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

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"Yeah, well he certainly looks like he's cold to the touch. Seems like he'd get right along with your Commander. Uh, no offense, of course."

Oh, fuck you.

But it wasn't the first time he'd heard the snide comments Basilio's other soldiers made about her, was it?

"Be honest there, Mila," Bryan said, scowling. "What's with all the bullshit you lot sling at Tsubaki?"

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Fargo moved silently through the streets, turning down an alley until he found the doorway he'd been told to look for. Two men were standing outside, smoking. Rifles hung from straps at their sides. Two staccato pops from his silenced pistol. Two dead bodies.

Circling the building, Fargo found the window and stretched up to look. At this time of night, the light pouring from the building made it as good as a one way mirror. He could see them, but they couldn't see him. Several Bejics were sat around a table, playing poker. He marked their positions, and the weapons he could see. He marked the Lieutenant as well. He'd save him for last.

Holding the pistol to his cheek like a duelist, he booted the door, damn near taking it off of its hinges. The moment the light spilled out he was stepping through, firing. The first two went down with their backs to him. More went down as he strode across the room. Some even got guns up.

The Lieutenant had been sat facing the door, and Fargo could see him reaching for a shotgun. He planted his foot on the circular table, slamming it into the Lieutenant's chest and overbalancing him. There was a deafening bang, and part of the ceiling vanished in a hail of wayward buckshot. Leaping over the table, Fargo slapped the shotgun barrel away. Another misdirected shot obliterated the window. As the Lieutenant tried to stand, Fargo pistol whipped him across the temple, sending him sprawling.

Kicking the troublesome shotgun from the man's hand, he hauled him up by the scruff of the neck. Holstering his handgun, Fargo pinned him to the wall. "I hear you Bejics know how to handle the cold," he said, reaching for the pistol gripped hose on his belt. It was connected to a small canister at the small of his back.

"Fuck you."

"I'm saying that's what I've heard is all," said Fargo mildly. "Let's find out." He squeezed the trigger, and a mist of liquid nitrogen sprayed out of the nozzle, blasting the man's face. The Lieutenant screamed, and Fargo slammed his head against the wall. There was a faint tinkle under the thud of the slam as his frozen eyeballs shattered. Fargo kept spraying, and the Lieutenant's body jerked violently. At last, Fargo stopped spraying and released him. The body fell to the ground, twitching. The man's frozen hair was plastered to his equally frozen face.

Crouching, Fargo peeled off one of his black gloves and took the Lieutenant's wrist, placing his index and middle fingers to it. He felt the man's pulse slow. With the brain frozen solid and unable to send commands, it was nosediving into a flat line. Pulling on his glove, Fargo stood up, reached into a pocket under his Kevlar, and deposited a business card on the Lieutenant's chest. The card was red, adorned with a komodo dragon; the mark of Wilkes-Vines. That done, he turned and left.

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Ruffles didn't cheer at Pixie's speech, but he did work up a smile. Turning to face the others, he said, "well, let's see if we can't save some lives."

"We're on the move. Be ready. Over."

And there it was.

Well, there was no time to smile at Elizabeth's poor method of taking compliments. In all honesty, Maria had just deflected Elizabeth's prior compliment since the doctor herself was also bad at taking them. Such irony.

Maria stretched, it was time to go.

She didn't dare think about the trials ahead.

"I guess whether I like it or not, I'm staying here then. I guess... I guess you better get going then."

Hannibal kept looking away from her. "I'm sorry. I'll be back as fast as I can." He headed towards the door before stopping and turning back to her. "Thanks for, well, all the, um, yeah." He left awkwardly, closing the door behind him. It still perplexed him why Viola cared so much. She had no stake in his survival other than simply not wanting him to die. Ones like her were so rare to find in his travels. The most he'd ever heard about those who kill also caring were the fabled Iron Maidens. He wished he could have met them beyond the bald man. He wondered if they were truly like the stories.

Now however, he had more important issues rather than stories about killers with consciences, much like Viola. Beard was the only man in the city dirty enough to not care where he found his information. Checking with the matron of the hotel if he could use the back exit, she agreed. Starting off down the back alley he began his trek through Feroxi. For a city that he had never been to, every city had that same vibe when it came to free running.

Hannibal was in his element. Leaping over gates and fences, scaling fire escapes and water drainage pipes, running full pelt across the ground and rooftops whenever he could. It calmed him. Soothed him to see the sights of the city without men and bullets trailing him. He was still in a rush and running as fast as he could, but knowing he wasn't immediately going to die set him at ease, as much as it could at least.

After a long time running and checking in the likely dives Beard would visit he found a place just disgusting enough for Beard to visit. Hannibal couldn't read the name of the bar, but he didn't need to know the name of the place. That said it was rough enough that he'd probably get beaten up if he came in through the front door. Taking on Beard's old tactic he snook in through an open window, half expecting the man to come out of it as he did. He'd already checked over a dozen similar places today, would here hold any luck?
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Aesop gripped the wheel so tightly he could rip it off if he was so inclined. 'It all ends today. Take solace in that. Pixie's words reverberated around his mind, her words battling the whispers and screeches of Austin's own. Except it wasn't just Austin's words. Alex's were there too, along with Keats, Arin, Emilio, everyone who had died that day, as well as those who hadn't. Those few friends who had survived and he had forgotten about as if they never existed. He only thought of the dead, and those thoughts were getting louder and more violent each inch closer to the dome.

But some words gave him comfort. Simple words, nothing complicated. 'Rip his fucking eyes out.'

His own.

'Stick your knife in his spine and pry out his vertebrate.'

He banged the back of his head against the driver's rest of his seat a few times before sighing out, his body stiff and rigid as he charged ahead. Pixie's words fell on open ears, ready and willing to recieve her blessing as he charged full speed across the ash. He roared his loudest battlecry, his voice becoming hoarse and rough as he screamed louder and louder and louder and louder and louder! He wouldn't stop, his voice would be heard across the whole damn world if it could be! And they would be the last voice that sick bastard would here this day, because it would be his last day in the world he sought to rule. This time tomorrow Sillah would hold Peter's dead heart in his hands as the Maidens soared out of his old home, flying aboard the new one.

Aesop was a maiden this day.

"Pretty sure we ate and drank all the good stuff."

Tsubaki rolled her eyes, "I noticed."

"I'm good, don't worry about me."

"Okay, I won't be long." She called out from behind her as she stepped out into the hallway. The trek back to her apartment was a long one. Unfortunately, there was no direct route across the compound. Navigating the labyrinthine design of the base always gave her time to think, at least.

She didn't like this situation one bit. Not only was she being benched, but her own squad was under someone else's command. Asad... maybe even Bryan; they were on the brink. Tsubaki could feel it. She could see them inching towards the edge. From where she stood now, she'd be helpless to stop them. Nothing would break her heart more than to see one or both of them turn traitor or abandon their post. She told herself she'd warm up to them in order to bring them in line, but in truth... she enjoyed it.

They're your subordinates, not your friends!

Tsubaki frowned. She'd never found it difficult to separate her personal life from that of her professional before now, but if she was going to be honest with herself she really didn't have a personal life to begin with. Her free time was spent sleeping, eating and... dreaming. Imagining what if's. Reading through magazines and books, wondering what it would be like if things were different. If she'd never picked up a gun.

If she'd never become a soldier.

She could have died. Easily. Not just five days ago, but so many other times before then. What would she have left behind in her wake? A decorated soldier? Maybe to a few. Most, however, would remember the rumors more than they'd remember the soldier. If she had died to that old man she'd have been remembered as that 'bitch who hung on Basilio's knob'. She had no friends, no family.

She had nothing.

Just... stop, Tsutsu.

After returning to her apartment, she poured herself a mug of fresh coffee. Before she could take a single sip, however, a knock came to her door, "Coming!" She shouted across the apartment as she marched over to the door. "Can I help you."

A fully armored man snapped into a swift salute before delivering his orders, "Ma'am, I have a request from Lord Basilio."

She cocked an eyebrow, "What does he want?"

"And audience. Come with me," He nodded towards the direction of the hall.

Tsubaki looked down at the mug in her hand and shrugged.

Fuck it.

She'd take it with her.

After a long, awkward elevator ride, she arrived at the penthouse floor at the top of the tower. The two guards stationed in front of the door let her through without a fuss. Holding her coffee in both hands, she stepped out into the middle of the room. She noted the eerie silence and scanned the marble walls. He wasn't here yet, apparently.

Walking across to the back of the room, she stood by the enormous window overlooking the city. The same window she'd seen Dio stand by so many times before. She took a sip of her drink and placed a hand on the windowpane, studying the traffic as it flowed all throughout the city. They were like ants from this up high.

This must have been what he felt all the time. Looking down at all others. Feeling... larger than everyone else below.

'Kneel.'

Tsubaki winced, holding her fingers to her forehead. She shook her head, banishing the memory. Just as she was opening her eyes once more she heard a voice from behind her.

"Brilliant view, am I right?" That was not Dio's voice. Turning around in surprise, she spotted a bearded man sitting behind Lord Basilio's desk. The audacity! "I envy it, you know. I can think of few things that can exemplify power as well as a really tall building does. And Lord Basilio? Well, he's got more than the two of us can ever hope to have." He grinned.

Cocking an eyebrow, Tsubaki remained where she stood, at the opposite side of the room, "Who are you?"

He chuckled, "Oh, my manner. I'm so sorry, Commander. My name is Doctor Adrian Pym, Feroxi R&D. I'm a scientist with a focus on neuroscience and cybernetics. I also made a living as a forensic scientist in my youth."

Tsubaki narrowed her gaze. She'd completely forgotten she was holding coffee at this point. Now, the entirety of her attention was focused on the man before her. Who was he, really? Sure, he'd listed off his credentials, but that didn't explain why he was being such a creep or why he was getting cozy in Lord Basilio's chair.

Before she could question him, however, Dio appeared, "Sorry I am late." He apologized, uncharacteristically. Tsubaki turned her head, her face glowing bright red in embarrassment. He had apparently just finished a shower and was only wearing a towel around his waist.

Without looking at him, Tsubaki spoke in a respectful tone, "What is the meaning of this?"

Walking over to wear she stood, Dio took her face in his hand and made her look at him, "Do not avert your eyes, Tsubaki."

"M'Lord..." She muttered, blushing far more than she had a moment ago.

"Put some fucking cloths on, Dio," Adrian laughed.

Tsubaki's eyes widened. How could he talk to him like that!? The gall! She'd never heard anyone---"You know me, Adrian. I am far more comfortable when I can feel a breeze on my skin. Reminds me I am still a man." He looked over his shoulder at the scientist. "Tell her why she's hear."

Throwing his feet upon onto the table, Adrian crossed his legs and leaned back in Dio's chair, "Chimera squad is my group. They do my dirty work. Some of the best soldiers on the planet. I understand that's Dio's made you privy to our little project?"

Trembling now, Tsubaki looked at Dio, unsure of what to do. He simply nodded. Looking past the hulking man, Tsubaki set her eyes on the scientist, "Yes. You... intend to terraform the planet."

"And do you know what that entails, Commander?"

She hesitated for a moment, "T-time, resources, uh---"

"Resources, we have. Time?" He hummed to himself for a moment before getting out of the chair. "Time is precious to us, Commander. Our ancestors left the job half-done, so we know we have what we need to finish the job. Finishing the job will be a long, long, process, however. Decades to get the whole program up and running. As long as a century before the planet is completely terraformed. That's a long time."

Dio stepped aside as Adrian made his way over to them. The doctor's eyes were focused squarely on Tsubaki, "We need a system to protect that investment. We need control. Do you understand what that means?"

"I already explained it to her, Adrian. She has the general idea of what we have to do."

"Does she?" He snapped at his 'superior' before looking to Tsubaki again. "Do you understand what this means, Commander? How many people will die before this is over. Before we have control."

Tsubaki furrowed her brow. She didn't know what to say.

"Chimera squad is vital to our operation, Commander. The loss of half the squad is unacceptable. Ortega is getting older. His integrity may not be as sound as it used to be."

"I-is this a proposal? Do you want me to lead Chimera squad?" Her resolve was reinforced now that she understood what was happening here. She didn't want to appear any weaker to them than she already had.

"Would you want the job if it was offered?"

"No," Tsubaki said, without missing a beat. Dio leered at her. Adrian simply smiled. "I have led Samsara for a long time now. We're a tight group. We get things done. I rely on them. I trust them."

"Do you understand what we're offering you, Commander? Your name will go down in---"

"My name means very little to me, Doctor Pym," She interrupted him. "And Ortega is a good squad leader. We clashed with one of the strongest forces on the planet the other day. Perhaps you should stop underestimating your enemies."

Dio looked like he was about to scold her or last out before Adrian held out a hand and stopped him, "It's okay. Let her think on it. We weren't intending on doing anything drastic until after the Maribel case had been resolved, anyway." He checked his watch and cocked an eyebrow. "Well, I best be heading back to the lab now. Supernova's quite a long trip, especially considering what a pain it is to get out of the dome during this lockdown.

'Supernova?!'

"Will you consider the proposal, Commander?"

She hesitated a moment before nodding, "I would be a fool not to." She replied, half-heartedly.

The scientist chuckled and took a step closer to Tsubaki, "Good," He looked at Dio and then back at her. "You know, just because he pulled you out of the muck, it doesn't mean you have to go through with everything he tells you to. I was an orphan to, you know. I know that loneliness too, Commander." After exchanging nods he looked to Dio and offered an exaggerated bow. "A pleasure as always, Dio."

"Yes, quite," He didn't look pleased. "Escort the Commander out, will you?"

"Of course."

Adrian stayed behind to coordinate his departure as Tsubaki was left to ride the long elevator trip alone.

So much for, 'I won't be long'.

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"What's with all the bullshit you lot sling at Tsubaki?"

Mila scoffed, trying to conceal a guilty smile, "I'm sorry, did I hit a nerve? Look, she's got the big guy wrapped around her finger, okay? Of course we're going to gossip! I mean, to be fair, I've talked to the woman. She doesn't seem that bad." She broke eye contact for a moment, running her tongue along her gums nervously before adding. "Sorry, it won't happen again."

"I'm sorry. I'll be back as fast as I can." Hannibal said, averting his gaze from Viola, was he ashamed by saying no? He then headed towards the door, stopping briefly and turning back to face the bounty hunter. "Thanks for, well, all the, um, yeah." Hannibal then hurriedly left the room, closing the door behind him.

"Just... be safe out there Hannibal. The world's a frightening place, though, I guess you already knew that." Viola said somberly, knowing well in advance that she wouldn't be getting a reply. After just standing there in silence for a few minutes, she decided to go freshen up a bit. She made sure to tidy up the room first, both her rifle and one of the revolvers were stowed away in the small closet that came with the room, the other revolver was holstered on her hip, in case of an emergency.

Outside the hotel they stood waiting. They had seen Hannibal run off, but he wasn't their primary concern. First was his muscle, the one who had protected him. One of them spoke up as he waited for his comrades, "Why the fuck are we even after him? The pussbag can't even shoot why'd he-"

"Just, shut up for once okay!" His ally replied annoyed. "Its what he wants so just shut up and do it. Besides he wants this one taken care of first."

As soon as he was finished explaining that to his friend the rest of their men had come. "She still in there?"

"Yeah, but the kid fucked off."

"We'll get him later, this comes first. No show boating and no fucking around, she's good and she has friends so just be quick." Replied the leader. The rest nodded in response before making their way into the lobby, silencing the guests with weapons drawn. The leader smirked at the woman at the counter. "We'll be outta your hair shortly."

Meanwhile, Viola was giving herself a strip-wash across her upper body, making sure she was at least clean up top. After she was done and was busy putting her shirt back on, Viola could hear the sounds of many footsteps beneath her; something about it didn't seem right. So she quickly done up the rest of her shirt before unholstering her pistol and aiming it at the bathroom door.

The Gunderson men ran up the staircase like stampeding elephants, while the leader remained at the back pulling his hair out. "Stop being so fucking loud!"

His men ignored him and rushed into the hallway, quickly finding the room they had been told belonged to the grey haired boy and the Gunslinger. One of the grunts took charge and kicked the door in before a few others filed into the room. The leader remained at the back, the attempt at a sneak attack clearly out the window.

The sound of the door being kicked in made Viola pulled the hammer down on the revolver as she counted the number of people entering the room, five?, six maybe? She couldn't accurately tell given all the noise they was making.

Not really subtle are you guys. Viola thought to herself as the saw the handle of the bathroom door being jiggled about a couple of times before it began to turn. Seconds later, a head popped around the corner, instantly noticing Viola.

"Hey Guys! She's-" The man called out, before being interrupted by a bullet to the head, dropping him instantly.

"Un fucking believable." The leader simply wandered back down the corridor, sipping from a flask as the imbeciles under his command rushed into the room. They were hopeless and he knew it. He was smarter than this, why the hell was he working for these amateurs? Why did the one with the brains have to die? Well, actually that was pushing it.

Meanwhile the others pulled out their guns and fired in unison through the bathroom wall like the dumb gun grunts they were.

Almost immediately Viola made for cover behind the bathroom cabinet as the bullets came a flying, she didn't risk returning fire in case she got hit.

Bloody hell! Must be the damn Gundersons out for Hannibal again, though I may suspect that I am the target this time. She breathed deeply trying to remain calm and focused, waiting for the moment that these goons would have to reload; judging by the bullet casings, they using .45 ACP ammunition, most likely with pistols. Eventually, the sound of half a dozen empty mags falling onto the ground could be heard. Her chance had arrived.

Pulling back on the hammer of her revolver, Viola charged out of the room, firing a shot into the Bandit on her right then followed up with a punch to the chest, which sent the man toppling onto the bed. Holstering her revolver, Viola assumed a fighting stance, and aimed a kick at the next Bandit.

The leader sat on the floor, leaning his back against the wall as he contemplated his life with a flask in his hand, barely paying attention to his men getting their asses handed to him. With this was going on, the other three Bandits pounced on Viola; but she couldn't react in time and was sent hurtling to the ground, her revolver forcibly out of her hand. One of them held Viola down by the legs, whilst the other two began delivering a series of punches to her chest. Even though it did hurt a bit, her years of endurance and physical training meant that the worst she'd be getting would be some painful bruises; though with every punch came an appropriate sound of pain.

Whether by fate or a stroke of luck, Viola caught one of the punched with her hand, but it certainly hurt to do so. Using what strength she, Viola managed to redirect the blow to the Bandit on the other-side which provided enough of a distraction to allow her to kick the man holding her down in the head. It took a few seconds for the adrenaline to kick in but eventually Viola managed to get up, but was swaying a little from side to side; she definitely hadn't had a fist fight like this for a while.

Recoiling back to the ground, the men were stunned for a moment, while the other two still standing had finally reloaded their weapons.

Viola staggered towards the closet door as the Bandits reloaded, grabbing her rifle and a took a moment to focus as still she felt some disorientation. Finally managing to concentrate for a couple of seconds, Viola fired at the two who had their guns out, making them fall backward and shoot into the ceiling, one of them taking out the light and shrouding the room partially in darkness.

No doubt by now someone from outside heard the commotion and called for help, but that wasn't her concern at the moment. Viola found herself clutching at her side, the pain of the numerous blows managing to break through. Trying her best not to fall over unconscious, Viola used her rifle to support herself whilst limping towards the the other bandits and delivered a smack around the head with the butt of the rifle. From the looks of things, that did it.

Hearing the sounds of a rifle, the leader got up and made his way silently to the doorway of the room. The woman inside totally focused on the men she was beating up. He pulled a blackjack out of his inside pocket and snook up behind the woman.

"Impressive." By the time she could register what had happened he slammed the blackjack down across the back of her head. Looking at the men around him, he nudged the bodies with his foot before shrugging his shoulders and leaving.

"Come with me." Georgia said forcefully, after checking nobody was around to bother them, and slipping inside the medical bay, where she found Franklin, Isabel, and Troy all in attendance. They would be going to get Sandra (who had spent most of her time aboard making as many or her new 'Brothers' as possible very, very confused about their feelings) before heading down to the engine room. All they needed to do was temporarily force the ship down, and then they'd be away. If anyone tried to stop them, then Isabel would play the Concerned Birth Sister Act, giving Georgia the second's advantage she'd need to deal with them. It was clear that the Family had given up on Franklin, and would even probably gun down Isabella in a pinch, but Troy was something special, a talisman to these nut-jobs. Having the baby in harm's way would make them hesitate even in the event that no-one believed their story (of course, she had sugar coated that last point as much as possible when explaining the plan to the parent's).

Franklin, following behind on a pair of crutches as Isabel walked alongside him carrying Troy. She felt disgusted that she would need to take the same tactic Austin had taken a week earlier, using the youngest of children as human shields. Yet she was smart and pragmatic enough to know that it was their best and only option right now; if Austin thought so few people would be afraid of killing youngsters then surely he himself along with everyone else would hesitate at the sight of Troy. Franklin meanwhile felt just as bad, Isabel walking in front of him and being his shield, being so slowed down by the barely treated wound in his leg which the best he could say about it was 'at least it isn't infected.'

