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

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An affectionate smile curled Lilith's lips as the boy approached. Nothing needed to be said. Wrapping her arms around him, she gently head butted him before tussling his hair.

"LILY! YER EYE! What happened!?"

Locking eyes with the boy, she searched his face, it was dotted with the tell tale signs of someone who had just been crying. Lilith's eyes softened, graced with a calmness that hadn't seen them in a long time. "You like it? I decided the left side was getting too much attention." She placed her hands on the boy's shoulders, straightening his posture. As she she continued to search his face.

Furrowing her brow, her expression hardened slightly. "Hmmmmm." Grabbing the boy's chin, she angled his face slightly as she tilted her head to look at him. "That's weird, I don't remember you being a little bitch when I left." Her face lit up as she pulled him into another embrace. "Forgive me." She whispered into his ear as she stroked the back of his head.

Pulling away from the boy, her eyes lingered on his as she turned to face the two women. Coughing slightly, she placed her hands behind her head.

"Doctor." She nodded at Maria, her expression and tone were formal. "Lady Tigerman The Third." another head nod. She couldn't keep up the act for long, before a warm smile crept to her eyes.

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

"Shoot to kill"
A pang of apprehension shot through Asad.

"Our main objectives, however, are to apprehend Lady Maribel and wipe out Sandringham's cell. Is that clear?"

"Crystal." Asad replied as he sat in the passenger seat. A small part of him hoped it would never come to that, that the South Gate wouldn't be the exit they chose. A even smaller part hoped they got away all together.

Looking straight ahead, Asad furrowed his brow as he crossed his arms over his chest. "We have reason to suspect that Maribel isn't being held against her will." He turned his head to look at the man. "She's with them willingly, Colonel."

"Did you like it?"

'30 seconds'

"Oh, I'm charmed my dear." The Gentleman replied, not turning around and keeping his gun steadily trained on Owain. "It's clear you have a talent for performance art. However, if you would allow me just a few constructive criticisms..."

'25'

"I'm afraid I take issue with the last stanza. You see, and no offence, I only mean this professionally, if Lady Contessa truly wanted me dead, she'd have sent someone a deal more... reliable, than the two of you."

'20'

"And I imagine you dearest Aunt would care a great deal about my demise. If I die, any chance of recovering her losses dies with me. You don't think I took all of that Carbon without anticipating something like this, do you?"

'15'

"But anyway, I must confess myself a little disappointed with the imagery. I would have thought you, an expert of matters occurring while lying face up, would recognise when a man is still very much righted."

'10'

"Your motif of the web is more appropriate than you know. For you see, a web rarely has one focus. It's strands stretch out all around, enticing the unwary."

'5'

"But, I suppose you're the one with superior firepower. I would settle the debt right now, only I appear to have lost my chequebook. You wouldn't happen to have seen it lying around here, would you?"

Right on cue, the little pile of paper, fluttering in the breeze at Severa's feet, ignited, the chemical compound inside the pages releasing a bright flare, and a heavy plume of thick, noxious gas. At once, Severa's forward vision was obscured, meaning she could not open fire without fear of hitting her beloved brother.

The Gentleman, at this time, was already moving. The most straight-forward course of action would have been to grab Owain. However, The Gentleman was aware of his uniquely... 'prickly', reputation. Too risky. Instead, he lunged forward to strike the back of Owain's knee, followed quickly by a sharp jab with his pistol to the back of the man's head, momentarily stunning him, allowing the Gentleman just enough time to slip inside his reach, wrest the pistol from his hand, and withdraw.

With the putrid cloud quickly clearing, the Lombardi siblings found The Gentleman standing side off from them, arms akimbo, each holding a gun pointed steadily at their heads.

"I have no interest with a quarrel with the Lombadi family." The Gentleman announced firmly to his newly captive audience. "I am quite prepared to negotiate with Lady Contessa herself if she will grant me an audience, but I warn you that I will not come to her in chains, nor in a body-bag. If you both persist in this foolishness, I will be forced to incapacitate you through varying degrees of harm, which benefits no-one. Do I make myself clear?"

"You like it? I decided the left side was getting too much attention."

Why was she joking at a time like this?! Couldn't she see how scared he was?

"That's weird, I don't remember you being a little bitch."

It wasn't fair! She leaves without telling him after promising not to, and then comes back like THIS? Who did she think she was?!

Lily...

"Forgive me."

And like that, all of Sprout's anxiety faded away. He was so caught up in feeling betrayed that he'd failed to consider what Lilith was going through right now. Of course she was joking around! That's how she deals with tough shit! He should have known! He shouldn't have been so selfish!

"Lady Tigerman The Third."

Elizabeth offered her a concerned smile, "I'm glad you're well, Lilith. You should let Maria take a look at that once we're safely away from the city."

Stepping forward, Sprout reached out and grabbed Lilith's hand from behind, slipping the poker chip into her palm, "I'm glad ya' came back ta' me, Lily. Next time, I'm goin' with you."

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

"We have reason to suspect that Maribel isn't being held against her will... She's with them willingly, Colonel."

Ortega shook his head as he started the crawler, "Irrelevant. She has no experience in combat. Her allegiance not withstanding, she'll go to where the shooting's thinnest. She'll be easy enough to collect if we can separate her from the others. Sandringham's squad we know. These Iron Maidens however," Peeling out of the hanger, he road his crawler directly up behind Tsubaki's. "Brief me on what you know about them."

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Severa covered her mouth, fearful of the gas' contents and skipped out of the cloud. Once she'd gotten her sights on the Gentleman once more, he too had his weapon trained on her.

"... If you both persist in this foolishness, I will be forced to incapacitate you through varying degrees of harm, which benefits no-one. Do I make myself clear?"

"Irritatingly so," Severa pouted. "We could have had so much fun, Mr. Gentleman. Why must you make this such a dull affair?" Glancing around the battlefield, she set her eyes on the priest but for a moment before looking back to the Gentleman. "This battlefield was the last place we had expected to find you. In fact, Brother and I were just heading over to see if Vasa knew where you were. If I may ask, why are you out here?"

"This battlefield was the last place we had expected to find you. In fact, Brother and I were just heading over to see if Vasa knew where you were. If I may ask, why are you out here?"

Of course they knew him. Heaven forbid the company Florian had to keep attract anyone of a sound state of mind! No, madness was in the air now and the only ones who would survive the coming days were the animals that could adapt to the jungle and swim through the blood. Florian could have withstood it all, he could have grinned a forced smiled and walked through all the bullets and blades like a suffering man should have, shoulders squared and upper lip stiff as starch.

But why... why... WHY DID THEY ALL HAVE TO ACT LIKE C-RATE THEATRE PEOPLE?!

It had taken all Florian had to stop his eyes rolling into the back of his head and painting the sidewalk with puke. Well the narcissistic penguin he'd been forced to play shadow to had found his kindred spirits and the three could rot and burn with the rest. He had more important things to do.

Banter be damned Florian was leaving.

Brought down on one knee, Owain shook himself to clear his vision. What a frustrating situation. As he looked around, he noticed the Priest beginning to step away from them. Owain doubted it was a coincidence their target had interfered to keep this one out of danger.

Knelt as he was, it was convenient enough to grab the small holdout pistol strapped above his boot. Ignoring the gun the Gentleman was aiming at him, while he and his sister were chatting, Owain straightened in a fluid motion, pointing his pistol at the fleeing Priest.

"No," he said simply. He contemplated a warning shot to the ground, but that would likely get him killed. Glancing at Severa out of the corner of his eye, Owain grinned. "I believe that technically, I win our bet," he said.

"I'm glad you're well, Lilith. You should let Maria take a look at that once we're safely away from the city."

"Took the words right outta my mouth." Maria said, allowing herself a little chuckle as the wave of relief washed over her. That bastard and the goddamn suits had spooked her somewhat, however, wasn't it best to cling to the good things in life? Nevertheless, the whole ordeal wasn't quite over yet. There was still the matter of getting out of Feroxi but the suits could worry about getting them safety out, leave to the professionals was the appropriate saying here. Like Goldilocks, there was no point in looking back at the bears. Looking ahead, Maria leaned into slightly to get a look at the latest scar in Lilith's collection and muttered, "That's gonna need some stitches but I guess that itty bitty band-aid will just about cover it for now."

She drew back, "...Still, it's good to see ya, Miss Valentine."

Never, ever assume incompetence or ignorance with that man, or you'll get yourselves killed. Payton is a god damn snake, and he plays the long game so much, even his morning piss is a move in a chess match."

As always, everyone had plans within plans within more fucking plans. He hoped Pixie was as deceitful as people like Payton and The Gentleman were. Not to say his confidence was waning, he just wasn't sure if she needed the advice that Whiskey had just told him. 'Just focus on Peter, Sillah, fuck all these guys, fuck 'em.'

Again he had called himself Sillah, why? He shook his head as he left. 'Don't do this Aesop, now is NOT the time faggot. We're burying Parker now.' Aesop kept making racist banter with Ruffles before the maidens had a point to sit down and think, just think in silence about Parker. All jokes had died, the black humour the maidens were known for paused for a moment as they remembered their fallen comrade. Some, like Aesop and Warren, didn't know him as well as the older members. Yet, Aesop at least had some good memories of him, thankfully, they were all pretty damn funny, at least he thought so.

"Eight fucking years, man. It ain't gonna be the same. I only wish I'd talked to you more, buddy. Save me a seat and we'll light one up when I get over there."

