The Ashlanders - Chapter 6: The Blind Man's Last Gambit (Closed, Started)

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"Leaving a lil quick aren' we?" A voice asked, looking up, Viola saw that it was the man from the hotel yesterday. It appeared as though he was trying to look calm, his trilby style hat pulled down to obscure most of his face. "This is a purdy nifty lookin' place. Place like this lookin' so empty, lucky didn't turn into a crack house. Guess sum'body savin' it for sum'thin special." He then added, flicking his hat up so both Viola and Hannibal could see his face. Viola noticed that his eyes were drawn to the hand that rested on her revolver, though he didn't seem to care, in fact he puts his hands behind his back so he looked more relaxed.

"Y'know, Noah wouldn'ta been so mad if ya just fucked up like a normal person. You'd be dead, we'd get anuva wimp to do our bitch work, bus' out McGregor and everythin'd been dandy." The man said, ending in a pig like snort. "But nah, you gotta fuck up so... 'Spectacularly'," He added with a malicious grin. "I mean I guess some of it's our fault. McGregor was a punk, and he died cryin' like a lil girl. But'chu!" His finger pointed at Hannibal.

"You gotta kill Noah's own flesh 'n' blood!" As if on cue, nearly a dozen or so more men showed up behind him, blocking the exit even more. "That either takes a lotta balls, or zero brains."

"Or perhaps luck." Viola interjected with a smirk on her face as she began gracefully performing tricks with her revolvers in the style of an old Ranger her father was friends with; she did this when she wanted to keep her opponents guessing as to when and/or where she was going to shoot from. "Hannibal, get behind me."

"Twelve shots, this time I have twelve shots. Enough to deal with these goons at least." She told herself when she pointed both revolvers at the Bandits. Viola was about to say something, but was interrupted by the sounds of gunfire outside.

"What the hell!" Viola said aloud. There was then the sound of a small explosion coming from in front and behind her, and then an unfamiliar voice started shouting.

"Everyone move in and target the Bandits! Don't target the civvies!" This made Viola smile and she turned to face the Bandits.

"Looks like we're in luck Hannibal, though it be a shame to let them do all the work." She remarked before firing a shot at the Bandits either side of the leader, which hit them in the shoulder causing them to stagger. Midst the confusion, Viola holstered her revolvers and grabbed her rifle and then went to charge at the leader.

With an upswing she slammed the rifle's stock into his chin, followed up with a blow to the chest on another two Bandits, knocking them back and creating an open to the stairs.

"Come on Hannibal, we got to get to higher ground." Viola said as she continued to clear a path.

"Because I know you don't want me to be like you too."

Cranston said nothing for a long while as their destination grew closer. Eventually, Cranston spoke once more. His tone was cold and distant, "Meredith wanted to protect you and Sprout from all of this. She sent you away so that you wouldn't have to live this life. So that you wouldn't have to kill to survive. I didn't fight her because, well, I wanted to believe it myself. She was wrong though, Lilith." He looked at her. "There is no escaping this life. Not for any of us. If I still believed there was a way out I'd have tried my luck at Gorgon last night, alone."

His expression remained grim, "I'm taking you here tonight to show you what this life is all about. I giving you a chance to draw a line, to keep yourself in check. You'll probably always have to kill, Lilith, but you can do so without losing yourself in it." He gritted his teeth and looked forward. "At least, that's what I choose to believe."

Just then, they turned a corner and the factory came into view, "It's almost time."

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"'Course I am. Why wouldn't I be?"

Relieved to see her, Elizabeth cracked a nervous smile, "I don't know, I..." She thought on her words for a moment, confused as to why she found it so difficult to express herself all of a sudden. "I-I feel scared. Scared for them. Waking up in the dark, alone like this... it made me think of how this place would be if they never returned."

She giggled, "Listen to me, fretting over people I hardly know." She furrowed her brow as she looked past Maria. "Then again, I feel like my life is full of people I hardly know."

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Instinctively, he loosened the tie around his neck the moment he saw her enter the office. What did she want this time?! Peeping over the top of his cubical for but a moment, he crouched down, hiding himself as her eyes scanned the room in search of him. Commander Saburo was one of those "above and beyond" types. She never really broke protocol per say, but she more than took advantage of Basilio's resources when she wasn't getting what she needed. She'd dug in deep and had found herself a reliable resource in the Intelligence Department. Said resource, Joseph McAlister, was never a fan of their agreement.

Blackmail was a hell of a thing.

As it turned out, Commander Saburo was a shrewd woman, indeed.

"McAlister!" Tsubaki barked as she rounded the corner in search of him. "You hiding from me?!"

Fuck me.

"N-no!" He replied, nervously. He got to his feet just as she entered his cubical. "I just dropped my pen!"

"Yeah," Tsubaki groaned, unconvinced. "I need your help on something."

Sitting in his swivel chair, he faked a smile, "I am all ears."

"I have reason to suspect that Lady Maribel has returned to the custody of the Iron Maidens." She crossed her arms and leaned against the cubical wall. "Tell me what you know about their recent activities in the city."

"Well," He started. "We don't know much. I doubt I can---"

"McAlister..." Her gaze was piercing.

"The Gentleman---"

"What does he have to do with anything?"

"One of the hunters Lord Basilio contracted to rescue Lady Maribel, well, we think she switched sides. We've had guys keeping tabs on the Gentleman's operations in the city for some time now and we caught wind of a meeting she had with his contacts."

She furrowed her brow, "What did they want with her?"

"That's classified." Tsubaki scowled. "Look, it doesn't matter anyway. It has nothing to do with Lady Maribel."

"So why tell me about this hunter?"

"We've got guys on her trail as we speak. If she's been in contact with the Gentleman, chances are she's also run into some Maidens a long the way. In fact, we have eye-witness testimony that she was present during the prisoner exchange."

"Now we're getting somewhere," Tsubaki nodded, stroking her chin in thought. "Where are they now? Who's tracking this hunter?"

"That's classified." He repeated as he swallowed nervously.

"It's a secret squad," Tsubaki's eyes widened in surprised as Joseph's supervisor stepped into the cubical. "Chimera Squad, run by some ex-bandito named Ortega. They'll be bringing this hunter of ours in for questioning before dust. I'll see what I can do about getting you an audience with her before tomorrow."

"What's the catch?" Tsubaki asked, unflinchingly.

"Just remember who helped you out is all," Tsubaki nodded to him. Looking to Joseph, he added, "Now, if your done busting his balls, get the fuck out of this office."

"Later, McAlister," Tsubaki taunted as she left the two men behind.

As she crossed over the courtyard, outside the office, Bryan's voice suddenly broke through over the radio.

"Commander? My assignment ain't panned out anything particular, which suggests our target is still active. But there's something I want to check out. It might take a while. That okay? Over."

"Roger that, O'Lafferty. Good luck."

She had made progress herself, but what else would her squad discover?

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Gorgon could go fuck himself. He had been perfectly willing to give up the location of the bandit girl and that noble bitch, but Gorgon just couldn't play ball, could he? That's why Grimm hated bounty hunters so much. They were always looking for information, but never had enough dough to pay for it.

Instead, Gorgon's men had tried to take him in themselves. Claim his bounty when he was offering them so much more.

Fucking simpletons.

It was of no consequence, however. From the looks of it, the old man and the young woman were geared up for war. Gorgon would be lucky to see tomorrow, and by that time, Grimm will have already had his fun. With their protectors away for the night, it would be easy pickings. Micky's savoir would get hers tonight.

It was time.

Grimm made his way across the dimly-lit, vacant street and into the apartment lobby. Holding a briefcase in one hand, he walked immediately up to the reception desk and placed the case on the counter.

"What's this?" The man working the desk asked.

"Oh, sorry, I was actually looking for someone who lives here. He was in my restaurant earlier and he left this case. He told me he lived here. His name was uh," He put his fingers to his forehead as if he were trying to recall a name he did not know. "Dammit, uh, he's a bald, tall fella. Goatee."

"Cumberland? Red goatee? Glasses?"

"Yeah, that's the guy!" Stepping away from the counter, he retreated to the entrance and started scanning the list of residence on the wall. "Could I, uh, deliver that back to him." It only took him a few seconds to find his name and room number listed on the wall.

The man watched him, suspicion written all over his face, "No, sorry Sir, but you just missed him. I can deliver it to him upon his arrival, however." In the corner of his eye, Grimm noticed the man reaching for something on the underside of the desk.

A smile on his face, Grimm walked back over to the desk, and placed his hands on the case, "Oh, come on, the guy's a regular at my restaurant. It would feel wrong to leave this with someone I didn't know. You understand."

The man's eyes narrowed, "I am sorry sir."

Grimm's smile faded, "So am I." Moments later, the two men had brandished sidearms against one another. Grimm shot three holes through the man's chest with a silenced pistol before he could get even a single shot off. Holstering his pistol once more, he tucked the suitcase under his arm and grabbed the dead man by the wrists.

After dragging his corpse into the building's sole elevator, he hit the button for floor eleven and road it up in silence. Once the door had opened, he dragged the body into the threshold of the elevator door so that no one else in the building could use it.

He'd trap them here.

Moving down the hall to "Cumberland's" room, he laid the suitcase on the ground and drew from it a sawed-off shotgun. After loading it, he cocked the weapon and aimed for the door's hinges.

Things were about to get fun.

Holding her baby in one arm Isabel rested her palm on Franklin's forehead. He tried to hold in his pain, as gruff hisses seeped out between clenched teeth. He hadn't been given anything to dull the pain. He looked over to her and smiled, seeing their son in her arm, surprisingly quiet.

"Quiet fucker isn't he?" He chuckled.

She pinched his ear and said sharply, "He's not even a week old! Mind the language." She couldn't help but smile. Even through all this, he could somehow keep his spirits up. Even if it was fake, at least he had the strength to fake it.

"Go easy on me I got shot!"

She was about to respond when someone entered the room. Their heads snapped to the door as one of the newest prisoners entered.

"Hello. My name is Georgia. I hope I didn't disturb you."

"No worries." Isabel said on her guard. Such confident in the light of Austin's insanity, she didn't trust it.

"He's beautiful."

Isabel smiled for the briefest of moments before putting a stop to it. "Yes he is. My name is Isabel."

"I'm Franklin, though I'm sure he's already gone on about me."

"Austin?" Georgia replied. "No. In fact I haven't seen him since the raid. Besides..." she took a step closer. " I already saw how you lead the attack, putting yourself in harm's way before the others. To risk your life for your family like that was very brave."

"I didn't do it for braver-" he began to reply, but his girlfriend gave him a knowing look. He shut up immediately.

"He did it because he loves his family, as we all do." She answered for him.

Georgia smiled sympathetically at her.

"Indeed, that much is clear." she said, holding out her finger, and giggling as the baby's tiny hand reached up, inquisitively, and grasped it with surprising strength. "You love your family very much."

"Yes." She said, more annoyed than previously. "I do."

"As do I," Georgia said, pressing the issue. "and we both have family on this ship, no matter who else we must call by that name. My sister is intelligent, charming, and far fairer than I, but at heart she is still a child. She's too impressionable to last indefinitely in a place like this. I need to get her out of here before they get under her skin, and you both need to get out of here before they take your baby, line you up against a wall and shoot you. So, you help me, and I help you."

Isabel was silent for a moment. Franklin looked to her, she may have been cold to strangers, but he knew what she'd say before she even said it.

"Would you like to hold him?" She said, softer this time.

"If you don't mind." Georgia responded, smiling.

The baby gurgled excitedly when she took it into her arms, and she laughed softly before pulling a funny face at it.

"What's his name?" she asked, before adding cheekily "I promise I won't tell."

"Um," Franklin and Isabel looked sideways at each other, pride was clearly not a feature on their faces. "We haven't decided on a name yet." He said. "He calls him... 'Troy'" he hated saying that name. It was so stupid.

"I imagine Austin would like to rename me if he can." Georgia added derisively. "Georgia was the name given to me when I was paraded in front of all those 'pretenders' like a piece of meat. No, that won't do at all."

She rolled her eyes and chuckled.

"But now that I think about it, Troy seems oddly fitting. I once heard a story about a place called Troy, brought down from within by that which they had taken to be a gift, and a symbol of victory. Though, I'm not sure that's quite what Austin had in mind when he chose it."

Despite the pain throbbing in his leg, the irony was making Franklin grin like an idiot. "Are you fucking serious?"

"Language Franklin!" Hissed Isabel, though she too loved the mistake Austin had made. "This is just too good." She chuckled. "Still, unless our son suddenly inspires everyone on this ship to stop being insane and throw that crazy bastard overboard, I'd like to give him a proper name." Humour dimmed in her voice before she added, "I don't want him to leave his mark on our son.

Franklin reached over and held her hand tightly before looking over at Georgia. "I know what you're looking for, but honestly it doesn't seem like a good idea to come talk to us. We're um... kinda under house arrest."

"Oh, don't worry." Georgia grinned. "Nobody told me I couldn't come here, and if anyone objects, I'm very good at telling people what they want to hear. In fact, me coming here might just be your saving grace. I take it not every new recruit is infatuated with Austin right away. Many I assume form friendships with their peers first, and that's how he reels them in. If I make it seem like we are developing a bond, he might hesitate to do anything to you that would break the poor little whore's heart. Even if I'm not that special, Sandra's already busy wrapping his top lieutenants around her little finger. Between us, I'm sure we can buy you enough time for us all to figure a way out of here."

Isabel had to sit down as she and Franklin looked at each other in a mix of puzzlement and dread. "Um, I don't know what you think of him, but you are making him sound much more reasonable than he actually is." He said.

Georgia giggled.

"Oh he's deranged, that much is clear, but no-one is as successful as Austin becomes so without having some grasp on logic, twisted as it may be. He can't tend to his 'family' by being the tyrant alone. He has to play the loving father too when he needs to. Besides, should he see through our ploy. Austin will find out what a big mistake he made in taking us. I'm sure he's already swimming in people who want him dead, but when all else fails he can always just bank on cowering behind his little gang of infants with Kalashnikovs, and blaming any casualties on the pretenders later...

If he harms a hair on any of us, Austin will find out what it's like to make an enemy with even fewer moral scruples that him, something that I guarantee won't end well for him."

"Um," Isabel mumbled, "wow um, okay. I get what you're saying but, and yeah you are right but you aren't exactly getting it. I mean I-" she covered her baby's ears, "I fucking hate everything about him but..." she paused and looked down, utterly ashamed. She took her ears off of her baby and began cradling him. She kept her eyes down onto his innocent face as she kept addressing Georgia.

"We loved him. We really, seriously did. We bought into everything he said, so trust me when I say, we know what its like. You can spend months with people, people who you come to love, come to know as your brothers and sisters, but then he says kill them and you don't even hesitate for a second. They're gone, and who cares right?" She chuckled sadly. "Turns out they were a pretender all along."

Franklin took over speaking. "There's dozens of reasons people join. Fear, kidnapped, safety like us, but even if you join him without intending to love him... he gets to you. And if he can't get to you... I don't know how but he just 'knows'. He knows if he can't wear you down. Some people change their mind after a while like us, but that first month or so is crucial. If he can't make you believe that quick, then... well, you know." He mumbled those last words before adding, "and he never cares who he pisses off. Hell he thinks he's unstoppable with this ship."

Georgia was unperturbed by their warnings. Hopelessness was no use to anybody right now. What she proposed was risky, she new that, and she couldn't help but feel for the young couple and their baby. At the moment, however, her feelings could not be allowed to make her hesitate. Sandra was her only family on this ship, and she needed to use any leverage that she could to protect her.

'They may be sweet, but if the tables were turned they'd gladly make you risk everything to save their skins. They may even throw you to the wolves if it came to it... and there's no shame in that.'

"Then, you've just explained how important it is that we stay vigilant for the right time to act, and that we don't waste a moment when that time comes. I've been learning how to convince men of my affections since I was old enough to bleed, and I learned from someone who'd been doing it longer than that. However, that doesn't mean I'm planning to stick around here long enough to find out if Austin can see through my charms, and I will never let him do that to Sandra. I may well need all the help I can get, but if you don't come with me when it's time to leave, don't count on anyone else offering you a way out."

With that, Georgia retreated back to the door, a sad look painted on her face.

"I should go now. We'll talk again, I'm sure, but before then, think about what I said."

They were both silent as they listened to her. She had such a good point, but their fear was overriding them so much, escape would never be as easy as she was promising. Or perhaps they had pushed the idea so far out of their minds that the possible now seemed impossible? Was she too optimistic? Were they too pessimistic? Who knew what-

Their shared fear filled thoughts were suddenly cut off by the sound of their baby crying. Franklin locked eyes with his beloved before she set off feeding their child. Franklin ran his hands over his short hair before lying back on the bed and saying, "If you can run, run with her. He can't take both of you, he just can't, we can't allow him."

"Franklin I ca-"

"Just listen to me Izzy, Please!"

"--zzztt--Everyone to the mess hall now please. Father needs everyone in the mess hall.--zzztt--'

"I'm taking you here tonight to show you what this life is all about. I giving you a chance to draw a line, to keep yourself in check. You'll probably always have to kill, Lilith, but you can do so without losing yourself in it. At least, that's what I choose to believe."

Lilith nodded her head solemnly, her expression hardening.

'Fire fears nothing.'

It would be easy for her to claim she was a victim of society, abandoned as an infant, one in a couple dozen of other orphaned children. As caring as the nuns were, she never received as much attention as she would have liked, and why would should she? That would be selfish, and some of the other, younger children struggled with that life more than she did, having lost their parents to illness or other unfortunate circumstances.

The girl couldn't miss what she never had.

Some of the other children would pretend, or delude themselves into thinking someone would come for them. More often than not, her lullabies were the quiet whimpers of others.

She was never among them.

As she got older, one of her main tasks was seeking out the charity required to keep the orphanage afloat. Standing on street corners in the busier areas of the town, appealing to those who had the means to give.

"Oh look at her, poor thing."
"Someone should really do something about these kids."
"You think they'd make them more presentable."

The same tired old platitudes, over and over, and that was in the very rare case that anyone ackowledged her at all. Moments of charity were even rarer, hardly worth the hours spent standing around, looking pathetic.

It didn't take her very long to figure out that those with the means to give, very rarely did. Philanthropy was a rare thing on The Rock, and she learned very quickly that it was easier to take than it was to ask. Gambling was one such way to part fools from their wealth, and it turned out that Lilith was very good at it.

The girl never intended things to get as out of hand as they did, soon she earned a reputation. 'That blonde girl, with the red scarf'. The money rolled in, until she eventually got the attention of the more unsavoury characters in Sherwood.

After a few unpleasant confrontations, she discovered that no matter what she did, nobody would let her get ahead in life, nobody would let her rise above what she was, good or bad, noble or criminal, it didn't matter. She was the forgotten of society, hidden away from the rest of the world.