Their shame however would need to be pushed to one side as they walked alongside Georgia, making haste towards the engine room.

As they made their way towards their destination, Sandra fell in beside them, silently. The party progressed without incident until they were right outside the doors.

Two of Austin's men were standing guard, either side of the doors with sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders and cradled in their hands. Georgia and Sandra didn't stop or slow their pace. They moved deliberately, as if they had every right and good reason to be there. The guards didn't move to stop them at first (the one on the left even looked at Sandra and smiled. The pair were only a few feet away when the two guards saw fit to ask them their business.

"Hey, what're you all doing down h-"

Flashes of light and whispers of sound, when as one Sandra and Georgia drew blades from inside their bodices, and stabbed the guards, slipping the blades in almost effortlessly just under the ribcage, angled upwards into the heart. At the same time, they used their spare hands to cover the guards' mouths, muffling their cries of shock and pinning them to the wall behind. As the two girls twisted their blades and withdrew them, the guards sank down onto the floor, their eyes rolling upwards into their heads.

"We don't have a lot of time." Georgia said, turning round to face the others as she cleaned her knife and sheathed it. "Let's do some damage."

"Right." Isabel answered as the group pushed into the room. Inside were a small group of engineers simply monitoring the systems. Among them was the maiden traitor Banks, ignoring those he was forced to work with but maintaining a friendly enough attitude that it wasn't suspicious. He hated working for them but he knew when he had lost.

"I'm gonna get a drink, you guys want anything?" Asked one of the children busy at work, no older than 15 at the most. Everyone else shook their heads as the boy made to leave the room.

"Hey." Georgia spoke up and moved swiftly over to the boy, taking his hand and manoeuvring him away from his path.

"If I come with you, maybe you can get me a drink too. It must be thirsty work down here." she said, batting her eyelashes at him. As Georgia was stalling for time, Sandra was making her way around the edge of the room, positioning herself quietly behind one of the others, within striking distance From there, she shot a very meaningful look at Banks, who was nearby.

"Uh... okay." the engineer agreed, his face flushed not just from the heat inside the room, and started to escort Georgia back towards the door. She let him lead this time, as standing behind him, just off to his right, she was able to draw her knife once again with her free hand, just out of his peripheral vision, and slash his throat, blood drawing a bright red brushstroke over the door he had just been reaching for in that moment.

Before the others had time to react, Sandra was on them. She closed the gap between her and the other engineer that she'd been standing directly behind, and pierced the soft spot at the base of his skull with her knife, the blade severing his spinal cord and travelling in his brain, killing him instantly. Drawing it out, she then threw the blade across the room, at a third man standing opposite. It tumbled end over end, before striking home in the man's throat, putting him down.

As the boy she'd killed was still falling, Georgia grabbed a pistol out from the holster under his arm, and swung back around to point it at the last of Austin's men standing, who had just managed to touch his own holster, the shock on his face turning quickly to grief and rage at the sight of his fallen brothers.

"Hands up." Georgia said coldly. "Nice and slow."

She wasn't afraid to kill him. Rather, she was afraid of how far the noise of a gunshot inside this space would travel. They'd done everything quietly so far, but if she was forced to shoot him now, or let him fire off his own weapon in turn, the plan would be blown before the first hurdle.

The last man standing was seething with anger and grief. His brothers were dead and so quickly too. But he could still send these bastards to hell! If he forced her to shoot him, then everyone would know. They would be torn to shreds by the family, and his brothers could be avenged.

Except before he could even grip his pistol, Banks had already slammed a wrench over the back of the man's skull. He struck him repeatedly, mounting him and grabbing his hair as he slammed it against the back of his head again and again and again. He was already dead for a while but Banks couldn't help himself, the fear and rage and fear of being a prisoner in his own damn home finally letting lose on this brainwashed fool beneath him.

For a few moments, Georgia just watched, with some satisfaction. Obviously being cooped up with these crazies had got under her skin more than she's thought, and it wasn't even like she'd been forced to do their bidding in her briefer stay here. However, they still had an escape to enact, so as much as she would have liked to she couldn't let the poor guy wail on the pulpy mass that remains of the engineer's skull all day.

"Hey, look at me." She said, striding over and snapping her fingers in front of Banks' face. "We're getting out of here, and we need your help. We need to force the ship to land, ideally without alerting everyone else on-board of what we're doing. Can you help us with that?"

Blood splattered all over his cheeks, he took off his shirt and used any peice of the cloth that wasn't covered in blood to clean up his face. He then grinned at Georgia before throwing the wrench up in the air and catching it. "Oh yeah." He chuckled before literally leaping into action over towards his work station. "How're ya planning to get off the ship once its down? My ship is swarming with those fuckers." He took pride in saying [b]'My'[/b] ship, reminded him of his maiden brothers and sisters. His true brothers and sisters, not this fallacy.

"Well, the cargo bay is the only option that I can think of." Georgia replied, raising her eyebrows a little at his sudden enthusiasm. "But I've only been on this ship a few days, nowhere near enough time to explore it properly, especially with these creeps breathing down my neck... er, present company excepted." she added, nodding her head towards Franklin and Isabel.

"If you know a way that's less likely to run us into trouble, then I'll hear it, and then you can leave with us and team up with the other Maidens, they're going to try and take the Maiden back today."

If Banks wasn't motivated already, he would be now.

"Hmmm," Banks put the bloody wrench to one side and mumbled to himself before answering, "there's a boarding ramp near the bridge. There's six escape pods there with utility hatches on top. But even then nutjob spectacular's up 'n' down the bridge all the time." He was quiet for a while as he considered the possible solutions. "If you're quick, and you're careful, you can do it. I know its riskier being so close to him but its the quickest way off the ship."

"Hmm..." Georgia thought for a moment, looking round at the others.

"Let's do it. Austin's a mean bastard, but I'd still rather face him on his own if that's what it comes to than his entire army. As soon as the Maidens roll into Yuteni, the rest of the ship is going to be crawling with them."

She handed the pistol she had taken off the other engineer to Banks, grip first.

"Do it, and then lead the way to the escape pods."

Banks grinned as he took the pistol off of Georgia. "Watch the magic happen." He eagerly set to work on picking apart what he has so meticulously put back into place a week earlier. Bit by bit he lowered the efficiency of the ship until it was ever so slightly losing altitude-well, it wouldn't be subtle for long. But for now he was just setting the pieces into place.

Franklin and Isabel gave each other the same stare they had exchanged over the past week. They knew what would happen if they were found by him. Even with the five of them, Austin would tear them to pieces like paper. They whispered to each other while Banks took apart that which he had worked so hard on earlier.

"I thought, once I'd get to save your ass instead of you saving mine." Franklin said, looking down at his leg. There was no way he would stand up to Austin in this condition, he was lucky to be walking even on crutches.

"You still might," Isabel said optimistically, "I mean, I just had a baby so..." She smiled sadly at her boyfriend before leaning in to kiss his hopeless lips. "I'll never be done protecting you baby. You can play the macho power fantasy another day." They both chuckled slightly, despite the joke not being funny at all.

"I love you."

"I love you too."

The silence hung comfortably over the fear they both felt deep in their souls before Banks spoke up. "Right its done. I can tell the ship was going down anyway, they must be either dropping people off or pickin' 'em up. Either way we better haul ass to the bridge." Stuffing the wrench into the front of his pants Banks damn near skipped over to the door. "Lets roll bitches! Uh, no offence to the ladies of course." He winked, clearly more god damn happy than he'd been in a long time.

Georgia smiled.

"Well, I don't think you'll be getting any disagreement from them." she said, jerking her thumb over to the bodies on the floor.

They moved out, quickly and quietly, in the direction of the bridge. Just like on the way to the engine room, they moved with purpose, as if they had every reason to be going where they were going. Miraculously, they were not challenged. The few of Austin's men they saw, down adjacent corridors or moving through doors just ahead of them, were in a hurry an did not seem to notice them at all. Had the Maidens started attacking, or were they all rushing down to the engine room, it just having dawned on them that there was a problem? Either way, time was running out to make a clean getaway.

Eventually, they reached the escape pods. Peering round a corner, Georgia saw that the way was clear, before holding a finger to her lips for the others to see, and stepping out.

Banks followed soon behind before rushing ahead to access the escape pods. He was just about pulling up the hatch when he heard footsteps ahead of him. He barely had time to register the face ahead of him before a boot was planted firmly in his face. Whoever it was had came so fast, such inhuman speed that in the span of merely looking down to open the hatch he already could get the drop on Banks.

But Franklin and Isabel knew this man very well. Indeed, he was the one who had saved them from death before they even met father. The one who introduced them to father. The one who had murdered every single person who ever wanted to hurt them.

"Father worried Oliver was a little sweet on the girl." Spoke Heath as he aimed two pistols in each hand at Georgia and Sandra. "I've known some pretenders to be good at acting, but you two are good. Really good." He smiled as Austin slowly walked up behind him, followed on by a sheepish looking Oliver.

Austin held his good hand on Oliver's shoulder with a tight, firm grip. "Now do you see why?"

Oliver nodded quickly, looking ashamed and guilty. "How many did you kill to get here?" He asked, his question directed entirely at Sandra.

"Oliver..." Sandra replied, her lip trembling just slightly. "I was afraid that they were going to hurt me if I stayed, like they hurt you. I know you tried to hide it, but I knew, I know what it looks like when someone's trying to hide that they've been hurt, and I wasn't going to stay and let it happen to me. You understand that, don't you?"

"Understand this!" Georgia snapped, as she lurched into action, grabbing Isabel from behind, and holding her knife, not to her throat, but to Troy's. "Unless you want me to add your newest arrival to our body count, you're going to let us out. Banks!" She called. "Get up. We're leaving. Sandra, get behind me."

Isabel began shaking, turning to face Georgia. "WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!" Troy reached his hand up and danced his fingers across the knife, not understanding the danger.

Austin smirked. He was right, Isabel was a child after all. "You see, I don't think you're actually capable." Heath spoke nonchalantly as he pressed his boot down on Bank's face. "I mean if you are, we'll all regret it immensely, but if you aren't then," he began laughing, "this is all just a show isn't it?"

Franklin stood idly by, he wanted to curb stomp Georgia for even daring to pretend to hurt Troy, yet he knew it was all part of the plan. For Isabel however, still holding her son as this whore held a knife to him. Who the fuck did she think she was?

"They didn't hurt me Sandra." Oliver spoke through gritted teeth before yelling out. "They SAVED ME! And helped me realise that you're a liar. One of the worst kind of pretenders because you trick, and decieve Father. You are a parasite... and I am a fool."

Georgia's eyes darted this way and that, desperately searching for some way, any way, that she could get them all out of this alive. Banks was out of it, Franklin could barely move under his own steam, and Austin and Heath weren't bluffing. They really would let her just slit Troy's throat, because hey, then the fault would be hers, and they could kill her for it.

Fucking maniacs.

Georgia let out a long, resigned sigh, before doing the only thing she could. Slowly, as if in surrender, she withdrew the knife from Troy's throat, before throwing it, quick as a flash, where it stuck in Austin's already injured hand. With no pause for effect, she then shoved Isabel and Troy with all her might into Heath's path, blocking his line of sight and almost knocking them all flat.

Sandra was already on the move, taking the split-second's chance to dash to one of the escape hatches, and wrench it open. Inside the pod, she heard the metal hatch clang shut behind her, and she turned around to see Georgia's face...

Only Georgia was looking in on her, from the other side of the door.

"No!" Was all she had time to say, their eyes locking for just a moment, Sandra's widening in shock, and Georgia's set and determined, despite the tears welling at their corners, before Georgia hammered a button on the console to the side, and her face was suddenly, helplessly, drifting away.

"No! Georgia! GEORGIA!" Sandra cried out, her fists beating on the hatch, her face pressed right up against the small glass viewing port, but Georgia could no longer hear her.

'I saved her at least. I did what you asked of me, Amy.'

Back on the Maiden, Georgia slowly turned around. She wanted to sink to the floor and weep, but she wouldn't. She would not die on her knees. With misty eyes, she looked to Austin, and then to the blade sticking through his palm.

"That was for Kitty, you bastard!" she said, poison in her voice keeping the fear at bay.

Austin had just enough time to block his face with the knife as it lodged in his useless hand. He growled out in pain as Heath went down, Isabel falling into him and clutching Troy tight to her chest for protection. Oliver saw Sandra reaching for the hatch. He aimed, had a perfect shot, and did absolutely nothing. He watched her escape and froze in his tracks. He hated her, but he couldn't finish her.

Franklin meanwhile scrambled to the ground, desperately trying to open another hatch as the others were busy and he wasn't armed to defend himself, relying completely on his crutches. He just got it open when Austin rushed up and threw his knee with all his might against Franklin's jaw, damn near shattering it in the process. He didn't stop there. As he lay on the floor Austin set to work stomping repeatedly on Franklin's face, causing him to jerk violently under his boot.

Banks meanwhile took his opportunity to strike at Heath. After Heath went down he threw Isabel to one side but Banks had already pulled out his wrench and pounced on the man. He slammed the tool down as hard as he could upon his foe-only to be met with a knife stabbing threw his forearm as it came down. Banks recoiled in horror as Heath's speed far outmatched his own once more. Heath kicked Banks off of him like he was nothing before firing four shots into his torso and chest.

Banks and Franklin were on the ground, bleeding and twitching as Isabel held Troy tight. She should have been fighting. She should have been trying to get into one of the pods, yet all she cared about was checking if her baby boy was hurt. She didn't even look up to see Franklin, Banks or Georgia, she just held Troy tight and panicked as he was dead silent.

Austin stared over at Georgia as she spat her bile at him. "Oliver." He addressed his son without even looking at him.

"I-" Oliver had no idea what to make out of the scene surrounding him. Everything had broken down and so fast. Father was already disappointed, and after he had allowed Sandra to live...

"Yes father." Oliver stretched his arms out and held the pistol tight as he aimed square at Georgia's head. Like it or not, Sandra had got to him.

Georgia looked to Oliver, as the first tears finally broke free and started creeping down her cheeks.

"What?" She spat at him "Are you waiting for me to beg? You said it yourself, I'm the worst kind of pretender, I'm everything you despise, so go ahead and do it, and then rot in hell when it's your turn!"

"Oh for fuck sake cut the drama." Heath shot Georgia twice in the knees bringing her down. "Olly, this is ridiculous."

Oliver gulped and looked away as he aimed at her.

"Don't you dare look away." Austin spoke cold. Oliver sniffed and replied as he stared at the woman on her knees, before finally pulling the trigger.

"Now this one." Austin ordered Oliver as he pointed at Banks. Oliver complied and made his way over to the engineer who began chuckling. "I had such faith in you. It appears every maiden is a liar."

Banks spat at Austin's feet but it didn't reach. "I die a maiden mother fucker, and you'll die from the maidens." He kept chuckling until Oliver put a bullet through his skull.

Austin nodded towards Franklin who was tweaking helplessly on the ground now. "NO!" Isabel rushed over to Franklin but was stopped midway by Heath. He pinned her to the wall as Austin raggedly tore Troy out of her hands. "NO! TROY NO!" Heath slammed her head against the wall a good few times. She slumped to the ground as sound and sight began to dissipate, the last sound she heard was some mumbling from Austin, giving some sort of long contrived speech to Franklin. As sight left her, sound stayed just long enough to hear the gunshot.

Several minutes passed since the radio had gone silent. Sprout had kept his eyes glued to the gate the entire time. Eventually, something began to happen, "Check it out!" Sprout passed the binoculars to Lilith. "Looks like they jus' got somethin' called in. Some of 'em, ar' fixin' ta' move."

Elizabeth put a hand on Lilith's shoulder, "What do you see?"

Lilith furrowed her brow as she scoped out the gate. "Ehh, it looks like they're thinking about it, a couple of them seem reluctant." As Lilith watched the silent argument, she tightened her grip around the binoculars.

"Come on you wankers, you want to go, you know you want to." She muttered to herself, clenching her jaw.

Suddenly, the sound of an explosion echoed across the city. The building shivered, "SHIT!" Sprout shouted.

Elizabeth nearly fell over as she braced herself against Lilith, "Was that us?!"

Unflinching as the shockwave of the explosion washed over the area, A sly smile curled Lilith's mouth as she continued to watch the guards, their faint cries of surprise making it to her ears. "Do we have your attention now?" She cooed gently.

Maria tried to steady herself after the little display but ended up crashing into the trio. Well, she didn't have much experience when it came to that sort of thing...

"Sorry!" She said, an awkward laugh escaping her lips.

Lilith raised an eyebrow, looking at Sprout as she nodded at the two women clinging onto her. "Don't even think about it." She muttered through a smirk as she saw the glint in his eye.

Elizabeth shivered, "Is now really the time for jokes?!"

Sprout's stupid grin widened, "I dunno, we 'ave a habit of jokin' 'round when shit hits the fan. You reckon it's 'bout time we mosey on down there an' start shootin'?"

Lilith tossed the boy the binoculars before wrapping her arms around Maria and and Elizabeth. "Relaaaaz Liz." Lilith chuckled as she pecked her lips against the girl's cheek playfully. "Maria knows how we work, just follow her lead."

Maria could't decide which was worse, the joke or what Sprout would think of it. Nevertheless, she went with it. Just for the hell of it.

"Well now, Lilith." She began, "Being the most experienced woman here, so I could probably teach Lil Liz here a few things... But I'm sure she'll pick it up."

She then added a wink, "So, yeah, just follow me, kid."

Lilith chuckled, a toothy grin on her face. "I'm sure you'll be very gentle with her, just be sure to keep the paddling to a minimum." She nudged Maria with her shoulder.

Pulling away from the two women, Lilith stood next to Sprout, placing a hand on her hip as she leaned on the boy's shoulder at a jaunty angle. "Stick close to my boy here, and he'll keep you safe. I'll pick off anyone who gets too close."

"Of course." Maria replied.

"And, you know..." Lilith pursed her lips, tilting her head she averted her gaze playfully. "If you feel like shootin' some guys, that would be terrific."

The doctor frowned as she thought on it but those thoughts quickly turned to her first kill. The only emotion she had for that moment was disgust.

Maria shrugged, "Eh, I'll pass. Will probably end up shooting you somehow. Wouldn't want that."

Elizabeth furrowed her brow, looking down at the pistol in her hands.

This is it.

"I reckon I'll deserve more'n a few kisses by the time I get y'all outta this. Jus' remember: I like it rough." He snickered.

Elizabeth's anxiety was brushed aside long enough for her to finally burn the snot-nosed bastard, "Kid, you don't even know what you like."

Getting to his feet, the plasma pistol in his hand, Sprout chuckled, "I know enough!" He grabbed a handful of the doctor's butt before skipping towards the stairs.

"Real smooth, Sprout." Maria muttered, "Maybe I should've operated on his balls as well..."

"Didn't know you worked with microscopes." Lilith coughed as she walked past the pair, she lead Elizabeth off to the side as the other two flirted.

"Elizabeth." Lilith's expression softened as she placed her hands on the girl's shoulders. "You know how to use that thing, I saw you in the van the other day." Her expression hardened. "Do you think you can use it again?" Her eyes searched the girl's.

"Yes," Elizabeth replied without missing a beat. "I'm not just a damsel anymore. I won't accept that." She pulled the slide back on the pistol, feeding a fresh bullet into the chamber. "It's time I earned my keep." There wasn't a hint of trepidation remaining in her voice. Somehow, the young noble had managed to conjure something from deep within her. Only time would tell whether or not she'd be able to keep that resolve.

Sprout scoffed, "Y'all don' know what the fuck yer talkin' 'bout. I'm hung like fuckin' Bennie! Now, quit takin' the piss outta me an' let's get the fuck outta this God fersaken Dome."

"Problem is, Sprout, I've seem 'em." Maria retorted, sticking her tongue out, "Let's just say... they don't match that description."

Lilith said nothing as her eyes continued to search the girl's eyes. It was a familiar look, although she couldn't place it.

A warm smile curling her lips, Lilith nodded as she patted Elizabeth's shoulder. "Just stay focused, okay kid? Worry about going to hell when we're safe."

Brushing past Maria and Sprout as she approached the door out of the building, Lilith adjusted the rifle strap on her shoulder and pulled her revolver out of its holster. "Pretty sure she's got you there, Sprout." She muttered as she wrapped her fingers around the door handle. Pausing for a moment, she closed her eyes for a few seconds.

"Time to go all out guys, fast and free."

Sprout laughed, despite his fear, "Let's show 'em what happens when ya' fuck with the Maidens!"

"I'm ready," Elizabeth nodded.

This was it.

Maria nodded as well, "Yeah, we've bust this boy's balls enough. Time we bust theirs."