Aesop stepped forwards and patted Ruffles on the back before commenting, "First time I ever saw Parker, Pixie was dragging my drunk ass into the maiden, she said something probably like 'Watch the hairy guy', I dunno. I guess it was that, cos the second time I ever saw Parker was when he caught me with some Boomhower Original in one of the store rooms." He chuckled a little. "He broke everything in that room over my fucking head that day," he rubbed the side of his head, "Florian had to shave this part of my head to get to the cut to stop the bleeding. There was nothing in that storeroom that was useful anymore, so Parker and Pixie shoved me in there to make it my own personal detox room. Now its filled with all sorts'a..." he looked down at the waistcoat he had lent from Carlos and compared it to his own clothing, "some really gay lookin' clothes.

I'm not good at... well speaking so sorry if this is awkward. And I didn't know you so well, but thanks for helping me off the juice man. As corny as this sounds, temptation's gonna get harder with you gone." He then added quickly as not to seem like some attention seeker, "but Pixie still has a more than mean right hook so I'll be fine." He shuffled awkwardly back into the conglomeration of maidens as they stared upon his body. Despite all the shit everyone had gone through this past week, all the pain, the death, the past catching up to everybody in all sorts of ways, hell everyone was going nuts.

Yet, even if he had doubts he was part of this family of outlaws, Aesop knew there was no other place he wanted to be. What other bandits in the world would treat their departed like this? They might have ceremony, but they didn't truly care. None of this was for show, these people cared. So god damn much, maybe too much.

'No such thing' he thought.
====================================================
With the sheriff of Yuteni tied up damn near to the point of suffocation and the meanest guards Austin had watching her as she was brought back into the Iron Maiden, the soldiers torn apart like a child ripping the legs off a spider, and the police having already being spread way too thin across the city in a normal day; now having to compete with escorting everyone in the city to safety, criminals running rampant, rioting, stealing and violent infighting among the populace, and the vicious, uncaring, unfeeling, brutality of an airship with such overpowered weapons against their opponents decimating the city, with legions of mad men and women calling themselves children blocking off exits into the city as well as filling the city causing havoc and death in their wake, even snatching children out of their beds like real life, modern day boogymen...

It was safe to say, Yuteni was lost. The battle waged on for hours, lasting all through the night. Until by dawn, the police were either completely scattered into hidden pockets of deprivation, or wiped out. Even the criminal element of the city had been torn down. Yuteni may have been kept in check just barely by the police, and organised crime was pretty much non-existent, but that didn't stop the rackets of Wilkes Vines from existing sparsely through the city, or the heavy presence of prostitution (only kept alive through heavy noble enforcement). Nevertheless, these people had been torn to shreds-that was unless they were young and willing enough to become part of Austin's sick charade. Hell many didn't even believe they were just grateful to keep living.

Civilians were being slaughtered by death squads, the young being taken in by 'their real family'. Some had tried to escape underground in the sewers like young Austin had. The little boy had found his way into a room full of various valves and steam pipes. It was the hottest he had ever been, even in the scorching heat of the surface, but such presurised heat was making him feel faint. He would have never have stayed there for so many hours had it not been such an excellent hiding place from the family. But at some point during the night, when he had no idea what time it was, or even where he was anymore, he became dizzy, hungry, restless yet exhausted. He couldn't hold up his arms or hands anymore nor his head as his eyes slowly glazed over.

He awoke lying on a bed in an unknown place, a teenage girl looking over him with a canteen in her hand. She fed the young boy and explained to him his situation.

"You were so dehydrated we thought you were dead."

"Thank you," he said weakly, barely even awake. "Where's... I'm... is my Mom-"

"Shh ssshhh sshhh rest easy brother, Mom is perfectly okay. She hit her head, but she's gonna be fine."

"Th... tha..." he wanted to thank her again when even in his exhausted state, something puzzled him very much, "wait why, why did you... say mom?"

"Ssshhh" spoke the girl as she kissed his forehead, "its okay baby brother just rest. Father will be here soon."

"I don't... what do you..." his breathing was slow, as he took long breaths, pausing momentarily to allow the canteen to pass water through his mask and into his mouth. But sleep had to take him once more, the child far too tired to speak.
==================================
"How many new brothers and sisters do we have on the ship?" Spoke Isabel as she was taking a registry, the duty she had been assigned while Franklin was with Troy in a small old looking store room turned bedroom. It did't look clean enough for the baby, but it was the only place for privacy among the Iron Maiden.

"Only a small number. Most are in checkpoints across the city, we have a little less than a dozen young ones on deck, remember to only bring on the youngest. We don't want anyone strong up here, got that." Replied Oliver to the fearful sister as she desperately tried to gain favour among her captors. One of her best qualities was now on show, her incredible acting ability. She may be able to fool Oliver, but if she needed to speak to someone with an Eagle eye such as Austin...

"Yes brother... is this victory?" She asked, not even a hint of fear in her voice.

"In all but name. Until he says we stop, we keep going." Answered the second in command to the all powerful Father Austin.

"Yes brother." she nodded before moving on, damning herself for assisting these bastards.

Carrying his tray to the table, Hannibal sat across from Viola. The food wasn't great, it was a damn barracks what did he expect, but it all looked so... clean. He'd been spoiled the past few days. None of food he had eaten still had soil from the ground in them, the water was clear, and the meat was fresh. Fresh for god sake! What kind of madness was this.

Setting his tray down he asked. "So... this is all complicated isn't it?"

Viola was already at a table when she saw Hannibal arriving with a tray of food, his eyes looked positively a glimmer when he saw the quality of it all. She almost chocked on the apple she was eating upon noticing this when trying to smile. Their guard Mila was seated at the table next to them, keeping a steady watch on the bounty hunter and the kid.

"What do you mean by complicated?" She asked back after Hannibal posed a question.

"Well," he spoke with his mouthful as he grabbed a strip of glorious bacon, "you were asked by the Sandriggim guy to kill Dr Pym, who works for Lord Basilio, who is after Sandraggam and a 'Gentleman', who works with Basilio who..." he paused for a while as the gears slowly turned in his brain, "who works with, Basililo, who wants to find Lady Maribel, but they both do, but the Maidens want... Maribel?" he squinted his face as he was trying to remember all the details of this intricate play.

There was a look of confusion on Viola's face as she tried to process the explanation that Hannibal gave of the more recent events that had happened; no offence to the lad, but he could have done a better job of it. She eventually managed to make sense of it, she hoped, after thinking about it for a few minutes.

"I think you may have gotten yourself muddled up Hannibal. The reason that Sandringham wanted Pym killed was that he is an important part of a plan that Lord Basilio is cooking up, which makes sense given that Pym is Lord Basilio's chief researcher. Lord Basilio wants Lady Elizabeth Maribel found as he intends to marry her, no doubt as part of some political alliance between the two families. Meanwhile, The Maidens kidnapped Lady Maribel during the train heist they pulled off a week back. However, it seems as though that the young Noble hasn't made any attempts to escape so far.

Perhaps she has changed allegiances because of something that has happened. But that is just speculation at the moment. Whatever Colonel Ortega was called away for, it must have been important, could be related to our current situation. Also, a small correction regarding The Gentleman, he's worked alongside for both Lord Basilio and The Maidens; though I reckon he's got more to gain by siding with The Maidens currently." Viola remarked after taking another bite of the apple.

Hannibal blinked several times in a row as she explained the situation. "Thats uh... thats a very um... there's such um... wow." He finished before gulping down the last of his bacon.

"You'd need to write this all down just to keep track. Dios." He sighed out what small bit of spanish he knew.

"I guess it can be a little disorientating for someone. I'll be sure to make a note of it for future reference." Viola remarked with a smirk as she drank some of the coffee that she had made, despite it being not the greatest, it was fairly decent, not as good as the stuff back at the hotel.

It was at this point he really wished he could read. "Good idea." He said, pretending he would be capable of such a thing.

"So what do we do now? Will anyone be mad we spoke to Dio's men? What about-" he cut himself off, realising he was just about to mention how much he liked the bald man Cranston. Hannibal coughed and tried to subtly flatten his hair and stroke his chin as a sort of badly done symbol for Cranston, thinking he'd get in trouble if they heard him talking about a wanted maiden. Especially considering his immature fantasy of the maidens.

"Aside from waiting for Colonel Ortega to return, not exactly a whole lot we can do at the moment, in short we're kind of confined to the canteen, given that I'd doubt anyone would like us to be snooping around here. As for that, we'll cross that bridge should we ever happen to come across it."

"I'm glad you're well, Lilith. You should let Maria take a look at that once we're safely away from the city."

"That's gonna need some stitches but I guess that itty bitty band-aid will just about cover it for now."

Lilith raised a hand to her cheek, before waving her fingers dismissively. "Pfft, 'tis but a flesh wound."

"I'm glad ya' came back ta' me, Lily. Next time, I'm goin' with you."

Furrowing her brow, Lilith looked down at the chip in her hand, the leather necklace dangling between her fingers. Turning to face Axel, she unzipped her jacket slightly as she looped the poker chip around her neck, ignoring the bruises there as they cried out in protest.

Lilith could have dismissed the boy there and then, tell him he couldn't handle the kind of situation that she had just found herself escaping. She wanted more than ever to hide him away from the worst parts of this life, but she knew that was never going to happen.

"Okay." She said simply, her eyes locked to his. "Next time."

Lilith wasn't going to shelter the boy, that would do more harm than good. No, she'd merely be a shield between him and the fire. He'd still feel the heat, but maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't get burned.

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

"Brief me on what you know about them."

Asad fixed his eyes ahead. "Axel 'Sprout' Monroe, kid of the Queen herself, although I've heard nothing particularly outstanding about the boy, mostly due to his general absence from the more notable Maiden heists. Next up is Lilith 'Casino' Valentine. I've heard lots of things about this one. Best sharpshooter in the Maidens, never loses at gambling, seems to walk away from situations unscathed that would otherwise kill anyone else. How many of those are true, I have no idea, but I've heard some first hand accounts of the woman's skill in combat. She's a fighter, no doubt about that, she won't go down easily.