Enter Meredith Monroe. Her saviour.

Lilith embraced the bandit life, taking from those who had more than they needed, she was like the man from the old tales, taking from the rich and giving to the poor (albeit with some operational costs involved). To this day, the girl sent half of what she earned back to the orphanage, in an unsigned package. More carbon than they could ever hope to gain through begging.

No matter how hard she tried though, Meredith couldn't hide Lilith away from the darker side of the profession. The killing, the blood, the losing friends.

The girl had embraced that life, and now it wouldn't let her go.

"It's almost time."

Looking up Cranston, Lilith smirked as she pulled the silenced pistol from her holster, pulling back the slide, she checked the chamber before clicking off the safety. "I hate these bloody things, no personality."

It would be easy for her to claim she was a victim of society.

Victim.

'Fuck that.'

"...Then again, I feel like my life is full of people I hardly know."

Labels, funny the way they make people think. Noble, Sheriff, Commoner, Bounty Hunter, Bandit... All had their roles to play out here in the Ashlands and all had more than their fair share of assumption made about them: Bandits pillage, Bounty Hunters hunt them, Sheriffs protect the Commoners from them, and Nobles lord over the Commoners - that was it, wasn't it? However there was so much more than that. People who simply stuck to the labels were just blinding themselves, restricting themselves to a limited understanding of others. Sure, as a general rule in terms of caution, those were good guidelines to go by. Nevertheless, Maria had seen them turned on their head time and time again as she wandered The Rock. Lilith and Sprout were just people who happened to be bandits, just as the scared girl in front of her just so happened to be of noble birth.

Maria joined Elizabeth on the sofa, slumping down on it. The younger women had a point, they weren't out of the woods just yet. The doctor placed a hand on Elizabeth's nearest shoulder; Maria was somewhat uncertain whether that was okay or not. It seemed that the young noble had several points there. How long had it been since that initial impact with Sprout and Lilith? And here they were acting like the best of buddies. Of course it was somewhat excusable, hiding in drunken shenanigans and splurging of carbon. But, that didn't change the fact that Cranston and Lilith were going to kill - or even worse, be killed - soon. Maria would hate it if they just ended up exiting life so soon. A rather selfish thought, wanting someone to stay alive just to be able to interact with them more, right? Well, truth is, a wandering physician's path ain't exactly full of friendships.

She had her use and that was it as far as some people were concerned. Must've been the same for Elizabeth... Well, sort of.

"There's a saying about meeting 'n' leaving, but never mind that, I doubt we're in a position for such wistful chatter." Maria said with a slight smirk, "We gotta hold the fort, after all."

"I hate these bloody things, no personality."

Cranston smirked, "When killing discreetly it's best you don't have personality."

"Yeah, but they don't have the boom." She looked up at Cranston, his eyes disapproving as he raised an eyebrow. Lilith shrugged. "I like the boom!"

"Of course you do," He rolled his eyes. "Anyway, the time for jokes is passed, Lilith. From here on out you don't say anything you don't have to until the job's done." As he spoke he led Lilith to the backside of the adjacent building.

Her expression hardening, Lilith nodded firmly, mimicking a zipping motion across her lips.

Keeping to the shadows, the pair made their way along the side of the old warehouse, crouching against a wall at the far end of the building. Having studied their patrolling patterns the previous night, he figured this to be their hideout's most likely blindspot. Peaking around the corner, he spotted one man leaning against the brick wall, smoking a cigarette. Above him was a small, rectangular window that led to the main floor of the facility. Likely their best bet of getting in unseen. The man before them would have to disappear.

Last night he counted five sentries on the roof. From this angle he could only see two. Neither of them were looking in their direction. Looking to Lilith, he whispered, "Can you do it quietly?"

Narrowing her eyes, Lilith nodded as she brought up her pistol. Bringing the weapon to aim, she took a small breath as she gently lined up the sights on the pistol. Placing her finger on the trigger, she held her breath as she squeezed out a round, hitting the poor sod in the back of the head.

He went down quietly.

Before the man's body had even hit the dirt, Cranston was on the move. Together, they dashed across the alleyway and hid against the wall, over the man's corpse. Kneeling down, Cranston held to hands together and looked to Lilith. Neither of them were tall enough to make it through the window alone, "I'll give you a boost. Make it quick."

"Gotcha." Placing one foot in the old man's hands, he lifted her into the air. Grunting, Lilith gripped on to the edge of the wall and slowly pushed open the window. Wrapping her hands around the inside ledge, she smoothly hoisted herself up and into the opening. Sticking her head inside, she quickly checked the area. Nothing. Positioning herself appropriately, she leaned back over the outside ledge, holding out a hand to Crantson as her other hand anchored her into the opening.

"Not too old for this shit yet, are ya?" She whispered with a smirk.

Cranston shot her a look that said, "What did I just say?" before taking the hand that was offered. Hopping up the wall, he used the leverage Lilith offered to hoist himself up, kick off the wall and grab the window frame with his other hand. With some additional help crawling through the window, Cranston made it inside with little trouble, despite his age. Drawing his pistol, he signalled for Lilith to follow him. Though the room was brightly lit, they were behind a large industrial machine and hidden from the view of any hunters within the facility. Here's where it got tricky: they had to locate Gorgon.

Upon reaching the far side of the machine, the iron staircase came into view. Was he upstairs, or downstairs? Or was he on this floor? Looking to Lilith, he whispered, "I am going to check the top floor and see if I can't get a good look at the whole place. Stay here and remain hidden until I return. Okay?"

Lilith nodded. He didn't need to tell her to remain hidden, it's not like she'd suddenly get the urge to expose herself. As Lilith leaned into the machine, it roared as it thundered into life.

"Shit."

Cranston's eyes went wide, "Move!" He shouted as he lunged out from behind the machine, gunning down two nearby hunters who hadn't yet had a chance to react. "STAY TOGETHER!"

"That wasn't me!" Lilith cried out as she drew her pistol. "You saw! There's no buttons on that bloody thing!" Following closely behind Cranston, she brought her pistol to aim as another guard rushed into view. Before he could react, Lilith put a bullet in his brain. "Where do we go?!"

"High ground!" Cranston barked as he planted bullets in the hearts of three men coming down the stairs. Cranston leapt over them as their bodies tumbled down the stairs. "We need to keep moving! We can't let them corner us!"

"MAIDENS!" One man shouted from below.

So much for stealth.

As Lilith ran up the stairs, dodging the tumbling corpses, she swore quietly as she heard movement behind them. "Behind us!" Turning quickly, the woman fired at two men as they came into view. One of them went down instantly as several bullets found his chest, the other goon took one in the shoulder, loosing a shot of his own before a hole in his throat appeared.

"Shit!" Lilith winced slightly as she looked down at her leg. Just a graze.

"That is, unless ya' wanna talk."

"You already know everything." Amy said blankly, before shaking her head a little as if to clear it, looking up from the floor and into the other woman's eyes.

"It was... good, I think, to tell someone, but that doesn't mean I don't still stand by what I said before. Be my Captain, and my lover too if you want, but don't try and be my therapist, because there's nothing you can do to fix this. I've lived with those memories my entire life. I go to sleep with them, wake up with them, and sit beside them at meal times. If I haven't found a way to make it hurt any less in all that time, then with the best will in the world Pixie, you don't stand a chance. The best I can do is get a handle on them, keep them from hurting anyone else, and I did, for the longest time before..." She just stopped short of saying 'before you came along'.

"None of it matters right now anyway. Austin has your ship, and two of my sisters are in his clutches. Let's go and get them back."

"Or perhaps luck."

Hannibal was panicking, breathing quicker than he should. Despite all the working out and sweating, he never wanted to run more in his life. Maybe it was adrenaline, or more likely it was the motivation he had possessed his whole life: fear.

His eyes darted back and forth as Viola... did tricks with her guns? Was this really the time to-

"Everyone move in and target the Bandits! Don't target the civvies!"

This, along with the explosions, gunfire and Viola's reaction caused Hannibal to damn near jump out of the atmosphere.

"Looks like we're in luck Hannibal, though it be a shame to let them do all the work."

And just like that she set to work. The leader had turned to fire a few shots outside when two at his side had gone down. By the time he had turned to face Viola she had sent him down.

"Come on Hannibal, we got to get to higher ground."

"R-Right!" He yelled as he followed after her, leaping over the downed bodies of the men she had attacked, shots following her as they bolted up the stairs. They were hot on their tail, curses and bullets flying after them. Thankfully the staircase was a jagged spiral, giving anyone being shot at enough time to dart behind cover. This unfortunately included the thugs which meant Viola couldn't turn to shoot any.

As they entered one of the upper floors and sped across the hallway, Viola ducked into a nearby doorway as Hannibal jumped out one of the windows and into the fire escape. He could hear her fighting from inside as he began ascending the outer staircase, seeing the fighting unfold outside and a new party of attackers entering the building.

"I wish..." he panted, "guns, weren't a thing."
=====================================================
Eventually, all the new arrivals were gathered in the mess hall. Austin's family were concentrated in there, but still were placed around the ship were they needed to be, such as piloting and navigation. The children were in a relaxed position, not appearing over friendly as to creep out their new sisters, yet not too hard as to seem like wardens of a prison. They waited patiently, they even had time to prepare a feast. The best ingredients, the best food, all prepared together for an explosion of the taste-buds. They didn't need to worry about any of them being vegetarian, Austin doubted they had much choice in what they ate given their lifestyle.

However, as their plated were put in front of them, Austin entered the room. For once he didn't make a fuss as he entered. If it wasn't for his sons and daughters looking to him with glinting eyes, and of course his massive stature, hardly anyone would have noticed he entered. He stood at the head of the table, everyone looking to him. "Oh don't mind me," he smiled, "please, dig in. You don't need to look at me every time I enter the room." He chuckled. As everyone was about to take their first bites he then continued, "but you do need to listen to me." Some of the girls lowered their forks as they heard this. "Hear me, understand me, this next part is very important. Oh please, eat as I speak."

Oliver entered the room, plucking Austin's guitar. "I hope you realise how much of a risk it was to save you from your imprisonment. Three of your siblings died to save you. Their names were Lyle, Matthew, and Daisy. They died for you." He raised his hand to signal Oliver to stop playing for a moment. Oliver had cleaned up well from earlier. "They were your brothers, and Daisy was your sister." Austin paused and ran a hand over his shaven head. "I took a risk sending brother Franklin to lead you to safety, it paid off in that all of you survived... yet, his failure to keep his siblings alive weighs heavy on our hearts."

His voice then swiftly changed from sullen, to hopeful. "Nonetheless, now is not the time to mourn their loss, that must come later as for now we have something very important we must achieve. Upon is more than an opportunity, it is where our legend truly begins. For eight years the prologue of this book has been slowly written, now the first chapter begins." He raised his hand, signalling Oliver to begin again.

"We are soon approaching our destination, the very first step to victory. With this ship, we shall launch our largest strike against the pretenders!" He raised his fist to the air and his voice boomed throughout the room like an opera singer. "The world shall tremble as they finally see the threat we pose to them, as our children shall scream to the skies for us to save them next. And we will... we will." He grinned, trying to control himself as excitement was running through him like a live wire. "Pretenders all across the globe shall fear us, from Feroxi to Frostfall, from Maddingham to Roppongi! From Mugunghwa-i to Sherwood," his voice shook with furious ambition, "they shall quake in their boots! And urine spread down their legs as they finally realise that we are not an empty threat! For tonight, is the first of many nights in which we bring down the domes of the oppressors!" His children began cheering as he gave them the speech they had waited years to hear. The prostitutes were looking around at each other, puzzled and scared.

"Tonight, is the first of many nights where we shall break down these sick cities, and rebuild them in the way I KNOW they should be!" His grin widened as he could finally say the words he had longed to shout out for years.

"Tonight! Yuteni is saved!"

The clapping, cheering, proclamations of love and loyalty rang out throughout the entire vessel as Austin stood, glee over taking his mind. This was it! This was what he had spent eight years building towards. This was his time. His! Time!

And no one would take it away from him.

"None of it matters right now anyway. Austin has your ship, and two of my sisters are in his clutches. Let's go and get them back."

"Yeah," Pixie muttered, utter defeat in her voice. Once outside, they could hear Aesop frantically honking the horn. "Cut that shit out!" Pixie barked as Amy helped her into the backseat of the other crawler.

Just then, Bennie was returning from across the street with Warren. As soon as he spotted Pixie he dashed over to her, "Shit, girl! You didn't tell me you were hit!" He looked a mark above frazzled.

"I'm fine, Bennie. Jus' hit my leg. Nothin' new," She assured him. She winced in pain as she sat down in the backseat. "Where's that Cowgirl off to?"

Looking over the hood of the crawler, Bennie spotted Whiskey heading towards them, "She's here. Look, we need to get you back to the hideout ASAP. Get in the crawler, Amy."

Sitting in the driver's seat, he took the vehicle out of park and was about to speed off when Pixie shouted at him, "Fer fuck's sake Bennie, get a grip! I need ta' find out about ar' stupid-ass 'friend'." Leaning out the window, Pixie waved over at Whiskey. "What 'appened to ol' Pornstache?"

Spotting Ruffles nearby, Bennie called out to him, "You, Aesop, Brock and Warren need to pick up Tallahassee on your way out. We'll take the cowgirl." He did not look happy. Not one bit.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

After about a minute of gunfire, the smoke had cleared. All hostiles neutralized. Zero casualties. Rebecca was standing in the doorway, by the stairwell when Ortega entered the building, "Status?"

"Gunslinger made it up the stairs with that kid. Don't think they got hit. Not sure if they'll cooperate though." She said, nonchalantly.

"Like hell they will," Mila mused.

Ortega sighed, "We proceed with caution. We don't want to scare them. If it comes down to it, we'll take her in by force. But they'll be far more cooperative if we don't point guns at them." He looked to his second-in-command, Carter. "Take point." Wordlessly, his squad nodded in acknowledgment and started up the stairs.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Gorgon had been playing cards with Landon and two others when the first gunshots rang out. Throwing his hand down on the table, he gritted his teeth, "FUCK! THEY FOUND US FIRST!"

One of his subordinates readied his weapon and looked back to his boss, "How do you know it's the Maidens?"

"Who the fuck else would it be!? Go upstairs and see what the fuck is going on!" Looking to 'Shadow', he smirked, "You want a rematch with that old fucker, don't you?"

"What 'appened to ol' Pornstache?"

"He gathered what's left of his boys and went on his way," replied Whiskey as she hopped lightly into Aesop's crawler. "He said if there were any more mercenaries out there, they'd follow after him. I guess he's right."

=========================================================

"You want a rematch with that old fucker, don't you?"

"And how," replied Landon, getting up and heading into the other room. When he came back out, he had a revolver on one hip and a large bowie knife on the other. In his arms, he cradled a six cylinder grenade launcher. His nickname came from his preference of quiet killing methods, but it was time for a change of pace.

==========================================================

"Fine, that sounds like a fair enough plan. Lead the way, Brother."

After some wandering, Owain led his sister into a slightly seedy bar. It was mostly deserted, and as they came through the door, the barman watched them intently.

Owain approached him with a jovial grin. "Ah, comrade. I think you might be able to help me," he said. His Frostfall accent was impeccable.

"That depends," replied the barman, scrutinizing Owain, with his one good eye. The other was cracked glass. "You going to buy?"

"I'll take a beer," said Owain, setting a few pieces of carbon on the counter. He didn't drink, but he supposed he had little choice. The barman set a small brown bottle on the table, and Owain set it to his lips, though very little of the liquid made it past his pursed lips.

"So what is it you are looking for?" asked the barman, sweeping the carbon off of the table.

"My... associate and I are looking for some temporary employees," Owain replied.

"What sort of work?"

"The sort that pays very well, very quickly," replied Owain, smoothly.

=======================================================

Bryan had been into six bars since reporting to Tsubaki, and none had yet yielded nothing. Finally, he ended up at a small place called the Black Branch.

When the barmaid came to serve him, he thought for a moment. She was portly and middle aged, with a distinct no-nonsense air. Definitely in charge.

"Thought I'd need your best scotch, Ma'am," he said, grinning. "But that smile o' yours makes me feel like I just knocked back three."

"That's sweet, darling," she said, reaching for a bottle and glass. "How can I help you?"

"Well, you seem like a woman o' the world," he said. "I'm looking fer someone to give me some horticultural assistance."

"You'll have to be more specific," she said, setting his drink in front of him.

"Well I always thought poppies were right pretty," he said, setting considerably more carbon on the counter than his drink was worth. For a moment, he thought it was another miss, but then the woman swept his money off the counter and nodded to the backroom. Bryan knocked back his whiskey and headed to the back door. Before he went in, he covertly thumbed his radio and muttered, "I found him, Commander."

The room was small and a little dark, with a single table in the middle, at which sat a man with a thick, grey beard, aviator sunglasses and a black pork pie hat.

"You come at a bad time," rasped Beard as soon as Bryan had shut the door. "I fresh sold all the opium I got, so..." he looked up. "Shiiiiet! That you, boy?"

"How are ya, uncle?" asked Bryan, taking the opposite seat.

"Same's always, Bry. Same as always. Y'wanna be a good kid and get yo uncle a whiskey?"

"Get it yerself, ya dusty old shite," said Bryan.

"Naw, don't be like that," replied Beard, his rasp conveniently intensifying. "Your uncle's damned thirsty!"

"So get a glass of water."

"D'aw, you're no good!" Beard exclaimed. "Can't even do an old man a kindness!"

Bryan rolled his eyes. "Jesus, sometimes I forget why me mam walked into the lake with a pocket full o' rocks. Then I look at you and it all comes back to me."

For a moment, there was silence. And then the two men burst out laughing.

"Shit!"

"KEEP MOVING!" Cranston shouted. Upon reaching the second floor, the duo was accosted by a hunter with a shotgun. Before he could fire upon them, however, Cranston slapped the weapon out of the way and fired three shots at point-blank into the man's neck. Crouching down against the wall, around the corner from the stairs, he reloaded his weapon.

They were in the second story office now. A small collection of rooms walled off from the large catwalk that encompassed the rest of the second floor. Until their numbers were thinned out, the catwalk would be suicide, "You okay, Lilith?"

Crouching next to the old man, inhaling sharply through gritted teeth, Lilith nodded. "Yeah, just got clipped is all, nothing some alcohol won't fix." She smirked slightly. "And maybe something for the leg, too."

"What did I say about jokes!?" Cranston scowled. "Focus!"

"Where are they?!"

"FOLLOW THE FUCKING CORPSES, DUMBASS!"

Cranston sighed, "We need to move. If they're smart they'll flank us between the stairs and the catwalk. We may need to split up. Come on!" He led the two of them towards a door at the end of the short hallway. "Watch my back!" Kicking open the door, two men came into view. One was helping the other up a ladder and onto the catwalk. Discharging two shots each, the two men fell off the catwalk and onto the ground below.