Lilith leaned her head to the side, cracking her neck as her gaze remained ahead. "I'll take point, keep your heads down and listen to each other, we're all getting outta here, ya understand? If you die, I will kick your arse."

Wrenching the door open, Lilith took off quickly, pulling the knife from her belt, she clasped it against the grip of her revolver.

'Be water.'

Once the Maidens had passed the ridge, the rest of the Wilkes-Vines army fell in behind them. A convoy of fifty ash crawlers was not a common site. In fact, it was the largest fighting force any of the Maidens had ever been a part of. Pixie couldn't contain her excitement as she leaned forward against the windshield and let the ashen winds pound against her face and chest.

Yer time's come, you piece of shit.

Right on cue, Yuteni's east gate burst open as the convoy drew closer. Pixie's crawler was inside the city before the smoke had even cleared. They poured into the city like ants evacuating an anthill and spread out across the city. Bennie had given Ruffles the wheel and joined Pixie and Bradly in their crawler as the rest of the convoy drove on by.

Sitting behind Pixie, Bennie leaned out the window to get a better view of the skyline, "Is it just me or is..."

"Fuck, yer right!" Pixie pointed past a particularly tall skyscraper. "That's the Maiden right back there, alright, an' she's losin' altitude! Amy's girls really came through! DRIVE!" She barked at Bardly as she snatched up the crawler's radio. "THIS IS RED QUEEN CALLIN' ALL SHIP-FUCKERS! THE MAIDENS DROPPIN' LOW! ALL Y'ALL FORM ON AR' POSITION!"

Weaving in and out of abandoned vehicles and debris, it wasn't until they got deeper into the city that they were able to take in the level of destruction it had been subjected to. As they closed in on the Maiden, Pixie spotted hostiles taking cover around the next bend, "HOSTILES!" She shouted as she, Bennie and the two other hired guns laid down a hail of lead on their position.

They didn't look like kids, but they definitely didn't look very old either. Pixie took noticed of Bennie's pained expression and placed a hand on his shoulder, "You got this, Bennie!" He simply nodded in response and fired on another enemy as he made a break across the street.

Looking over her shoulder, Pixie spotted Aesop driving not too far behind her as well as two other Wilkes-Vines crews.

Good so far...

"Pixie!" Bradly shouted as he pointed up ahead. The Maiden's dissent was slowing. "At this rate it won't be touching down!"

Pixie's one good eye darted around the street ahead. Moments later, she spotted their answer, "Head fer the parking deck! The Maiden's ass'll be lined up nice an' sweet fer us, I reckon!" As she said that she pulled out a large, square device from her satchel. It had two twirling antenna sticking out of it.

"The fuck is that?" Bradly asked he veered the crawler towards the parking deck.

"A lil' toy Ruffles cooked up fer me! Bennie!"

"On it!" Reaching below the seat he produced an RPG.

"It's like you can read my mind, Darlin'!" Pixie winked at him and started barking into the radio once more. "SHIP-FUCKERS, LISTEN UP! I HOPE Y'ALL 'AVE FAITH IN AR' GOOD OL' PAL, RUFFLES 'CAUSE I RECKON I'M PUTTIN' ARE LIVES IN' IS STONER-ASS HANDS! FUCKIN' GRIT THOSE TEETH!"

"I hope you know what you are doing." Bradly muttered as the crawler drove up the ramp and into the parking deck.

Turning the dial on the questionable hunk of scrap iron, it produced a low hum before she hit the switch on the side. As they came up over the ramp and started driving up to the next level of the parking deck, Pixie caught a glimpse of the Maiden.

It was beginning to ascend.

Keep yer ass pointin' over here, lil' lady.

The three other crawlers followed through the parking deck until finally, once they'd reached the top floor, Pixie could see it. The hangar was opening! "FUCKIN' LOVE YOU, JAKE! CHARGE UP THAT ASS, BRADLY! GIVE 'ER ALL YER LOVE!"

"THIS IS CRAZY!"

Bennie grinned as he lined up the sights of the RPG on the concrete barrier at the end of the parking deck, "THAT'S HOW WE MAIDENS ROLL!" The rocket propelled grenade shattered the barrier moments before their crawler passed over the ledge. Everyone inside held on for dear life as the vehicle went airbourne, crossing the gap between the top of the parking deck and the still-opening door of the Maiden's hangar.

"I'M COMIN' FER YOU, AUSTIN!" Pixie laughed like a madwoman as the crawler came down hard onto the edge of the ramp and skidded down across the hangar. One of the Wilkes-Vines enforcers banged his head against the back of the seat in front of him, knocking him out instantly. Thankfully, Pixie and Bennie made it through with but a few scrapes and bruises.

Before they could even get their barrings, however, gunshots began to rain down on them from the back of the hangar, "FUCKIN' MOVE OUT!" Pixie barked as she vaulted over the side-door of the crawler, rolled across the ground, steadied herself on one knee and leveled Mr. Monroe. Within seconds she'd gunned down four of Austin's children. Teenagers from the looks of it.

Bennie came running up along her side to back her up, blowing away three more with his shotgun. As they took up cover behind a nearby crawler, two out of the three crews that had followed them had made the jump. The other group of Maidens were among them.

Pixie grinned as Aesop and the others joined the fray.

Austin had better learn to pray, and fast. Pixie's hands would be around his throat before the day was done.

As the small crew of Maidens and their noble friend made their way down the street, Sprout ran through the rough plan in his head one last time.

Neutralize hostiles. Cover the girls while Lilith secures the outpost an' opens the gate. Piece'a cake.

Once they arrived at the end of the street, Lilith and Sprout took up positions against the side of the last building on the block and peered around the corner. Half of their men had just drove off in a crawler. Holding his pistol close to his chest, Sprout looked to Lilith.

Furrowing her brow, Lilith bit her bottom lip. "We should get closer before we fuck 'em up." Lilith turned her head to face the boy. "They'll only hunker down if we start picking 'em off now, what do ya think?"

Sprout nodded and turned to look at Maria and Elizabeth, "We're gonna sneak up closer before we lay into 'em. Stay here an' outta sight. Once we've secured the parameter y'all can join me by the gate."

"Right." Maria nodded and patted Elizabeth on the back, "Tigerman, ya up!"

"You can count on me." Elizabeth was trembling.

Lilith smiled reassuringly as she looked at her friends. "If it's any consolation, I'm pretty sure Tigerman is on their 'don't shoot' list, so really, only three of us can die horribly."

Sprout patted his chest, "I reckon I'm already halfway there." Looking back in the direction of the gate, he frowned. "You lead the way, Lil. Reckon Baldy taught you a thin' er' two 'bout sneakin' about."

"C'mon, I did a decent job - didn't I?" Maria replied, mock-hurt. Sprout was busy being... Sprout, while Elizabeth was shaking so much the doctor doubted that the noble could hit anything, let alone a person. Maria turned to Elizabeth and gently gave a piece of advice, "Breathe."

Elizabeth laughed nervously, "Yeah... that would help..."

"Elizabeth" Lilith started, raising her head slightly. "I meant what I said. They will have explicit orders to capture you, as long as you're not an immediate threat, they won't shoot at you." Lilith's eyes locked on the girl's

"Use the gun only when you need to."

Elizabeth nodded, reluctantly, "Okay, you're the boss."

Lilith smiled, nodding her head. "Good girl. Keep safe you two" Placing a hand on Sprout's shoulder, she nodded towards the gate. "Okay kid, don't believe I'm saying this, but stay close to my arse and keep your head down."

Hunkering down, Lilith and Sprout quickly made their way to closer to the gate, crossing the street and hiding behind a parked crawler.

Maria gave the two a thumbs up and popped back into safe, safe cover. Her heart was beating fast, fueled by fear, however it clearly was not the time to give in to that. 'Keep it cool, Dr. Machado.'

There were four armored men standing around the front of the gate, as well as the outpost. In addition, there was a lone shooter on overwatch above them. Though Sprout couldn't hear what they were saying, it was clear they were talking about Cranston's group. They looked anxious. On-edge. Sprout whispered to Lilith, "Plasma should burn right through their kevlar, so I'm goin' fer body shots. Wan' me ta' take out the guy on the catwalk while you handle the rest? He's gotta good vantage point from up there."

Lilith narrowed her eyes as she measured up their opposition, inching ever so slightly out of cover. "You sure you can hit him from here?" She whispered. "Gotta make sure we don't give them time to fortify their defence and call in for backup, turning the guys who just left right back around again."

"You give me the first shot an' he'll be taken care of, Lil. Trust me."

Lilith's eyes searched the boy's face.

'He really wants to prove himself, and who am I to stop him?

Smiling, Lilith tussled the boy's hair. "Okay, you're up. Soon as he's down, I'll move up and start splitting their attention."

Setting her eyes on a concrete barricade further down the road and across the street, Lilith tightened her grip on her knife and pistol, digging her feet into the dust.

"Whenever you're ready, Sprout."

Sprout studied the man above for sometime. He was leaning over the railing, calling down the his friends below. He probably wanted to be involved in the conversation. See if he couldn't get a handle on just what the fuck was going on. In an instant, he'd created a short narrative for the man and his actions.

Sorry, fella.

He breathed in sharply and aimed up on his target. Then, he exhaled slowly as he pulled the trigger. The pistol lit up bright green as the plasma rolled through its metal frame and flew out the barrel. It was loud, but by the time the sound had reached the man's ears it was too late. The bolt of super-heated plasma splashed against his chest and sent him tumbling backwards. A split-second later, the street was filled with the sound of gunfire.

Lilith bolted from behind the crawler as soon as she felt the hot plasma rush by, firing several shots from her revolver, she managed to hit one guard in the face, the others either missed or hit kevlar. skidding across the ground, she slammed her back up against the concrete barricade, chuckling as her chest heaved slightly.

"Bang, bang, bitches." She muttered to herself as she quickly reloaded the revolver. Glancing up slightly, she could see the other two woman peering from behind their cover.

'I'm sorry you have to see any of this.'

"But fuck, if it isn't bloody exciting." Grunting as she rose out of cover, she closed her left eye as she brought her weapon to aim, shooting another guard in the neck before ducking back behind the barricade.

"AXEL!" She shouted. "LIGHT 'EM UP!"

"FUCK! IT'S THOSE KIDS!"

"CALL IT I---" The soldier's words died in his throat as a bolt of plasma caught him in the face. Sprout nearly cringed, but grit his teeth instead. Lilith was counting on him. He couldn't wuss out now. There was only one left as far as Sprout could tell. The one who had just seen his friend's face get blown off.

"GODDAMN MOTHER FUCKERS!" He broke cover and laid down a barrage of plasma fire down on Sprout's position, forcing him onto the ground.

"COULD USE A LIL' HELP 'ERE, LILY!"

Lilith got to her feet, swearing as she failed to get an eye on the last guard. Hesitating as she glanced to her side, the boy's cover was slowly starting to melt.

"Fuck it!" The woman vaulted over the barricade as she dashed towards the guard-post, holding the knife in front of her as she closed the distance. Slamming her back against the the wall of the guard-post.

"YOUR MATES ARE DEAD, PUT THE GUN DOWN OR I WILL FUCKING END YOU!" Lilith roared as she banged her fist on the thin metal wall, before stepping to the side.

Lilith heard the man gasp in surprise, pausing his barrage. Lilith tightened her grip, narrowing her eyes as the portion of the wall she had previously occupied erupted into a seething hot mass of half melted metal.

Quickly taking a step back, Lilith raised her revolver, steadily firing three rounds into where she guessed the guard was standing. On the third shot, she heard a whelp and the clatter of a weapon hitting the ground.

Seizing the opportunity, Lilith quickly dashed around the side of the building, slamming her back against the side of the entrance to the guard-post as she leaned around the corner, her sights locking instantly on a guard in the middle of recovering his rifle, a bloodstain spreading steadily on his left thigh.

"HOLD IT!" Lilith shouted, the man pausing as his hand grazed his weapon. "Don't even think about it." Her voice lowered threateningly.

Sprout slowly got to his feet, but stayed low, "Lily, everythin' okay in there!?"

Her eyes unmoving from the guard, Lilith turned her head slightly, speaking loudly. "S'okay kid, we're all clear." The guard's eyes moved frantically, full of fear, his ragged breaths quiet as he tried to fathom his way out of the situation he found himself.

"You won't get away with this." The man muttered, his hand unmoving from the plasma rifle. "He'll kill you for this, for that girl."

Lilith remained silent for a few moments.

"Not today."

As the man grabbed his rifle, quickly rising his arm, Lilith put a bullet in his head, her eyes unwavering as she watched him crumple to the ground.

Running over to the side of the guard-post, Sprout checked through the window just in time to see Lilith step over the body she had just made. Looking over to the girls, he waved them over, "WE'RE CLEAR! HURRY UP IN THERE, LIL! I DON' DOUBT THEY'RE FRIENDS'LL HEAD BACK THIS WAY!"

"I know, let's get this gate open!" Lilith leaned over a control panel, searching several switches for what she hoped would aid their escape.

They were alright, she had nothing to worry about - at least for the present. Maria almost jumped at the call, "Right, right."

Afterwards, she grabbed Elizabeth's free hand and pulled her with her.

"Oh!" Elizabeth stumbled forward and Maria tugged her along. The scene that had unfolded before her seemed so familiar. Like an image of hell taken right out of her memory. She remembered screaming, and bodies and blood. She remembered the warmth drain out of Josephine's body as she held her in her arms. Elizabeth furrowed her brow, her eyes glued to the back of Maria's head as she followed closely behind her.

Please don't die, Maria. Please, please don't die.

"There!" Finding the correct switches, Lilith flipped three of them upwards, the gate immediately thundering into life as the huge mechanics behind it roared into motion.

Moving quickly from out of the guard-post, Lilith reloaded her revolver. "Is everyone okay?" She smiled slightly as the two women approached them.

"As okay as it gets after watching fuckin' plasma bolts 'n' bullets go everywhere." Maria sighed. Since when did people decide firing bolts of flaming death at each other was a good idea? Bullets did the job fine.

Sprout noticed the fear in Elizabeth's eyes as they came up next to him but chose to ignore it. It would only serve to remind him of his own, "Alright, yer doin' great so far, girls. We're almost outta this thin'. Let's grab one of these crawlers an'---"

"----zzztttt-----SPROUT!? LILITH!? DO YOU READ ME!?----zzzttt-----"

Elizabeth's eyes went wide as she watched Sprout scramble for the radio on his vest, "Cranston?! What's goin' on over there!? You okay!?"

"----ztttt----Shit's gone FUBAR, kid! They're heading back your way! Most of Sandringham's squad is dead... I'm coming to meet you there! See if I can't distract them!-----zzzzztttttt--"

"Look, Chromey, it's okay, we're about outta here. We're openin' the gate right now an'...." His words trailed off when he spotted a crawler barrelling down the street, headed right towards them. "SHIT, GET DOWN!" Sprout shouted as he pushed Maria and Elizabeth down behind the barricade.

Isabel awoke somewhere foreign. She could't see, and her head was absolutely ringing with searing pain. She opened and closed her eyes a few times as if to blink away the pain. She didn't know where she was-but that ironically made her realise her exact situation. She was in a position she had dreaded being in ever since she first became one of the children. She was locked in an empty, small room, with no light, given no sense of time and wouldn't be given any food for a long long time. Her and Franklin avoided this treatment when they first met Austin, they wanted safe harbour and didn't resist his temptations, thus he didn't need to go to the extreme measures reserved for those who resisted.

'Oh God. Franklin.'

She pit a hand to her mouth to hold back the sobs as she remembered the last sound before she lost consciousness. Oliver had murdered Franklin, along with Banks and Georgia. The love of her life and father of her child-

'Troy! TROY!'

"TROY! TROY!!" Isabel slammed on the door or wall or whatever the hell it was, screaming Troy's name. She didn't choose that name, but it was what he was known as the past few days because of that bastard. "TROY! TROY! MY BABY!" She yelled and shouted and screamed his name at the top of her lungs as her fists pounded against the hard wall, ignoring the pain oh her knuckles as she hopelessly wept.
===================================================================================
Austin was fuming. He stormed his way over to his dear wife's cell, while his son and every other child hostage aboard not yet converted jolted in fear at the sounds of gunshots. Alex's head jolted up, either someone was revolting or Austin was laying down his sick law. The sight of his massive form kicking open her door informed her it was the latter, much to her disappointment.

"I was hoping those gunshots were for you." She muttered bitterly.

"Why do you hate me?!" Austin yelled in her face. "What have I done to deserve such vitriol?"

Alex's jaw twitched at his reaction. "Fucking serious?" She was stunned by his lunacy.

"Yes I am! I have saved you from your captors, freed you from your chains, and yet all you do is reward me with spit and hatred!" There wasn't a hint of self aware irony in his voice, he was serious.

Alex bit her lip sharply, damn near biting it off before answering him, "There's no point talking to you because you're fucking insane! Truly fucking insa-"

"Will you stop this! Think of our children. Think of your son, my son! Think of Austin!"

"I HAVEN'T STOPPED THINKING ABOUT MY SON!" She exploded. "My son who YOU'VE LOCKED AWAY SOMEWHERE YOU CUNT!"

Austin sighed and relaxed slightly, "Language please darling."

"FUCK YOU! HE'S SCARED AND ALONE AND YOU'VE IMPRISONED HIM AGAINST HIS WILL!"

"Like your father did to our children!"

"Don't you dare go into that again!"

Austin groaned out and kicked a wall. "Look at us. We've had nothing but spats ever since our reunion. What's happened to us baby?"

"What has happened is... God forget it." Alex was tired of this. "What's the point, you don't listen to reason and shouting at you isn't going to do anything."

"Does that mean you won't argue with me anymore?" He ignored her words about 'listening to reason' as if she didn't even say them.

Alex sighed and shot a spiteful look at him. "No, it means I'm just bored waiting for someone to come up here and show you this isn't gonna last." She laughed in his face. "I mean for fuck sake, do you really think you can hold this city? Someone is going to come. A noble family is gonna get greedy and want another city under its belt, or a bandit clan will wanna run like Kings, maybe the Iron Maiden's will want to take their home back, or, and this is my favourite, the people you haven't killed yet will bring you down for what you did to them you lunatic."

Austin sat down on a nearby chair and sighed. "I am tired of you not listening to me."

"And I am tired of you not making any sense!"

"Think of the children!"

"I do think of the children, in fact I think about how the children are 21, 22, 23 24 25-"

"Darling listen to me-"

"Some of them are older than me for fuck sake!"

Austin was going to reply when the words caught in his throat. She was right. Alex was twenty eight years old and yet some of the children were the same age as her, some even a year older than her. Alex meanwhile grinned at him. "You fucking idiot! HAHA! You fucking moron! You actually didn't think this through did you! Its been eight friggin years you've had this downright stupid idea of a cult and you didn't even think how the hell your dumb philosophy works!" Alex couldn't help herself and began laughing uncontrollably, mocking the stupid bastard who had built an empire on an idea that made literally no sense.

Austin meanwhile was feeling humiliated. He had allowed pretenders within his ranks for years, pretenders who he had thought all this time were children. Fakers who he had thought to love and care for all these years, they had lied to him, deceived him! They were not real and there insanity was tainting him. He ignored Alex's laughter and made to leave the room.

"And where are you going retard!" She snickered.

"I'm going to rectify my mistake. I've realised only people the age of 25 and under are true children. The rest are pretenders, liars, and they will be executed accordingly."

Alex immediately stopped laughing. Sure he would be thinning his own ranks, not caring about the might of his army, yet so many innocents would die at his new law. "What will that accomplish?"

"Justice." He snarled before making for the door, when suddenly an explosion rocked the ship.

Aesop had dreamed about this moment a thousand times in his mind and it was even sweeter than he thought. Slamming his foot down on the pedal he was like a man possessed, learning over the steering wheel as he floored it across the ash before finally returning to the city he had abandoned long ago.

It was all so wrong. Everything Austin had wanted, it wasn't this! It wasn't a destroyed city that he wanted, it wasn't buildings torn apart, he never wanted to tear apart the old world and rebuild a new one. No he just wanted to steal what was already there with his group of nutbags! Was he not thinking it through? Did he even care about the children he so desperately claimed to protect? Did he claim it wasn't his responsibility, or did he pretend that it just wasn't happening, so wilfully ignoring the destruction he had caused?

And that was it. Aesop hadn't seen him in years but he knew the man, and that was the answer. He literally did not think anything bad had happened. Aesop wondered if he even saw the buildings he destroyed, or if his eyes pictured them as pristine and in shape. It wasn't stupidity, he was too good at planning and brainwashing people to be that stupid. This was literal insanity, the purest definition of insanity. Austin would be brought up in classrooms as a classic example of insanity, instead of the Godlike figure he wanted the world to know him as. Well he wasn't going to get that! The maidens weren't going to let him take that crazy fucking goal! Not one more child was gonna fall under his spell!