Asad scratched the stubble on his chin, furrowing his brow. "I've heard very little about The Cook, and what I have heard seems so implausible that I question it's validity, However..." He turned head to look at Ortega. "The fact we know so little about him, is enough to be doubly wary."

Sandringham waited, none too patiently, for the reunion to run its course. It occurred to him, standing there, that all their troubles could well be avoided by handing over the Maribel girl to Basilio's men here and now. It was Casino and the boy he was tasked with protecting, and he had only made no issue to Lady Elizabeth coming with them, because of how much more difficult it would have been to persuade the others to leave without her. As it stood though, it might be worth gauging his chances of being shot by The Cook for so much as suggesting it.

"Time's up." he announced curtly. "Everyone get back in the trucks, double time. We'll keep the two packeges split up, reduce the chances of them both getting caught in case we're ambushed in transit."

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

"Why must you make this such a dull affair?"

"Forgive me, it's been a truly miserable couple of days." The Gentleman replied sardonically.

"If I may ask, why are you out here?"

"I had not thought to be here." he said, for once truthfully. "If I'd had it my way, this lunacy we see around us would have been avoided. Before I say any more, however, I'd like to know how you even knew I was in Frostfall. I don't recall keeping Lady Contessa up to date with my appointments."

"I win our bet,"

The Gentleman worked hard to settle for merely giving Owain his most patronising smile.

"If this is the part where I'm supposed to bargain for that hapless fools life, then you've made a miscalculation. I'll admit he's with me, but he was a minor amusement, and to tell the truth not half as interesting as I'd hoped. Nevertheless, shoot him, and I gun your sister down where she stands. I know for a face that your relationship with her is by far the more intimate of the pairings here, so you would walk away with the greater loss of the two of us."

"If this is the part where I'm supposed to bargain for that hapless fools life, then you've made a miscalculation. I'll admit he's with me, but he was a minor amusement, and to tell the truth not half as interesting as I'd hoped. Nevertheless, shoot him, and I gun your sister down where she stands. I know for a face that your relationship with her is by far the more intimate of the pairings here, so you would walk away with the greater loss of the two of us."

"Well you are right about that," replied Owain, turning so that the Gentleman was to his side, rather than behind him. "But I mean... that gun you snatched and now have trained on Severa is your standard Glock 17, aside from the silencer. So it's got a fifteen round mag. As you might imagine, I'm a meticulous man when it comes to these things, so believe me when I tell you that that pistol is empty." The laughter was bubbling up, now. "I mean, why would I shoot the Priest..." he patted one of his few visible knives, "...when I could get up close and personal with him?"

He returned the Gentleman's condescending smile with interest. "So, you can shoot my sister and be shot by me, or shoot me and be cut roughly in half by my sister's frankly over sized piece of ordinance. If you think a little carbon gives you immunity to that, then maybe you're overestimating just how much we really care about our dear aunt's interests."

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

As Aesop stepped down, Ruffles nudged him. "Hey don't worry, buddy. If ya fall off the wagon, I'll try out that radar dish rifle thing on ya!"

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

Millie looked around nervously. There were maybe twelve other children in the room with her, but the little girl she had been occupying the trunk with seemed to have vanished. Who were these people? Why had they taken her?

Pushing through the other children, Millie tugged on the sleeve of a passing woman, ignoring the rifle hanging on her back. "Excuse me, miss? Are you taking me back to my mommy?"

After Aesop spoke, a long silence followed. For what felt like an eternity, only the sound of the ash-filled wind could be heard as it coiled around their still forms. Pixie looked to Bennie who bowed his head in return, unable to meet her gaze. Perhaps he'd wanted to say something, but found himself unable to. Pixie frowned under her breathing mask.

Then suddenly, Brock stepped forward. In this moment, the large, monster of a man looked so small. Slouched over, he bowed his head. Brock was trembling, "P-Parker was my bestfriend. I-I-I---" He choked up. "God man, why? We made it out of Boomhower together! W-w-why did it have to be you?! I-I-I don'... I don'..."

Furrowing her brow, Pixie approached him from behind, placing a hand on his shoulder. Staring down at Parker's corpse, Pixie shook her head, "Silo, Barrot, Parker," She looked up to the horizon. The twin suns were setting. "Half of the brothers an' sisters I sent ta' Boomhower. Likely all of ar' comrades back on the Maiden. An' now Parker. I'm sorry, I failed you." She apologized as her eyes fell upon Parker once more.

Stepping past Brock, Pixie unhooked her breathing mask, much to the surprise of everyone. Kneeling down before his body, Pixie bent over and planted a kiss on his forehead. With a sad smile, Pixie whispered, "Fly my Valkyrie. Find yer way ta' the halls of Valhalla." Standing back up, she secured her breathing mask once more, before she got nauseous.

After retrieving the liquor bottle from Bennie, Pixie poured the entirety of its contents across the linen bedding. Lighting a match, the flames burst forth violently as they devoured the thick methane in the atmosphere. She held the burning match out in front of her, "Let yer spirit return to the heavens, ol' friend." She dropped the match, igniting the accelerant, violently. "An' yer body to the ash."

Pixie remained standing before the rising flames, basking in their warmth as the surface of the Rock began to cool. She'd lost so much already. It was hard to imagine this war had just begun. Could they make it through this? Was it even remotely possible? Everyday. Everyday they lost more people. More lovers, friends. Brothers and sisters.

What was the point?

What were they even fighting for?

Pixie clenched her jaw. She knew the answer, but she didn't want to admit it to herself.

They fight fer you, darlin'.

She'd failed them again and again.

She didn't deserve their loyalty.

Their love.

Bowing her head, she inhaled deeply before turning around to face her Maidens. Pixie stood tall as she looked upon all the faces that had counted on her. That had sworn their souls to her. Clenching her fists, she began to tremble. It was not despair or fear she felt.

It was rage.

"We're gonna avenge 'em all. Every. Single. Last. One. They all died protectin' us an' there ain't no way--NO WAY in 'ell, I'm gonna let 'em die in vain. We honor their memory with every enemy we cut down. With every tyrant we topple. The Iron Maidens ain't finished. Oh no, we're just gettin' fuckin' started." Pixie looked back towards the sunset. "We're comin' fer you, Austin. Hope you've got yer lube ready 'cause we're gonna make you fuckin' scream before we're done with you!"

Another long silence followed as Pixie continued to stare off towards the horizon. The flames had already engulfed their friend's body and were beginning to wane. Though no one applauded or cheered, Pixie knew they'd gotten the message. She knew they felt the same way.

Looking at the bottle of liquor in her hand, Pixie grinned under her mask, "We'll honor yer death the only way we know 'ow, ol' friend."

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"Next time."

Sprout smiled and nodded. She was telling the truth.

"Time's up. Everyone get back in the trucks, double time. We'll keep the two packeges split up, reduce the chances of them both getting caught in case we're ambushed in transit."

Sprout and Elizabeth looked around the group, unsure of where they were supposed to go. Catching on to their confusion, Cranston approached them, "The four of you are with me, don't worry, I won't let them split us up. Elizabeth's the only one they need alive, anyway. We stick together no matter what. Got that?"

"Damn straight!" Sprout chirped.

Elizabeth nodded, nervously, "Y-yes, of course." Biting the inside of her lip, Elizabeth turned away from the group. She felt horrible. Were they going through all of this... risking all of this, just for her? If she surrendered herself, would they be allowed to leave the city without further incident?

If that were the case, you'd have been given up a long time ago.

Though she couldn't see any other way, she was drowning in guilt. If only she could be useful to them, at the very least. No. Instead, she was just dead weight.

Piling into the back of one of the vans, Cranston looked to the three women and Sprout, "Everyone ready?"

"Yup." Sprout replied.

Elizabeth simply nodded.

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"The fact we know so little about him, is enough to be doubly wary."

Ortega shook his head, "You have no idea... Asad, was it? Yeah, we know 'The Cook'. He's the most dangerous man in this city right now. Whatever stories you've heard, well, I don't imagine they're too far from the truth." He looked to Asad. "Stay on your toes."

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"If this is the part where I'm supposed to bargain for that hapless fools life, then you've made a miscalculation..."

Severa couldn't help but grin. He was important. She'd have the priest now. It was settled.

"So, you can shoot my sister and be shot by me, or shoot me and be cut roughly in half by my sister's frankly over sized piece of ordinance. If you think a little carbon gives you immunity to that, then maybe you're overestimating just how much we really care about our dear aunt's interests."

"Oh, how I admire your bluff, Brother. Or is it a bluff? Unless this man can see through steel, there's no way to know if Owain's claims are true without investigating it yourself." She began strafing around the Gentleman's side, closer to her brother and the priest. "I know how we can make this fun! How about you let us borrow your friend for a bit. We won't break him, I promise!"

This was it? No lightning fast assassination attempt, no barrage of bullets. Oh no! People were dying all around them as innocents fought for their lives, swept up in the madness of a few who thought they could make themselves gods... and the self proclaimed 'BEST' stood around making bitchy comments like teenage school girls! What Florian would have given to have Cyka at his side.

Still there were guns scattered almost everywhere if he tried to look, knives and pipes too. Hell the brother was almost covered in knives he could just close the gap and borrow one off of him. Relive the old magic or die in a bloody gutter like the other poor souls he'd doomed to the same fate. Why not? Anything just so long as it ended this inane prattle.

'Don't fall into the old traps. You can't afford to get angry right now.'

I have more important places to be! They refuse to let me pass, then kill them and be done with it! Do what they're all too self absorbed to do!

'That's not who you are anymore. Remember your vows, you made a promise.'

And look where that's gotten me! How many have died because I refused to act? Fuck the vow! Fuck my promises! Fuck them all!

"We won't break him, I promise!" The sister one was closing in and Florian was getting a draining sense of deja vu of his first meeting with The Gentleman.