"Split up?" Lilith muttered, quickly checking the magazine in her pistol. "Are you sure? I mean..." She clenched her jaw as anxiousness raised in her throat. "Okay, what's the plan, where do we rendezvous?"

Cranston slammed the door shut just as a hunter from across the way loosed a barrage of machine gun fire at their location. Turning to face Lilith, he frowned, "We split up their forces and pick them off. If you spot Gorgon or he partner, do not engage them alone unless you absolutely have to! We rendezvous behind the neighbouring warehouse once Gorgon is dead."

Pursing her lips, Lilith nodded sagely. "Okay, I gotcha." It appeared there was no way to avoid it. The woman always hated splitting up.

'Separation anxiety, look at you, orphan stereotype.'

"What if one of us gets pinned down?"

He tapped the radio on his vest, "Forget we had these?"

Just then, several footsteps began echoing from the stairwell. Cranston levelled his pistol before stepping backwards into the adjacent room, "When they turn the corner I will light them up. Make them think I am the only one up here. After we thin their numbers I am going to make a break for the catwalk and you flank them. Got it?!"

"Got it!" She replied as her breath began to quicken. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest. Quickly moving across the room, she hunkered down next to the catwalk entrance, controlling her breathing as she waited for her signal.

"COME HERE YOU COCK SUCKERS!" Cranston shouted down the hall as three men turned the corner, brandishing assault rifles.

"IT'S THE COOK! FUCK 'IM UP!"

What followed was a hail of gunfire the likes of which Lilith had never seen in such short quarters. The hall was so narrow that it seemed the sound of rapid gunfire couldn't even escape. After dropping four men, Cranston was ready to move. Backing up to the door at the end of the hall, he downed one more before turning around and flying through the door.

Upon stepping onto the catwalk, he was greeted by enemy fire from all directions. One man stood before him while a few other fired from below. Another two men stood on the catwalk lining the far side of the facility. The man before him went down before he could fire a shot. With bullets flying in all directions and footsteps echoing down the hall behind him, he did the only thing he could do...

He jumped.

Peeking around the corner after Cranston as he ran down the catwalk, Lilith watched, mouth slightly agape in awe. "Good luck, you crazy bald bastard." She muttered, shaking her head slightly.

Take a few deep breaths, flexing her fingers around the pistol, she reached down to her belt, pulling out her knife, she held it against the grip of her pistol. Waiting a few moments, she heard the sound of hurried footsteps, the gunfire fading as Cranston hauled arse out of the area.

Clenching her jaw, Lilith slid up the wall, bobbing her head slightly. After a few seconds, she moved across the room and out into the stairwell as two men rushed below her and after Cranston. Bringing up her gun, she stepped over several bodies as she moved down the stairs. It looked like the majority of the hunters in the area had fell for the bait.

As she hit the bottom step, she quickly moved behind some metal transport crated. Leaning out of cover, her sights on the two hunters, she let out a shrill whistle. As the two hunters slowed their pace, one of them turned to seek out the sound, and was rewarded with a bullet in his temple.

"SHIT!" The other hunter cried out, raising his rifle to aim, but not before Lilith fired three tightly placed shots into his chest. Lilith furrowed her brow as her gun emptied. She was never a fan of magazine fed pistols. Catching the mag as it fell from the pistol, she stuffed it into the back pocket of her trousers and proceeded to load a fresh magazine, releasing the slide as a round was fed into the chamber.

After quickly checking the area and deeming it clear, she hurried down the same corridor until she came to a junction. Hearing the tell tale sound of gunfire from the right corridor, Lilith proceeded down the left, her hand tightening around the grip of her knife as her index finger stroked the trigger of the pistol. As she approached another intersection of corridors, the woman breathed in sharply but quietly, as the sounds of running footsteps echoed from the left corridor, slowing as they drew nearer. Silently, she pressed herself up against the corner wall.

"They were heading this way!"
"You sure? Which corridor"
"Right I think, no wait, straight."
"Are you gonna make up your goddamn mind?!"
"Hey fuck you asshole, I wasn't the one wh-"

The babbling duo's conversation was cut short, just as they passed the corner, firing a single round into the temple of the hunter furthest away, Lilith stepped out and quickly kicked a foot from beneath the other hunter, wrapping her arm around the man's neck as he went down on one knee, her knife held tightly against his throat.

"Oh shi-"
"Shut the fuck up." Lilith angrily muttered into the man's ear. "Don't say a bloody thing until I tell you to, y'hear?"
"Bitch, I'll fu-" As the knife gently cut into the man's soft flesh, his words were cut short as gasped. "Okay, okay, Ple-"
"Gorgon, where is he." Lilith interrupted.
"P-p-passed 'im just now, heading to the other side of the compound."

'He's going to try and cut off our escape.'

"How many?" She asked sternly.
"I dunno, about five? Six maybe?"
Lilith's voice and expression softened gently. "Thank you."
"I gave you what yo-" The man slumped dead instantly as she put a bullet through his skull.

As she gently let the hunter's body fall from her hold, she placed him on the ground, clenching her jaw before she began to hurry down the corridor the hunters had just came from.

Could do with saving the ammo, but she imagined having one's throat sliced wasn't the most pleasant way to die.

"There's a saying about meeting 'n' leaving, but never mind that, I doubt we're in a position for such wistful chatter. We gotta hold the fort, after all."

Elizabeth nodded, "Yes, you're right. I apologize. I guess I've just been more... self-aware, recently. Asking myself a lot of questions I hadn't considered before." She smiled. "You're a good person, Maria. How can I be more like---"

Elizabeth's words were suddenly drowned out by two, loud gunshots from out in the hall. Her eyes went wide in shock as the front door to their apartment burst open, "ANYONE HOME!?" A gruff voice bellowed as the dust settled around the doorway. Stepping through the threshold, a large man with a thick blonde mustache and short, balding hair caim into view. "Ah, so yer both here! Mickey says hey, by the way."

Elizabeth was frozen in terror. Who was this man? What did he want?

Was he going to kill them?

Keeping his weapon levelled, he chuckled, "So how do ya' ladies wanna do this?"
Maria leapt off the sofa in alarm as the two gunshots interrupted Elizabeth. Now, the source of the gunshots was in front of her and not only that, but Mickey's murderer if his boast was true. Though, it was hardly the time to question the validity of that. Maria turned her head towards Elizabeth, fear had paralyzed her; meaning that Maria couldn't have the luxury of giving in either terror or panic, for the sake of the young noble in front of her and the others. The doctor took a deep breath and kept her hands close to her pockets. Anger ran through the fear as Maria blurted out, "You're the man with the gun, do we even get a choice in the matter?!"

Grimm chuckled, "No, I don't suppose you do."

The sound from outside his bedroom yanked Sprout straight out of his coma. Gunshots?! What the hell was happening out there? The delirium he'd usually experience when waking so abruptly was absent, replaced by a surge of adrenalin coursing through his body. Carefully, he scooted to the edge of the bed and slid open the nightstand drawer. He could hear voices from the other side of the door.

It didn't sound good.

After retrieving his revolver, he pushed himself off the bed as quietly as possible and pressed his back against the wall, next to the door.

Grimm approached slowly, a cruel smile painted on his face, "You," He was looking at Elizabeth. She nearly pissed herself. "Take off your cloths."

"Wha-what!?" Elizabeth blurted out before immediately throwing her hands over her mouth.

"You heard what I said." He stated, coldly.

Elizabeth looked to Maria. Her eyes screamed, "Help!"

Elizabeth had looked to Maria for help and Maria was at a loss. Though, it was more of a fear to act. The moustached man was armed, an attempt at knocking the weapon out of his hands would be more than a little bit risky and if she delved into one of her pockets for the garrucha, that would probably be met with another gunshot from the murderer. Maria mentally cursed, she had to do something. Anything. Just because of that look. Maria met it with an appeal to endure the man's commands until she thought of something or until an opportunity presented itself. Not much, but fear had crossed out many options.

Not receiving anything from Maria beyond an ominous silence, Elizabeth looked back towards the man. She held her hand close to her chest in an attempt to calm her trembling. Stepping closer, the man hefted his shotgun onto his shoulder and ran his hand down the length of her arm, "It's okay, sweet thing. It will be over before you know it."

"FUCK OFF, FAGGOT!" Sprout suddenly shouted as he threw the door open and fired into the living room. One bullet grazed Grimm's arm before he could react.

"SHIT!" He groaned, shoving Elizabeth down onto the couch as he lunged towards the kitchen. Two more shots went wide as he took cover behind the kitchen counter. Reaching over the counter, he blind fired two shots towards the bedroom. Though the door frame absorbed the bulk of the impact, exploding wood and metal yanked Sprout's revolver out of his grasp, sending it spinning across the floor, towards the back of the bedroom.

With Sprout's rather flashy entrance came a combination of worry and relief. Regardless, Maria immediately yanked Elizabeth off the couch and dragged her behind it. The doctor was thankful that she didn't have to wait long for an opportunity to come along, however, there was anything but a relieved expression on her face. She pulled out the garrucha, took another deep breath and peeked over to see if she could get a shot off. Maria then shrunk back, removed one bullet from the one of the two barrels - no doubt that quantity was more important here - and placed it in one of her pockets. That done, she swiftly popped out and fired at the man and then instantly popped back into cover. Maria's hands erupted into shaking, though she tried to crack down on that as she tried to retrieve the other bullet.

Grimm was just about to break cover and overrun Sprout's position when another gunshot rang out. Maria's bullet had just narrowly missed his head. Looking over to her as she retreated back behind the couch, he could see the fear painted on her face. The boy was a much bigger threat, despite his injury. Dropping his shotgun onto the tile floor, he drew his pistol and fired three shots at the couch to suppress Maria, if nothing else.

Sprout had been hobbling over to his revolver while Maria kept him busy. Unfortunately, it had been knocked under the dresser, and he was in no condition to get down on the floor to fish for it. He could hear the footsteps of their attacker approaching from the kitchen. Had he already taken them out?

Content for the moment that Maria wouldn't be retaliating for a short time, Grimm made a break for Sprout's bedroom. "NO!" Elizabeth shouted. Though she'd been completely paralyzed while Maria dragged her behind the couch, the three bullets that buried themselves in the wall next to her helped to snap Elizabeth out of her trance. This deranged man was heading straight for her nephew. He'd kill him, given the chance.

She couldn't let that happen.

Her maternal instincts kicked in, driving her to a level of bravery she didn't think herself capable of. Without a plan, Elizabeth leapt out from behind the couch and intercepted Grimm before he reached the bedroom. She clocked him in the temple with her bare fist and sent him staggering back into the kitchen table. She'd have followed up on the attack had the shock of nearly breaking her hand on his skull not weakened her resolve.

Cursing under his breath, Grimm braced himself against the table and shook his head. As his focus sharpened once more, he snarled and lashed out at the young noble before him, hitting her across the face with the grip of his pistol, "SIT THE FUCK DOWN, BITCH!"

Maria panted as those three shots whizzed past. She fumbled with the bullet, dropping it, then cursing, then picking it back up. From the sound of it, the moustached man was still alive as well as somewhat occupied with giving Elizabeth yet more abuse. Maria finished loading the garrucha and ran over to the pair, approaching from behind, while trying to be somewhat stealthy. Without further thought, she stopped a little bit away from the man with the garrucha drawn and yelled, "S-stop it!"

Grimm hesitated for a moment. Why didn't she just shoot him? Big mistake. In a flash, he had spun his body around, grabbing Maria by the wrist and twisted. Her weapon discharged into the nearby wall as it was wrenched from her grasp. While she was momentarily stunned from the pain, he used the same arm to grab her by the throat and pin her against the top of the kitchen table. Pressing the barrel of his pistol her cheek, he laughed, "You should have shot me when you had the chance, you stupid bitch."

"L... likewise... ¡C... cabrón!" Maria managed to blurt out and for good measure she spat. There was no option but to go all out, she grabbed the pistol and tried to wrestle it from the bastard's hands while the lower half of her body flailed madly as she kicked out at her assailant.

Grimm started laughing like a madman when Maria struggled. The pistol now locked between the two, ready to kill either one, Grimm pressed himself closer to Maria, pinning her legs against his, "I LIKE A GIRL WHO FIGHTS BACK! GETS ME HARD!" He licked his chops as he thrusted his hip against her, the pistol beginning to move back towards Maria. He was clearly stronger than her. This wouldn't last much longer.

Intense pain pulsed through Elizabeth's face as she slowly came to. Above her, Maria and her attacker were struggling against the table. Things didn't look good. Lying on the floor and barely aware of her surroundings, Elizabeth did the first thing that sprung to mind. Bite the fucker. Reaching out, she clutched the man's ankle and dug her teeth in deep. Shrieking in pain, Grimm's knee buckled and his grip on the pistol loosened.

Maria grimaced as it went on, there was only swearing and terror in her mind now. He was right, she should've just shot him then and there. Nevertheless, it was too late for regrets; too late for hope, even. Still, she struggled just to be alive a little longer. Well, until one desperate act followed another. Elizabeth's bite opened another window of opportunity and Maria didn't hesitate in taking it. With all of her might, she yanked the pistol from him, latched on the gun, twirled it around by the trigger guard and shot.

Grimm toppled head-over-heels onto the ground beside Elizabeth; a gaping, bloody hole where his eye used to be. Blood dripping from her lips, Elizabeth stared at the motionless corpse for a few seconds before looking to Maria. Struggling to her feet, her head still swimming, Elizabeth grabbed Maria by the shoulders, "Are you okay!?"

Just then, Sprout stumbled into the living room with his revolver in-hand, "Oh, shit... it's over." He was in a lot of pain. "Sorry. God damn gun got knocked under the dresser."
For a moment, Maria just stared in shock at the bloody hole. However, Elizabeth soon put a stop to that. Maria blinked, "Y-yeah I--- We should clean this up."

She got up and raided the cupboard beneath the sink for cleaning supplies. Apparently satisfied with what she had, Maria then began to scrub the blood away.

Despite having knocked down a large number of the goons, there seemed to be still enough of them about to shoot at Viola and Hannibal as they made their way up the spiral staircase; whilst this offered the pair reasonable protection, it was also a double edged sword in the fact that Viola couldn't get any decent shots off with her rifle.

As they reached the second floor, Viola ducked into a nearby room, hoping that Hannibal would follow. Instead she heard the sound of a window being broken, indicating that he took to the fire escape outside. Allowing herself a moment to rest, Viola could hear that the shooting had died down; whoever was looking for them must have taken out the bandits, or the other way around. A moment later, the sounds of footsteps going up the stairs. Regardless of which side it was, Viola would have to catch up with Hannibal and soon.

Checking to see if the coast was clear for the moment, Viola exited the room, carrying a large chair with her that she found in the room, and using it as a makeshift barricade, trying to wedge it into the window frame. Hopefully it might slow them down for a few seconds whilst she went to find Hannibal.

"Y-yeah I--- We should clean this up."

More footsteps, as four men in black wielding handguns came through the threshold, over the ruin that Grimm had made of the door. They fanned out in almost perfect synchronisation, covering every angle with weapons drawn. The man on point surveyed the carnage quickly, his eyes going first to Sprout, then to the two women, and finally to Grimm's corpse. Without any further acknowledgement, he held his finger up to his ear and spoke.

"Asset is secure and unharmed. Tango down, no further casualties. Over."

He waited a few seconds for a reply no-one else could here, before nodding stiffly and addressing the room.

"Apologies." he said, though not sounding particularly apologetic, just businesslike. "Our snipers never had a clear shot on your assailant, we had to follow him up on foot." he turned to his men. "Mendez, Farthing, prep this place. I want us gone in three minutes.

We should check you haven't torn any stitches." he said to Sprout, bluntly. "Sit down, please."

The grating sound of the mechanized door cut through the fug of uncomfortable sleep that had finally claimed Eddie, and his eyes opened blearily.

"Well hello, Mister Canton," said a familiar voice. Eddie recognized Payton even before his vision unblurred.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it, Edward?"

"Go fuck yourself."

"Well, I see you haven't changed. Anyway, I thought you might like to know, your daughter is safe. I'm afraid I must continue to hold onto her to assure our mutual lady friend's good behavior. Of course, you have my word that not one hair on little Amelia's head will be harmed, so long as Miss Fifer stays in line."

"Fuck you."

"She said much the same," Payton replied with an amused smile. "Now, I had a lot that needed catching up with, but I managed to get most of it done before and after meeting with Miss Meredith Monroe earlier today. So, Edward, you and I may catch up after these years apart. Isn't that nice?"

With that, Payton turned towards a small pushcart by his side. On the cart's top shelf was a car battery. Payton picked up the clamps and struck them together, causing a cascade of sparks.

"Very good," he said. "Well, let's not put this off any longer." He clamped the circuit together on the chain that held Eddie up by the wrists, and the pain was immediate. Eddie felt every muscle in his body tighten. His heart felt like it was on fire, and his left hand felt like it had been blown off. His body thrashed wildly, and in some small part of his mind not lost to the maelstrom of agony, he regretted that his too were bound. Or else he might be able to lash out in his throes and cave Payton's smug grin with the heel of his boot. Eddie held silent for about a minute. And then Payton started turning up the juice, and he started screaming.

"The sort that pays very well, very quickly,"

After a short wait, three men approached the twins, followed closely behind by the bartender, "These three are regulars here. Tough mother fuckers."

Severa flashed her brother a mischievous smile, "Let me have the fat one."

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Sprout pointed his revolver at the invading men as soon as they entered the apartment. Annoyingly, they ignored him and went about their business. Thankfully, it seemed they weren't friends with the guy they'd just put down.

Elizabeth stood with her back against the wall, unsure of what to do as these newcomers combed the apartment. Her cheek had been bruised badly and her lip was split, but hers were likely minor injuries compared to Sprout. Despite this, Sprout stood in front of Elizabeth, his gun at the ready, just in case they tried anything.

He was a brave kid.

"We should check you haven't torn any stitches. Sit down, please."

Sprout furrowed his brow, "Who the fuck 'ar y'all?" He didn't lower his weapon.

Elizabeth looked to Maria, distress painted on her face.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"He said if there were any more mercenaries out there, they'd follow after him. I guess he's right."

Pixie nodded, "Even still, be or yer guard." Once Whiskey was secure in the passenger seat, Bennie pulled the crawler around, towards the East Gate. After waiting a minute for the others to get ready, the two crawlers raced out of town, leaving behind a mountain of corpses for the locals to deal with.

They rode on in silence for several minutes before Pixie spoke up again, "Payton's a fuckin' clown. Tallahassee's the best scout we've got. I know fer a fact that he'd catch anyone tryin' ta' sneak by on ar' side'a town. Payton dropped the ball." She scoffed, looking out onto the ashlands as they passed her by. "Wonder if that's a sign fer thin's ta' come. If we're lucky, Austin'll only wipe out most of 'is troops."