Following Pixie's lead Aesop drove with one hand while snatching the SMG from his companion in the passenger seat. He was not in a state of mind to make smart decisions, and chose to elbow his driver's side window like an idiot instead of lowering it down. He stuck his hand out of the window and fired randomly at any hostiles dumb enough to get in the way of them. Pixie's crawler had turned ahead and it was as if every maiden was on wavelengths. "Fuck yeah I love you you crazy bitch!" Aesop punched his horn excitedly. Following the bends and curves up the multi story car park Aesop could hear the screams as he got some lucky shots, blind firing out of his window at some 'children' stationed within the complex, shouting variations on the phrase, "YOU CHOSE TO DIE!" He wasn't paying attention to them, and thus couldn't see their ages. At this point he didn't care. He had a one track mind and wanted to sink his knife into Austin's face. He was getting cocky, first Rodrigo Santiago and now Father Austin. His bandit ego was kicking in harder than it ever had before and god dammit he was liking the blood lust!

"HA HAAAAAAA! FUCK YEAH!" An explosion, and soon Pixie was in the air. Aesop grunted and roared like an animal as his crawler followed suit, soaring across the sky before crash landing into the Iron Maiden. He was knocked about in his seat but nothing too bad. "Y'all alright?" He was getting weird now with an incredibly satisfied smile on his face, Warren and Brock nodded to him. Aesop handed the SMG back to Brock and continued, "Sorry brother." He then rushed out of the crawler, pistols in each hand and blasting at the oncoming children who were flooding the hangar.

"YOU WANNA DIE CUNT BOYS!" It was mostly older men and women, delirious enough to think that they were indeed children. Aesop sent them down like dogs before speeding over to one of the vehicles already parked in the crawler for cover. Bullets were flying everywhere and Brock and Warren had rushed over to Aesop. Warren didn't stay for long, just long enough to reload before running off in a berserker. Aesop cackled in excitement as Brock gave him shady looks. "C'mon man, cut me some slack." He winked to the freaked out man before leaping over the hood of the crawler, emptying his pistols into those who were too distracted by Warren before dropping them on the ground, pulling out two extras as he rushed over to the cover of the children.

Aesop was screaming like a violent animal tearing apart his prey with no remorse as they fell to the ground. He didn't see who they were until they were already on the ground. They must have been standing behind the adults. They must have been quiet. They must have been scared. They mustn't have been any older than 10.

He froze, arms outstretched and eyes stuck in place at the fresh corpses. Their expressions were still clear on their faces despite being completely impaled by the many bullets of the guns he was holding. The smoke from his pistols still held in the air as his arms finally dropped to his sides, his weapons slipping out of his hands. His jaw shook as he took in the sight before him, the sight he had caused. The last thing they heard must have been his rage filled screeches, his laughter as their skulls were torn apart by lead. Tears were forming in his eyes and Aesop began to pant but he didn't have the time. More were coming and Brock had to pull him into cover as a maelstrom of fire swarmed their position. Brock needed to fight for the both of them as Aesop couldn't even bring himself to stand.

Children, literal children had been massacred by him and for the first time since Silo, no infinitely worse than Silo, Aesop was feeling guilt about killing. More than guilt, a soul crushing weight that made his head boiling hot, his stomach feel like it was about to explode, sending shivers down across his skin, and shaking uncontrollably. Brock was saying something but Aesop couldn't hear him. Sillah couldn't hear him.

The drive into Yuteni wasn't difficult. The dome had been thoroughly wrecked. The gate on their side had been blown clear of its port and they just drove right on through. Once they got in though, Ruffles had to steer in between gargantuan shards of glass that littered the road.

"Jesus Christ," murmured Whiskey, pushing up her aviators to take in the destruction. "You know these domes always feel so fucking impenetrable. But one ship did this? Fuck..."

Ruffles grunted. "Plasma superheats the glass... well it's not exactly glass but yeah. Super heats it, wrecks its structural integrity. Then the ship's like a giant battering ram. It probably wouldn't work on the larger domes. They're cast much thicker. But..." he noticed he was ranting. "Uh, never mind."

As they crossed into the dome, the distant, muffled sounds of gunfire could vaguely be heard. Ruffles drew to a halt behind a gutted building and killed the engine. "We'll go on foot from here," he said. Don't want the engines to scare anyone off... or draw anyone in."

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

Owain walked quickly down the small corridor to the building's lobby. He would get the wine quickly, and then perhaps see if there was any more fun to be squeezed out of Frostfall. Likely not. The women here seemed hard and homely. Tabby had been a rare treat.

Opening the door to the lobby he stepped out, coming to a halt in surprise. Peering down into the basement stood the Gentleman. For a moment, Owain was too shocked to act. Then he reached for his balisong and stepped forward.

The Gentleman's eyes flitted to the side for just a second. For once, he didn't crack a smile.

"No need for that, Owain." he said, as Owain was in the middle of drawing his weapon. "I'd like to avoid hurting you if at all possible. I'm only here to reclaim what's mine. In return, I have something that belongs to you."

Taking the length of bloody rope out from the folds of his coat, the gentleman dropped it at Owain's feet.

"I have no doubt my disgust means little to you, but just for the record... I trust I'll find Florian in a significantly better condition than I found her in, or this might just have to get unpleasant."

Owain shrugged. "I'd say he's so-so. Though it's Severa's fault that what blood he has left hasn't been getting where it needs to be, really. I don't suppose I can convince you to come back with me quietly?"

"I have no intention of being brought before Lady Contessa bound and gagged, if that's what you mean." The Gentleman replied. "The two of us will be meeting, very soon, but when we do it will be on my terms. We will each be given the chance to say our peace, we will negotiate terms, and then we will both depart amicably, having put this little spat behind us. In short, I intend to re-introduce an air of... nobility, into our relationship; which, in case the implication escapes you, will involve you and your sister staying very quiet and cooperative, lest you cause either of us further embarrassment."

Owain took his hand away from the knife handle. "That's all very well and good, except that if my dear aunt wanted to meet on anyone's terms but her own, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now, would we? My sister and I have been given a job to do, you see, so I intend to see it through. I'm sure you understand that."

"Now that, I can respect." The Gentleman answered, calmly. "Today still isn't your day, I'm afraid, but it's nice to know that we have some common ground after all."

The Gentleman's hand went to his pocket watch, and he pressed down on the dial. With three ear-splitting cracks, the blasting caps that he had placed underneath the loose, rickety floorboards detonated just in front of Owain's feet, spraying a cloud of splinters up in front of his face. His body suddenly coming alive, The Gentleman closed the gap between them, twisting Owain's arm behind him, and kicking out the back of his knees. With his free hand, The Gentleman drew his pistol, and pressed in lightly into the small of Owain's back.

"Tell me where to find Florian, and I'll seriously consider not severing your spine."

"I'm sure you can take a wild guess," replied Owain, grinning up at him. "If not, then I'm afraid I'm going to be investing in ramps."

"Tell me..." The Gentleman continued, each syllable a shard of ice. "Your sister has quite the predilection for pain, am I right? More so than yourself? If I were to drag you to her now, and subject her beloved brother to every torture my years consorting with the underbelly of this world have taught me, would she scream, would she curse me, or would she enjoy watching you suffer?"

Owain shrugged as best he could in the awkward position. "A little of each, I suppose. But to be fair, if you can take me to her, there's no need to ask where her and the Priest are, is there? So if you're going to shoot me, just do it."

"Ah, but you see..." The Gentleman answered. "I think that with the racket we just caused, she will soon be on her way to us. Still," he aimed his pistol down, and shot Owain in the foot, before stepping on the fresh wound, and leaning his weight onto it. Owain felt his little toe vanish in a wave of white hot pain. "I don't think there's any harm in calling for her a little louder."

Owain yelled through gritted teeth at the flare of burning pain on the end of his foot. He could feel a hot wetness trickling around his shoe as he stirred against the discomfort.

The agony was hellish, but he made it seem worse than it was. With the gentleman leaning over him, Owain used his free hand to rip the pistol from his grip before throwing his weight at him, knocking him off and giving his foot some mercy.

The Gentleman had to hand it to him, Owain had spirit. Disarmed, he was forced to duck and weave as Owain sprung to his feet, and pressed the advantage with a flurry of blows. Pushing him back towards the wall, Owain drew his balisong again, and lunged for The Gentleman's throat. Jerking his head to the side, The Gentleman dodged the blade, which went right through the plaster behind him, followed by Owain's fist. Seizing the opportunity, The Gentleman hit the pressure point in Owain's wrist with a rapid double strike, stunning his arm, before ducking under the other side and grabbing the younger man round the throat from behind.

With his injured foot, Owain was off balance, and heavily compromised on the defensive. Still, he struggled mightily, swinging his elbow round to strike the Gentleman in the side a couple of times. Nevertheless, he was being dragged back, inch by inch, towards the stairs to the basement.

"You have my sincere apologies." The Gentleman said, his teeth gritted, as he hooked Owain's good leg out from underneath him, spun round out of the way, and gave one last strike to the centre of his torso. Unable to fight the inevitability of physics, Owain was sent tumbling, head over heels, twice over, before eventually smashing though the thin basement door onto the concrete floor beyond, where he lay still.

Not wasting any time, The Gentleman picked up his weapon, and descended also. Keeping his pistol trained on him, he knelt down checked Owain over. He was alive, but out cold. Good. He'd do just fine here for now. Rifling through his outfit and removing any more weapons, just in case, The Gentleman made his way back up the stairs.

'One down, as the saying goes.'

The rest of their strike force took up positions behind crawlers and cargo as more of Austin's cultists poured into the hanger, brandishing weapons from Pixie's own armory. What followed was a confusing clusterfuck of carnage. The smell of gunpowder and copper found its way into Pixie's nostrils, shaking loose memories of battles past. It got her heart thumping. Her blood boiling. She felt alive. She felt in control.

She felt invincible.

After emptying two magazines, Pixie slapped in her third just in time to see Brock and Aesop stumble back into cover. Throwing her back up against a stack of iron crates, Pixie looked to Bennie and signaled towards the door, "I'M GONNA CLEAR OUT THE DOORWAY, YOU GO ON'IN TAKE POINT ONCE I CLEAR THE WAY!"

Despite the ringing in his ears, Bennie understood, "ROGER!" Firing fifty bullets per second in a steel box never did anyone's ears any good. Grabbing a grenade out of her satchel, Pixie lobbed one over the crates, through the door and out into the hallway.

Both she and Bennie remained in cover until they heard the blast, "MOVE!" She shouted as she and Bennie broke out of cover. Charging forward, Bennie caught two adult males in the chest with his shotgun before throwing his back up against the door frame. The grenade had made short work of the next wave.

That's a bottleneck for you.

Pixie covered her companion, laying down several bursts from her rifle at a group of teenagers nearby before throwing herself up against the crawler Brock and Aesop were hiding behind, "THE FUCK'S GOIN' ON, BROCK!? TALK TO ME!"

Brock grit his teeth and shook Aesop. He didn't respond, "HE CHARGED AHEAD AND RAN INTO SOME YOUNG KIDS! HE TOOK THEM OUT! I---"

She caught a glimpse of what he had been referring to. The haunting gaze of a dead eleven-year-old bore into her, "FUCK, GET IT TOGETHER, AESOP!"

Bennie peeked his head around the corner. Another group was headed down the hall from the port side of the ship. "PIXIE, WE GOT MORE COMING!" The hangar was clear for now, but that wouldn't last. There was no telling how many Austin had aboard.

"FUCK!" Pixie cursed and glanced around the hangar to get a handle on their status. They had suffered maybe two casualties total. At least twenty cultists lay dead or dying around them. They needed to take the bridge. The hangar could get fucked for all she cared. She ran up alongside Bennie as he switched to his submachine gun and began suppressing the new arrivals at the end of the adjoining hall. Looking to Bradly, she shouted over the gunfire. "YOU TAKE YER MEN 'ROUND PORT SIDE AN' ME, BENNIE AN' WARREN'LL GO 'ROUND THE STARBOARD. THE BRIDGE IS 'AR PRIORITY! WE SECURE IT AN' WE SECURE THE SHIP! GOT IT!?"

"WHAT ABOUT THOSE TWO!?" Bradly pointed towards Brock and Aesop.

"AESOP'S GONE GREEN ON US! FUCK 'IM, WE GOT MORE IMPORTANT SHIT TO WORRY ABOUT!" Two of Bradly's men took up positions by Bennie to suppress the cultists as he reloaded. Pixie looked to Brock. "IF HE GROWS SOME BALLS Y'ALL CAN FOLLOW US! ALRIGHT!?"

"ROGER!" Brock barked back.

Just as Bennie had finished reloading, Pixie came up beside him and tapped him on the shoulder, "YOU READY, CARMINE?"

"FUCK YEAH!"

"WARREN!?"

"YUP!"

"MOVE OUT MAIDENS! WE'VE GOT A GOD TO SLAY!" Both squads filed out into the hall, laying down fire towards their designated destinations. A small group of cultists had just rounded the corner on time to eat a barrage of Maiden lead, tearing them to ribbons before they hit the floor. Stepping over their corpses as they came around the bend, Pixie deliberately diverted her gaze. They were small, but she didn't get a good look at the beyond that.

The three of the Maiden's best fighters charged through the hollow halls of their home like a force of nature, gunning down anything that moved. Austin's cultists popped out of ever crevasse the main deck of the starboard had to offer. They may have thought themselves clever, but Pixie knew her ship better than her own son. She knew ever crack in every rusted plate. There was no getting the jump on her on her home turf.

These kids never had a chance.

It took them twenty minutes and five-hundred rounds to finally make it to the mess hall. Bennie and Warren took point, charging in and finding cover behind the steel tables they'd kicked over. Not an ideal battlefield, especially given Austin's superior numbers, but they'd manage. Just as Pixie was about to join them, she heard a stampede of footsteps heading in her direction from the long hall that joined the port and starboard sides of the main deck. From the looks of it, Bradly was fighting a war of attrition; one Austin's soldiers were losing.

With naught but improvised weapons and spent firearms in their hands, Pixie turn on her heel and emptied her clip into the oncoming force. Four men went down before they were upon her. Eight of them in total.

Her rifle exhausted, she dropped it and her satchel on the ground and drew her bowie knife right on time to duck under a lead pipe and stab her attacker under the his right arm, "COME ON! GET FUCKED YOU PUSSIES!" She taunted as she threw her leg back, kicking him against the wall. A split second later the next three were in front of her, all of them men in their early twenties.

At least I get real men ta' fight.

The first one lashed out with a crowbar while the other swung the butt of his empty shotgun. Pixie caught the crowbar with her off-hand and ducked under the arc of the shotgun, letting the man bash his ally in the teeth with its wooden stock. Wresting the crow bar out of his hand as he dropped to the floor, she thrust it forward, catching the man who had yet to attack her directly in the crotch. As the the man with the shotgun was still in the midst of his back swing, she rose up from her low stance and stabbed him in the side of the neck, her knife held backwards.

As the man before her knelt down, holding his crippled manhood in agony, Pixie swung the crowbar into the side of his face. Embedded it into his skull, she let it and his body fall to the floor in a heap. She flipped her blade into her other hand and stared down the four remaining cultists; a sinister grin shining through the fresh blood that caked her cheeks.

Seeing her take apart their allies so easily...

They hesitated.

Poor decision.

In a flash, Pixie had drawn her sidearm, blowing away two of their allies before they could even blink. The remaining two, one teenage boy wielding a knife and an adult woman with another pipe, fell upon her. The woman came in first, getting in close and swinging her pipe in a wide arc. Pixie threw her arm up and over, taking the brunt of the blow in her kevlar as she caught the pipe under her arm. Unfortunately for her attacker, the woman wasn't quick enough in withdrawing. Still gripping the pipe, Pixie stabbed down twice into her forearm, forcing her to drop her weapon and stagger backwards against the wall.

Before Pixie could take a breath the boy had crossed the gap between them, his knife coming right for her throat. Ducking down at the last moment, she flipped her blade around in her hand and stabbed him in the gut. Stunned, the boy was helpless as Pixie rose to his level and delivered a swift pistol whip to his jaw, sending him falling head-first onto the floor. Moments later she put a bullet between his eyes and followed through with finishing off the older woman before she could get back to her feet.

After coup de gracing those that still clung to life, she holstered her pistol, retrieved her satchel and reloaded Mr. Monroe. Caked in the blood of her enemies, she had a wild look about her as she entered the hall. Bennie and Warren had managed to hold the fort in her absence, but more were pouring in from the bridge. Many of them children, no older than eight, nine, and ten-years-old.

She didn't say a word as she waltzed into the ruined mess hall, her rifle held at her hip. She simply clenched her jaw, pulled the trigger and swayed her hips. With each bullet casing that was ejected from her rifle, another young soul passed on.

She was their deliverance. Her gun was their redemption. This living hell. This endless nightmare. It would be over for them shortly. It would be over for all of them.

Austin would pay for this. Oh, he would pay so dearly. For every young body she was made to cut through to get to him, she'd make him scream in agony. She wouldn't be finished until every inch of skin was flayed from his body. She'd keep him alive just long enough for him to realize that he was living a lie. A blissful fantasy. And that in reality, he was nothing like God.

No. Before his life was over, he'd see the true face of God. And she'd be giggling in delight as she tore his flesh asunder. And devoured his very soul.

Amy did join in with all the whooping and hollering, as Pixie made her battle speech, but she did grip her machine gun a little tighter, as their swarm of crawlers rushed through the breach and into Yuteni. Looking up, she saw the Iron Maiden descending from the skies. It may have been a trick of the light, but Amy could have sworn she saw, for a split second, a smaller craft jettison from the ships hull.

'Please, keep each-other safe.'

She couldn't afford to worry about her sisters now. The best thing she could do for them was finish this, as fast as possible.

"We'll go on foot from here," Ruffles said, as their Crawler screeched to a halt. Amy simply nodded, popping open her door before they'd even stopped moving, stepping out and scanning the street ahead with her weapon for any movement.

"Let's just get this over with." she replied, gritting her teeth.

To say that the priest was ravishing his capture wouldn't be too far from the truth. After having their lips locked for about a solid minute, Severa was unable to continue. Instead, she rested the back of her head against the wall and started breathing heavily. Her eyes closed, she began moaning more audibly, so much so that it was all Florian could hear in his head as he continued his work. That was until a blast shook the building, followed soon after by the sound of a gunshot.

Severa's eyes shot open, "OWAIN!?"

For once in days she'd lost the use of her words, the closest thing he'd had to quiet. He could settle for moaning, right now it sounded like music as she leaned her head back and Florian made his way down to her neck. For once he could just let his mind fade away and enjoy something purely for what it was. But nothing was ever that easy.

'Find yourself in the place of ash. You ever heard what that means?' He'd been saying those words so long now, the old memory was beginning to claw its way to the surface. Echos of Erik's voice in his head and the old pains of scars that should have faded.

'Men are much like animals, they must be taught the same lessons over again if they're ever to remember. Let them forget and they bare their teeth quick enough.' And some animals needed to be collared tighter than others.

But he wasn't an animal. He wasn't! 'Every day we should ask ourselves why we do what we do. And remember who it is you're justifying these choices to.' How did the abbot always sound so infuriatingly calm?!

'Which is this for you, a show of devotion or a punishment?'

Why couldn't they all just shut up?! They always wanted something from him. Nothing was unconditional, nothing came easily. Never a man, always the servant, the tool, the weapon! Here at least he could claim something as his own. To hell with the rest. Here at least the price was plain to see.

'Kill your heart or kill your victory.'

'Just be a friend to them...'

'You'll never need to justify yourself to me Florian.'

What? No... no this wasn't right. What was he doing? The smell of cigarettes had faded away, replaced by the stale smell of cheap booze. This was all wrong! He drew away, the sound of gunfire came closer now. This wasn't right. She was the enemy.

She clutched Florian's shoulders, her eyes wild as the reality of the situation sunk in "I-I have to---" She caught an odd shine in Florian's eye, freezing her in place. "Florian?"

The old commands kicked in. Florian's head snapped down, colliding with Severa's nose with a muffled crunch. There was far more recoil than normal and the lights were everywhere. He couldn't stop though. As grabbed out at her face and pushed back slamming her head back towards the wall with what little strength he had left.

His eyes. They weren't right at all.

Severa furrowed her brow, "FLO----"

Stars. Stars everywhere. And pain.

She fumbled backwards and collapsed against the wall.

Wha-ahh, where?

Now was Florian's chance.

And he was off! Something between a stagger and a run. It felt like Florian crashed into everything possible as he stormed through the room. He'd been in here for an eternity, how could he not find the fucking door?! In seconds or minutes he was out, it all felt the same right now.

Florian stumbled out into the hall, colliding with the far wall, a victim of his own momentum. Was he up or down right now, top floor or basement? The whole world was spinning. Light. He just needed to find the light and go that way.