He could let her get close, let the see just how fun he could be. Let the bitch lose herself in self absorption... then open her from neck to navel.

Stop this Florian. Keep getting this arrogant and your just the same as them and all this will have been for nothing.

The collar had never felt tighter.

"Everyone ready?"

Letting out a satisfied sigh as she sat, Lilith rubbed the back of her neck as a wave of exhaustion washed over her. "Let's blow this scene." she chuckled tiredly.

Her eyes fell on Elizabeth, the girl seemed wrapped in thought. Putting her hands behind her head, Lilith closed her eyes as she leaned back. "Elizabeth." The girl was obviously troubled by the entire situation, whether she felt responsible or not, Lilith couldn't say, but something was bothering her. Lilith cracked open an eye as the girl looked up at her. "Don't worry about it." She smiled, her gaze lingering on the girl. "We're all in this together." Nudging Sprout with her shoulder, she yawned slightly. "Ain't that right, kid?"

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

"Stay on your toes."

"Roger that." Asad nodded as she crossed his arms over his chest as one of his points seemed to have been dismissed.

It wasn't that he suspected Maribel of causing trouble, the fact of the matter was that if she was willingly with the Maidens, then who were they to 'save' her?

The girl obviously wanted nothing to do with her arranged soon-to-be husband.

'Things are about to get very interesting.'

"Excuse me, miss? Are you taking me back to my mommy?"

The woman turned her attention to what had to be the most adorable little thing she had seen all day, granted Troy was a cute little newborn but the selfish Franklin had locked himself in a tiny bedroom with him. Honestly she had no idea what they were going to do with him.

She smiled at the young girl and said, "Yes we are little munchkin," she crouched down and continued, "she bumped her head and she doesn't feel too well. But when we found her she looked real good, we think its best to just let her sleep for now, 'kay doll?"
====================================================
Franklin was resting Troy on the bed, the baby lying on his back crying. Isabel had transferred milk into a bottle and he was feeding the little lad, but he still cried. He didn't need his nappy changed, he had been burped, he slept incredibly well, what the hell was the problem. God it was so stressful looking after someone who couldn't speak.

"Franklin!" Came a shout along with a loud knock on the door. Franklin wanted to remain quiet but everyone knew he was in there with his son, or his brother as everyone wanted him to believe. "Franklin let me in!" He kept banging on the door.

"Yeah, yeah just gimme a sec Troy's crying." He eventually replied.

"Don't care let me in!" His tone became harsher. Franklin cursed quietly as he lifted himself up off the bed, his leg hurting like hell. They had gotten the bullet out, but that's all they did. He and Isabel had to sanitize the wound themselves, and despite years on the street learning how to patch themselves up, the bullet had dug in deep and he really needed help.

Hobbling and hopping over to the door slowly and retching in pain, he rested his head on the door. Would this be the day he died?

"Franklin!"

"Alright!" He hissed back as he swiftly unlocked the door. If he co-operated maybe he'd live for just a while longer to escape with his son?

The other man swanned into the room, looking over the place like it was a shithole. "This isn't a good place for a baby."

"Its the only quiet place on the ship, wha'da you want?" He said with a sharp edge.

"Dad wants to see you and Troy." This one had a gaunt face and stood adjacent to Franklin, the air of smug superiority that emanated with him made Franklin damn near gag in anger.

"What for?"

The other man stepped closer to him and got up in his face. "Did you really just question father's orders?"

"Fuck off I just wondered why, you gonna lynch me for that dickhole?"

The delusional one clicked his tongue before answering, "Maybe not yet," he looked over to Troy. "Trea'cha brother well," he then got uncomfortably close and whispered, "and remember who your brothers are." He then left and slammed the door. Franklin waited and punched the door before heading back over to the bed and his son, the pain in his leg hurting like absolute hell.

Looking down upon his son, he stroke the crying baby's cheek just underneath his eye, remarking, "I'd take your crying every second of the day over this." Tears fell down Troy's face, but they were not his own. Franklin picked up his son and held him close as he began weeping. "I'm sorry I made the wrong choice. I thought we'd be safe just until you were born, but we should have hacked it on the street. Now you're... stuck here... with them... Jesus God please forgive me son." Franklin's crying was now far outmatching Troy's in volume and velocity. "I'm sorry."
==============================================
This had to be the hardest funeral Aesop had ever attended. Maidens had died, but Parker's official funeral felt like a send of to everyone that had died on the ship, in Boomhower, anyone they didn't have time to bury. Aesop wanted to shut his eyes tight and be away from it all, he could never handle the aftermath, running had always seemed so good, but here. Now. He, he truly had no idea what the course of action was.

He knew what they would do. Fight Austin, take back the ship, move on and kill anyone in their path. But as of that very second, he had no idea if he even could spell out his feelings. Aesop always struggled trying to understand his emotions, yet here the confusion of how he truly felt was whirling his mind all over the place.

Oddly enough, at least for now however, he didn't want to cry. Or scream. Or kill something. He felt like a nasty ass drink, but to do so would insult Parker and Pixie and Ruffles and all those who had helped him get off the sauce. No, he had to take this on his back; but unlike those many nights when everyone else partied and he spent his nights either alone or speaking to Sprout or Florian or anyone who he assumed he creeped out and annoyed, he wasn't frustrated or upset. Or rather he felt all of these things, crashing down upon him like...

Looking over at Brock he realised the entire monologue he had been saying about his own suffering was total horse shit. This man had lost his best friend, had watched him die even, felt his pulse get slower and slower until finally the beat stopped. Aesop had a right to be upset, but this was just self indulgence. He needed to be there for a maiden, for someone he felt privileged enough to call an ally-hopefully a friend. But as he always did, Aesop assumed no one wanted that, his own insecurity blinding him.

Now was the time to buck up, to take this shit on the chin. Who cared if it was Austin they were against, Aesop had spent the whole damn year bitching and moaning, when he wasn't making stupid goofy jokes to the amusement of no one. They didn't need him to be crying tonight, this was his job. For once in his life to be a man!

He stepped forwards, not thinking at all about the repercussions or what she thought about him, or what anyone thought about him, Aesop wrapped his arm around Pixie's shoulder, unhooking his mask for a second and kissed her on the top of the head. He tried to do so more affectionately than condescendingly, knowing how easy it was to make that mistake when comforting someone.

Softly, he said to her, "I love you Meredith. We all do." He wanted to embrace her, but instead he just kept an arm around her. He knew he'd be forever loyal to her, no matter what she did. He hoped she knew that too.

He hoped she didn't hate herself for their loyalty.

"you're overestimating just how much we really care about our dear aunt's interests."

"And you are underestimating the self-restraint it has taken not to have shot you both already." The Gentleman responded coldly. He was just about out of patience with these pampered, psychotic buffoons. "I don't know if Contessa choosing to dispatch you two was simple nepotism, or if she actually wants me to put you down before your antics can embarrass her further. In either case, do not make the fatal mistake of assuming that being outnumbered makes me outmatched. I kill better men than you on my days off, boy, and you're on your last warning."

"Everyone ready?"

"Yeah." Maria said as her right hand rubbed her left arm a bit after she had got back into the van. Then, she stopped that and turned her head towards Elizabeth, conscious of her sudden dive into silence. Meanwhile, part of Maria was inwardly cringing at Lilith's little speech - there were far more grounded ways of saying that without plunging into clichés. Another, perhaps overprotective, part of her made a little mental note about Lilith's little nudge. But all of that was overshadowed by the dire situation they were in - who in their right mind would leave a young woman like Elizabeth behind?

Probably some spineless coward desperate enough to sacrifice others for their own sake.

Maybe the clichés weren't so bad...

"No worrying allowed, Tigerman. It's bad for your health." She japed.

"... I kill better men than you on my days off, boy, and you're on your last warning."

A shiver ran up Severa's spine. It seemed they had struck a nerve. She giggled, "Oh, Sir, why invoke such a tone with my dear Brother? Are you not enjoying yourself?" She grinned, insidiously. "Please, do not lie to me, Mr. Gentleman. I know you have some odd obsession with keeping strange, dangerous women under your thumb. Why kill me when you could have me, body and mind, in whatever sick, twisted way your imagination devises? Why kill me when you could have another deranged slave wrapped around your finger? Am I not as savage as the Pirate Queen? Am I not a beautiful as your Golden Rose?" Severa looked to her brother and pouted. "I don't think he likes me!"

Before her brother could properly reply, however, the sound of heavy booths and rustling leather sounded from behind Severa and the Gentlemen. As the group of Boykov soldiers rounded the corner, Severa looked over her shoulder, "Uh ohhhhhhh."

"TAKE THEM OUT!" Their apparent leader shouted as he and his men brought their rifles to bare. Severa turned on her heel, unloading her precious Miranda on the newcomers just as soon as they'd begun firing themselves.

"GRAB THE PRIEST! I'LL COVER YOU!" Severa shouted over her shoulder as she backpedaled behind a nearby building. There were too many of them. Catching the Gentleman's eye from across the street, Severa shouted, "I suppose we'll have to---" Her words died in her throat when she noticed the ancient looking tank roll down the street, behind the Gentleman, its enormous barrel looking right at her. "Oh, dear."

An ear-shattering explosion echoed down the street, shattering the windows of every storefront in a quarter-mile radius. The Gentleman could feel the force of the shell as it sailed over his shoulder, and then, the subsequent shockwave it released when it impacted against the corner of the building that Severa had been taking cover behind.

The young noble had thrown herself into a nearby alleyway, narrowly escaping the explosion with her life. Dust and soot from the vaporized concrete caked her back and her arms and hands were banged up, but other than that she was unscathed. As she got to her feet she didn't bother trying to look through the enormous dust cloud to get a visual on the Gentleman. Better to escape now and leave the tank to him.

I'm sure he'll make a fun playmate.