Bennie furrowed his brow and looked over his shoulder. Pixie's bandage, as well as a large area around it, was covered in red, "Pixie, don't worry about that right now. You should---"

"Eyes on the road Carmine. You let me worry about my leg." She crossed her arms.

Bennie did as he was told, but continued talking despite her protest, "You should get some rest, Pixie. It's gonna be a long drive before we can get some stitches in you. Relax." After closing the automatic windows and sealing shut the cabin, Bennie turned on the filters. With his mask removed, he tested the air to make sure it was breathable before anyone else did. Their crawlers were hardy, but they'd taken a lot of lead in the previous bout.

Pixie sighed, "Fine," Looking to Amy, she removed her mask and offered a weak smile before lying down on her good side and resting her head in Amy's lap. The pain and stress had done a number on her. She was out in seconds.

Alex had stayed up late that night, like every other night this past week. Whisperings of her paranoia had spread through the precinct, though no one was brave or stupid enough to confront her about it, or even ask, other than her deputy Vidal. Alex knew he was a good man, everyone needed someone to bring them back. Usually that was her son-even if she had kept him ignorant of the world, simply seeing him was enough to help her through particularly stressful days. But rumours of a ship abducting women in the world outside Yuteni had her shaken. She more than thought it was him, it was as if she knew but she didn't have the information to be sure. But she was so utterly convinced and convicted in her theory, which may have been influenced by irrational fear and rage, that she had increased the number of cops around the perimeter of the dome. However, despite the doubled up numbers, she still didn't know how she would defend against him. If he attacked with the ship or a bomb how would they retaliate? There was only one thing she needed right now.

Rest.

She had been peeking through the door of her son's room as he slept soundly, finally closing it she decided to go downstairs. Exiting through the front door she sat outside on a rocking chair like some old hillbilly, she even had a shotgun on hand, dressed in her sheriff outfit and her overpowered revolver at her hip.

==================================================================================

Everyone on the ship had been running around in a busy haze. Everyone had something to do, no one was sitting down or taking it easy, other than the new arrivals. They had been 'escorted' into their sleeping quarters. It was rather packed in their but it wasn't too bad, the door was locked and they were told to stay in there for their own safety, as if they tried to escape "you would all be in great danger, and we don't want anything of the sort." The family was unaware of the hypocrisy of their words as they prepared for battle.

Austin stood at the wheel of the ship, one of his daughters piloting as he stood by and watched. Everyone had breathers on just in case there was a breach. Oddly enough, Austin was the only one without a busy pair of hands, whether or not one of those hands was broken wouldn't make a difference. He wanted to watch as his children fulfilled his prophecy, the true path The Rock was destined for.

Rocket launchers were positioned outside with high powered sniper rifles, their deadly mortar positioned at the very front for maximum damage. "Full speed ahead!" Austin bellowed like some kind of heroic commander in a melodramatic novel. He threw his hand forward from his chest, extending his fingers and spreading them. He could barely contain his excitement, but he knew how to play the role.

================================================================

Meanwhile, police officers were tired and restless as they patrolled the rim of the dome. No one had been in or out of this side of the whole city all day, making them wonder why the hell they were out here. Even if the sheriff had warned of some kind of attack, there was no sign of anything resembling such a travesty.

Their warning however, would not be a subtle one.

Racing across the ashlands at a bone breaking pace, the Iron Maiden set off on a mission unlike any other it had been known for. A mission of terror.

"Coming up on the dome now father."

"Mortar at the ready father."

"Targets in our sights father."

"Wait!" He commanded. "Fire on my signal and only my signal. No one jump the gun or we will be the cause of our own destruction!"

"Yes father." Came the reply, dozens of his disciples speaking in unison.

==================================================

Men and women on the ground kept their vigil, unaware of the hell that was about to be unleashed. Some weren't exactly taking it easy, but they were more relaxed than their sheriff wanted them to be. Smoking and jesting, one had even sneaked in alcohol.

"She's losin' it."

"I dunno what's up with her but she ain't the same sheriff she was before."

"Vidal didn't say shit, but I could tell he was freaked out."

"Enough." Grumbled another officer. "There's enough nutters out there that want in on Yuteni. WV are still fucking us up with gambling rackets, who knows maybe she got a tip they were gonna full on attack the dome."

"Yeah right, they're runnin' scared. We bust their shit every week!" Yelled an excited, immature looking officer, who still had spots.

"Y'know, one day you're gonna leave this dome and realise just how different it is out there. How fucked it is." The annoyed officer wandered back over to his post as the ones who had been joking looked at each other in thought. It was true they had never left the dome, they had no clue what the rest of the world was really like, or who ran it.

================================================================================
"Everyone get ready!" Austin shouted through the intercom as they were so close upon their target. He had the best view of the carnage, but also the most dangerous. The ship was going faster and faster, enough to tear another, lesser ship in half. But that was not their goal. Many feared what would happen if the Yuteni family's soldier ship attacked them, but Austin knew better. He knew what cowards the 'Noble' Yuteni clan really hired. It was really just a matter of how well they could hide themselves.

====================================================
"Um, if someone did attack the dome, what would happen?" Asked a sheepish looking officer to an elder one.

"Just make sure they don't get that far."

"Does that mean someone will?" He panicked.

"I just meant be ready for anything." The other replied as calm as he could, before turning his head to see something that shocked him to his very core.

===================================================
"This is it my sons! My daughters!" Austin yelled haggardly into the intercom. "Together we shall bring them to their knees and execute them one by one! Our family stuck in the Yuteni slums shall be saved!"

===================================================
"The fuck is that!" Cops yelled as they readied their guns and hurried out of the safety of the dome, aiming up at the quickly approaching ship.

"Fire at will! Fire at will!" Their commander ordered, but no amount of bullets could stop Austin's first, and possibly most devastating attack.

With a deafening boom, glass and metal fell from the sky as the Iron Maiden's ballistic missiles and plasma cannons exploded against the side of the dome. The force of the most feared bandit ship in the ashlands unleashing such weaponry against the under cared for dome shook the ground as if the world itself were falling in on itself. Officers had rushed outside and taken up the defensive weapons equipped for protecting the dome; firing up at the Iron Maiden as it assaulted their home. Meanwhile, the children were firing down upon the cops with the incredible armoury the maidens had accumulated over the years. The ship almost got caught in the air as it slowed down in order to not ram the dome, hanging in the sky for a moment like a sitting duck. Had it stalled? Were they finished this quickly?

No. No now they had the advantage! The plan wasn't perfect, but the officers were too busy scrambling for air than to defend their precious cage. This imperfect plan had worked perfectly. They had punched a hole through the dome. Staring out at the carnage he had caused, Austin grinned manically. The noble's lack of care for the dome and all of its inhabitants would lead to its undoing. The dome hadn't been maintained in so long the ship has less trouble than a it should have against a domed wall, as it sailed through after the initial breach, although it was a tight squeeze as it scraped violently against the new entrance to Yuteni. They were in, and so was the ash and the dust as it filled the lungs of all those whom it touched. Many kept shooting, soon to perish under lack of a breather, while others were crushed under the falling debris as they desperately clambered for their breathing masks. Austin wanted to laugh, he wanted to yell at them for their hubris as their precious dome had now been the death of them.

Instead, he stood up straight, looking as stoic as possible and sent out his hand from his chest. "Begin."
===========================================================================================
Alex was deep within the dome, but the destruction of one of the walls of the dome had shaken her like an earthquake. She could have been mistaken if not for her police radio exploding with noise. Grabbing the receiver she yelled into it, "someone speak clearly, what's going on?!"

"---zzztt--- nor... ome wall... eached... the ash an... eryone... cking breathe---zzztt---" The sounds of speaking were overpowered by the bangs of gunfire.

"Repeat!" she ordered. "Ash? Is the dome breached?"

Silence.

"REPEAT IS THE DOME BREACHED!!!"

Silence.

Panicking she ran back into the house and up into Austin's room. Her son woke up frightened.

"Mom wha-" She interrupted him immediately as she began working his breathing mask onto his face.

"Shush baby. We're gonna need to drive somewhere okay?" She tried to appear calm.

"But Mom wh-"

"Just do what I tell you Austin!" she shouted. He shut up immediately. "I'm sorry for shouting baby but we need to hurry. Come on lets go." She rushed back into her room and grabbed the gun Austin had been practising with, she couldn't let it stay in his room. Grasping her son by the hand they sped outside and into her car. He sat in the back seat and she handed him the gun as she sat in the driver's. "Remember everything I told you baby, only take the safety off if you think someone is trying to hurt you, never point it at or near yourself or someone else, unless they are trying to hurt you."

"Mom please..." He pleaded.

"I'll tell you when we get there. Put your seatbelt on." He did as commanded as she began driving through the streets. She put her sirens on, along with a breathing mask she kept in the car, as she used her radio to talk through the speakers on top of her squad car.

"Everyone put on your breathing masks, the dome had been breached by bandits. I repeat the dome has been breached by bandits. Do not attempt to confront them, just defend yourselves and your families. If you have weapons, only use them in defence, do not engage them, I repeat do not engage them."

"Mom what's going on?" Her son spoke, now terrified.

"Fuck." She cursed. "I can't even be sure if its him but I need you safe."

"Mom what's happening?!"

===============================================
Hellfire rained down upon Yuteni as the family stormed through the dome. Mortar strikes took apart buildings along with rocket launchers. Various assortments of sniper rifles took out targets while the ship flew just low enough for the hanger doors to open and the cars, filled with ravenous children, invaded the streets with gunfire and hate, Austin all the while smiling his sick grin. Citizens were dying left and right from exposure, explosions, and bullets. Despite the numbers game, Austin was cleaving through Yuteni's defences like butter, as his evil angels delivered his vengeance upon the city that had birthed him, and ruined him almost a decade ago.

And he deemed it, good.
================================================
"You, Aesop, Brock and Warren need to pick up Tallahassee on your way out. We'll take the cowgirl."

Aesop grumbled as his comrades entered the crawler with him as the driver. He muttered annoyances to himself about Payton screwing them over as he swung around and picked up Tallahasse.

"Mother fucking, unreliable," he said under his breath before speaking out loud, "how can we be sure WV can handle Austin if they can't handle some lunatics with hammers and fire axes?"

Ivan leaned back in his chair, blowing a smoke ring. Jesus, he was bored. Guarding this brat was glorified babysitting. And hell, she was taking a nap. He didn't even need to be here.

"Got any threes?" asked Brandon. They'd been playing various cardgames on and off for hours now.

"Go fuck yourself."

Brandon shrugged and drew a card from the deck. "It's your turn, Ivan."

"Jesus Christ..."

"You alright?"

Brandon sat forward. "Got any kings?" he asked. Brandon passed two over, and Ivan lay down a set of four. "No, I'm not fucking alright. I'm fucking bored, man. I mean shit, nothing's gonna happen. Hell, I bet the only reason they sent two of us is so we keep each other from blowing his brains out from boredom. Shit... fuck this, man. I'mma take a leak."

He threw down his cards, and headed to the bathroom. He did need to urinate, but that was hardly his only reason. He wanted time to go by a little quicker. Once he was in the cramped bathroom, he pulled out a transparent baggy and shook out a small quantity of cocaine onto the edge of the sink, hemming it into a line with the back edge of his key to the apartment. Then he pulled a scrap of paper from a back pocket, rolled it up and snorted. Shaking his head like a dog, he then set about taking a piss.

==============================================================

The crawler's of the lunatic children were spiraling out into the streets, firing randomly into houses and cityfolk as the sped away. The explosions were behind them and they were driving just ahead of them, they could feel the heat and could barely hear anything over the gunfire and destruction. But they didn't need sound, these were the beserkers. Causing as much chaos as possible, bringing the noise, luring the police to their doom at the hands of the mortar.

==================================================

Ivan burst out of the bathroom, wired.

"What the fuck was that?!" he shouted.
"I don't know," replied Brandon. Getting to his feet, he started coughing. Ivan was about to ask if he was okay, when he followed suit. Making his way over to the open window, he peered out.

"Holy..." he was interrupted by another bout. "Holy shit! The dome's breached! Get the fucking travel masks!"

=====================================================

Eventually, they weren't just shooting up houses. Driving at reckless speeds, the began lighting and throwing molotov cocktails, along with pipebombs and even powerful grenades.

=====================================================

With their masks on, Brandon and Ivan had masked Millie and brought her into the apartment's living room. The sound of explosions had frightened her, and she was curled up under the coffee table, crying softly.

"What the fuck do we do?" asked Brandon.

"Well, this is a big building, and we're high up," Ivan replied. "I don't think whoever these fuckers are could hock a grenade up here. We just wait it out."

=====================================================

Finally the police were beginning to give chase to the invaders. The ship members, not missing their cue, opened fire with the high powered rifles, tearing apart their weakly built vehicles with their superior firepower, causing them to spin off and crash against nearby walls and buildings, as the rocket and mortar fire was getting further and further into the city.

======================================================

As the police were busy dying at the hands of brainwashed cultists, the ground troops set off raiding nearby buildings, slaughtering denizens inside and ragging children out into the street. They couldn't keep them anyway for now, but they needed the buildings to be clear for their new city.

=======================================================

"Did you hear that?" asked Ivan. The coke was hitting him hard now and he couldn't keep still.

"No, what?"

"It sounded like people kicking in doors. I think--" he was interrupted by the muffled sounds of gunfire several floors below.

"Shit."

"Yeah... you take care of the girl, I'll barricade the door," said Ivan, dragging the coffee table and chairs over to the apartment's front door to barricade it shut. Brandon crouched down in front of Millie. "Alright, kid. I want you to go into your room and hide under the bed. No matter what happens, don't come out until we come to get you. Alright?"

"I want mommy," said Millie. "I want her to make the bad people go away."

"I know you do, kid, but that's what we're here for, alright? Now go hide under the bed."

Millie did so, lip trembling, and Brandon shut the door to her room and locked it from the outside before crossing to the room he and Ivan shared and heading inside to use the wall as cover. Ivan had taken cover behind the counter in the kitchenette that faced the apartment's front door. Both men drew their pistols, and checked their ammunition. All they could do now was wait.

A gargantuan of a man began slamming his boot against the door. Furniture shaking on the other side as he kicked and kicked the door, struggling under the weight of his strength. With one last powerful swing of his foot, the lock came flying off of the handle and the blockade inside had fallen to pieces, the massive man quickly taking cover. He pulled the pin on a flashbang, damn near giggling as he did.

The flashbang was unexpected, to say the least. Brandon closed his eyes and took cover behind the wall to try and sit out the effects. Ivan, wired on cocaine, emptied his clip through the apartment's wrecked front door at their assailant.

The giant man had inched down the hallway to escape the gunfire, smiling as he heard the telltale signs of a clip emptying, nodding to his sister.

A little girl peeked around the corner with a sawnoff shotgun, almost too big for her, as she blasted through the doorway, followed suit by the ogre of a man charging in with a revolver on one hand, and a cleaver of all things.

The two cleared the door, and Ivan fumbled for his next clip, beginning to worry. "Bran? Brandon! Help!"

Brandon leaned out of the doorway, his vision returning, and lined up a shot on the first through the door. The fact that it was a little girl made him a little squeamish, but it was his ability to power through that had gotten him picked for this job. He fired. A gout of blood erupted from the girl's shoulder, and her shotgun discharged into the far wall.

Succumbing to the cocaine shivers, Ivan dropped his clip. With only a moment to think as the huge man was bearing down on him, he ducked his head, ran around the counter and charged him.

The large man fell back against the counter as he was charged by his opponent, thankfully the man wasn't seeming to think straight and he slammed his cleave into the back of the man laying atop him. As he desperately screamed out, he brought up his revolver and struggled to fire through the man's head. Instead, it bore through his neck.
Meanwhile the little girl crawled backwards and around the corner, sobbing as she held her shoulder. Her sobs seemed to make the much larger man go wild as he threw off the man who had charged him.

Brandon watched in dismay as he saw Ivan sprawl across the ground, twitching as he bled out. He raised his gun and squeezed the trigger. It didn't give. Then he saw it. The bullet casing jamming the pistol's casing ejector.

"Mother fucking clip fed piece of sh--" he was cut off as the large man's shot hit him in the eye.

Jumping off from the counter and lowering his smoking gun the large man went to check on his sister. Her crying was breaking his heart, he carried her inside and lay her atop the counter. She screamed out as he stroked her hair and shushed her, another of his sisters running upstairs to meet them, this one a teenager. She carried the younger girl away while the ogre checked over the rooms, finally finding one that was locked.

With the gunfire and explosions only slightly muffled by the door, Millie cowered under the bed. She had her pillow in her mouth to try and keep silent, but all it did was muffle her whimpering. She wanted mommy. Grandma. She wanted the man named Eddie who was her daddy. Him most of all. Even in that bed, in obvious pain, he had looked so big and strong. She thought he could protect anyone from anything. Where was he? this wasn't fair!

The door damn near flew off its hinges as it was booted open. The sounds of whimpering gave her away immediately as she was pulled out from under the bed by her tiny arms.

Millie screamed as she was hauled out from under the bed. "LET GO LET GO LET GO LET GO! AAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHH!"

She tried to kick out, but her legs were too small. Doing the only thing she could as she dangled there and her ill fitting mask fell loose, she bit savagely into the thumb of the man holding her, enough that she tasted blood. Whiskey would have been proud.

"AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHH!" Screamed the man, his voice overpowered hers as his thumb was damn near bit off. She wouldn't let go and he had to throw her away until she took his whole thumb with her. He yelled out and clutched his thumb in pain.

Millie was thrown across the bed and landed in a tangled heap on the ground. Getting up, she pulled her mask back on and looked around desperately, and began seizing things off the nightstand. A copy of Gideon's bible, an alarm clock, a small statuette and a framed photo of The Rock's twin suns, and began throwing them at her attacker as hard as she could.

The little girl had knocked him in the face a few times, but her throws were weak and he smacked them away from his face as he rushed across the room in an attempt to seize her.

Millie ducked between the man's legs in an attempt to escape, but he reached down and hauled her up by the ankles. She responded by clawing at his face and neck, but he still didn't drop her.

"Grigory seriously lets go!" Yelled a voice from the entrance as the bull of a man carried her out into the living room.

"Stop squirming!" He yelled as he threw her over his shoulder. Ordering the teenager girl from before he said, "she bit my fucking thumb off! Go find it before the cops get here." He began running down the building they had cleared out, meeting up with other children of various ages.

Millie pounded on the man's back futily, screaming at the top of her lungs as she was carried down the stairs.