By the time Florian had managed to stumble halfway down the hall, Severa had regained her senses. She clutched her head, squealing in agony as the pain from her broken nose set in. He struck out at her. He'd hurt her. Her face was flushed with anger as she pushed the pain aside and scrambled for her steel case on the other side of the room.

"He did it... I-I... He did it..." She mumbled to herself as she struggled to undo the latches on the case. Her whole body was seething with rage, causing her fingers to tremble uncontrollably. Eventually, she had it open. She got to her feet and swung Miranda around, holding it steady at her side. Her eyes narrowed. "I can't believe... he did it..."

Slowly, she started for the door, "I-I-I....I..." Suddenly, an enormous grin split her face from ear-to-ear. "YOU DID IT, FATHER! I KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU! THAT FIRE! THAT WILL TO LIVE! I HUNGER FOR IT!" She kicked down the door, Miranda swaying violently at her side as she stepped through the threshold. "RUN FATHER, FOR TODAY WE DANCE THE SONG OF DEATH! I WANT TO SEE HOW FAR YOU CAN CRAWL BEFORE YOU'RE FINISHED!"

The laughter that followed would haunt Florian's dreams for years to come.

"Sorry, it won't happen again."

"Yeah, no problem," Bryan replied, drumming his fingers on the table and considering whether to sample the disgusting coffee.

"Workplace jealousy just gets under my fucken skin is all. Bitches need to learn to stop shit stirring and do their jobs better if ya ask me."

Mila shrugged, "If it helps at all, Chimera's mostly just a bunch of straight-faced hardcore types. The only gossip I hear is when I am on base, which... well, we don't come back here all that often." She laughed. "Fuck, Ortega would kick my ass if he heard me smack talking a superior officer."

Bryan grinned. "Tsubaki's the same. Although replace 'smack talking' with 'everything I do' and you have a good idea of my day to day."

"She's that hard on you guys, eh?" She tilted her head and grinned. "I don't mean any disrespect, but maybe your CO just needs a turn on the pogo-stick, if ya' know what I am saying."

He laughed at this. "Maybe, but you'd never hear it from her." Getting up, he crossed the room and poured some coffee. Heading back, he slid one of the cups across to Mila.

"I dunno. She's a real married to the job type."

Mila took a sip of her coffee, fighting back the urge to cringe at the taste, "Y-yeah, I used to be like that too. I don't know what chanced. I guess I got comfortable and just got tired of the 'perfect soldier' routine. I don't fraternize with anyone in my unit or another, don't get the wrong idea. Though, I would say I have a talent for picking up good lays when out on the field. You know 'em when you see 'em, am I right?" She nudged him, chuckling.

"Oh yeah," Bryan said. "O' course I was never any kinda perfect soldier. I just got picked up after some guards found me nickin' a painting from the sixth floor o' this gallery way back when. Dealt with the guards and two days later I get this missive saying they liked the cut o' my gib and would I like a job?"

Mila nodded along and spotted Asad waving off Tsubaki as she left into the hall. Nodding in his direction, Mila smirked, "What's his story?"

"Ah, you know," said Bryan, a shit eating grin spreading across his face. "We needed a friend for Jun so I found some brown clay, made it vaguely man shaped, stuck some broom bristles in and wished really hard."

"He is like one o' them plastic soldiers though, I'm afraid," he added.
"You two close?" She cocked an eyebrow.

He shrugged. "He's a good lad. I'd be a bit fucked off if anything happened to him." He pointed at Mila sternly. "So keep an eye on him, yeah?"

"Sure thing. Ever been under his command before? I know Ortega's technically in-charge of the Op, but Saburo put him in charge of our crew."

"Nah, we've mainly been on a level," Bryan replied. "I reckon Tsubaki knows we'd be too busy ripping the shit outta each other for one of us to give the other any orders."

"Well, at least we know who to blame then if this all goes to shit, eh?"

"Jun, obviously."

"SIR!"

Ortega looked up from the documents he was flipping through when an Intel officer stepped into the room, "What is it?"

"We've got activity."

Fifteen Minutes Later

Asad was driving with Mila riding shotgun and the other two members of Samsara were sitting in the back of the crawler, "Ballsy fucking play if I've ever seen one!" Mila shouted over the sound of the roaring engine. "I can't believe they sent their top guys to run interferance. These Maidens are gonna be fucked for sure!"

They couldn't have been more than a minute away from the South Gate now.

Asad clenched his jaw, focusing on the road ahead. "Don't underestimate them." The man muttered, a somber expression on his face.

"How do you think our commander got wounded in the first place?"

"She was shot by a world renowned assassin with nothing to lose. Guess who ain't with them at the moment?"

"Fine then." Asad smirked, glancing at the woman as he raised an eyebrow.

"You can go first if you're so confident." He moved his eyes back to the road. "You weren't there when we were chasing them, this isn't about just about escaping the city." He furrowed his brow. "They're defending a frightened girl who doesn't want the fate she's been given."

"And we're getting a paycheck. In the end, as long as you're willing to die for your cause you're going to fight like hell to make sure they go down with you." She sighed, looking over her weapon. "The hard part's going to be in the whole 'prisoner' caveat. Parameters like that are what gets soldiers killed."

"Oh no." Asad grumbled sarcastically. "I don't get to shoot some kids."

Mila glared at him but chose not to say anything. Now was not the time.

Meanwhile, Jun simply watched the scenery go by as the two in the front bickered. He rubbed his temples, just how were they going to capture Elizabeth Maribel and every Maiden they came across while under fire from at least one of them. It just wasn't practical; soldiers killed, not captured.

Asad frowned. He thought the caveat would make things easier, make this whole situation seem less wrong somehow, but it didn't. All it did was make him feel sick to his stomach.

A short time later, their crawler came flying over the last hill, bringing a familiar site into view. From the looks of it, they'd already taken the gate and were in the process of opening it.

They'd have to move fast.

Mila pointed ahead, "THERE THEY ARE!"

"Let's just get this over with."

"Oh, definitely," agreed Ruffles. Their group started to move forward, each member scanning about the streets and peering down the alleys. The tension was palpable.

"So how do you think we're meant to differentiate Austin's goons from any surviving young people? And for that matter, if you were a Yutenite... Yuteni... Yutenian?" Whiskey asked. "If you were a local caught in this freaky invasion, where would you hide?"

"Not sure," said Ruffles. "I've never been here before. But the dome's been breached a while now. So definitely somewhere they could replace the filters on their masks, or somewhere that was sealed so they wouldn't need them."

Elizabeth squealed as she stumbled against the concrete barrier next to Maria. Before she'd opened her eyes she could hear the sound of Sprout's pistol firing away. The plasma felt so warm as it passed overhead. Peaking her eyes just above that of the barrier she got her first look at their attackers: a lone crawler with four soldiers within. Moments later, Sprout's weapon found its mark.

"SHIT!" Mila shouted as a barrage of plasma burned straight through the hood of the vehicle, killing the engine. "They have plasma!?"

Bryan flattened himself against the side of the Crawler as plasma arced over head. "Shit!"

"Well fucking this again," he said as the crawler ground to a halt. He shouldered his swords and jumped out. Hefting his plasma pistol, he barrelled off the street, behind the cover of a building.

"Yeah, we couldn't find Tsubaki's plasma pistol after she got capped. Guess we know why."

Jun just got out of the crawler and started to run, eyes darting around to find a suitable cover, something that might protect the soldier from a plasma blast. He quickly found some and got into position.

"I fucking hate plasma!" Asad called out as he exited the crawler, following Bryan into cover. "How the fuck are we going to pacify this shit, Jesus." He ran a hand through his hair as he clenched his jaw.

Lilith hopped over the barricade, crouching next to the others, she holstered her revolver, she grabbed her rifle. Getting to one knee, she rested the rifle over the top of her cover, looking down the scope.

"These are the guys from the other day!" She muttered angrily.

Sprout kept his eyes on the street. They were out of sight, but that would likely change sooner rather than later, "Notice 'ow they ran all quick like ta' cover without a single one of 'em supressin' us? Reckon they're worried 'bout taggin' Liz?"

"It'd be nice," called out Bryan, "if we had some tranq guns. Knock 'em the fuck out and stick 'em in sacks."

"Those things have next to zero range, I don't think they'd let us just walk up to them and tag their asses." Asad chuckled. Motioning to Mila, he nodded at her weapon. "I don't care how much they provoke us, you are not to shoot them." He knew Bryan, and Jun wouldn't shoot without orders, but he knew nothing of this Mila girl. "Understand?"

Lilith breathed in sharply through gritted teeth as she failed to get a bead on any of the incoming soldiers. "If we stall them long enough for the gate to open, we can jump in a crawler and bloody get outta her." She glanced at Sprout. "They won't risk hurting Liz, so don't make yourself a stand out target."

"Just hide and wait. Brilliant." Maria muttered.

Lilith chuckled. "Better than dying, surely?"

"This isn't stuff outta the Art of War, but I'll take it, sure." The doctor replied.

Sprout scanned the area around them. There were no crawlers on the street around the gate. There only option was to try for one of the Basilio crawlers in the small building on the eastside of the gate. At least, that was the original plan. Best stick to the plan if possible. Yup.

Ma's better'n me at improvisin'. Hope we can avoid that...

"Lily," Sprout interrupted the two women. "The garage." He nodded to his right. "None'a the cars out on the street here are ash-worthy. Let's hope these guys left behind some hardware."

"Of course," Mila shot back without missing a beat. "You forget where I come from." Peering around the corner she spotted the boy staying low, talking to the older Maiden. "What's the plan, boss?"

"This is why I didn't want to be in charge." Asad muttered under his breath. "We need to close the gap, then maybe we can reason with them."

'Reason with them?'

The words came from his own mouth and he still thought they were stupid.

"Do you reckon we could get Jun up on one of those buildings?" Bryan asked. "I know that's usually my job, but getting the drop on 'em with a sniper might be what we need."

"Jun! What do you think?" Asad called out to the man. "Think you can at least give us some cover?"

"Yes." Jun called out to the others.

"What good will a sniper do if we can't hit them!?" Mila questioned.

Asad raised an eyebrow as he looked at the woman. "They don't know that."

Mila just rolled her eyes.

Bryan straightened up. "I'll help Jun get up the buildings if you two give us some cover fire to leg it."

Lilith kept her eye on her scope, panning slowly across the street, just waiting for one of the soldiers to make a move. "I'll cover the street, you go check, if there's nothing there, then we're gonna have to bail on this whole thing, I ain't hanging around."

Sprout looked back down the street. Still nothing, "Roger that, Lily. If I get a hole in my other lung you owe me a fuckin' handy!"

Asad furrowed his brow. "I'll throw down smoke, that should be enough to cover you." He couldn't risk spraying bullets everywhere.

Lilith smirked. "It's just us now, ladies, think they'll go easy on us?"

"I don't think they could go any easier." Maria quipped. The silence was strange, alien even in this situation. It was a stark contrast to previous gunfights.

Elizabeth sighed, "They were a lot more aggressive last time." She turned her head just on time to see Sprout vault over the barrier and fly towards the garage. "Be careful Alex!" She half-whispered before covering her mouth.

What did I just call him!?

Sprout didn't hear her, not really. He had barely registered she'd said anything at all. No, he was focused solely on his objective. His pistol at the ready, he threw himself against the side of the building and peered in.

There was a crawler!

"JACKPOT!" He shouted before looking back down the street. Still nothing. Strange. "I'll pull 'er around!"

Lilith furrowed her brow slightly.

'Alex, huh?'

As the boy left the barricade, Lilith chuckled. "Trust Merry to Boomhower something like that." She shook her head gently. She still preferred Axel.

"Okay, get ready to move on my signal. Keep in radio contact, and make sure you keep your heads down." Pulling a grenade off his belt, Asad quickly pulled the pin, throwing the smoke grenade around the corner of the building.

"Haul ass!" He called as thick smoke quickly began to fill the street.

Wordlessly, Mila followed behind Asad.

"They're coming!" Elizabeth barked. Without a second thought she lifted her arms above the barricade and began firing her 9mm into the smoke.

Sprout figured he should probably speed things along once the gunfire started. It had been a good long while since he'd hotwired a car and military crawlers were on a whole different level. He could do it though. He knew he could.

'Reckon hotwirin' crawlers an' sewin' ar' the only delicate thin's Ma' ever taught me. Now, connect this bit ta' the lil' blue one over here an'...

Stealing a glance out of the garage, he could see shadows moving through the smoke cloud.

Fuck. Should 'ave given Maria my plasma.

Maria coughed as the area was filled with smoke, she shrunk behind the barricade even further as Elizabeth shot at shadows. The doctor managed to say,"Of course... now they try something."

Lilith swore under her breath as the smoke erupted through the street. "Something isn't right here." she muttered under her breath. There really should have been an exchange of fire by now.

"Alright, Jun," said Bryan. "Let's go. Down that alley." He set off at a sprint.

Jun nodded and followed, matching Bryan's pace.

As they headed towards the alley, Bryan spoke.

"Right, I saw a fire escape as we were driving by. I'll get up the wall, get the ladder down for you and you go up, yeah?"

"Got it." The sniper replied.

As the two wayward members of Samsara made their way down the alley the old assassin laid in wait in a conjoining street. Tightening his grip around his pistol, he took one last deep breath and closed his eyes as the footsteps got closer. Then, just before they passed him by, he stepped out of the alley shooting Bryan in the chest at close range before kicking forward, taking Bryan's feet off the ground as his momentum was reversed. Before the Irishman landed, Cranston was already on his ally. Too close to shoot, he planted his foot down in front of Jun's and elbowed him in the side of the neck.

Bryan bounced off of the ground and went sprawling. He was vaguely aware the mercenary's shot had split the strap of his sheath. The swords lay feet away. Much closer to the bald bastard than they were to him.

He got to his feet, taking deep, controlled breaths. He thought his ribs were fine.

Jun was knocked back, the side of his neck dully throbbed with pain. The soldier responded by charging at the annoyance, hands reaching for the old man's neck.

Dropping his pistol, Cranston caught Jun's hands in his own, pulled down and twisted. Both of Jun's hands broke within seconds as he was brought down low just on time to take a knee to the face. Unconscious, Jun flopped over on top his back, "I heard one of you was a close combat specialist. I take it he wasn't it." Though he teased the man before him, Cranston's expression remained cold and rigid.

Taking a step back into the middle of the alley, he placed his boot down on Bryan's sword. Both their weapons lay at his feet, "Your move."

As Asad and Mila moved from cover to cover through the smoke, moving closer to the Maidens, Asad clenched his jaw.

They wouldn't surrender, there's no way they were going to surrender, and now they were cornering them again.

'Never corner a fox.'

Lilith gripped her rifle tighter as she tried her best to follow the shadows in the smoke, but it was far too thick to get a good bead on any of them.

"What the bloody hell is going on here?" The girl muttered to herself as she narrowed her eyes.

"Geez, when is this stuff going to clear away?" Maria remarked. She found out all too quickly that shooing the smoke away wouldn't work and half-expected to be grabbed from behind by some sneaky soldier. Maybe that just a bit of paranoia.

Elizabeth had spent an entire magazine with nothing to show for it.

Damned smoke!

As she crouched down to reload she noticed the gate was nearly open, "Lilith, look!"

Mila put a finger to her earpiece as an order came in. Asad could hear it too. Reinforcements were on the way. Looking to Asad she furrowed her brow, "How do you want to play this? Wait for backup or move in now?"

If they waited for backup, they could easily surround the Maidens and that would be that, all they had to do was delay them long enough so they wouldn't escape.

"We move in, keep 'em talking, maybe we can buy enough time for that backup to get into position."

As the pair reached the final safe building for cover, he looked to the woman, smirking slightly. "So, do we ask them about the weather, or...?"

Mila cocked an eyebrow, "You think they'll talk to us? You're kidding, right? The moment we stick our heads out their going to pop us both in the face."

Meanwhile, Sprout was still hard at work hijacking the crawler nearby. It was proving more difficult than he'd first thought.

They really make these fuckin' thin's thief-proof. Hold out Lily... jus' a lil' longer, now...

"Why not?" Asad let out a sigh as he leaned his head back, resting it on the brickwork.

"So!" He called out, a light tone to his voice. "Great weather we're having, huh?"

Lilith raised an eyebrow as the call echoed out across the street. "What."

"Don't listen to anything he says!" Elizabeth pointed her pistol in the direction of the voice.

"Really Liz? Really?! Because I didn't know that!" Lilith replied sarcastically.

Maria shrugged, "Well, at least they aren't shooting us. I guess."

"WE DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!" Elizabeth barked across the street. "JUST LET US GO!"

"Yeah! You tell 'em, Tigerman!" Maria said as she patted the noble on her back. This clearly was the most bizarre firefight Maria had ever been in.

"What the actual fuck is happening right now?" Lilith muttered, shaking her head in disbelief.

"See?" Asad chuckled, a smug look on his face. He turned his head back towards the street. "Sure! Just put down your weapons and we'll let you go!" He shrugged his shoulders as he looked at Mila. "What? It might work."

Mila scowled, "You're just going to piss them off."

Elizabeth looked to Lilith, "They're trying to buy time. They probably have friends on the way and they're just trying to stall."

"Astute observation, Tigerman." Lilith nodded her head sagely. Lilith had already figured that out, but why not let the girl have her moment?

"Nice try wankers!" Lilith called out as she tilted her head to look down the scope of her rifle.

"What now?" Mila questioned.

"Shit." Asad chuckled. "How much time did that buy us? Thirty seconds?

Lilith narrowed her eyes. "Nobody has to die today!" She called out, pausing for a moment as she glanced towards the guard post. "The guards are just sleeping!"

"Why are they humoring us?" Mila cocked an eyebrow. "What are they waiting for?"

"That's a good question." Asad furrowed his brow. Holding a hand to his radio, he spoke into his ear piece. "O'Lafferty, do you read me?"

Nothing

Lilith glanced over to the garage. "Come on kid, I know you can do it."

"Bryan, Jun, both of you, respond." Asad furrowed his brow as nothing but silence followed. "Shit." He looked at Mila, a concerned look in his eyes.

"Do you think..." Mila cursed under her breath. "They have backup. Fuck. We need leverage, now!"

Nodding in agreement, Asad scratched under his chin. "Okay, here's the situation, Maidens!" He called out, his tone deepening.

"We have back up coming, it'll be here in five minutes." He thought for a second. "We have orders to take you all in, alive." He clenched his jaw for a second. "But we're a special squad, orders from the man himself. The backup? They're just regular guards, like the ones you just killed." He glanced up at Mila before returning his attention to the street. "How do you reckon they're gonna respond to that mess over there?"

Elizabeth gritted her teeth, "Y-you should tell them to 'go to hell'." She whispered.

Lilith furrowed her brow as she locked eyes with the girl.

She thought it was all her fault, it was obvious to everyone. Smiling slightly, her eyes softened.

"Why don't you tell them?" She nodded her head towards the soldiers. "Better coming from you than me, right? Use that noble authority."

Elizabeth swallowed nervously and nodded, "Y-you're right. I---"

They've been a friend to me. They've helped me all this time and... I've been nothing but a burden on them. So many have died already to ensure I make it out of this city. No more. I can't let anyone else die because of me.

Without warning, Elizabeth vaulted over the barricade, pulled the hammer back on her pistol and pointed it squarely at her temple, "LISTEN TO ME, DOGS OF BASILIO! I AM ELIZABETH VERONICA MARIBEL, THIRD IN THE LINE OF THE BOOMHOWER NOBLE FAMILY! BETROTHED TO YOUR LORD! IF YOU DO NOT LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS I AM PREPARED TO TAKE MY OWN LIFE! NOW, COME OUT WHERE WE CAN SEE YOU!"

After that little show, Maria couldn't help but silently smile.

"The fuck's goin' on out there!?!" Sprout muttered to himself as he continued to work.

I didn't mean like that!" Lilith hissed as she beckoned the girl to come back over the barrier. "Get your fucking arse back here!"

Asad's eyes widened as the Maribel girl made her demands. Looking back to Mila, he shook his head. "I would!" He called out to the girl. "But I reckon Ms. Valentine will put a bullet in me as soon as step from behind this wall!"

Elizabeth was trembling, but she stood firm. In fact, she had even allowed a self satisfied smirk to creep onto her face as a clever thought occurred to her, "THE IRON MAIDENS ARE UNDER MY AUTHORITY! MS. VALENTINE WILL NOT FIRE UNLESS I GIVE THE ORDER! AS A NOBLE OF THE GREAT ALLIANCE, I AM BOUND TO MY WORD. AND SO, I SAY THIS: LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND COME OUT WHERE WE CAN SEE YOU AND I PROMISE YOU WILL BE UNHARMED!"

"Elizabeth! Get the fuck back here you stupid girl!" Panic began to rise in the girl's throat. She locked eyes with Maria. "What the hell is she doing?!"

"Trying to be assertive?" Maria replied, "I dunno, some parts just come across as cheesy to me."

She sighed, "This is taking longer than I'd hoped..."