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

"I love you Meredith. We all do."

Pixie didn't say anything at all. She simply nodded. Lifting her hand up across Aesop's back, she placed it on his should as well, squeezing it firmly. Her eye found its way back to the smoldering remains of her comrade.

Bennie watched her for a long while before retreating back underground with the rest of the Maidens. They'd finish getting things setup for the party while she remained above for just a little longer. It was her duty to see him off. To see his body returned to the ash. To see the dusk take his soul.

Some had lingered, but eventually even Aesop had left her side. Alone now, she watched the light of the twin suns waning over the horizon. She felt the air cool around her as timid winds kissed her weathered skin. Darkness had taken the land and what little remained of the man once known as Parker had become difficult to make out.

How would Pixie die? Would they give her the same treatment? Would she die in pain? Would it be slow or quick?

Would there even be anyone left to see her off?

In this moment, she wanted nothing more than to be with her son.

And her daughter.

"Come back to me, please."

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

"We're all in this together."

Elizabeth nodded halfheartedly.

"Ain't that right, kid?"

"Damn fuckin' straight!" Sprout jeered.

"No worrying allowed, Tigerman. It's bad for your health."

"I suppose that's true," Elizabeth giggled.

"Listen to your Doctor." Cranston said as he cracked a smile. "You four are..." The old man stopped mid-sentence as he considered his words. "This isn't your fight. This isn't your war. Whatever happens tonight... whatever happens tomorrow. It's going to be difficult, so stay like this. Remain together. Understand?"

Elizabeth and Sprout nodded silently.

It had come down to the wire. It was likely that someone in this very van may not be leaving the city tonight... or ever.

"GRAB THE PRIEST! I'LL COVER YOU!"

Owain reacted before the sentence was even finished, turning on his heel he sprinted towards Florian, throwing the full weight of himself at the Priest. His momentum sent them both careening through the air and they slammed through the boarded up window of a disused shop. Their crash landing amid a fierce grappling set the pistol spinning from Owain's grip, lost among the explosion of dust their landing created.

Rolling off the Priest with the last of his momentum, Owain came to his feet, his eyes set on Florian. As he watched, he reached for his preferred fighting knife. Where the others were small fixed blades, this was a large balisong. Owain twirled the weapon, deftly manipulating the three limbs over and under in a series of complex arcs before bringing the two halves of the handle together in his firm grip. There was a snick as the magnetic clasp fell shut, locking the knife in position and he flipped it into a back hand position.

"Come quietly, Priest," he said. "I'd like to be able to assist my sister, and perhaps wipe the smug grin off of the old man's face before he gets away. Don't tell me you've never wanted to break your vow of pacifism and wring his neck." He shrugged. "Hell, if we actually manage to nab him, we won't have any reason to keep after you. Our orders didn't say anything about harassing a man of the cloth."

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

"Not gonna lie, mate, I have a bad feeling some shit's gonna get pulled," Bryan said to Jun. They were sat in an open topped Crawler by the South East gate. Bryan had delegated the wheel to one of Dio's soldiers and now occupied the passenger seat. If the Maidens did come this way, he thought it best he and Jun actually be able to fight. Aside from them, there was a second Crawler parked adjacent, and a few men on the ground. Twisting in his seat, Bryan called to them.

"Hey lads, be ready to open the gate."

"Why would we open the gate, sir? We're trying to keep them from passing through, aren't we?"

"Aye, but just be ready."

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

For the longest while, Whiskey just stood in the shower as hot water soaked through her hair and sprayed down her back. After a while, it started to run into her eyes, and she wiped it away with a palm. This was such shit. It had been made abundantly clear the well being of her mother and daughter were the price to pay if she hadn't obeyed the order to bring in Eddie. Eddie, whom she'd believed dead for three years. It was one hell of a mind job. Still, she'd done as ordered, and taken the love of her life down a peg. But now, not only had the guillotine not been lifted, it had been brought further down. Millie had actually been taken from her and squirreled away fuck knows where as an insurance policy on Whiskey's own good behaviour. Still, she was complying and surely that meant Millie was safe as could be. But she couldn't shake the feeling that her daughter needed her, desperately.

After she had washed away the sheen of soap she had mindlessly applied to her body to clean away the last of the dirt, Whiskey cut the flow of water and stepped out of the shower. Toweling off, she pulled out the large travel bag she had brought with her in anticipation of her stay with the Maidens. Pulling out a pale grey tank top, jeans and fresh underwear, then threw the lot on her bed and proceeded to dress. Leaving her damp hair hanging loose, she tucked it behind her ears and headed out. She was hardly a prisoner, even if they hated her boss nearly as much as she did.

Walking aimlessly, she considered heading up to drop in on Parker's funeral and dismissed the idea out of hand. She liked the Maidens well enough, but she wasn't one of them and had no right to be there. Funerals were a time for friends and family to grieve. Nobody would appreciate hollow sympathy from her. Adjusting her course, Whiskey headed to the kitchen. Raiding the fridge, she found a jar containing something absolutely mouth watering: Pineapple. She was again surprised at what a luxurious place this Carlos kept. Grabbing a knife, she took the pineapple and set to it.

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

"she bumped her head and she doesn't feel too well. But when we found her she looked real good, we think its best to just let her sleep for now, 'kay doll?"

Millie tried to smile, although her heart skipped a beat when she found out her mother had been hurt. She wasn't quite successful. "Mommy once said she saw a man get hit on the head and afterwards he couldn't speak right. I... I hope that doesn't happen..."

"This isn't your fight. This isn't your war. Whatever happens tonight... whatever happens tomorrow. It's going to be difficult, so stay like this. Remain together. Understand?"

Lilith smiled weakly, nodding her head sagely.

Cranston was wrong about one thing though. This was going to be their fight, their war, whether they wanted it or not. They could either spend their time running away, hoping everything would blow over, that no more of their friends and family would die. Sit in a hole somewhere for weeks, maybe even months.

Lilith clenched her jaw, she couldn't avoid fighting, she couldn't avoid killing, it always sought her out. She was done running away, if she couldn't escape this life, then she'd kick that son of a bitch in the teeth, they only way she knew how. By not letting it change her, not letting fear and anger rule her life.

A small smirk curled the corner of her mouth.

"...Don't tell me you've never wanted to break your vow of pacifism and wring his neck."

Like you wouldn't believe. But this was no time to make friends through mutual animosity. This was The Gentleman's concern, Florian's were all burning in the ivory tower. There had to be someone there he knew, that he could get some answers from. Or at least some way to fight the madness that was running rampant through Frostfall and was proving infuriatingly catchy.

He could just let loose right now, fight back, take advantage of the chaos and get in enough cheap shots to get past and on his way. Butt he chaos was apparently having none of it as the tank rolled round the corner and proceeded to make the street it's bitch. Blasting a crater into an unlucky storefront and leaving the others shaken and scared beyond recognition. Shards of glass and rubble showered down on them, adding to Florian's growing total of cuts and bruises as well as sending him staggering for balance.

The ringing in Florian's ears died down quickly as the dust settled and a shadow fell over him, quickly followed by the feeling of cold steel at his throat.

Laugh, cry or scream, decisions, decisions. The mad noble gently guided Florian to his feet as the flat of the blade pressed against the priest's chin. The manic rich kid's smarmy grin would have been insufferable if it wasn't well earned. At least he actively backed up his smugness. Nothing to do now... endure and survive... don't let this be the end.

"Let's just get this over with." Florian grimaced, his eyes wandering away from the man who had him at knife point and back to the burning tower on the horizon. Welcome home you stupid bastard.

With his knife to the Priest's throat, Owain reached out with his left hand to take the man's forearm. In no position to resist, Florian's arm was brought up behind his back with Owain gripping the wrist firmly. Even if the Priest got the his exposed throat away from the blade, it would just take one sharp pull on Owain's part to pop Florian's arm out of its socket.

Both men jogged out of the ruined storefront as the sound of Severa's LMG filled the air. Moving quickly across the street, Owain ducked behind a large pile of rubble next to Severa, forcing Florian down with him. With the extra set of eyes provided by his sister, Owain took the knife from Florian's throat long enough to pick a pistol up off of the ground and drop it into his holster. Putting the knife back against his hostage's neck, he grinned at his sister.

"Time to go, I think. Unless you think we can somehow drag the old man out of this mess with us, we might as well find somewhere nice and private to have a chat with the Father here."

"Mommy once said she saw a man get hit on the head and afterwards he couldn't speak right. I... I hope that doesn't happen..."

The woman frowned slightly before patting the little girl softly on the shoulder. "I hope so too, but Father says Mother is too strong for that. Try not to worry kiddo." The woman smiled and walked away from the small child. Rounding a corner she found one of their on ship doctors. "Hey is mother okay? One of the newbies is worried."

"Uh?" paused the shaky looking man. "Uh yeah yes, she looks good she just needs to rest."

"You okay bro?" She asked, the man shaking visibly.

"Yeah, just lotsa caffeine."

"Is uh-"

"Its a great idea I need to work, now now, come help me move this little boy's bed into where you just came from, he should be around others his age.
=============================
The young Austin North panted as he slowly became in control of his own breathing. The water felt good, and he even felt much cleaner than when he was in the sewers.

"Why," he breathed in, "don't I smell?"

"We had one of our sisters give you a sponge bath." Answered the woman nursing him.

"Sponge bath!" He suddenly breathed in sharply and clutched his chest.

"Sssshhhh its alright, we didn't take off your grundies, we figured we'd need your permission first, brother." The woman held his arm softly as he started panting even harder.

He was only going to make a joke about sponge baths, yet even the slight shock had brought a sharp pain to his chest. He nodded and sighed. "Thanks, why's my chest hurt?"

"Probably dehydration, let me refill your canteen hun, shout if you need something." She smiled and left the room in search of more water when another doctor and woman entered the room.