Grigory carried her down the steps and opened up the trunk, pushing her inside along with another little girl who was holding herself tightly, afraid of the closed in darkness, only to be trapped once again, but now with Millie to keep her company as the crawler took off down the street.

Trapped in the darkness, Millie was quiet for some time, as the shock took its toll. After a while, the quiet sobbing of the other girl brought her to herself, and she did as her mother had always done for her. She reached out and put her arms around her companion in the dark.

"Where. Is. Gorgon?" Lilith seethed as she twisted the hunter's arm painfully behind his back.

"I-I dunno! He never tells us anything, we just work for the guy!" The man cried out as Lilith twisted his arm further.

"LIAR!" She roared, pushing the man's head harder into the wall. "See your friends down there?" She asked, breathing heavily into the man's ear as she nodded at the two corpses on the ground, one with a hole in his head, the other with multiple stab wounds and a slashed throat. "That is gonna be you in five seconds if you don't tell me where that son of a bitch is!"

"I don't know!"
"Five"
"I swear to you, I have no id-"
"Four!"
"Please!"
"Three!" She twisted the man's arm even further.
"I DON'T KNOW!"
"TWO!" She pulled out her pistol, jamming the barrel into the back of the hunter's head.
"PLEASE, I DON'T KNOW, I HAVE NO ID-
"ONE!"
"THE BASEMENT!" He interrupted. "He's in the basement!"
"Why the hell is he in the basement?" Lilith demanded, her tone a lot softer now.
"I d-dunno, that's just where he is!"
"Why the fuck isn't he with the others?!"
"I SAID I DON'T KNOW!"

Roaring with frustration, Lilith released the man, pistol whipping him around the head as he fell to the ground cowering. As she took a step back, running her free hand through her hair, she aimed the gun at the man, a look of distress on her face. "Why is he in the basement?" She muttered quietly, her hand shaking as she aimed at the hunter.

"Please! I have a wife and ki-"
"DID HE SAY ANYTHING?!" She roared as she took a step closer, her finger squeezing the trigger ever so tighter. The man whimpered, averting his gaze as he seemed to think for a moment.

"'The bitch will know why.' That's what he said, when talking to Landon and the others, p-p-please I-"
"Bollocks!" Lilith muttered, clenching her jaw. He knew, he knew she'd be after him, and now he was baiting her to come get him.

It was working.

"I told you everything I know, please, please don't kill me!" The hunter begged, tears welling in his eyes. Her pistol trembling even more, she furrowed her brow as her emotions began getting the better of her.

"I won't" She whispered reassuringly, her voice croaking as she tried to remain calm.
"Thank yo-ARGH!" The man cried out in agony as Lilith put a bullet in each of his kneecaps and began backing out of the room, her aim leaving the weeping man only as she exited through the door.

The basement it was.

Gorgon sat leaning back in his chair, his legs crossed over on top of the poker table. Despite the pain he felt from his recent surgery, he was in quite a chipper mood. He whistled a jolly tune to himself as he spun the cylinder of his revolver, over and over. The gun shots and screaming were getting closer. She'd find him soon enough.

He smiled.

Breathing heavily, Lilith wiped the blood from her hands and knife, smearing crimson across the back of a hunter's shirt. These men were grunts, no way was it supposed to be this easy.

'Of course not, he wants me alive.'

Cranston was probably dealing with the real hunters right now. Her expression softened slightly, wincing as she got to her feet. Leg throbbing, shoulder aching, eyes tired, the adrenaline wasn't doing a great job at the moment.

Turning to face the entrance to the basement, she quickly checked her pistol magazine. It was strange, she had been in a such a hurry to get there, gunning and cutting her way through so many men, and now she could stop?

Fire fears nothing

Expression hardening, she brought her pistol and knife together as she walked slowly towards the door, leaning up against it slightly, she reached down with her knife hand, slowly twisting the handle between thumb and forefinger.

"I'm coming for you, you son of a bitch." She whispered, more to reassure herself, than anything else.

Gorgon cocked an eyebrow as the doorknob began to turn. With a stupid grin stretching from ear-to-ear, he chuckled, "Come to Daddy, little girl."

Cracking open the door, she shivered slightly as his words made her skin crawl.

There he was, just, sitting there.

Her pistol locked on him, she took a few steps forward, her resolve fading slightly as unease began to creep into her. Narrowing her eyes slightly, she forced a smirk.

"Sorry I was late for the party."

Gorgon laughed, "Nonsense, the party's just begun!" Gesturing towards the poker table in front of him, his laughter intensified. "I know you're a fan of cards. I figured this would be just as good a place as any other to end the legend of Casino. Don't you think?"

Remaining silent, she looked at the man.

Tilting her head slightly, she smirked slyly. "Pretty nasty nick you got there. Cut yourself shaving?"

"Funny girl," Gorgon mused. "You know that old proverb, 'an eye for an eye'?" He snapped the cylinder shut and grinned. "Well, I ain't settlin' for just your eye, Casino. But you knew that, didn't you?"

The smirk fading from her lips, Lilith's expression hardened. "You make it sound like this wasn't your fault." She tightened her grip on her pistol. "Couldn't stay away, just had to have a piece of us, like every other scum sucking bounty hunter out there."

"I'm not settling for a piece of you, oh no!" He shook his head. "I'm feastin' tonight. You'll be quite the juicy dish, I must say! Now," He pulled back the hammer on his revolver. "How do you want to play this?"

"Big words from a man who shoots kids." She replied coldly. "Put the gun down and I'll make this quick." She kept his head aimed squarely in her sights.

"There's not going to be anything quick about this!" Gorgon shouted as he hooked the edge of the table with his boot and kicked it over whilst firing two shots at Lilith.

Crying out in surprise, Lilith quickly dived to the ground, firing several shots at Gorgon, forcing him into cover behind the table.

"Sonovabitch!" She muttered through gritted teeth, as she quickly scrambled to her feet, firing into the table as she did so.

Poke your head out you bastard, I dare you.

Gorgon began laughing maniacally as he reached over the table and blind fired his revolver in her direction. None of her shots had found their mark, but wooden splinters had managed to embed themselves into his arm. It hurt, but he'd shrug it off. His ammo spent, he clutched the sides of the poker table, rose from his crouching position and lifted it up, "LET'S HAVE SOME FUN!" He shouted as he charged the much smaller woman in an attempt to pin her against the back wall with the table.

"Nice aim wankeOHHHHHH SHIT!" Lilith back peddled quickly, as she continued to fire into the table. Pinning her to the wall, Lilith's hand slammed into the brickwork, knocking the gun out of her hand, sending it sliding across the floor. Grunting with exertion, she pushed against the table as Gorgon pinned her harder to the wall.
"Kiss... my... arse!" As she inched the table away from her ever so slightly, she used the gap to quickly slide out of the pin, sending her stumbling across the room as she created some distance. There was only one problem.

Her gun was now on the opposite side of the room.

"Bollocks..."

Releasing his hold, he let the table clatter against the wall before turning to face his adversary. Drawing a huge knife from a sheath on his belt, he grinned, "We got up close n' personal last time. Want to dance again?"

Lilith clenched her jaw. The man was huge, a lot bigger than she remembered. Wincing slightly as she got to her feet, her breathing heavy, her eyes shifted wildly as she looked for an escape.

The huge man was blocking both the exit and the corner of the room where her gun had fallen.

'Shit.'

Alex raced through the streets, repeating her mantra throughout the speakers of her car, urging citizens to safety. All the while her son sat scared in the backseat. He knew what was going on from what she was saying, but there was still something else his mother wasn't telling him, something that scared him. Meanwhile Police all around the city where getting her message through the radio, escorting citizens to safety and heading towards the battle.

Little Austin remained quiet in the backseat as his mother drove through backstreets and into one of the poorest areas of Yuteni, blaring her siren and warning, despite the heavy presence of drug dealers and wannabe gangsters. Hastily parking her car by a rundown hotel she exited the car and picked her son up from the backseat. He was a bit big to be carried, but she could still hold him up with one arm as her other was ready to draw. Yuteni was ridden with petty crime, and this was a heavily concentrated area, the closest you would get to 'organised'.

Alex slammed her palm repeatedly on the door until an older gentleman opened the door, fumbling with his breathing mask. Alex pushed past the man and ran up the stairs. "Skylar!" She yelled, to which a young woman came out. She looked tired and incredibly skinny, with very pale skin and baggy clothing.

"Shouldn't you be out doing... whatever?" She asked confused.

Ignoring her query, Alex demanded, "I need you to take my son and get out of town. You might be able to get out on the other side of town from the breach. If you can't, then just find somewhere to hide. I don't care where it is just somewhere secluded, a sewer if you have to."

"Mom?" Austin asked frightened and also disgusted at the idea of being in a sewer. But even he knew now wasn't the time to be picky.

"I can't take your kid-" replied the much younger woman before again being cut off by the sheriff.

"Skylar please!" Her voice appeared more desperate than earlier, barely a trace of anger in her voice. "I'll help you get away from here I promise, you can stay at my place after this is all sorted, hell I'll even try to get you into some noble work if you want. Just please," she was almost pleading, "take my son somewhere you know is safe."

The girl hesitated before nodding. "I'll get my things."

"Thank you," Alex sighed gratefully.

As the girl disappeared from view, Alex ran back down stairs and outside towards Skylar's car, it looked more like a box with wheels than a car. Finally Austin couldn't take anymore, his fear boiling over.

"Mom please! What's happening!"

Alex stopped and gulped, guilt gripping her throat. She sat him atop the car and stared deep into his eyes. "I should have told you a long time ago but..." she had dreaded this day for eight years, she didn't want him to know until his teens, or maybe she never wanted to tell him. "There's a man, a very bad man, an evil man, and he is going to try and hurt a lot of people. Now I need to go and stop him, but I need you to be safe. Skylar is a friend, she can take care of you."

"Are you... are you serious Mom?" Austin had never been this scared in his life. Despite living in a city full of crime, the almost brutally methodical police force kept it in check, led by his mother, who's ruthless side he had never seen before. She hoped he'd never see it. He had been so sheltered, to be ripped from that to now being told a villain is trying to hurt everyone on the city was a shock to the system no child should take. At least he had been given a warning, but regret filled Alex's mind, she knew she should have told him when he was much younger.

"Yes I am. I'm sorry baby," she hugged him tightly, "his name is... well its... its the same as yours." She forced the words out of her throat.

"Austin?" asked the boy, even more confused now.

"Yes," she said, "he thinks he is everyone's father, he's a mad man. But he," she paused. She couldn't do it, she couldn't tell him the truth. "He'll say he's your father, but he isn't, he's just a mad man, he's a lunatic and he doesn't have any children. The people who follow him are just tricked, brainwashed, and they aren't really his sons and daughters. You are not, nor will you ever be his son." Those last few words came out more possesive than the rest of her speech.

"Mo-"

"You will never be his son! Repeat it to me." She was holding him tightly.

"Mom you're hurting me!"

"You will n-oh baby I'm so sorry." She hugged him again. "I'm so... I'm so..." tears welled up in her eyes, despite being a good few feet away she could still hear the sounds of chaos from her car radio. Austin hated seeing his mother like this, and ignoring the stinging pain he had in his arms just now, he embraced her tightly. "I love you baby..." she said so quiet it was almost silent.

"I love you too mom." He sniffed. Skylar had just come out of the house carrying a few bags, she opened the boot of the car and threw them all in.

"Alright lets go." She said as she entered the driver's side. Alex and Austin looked at each other, fear and sadness running across her every feature like droplets of water, while confusion and an even greater fear painted his face. He wanted to ask to stay with her, but he chose instead to be silent. Alex opened the back door and put his seatbelt on for him, like she used to before he was old enough to do it himself, and lifted her mask to kiss the top of his head.

"I love you Austin," she weeped before closing the door. She nodded to Skylar who began driving down the street. Alex watched with her arms crossed as Austin looked out the back window to her. Even as they got further away from each other their eyes remained locked until the car finally turned a corner. Alex held herself tightly, letting a few sobs escape her. Wiping away her tears mere seconds after they formed she dashed over to her car, turned her sirens back on and sped off towards the breach, where her former fiancée lay waiting.

Except he wasn't waiting, he was pushing ever further towards her, as his storm of bullets and rockets barrelled down upon the citizens of Yuteni, getting further and further inland. The police had never seen such superior weaponry head on before. Plasma cannons tearing apart buildings like nothing, as ballistic missiles destroyed the streets, cleansing them of their impurity.

"We barrel forth and bring down the oppressors while they lay on their fat, hedonistic backs!" Bellowed the all powerful father on his mission of 'freedom'.

Bryan and Beard had been talking for a good few minutes, now. Bryan had at least partially relented, and bought his uncle a beer.

"Alright, uncle, I gotta ask. What're you doing with that keycard?"

"Aw, it's obvious, Bryan," Beard rasped. "I can lift enough info from that place to retire on."

"You always make enough to retire on, you drunk fuck," Bryan replied. "But you always burn it on gambling. Jesus, I bet Wilkes-Vines has made half his fortune off o' you!"

Beard waved him away. "Yeah yeah yeah, I heard it before, kid. Anyway, I know you're in his pocket. You gon' ask me for it?"

"Nah. Ain't my job."

"Good. It ain't nothing personal. Just business, even if he is an asshole."

"Oh, aye. But, uh... y'know, I'd hate to be... y'know."

"Sent after your favourite uncle?"

"My only uncle, but yeah, let's go with that."

"Ah, don't worry kid, don't worry. Ain't none of this traceable to me. But hey! Let's cut the shit, yeah? You come looking for me, tell me what's up?"

Bryan drained what remained of his beer and slammed the glass down. "Yeah, so basically me and mine have been asked to track down Dio's lass."

"Elizabeth? What, you gonna kill her?"

"Jesus, did everyone fucking know about that except me?"

"Nah, boy," Beard replied. "But it's my job, ain't it? You know, people die and that's that, but I don't exactly wanna be getting innocent people murdered for some asshole I kinda dislike."

"Right," said Bryan, "well word is we ain't killing the poor lass no more. Seems like her being abducted achieved more or less whatever fucked up end he were going for." He spread his palms. "Come on, uncle."

"Yeah well, like... I get this bounty hunter guy you probably heard of come looking for me wanting to know where to find the Iron Maiden's ship. Says him and his buddy going after Pixie Monroe for Basilio and they reckon she got Miss Maribel and some other chick I hear's dead now stashed aboard. So I give up the goat, give him a lead and off he goes. So anyway, this guy Metal, Eddie I guess is what they saying now... anyway, he been ambushed in the Bread Basket by Wilkes-Vines goons. From what I hear, the girl was still with him when it happened, but she got away."

"Yeah," said Bryan. "We actually had a chat with Wilkes-Vines. He said she were right here in Feroxi. Gave us the hotel she were staying at and everything. But she were gone. We staked it out and she never came back."

"Mmmm," said Beard. "Well sometimes you gotta put the pieces together, kid."

"What do you mean?"

"Well I don't know if you heard, but there was a dust up 'tween some bounty hunters and a couple of Maidens right here in this fair city not too long ago. Want my opinion, that's wonderfully convenient. They went to ground as far as I know about the same time she fell off the radar, too."

Bryan was about to respond when there was a knock at the door. "Well. I'll be off," he said. Getting to his feet, he crossed to the door and opened it. A group of men filed in carrying baseball bats, knives, and scowls.

"Well," said Bryan. "Seems like you fellas have some sort of activity planned. I'll get outta yer hair, then." As he was leaving the bar, he heard the tinkle of glass that was likely his uncle making a bid at escape through the backroom's window. Shrugging, he thumbed his radio.

"Commander, I reckon I got some likely confirmation on one of our earlier theories. Wouldn't be surprised if the others hear something similar."

==========================================================================

"how can we be sure WV can handle Austin if they can't handle some lunatics with hammers and fire axes?"

Ruffles shrugged. "I dunno, man. His guys seemed fine when they left. Walked right by me and the guy they had watching after me. A few less of 'em, but what the hell. The Captain's been dealing with guys like him for years, anyway. There's usually some reason they let shit like this slide."

=========================================================================

"Payton's a fuckin' clown. Tallahassee's the best scout we've got. I know fer a fact that he'd catch anyone tryin' ta' sneak by on ar' side'a town. Payton dropped the ball."

Whiskey considered telling them why those mercenaries had slipped past Payton so easily, but dismissed the idea almost immediately. Payton wanted her to tow the line, and if she didn't it would be Millie who suffered. Even so, she wanted the Maidens to be very careful.

A few minutes later, though, Pixie was asleep. For a few minutes, Whiskey merely watched the road as Bennie drove, thinking furiously. Bennie Carmine...

After a while, she said, "you of all people gotta know things aren't as simple as she's making it out to be, right?"

Amy stroked Pixie's hair as she slept, trying to look anywhere else in the Crawler other than at her. Her mood was not helped by Bennie's palpable discomfort at sitting anywhere near her. Or perhaps he was just frustrated by the whole situation, it was hard to tell. She supposed she couldn't blame him for objecting to having a knife held at his throat. It was Amy who was the problem. A problem that couldn't be fixed.

She didn't want to think about what would happen between the three of them now. Bennie would demand an explanation, and Amy would be forced to go over every last gruesome detail all over again. It had taken most of her will power to force the words out just once. Pixie might defend her, but then Pixie herself would turn around and demand more. Welcomed or not, in the long run her moral mission just wouldn't allow Amy to suffer in silence, even if that meant making things worse. Pixie defined herself by being a protector, someone who never gave up on the people she cared about, that much was obvious. Being in the presence of a person she couldn't save would, in time, become unbearable for her.

Could Amy dare hope that there was a way out of this darkness? Perhaps she did need to let all the walls down, and that the people around her now could bare to see what was housed inside without being repelled or corrupted by it? The very thought was scarcely bearable, like fingernails on a blackboard happening in every cell inside her body, paralysing her and twisting a knife in her very core. Even after today, most of them would look at her and see a vulnerable little girl. None of them knew, none of them truly understood what she would be capable of, if they exposed the wound, and made the pain so raw that she would have to project it onto everyone around her just to create a context of the world that she could recognise.

No. They meant well, but she was beyond their help. There was no way out of this for her now that didn't end in pain.

"How much longer?" she asked, trying not to sound childish. No matter what else happened, the threat of Austin still loomed large and prominent. She wanted to be done with him, and more than anyone else perhaps, she understood Aesop's reaction to the man. She hadn't had the pleasure of meeting him personally, but she had been there, a frightened young whore, at his first uprising, in the only city that, for better or worse, she been able to call a home. That place was calling the three of them back now. Conformation was only a formality.

She knew where they would find him.

=========================================================================================================================

They were far enough above not to hear the screams, at least, but the thunder of the Iron Maiden's arsenal, along with the manic cheers of those manning the guns, rang loud through the ship's hull. Sitting back to back in the darkness, Sandra's hand found Georgia's, and they held on tight.