Mila took a flashbang off of her vest, "She won't do it."

Asad grabbed Mila's wrist, a stern look in his eyes as he shook his head slowly. "We need time? I'll give you time." Propping his rifle against the wall, he met eyes with the woman once more. "Don't do anything stupid, that's an order."

Raising his hands above his head, Asad took a breath as he stepped from behind the building and onto the street. Taking a few steps forward, he tried to keep his expression relaxed.

As his eyes fell on the girl, her own weapon to her head, he furrowed his brow slightly.

"My lady." He bowed his head slowly.

Forgive me.

"Lilith," Elizabeth said, softly. "I'm sorry." In a flash she'd leveled her weapon and fired at the soldier.

"STUPID SON OF A BITCH!" Mila shouted as she dashed out of the cover, shoulder checking Asad in the process. The noble would have found her mark for sure. As Asad rolled across the ground, Mila scurried to cover, anticipating Lilith to jump in at an moment. "GOD DAMMIT! LYING CUNT!" She barked as she lobbed a flashbang overhead over the stoop she hid herself behind. The canister landed at Elizabeth's feet as she emptied her clip on Asad's position. Moments later she was on her knees, blinded and deafened.

Lilith barely had time to react to the shot as she aimed down her scope, something catching her eye just before she began aiming. A grenade, landing by the girl's feet.

"Oh god no." Lilith muttered as her eyes widened. "ELIZABETH MOVE!" She just managed to shield her own eyes before the flashbang exploded, deafening her.

After a few disorientating moments, Lilith moved her arm, her vision slightly blurred as her eyes locked on the hunched form of Elizabeth. Leaping over the barrier, Lilith pulled out her revolver as she quickly covered the ground between Elizabeth and the barricade.

"GET UP NOW!" Lilith shouted at the girl, grabbing her arm, but she was almost like a dead weight, almost completely incapacitated. "SHIT!"

Stepping over the girl, Lilith placed herself between Elizabeth and the soldiers as she tried to get the girl to her feet.

"I am going to fucking kick your arse when we get out of here, you stupid girl." She muttered.

Asad acted quickly as he fell to the ground, hitting the concrete he quickly scurried to his feet, swearing as he took cover next to Mila. "Thanks!" He chuckled breathlessly. "Didn't think she'd do that!"

Maria swiftly followed Lilith, "We gotta get her behind the barrier!"

"You can buy me a beer," She quipped, readying her conventional rifle. She could hear them struggling to get the noble on her feet. Now was her chance. Jumping out of cover, Mila aimed her weapon at Lilith as she held Elizabeth in her arms. "DON'T MOVE A GODDAMN MUSCLE OR I WILL SHOOT!"

Lilith's right shoulder was completely exposed as she was dragging Elizabeth to her feet. At that range, Mila had a decent enough shot of taking her out without killing her.

Lilith had managed to get the girl to her feet, with Maria opposite her, if they hurried, both of them could get the girl to the barrier.

As the female soldier's voice echoed behind them, Lilith froze in place, her eyes meeting Maria's. Pausing for a moment, she let go of Elizabeth's arm as she raised her hands above her head. "Take her and go." Lilith's expression hardened. "They won't risk hitting the girl, keep her between you and them and you'll be fine."

"Goddamnit, Lilith." Maria cursed. It was shitty, but there was hardly any time to argue, or room for that matter. The doctor picked up one of the knocked out noble's arms and slung it over her shoulder. As fast as she was able, Maria advanced towards the barrier, clambered over the it and then more or less dropped over the other side. Afterwards, she left go of the noble and caught her breath. Maria never expected that she would ever needed to use an unconscious Elizabeth as a human shield.

"Getting KOed is not a good way to end a dramatic speech, Tigerman." She muttered to the noble.

"Asad!" Mila barked. "Keep your weapon on them." As she said this she slowly approached Lilith, ready to fire at a moment's notice. "Easy does it, Ms. Valentine."

"Gotcha" Asad grunted as he grabbed his rifle, quickly bringing it to aim. "Be careful."

Lilith smiled, nodding at Maria as she backed away with the girl. As the female soldier approached from behind, Lilith slowly turned around, her eyes meeting the woman's.

Lilith's eyes hardened as they met the woman's, a small smirk curling the corner of her mouth. "Dumb girl, huh?"

"And brave." She replied without a hint of emotion. "Keep your hands on your head and approach me."

Lilith paused for a moment, the smile fading as her expression grew sombre.

"No." She replied simply.

Mila's eyes darted around the street, "Where's the boy?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Lilith replied simply.

Mila took a few more steps forward and grit her teeth, "One more time: approach me, slowly or I will shoot you."

Lilith tilted her head slightly, narrowing her eyes. "She doesn't want to go with you, why are you doing this?"

"Orders. Now move!" Mila was losing patience.

"I SAID NO!" Lilith snapped, her eyes widening as she glared at the woman. The woman didn't know what had come over her, but she was pissed off, angry, furious that these people didn't realise what they were doing. Or worse, that they did.

"Tell me." She spoke loudly, her words echoing across the empty street. "Do you two remember what happened to the last Maribel that bastard got his hands on?" Lilith clenched her jaw, "BECAUSE I DO! And if you think, for one second, that I'm going to let that monster be responsible for another drop of Maribel blood, then you brainless morons better shoot me now."

Lilith's eyes didn't waver in the slightest as they bored into the soldier's. The image of Pixie's dead eye flashing in her mind. "Because I will kill you all, a thousand times over, before I let him touch anyone else I care for."

Whatever Elizabeth had caught was infectious, it seemed. Maria could only watch with gritted teeth as the Maiden made her stand.

'You're going to get shot, saying things like that.'

Maria looked down and lightly slapped Elizabeth's cheek, "Any chance of you waking up, huh?"

Elizabeth groaned, "My head... ow." Slowly, she opened her eyes. She was dazed, but conscious.

Mila was taken aback. Just what in the hell was this girl on about?

Fuck this!

Just as Mila was getting ready to smack Lilith across the face with the stock of her rifle she heard the sound of a plasma weapon warming up some distance behind her.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Cranston warned, holding two plasma pistols in his hands. He was in rough shape. "Drop it."

The sound of a crawler's engine roared to life in the distance. Mila turned her head to face the old man and furrowed her brow, "I like hell, I will. Asad, I---" Mila's words died in her throat when she heard the rumbling of an engine coming for her. Her gaze darted to the left.

It was the kid.

"ASAD!" She shouted as the two of them jumped out of the way.

"Sorry I'm late!" Sprout jeered as he shifted into the passenger seat and started firing his weapon at the two soldiers. "GET IN!"

Maria grabbed Elizabeth's hand and began to drag the dazed noble to the crawler, "Time to go, c'mon!"

The doctor just bolted, not caring about the soldiers' presence - or poor Elizabeth for that matter.

Asad grabbed Mila, pulling her into cover. "No, leave them!" Asad gritted his teeth, as he shook his head. "We don't have enough men to deal with the Cook." His face dropped as the realisation washed over him.

"Oh no..." His gaze wavered. "I think I know what happened to Bryan and Jun."

Lilith hopped into the driver's seat as everyone else got in the back. "Everyone ready?! Let's get the fuck out of this dump!" Pounding her foot on the gas, the crawler took off, Sprout still firing his pistol at the hidden soldiers.

Running and getting herself and the noble into the crawler felt better than a thousand home runs. Especially as the fielders didn't seem to put up any opposition once the star player made his entrance.

"Yeah." Maria sighed, "I don't think I wanna come back here for a while."

Austin ran full pelt to the bow of the ship as his children were scrambling around him. They were under attack. He had left his wife in the room by herself while he attended to business. The children held hostage were shaking in their boots as the ship was rocked, while Alex and Isabel knew this was their moment to escape, if they weren't locked up so god damn tight.

Austin reached the girl who had been piloting the Maiden. "Fire on all approaching targets! We just took my home back I am not! WE ARE NOT! LOSING OUR HOMESTEAD AGAIN!"

"Father, we're spent on high calibre ammunition-"

"Then use whatever we have!" He roared. "I'm counting on you!"

"Yes father." She replied as she fired everything she had at the incoming crawlers down below. Austin sped back to the captain's cabin where Oliver had been sitting with Troy.

"Father what do we-"

"You. Quiet." Austin ordered as he grabbed for the intercom. "CHILDREN! OUR HOUR OF FIRE IS UPON US! We've held our home for a mere FIVE DAYS AND ALREADY THE PRETENDERS COME FOR US! This is not our first trial but it will NOT BE OUR LAST! WE WILL HOLD THIS CITY, AND THIS SHIP EVEN AFTER TIME HAS TIRED OF OUR BODIES! AND OUR SPIRITS SHALL LIVE AS ONE AND REIGN ALLMIGHTY FIRE DOWN UPON THOSE PATHETIC LIARS DOWN THERE! THOSE WHO DO NOT LIVE! WHO FAKE LIFE AND PRETEND TO LIVE!

We won't lose our home to them BECAUSE IT IS LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! WE CANNOT LOSE TO THOSE WHO DO NOT EXIST! WE CANNOT BE KILLED BY THOSE WHO DO NOT LIVE! WE CANNOT FALL AFTER HAVING RISEN SO HIGH! SO BEAR ARMS! FIGHT WITH YOUR VERY SOUL AND KNOW THAT AS YOU PROTECT EACH OTHER-I SHALL PROTECT YOU TOO! I FIGHT WITH YOU! FATHER WILL NOT ABANDON YOU! OUR FAMILY RISES EVEN HIGHER AFTER THE DAWN OF A NEW WAR!"

Austin smashed the microphone down onto the table before charging out of the cabin, revolver in hand. "Stay here Oliver! Troy is your charge!"

"Y-yyes father." Oliver replied, snivelling.
==================================================
Aesop couldn't hear a word Brock said as shame washed over him, filling him up and devouring him. So many kids who hadn't even hit puberty yet, still waiting for their balls to drop, and he'd made their last few seconds in this life terrifying. He was shaking, boiling hot as Brock screamed at him to get up, to just get up and help him fight as another group fell into the hanger after Pixie and the others had left.

Aesop sat there, feeling like the worst human being to have ever existed and clutched his beard, tears pouring down his cheeks while Brock worked to protect them both.

"You gonna just let him do all the work?"


Aesop looked up, colour fading from the room, near gunshots sounding thousands of miles away as he stared up at the figure in front of him.

"He's probably gonna die if you don't get off your ass."

Aesop gulped as he looked upon his face. Cheeks smeared with blood, beard hanging with bits of gore, a chipper smile on his face and speaking like a schoolboy. "And if you don't fight now, you'll never get to Peter." The shaking was getting worse as he saw the deranged face. "C'mon you weren't this much of a pussy back at Boomhower. Well, you were but at least Rodrigo got fucking got."

'Yeah... but that was you, not me.' He finally answered the phantom before him.

"HA! Yeah it was wasn't it," it laughed, "I forget sometimes I'm the useful one."

'How could you?' Aesop asked so weakly. 'Its so obvious'

"I know. And you can't do shit, you can't even fucking help Brock! That's fucking shameful!" It was getting aggressive now, the blood falling down its face and slipping onto Aesop's hands.

'Just like Silo.' Aesop sniffed pathetically.

"Just like Silo." It snarled at him. "But this time can be different. I'm here now Aesop. I'm here for you." Aesop felt soft, warm hands on his. "I'll take care of you."

His jaw chattering, Aesop answered, 'Will you? Will you please?'

"Of course I will. I always will." It embraced him. Aesop hugged it tightly, holding on for dear life. It was going to protect him. It was going to save him. It was going to become him. Aesop would finally rest and let the beast take hold once again, feeling all his anxiety, fear and most of all shame slip away. Being replaced by hunger, the hunger that had charged him when he murdered Rodrigo, carved out his chest cavity and spat on his worthless black heart, as he laughed at his horrific pained screams and taunted him as he died, and just like that, he was hungry once more.

Brock had been holding fine cover from the influx of teenagers who had swarmed in. He ducked down into cover to reload, yet by the time he was back up to fire upon his enemy two had already gone down while the third had a knife buried in her throat. Aesop kicked the girl at her comrades before unloading two more pistols into the group. Brock swiftly eliminated the rest of the group, now flanked by Aesop.

Not taking a second to think, Aesop pulled his knife out of the throat of the girl before nodding to Brock. "He'll be in the bow."

Brock was dumbfounded. Aesop had gone from a screaming messy killer, to a distant child, to a silent psycho in the space of about ten minutes. "Uhm, you mean Austin?"

"Yep." Aesop answered quickly before picking up a strapped AK one of the children had dropped, resting the strap over his shoulders.

"Man shouldn't we catch up to the rest of 'em-"

"Austin's mine, and you can join if you want." Aesop strode on ahead while Brock gripped his gun tight in frustration.

"God dammit Aesop, God fucking dammit Aesop." He muttered under his breath as he caught up to the disturbed man.

"If you were a local caught in this freaky invasion, where would you hide?"

"I might know a few places." Amy said "Oh, and let's start by differentiating between people who are shooting at us, and people who aren't, and then work from there."

They had only been walking a few minutes before they first encountered the enemy. Coming out the end of a street into a now wrecked market square, the groups was forced to dive into cover behind a concrete fountain, as two Crawlers came screaming down the street to the North, skidding to a halt as they burst out into the square, the young men inside disembarking and fanning out, rifles scanning the landscape. Luckily, they hand't been spotted yet.

"There's five of them." Amy whispered, after peeking over the top of there cover. "Should we engage, or sneak past them?"

"I heard one of you was a close combat specialist. I take it he wasn't it."

Bryan shrugged. "I always told him he's only effective half a mile away from his target."

"Your move."

"Alright," he said, lowering his stance, swaying on the balls of his feet. "Step away from the autistic sniper."

Cranston allowed himself a tiny smirk before he suddenly closed the gap between them. Sliding his leg between Bryan's, he delivered an open palm blow to his abdomen.

He didn't have time to trade one-liners.

Bryan skipped back to avoid the old man's attempt at a trip. Then he brought his foot down on Cranston's, hard, following up with a body blow.

The old man grit his teeth as Bryan's heel dug into his foot and rolled with the follow up blow. Swaying to the side, Cranston trapped Bryan's wrist under his armpit and grabbed the opposite shoulder with his freehand before delivering a savage headbutt to Bryan's nose. He could feel the cartilage in the Irishman's nose splinter before he withdrew his head.

Bryan reeled at the blow, before slugging Cranston hard in his exposed armpit.

He needed to do the last thing he would expect...

He grabbed the back of the old man's head and responded in kind. There was another crunch. His trapped wrist slipped free.

The two men staggered away from one another, Cranston still on the side where the weapons lay. His face hurt like hell, but he'd shake it off. It was not as if he hadn't had it broken a half-dozen times already, anyway.

Bracing himself against the brick wall, he wiped the blood from his nose and chuckled, "Now I am beginning to hope you are the expert. I don't imagine many of Dio's soldiers can keep up with me like this."

"Technically I am," Bryan said, grinning through the blood. "And I'm even better when I have my fucking swords. But I still tell anyone who asks I'm deadly afraid o' Tsubaki." His smile dropped. "Speaking o' which: you'd be the fucken cunt money that shot her, wouldn't ya?"

He nodded, "The Yakuza's girl? Yeah, I shot her. Did she live?"

"Oh aye," said Bryan. No more talk.

Sprinting at Cranston, Bryan ducked under his arm at the last second, passing by him and and whirling round in a savage round house kick.

Cranston spun around just in time to catch Bryan's leg mid-kick. Using his own momentum against him, the old assassin swung his body around, slamming Bryan's chest against the brick wall of the alley.

Bryan staggered back, winded. He saw his swords out of the corner of his eye. They were close. He considered going for them.

The look in his opponent's eye told him Cranston wouldn't exactly allow that.

When Cranston came at him again, Bryan backpedaled, swatting the blows aside. When he had the room, he pumped his arms down like bellows and brought his leg up in a savage kick, catching the bandit hard in the gut.

Good hit, but his swords were once again far away...

"I don't smoke. Karmically speaking, my chest don't deserve this abuse," Bryan muttered.

Cranston stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over the unconscious sniper before catching himself on the wall. Looking down at the sword and pistol on the ground, he clenched his jaw. No doubt his opponent still had his own sidearm available and the space between them was far enough that he may have the time to draw on him.

He stared into the soldier's eyes. Despite his CO's survival, he was pissed. He wanted the old man to suffer. Though it would have been nice, both of them knew this couldn't be a fair fight. If there was a clear chance of victory, they'd both take it, "How fast is your draw, son?"

"I'm CQC," Bryan spat. "But on this distance? Reasonable." His hand crept towards the gun. "Shame, though. I kinda wanted to see if I could take The Cook in a fist fight."

The chit chat may have made him seem distracted, but Bryan was focused like a laser, waiting for Cranston's move.

He was going to do it. Cranston had two choices: dive for his own weapon or charge him. Both came with their own risks. Considering Bryan's hand-to-hand expertise, chraging him likely wasn't the way to go, "It was a good fight, for whatever it's worth."

Diving forward, Cranston scooped up his pistol, rolled and fired.

Bryan hadn't been lying. He was quick on the draw. But the old man was just fucking quick in general.

His first shot hit air as Cranston moved. Then the bandit had his gun and their shots rang in unison. Bryan felt an explosion of pain that he was acutely aware was just above the top of his Kevlar vest. He was sailing backwards now, the ground rising up to meet him. As his back met concrete and the wind flew out of him for the fourth or fifth time that day, he was at least glad to note a blossom of red on Cranston's leg.

He grinned and raised the gun again. But the movement caused him to light up with agony. A groan emerged from his lips and the gun spilled out of his hand.

The pain was incredible. So immense, his vision was blurring. He slumped back.

"Story to tell m'grand kids," he muttered. Bryan noted vaguely through the pain that warm wetness was seeping down his chest and pooling around his back.

Cranston clutched his thigh and grit his teeth. Despite the pain, he kept his weapon trained on his enemy until he was certain he'd stay down. Drawing his knife, he cut a large piece of fabric out of his pants leg and wrapped it around the other to stop the bleeding as best he could.

It would have to do for now.

After looting the sniper's plasma pistol, he got to his feet slowly. Wincing through the pain, he caught Bryan's eyes a mere moment before the irishman had lost consciousness. He motioned towards Bryan's crippled form, "Tell the Yakuza girl, 'This is my apology.'"

Getting too fucking soft, old man.

With that, he turned and headed back down alley. He could hear Lilith shouting in the distance. As he turned out onto the street he ran into a small group of guards rushing towards the South gate. Before they even knew he was there, the crippled senior blew the three of them away with Jun's plasma pistol.

After taking a second weapon in his hand, he started for the gate.

Bennie couldn't help but wince when he took in Pixie's demeanor. Never before had he been shaken by her behavior in combat, no matter how seemingly unhinged she'd appeared. No, she was acting anything but "unhinged", and that' what had him concerned. Just what was going on in her head right now?

Fuck, Bennie, you know you don't want to go there. Just focus on keeping her alive.

Well, whatever was going through her head, it was effective. The suppressing fire keeping Bennie and Warren hunkered down had letup in the wake of Pixie's onslaught, allowing them to move deeper into the mess hall and find better cover. So many cultists had already been cut down and for every one they killed two more took their place. Where were they all coming from? After a few minutes of consistent fire, they were beginning to lose ground. That was of course, until backup arrived.

Aesop and Brock had finally decided to join the party and brought with them a grand entrance. As Aesop flew into the room, guns-blazing, Brock knelt down in the doorway and fired his last RPG across the room, taking out a small group of cultists and scattering many others nearby, "FUCK YEAH!" Pixie jeered. "WELCOME BACK, KIDS! WE SAVED Y'ALL A SEAT!" She shouted over the gunfire as she waved them over.

Seconds later, Bradly's voice came up over the radio, "--zzzzttt----P-Pixie, this is Bradly! Do you copy!?----zzzztttt-----"

"LIL' BUSY RIGHT NOW!" She barked back before leaning out of cover and lighting up a fifteen-year old across the room.

"---zzzzttttt-----We got pushed down below deck! We're pinned!----zzzttt----

Fuckin' useless piece of shit...

"I'M SENDIN' SOMEONE DOWN! OVER!" Ducking low in her cover as bullets continued to whiz by, she looked over at Bennie. "THAT MAFIA FUCK OPENED UP AR' FLANK! YOU IN' BROCK HEAD DOWN THERE AN' GIVE 'EM A HAND!"

Bennie furrowed his brow, "BUT---"

"DO IT, CARMINE!" She shot back before grabbing the key-chain off of her belt and tossing it over to him. "MASTER KEY'S ON THERE! LET'S HOPE THEY DIDN' CHANGE NONE'A THE LOCKS! NOW GO!"

"ROGER!" Bennie replied before signaling for the Brock to follow.

Stay safe, Pixie.