"Sorry young sir but we wondered if you wanted to be moved in with your siblings?"

"Siblings?" Austin asked.

"Others your age." Answered the woman.

"Oh, I thought it meant brothers and sisters."

"Yes, it means that too." Replied the shaky doctor as he began slowly pulling out the bed.

"Wait what?" Austin kept asking confused as he was moved out of the med bay and into a small-ish room where other children where. The two people moving him weren't answering any of his questions, and as he left the room he lay there confused on the bed. He slumped his arms at his sides and lay his head back. At least he was safe.
==================================
Feeling Pixie's firm squeeze on his shoulder calmed Aesop. He felt privileged to even know someone as downright good as Pixie. 'Course she had fucking problems, but there was no one else with the balls and the compassion to do what needed to be done in the world, but also knew that people were people, not just background to the play at large. And for him to say anyone else had problems was certainly rich.

He stood there, with his arm around her and her hand on his shoulder for a while, until finally he thought she may want to stand alone. He assumed this was always the way, and she stuck around to watch the last bit of her Maiden's body burn away at every funeral; it was this way with the others.

Heading back down he took one last glance at Parker and Pixie before descending into Carlos's hideout. He found the man and tapped him on the shoulder, after taking off his breather, and asking, "Hey, you know any non alcoholic ways I can get fucked up tonight? I can't stay sober tonight, I'll do something stupid and crazy I just... can't."

"Not gonna lie, mate, I have a bad feeling some shit's gonna get pulled,"

Jun frowned and looked at the formidable defences the Maidens would have to get through, of course they would need a trick or too get through that lump of metal. In addition to that, they would probably fight like the hellions they were just for a chance of escape. Still, as long as Dio's soldiers had control of the gate, the Maidens and the Noble would be trapped inside a very hostile Feroxi. But which gate? It was kinda like goddamn roulette. He turned his head back around, there was no point in worrying about such things, at least, not until the shit hit the fan anyway. For now, though, best to enjoy the little bit of calm before the storm - worrisome Irishman or not worrisome Irishman. But Jun had to admit he could feel a twisting sea of grim anticipation churn inside him.

Outwardly - however - he just replied with, "Unease solves nothing."

"Time to go, I think. Unless you think we can somehow drag the old man out of this mess with us, we might as well find somewhere nice and private to have a chat with the Father here."

Severa giggled so hard she snorted, "Who needs the old man anyway!? This one looks far more interesting! Now, come Brother, let us take our leave from the stage!" She suggested as she ushered Owain and their prisoner into an alleyway while laying down cover-fire.

They would return to their hotel for now. Chances were the place had been abandoned during the chaos. Who would stay and work when there was war in the streets?

Owain had dragged the prisoner along, allowing Severa to take point on their journey home. She'd cut down countless Bejics and Boykovs before finally reaching the hotel. Kicking down the front door, it appeared her theory had been correct.

The lobby was empty.

"I can hardly wait to play with this one, Owain! Hurry and take him upstairs!"

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

The rest of the trip had been made in relative silence, as the Maidens mentally prepared themselves for what was to come. Then, suddenly, the driver of the van radioed his superior, "Uh, Sandringham, Sir... We've got a problem..."

Getting to his feet, Cranston walked up to the front of the vehicle and leaned over the driver's seat to get a better look. The South Gate was dead ahead.

It was sealed.

"Shit! They're onto us!" Cranston shouted as he readied his weapon. Grabbing onto the frame of the sliding door, the old assassin looked to Lilith. "They've got soldiers posted at the gate. Get ready to fight!"

Noticing the fear in her eyes, Sprout put an arm around Elizabeth's shoulder, "Don' worry none, Liz. You've the meanest badasses in the ashlands coverin' fer you. This'll be a rout fer sure!"

"Be careful," Elizabeth muttered to Lilith.

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

"Get ready, Harel," Ortega suddenly blurted out as they closed in on their destination. "Those vans ahead? They might be our guys."

He sped up his crawler.

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

"Hey, you know any non alcoholic ways I can get fucked up tonight? I can't stay sober tonight, I'll do something stupid and crazy I just... can't."

Carlos gave him a stern look before shaking his head, "Pixie'd kill me if I got you fucked up. Besides, you've got a disease, brother. It'd dishonor your friend to indulge in such weakness while mourning him. The others do it because they can handle it. If you have to come to me and beg under your Captain's nose, clearly, you can't." Brushing past Aesop, he waved without looking back. "Little advice: eat until you can't move and then pass the fuck out."

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

An hour after Parker had been laid to rest, the party was already in full-swing. Carlos had prepared a grand feast for his guests and the main course had long since been served. Despite that, most of the Maidens were still seated around the dining table, drinking and laughing.

Naturally, Pixie was seated at the head of the table with Amy on one side of her and the cowgirl, Whiskey, on the other. She'd already put away enough liquor to down a horse by the time dessert had come around. She was quite drunk, "... Purdy sure that was the stupidest fuckin' thin' I think I ever heard in my life. But you know what?" Pixie snickered, knocking over a wine glass as she leaned in closer to Whiskey. "He fucked me right'n good, I'll tell ya'! Fucker was a dumb twat but he had a mean cock on 'im! Almost made me sad ta' rob 'im blind every night after he passed out."

She grinned before adding, "Almost."

Looking to Amy, she laughed and grabbed her forearm, "Don' get me wrong though, darlin'! This girl 'ere's a fuckin' jackpot, ya' know! Makes me holler louder'n the thickest sausage on the Rock, I reckon!" Leering at Amy now, Pixie started chuckling like a horny, teenage boy. "Yer tongue writes fuckin' Shakespeare on my cl---"

"Christ, woman!" Cameron interjected, "Get some goddamn soap for that noise hole of yours!"

Pixie waved her off, "Ah, fuck off prude! Go jump my ex's bones again, why don't ya'!" Pixie laughed.

Cameron simply rolled her eyes before getting up and walking across the dining room. Grabbing up a bottle of vodka from the center of the table, she took a swig. Straight. She'd do it again, too. Again and again, until everyone's faces got blurry.

For Parker!

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

Bennie watched the shenanigans unfold before him like he had so many times in the past. It had been awhile since he'd attended a Maiden funeral. Somewhat drunk himself, he nudged Ruffles who was seated next to him at the end of table, opposite Pixie, "Get your shit out, man. This booze ain't doin' it for me."

"Shit! They're onto us!"

"They were bloody quick!" Lilith replied as she quickly got to her feet.

"They've got soldiers posted at the gate. Get ready to fight!"

Lilith's eyes met the old man's, a knowing look in them, she nodded firmly. Rifle, where was her rifle? "'Scuse me, ladies." She muttered as she shuffled by Elizabeth, Sprout, and Maria. Kneeling down next to her things, she grabbed a couple handful of rounds, stuffing them into her jacket pockets. Grabbing one final handful, she shifted back across the van.

"Don' worry none, Liz. You've the meanest badasses in the ashlands coverin' fer you. This'll be a rout fer sure!"

Opening the chamber on her rifle, she quickly fed in five rounds. "And then you have me." The rifle made a satisfying 'clunk' as Lilith locked the bolt into place. "I ain't too bad though." She smirked as she looked up at the other three.

"Be careful,"

Looking at the girl, Lilith's expression softened. "Count on it." She winked. Looking at Sprout, she smiled warmly. "One last shindig before we get to see the Queen Bitch again, think you can look after these two harlots while I go make a mess?" A shiver of fear ran through her, she was scared, of course she was, that was never going to change overnight. There was a calmness in her eyes however, one she hoped Sprout would see. If she appeared to not be afraid, then neither would he.

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

"Those vans ahead? They might be our guys."

Asad clenched his jaw as he tightened his grip on his rifle.

'God, I hope not.'

Whiskey grinned as she listened to her exuberant host. "Darling, I reckon you and I are gonna get along just fine." Reaching across Pixie, she poured herself another drink and knocked it back. "So right, I'm prepping for this hostage negotiation, y'know, the one with those friends of yours. So I'm just sitting there in my apartment, this fuck off box of carbon on my desk and I get asked to buzz someone up. And it turns out it's some bounty hunter chick. She'd be kinda hot if she weren't so frigid." Whiskey paused to sip at what remained in her glass.

"So she starts being all like "I want info on these people you're dealing with' like it's in my best interests to put a deal on the line for this bitch. So I'm all 'candy ass' this and 'sugar tits' that, and she's got a fucking thunder cloud forming above her head like 'don't you dare call me that,' and I'm just thinking... 'damn, this girl needs to get her pussy licked.'" Whiskey gave a drunken laugh. "Of course I'd have volunteered, but I swear to Christ, she's probably have shot me! Aw Jesus, the look on her face!"

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

"Get your shit out, man. This booze ain't doin' it for me."

"Sorry," replied Ruffles. "My travel stash is tapped, man. Didn't expect to be away from the ship this long. Hell, if I had any, I'd give it to Aesop. Dude needs it bad." He clapped Bennie on the shoulder. "Just one more thing to think about when we're getting the Maiden back, huh? I swear to god, if those psychotic brats have touched my garden I'll run 'em over with the ship."

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

"I can hardly wait to play with this one, Owain! Hurry and take him upstairs!"

Having paused to tie Florian's wrists, Owain shrugged, hefting the Priest into a fireman's lift and headed to the stairs. "Fine, but you should probably let me deal with actually getting the information," he said. "You always seem to kill them."

"Please, do not lie to me, Mr. Gentleman. I know you have some odd obsession with keeping strange, dangerous women under your thumb."

The Gentleman raised an eyebrow.

"Why kill me when you could have me, body and mind, in whatever sick, twisted way your imagination devises?

Both of his eyebrows were now elevated past the rim of his hat.