'We'll make it through this.' Georgia told herself, over and over. 'She'll be coming soon.'

=========================================================================================================================

"Who the fuck 'ar y'all?"

"My name is Agent Sandringham." The man in black said calmly. "I work for someone who want's to keep you safe, someone who has a long-standing agreement with your mother. Now please, sit down. We have a lot of work to do and not very much time to do it."

From there, Sandringham turned to face Maria, singling her out as the authority figure of the three.

"This safe-house is compromised, and there's no telling who heard those gunshots and what they're doing now. As soon as we're done cleaning up, the three of you must be relocated, in preparation for leaving this city altogether. The broader situation is increasingly out of control. I'm sorry, but if you all want to live, you need to come with us."

"You of all people gotta know things aren't as simple as she's making it out to be, right?"

Bennie didn't reply right away. He simply chuckled and shook his head. Bennie was a hard man to pin down, even for those who knew him well. You never knew if he was laughing out of spite, frustration or legitimate joy. Given the situation, could it have really be anything positive?

Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, he kept his eyes ahead as he spoke, "Everything's a fuckin' game to that asshole. Always has been. My father," He bit the inside of his lip and shook his head once more. "The Carmine family was nothing more than a piece on a chessboard. All the pain, suffering and death that surrounded me as a child? Nothing but an afterthought to him. He did what he did because he could. Nothing more to it."

He looked to Whiskey, his tone was flat, "I don't reckon I'm telling you anything you don't already know, though."

"How much longer?"

"About ninety minutes or so," He spoke as if he'd completely forgotten about Amy's outburst in the bar. "Remind me to blindfold this one when we get within twenty kilometers." Glancing over his shoulder, he added. "How's she doing?"

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"I work for someone who want's to keep you safe, someone who has a long-standing agreement with your mother. Now please, sit down. We have a lot of work to do and not very much time to do it."

Sprout eyeballed the chair but refused to sit down. He did, however, lower his weapon.

"... As soon as we're done cleaning up, the three of you must be relocated, in preparation for leaving this city altogether. The broader situation is increasingly out of control. I'm sorry, but if you all want to live, you need to come with us."

"What about Lilith an' Cranston?" He questioned. "They're out on an Op right now. What if they come back and we ain't here?"

Elizabeth furrowed her brow and stepped out from behind Sprout, "Who are you talking about? Who do you work for?"

"Gents," Sprout muttered. "They 'ave that old man smell 'bout them. If they're on 'ar side, they're definitely Gents' guys. Cranston mentioned that they were the only others in the city who may 'ave 'ar backs."

"Oh, that's good," She blinked stupidly and added. "Right?"

"No," Sprout muttered, not prying his eyes away from the man before him. "If we ain't gettin' support from one of 'ar own that means they're all we 'ave left. No offense, but I don' trust yer boss. I know the way my Ma' deals with 'im. She's never trusted 'im either."

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Tsubaki had spent the last few hours investigating this so-called "Chimera Squad", but had arrived at a dead-end after exhausting every resource she could think of. All she could do now was wait for them to contact her. That didn't mean the investigation was halted, however. Her squad had apparently gathered a sizable amount of intel and had been ordered to meet her in their private briefing room back at the base. Sitting at the end of the table, Tsubaki leaned back in the swivel chair, drinking a coffee while fingering through some documents.

Ortega's file was alarmingly shallow.

I hope you guys had better luck.

"Let me have the fat one."

"That means I get the other two," he replied. For a brief moment, the Bejic mercenaries just looked at each other in confusion. Then the twins struck. While Severa, true to her word, attacked the fat man, Owain stepped forward, a knife descending from his sleeve into his hand, and lashed out with it. The blade's tip cut deep, slashing open the man's throat.

The second man was stepping back at this point, pulling a pistol from the waistband of his pants. Owain turned and threw. The small blade of the holdout knife buried itself in the meat of the man's forearm, and he dropped his gun, yelling in pain. He turned to run, but Owain produced a second knife and let fly. There was a wet thud as it hit the mercenary in the small of the back. His legs went limp and he sprawled on the ground, whimpering. Owain knelt by him, and patted him on the shoulder.

"We'd best leave those in for now, I think. It would be a shame if you bled to death before we had a chance to talk."

=============================================

"I don't reckon I'm telling you anything you don't already know, though."

"Damn straight," she replied sullenly.

"Remind me to blindfold this one when we get within twenty kilometers."

Whiskey smiled coyly at this. "You don't waste time, do you?"

"How's she doing?"

Amy forced herself to look down.

"She's doing fine... I think. Still out of it though."

===========================================================================================================================

"She's never trusted 'im either."

"You're a bright one, I'll give you that." Sandringham remarked, somewhere between admiration and irritation. "The situation with your friends in under control. The other half of my men are on standby ready to assist. If they don't need it, we'll inform them of the situation as soon as they're extracted, and you'll meet up with them before leaving the city."

Holstering his own weapon, Sandringham stepped forward, and bent down slighting so he was level with Sprout.

"You don't have to trust me, but consider this. If I wanted you dead or harmed in any way, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Right now, my first and only priority is getting you somewhere safe, but I can't do that unless you follow my lead. Understand?"

"You don't have to trust me, but consider this. If I wanted you dead or harmed in any way, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Right now, my first and only priority is getting you somewhere safe, but I can't do that unless you follow my lead. Understand?"

Maria stopped scrubbing as she noticed the suits in the room, there were too many people here. Besides, there wasn't any real point, was there? From the sound of it, they were going to leave soon anyway. Part of her felt thankful that there were people who were going to help but part of her couldn't help but hate them for not arriving sooner, excuses or no excuses. She sighed, stood up and turned to Elizabeth, feeling rather guilty for ignoring her look of distress. Maria then paused and walked over to the young noble, hands still slightly shaking, fingers wrinkled from the mixture of water and kitchen cleaner.

"It's help." She sighed, "And he has a point, just look at what happened earlier. I dunno about you but I'm kinda desperate enough to accept right now."

***

Jun stood there in a secluded spot, debating the merits of going back to investigate more. For now - though - he ended up decided to radio his findings in and leave going back to the realm of shoes and high prices to later, "Moon here. Target has been spotted in La Chaussure de Ciel among with two other women 'about a day ago'. That is all so far; will continue to investigate."

Scaling up the fire escape, the sounds of bullets suddenly stopped. Hannibal paused for less than a second before continuing. He didn't know why he was heading for the roof, it was the worst possible place to escape, but it was better than getting shot downstairs.

Carefully going up the fire escape backwards, Viola had her revolvers drawn and pointed downstairs, ready in case any of the bandits that were looking for Hannibal had somehow survived the onslaught, or if these newcomers weren't as friendly as they first made out. She wasn't exactly sure why these other people were after them; but her experience told her that it usually wasn't good.

Carter led the squad up the stairs. It didn't take him long to spot the chair Viola had wedged in the window, "Clear it out." Ortega ordered. Grabbing the chair by the legs, Carter planted his foot on the window sill and pulled. After a few moments it came ajar. Oretga signalled for his squad to hold for a moment before calling out the window. "Gunslinger? I am Colonel Esteban Ortega. I work for Lord Basilio. We don't want to hurt you or the boy. We're here to talk. Nothing more."

"Smooth," Mila commented.

Hannibal got to the top of the fire escape but was lead to a locked window. He began bashing his elbow against it when a rather stupid idea came to him. It was quick at least.

Stepping up onto the ledge of the railing, he leaped up into the air and grabbed the edge of the roof, only to realise he didn't have the upper body strength needed to pull himself up, as he kicked his legs as if trying to stand on an invisible platform.

"And not exactly subtle Colonel Ortega." Viola remarked, standing up two flights of stairs from where the chair once stood, the cocking mechanisms on the revolvers pulled back and aimed at the window.

"Quite the mess you made downstairs I might add. Why make such a big commotion if all you wanted to talk? Surely someone who works for Lord Basilio could of found a more quieter method of contacting me, I mean it worked the first time when he hired me to find his betrothed; which by the way, if this is what it's all about, you can tell him I'm still looking for her, just taking longer than I anticipated."

"That was the intention, Ms. Greaves, but given the circumstances it would have been too great a risk not to step in when we did."

"A thank you would have been nice," Barked Rebecca.

Ortega gave her a disapproving look and stepped through the window. His hands in the air, "I'm coming out."

"Colonel!" Carter shouted in protest.

Looking up at Viola, he continued, "This is about the Gentleman, actually. Please, I promise that no harm will come to either of you if you cooperate. We just need to ask some questions."

Wheezing and coughing, Hannibal pulled with all his might to bring his body up to the roof, eventually his feet clambering up the wall and finding the window sill, using it to balance himself and get up onto the roof.

Rolling over once he got up, he immediately regretted his decision as there were no adjacent roof tops to jump to without serious injury. The only way out now, was down.

Viola kept her aim steady as the Colonel came out with his hands up and then went on to explain why he had come looking for her. When he mentioned The Gentleman, she knew it had to involve Doctor Pym, it was the only plausible explanation.

"Seeing as how my only other option is climb and pray I find a rooftop to jump to, I, or rather myself and my friend don't exactly have a whole lot of choice here. I mean I may be wearing an armoured vest here, but I don't exactly think it's going to hold up well to several magazines of assault rifle ammunition; as for my friend, he ain't exactly got a lot on him to begin with. But how do I know I can trust you? A man's word is one thing, but proving it is an entirely different matter. I'm sure someone in your position can understand."

"Well," He began, sighing as he spoke. "To start, I walked out here in the open at your mercy, knowing full well that you are capable of taking me out before I could draw. Other than that, no, there isn't much I can do or say to make you trust me other than what I have done already. If we wanted to take you by force I'd have had kept my sniper on the roof across the street. We don't want anyone else to die today."

Hannibal scratched the back of his head, contemplating how he was going to get down to the street without running into any of the gun toters, unaware he was in the perfect line of sight for a sniper shot. Knowing he didn't have a choice, he ran towards the door leading down the rest of the building, angry at himself for essentially going in a big circle.

"I guess you've made a point Colonel, given the circumstances one would say you were either very brave, or very foolish to come out here; I would say brave myself." Viola commented with a small smirk as she holstered her revolvers.

"But before we settle down to business, a few ground rules I want to set first, just you have the co-operation of myself and my friend."

Like the uneducated boy he was, Hannibal rushed down the stairs of the building, slowing his pace as he got back to the floor he was on before, hiding behind a wall as he could hear the voices.

Ortega nodded, "Fair enough. Let's hear them."

"One, no handcuffs to wherever it is we're being taken to be questioned and during the questioning itself. Second, all of our equipment stays with us at all times, that includes weapons. Third, after said questioning is done and we're allowed to leave, no one follows us about. I would think of a fourth one, but nothing immediately springs to mind. Does this sound fair to you?"

Ortega hesitated for a moment before replying, "We may run into a snag regarding your gear, but I should be able to make it work. Just don't go flashing your revolver around while we're on-base and you'll be okay." Looking to his squad through the window, he nodded. "Get the crawlers ready. We're heading home."

Hannibal just began his sneakiest sneek across the hallway when literally the entire squad looked his way.

"Don't worry Colonel, on my honour, rest assured that my weapons will stay in their holsters. And thanks by the way for the assist. Whilst I've taken on groups of that size before, given the confines of the building, I didn't fancy my chances."

Mila laughed out loud, "The fuck's this little punk think he's doin'?"

Rebecca cocked an eyebrow and looked to her squadmate, "Leave 'im alone. Those Gunderson fucks have been on his ass for awhile now. He's probably scared to fuck right now."

"Ladies," Carter laughed. "Watch those mouths of yours!"

"Shut up," Ortega barked. "Enough horsing around. Let's move out."

"Uh... VIOLA!" Hannibal yelled.

"You can relax Hannibal. These people aren't here to cause us trouble, they just want to ask a few questions regarding The Gentleman, I'm sure you know what this relates to. But if you're scared, just stick with me, and everything is going to be okay, mark my words." Viola said in a calm and relaxed voice, a stark comparison to the shouting from Ortega's troops.

"Um, okay." Hannibal said, the volume of his voice much higher than usual. "Where are we going then?" He squeaked random words in his sentence, still shaken up. "Are the um, Gunderson people um..."

"Dead," Mila assured him as she approached. "You won't need to worry about those fuckers anymore. Not after their friends conclude your in bed with Basilio. Trust me, he's not a man you want to cross." She giggled as she ruffed up his hair.

"Knock that shit out, come on!" Ortega reiterated as he led the group back down the stairs.

Hannibal damn near smiled as he heard about the Basilio part. The Gunderson's were smart enough not to step up to a noble as tough as Basilio. He could use this as his meal ticket.

Then she touched him, he jerked away from her immediately before staying completely still, his hands stuck to his sides like glue as he avoided all eye contact.

Mila titled her head in confusion before looking to her CO and falling in line.

"Yeah, should have mentioned that earlier, for some reason he's not okay with people touching him."

Hannibal blushed and gulped, feeling embarrassed over his phobia as the hairs stood on the back of his neck, a shrill, cold shiver running down his spine, feeling ever so cold in the baking hot Feroxi.

"It's okay, Becky doesn't like it either. I do it anyway though," Carter joked.

"I swear to God," Rebecca muttered under her breath.

A few minutes later, the crawlers were all loaded up. Ortega drove one himself, with Viola riding shotgun and Hannibal in the backseat with Mila. "I'll see what I can do about getting you two back on the streets before tomorrow. You know how these things are, though."

Hannibal didn't want to admit how much he really, really didn't want to be back on the streets. But he couldn't focus on that now. Now, all he could focus on was feeling a hand on his head. Fingers ruffling his hair, gripping his hair and pulling it, pushing him against a wall and turning him around so he couldn't see. But he could feel what they did.

Even all these years later, he could feel it.

"Necessary but time consuming is what I hear." Viola remarked as the crawler drove through the streets of Feroxi. Looking back at Hannibal, something suddenly came to her. She leaned towards Colonel Ortega to whisper something quietly into his ear.

"Colonel, I apologise if this is pushing it a little, given how reasonable you have been thus far, but you wouldn't by any chance be able to acquire a spare set of clothes for my friend? I'd be willing to cover any requisition costs if necessary. Nothing to fancy though something practical."

"I'll see what I can do," Ortega replied. It seemed he was a man of few words, as the rest of the trip was made in silence.

Gorgon took note of the fear in her eyes and drank it in for all it was worth. Approaching slowly, he tossed the knife between his hands and laughed, "What's wrong, Casino? You look a little pale."

"Do I?" Lilith chuckled nervously as she backed away from the huge man. Her heart thundering in her chest. "Maybe I need a cigarette to calm my nerves, how about you?"

Gorgon cocked an eyebrow, "I'm pretty fuckin' wired, myself." He tilted his head, his grin was as toothy as ever. "Sure, why not?"

Lilith breathed out slowly as the man stopped his approach.

'Oh thank god.'

Reaching into her jacket, she pulled out her cigarette tin and lighter.

'Think, damn it, think!'"

Opening the tin, she raised it to her mouth, her eyes never leaving Gorgon as she took a cigarette between her teeth. Closing the tin, she held it up for a moment before gently tossing it to the man.

'Look at him Lilith, look at him, he's wounded, blind in one eye, you can take this son of a bitch.'

Flicking open her lighter, she held it to her cigarette, her hands trembling uncontrollably. Why was she this scared? Flicking the lighter shut, she took a deep drag before tossing it to Gorgon.

Gorgon savoured her anxiety. Whether she knew it or not, her terror was palpable. It was a sweet taste and it had Gorgon's blood boiling hotter than usual. Taking what was offered, Gorgon lit the cigarette and placed it between his lips. After one long drag, he exhaled sharply, "It's not often you share a smoke with someone right before you put them in the ground." He laughed. "You know, a few days ago when we had our little skirmish I told you that it was just business. Well, I'm sure you've realized by now that I'm a bit of a hypocrite. There ain't nothin' business-like about this anymore. This is straight up revenge. This is personal."

He held the cigarette out between his fingers and looked at it, "What I plan to do to you ain't in my job description, if you know what I am saying. Felt you should be aware of that." He met her gaze. "Hypocrisy is just a word. In the end, it really doesn't make a bit of difference if you're guilty of it or not. It's just as it's always been. The strong survive and the weak die off. Strength is the only quantifiable aspect to the human condition." He laughed. "Look at me, getting all philosophical all of a sudden."

Clenching her jaw, Lilith furrowed her brow, remaining silent. The man's attitude was beginning to feel very familiar. Revenge. Was this what it was all about? Revenge for the boy, revenge for tearing out her heart for those brief moments?

"You're wrong."

The woman gulped as the fear refused to fade away. "You're wrong if you think you can just force your way through life, that isn't how it works." She removed the cigarette from her lips, holding it between her fingers as she blew smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Look where it's gotten you so far."

"It got me as far as that alley," Gorgon mused. "Then I got soft. Showed weakness. I could have put a hole in you while you were mourning that boy, but I didn't."

"Weakness?" A pulse of anger shot through her body. She curled her unused hand into a tight fist. "You call having a slither off empathy weakness?" She took another deep drag of her cigarette as she held out her hand.

"Can I have those back?"

"You're not going to need it, anyway," Gorgon chuckled as he dropped the lighter on the floor and crushed it under boot. "Now, you ready to play or what?"

Her mouth slightly agape, her eyes locked on the shattered remains. Raising her gaze, she looked at the man, a look of pity in them. "That was a gift."

'Pixie'

Her expression hardened.

Fire fears nothing

This was it, she would die here.

Fire fears nothing.

"I'm terrified." She muttered to herself, a small smile curling her lips.

"Stop being so tense, loosen your fist." Bennie demanded, his hands on his hips as he stood over the girl.

Lilith pushed herself off the padded map for the seventh time that sparring session, groaning in frustration. She had only just started training with the huge man, after a number of rather 'vigorous' sessions with Pixie. The marks of which were evident all over her.

"How the bloody hell can I hit someone with limp fists?" She replied.

Bennie chuckled. "You're trying to fight like Meredith." He smirked as he sighed heavily. "You don't have what it takes to fight like her, you don't have the commitment to back up your aggression, the balls to throw yourself into any situation without fear."

Lilith pouted, crossing her arms over her chest sulkily. "Do so."

Bennie shook his head. "Pixie is fire. Fire fears nothing. It's not just in the way she fights, it's a part of who she is" He placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Life ain't about brute force, it's about being adaptable, being fluid, like water." He held out his other hand, turning slowly as it stroked the air. "Don't be tense, be calm, most of your opponents will be stronger than you are, you can use that strength against them, react to their movements without resistance." He looked the girl in the eyes. "It means being like water, calm one moment, then pounding down in a torrent the very next." He tilted his head, a twinkle in his eye. "You get me?"