The remaining three Maidens laid down coverfire for Bennie and Brock as they slipped out of the cafeteria and into the hallway Bradly's men had been fighting their way through. As Pixie had predicted, there were more of Austin's followers headed their way. Not expecting enemies to be coming for them, Bennie and Brock made quick work of the small group before making their way down the stairs bellow deck.

And there they were, six cultists gathered around a door at the end of the hall, likely the ones keeping Bradly and his men pinned down in the conjoining hall. Brock pulled a flashbang from his vest and hurled it down the hall. Before the cultists could react, the canister burst, incapacitating them just long enough for Bennie and Brock to shred them to pieces. The two Maidens ran down the hall and stood over the corpses of Austin's "children" as they took up positions by the door, "Bradly, is that you!?" Bennie shouted.

"No, we got split up!"

It was a gruff, older voice, but he had to be sure, "'Austin likes it...'"

"In the ass!" The voice replied.

They were Wilkes-Vines, alright. Bennie nodded to Brock before the two of them filed into the conjoining hall. There was two of them, "What's your status?"

A man in his 40's began reloading his rifle as he looked to Bennie, "We got pushed down here. Austin's got a lot of soldiers on this ship, but I reckon we've cut through the bulk of them at this rate. Bradly made it back up on to the main deck and should be securing the port-side. We've been ordered to clear out any stragglers down here so they can't sneak up on us later. It's a big ship."

"Yeah," Bennie muttered. "Tell me about it."

"Check this out," The other man waved him and Brock over, "A bunch of 'em are hiding out in holding cells down here. You have a way to get in?" Bennie handed the man Pixie's keychain. "Thanks. Get ready."

As he began working the lock, Bennie peeked through the slit of the door. It was hard to make out, but it looked like a bunch of younger children were huddled up together in the back of the small room. Were these actually combatants? "Wait!" Bennie shouted. Unfortunately, the man had already gotten the door opened and had leveled his rifle. "SHIT!" Bennie barked as shoved the man aside and slammed the door shut before he could fire. He didn't get a very good look in that brief instant, but the children inside certainly didn't look threatening.

Or armed.

"What the fuck are you doing!?" The man shouted as he shoved Bennie. "We have our orders! They feign innocence so that they can get the jump on their victims! You know that! Now step the fuck off and let me do my job!"

Bennie planted his hand against the door, "Absolutely not. Stand down before I put you down!" Brock kept his rifle ready, just in case shit went down. Bennie was pissed. "Those kids could be from Yuteni! They could be prisoners!"

The Wilkes-Vines soldier wasn't having it, "Listen, I know it's fucked up, but we have our orders! Okay!? I don't like it either, but we have to neutralize all potential threats before we can safely secure the ship! Now step back!"

Bennie was fuming. After staring down the man for a good long while, he released the door and stepped back, "Good boy." The older man said as he got ready to shoot as soon as his partner opened the door. Brock shot a look at Bennie. What was he going to do? Surely he wouldn't---

Two gunshots later and Bennie was standing over the fresh corpses of the mercenaries, the barrel of his revolver still smoking, "Wilkes Vines," He spat on the younger man's body. "Fucking animals."

"B-Bennie..." Brock was stunned.

"Tell these kids to stay hidden and stay quite until the shooting stops," He sighed, sharply. "I am going to release more prisoners."

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

The briefing room was empty by the time Tsubaki had made it back from Dio's penthouse. Either she had taken longer than she thought or something was going down. Right now.

Dashing down the hall, she found her way to Mission Control. One of the officers recognized her instantly and waved her over, "What's going on?" Tsubaki questioned as she was brought over to the officer's station.

"Chimera squad intercepted Sandringham's crew and neutralized them. But..." He trailed off a moment and broke eye contact momentarily. "'The Cook' is MIA and Samsara is not responding."

Oh, God...

"Should we engage, or sneak past them?"

Ruffles peered over at the people in question. None of them were actual children. He was glad of that much. "I don't see refugees riding around in Crawlers. And one of 'em looks like it's off the Maiden. Guess they're hostiles."

He turned to Whiskey. "You're the best fighter, I guess. We can take 'em, right?"

Whiskey shrugged. "I reckon so. I hear you been with Pixie awhile, so you can't be useless. And I've seen what this one does first hand." She jerked a thumb at Amy. "Reckon we might wanna even the odds and get the jump on 'em first."

"Oh, I've got that covered," said Ruffles, opening his bag and producing a flash-bang grenade.

"Sweet. Chuck that sucker and let's mow some bitches down." Whiskey slung The Persuader around into her grip as she spoke.

Ruffles pulled the tab, stepped out and threw the grenade. Fingers in ears, eyes closed. Bang. They stepped out, firing.

Whiskey fired. Pumped and fired again. Two went down. The first was practically decapitated by the cloud of buckshot that caught him in the throat. The second man's chest was minced by the blast. Ruffles had drawn his glock and started firing. The first shot went wide, but four more found their way to one of the 'children,' riddling him up the side.

When the flash-bang detonated, Amy wasted no time. She broke cover, took aim at one of the men staggering about in the open, paused one breath, and then calmly squeezed the trigger. Her short burst painted a tight group of bullet holes on his back, tearing through his rib cage and sending him down sprawling. She was about to repeat the process for the last man standing, only that one had the quick thinking (or the luck) to turn and spray fire from his AK-47 down range as he scrambled for cover behind one of the crawlers, forcing Amy to duck backing into cover as chunks of concrete exploded into dust around her. The man's barrage stopped, and Amy was on the move. Vaulting over the rim of the fountain, Amy advanced on the crawler the ma had hidden behind for cover, suppressing him with bursts from her machine gun all the way. A tyre burst, ad by the time she reached it, one corner of the crawler was severely scarred and pock-marked with bullet holes.

With his awareness slowly returning to him, Austin's soldier fumbled a fresh magazine into his assault rifle, and hurriedly fed a fresh round into the chamber. He was still a dazed, but when he heard the tell-tale clack of the Pretender's gun running empty, he knew he had a window of opportunity. He stepped out, ready to pour lead into the girl from point blank range. However, as he brought his rifle up, she was already on him, and the cold metal of the silencer on her side-arm, pressing right under his chin, was the last thing he ever felt. The bullet exited the top of his skull in a puff of red mist, and his body dropped like a sack of flour.

Their small skirmish over, Amy took a second to study the corpse she'd just made, as she holstered her pistol again, and reloaded the MP5. Judging by the peach fuzz on his cheeks, he could have been around her age, maybe even slightly younger.

It felt... anti-climactic.

"Help me shift this." she said to the others as she moved over to a man-hole cover, and began lifting it off. "If anyone friendly has managed to last this long without being killed or captured, chances are they're down here. The cops in Yuteni could never keep track of all the movement down in the sewers, after a few days I doubt Austin's troops have fared much better."

Amy paused, staring down the gaping hole, her face hard to read.

"I did a lot of my first business down there, away from prying eyes. It's been a few years, but I reckon I still know my way around."

"RUN FATHER, FOR TODAY WE DANCE THE SONG OF DEATH! I WANT TO SEE HOW FAR YOU CAN CRAWL BEFORE YOU'RE FINISHED!"

'Fuck, shit, shit, fuck!'

Think escape, serpentine it, dodge and weave. They were upstairs, that was clear now. The adrenaline was kicking in and his poor excuse for vision at the moment was clearing up and the neglected hotel halls came into focus.

'Stairs!' He found stairs! No idea where they lead but anywhere was better than a bottleneck. Florian practically threw himself down them as he went down two or three steps at a time, keeping a frantic eye out for Severa's shadow across the cracked walls.

The Gentleman was making his way brusquely through the hallways, following the sound of Severa's demented cackling, when Florian's emaciated, semi-clothed form almost bowled him over, coming down the stairs. Shifting his weight, The Gentleman swung Florian against the wall behind him, keeping a firm grip on the priest's shoulders, before giving him the once over.

"Good, you can still walk." he said, by way of greeting, before pointing further down the hall. "The exit's that way. If you can manage on your own for a few minutes, I'll deal with Severa."

Severa continued after Florian, quickening her pace as he turned the corner at the end of the hall. She fired a burst of high-velocity, armor piercing rounds at the floor and wall near where he had just been, "FORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED! IN MY HUBRIS I HAVE ALLOWED YOU TO SLIP AWAY! I MUST BE PUNISHED FOR MY SINS! PUNISH ME, FATHER! PUNISH ME!" She could hear voices echoing from the stairwell nearby.

Florian hugged the wall even tighter as the unmistakable sound of high caliber bullets ravaging the world around them split his ears. At least for now he'd gotten lucky, falling into the arms of the lesser of two evils. He just had to make it to solid cover once there was an opening.

There was nothing for it, The Gentleman just had to roll his eyes.

"You know," he called out, stepping out from the stairwell and around the corner, his gun trained squarely at Severa. "It's hard to see where the machine gun exactly fits into the submissive element. I'd rather resolve this without any... punishment, as you put it. However, put Miranda away, and I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangement."

Severa's manic expression wavered as a derranged scowl set in, "YOU! WHERE'S OWAIN!? WHERE'S MY BROTHER!" Despite her questioning, Severa squeezed the trigger, filling the space the Gentleman had just occupied with a hail of lead. As the illustrious spy scrambled across the hallway, Severa kept a steady stream of bullets hot on his heels. "RUN, LITTLE MAN! RUN! ONLY THE FATHER CAN PUNISH ME!"

"Is that right?" The Gentleman shot back, as clouds of dust and debris were kicked up down the hall. "And does the Father have a choice in this matter?"

Choosing his moment with care, The Gentleman broke from cover and fired two shots at the fire-extinguisher, still bolted to the wall just to Severa's right. In an instant, the space between them was filled with a thick, white cloud.

"I have your brother downstairs." The Gentleman called out through the smoke. "He may not be feeling his best, but, considering what he would have done to me had the tables been turned, I'd say he's still in remarkably good health. Your brother is mine, and Florian's gone. It's over Severa. Now, do you really want to do this the hard way, like your brother, or would you rather be returned to your aunt safe and well?"

"BROTHER IS MINE! GIVE HIM BACK!" She screeched as she staggered away from the fire extinguisher. Following the Gentleman's voice, Severa peppered the area with gunfire as she took position behind another nearby column. "HOW DARE YOU TOUCH HIM!" Wood and plaster rained down all around them as she continued to fill the room with lead.

"Oh, you'll be reunited soon enough," The Gentleman reassured her, evading Severa's wild bursts of fire easily thought the smoke. "and I don't intend on keeping either of you for any longer than I have to. If you could simply calm down, then this process would go a lot easier for both you and Owain."

Taking cover behind another pillar, The Gentleman affixed his monocle, and twisted the rim in two distinct movements. In an instant, half of his vision became monochrome, the texture of the smoke that fogged the hallway disappearing. Right at the centre of the cloud, Severa's silhouette burned a sharp white, surrounded by a haze of heat as she continued to waste more and more of Miranda's ammunition in just about every direction.

"While we're on the subject though," he continued, creeping delicately out of cover and through the smoke, "We haven't even scratched the surface of what I dare do yet." Anticipating, The Gentleman ducked and rolled as Severa let loose another barrage in a wide arc at the sound of his voice. "The pair of you, though you especially my dear, may be... extreme cases, I'm sorry to say that your story really isn't all that original or interesting. As some of my infrequent companions are fond of reminding me, I have, as you might say 'been around'. For your sake, Severa, I would implore that for once you do not let the trappings of sophistication fool you. I have been to places you will never know, experienced pains that even you would not enjoy. I have opened up the cavity of this world, pulled apart its ribs with bare, bloody hands, and seen its black heart stripped bare."

The tone of The Gentleman's voice had barely changed, and the manner of his description could have just simply been recanting his experiences of a relaxing weekend away, for all its airiness. However, there was some undercurrent, some menace that could not be fully pinned down, that creeped around its edges, giving even Severa pause for thought.

"You think you know a thing or two about revealing the true souls of men, of tapping into that nigh-infinite potential for darkness?"

He was so very close now. His breath could almost be felt brushing against Severa's neck, but no matter how much she twisted, this way and that, the barrel of Miranda would be met only with empty air. He was toying with her.

"My dear," his voice was tainted with something that might have been pity, "you have so very much to learn."

A shade appeared through the mist, and was inside Severa's reach before she could react. The Gentleman breezed past a final short burst from Miranda, locking her arm against him and delivering strikes to the pressure points in Severa's elbow joint and shoulder, following up with an open-handed strike to her abdomen, that propelled her back, slumped against the wall, as Miranda clattered to the ground at The Gentleman's feet. The smoke dissipating now, The Gentleman removed his monocle, and aimed his pistol just to the side of Severa's head, at the bare metal pipe she had fallen against.

"We're playing my game now Severa." he told her, coldly. "This is not Paradiso, and I am not inclined to indulge the Black Sheep of the Golden Family. Listen and understand; I make the rules, I hold the cards, and most importantly, I am the one who decides when the game ends. Now, stand down and come quietly, before I teach you a lesson that you will learn again and again, each time you look in a mirror."

Severa's wild eyes quivered as they bore into the Gentleman's. She had been disarmed and her foe had a weapon trained on her at close range. She had no hope of winning this fight and she knew it.

But she couldn't accept it.

"Don't you DARE talk down to me! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT! I'LL CUT YOUR EYES OUT OF YOUR SKULL, YOU MULING SWINE!" Wailing like a banshee, she sprung forward, drawing her hidden scalple from inside her garter before lashing out in a last ditch effort to take down her enemy.

'Stupid girl!

Wasting no time, The Gentleman took his shot, firing a rapid double-tap as Severa sprang to her feet. The first bullet hit just under the ball of her shoulder joint, passing though the soft tissue with ease at such close range, before going on to punch a hole though the pipe, which hissed angrily as gases from the boiler began to escape. Staggered by the first hit, but still moving forward, the second grazed under her armpit, before sparking off the metal of the pipe, turning the wavering gasses into a lance of flame in an instant.

Still, Severa lunched forward, and The Gentleman shifted out of the way just a fraction too late, her blade drawing a white-hot line across his cheek. Nothing too deep, but still a close call. Such trifles were beside the point, however, as The Gentleman, anticipating the much greater danger that was soon to follow, threw himself bodily to the side. Severa, on the other hand, either did not notice, or simply did not care, until the ignition of the pipe accelerated into an explosion, filling their portion of the hallway with flame. Were it not for her momentum, combined with the shockwave, propelling her body out from the blast, Severa could very well have been wreathed in fire in an instant. As it was, she fell unceremoniously, and face-down, the back of her clothes smouldering from where the fire had licked at them. Reacting immediately, The Gentleman got to his feet, and dragged her prone form clear of the spreading flames, before removing his jacket and using it to stifle where her clothing had ignited. Even in such extremes, he was not called The Gentleman for nothing.

She was still, as of this moment, conscious, but clearly incapacitated all the same, And so The Gentleman heaved her limp form onto his back, carrying her with haste back down the hallway to the stairwell. He'd pick up Owain too, on the way out, though he might need to enlist Florian to give him a hand. One way or another, it was time to leave.

Severa's desperate shrieks died down as she began to lose consciousness. Disoriented from the excruciating pain, she hadn't even registered she was being carried. The Gentleman ignored her unintelligable mumbling and was only able to understand her when she caught a glimpse of Florian. Though her pained expression implied otherwise, her trembling voice sounded almost... grateful, "F-f-father, I-I-I'm... I'm s-so proud of you. Y-y-ou're the only one wh-who has ever survived. I-I'm proud of y-you..."

As her mind faded into the realm of dreams, she wore a weak smile, "I-I-I love y-y-you, Florian..."

"I did a lot of my first business down there, away from prying eyes. It's been a few years, but I reckon I still know my way around."

"Prostitution, sewers and morally grey espionage," said Ruffles, grinning. "There's a joke to be made outta those pieces somewhere." He glanced down the dark hole in the ground. "Ladies first."

"Oh please," said Whiskey with a snort, and began shoving Ruffles in the back. "Get your ass down there."

"Aw please don' hurt, me, massah!" replied Ruffles as he took hold of the first ladder rung. "Don' be whippin' ol' Jake. I goan do what'chu say now!"

With Lilith on the wheel and Sprout sitting shotgun, Cranston hopped into the back with Maria and Elizabeth. Standing up in his seat, Cranston kept the pressure on the two Basilio soldiers with his pistols and barked at Lilith, "LET'S MOVE!" Before Cranston's words had left his mouth, Lilith had already spun the wheel a propelled them in the direction of the exposed gate.

"OH SHIT! WE'VE GOT INCOMIN'!" Sprout replied as he pointed further up the street. Another crawler full of soldiers was barreling towards them.

"Keep your heads down ladies!" Lilith shouted as she took the crawler through the gate, "How are we gonna lose these guys?!" Lilith called out as they thundered past the crawler of soldiers.

Asad held himself against Mila as he pushed the both of them tighter against the wall covering them. Hot plasma seering past them.

"Cosy huh?" The man chuckled.

Mila ignored his poor attempt at humor and shouted at the crawler headed towards them, "ALIVE! TAKE THEM ALIVE!" As they sped on by Mila got up from behind the cover and started running towards the gate. "COME ON!" She shouted back at Asad.

Though they had a fair distance between them, Cranston and Sprout started firing down the tunnel towards their pursuers, "Shit." Cranston muttered. Even if they did manage to lose this crew they'd still have to contend with anyone else they sent after them. Out in the endless expanse of the ashlands, a Basilio ship could easily find them. In that case, they'd be sitting ducks.

Their chances of getting out of this were slim, at best.

Elizabeth clutched the door of the crawler as her awareness slowly returned to her, "Wh-what's going on...?"

Maria gritted her teeth, it wasn't over yet. The taste of freedom was intoxicating, however the ever lingering fear of the hunted tempted her. The doctor turned to Elizabeth, "We've picked up Baldy and have just gone through the gate. Basilio's men are still chasing us, though."

"Welcome back!" Lilith looked back at Elizabeth briefly before returning her eyes to the road. "Glad you could join us!" The woman smirked as she focused on keeping the crawler straight, her foot couldn't push the gas any harder. "Goddamn it Tigerman, you're a mad woman!"

Asad caught to Mila, jogging beside her. "We can't catch them on foot Mila!" Asad shook his head. "We need to go find O'Lafferty and Moon, they're still not answering their radios." He clenched his jaw. "We need to recover their bodies." The man muttered, his eyes softening slightly.

'Of course it happened under my command, that's just my luck.'

Mila did not slow her pace, "I AM NOT GIVING UP ON THIS OP!" She didn't so much as look back at her temporary CO.

You'll just get in the way at this point, anyway.

Cranston and Sprouts' shots kept the enemy crawler on its toes, but it didn't lose any ground. Then suddenly, the soldiers began to return fire, "STAY LOW!" Cranston ordered as he attempted to suppress them further.

We have Elizabeth with us, why are they---

It didn't take but a moment for Cranston to figure out what it was they were aiming for. Risky business, but they seemed desperate now, "Lilith! Watch out! They're shooting for the tires!"

"That's an order." Asad's expression hardened. "We're not going to catch them on foot, and I don't see any crawlers around here, do you?" He gestured to the empty road to prove his point.

"We're done here, Mila, I'm going to go get my men, and you're coming with me."

Lilith gritted her teeth as she began to swerve the crawler in an attempt to dodge the incoming barrage. "They do know Liz is on board right?!" The woman cried.

"Enough about that, how exactly do we lose these idiots?!" Maria said. Being shot at or not being shot at, the fact that they had soldiers on their trail was the primary concern. Schematics could wait for later.

"They're probably pissed off 'bout their dead friends!" Sprout replied as he continued laying down fire on the incoming crawler. His plasma pistol was about to run out of juice. "The only way I reckon we lose 'em is by taken 'em out!"

Cranston grit his teeth, "Keep her steady..."

"SCREW YOUR ORDERS! I'M GOING TO MAKE SURE THESE ROOKIES DON'T KILL OUR NOBLE!" Mila shouted as she disappeared into the tunnel.

Elizabeth clutched the window frame and ducked her head low.

This is just like before. Oh God, it's just like before.

Looking to Maria, she furrowed her brow, "Maria, I---" Her plea was interrupted when one of the back tires of the crawler suddenly burst. Lilith fought to keep the vehicle under control, but the back end swerved to the right, slamming hard against the wall of the tunnel before correcting. The impact from the collision threw Elizabeth out of her seat and over the side of the crawler. She crashed hard on her shoulder and rolled a few times before coming to a stop.

"LIZ!" Sprout shouted as he fought not to fall out himself. "LILITH, STOP THE---"

"NO!" Cranston barked, "DON'T STOP!" The gunfire had let up and they had lost a significant amount of speed due to the collision. They weren't too far from Elizabeth yet. He could still...

I'm sorry, Meredith.

Cranston looked at Lilith and Sprout from over his shoulder. "DON"T STOP FOR ANY REASON!"