'Not for nothing, my dear, but I'd rather take a tumble with Vasa.'

"Am I not as savage as the Pirate Queen? Am I not a beautiful as your Golden Rose?"

'On both counts, not by half.'

As the Boykov's interrupted their stand-off, The Gentleman made a snap decision and dropped the pistol he'd stolen from Owain. The boy was probably bluffing, but The Gentleman wasn't chancing it. Besides, he was more than quick enough with his own signature weapon that dual wielding was necessary. His first thought was to go for Severa, who was both the greater threat, and also a completely open target at this particular moment. However, out of the corner of his eye, The Gentleman spied Owain making a lunge for Florian, and shifted his aim. Just as The Gentleman was squeezing the trigger, a tank shell came howling down the street, passing by no more than a couple of feet from his head, the vortex of air being pushed unceremoniously out into it's wake was powerful enough to blow him clean off his feet, knocking the wind out of him.

'Out of all the things... nobody's ever shot at me with a tank before... I don't like it.'

Rising to his feet, The Gentleman tried to get a bead on Owain once more, but he and Florian were inches apart now, and the air was so full of dust The Gentleman had no clear shot. Besides, he had to remind himself, he was a sitting duck out in the open, and had no interest in being shot himself.

Florian would have to fend for himself for the time being.

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

"Uh, Sandringham, Sir... We've got a problem..."

Without reply, Sandringham calmly assessed the situation in front of them. It certainly wasn't ideal. The soldiers almost matched them in numbers, were more heavily armed, and had overwatch from the catwalk. Still, if they had expected this to go smoothly, they never would have bothered with disguises.

"Copy that." Sandringham replied, before turning round to the back to face the Maidens, who were gearing up for a fight. "Stay put. If we're not blown already, we will be if any of those men out there get eyes on any of you. Let's not start a firefight as long as we can still do this the easy way."

Slowly, and steadily, the vans crawled up to the checkpoint, when one of the soldiers drew closer, Sandringham wound down his window.

"What's the hold up?" he asked, sounding more tired than tense. "I got a 4-hour perimeter inspection to get through." He tapped the ID badge pinned to the breast of his protective suit. "You people wanna let me do my job?"

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

Amy sat beside Pixie, feeling awkwardly conspicuous as Pixie loudly regaled the table with previous sexual exploits. She was trying her best to do as Pixie said, to be 'herself', and she felt remarkable like a mouse that had been let out of its cage for the first time, constantly fighting the impulse to scurry back in and find a place to hide, where the confines of the bars could give her perspective.

She wouldn't though. Amy could do better than failing at the first hurdle.

"Yer tongue writes fuckin' Shakespeare on my cl---"

Amy giggled stupidly taking Pixie's hand, while simultaneously brushing her foot up Pixie's calf under the table.

"And yours plays heavy metal on mine." she whispered, leaning in close to Pixie's ear.

Perhaps all this didn't have to be so scary?

The moment was soured, however, when Amy briefly caught the look on Bennie's face, before he leaned over to Ruffles in the pursuit of some thing stronger than what they were drinking. She hung her head a a little and sighed. She was going to have to talk to him tonight, one on one. If this party was the beginning of a new era for her, an era of confronting her problems, then she had best start with the elephant in the room.

"You always seem to kill them."

Oooh yippee... Florian gritted his teeth as his mind seethed over in sardonic rage. This was certainly a new low he'd hit, getting slung around like a pious sack of vegetables. The jury was still out on whether this was actually the lowest point Florian had ever hit in his life but the day was still young.

Endure and survive. Endure and survive. This wouldn't be the end, this COULDN'T be the end!

"You always seem to kill them."

Severa scowled, "WHAT!? H-how dare you, Owain! I don't kill all of them! NO!" She screeched into his ear as they journeyed to their room. "You better let me play with him, Brother! YOU BETTER!"

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

"And yours plays heavy metal on mine."

Pixie returned the flirtatious favor ten-fold by tracing her fingers up the length of Amy's inner thigh. Not all that subtle, "I can play a song fer ya' right now if you'd like." She snickered as her fingers briefly teased Amy under the table.

"Of course I'd have volunteered, but I swear to Christ, she's probably have shot me! Aw Jesus, the look on her face!"

"Wh-wh-wait a minute there," Pixie pulled away from Amy and pointed a finger at Whiskey. "Yer tellin' me you were that Wilkes-Vines chick who covered fer Lily an' Sprout?" Her expression softened as she leaned forward, cupping Whiskey's cheek. "You protected m-my children when I wasn't there!" Her eye began to tear up. "How can I repay you!? YER MY HERO!"

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

"Just one more thing to think about when we're getting the Maiden back, huh? I swear to god, if those psychotic brats have touched my garden I'll run 'em over with the ship."

"Yeah," Bennie agreed. In truth, he hadn't really paid Ruffles much attention as he'd been distracted by the scene at the other end of the table. When it was clear Pixie was molesting her "lover" at the dinner table he had had enough. "I'm gonna go take a piss. Hold down the fort for me, okay?"

Excusing himself from the table, Bennie disappeared from the dining room while Pixie was distracted with Whiskey.

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

"... Let's not start a firefight as long as we can still do this the easy way."

Cranston nodded to him as they rolled up closer to the gate, "I hope you know what you're doing." He muttered under his breath.

"You people wanna let me do my job?"

The guard leaned in and took a good look at the fake ID badge, "Dome's on lock-down, effective as of ten or so minutes ago. Sorry, man, but we can't let anyone through here right now."

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

As they got closer to the vans, Ortega slowed the crawler, "He's got balls, I'll give him that." He tapped the steering-wheel nervously before adding. "Let's wait and see what happens."

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

Mila looked around the vacant mess hall before approaching Viola and Hannibal. It looked like they were having a tense conversation, "How are you two doing?" She sat down beside Hannibal and sighed. "I have a bad feeling something big's going down and we just got side-lined. The whole base is a goddamn ghost town right now."

Amy's moment came sooner than expected, as Bennie got up to leave the table, while Pixie was simultaneously busy tearfully thanking Whiskey. Quietly excusing herself, she got up and followed at a distance to the bathroom. Thankfully, nobody bothered to intercept her on the way.

She waited outside the door until Bennie emerged again, clearing the throat as he strode past her, leaning up against the wall.

"Bennie," she began, doing her best to sound forward despite her nerves "can we talk?" She motioned towards the kitchens where they wouldn't be overheard.

Bennie clenched his jaw, "Yeah." He sighed. "Why not?"

Without another word, Amy led the pair into the kitchen, not looking back to see if he had followed.

"Okay," she sighed, committing herself. "First off, I want to say I'm sorry about what happened earlier. I... I was in shock, not thinking clearly and, in the heat of the moment I thought you were... somebody else. It won't happen again, I promise."

Bennie didn't reply at first. He knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell her off. Tell her that if she didn't get her shit together that she'd only endanger her fellow Maidens in the future. He'd chewed Aesop out enough times already, so why was he so reluctant to give Amy the same treatment?

Fuckin' softy.

She was just a kid. She was a kid with a twisted-to-fuck mind. No doubt the Gentleman's doing, or perhaps, someone else even more sinister.

"Yeah, sure." He gave an amused grunt. "At first I thought you just wanted to get me out of the picture." He chuckled. "No, you're not Warren. He's one shifty mother fucker. Been giving me these looks ever since we first met. Anyway," He dismissed the matter with a wave of his hand. "Water under the bridge. Why are we really having this conversation?"

Amy nodded, her smile a little stiff, but present all the same.

"Thank you. I guess, this whole conversation is about the two of us clearing the air. Me almost slitting your throat was just the first thing on the table." she chuckled, less than half-heartedly, and then immediately felt stupid for trying to turn it into a joke.

"Look, Bennie... when I first met you, Pixie assured me that you wouldn't give me a hard time. At the time, it was what I needed to hear, and it's been, noble, of you, to have lived up to that. I'm grateful, but at the same time... I've decided I'm in this for the long haul now. We're part of the same crew, we're going to be working together day after day, and for once in my life I really don't want to play games. I can't be who I want to be for everybody here, if I feel like I'm being, well, 'protected' from you. I know you hate this situation between the three of us, and I know you resent me. You might not want to, you might not ever have said anything about it of your own volition, but I can see it."

Amy let her words hang in the air for a few moments, before pressing forward.

"I don't expect one conversation to make everything right between us, but there's no time like the present. I want to say, straight up, exactly what you want to say about this whole mess. I want you to say all the stuff I know you're saying to Pixie when I'm not around. I'm not stupid, I just want to hear it from you. Lay it all on me. Trust me, I can take it."

Bennie crossed his arms and let her speak. He hadn't expected her to be this up-front. Considering her reputation, he'd assumed she would have tiptoed around the situation and manipulated it in whichever way served her best. Pixie really had gotten to her.

"I'm not so sure you can, Amy," He shook his head and looked at his feet. "This... This is a bad idea. I understand the sentiment, I really do, but I'm not so sure you should hear this from me. If you do want to stick around and be a Maiden, it's going to be difficult working together if you resent me for fucking up your chances with Pixie." He met her gaze. "And believe me, what I have to say would more than shake things up between the two of you."

Amy dearly, dearly wanted to take his advice, to go back to the table, laugh and get drunk with Pixie, to pretend everything was okay like she always had.

She shook her head.

"The way I see it, if I can't handle the disapproval of an ex, then me and Pixie don't have a chance in the long run no matter what you say. I happen to think I can work this out with the both of you, but even if I'm wrong, say it anyway. If nothing else, I know it'll make you feel better."