Lilith blinked a few times, a ponderous expression on her face. After a few moments she raised an eyebrow. "Have you been smoking with Ruffles again?"

Bennie burst into a fit of laughter, patting the girl hard on the shoulder. "You'll see what I mean, and maybe if I'm lucky, you'll learn a thing or two about life as well."

Lilith shook her head as she sighed, running a hands over her hair as she tightened the elastic on her ponytail. "You can spout all the philosophy you want as long as you don't teach like the captain." She looked up at the man. "She's fucking crazy." she whispered.

"Oh, I know that, don't you worry."

"Absolutely terrified." She said louder. Locking eyes with the man, she didn't try to hide it. She couldn't overpower this man, not like last time, all she could do was hold him off and hope an opportunity presented itself. Maybe she could get some help with that.

"You wanna play?" She dropped her cigarette on the ground, stubbing it out with her boot, she reached a hand to the radio on her lapel. "Found him. Basement." Before the old man could respond, she turned the device off, shrugging the jacket off her shoulders, she let it slide from her arms to a crumpled pile on the ground.

"I'd say you have about five minutes." She smirked. holding up her hands, her fingers coiled loosely as she shifted her weight.

"Let's play."

Gorgon giggled like a school boy, "Now you're speaking my language!" Holding the knife by his hip, he charged forward in a flash, swinging his arm in a wide arc.

With her knife lost in the previous fray, she'd have to quickly disarm the man, or this fight would be over very quickly. Her expression hardened as Gorgon charged. Smoothly dodging beneath his first attack, she concentrated on his movements as she pushed his arms away.

As his knife-wielding arm was pushed out of range he reached forward with his off-hand, grasping her shoulder and pulling her in for a rib-splitting knee to the gut.

Gasping in pain as the blow hit her, Lilith staggered back, clutching at her chest with one hand. The fucker hit like a crawler.

"That... the best you got?" She croaked as her breathing heaved slightly. "Nice depth perception, cunt." She taunted.

'God, I hope this works.'

"We can even the odds!" He roared as he stepped forward, his knife leveled once more. "FUCKING BITCH!" He lunged forward once more, his knife headed straight for her face.

'There!'

Regaining her composure almost instantly, she slid around the clumsy thrust on the outside of Gorgon's arm. Bringing up her hands, she wrapped one around the man's wrist, the other to his shoulder. Pushing down at the same time, she kicked his foot from under him, pulling back his wrist as she forced his arm at a painful angle. Regaining her foothold, she brought up her knee into the man's gut, his arm twisting even more painfully.

The girl almost cried out as the knife fell from Gorgon's hand. "Fuckin' dumbass." She muttered. As it clattered to the ground, she quickly placed a foot on the blade, swinging her leg back as she sent the weapons sliding to the opposite side of the room.

Gritting his teeth, Gorgon shrugged off the pain and grabbed her thigh with his free-hand. She had superior leverage, but if he could assert his weight he'd be able to bring them both crashing to the floor. Ignoring the blistering pain in his other arm, he stepped forward, closer to Lilith and imposed as much force as he could. Hopefully that'd be enough for her to lose her footing, "FUCKING BITCH!"

Grunting as the man grabbed her, Lilith gritted her teeth as she held her ground, applying more pressure on his arm. As she predicted, he was going to try and overwhelm her with brute strength.

"Won't... work... wanker."

Wrenching her leg from his grip, she released her hand on Gorgon's wrist as as she slid across his back, punching the man in the side of the head as she moved to his opposite side, delivering another swift punch to his blind eye. Before hopping back a few paces, her hands held up in front of her.

Grappling this man would be a mistake, she knew it.

"FUCK!" He barked as he clutched his face. The stitches were burning. He spun around swinging his arm wildly in a vain hope of grabbing his opponent.

"Oh I'm sorry, didn't see that one coming?" She stepped forward, delivering a swift kick to his injured hip, she stepped in further, knocking his arm away to land another fierce blow to his face.

"How about that one?"

Another punch, this time to his nose, before stepping back again. She needed to keep her energy up.

'Hurry up, Cranston.'

Blindly, Gorgon shoved her backwards to make some space for himself. This was bad. She was wearing him down. He'd underestimated how debilitating his injuries were, especially when exploited like this. Shaking much of shock and disorientation out of his mind, he stared her down, hypothetical steam shooting like geysers out of his ears, "I'm going to break you, Casino. I am going to make you fuckin' scream. I promise you. I FUCKIN' PROMISE YOU!" He shouted as he lunged forward once more, both arms out and ready for a grapple.

Narrowing her eyes as the man lunged, she swerved to his blind side, rising her knee as she landed a devastating blow to Gorgon's groin. As the man doubled over, she pulled his head down, thrusting her knee into his injured eye, before landing a flurry of blow to his face.

As she worked him over, the anger began to raise in her chest, weeks of feeling useless, of feeling powerless just started to pour out of her. Avoiding Gorgon's clumsy grabs, she clenched her fist, crying out as she smashed it into the man's eye. A wave of anger washed over her.

"Break me?!" She shouted. Another punch. "YOU FUCKING WHAT, MATE?!" Another punch as hot fury shot through her veins. "YOU HURT THE PEOPLE I LOVE!" Another punch. "FOR THAT, MOTHERFUCKER, YOU DON'T BREAK ME!" She continued to shout, kicking out one of Gorgon's legs from under him.

"I BREAK YOU!" She roared, as she stepped to her side, Lilith stamped down hard on the man's leg with all her might. A sickening crack laced the man's howls as his leg fractured, the bone splintering grotesquely through his skin.

"FUCKING BITCH! FUCKIN---GOD DAMMIT!" He groaned in pain, clutching his leg. This was it. He'd lost. His body had been too damaged to keep up with her speed. If only he had had enough time to recover. If only he hadn't been so god damned cocky. "FUCK YOU! F-FUCK YOU!" Was all he could shout. This was it. He was out of hands to play.

Standing behind the man, she grabbed his mowhawk, wrenching his head back as she leaned into his ear. "You lose again, cunt." Her breathing grew ragged as her rage boiled away. "You threaten me? You threaten my friends? Who the fuck do you think you are? You're nothing, just another scum bag bounty hunter who thinks he can get his dick wet in the Iron Maidens." She wrenched his head back further, her tone growing more sinister. "Want to know why they call me Casino? It's not because I'm lucky. It's because you are. If this was Meredith Monroe instead of me? After what you did to her boy? You'd wish she'd put a bullet in your brain like I'm about to."

Placing a foot on the man's back, she kicked him to the ground.

'Fucking end him, end him now.'

Her hands clenched, she quickly made her way across the room, walking passed the exit as she approached the corner where her gun had fallen.

"That means I get the other two,"

Severa winked at her brother right before he went into action. As he made quick work of the two of them, his sister simply stood where she was and stared at the larger man. He was shocked! Terrified, even! Severa did little more than savoir the look in his eyes. He was armed. He could have done something. But he was too fat. Too slow. Too stupid, to help his friends before it was too late.

After watching the second man bend to Owain's will, the fat man looked to Severa an pleaded, "L-LET ME GO! I'LL GIVE YOU WHATEVER YOU WANT! I SWEAR!"

Severa smirked, "You don't have shit, fatty. You're not even worthy of Miranda's wrath." Suddenly, Severa swung her huge metal case with one arm, crushing the man's jaw in a flash. The bandit careened across the bar and landed in a heap, under the counter.

Sauntering over to his barely conscious form, Severa pouted, "Oh please, brother. Can we question this one? He will be so much more fun!"

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

"You don't waste time, do you?"

"Orders are orders," Bennie stated, plainly. "It's not often I tie up a pretty lady against her will, but you understand."

"She's doing fine... I think. Still out of it though."

Bennie nodded to himself, "Good," He kept his eyes ahead. "She needs her rest. She's a fuckin' machine, I'll giver her that, but she's still human. I don't reckon I'll be able to talk her out of partying tonight after she wakes up, though. Not sure if you've heard, but it's kind of a Maiden tradition to celebrate the memory of a comrade on the night of his death. There's enough pain and suffering out there as it is, so we figured we wouldn't waste time mourning when we could be focusing on the good times."

He shook his head, "And it's fuckin' Parker. There's no way she'll sit this one out. He'd been with us for over eight years." He sighed. "Fuck."

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"... Right now, my first and only priority is getting you somewhere safe, but I can't do that unless you follow my lead. Understand?"

Sprout clenched his jaw and said nothing.

"It's help... And he has a point, just look at what happened earlier. I dunno about you but I'm kinda desperate enough to accept right now."

Elizabeth nodded, "Yeah, you're right. We don't really have any other choice." Looking back to the kid, she put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Sprout. We'll be safe with them, okay?"

Sprout continued to stare at Sandringham for awhile longer before breaking eye contact and meeting Elizabeth's gaze, "Fine. Let's jus' get outta here, okay?" Holding his side, he added. "Gonna need some help, though."

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"Moon here. Target has been spotted in La Chaussure de Ciel among with two other women 'about a day ago'. That is all so far; will continue to investigate."

Tsubaki dropped the files on the tale and picked up her radio, "Negative, Moon. Head back to base and we'll discuss what you've found so far. Suns are setting and the shops will be closing soon. If you have to you can pick up where you left off tomorrow." She paused before adding, "There have been some new developments on my end. Over."

Having drawn attention away from Lilith, Cranston had had his hands full with the bulk of Gorgon's forces. Thankfully, however, many of them were easily duped. Weaving through the maze of industrial machinery proved a vital tactic as it spread their forces thin, making it easy enough for the old assassin to pick them off one-by-one. The explosive sound of gunfire died down as the hunters' numbers dwindled.

Eventually, he was down to his last clip of ammunition. It wasn't supposed to go like this. It was supposed to be fast, quiet and surgerical. He should have known better than to take Lilith with him. In an effort to conserve ammo he held his pistol in his off-hand and drew a knife with his right.

Three men came at him as he rounded the last corner of a machine that ran the length of the building, near the back of the main floor. The three of them brandished submachine guns. Diving under the hail of bullets, Cranston rolled across the floor and swung his arm in a wide arc as he came up onto one knee. The first man's throat split in two as he stumbled backwards onto the floor. Wasting no time, he reached out and grabbed the second man's weapons before he could bring it to bare. As he rose to his feet once more, Cranston yanked the man forward by his weapon and landed a savage headbutt between the eyes.

Wrapping his arm around the man's neck, he pulled him in close and spun him around, firing upon his alley with his own weapon. Once he'd emptied the man's clip into his comrade, he finished the job with a quick snap of the neck. Holstering his pistol, he retrieved one of the uzis off the ground and started for the basement.

The sound of gunfire cut through the air, and Landon turned towards it like a dog with a scent. He had to move quickly.

Seconds later, it cut out, but he kept moving to where the sound had come from. Hearing the footsteps echo loudly now, he moved around the corner of one of the huge, monolithic driers to see a familiar bald head disappearing down the basement staircase. Dropping his pistol into its holster, Landon hefted the launcher and sprinted forward and pumped two grenades down the stairs, and then moved into cover a couple of paces up the thick concrete wall from the top of the stairs, sticking his fingers in his ears. When the twin explosions sounded, he pulled out his revolver and waited for the dust to settle.

Hearing the heavy footfalls coming from behind, Cranston turned his head right on time to see two grenades soaring through the air, "Shit!" He shouted as he lept straight up into the air, grabbing hold of a lead pipe that lined the ceiling of the concrete stairwell. His limbs wrapped tightly around the pipe, he felt the hair on his ass singe as the grenades detonated at the base of the stairs, not too far from where he had been standing. Releasing his hands from the pipe, he let himself hang upsided-down as he unhooked a flashbang from his vest. After cooking it for a few seconds he tossed up the stairs, closing his eyes and covering his ears right on time to spare himself from its effects.

Dropping to the ground, he sprinted up the stairs, uzi levelled. He'd be sure to make quick work of whoever it was that waited for him up there.

As it turned out, Landon would be glad he waited for the smoke to clear. He was just advancing slowly when a grenade sailed up out of the air. Not wasting time to try and identify it, he turned on his heel and threw himself behind one of the driers, fingers in ears and eyes closed. The flashbang set an awful ringing in his head and for a few seconds, a huge afterimage dominated his field of vision, but he was able to avoid the worst of it. Straightening up, pistol in hand, he stood at the edge of his cover, and watched the doorway.

"Make this easy on yourself," he called out. "I just want this handled."

Cranston slowed his approach as Landon's voice echoed down the staircase. Throwing himself against the wall, by the entrance to the main floor, he replied, "It's over, Landon. All his men are dead and Lilith's down there finishing the job as we speak. You have nothing left to gain by keeping at it." He chuckled. "You know who I am, right?"

"More or less," he called back. "But to be fair, nothing good happens if I call it quits, either. I'm just a loose end here."

Holding his revolver in his offhand, Landon held the grenade launcher in the crook of his elbow and took aim at the inside wall of the staircase.

"A loose end, maybe, but one I am willing to overlook. I know your cousin, Landon. Jake is like a nephew to me, so know this," He pulled a smoke grenade from his vest. "You've got one chance to walk away from this. If you do, you won't see me again. But if you stay and fight? Well, you know me. You'll be lucky if your life lasts another sixty seconds."

"Sorry man," replied Landon. "I'm not gonna be the guy that pussies out. But you tell Jake what ya did."

He squeezed the trigger, and his grenade rebounded off the inside wall and bounced down the stairs.

Tossing the smoke grenade outside the stairwell, Cranston dove out into the growing cloud just as Landon's grenade detonated behind him. Thankfully, it had fallen a few steps before detonation, preventing most of the shrapnel from reaching him. One fragment, however, managed to bury itself deep in his arm as he dashed behind a nearby machine. Considering the placement of the smoke bomb, the oldman could have snuck behind any number of walls or machines. Landon was at his mercy now, unaware as to where he would strike from.

Landon swore under his breath as the cloud of smoke grew, consuming the room. He thought he saw Cranston for a very brief moment before that too was consumed in a grey haze.

Moving quickly, he retreated to the far side behind him, and put his back against the wall. He'd be damned if he let the old man creep up behind him. Just as the wall of smoke caught up with him, Landon fired off his last three grenades in different directions, and then set the launcher on the ground. The smoke would work both ways, and Cranston would have plenty of difficulty telling where the grenades landed.

Holding his pistol to his cheek like a duelist, Landon waited.

Three more blasts followed by the sounded of metal clattering against metal. His grenade launcher was spent. It was a good thing, too. Despite the injury he'd sustained, Landon had lost his only advantage in this fight. Picking up another submachine gun from off the ground, he slowly made his way towards Landon's last know position. He clearly wouldn't be there, but it was a good starting point.

Once he'd arrived and confirmed that Landon was no longer there, he analyzed the layout of the machines around him. Once the smoke had cleared, Cranston was gone. A long while passed as Landon remained pressed against the wall, waiting. Then, suddenly, a barrage of bullets came raining down from the top of a nearby machine. Cranston had both submachine guns trained on him from afar. If they didn't find their mark, they'd certainly draw him out into the open.

It had been twenty seconds since Cranston's warning.

Concrete wall exploded around Landon as a hail of bullets descended on him. He reacted as well as he could and moved, but still felt hot lines across his back. Doing the only thing he could, Landon made a beeline for another machine, firing a couple of shots at the one Cranston had mounted. The unaimed rounds missed the man himself, but one clipped the machine and set it sparking. Landon was feet from his next point of cover when machine gun fire hitting the ground in front of him brought him to an involuntary halt.

Turning, Landon pointed his revolver at Cranston. "I guess you've got me," he said.

"Hey, you want some coffee?"

"Yeah sure." Mike grunted as he stretched his arms out over his head. The heat in the checkpoint booth was turning out to be just the right kind to softly lull him into a cosy tiredness. It was slow days like this that made him really wish he could get a longer break, a nice chance to stretch his legs and get some fresh air. Everybody had kept saying don't move up north, place was a nasty, cold ass town. Didn't matter how good job opportunities or how hot the girls were, no sir they couldn't get paid enough to try it.

Course Mike had been less picky, and you know what? Things had worked out. Sure the job wasn't the most exciting in the world but it was cushy in its way and had steady pay. Plus he had actually met one of those hot girls he'd heard so much about. Course since they got together Dina had always been talking about visiting the domes down south and seeing one where it looked like the sun could shine. And ever since they got married she'd been on his case about it pretty much everyday. Not that he could blame her, the gang problem had gotten steadily worse to the point where the people in their building were looking to chip in together to pay for a panic room thingy. Though why they kept yammering on at him for it Mike had no clue. Working for the nobles hadn't gotten him any great perks besides the uniform. Things were finally starting to get quiet these days though, maybe the they'd all worn themselves out. Still... maybe moving back to Yuteni wouldn't be so bad. He could show off Dina to the family. Maybe the years of security could get him a job with the police, they seemed to have it pretty easy.

Daydreaming'd have to wait though as a couple of trucks rolled up to the checkpoint. "Got quite the delivery today huh?" He called over to the lead driver.

"????? ??????? ??? ????? ?????" The guy slurred over at Mike. great, he was one of those proper Ruskies. The accent was pretty sexy on the ladies but Mike always found hearing the locals talk in that weird language of their kind of grating. They always sounded angry, whatever they were saying. Like dogs barking and trying to hack up phlegm at the same time.

"I don't speak that, pal. Sorry." Mike'd only ever picked up enough to survive, he'd always sucked at languages.

"???? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ????????? ????!!!" Now the guy was getting pretty pissed off, yelling something Mike could safely guess wasn't nice.

"aw jeez, papers!" Mike sighed. "Papers!" He tried shouting it louder, cus that would help. "Guy, I just need some papers!" A little added emphasis and waving some papers of his own around. The driver seemed too busy shouting his head off to care and the drivers behind him were starting to beep their horns impatiently. Mike was about to press the buzzer to call the inner ring security to come handle him when a cup got plonked down in front of him.

"I'll take care of the others." Alexei gave a little laugh at the scene as he went outside and waved the other trucks to go round.

The grisly looking driver eventually got over himself and Mike managed to get everything signed off and stamped properly, only half looking things over as he ended up too frustrated and embarrassed and just wanting to get the guy out of his face. Dina's friends always gave him grief about the language barrier and he wasn't in any mood for it today. "Hey Alexei, I'm goin' for a smoke, you got this?"

There was no answer. "Al! Hey, Al!" Mike couldn't get a good look for him through the moving vehicles and people. Wait, people? Who the hell were these guys, the forms said they were transporting food goods, what the hell were they unloading? "Hey... hey." Mike got out of his booth and tried to find a driver that could They ignored him. What the hell was everybody deciding to take a dump on the out-of-towner today? "Hey Al, do you know what they're doin' here?"

