwyr. The dragon's offer had surely been false, since his agent had betrayed Sam and the runners instead of helping. And Laverty surely had his own reasons. Sam was sure he did not want to get involved with some as high up in the Tir Tairngire power structure as Laverty appeared to be. Sally had seemed the only mage he could trust, and now he was having his doubts about her. He would have to sort the mess out soon. He'd need whatever magical ability he could muster to go after Janice.

He watched Sally pretend interest in the outside world. She was flighty in her anger sometimes. Maybe she would relent.

'Just as well that we're not going to practice. I've got a meet with Mr. Johnson tonight. I'd like you to run backup.'

'Got better things to do than baby-sit,' she said without looking around.

Sighing, Sam let the insult slide. It was just her heat. He hoped that she would feel differently later. 'All right. I'll catch you later.'

'Later,' she replied almost inaudibly.

He left her sitting in the apartment. As he walked down the stairs, Inu skipped at his side. Sam wondered if Sally would be there when he got back.

As Sam approached the corner of South Main Street and Fourth Avenue South, the dark bulk of the Renraku

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