"Look, I'd be lying to you if I said I wouldn't prefer to be the one at Pixie's side. That I wouldn't mind you getting burned the same way I did. But honestly, and I acknowledge my bias when I say this: you two don't stand a chance. Pixie's got issues. Like, big, big issues. I can list a hundred different reasons why she's with you and love ain't one of them." He furrowed his brow. "I know it's hard to hear, but Amy, she's fuckin' using you. Sure, she might like you as a person and certainly enjoys your touch, but this is not going to last. Eventually, she's going to get what she wanted from you and she's going to end it."

Planting his hands against the edge of the counter behind him, he leaned back, "She's an enigma. She's willing to sacrifice everything for those she loves, but is just as likely to strike you down as she is to embrace you. I love her, Amy... more than anything, but take it from me," He searched her eyes for a moment before finishing his thought. "You don't want Pixie getting into your head. You do that and you're doomed. She'll take what she wants, leave the place a mess and then fuck off. You're still young, Amy, and this is new to you. There's no reason to throw yourself at her like this. There's no reason to... pledge your fuckin' life to a woman you hardly know."

Amy stiffened, working hard to keep control of her breathing as the words came crashing down. She'd prepared for them, she'd asked for them, but when it came right down to it, that didn't make them all that much easier to hear. Still, she didn't flinch, and when she spoke next she didn't shoot back the first retort that came into her head. She let it all sink in, and considered.

"You're wrong." She said, quietly but defiantly. "I'm not naïve. I've had people 'taking what they want from me and fucking off', as you put it, for half my life. I know the difference. Pixie's not like that. Maybe it's not love just yet, but it will come. You may have known her longer Bennie, but it doesn't take a genius to know all about her issues... and I haven't run from them. She didn't run from mine either, even when someone as selfish as you paint her would have had every reason to. I'm no fun distraction Bennie, not any more. I'm like her. I cause just as much pain as I ease, to the point where I'm thinking we must be the only two people in the world for each-other. With all due respect, that's the thing that we share that you never could. Maybe it's crazy, but it's strong. Believe that, because I'm not going anywhere Bennie. I'm not giving up on this."

'Crazy' is one way of putting it.

"That's your prerogative, Amy. Just don't say I didn't warn you. Now, if we're done here I have some drinking to catch up on. I am way too fucking sober for this shit right now." Brushing past her, he stopped in the doorway and bowed his head..

Without turning to looked at her, he added, "And don't think you're some special snowflake. That you're the only one who can understand her." He gritted his teeth. "You don't know shit about me, kid."

And with that, he left the kitchen.

After he'd left, Amy stood in silence for a while, her eyes shut. Shakily, she reached out with one arm and grasped the edge of the counter, before sliding down it onto the floor. She'd wanted to make things better. Maybe this was better, at least the beginnings of it anyway. It didn't feel like it though.

'You're not all that difficult to figure out Bennie.' she thought bitterly to herself. 'You're a big man, so you shut out anything you don't want to hear, like it'll just bounce right off you. Even when you're "speaking frankly" you're running away, only if you throw drink and throw your weight around enough you can kid yourself that you're fighting instead. Well, I've had more than one Big Man thinking they can just barge past me to get to what they want. I beat them, and I'll beat you.'

When she'd regained her composure, Amy stood up and made her way back to the party.

"How can I repay you!? YER MY HERO!"

"Oh I can think of a few ways," Whiskey purred, before she cracked up into laughter, pounding the table. When that died down, she smiled. "Don't mention it, babe. You'd have done the same if it were my kid."

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

"I'm gonna go take a piss. Hold down the fort for me, okay?"

"Alright," Ruffles replied as he reached for a chicken leg. "Just don't expect me to hold anything else while you take a piss, buddy."

With Bennie gone, Ruffles took a bite out of the chicken leg as he watched everyone around him. Bennie was a coiled spring, it was obvious. Amy seemed to be waiting for something, like a fox outside a rabbit hole and he wasn't surprised when she got up and headed after Bennie. Putting the chicken bone down and wiping the grease off of his hand, Ruffles glanced around searchingly. He wondered where Aesop was. If he needed anything, hopefully he would come to Ruffles. Shrugging, he grabbed a beer out of an ice bucket and popped its top.

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

"You better let me play with him, Brother! YOU BETTER!"

Owain gave an exaggerated wince as Severa yelled into his ear. "Of course sister, dear," he said, grinning. "As long as you live up to your end of the wager you lost, you can play with him to your heart's content. Still, we should get what information we can out of him first, wouldn't you say?"

"You better let me play with him, Brother! YOU BETTER!" The mercenary woman screeched like spoiled child on the warpath.

"You're one of those girls aren't you? The kind who had a pet, but then it had to go away for a while didn't it?" Florain grunted away as he was dropped bodily into the nearest chair of the nearest room. "Butt hey never take you to visit the farm it went to." Florian laughed bitterly to himself, shaking his head wearily as his two captors busied themselves with setting up shop.

"...Still, we should get what information we can out of him first, wouldn't you say?"

So there was actually a point to this. Florian couldn't say if this was a good cop, bad cop situation yet but they were at least showing their personal dynamics. Years of hanging back at all the maiden parties were starting to pay off it seemed.

"How are you two doing?" Asked their guard Mila with a sigh as she took to a seat next to Hannibal. "I have a bad feeling something big's going down and we just got side-lined. The whole base is a goddamn ghost town right now."

"We're doing alright, just talking about all the strange events that have been occurring recently regarding Lady Maribel, who'd have thought rescuing a kidnapped Noble would be this long winded? A minor correction though, only you got side-lined because Ortega needed someone to keep an eye on us. Can't imagine why, except him not trusting us." Viola remarked as she leaned back in the chair and started looking up at the ceiling.

"You carrying a pack of playing cards? I feel like playing something, even if it is just Snap or Solitaire."

Aesop sighed and held his hair in his hands, pulling it roughly. Carlos was right, he was disgracing Parker by trying to find a loophole in their no booze clause. Now was the time he wanted to be out of it the most. In less than a few days he would be confronting the man who had killed his life and he didn't want to be in a state of mind to comprehend it, but the truth was he couldn't comprehend it anyway; which is why he ran in the first place. But he couldn't escape from sobriety, not now, he needed to do this for Parker, and for those who had helped him almost exactly a year ago. Pixie, Parker, Ruffles, even that one time Casino broke a stool over his head when she caught him stealing from her stash.

He chuckled a little, that was at least fun looking back. She banned him from her room for weeks until finally he was somewhat off the sauce. 'Keep with the good shit Aesop. Forget the bad shit, it didn't happen, none of it.' Thinking delusions of everything being happy as Larry (whatever that meant) he joined the rest of them in the party.

Taking Carlos's advice and gorging himself on any and all food he could stuff into his mouth, he was choking at Pixie's raunchy stories, which only got worse and worse. "I caff, I canff, PHAHAHAHA!!" He muffled through the food in his gullet as he rest his head on his forearm, tears of laughter streaming down his cheeks. Then he realised he actually was choking, to which he stumbled out of his seat and ran across the room for a drink. There certainly was a large variety in booze, as for soft drinks-not so much.

However, one drink brought some great nostalgia. Opening the can to a satisfying sizzle, Aesop downed it in a second. He then grabbed an arm full and ran up behind Ruffles like an excited child. Some of the cans spilled out of his arms and onto the table and floor as he spoke hurriedly, "Dude! Dude! They have blue flavour!! FUCKING BLUE FLAVOUR!!! I fucking love this store!" He then robbed one of the chicken legs off of Ruffles plate and began chowing down.
=====================================
Hannibal shuffled a little away from Mila as she sat next to him.

Listening to Viola, Hannibal pondered, "Why would they not trust us? You told them about Sandraggam, and I'm... well, yeah."
=====================================
Taking a well deserved breather, Austin sat on an old burnt out sofa as his children began filing out. His arms were caked in dried blood, while his hands, even his broken one, were wet and fresh. He lifted his arm lazily to speak into the radio, "Everybody swap shifts, I'm proud of you all but fatigue will take us if we allow it. The Maiden is coming to pick us up, everyone to the park."

Austin brought himself off of the ruined sofa and joined his congregation of children as they awaited their new flying home. One approached him from the side, clad in all black clothing as if he thought he looked cool.

"Dad?" Came the chilling voice.

Austin grinned without even looking at him, he knew who it was. Spinning round and embracing the young bounty hunter in a hug, lifting him off the ground. "Heath! My son! Oh I am so proud of you boy, I'm always hate it when my children consort with pretenders, but if you hadn't taken that work from the Devil Dio we would have never known about the Iron maiden!" He smiled full of utter joy. "We never would have known what power it possessed, yet just how easy it was to take. Even if..." he trailed off and thought of the dead, before snapping back, "it was easier than expected I mean." He then forced a grin, which almost instantly became legitimate. "Now my lad, I know you've worked hard, but I need you to stay down here for just a while longer okay. Lead your siblings who come off the maiden while we rest."

"Of course father, but-" he was about to interject, Heath was rather tired.

"Heath please, you are my best fighter, even better than Oliver. When my work is done, and I am no longer needed to be alive, Oliver shall take over as a teacher." He rested his good hand on the man child's shoulder. "But shall lead our might! Oliver will teach love, and together with him, you will teach our siblings how to become physically strong. You two are what I leave behind, in two bodies I leave my teachings to you, do you understand son?"

His jaw damn near on the floor, his eyes wide in shock and tears welling up, Heath had never gotten such praise before. Had his information on the maiden really been so important that he could become Austin's successor?

"Yes father." He said weakly, his voice cracking, before following up, "YES FATHER!"

"Good my son." Austin beamed an excited smile and masculinely hugged the lad again as the ship began to lower onto the ground. Troops running out of the hangar as Austin and his forces entered, Heath stood there with immense pride filling his heart.

And with such pride came the confidence to lead. "Alright lets go lets go! The east side has the most resistance, we've cut off any exit and we've herded them into a corner. Lets not let them see the sun go down tonight!"

"Yes brother!" they barked in unison.

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