It was only as Mike rounded one of the trucks and saw Alexei on the ground as some guy's feet. The man looked like a shaved polar bear. He just looked at Mike like he was bored and couldn't be assed with any of this. Then Mike snapped back from sheer surprise and saw the red scarf tied around the guy's arm. "Oh Shi-" Then he felt himself jer round, the world fell out from under him and went black really fast.

========================================

Neither Erik or any of his crew paused for a moment as the gormless guard dropped to the ground, his neck broken like a twig. The man that did it quickly went back to work helping to unload the explosives.

Faster, faster... Erik paced around helping to unload the bigger heavy weapons and making sure his team leaders were all quick on the uptake as each group formed up and sprinted off in their given directions. He didn't like being out in the open like this, time was short as it was and with so little cover. At least he was working with professionals again. Thank god for small blessings.

The last of the teams were ready and moving out, all but Erik's team who were waiting for him to give the word. ["Masks"] Was apparently it as they all slipped on their full face breather masks in unison. Each one locked and loaded their guns, making sure to make as many metallic noises with it as possible before moving off fast and low. Each team had their targets and Erik would be damned if his vanguard would be found wanting.

Only a few minutes now. Soon security would be waking up and the whole compound would be going crazy and that was before the main assault came. Just saves more for us. Erik couldn't suppress the grin under his mask, every nerve was standing on end and the world seemed to have a nice, crisp, feel to it. These were the days he was made for.

Debris fell from the skies of Yuteni as the roofs of buildings were being blown apart, causing further destruction for pretenders on the ground. Meanwhile troops were doing an excellent job of liberating children from their captors, and luring said captors into Austin's ire, as he drew closer and closer to the tattered spire that was the Yuteni family ivory towers.

"So smug as to actually name the city after themselves." Retched the daughter piloting the ship as Austin stood by her side.

"Worry not my girl, we'll rename this pitiful place once we have declared victory."

"To what father?" she asked, calmly, ignoring the carnage she was causing.

"Lets focus on the mission at hand first." He chirped.

"Yes, of course father." she replied, obediently.

Meanwhile soldiers were running to man the artillery built to defend the tower, as the nobles inside cowered in fear. Of all the fighting forces in the ashlands, one would be forgiven for thinking these were the least experienced- and the most cowardly. Their commanders screeched out to fire on the ship with wild abandon. They weren't even close enough to reach the Iron Maiden, and thus only served to add to the damage down below. Austin laughed at their pathetic answers. "Take note my children," Austin addressed the entire ship, "this is the simplest foe we shall face. In the future, they will be far more organised than this pathetic rabble. But lets enjoy ourselves while its this easy." He chuckled before commanding in an angry, jarring tone, "Annihilate them!"

Charged plasma shots blasted at the tower, taking out legions of soldiers as they scrambled for direction and command. As the ship came within range it did indeed receive surface damage from their artillery, indeed if the family were only armed with rockets and mortars they would lose this day. But the advantage of built in missile launchers made the world of difference, as they bombarded the enemy below, their putrid army of such tiny size appearing as ants before the vengeful father. The ship circled around the the spire, letting lose such chaos that the pitiful defenders of nobility had no chance of even defending themselves, let alone their charges. Their weapons fell apart, a lack of maintenance brought on by Noble greed, where was their greed getting them now, thought Austin, other than an early grave.

"Destroy the foundation of the building!" He ordered with such awesome conviction. "I want it to topple over like those wretches inside will at my glory!"

The echo of "Yes father!" pierced the ship better than any cannon ever could, as pride and hope filled the hearts of all of his murderous sons and daughters. All weaponry then focused on the towers foundations, laying down a barrage of fire the likes of which none of these soldiers had even seen or been so close to. It was however, their last time seeing it as well.
===================================================================
Driving like a mad woman through the slums, chaos was erupting around her on the streets. Not because of Austin, she hadn't reached him yet. But of looting, fighting, and people running for help. She wanted to stay and help them, to halt the criminal element from taking advantage of the situation, but the soldiers would be more than worthless against Austin. Hell her officers may not have the arms they had, but they had something they sorely lacked. Discipline and conviction. Two qualities a police officer...

She slammed down on the break as she realised what she was doing. Ignoring civilians for the sake of stopping Austin. He may have been a terrorist at this point, but she was still an officer. She was to protect and serve, and if she couldn't hold up that mantra then she didn't deserve the badge, much less her father's hat.

Stepping outside of her vehicle she shot into the air as she saw to men fighting over a crate filled with... she didn't even care. "Break it up!" She boomed, causing the men to immediately scatter. She didn't even check what it was they were fighting over as she set off to stop the scum of her city from using this chaos to their advantage.

"I guess you've got me,"

Cranston simply grimaced as he realized one of his weapons was empty. Stepping forward, without hesitation, he dropped the emptied submachine gun and fired at Landon with the remaining uzi.

Landon threw himself to the side as bullets filled the air he had occupied a second before, firing his revolver as he scrambled to stay ahead of the gunfire. The first few went wide, but the last bullet went smashed right into the barrel of the uzi. Realizing he was empty, Landon got to his feet and threw the revolver away.

Cranston released the weapon on impact, allowing the twisted hunk of metal to sail across the warehouse. Trying to draw on Landon from this range would have been too risky. Instead, Cranston opted to press the assault with as little delay as possible so Landon couldn't draw another weapon himself. Stepping in closer, the old assassin delivered a savage punch to the man's gut and lifted up, sending him tumbling backwards against an old, rusted machine. Crossing the gap between them in the blink of an eye, Cranston slammed his forearm against the larger man's throat and pressed him up against the machinery.

Landon was surprised by the speed with which his opponent moved, and soon he was backed up against the side of one of the machines. Grappling Cranston's arm away, he brought his knee slamming up into the man's stomach, taking the reprieve to duck out of the stranglehold and step around his opponent.

Cranston winced and nearly doubled over from the force of the blow. However, he wouldn't let his prey weasle away so easily. Turning to face him, Cranston dropped into an almost casual-looking fighting stance, "You get one move. Better make it count, boy."

"I thought old fighters talked less shit," replied Landon, considering his next move. There was no way he could match Cranston for technique. His only advantage was the level of force he could bring to bear.

Bolting forward, he made as if to lash out at Cranston's chest, and then feinted, throwing himself forward to tackle the old man to the ground.

You were supposed to run.

To an a seasoned professional like Cranston, Landon's deceptive tactics were easy enough to predict. Planting his boot one step ahead, Cranston threw his body forward into Landon's hold. However, he was not without his own leverage and bent his knees as his body dipped below Landon's superior mass. Grabbing hold of his shirt with both hands, the old man hoisted Landon up and over his head, using his own momentum to throw him head-over-heels onto the ground behind him.

Slamming down hard against the concrete, Cranston wasted no time and drew his silence pistol while his adversary was still stunned. Standing over him, his weapon trained on the younger man's head, he checked his watch, "Sixty-five seconds. I was wrong." He pulled back the hammer on his pistol. "What should I tell Jake?"

Landon rolled onto his back and looked up at his killer. "Like I said before," he said, ignoring the blood flowing from his nose. "You tell him what ya did."

Cranston nodded, "Okay. Will do." Cranston fired one round between Landon's eyes and sighed. "Stupid kid." Looking back towards the basement he grimaced.

How was Lilith fairing?

============================================================

"Oh please, brother. Can we question this one? He will be so much more fun!"

"Why not both?" suggested Owain, straightening up. "We don't even need to take them anywhere. I'm sure this place has a wonderful backroom."

The barman spoke up at this. "You two are fucking psychos! Get out of here! I have a shotgun under the bar, and I'll--"

He was cut off by Owain drawing his silenced pistol, and shooting him through the head. "I suppose he keeps his keys under the bar, too," he said conversationally. "Find them, sister dear, and I'll set about dragging fatty here into the kitchen."

=============================================================

"It's not often I tie up a pretty lady against her will, but you understand."

Whiskey burst out laughing at this, and then fell silent as the conversation carried on. She remained silent now. It wasn't her place to say anything about their dead crew member, or the state of their Captain.

=============================================================

When Bryan finally walked into the meeting room, he sat down in one of the chairs, propping his swords against the table. "Any luck on the espionage, Commander?"

Yuteni's noble family had been having a wonderful evening. Beginning the day with a spot of archery, they had lunch in a lovely bistro within their tower. Departing from each other for a few hours, the youngsters nor the elders realised just how similar their tastes were. While the young adults were off ordering the most mature and expert whores they could find, the elders, specifically the head Gerald Yuteni, looked towards the youngest. By no means were they the only nobles in the world to be enticed by young prostitutes, they were voraciously adamant in 'helping' them maintain a presence within their city.

As evening approached, the women and girls had been disposed off in a way befitting leftovers on a dish. They could not be allowed to leave a noble bedroom thinking they were equal to those they had pleasured! No, no they must feel like a dirty rat, vermin that had to be scooped away by force of an armed escort; who's only job was to hide their escorts and be as rough as possible removing them from the tower.

Some were mad, others just bored, but all were insulted. Little did they know just how grateful they'd be to be out of the noble's homestead as the foundations began to crumble under the weight of vicious pirate artillery. Soldiers and staff were being blown apart and damn near having their body parts melted as plasma rained like meteors. Suddenly the nobles within who had spent the carbon of their city on their own luxury wished they had instead spent it on their own protection. They first thought to enter one of their own ships, but the docks were destroyed before they could even reach their vessels. They thought to exit by other aircraft, but if Austin wouldn't allow them to leave by ship, why would he allow them by any other form-as any and all exits were cut off by fiery death.

In the end there was no exit, no one could have saved them. No one brave heroic soldier doing his or her duty for their perfect noble family, no allied attempt at a rescue of the Yuteni nobility, no grateful act by the city that they had condemned for years. No, instead they simply yelled and blamed each other as their world, literally, crumbled around them.
==========================================

The new arrivals on the ship had heard their wild shrills, but no more than when they finally achieved their goal. Bellowing out a triumphant "YES!" Austin elongated the word as long as possible, losing any and all gracefulness in his tone as even he slobbered like an animal, totally out of character for the 'refined' father.

He watched in awe, never more proud of his family than he was in this moment, as the foundations simply couldn't hold up the structure of the building anymore. The support fractured, it began to break apart until gravity and physics decided that the Yuteni family was simply not worth supporting. And it fell. Collapsing in on itself. From the top of the spire it came crashing down onto its lower portions until there was nothing more than the wreckage of the pathetic, meek cretins that debased the city they were meant to protect.

All over, the city stood in shock. They wouldn't miss the nobles, but the fact that the ivory towers themselves had been brought down, it seemed unreal. Impossible even. But with enough conviction, weaponry, and malicious intent, anything was possible.

"Finish off the soldiers!" Austin barked. "No one leaves this unholy site alive!"

'Just do it, just one shot, then you can leave this damn city.'

Picking up her pistol, she stormed back over to Gorgon, who had managed to turn onto his side.

Kicking his shoulder, she put him flat on his back as she stood over him. "Look at me." She demanded, her voice quiet as her eyes burned into him. She wanted to see his face as he died.

Gorgon didn't hesitate to do as he was told. He was disappointed with himself, sure, but he wasn't afraid to die. He wasn't afraid of this little girl, "I'm lookin'. What the fuck you want from me?"

Lilith looked at the man. No begging, no apologies, in his mind he was already dead.
"Axel." She said clearly. "The boy you shot, his name is Axel."
She clenched her jaw for a moment, furrowing her brow. "He survived, by the way, just thought you should know."

"Figured," Gorgon sneered. "You would've finished the job by now if he was dead. What's the fuckin' hold up, anyway? All this waitin' is pissing me the fuck off."

Lilith's finger tightening on the trigger, she narrowed her eyes. "He's fifteen years old." Her hands began to tremble. Bitterness crawling up her throat as she struggled to contain her disgust for the man. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Hey, FUCK YOU! I'm the one lookin' down the barrel of your gun! What, you want me to feel fuckin' guilty? Make me beg for forgiveness? Fuck off! You don't get to make that decision! I'll die on my own fuckin' terms. My death ain't about you or that fuckin' brat! Grow the fuck up and just finish this." His one good eye bore into hers. Despite his helplessness, he didn't have an ounce of fear in him. He was like a mad dog waiting for his master to put him down.

He was right, she should kill him. Kill him right now. There was nothing about the man she felt sympathy for, he deserved it. So why was she hesitating to put a bullet in his head? Her eyes softened as she stared into his.
"You were wrong about one thing. If the boy hadn't have made it, you wouldn't be dead right now. It would be much worse."

She tilted her head slightly. "The boy you shot? The boy you almost killed? He's kind, and gentle, and goddamn if he isn't the sweetest thing on this shithole planet." She smiled sadly. "And you nearly took him away from me."

She paused for a moment.

"Nearly."

Lilith looked down at the man she had broken. "If he were here now, he wouldn't want to see me like this." She clenched her jaw as her eyes glistened slightly. "He'd hold me, and stroke my hair, and tell me everything was going to be okay, and that we should just go home."

Her eyes pierced Gorgon, "You nearly broke me that day, nearly made me into something I never want to be."

If there's one thing you should never, ever do, it's make violence personal.

She smiled.

I just need to know something first, or it'll mean nothing.

"And you nearly broke me again tonight." After what felt like an eternity, she lowered her gun.

"Nearly."

Frowning slightly, she furrowed her brow. "You don't deserve to be the person who does that to me, Not while that boy is still alive." His leg was in pieces, his men were dead, there was nothing this man could do to hurt Axel or the others, not anymore.

"Good night, Gorgon." She said simply as she went to collect her jacket, she wanted to go home.

Gorgon watched in utter disbelief as she turned away from him. Was this some kind of joke? Was she toying with him? No. No, she was actually going to let him live. How in the mother of fuck had she made it this far with such a naive attitude? She had killed half his men! How did sparing his life make any difference at all? How does that absolve her of her sins in any way?

She was a stupid kid. Clearly, there was nothing else to it.

Gorgon was pissed. He was insulted. Again, he'd been left beaten and broken. He'd been left to swallow his pride as a small, stupid little girl got the best of him. No. NO! He would not settle for this! This bitch needed to be taught a lesson! She needed to pay!

As she knelt down to retrieve her jacket, Gorgon gritted his teeth, braced his arms against the wall and sprung out from behind her. Considering his crippled mobility, he had no choice but to bet it all on this tackle.

And it worked.

Wrapping one arm around her shoulder, he came down hard on top of Lilith, knocking the wind out of her, "GOT YOU NOW, BITCH!"

Lilith cried out in surprise as the man tackled her to the ground. Bringing up her gun hand as she tried to turn, firing a round, the bullet went astray as Gorgon swatted the gun from her hands Grabbing her wrist, he pinned her to the ground.

Oh god, oh god, what have I done?!

Panic began to rise in her throat as she attempted to wriggle from the man's grasp.

It was of no use, of course. Gorgon's advantage had been his size. With Lilith's mobility gone, there was little she could do, even in Gorgon's crippled state. Slamming her left wrist hard against the concrete, he slid his good leg up and pinned her hand in place with his knee. Leaning in close, blood dripping from his wounded face, he sneered, "YOU STUPID FUCKIN' BITCH! YOU FUCKIN' TRYIN' TO INSULT ME!? HUH!?

With one of her hands pinned he was free to reach for the switch-blade in his back pocket. Flipping it out, he held the tip of her blade below her naval, "WHAT DID I SAY!? WHAT DID I SAY I'D DO TO YOU!?"

Lilith cried out in exertion as she tried to force the much larger man off of her. Her breathing growing ragged as terror began to overwhelm her. "GET THE FUCK OFF ME!" She kicked out her feet helplessly, bucking her head forward as she tried to push the man away, but to no avail.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" He screamed in her face. "DID I SAY YOU COULD TALK!?" Hovering the knife above her face, he smiled wickedly. "You know, you're purdy lil' thing, Casino. Be a shame to ruin' that face." He gently pressed the knife into the skin just below he right eye. "Please, Casino, scream a bit more for me. Scream! SCREAM!"

Locking eyes with the man, she tried to contain the terror in them, to stop it from spilling over into the rest of her. Clenching her jaw tightly, she remained silent. There was still time, time for Cranston to get here, all she had to do was hold out, try and delay him until then.

"Fuck you." She muttered slowly through clenched teeth.

Gorgon bore his teeth like a hungry wolf, "I ASKED FOR A SCREAM, NOT A WHIMPER!" Slowly, he sliced the knife down her cheek "THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, BITCH! YOU UNDERSTAND ME!? DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?"

Growing rigid under the touch of the knife, Lilith whimpered slightly, breathing heavily through gritted teeth. All she had to do was stall him. Not scream, and stall him. Not cry out, and scream, and stall him.

Clenching hey eyes shut as she fought back the tears, warm blood dripping down the side of her face. Her chest heaving as she started to hyperventilate. Locking eyes with the man, she started to seethe. "FUCK YOU!" She roared as she spat in the man's face.

He laughed out loud as he withdrew the knife. throwing it carelessly over his shoulder. "THAT'S MORE LIKE IT! NOW, HUSH THAT PRETTY MOUTH OF YOURS!" He roared as he reached out and wrapped his hand around her neck. Squeezing firmly, he looked her right in the eye. "I'm gonna choke the life out of you slowly..." He grinned as he tightened his grip.

Gasping as the man's hands tightened around her throat, she clawed at the them as she tried to pry them from around her. Flailing her legs wildly against the ground as she tried to gain footing that didn't exist.

'No, no, no, no, no! Not now, not now, please!' She tried to cry out as she gasped for air, her vision began darkening around the edges.

As survival instinct took over, she flailed her arms wild, reaching up to the the man's head, her nails clawing at his neck in an attempt to reach his face.

'Please, not now, not like this.' As tears began to stream from her eyes, her gasps grew more and more desperate.

'Kill him kill him kill him kill him!'

As her strength began to wane, her vision grew fuzzy as her consciousness started to fade.

'I'm done.' Her arms fell to the ground.

'I'm so sorry Axel...' Her hands twitched uselessly as she tried to gather the strength to fight back. This was it, this was how she would die, choked by a world that saw fit to punish her mercy. It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair dammit!

Her consciousness roused slightly as she felt something sharp prod against the side of her right hand. Clawing at the ground, she wrapped her fingers around whatever it was, grasping it tightly as it sunk into her flesh.

Rising her hand slowly, Gorgon's blindside hiding her purpose from his view, she gently placed her fist against his neck.

'One shot, Valentine, make it count.'

Pulling her arm back, she slid the shard of metal from between her fingers, slick with her own blood. It was only a few inches long, but the tip was sharp and jagged. Clenching it between her thumb and the side of her forefinger, she mustered all the focus she could manage. Holding the the shard close to Gorgon's neck, she firmly pushed the shard into his throat, following through with her palm as she plunged it into him, her hand falling to the ground as she blacked out.

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