Sprout's eyes widened, "WAIT, DON'T---"

"KEEP EACH OTHER SAFE!" He stepped up onto the back of the crawler and added. "Good bye." Leaping off the back of the crawler, he dropped into a roll and started for Elizabeth's motionless form. As the enemy crawler closed in on them, Cranston lit it up with his plasma pistols. If he was lucky he could take them out and go into hiding with Elizabeth, assuming she was still alive. It was more likely, however, that he could at least hold them off long enough for the others to escape.

Sprout kicked the glove compartment in frustration, "GOD DAMMIT! FUCK!"

Asad stopped for a moment a moment, a defeated look on his face as his eyes followed the woman.

He was about to turn when Tsubaki's words echoed in his head.

Balling his hands into fists, he glanced behind him, clenching his jaw as he sprinted after the woman.

"We're stopping, Axel, get ready." Lilith panted as she began to slow the crawler.

Sprout almost didn't say anything. He wanted nothing more than to turn around and save his friends.

But he knew better.

"No," Sprout muttered, his voice weak. "You heard him, Lilith." He was staring down at his weapons. "If we go back now we won' be comin' back. We can'... fuck..." He choked up. "We can' let 'is sacrifice be in vain." He looked to his best friend. "I'm sorry, Lily. I can' let 'em take you too."

"WE ARE STOPPING!" Lilith snapped at the boy, her eyes wide with panic as she began to bring the crawler to a halt.

What did they all promise before? That they would all get out of Feroxi together. Maria punched her seat, the world had to stomp on that didn't it? And of course, Elizabeth had to say something before that whole mess happened. Cranston's sacrifice was just the icing on the cake. Maria didn't know whether to give in to anger and despair. Nevertheless, in the end, there were other choices. As much as she hated it, she took the choice and grabbed Lilith from behind, "We have to go! We have to go!"

Sprout turned his head and looked past Maria's shoulder. Cranston had gotten Elizabeth to her feet, though he couldn't tell if she was conscious or not from that distance. He'd dropped his second pistol to carry her off, but he was still firing with his main hand. The enemy crawler had stopped dead in its tracks, many of the soldiers within, already dead. Despite how formidable he was, Sprout very much doubted he'd make it out alone.

We could go back and... fuck...

No matter how he looked at it, they'd simply lost too much time. If they didn't leave now they'd be caught. Whether it was by the men in this tunnel or by a ship out in the ashlands. Cranston was giving them himself and Elizabeth. If they were lucky, that would be enough to call off any further pursuit.

What would Ma' do?

Clenching his jaw, Sprout grabbed Lilith's shoulder. There were tears in his eyes, "Lily, please! We have to go, NOW! I'm sorry, but there ain't no other way!"

"GET OFF ME!" Lilith struggled angily as she tried to pull herself from her seat, but Maria's grip was surprisngly strong. Her breathing quickened as she looked back at Cranston and Elizabeth. "WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS, WE HAVE TO GO HELP THEM NOW!" She shouted as she locked eyes with the boy, her expression more desperate than he had ever seen it.

"ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID?!" She roared at the boy as she continued to struggle against Maria's hold. "THEY ARE GOING TO KILL HIM!"

"AN' IF WE GO BACK THEY'RE GONNA KILL ME TOO, AN' MARIA AN-AN-AND YOU TOO, LILY!" Tears were pouring rolling his face. "I CAN' LET THEM TAKE YOU AWAY! I WON' LET THEM! NOW FUCKIN' GO! PLEASE, LILY! DRIVE!"

"Getting killed won't help them." Maria replied, "It's shitty - more than shitty even. I don't like it! It's fucking infuriating but we have to go."

Solemnly she added, "If you won't drive, I will."

Maybe it was just the doctor's opinion, but a quip about her left behind moped probably wasn't appropriate.

Lilith's eyes shifted once more to the scene behind them. The second crawler was much closer now, she could see the soldier occupying it. Her eyes lost focus for a second before her eyelids fluttered slightly.

"Let me go." The woman whispered as she gently placed her hands on the wheel of the crawler. Her head hanging low, she looked up at the boy. There were no tears in her eyes, but the look in her eyes was plain to see.

Maria wordlessly released her grip, collapsed back into the back seat and sighed.

"I'm sorry, Lily." It was hard to meet her gaze. "Go."

Remaining silent, Lilith's gaze fell downwards as she began to push on the gas pedal. As the crawler began moving, Lilith whimpered slightly before clenching her jaw and forcing her eyes onto the road ahead.

Sprout fought back the tears as best he could, wiping away all that remained with his sleeve. He had to be strong for Lilith. He couldn't cry. Not now.

It would be a long drive to Yuteni. He had to focus on that now. Focus on seeing his mother again.

He knew she wasn't not going to like the news they have to give her.

Alex writhed against her bonds, trying to wriggle her way out of the ropes that had held her for days as she heard war rage around the ship. She didn't care who it was she just needed to get the hell out of here and find her son, and if she could put a bullet in her ex too, but Peter was a secondary concern. Despite being the cause of all this chaos and misery, his death paled in comparison to saving her son and getting the hell out of here. At this point Yuteni could burn around her as long as Austin was safe.

Her son meanwhile curled up in his position inside of the closet. He was terrified. He had missed most of the fighting and yet now it was finding its way to him. He wanted his Mom, he needed her to save him from this, but she needed saving herself. The crazy man had whispered to him the past few days as if to comfort him, when it was indeed he who had put Austin in this situation. No Father would do this to his own son.

Isabel heard two gunshots near by, incredibly close by. She didn't know where she was in the ship, just that she had barely enough room to move around. She slammed on the door and screamed out for help, hoping that whoever was fighting out there would let her out of this closet, and give her a gun with enough bullets to make Austin's face impossible to identify, along with all the other lunatics who were older than her and yet were convinced they were indeed children.
=================================================
Faces were beginning to blur together and soon Aesop couldn't separate one from another. Thier screams were like the sweetest songs, but their faces didn't matter. They didn't matter. They were soon to have more holes in them than previously, did it really matter what the front of their heads looked like?

"You know his name is actually Peter Wayworth?" Aesop told Brock nonchalantly as he pulled his knife out of another victim.

"Really?" Brock asked as he checked his surroundings. "Sounds like a fucking bookworm."

"I know right!" Aesop chuckled and grinned, cleaning his knife as they ran off down the corridor, sounds of gunfire ahead catching their attention. "AWWW YEEAAAHHH HERE WE GO!" Sheathing his knife and pulling out another set of pistols, Aesop was ready to play.

'Four pistols left, AK and half a clip, and sir stabbington junior. This gon' be good.'

Aesop charged forwards firing pistols wildly as he flanked his enemy, Brock unloading a wonderful explosion upon even more. "WELCOME BACK, KIDS! WE SAVED Y'ALL A SEAT!" Aesop laughed and cackled as he brought down more 'children' on the other side of the room while he jumped atop a table. Aesop smiled ear to ear. "SORRY FOR THE HOLDUP! HAD A BIT OF A BITCH MOMENT!" Hopping off the table, playtime had begun.


Aesop had the perfect distance and the perfect timing to rush over to his enemies, botting some short ass in the face and sending him flying before turning his attention to the tall fuckers. The ones who didn't have their brains punctured by his lead were torn down by Pixie and Warren's assault, as he forced them out of cover. Brock's RPG had thankfully wittled them down but Aesop was happy to take care of the leftovers.

Those running in to fill in the gaps left by their dead brothers and sisters were met by the dangerous tactic Aesop had now adopted. Running out in the open stupidly and firing wildly. Were he fighting trained killers he would be a dead man. But he wasn't, he was fighting children. Aesop was screaming like a violent animal tearing apart his prey with no remorse as they fell to the ground. He didn't see who they were until they were already on the ground, and quite frankly he couldn't care less.

His pistols were spent after he cut down the youngsters and he decided to swing around his AK, only half a clip but it'd do the job. Some taller ones were approaching now but the stream of fire forced them into cover. Exactly what he needed, or rather just what he wanted. As a woman faced out to fire upon her aggressor, he had already slashed her throat before lunging at his next target. A kid with a shotgun who really didn't know how to handle the weapon. The knife was lunged in his throat and Aesop pulled the still standing body in front of him to bare as cover, the kid's kevlar vest thankfully stopping the bullets from ripping through his body and finding Aesop. He walked backwards and pulled the kid behind a knocked over table, his victim was gurgling and panicking too much to attack Aesop, he just wanted the bleeding to stop. Aesop didn't give him such a luxury and took out the knife just so he could sheath it once more, stealing the boy's shotgun and defending himself from the rest of the boy's group.

"ONE SHOT, TWO SHOTS, THREE SHOTS, FOUR!" Bodies fell by the bulk as buckshots ripped through them. "WHERE THE BIG KIDS AT!" Another shot. "COME ON!" Another. "I'M BORED PETER!" Another. "BRING OUT THE BIG'UNS!"

Little did Aesop know that the biggest guns on the maiden were heading their way. Austin running like a mad man to protect his childen with revolver in hand, and Heath carrying a grenade launcher he had aquired from the armoury.

How...?

Mila's paced slowed but for a moment as the second crawler sped by her. She was close enough now to see him. The Cook.

He truly was a force of nature.

"HOLD YOUR FIRE!" Mila screamed down the tunnel, but to no avail. One stray shot from one of those soldiers and their operation would be a failure. Ironically, part of Mila was glad Cranston was a literal god of war, otherwise he and Elizabeth would already have been dead. Instead, he'd killed an entire crawler full of soldiers and was already starting on his second. How long could he keep it up?

God dammit... I need to hurry...

Elizabeth was badly wounded. The old assassin was surprised she was still conscious, much less alive. It seemed she was made of sturdier stuff than he'd realized. Slung over his shoulder like a ragdoll, Cranston turned on his heel and headed down the tunnel towards a locked door that led into the structure of the dome's wall. Normally getting through such a well protected entrance would be close to impossible, but plasma had a way of eating through solid steel rather easily.

After blowing out the crawlers tire's, the second group lept out of their vehicle and took up defensive positions. If she'd been able to go for kill shots they'd have taken him down by now, but orders were orders, and despite how infuriated they must have been, they obeyed.

"Li-lilith....Wh-where...?" Elizabeth was struggling to regain her composure as she was slung around.

"They're okay, stay with me." Cranston muttered as he reached the door and fired three shots at the lock before kicking it open. It was a long shot, but if he could lose them in the wall...

As Asad caught up with Mila, she looked at the woman, his jaw clenched before he took in the Cook's handiwork.

"Jesus Christ" He muttered to himself. "This stories were true." His eyes widened slightly as he gripped his rifle.

Oh, so you decided to show up?

"Get a grip, Harel!" She picked up the pace. "We can't let them slip away now. He's wounded, he'll be moving slow! Just stay close and we can do this! We can..." She scowled. "Avenge our friends..."

"By getting yourself killed? Good plan!" Asad rolled his eyes. "We keep our distance and we tail him, if anything he's more dangerous now."

'Never corner a fox.'

"If we don't catch him now we won't get a second chance!" They continued down the tunnel until they'd reached the second crawler. The men who came in on it had already pursued their targets into the wall. She looked towards the door. "Are you ready?"

'God damn it Tsubaki, you sure can pick 'em'

"Go." Asad nodded and he brought his rifle to aim. "Stay on me and check your damn corners, whatever you do."

"Roger." She shot back without missing a beat. The two of them crossed the gap swiftly and took up positions by the door. When Mila looked in she cursed udner her breath. There were two bodies lying on the floor inside the room. She nodded to Asad and stepping inside, weapon at the ready. Examing the two corpses, she shook her head. "Follow the bodies?"

Without averting his gaze from the corridor in front of him, Asad kept moving. "What do you think, Lieutenant?" If they were going after the Cook, they were gonna do this properly. "We'll deal with the bodies later, stay focused."

Mila clenched her jaw.

You pick now of all times to man up?

"Roger." She followed Asad's lead as they made their way deeper into the outerwall of Feroxi's dome. Eventually, they happened upon another body. And then, another. What worried her more than anything else, was the silence. These men could not have been killed before she and Asad had entered the structure. They should have heard something. Anything!

What was he?

"Cranston, you're bleeding..." Elizabeth muttered as she struggled to look up at him. She couldn't stand, but she could at least turn her head. She was sitting on the ground, hidden as Cranston knelt over to hand her somthing. It was a pistol. "Wh---?"

"Use it if they corner you," He whispered. "There are a few more tailing us, but if we keep moving we'll only get cut off by another group. We need to make a stand here." He got to his feet and looked around the cramped room. "Stay hidden."

"But---"

"Listen to what I say."

"I-I-I'm so sorry... this is all my f-fault... I---" Cranston chuckled. "Wh-what is it?"

Cranston checked his weapons and shook off his stupid grin, "It's nothing. You just remind me of someone."

"Oh..."

Cranston met her gaze, "Stay alive."

"I will."

With that Cranston disappeared. Elizabeth huddled herself against the wall and out of view from the walkway. Whatever would happen to them, it would be decided here. And soon.

In all his years as a soldier, Asad had seen a lot of fucked up things, but this man, this Cook, he was a force of nature. "How does one man kill this many trained soldiers?" He muttered to himself as he kept moving.

His nerves weren't quite shot yet, but damn if they weren't close, and for the first time in a long while.

"He's not a man," Mila muttered. "It's best not to think of him that way. Underestimating something like him will surely get you killed."

No, he most certainly is NOT a man.

There was a few in this world that she knew of that fit that description. One in particular, that she was especially afraid of.

Good thing he... it, is on our side...

"Have I given you the impression that I'm underestimating him?" Asad snapped at the woman. "Now shut your damn mouth Lieutenant and stay focused."

The loss of O'Lafferty and Moon was starting to sink in.

"Goddamn son of a bitch."

"Me stay focused? What about you!?" Mila couldn't keep it bottled up anymore. "What do you think you're doing bringing that shit in here? Don't bullshit me, I can see it your eyes. You go up against the Cook thinking the way you are and you're as good as dead!"

"ENOUGH!" Asad roared turning to face the woman, his eyes furious as they bore into Mila. "I said. Enough." The man whispered sharply as he regained his composure.

"Get a fucking grip," She muttered as they crossed into the next room. She saw another corpse. The last man on the squad. "He got them all..." She looked to Asad. "I bet they were arguing just like---ASAD, BEHIND YOU!"

A hail of plasma fire came their way. Apparently the old man had set up an ambush in the room they'd already crossed through. They didn't even see him. "FUCK!" She screeched as a bolt of plasma grazed against Mila's leg. She tumbled onto her chest, not quite behind the cover she'd be scrambling for.

Asad swore as he leapt into cover, quick enough to avoid the incoming hail of plasma. "Shit!" He cried as he watched Mila's leg light up.

Thinking quickly, he grabbd the woman by the back of her uniform and quickly dragged her completely into cover. "Lieutenant! Are you okay?!" He stepped over her as he placed himself between her and the corridor.

"You idiot! Leave me!" Mila barked as she was dragged against her will, plasma bolts streaking right by the two of them.

Now.

Cranston pressed the attack while they retreated, crossing the gap between his hiding place and the doorway in seconds. In a flash he was between them, his plasma pistol levelled at Asad. He fired three shots.

"ASAD!"

Without thinking, Asad knocked the Cook's arm aside, sending the shots wide. Seeing is chance to press the advantage he stepped inside the old man's reach, delivering a swift punch to his gut.

Shit... too slow...

Cranston recoiled from the blow, but brough his freehand up to deflect the next. Seeing an opening, the old assassin slammed the grip of his pistol into the side of Asad's face and before Mila could blink, Cranston had his hand around his throat and his pistol pressed against the soldier's cheek. He could feel the weapon trained on his back, "What are you waiting for?" The old man groaned.

Mila's breath was ragged and the smell of charred flesh was making her sick to her stomach. She could shoot him. She could end this. But if she did... Asad would surely die.

God dammit.

"LET HIM GO!" She grit her teeth. Should wouldn't let her CO die, even if his leadership was only temperary.

The old man ignored her and continued to stare into Asad's eyes. He was making a good show of hiding it, but the seasoned veteran was surely afraid. Not of death per say, but of "The Cook" himself. Though, frankly, there wasn't much differentiating the two ideas at the moment, "Tell me, Samsara. What does the Good Lord have in store for Maribel?"

Despite the fear quickly raising in his throat, Asad kept his eyes locked on the Cook's.

He would get nowhere fast by lying, Asad wouldn't be surprised if the old man could read his thoughts.

"He was going to have her 'assassinated' at an event. You know, hearts and minds bullshit." The man clenched his jaw as he tried to keep his breathing slow. "That's not happening anymore, he plans on keeping her alive. For what purpose, I don't know."

Mila furrowed her brow, "What are you---!"

"Quiet!" Cranston snapped, his eyes narrowing as they bore into Asad's. "What are you made of, son? What do you fight for?"

Mila cocked an eyebrow. What was this senile fool on about? All he was doing now was being she and Asad time for their backup to arrive.

Furrowing his brow, Asad averted his gaze slightly.

What did he make of it? He had voiced his disapproval of the whole situation on several occasions, the only reason he hadn't walked out of Samsara was the change to bring the girl in alive.

Asad had never been an unquestioning soldier, and up until now that had never been a problem, but now something was happening, not just with Maribrel and Basilio, but the entire ashlands, something was stirring, and he couldn't help think the girl, the Maiden, Basilio, they all had major roles to play.

Locking eyes again with the Cook, Asad pursed his lips slightly. "I don't know."

Cranston didn't say anything at first, he simply searched the wary soldier's gaze. After a time, he sighed, "There is no escaping this." He laughed. "I've cheated death one too many time it seems." His expression softened. "I no longer have a choice. I'll leave her to you." He closed his eyes. "Don't let her share the fate of her sister. Don't let that monster devour her."

Before Asad was allowed an answer, Cranston removed the gun from his face and pointed it at his own head, "NO!" Mila shouted as she shot him square in the arm, burning a hole right through his elbow. He held back a scream as his weapon dropped helplessly to the floor and he grew weak in the knees. He still had some fight in him, however, Asad could see it. "ASAD! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?"

As soon as the gun fell from the old man's hand, Asad was on top of him. "HOLD YOUR FIRE LIEUTENANT!" He cried, wrapping his arm around the old man't throat. With his free hand, Asad grabbed the Cook's uninjured arm and quickly cut off the man's airway.

As the old man's breaths grew ragged, Asad clenched his jaw.

Cranston struggled as best he could to break free, but he was too injured. Too weak. How could he have been so stupid? Why had he been so slow? He should have blown his own head off the moment he spoke his final word.

As he faded into unconsciousness he had one final, passing thought.

Don't come for me...

"Good work." Though she was still injured, Mila picked herself up and hobbled deeper into the room, "I'll look for the noble. She couldn't gone far." Just as she was approaching the opposite end of the room she heard a faint cry coming from behind a series of pipes nearby. Curious, Mila came around the corner to check it out, her weapon ready just in case.

"GET AWAY FROM ME!" Elizabeth screamed as she fired her pistol at the intruder.

The bullet dug in across the side of her neck, centimeters away from her vitals. Despite that, blood began pouring out of her neck, "OW--FUCK!" Clutching her wound, Mila weaved under the next two shots and fell upon the young woman, delivering a savage punch to her face, breaking her nose. "CUNT! STAY DOWN!"

Placing the unconscious man on the ground, Asad quickly bound his hand and feet together, the smell of burning flesh making his nose twitch. They have to make sure the old man got treated for that, or he wouldn't last very long.

'I'll leave her to you'.

What did that even mean? Before Asad could think more on the matter, he heard shot rings out behind him.

"Shit!" Quickly pulling out his sidearm, the man hurried to the source of the disturbance.

Seeing Mila standing over the unconscious and bloodied Elizabeth Maribel, he let out an exasperated sigh. "Did you really have to mess up her face up?"

"She fucking shot me!" Crouching down, Mila let out an exasperated sigh before working to treat her injuries. Backup would be arriving any minute now. As Asad checked Elizabeth, Mila chuckled. "Fuck... that was a mess."

His expression unchanged, Asad looked up at the woman. Pausing for a moment before looking back down at the Maribel girl. "You did good, Lieutenant, thanks for saving my ass, I just kinda, I dunno, lost focus I guess?" After a second a swore to himself.

"Shit, should have asked him if Bryan and Jun were dead, damn it."

Reaching into his backpocket, he removed his handerchief and held it to the girl's bleeding nose.

"Yeah, well I am sure we'll find that out soon enough."

A short time later, backup arrived and the two soldiers were tended to. Cranston was secured in an armored vehicle with four guards watching him at all times while Elizabeth was taken to Basilio Tower unbound in an ambulance. Despite her protests, Mila was rushed to the tower as well to treat her severe burn and to patch up her neck.

Asad had been left alone at the south gate, awaiting Ortega's arrival. No one had told him what came of his comrads. Considering the chaotic situation they'd found themselves in, it didn't come as any surprise. He'd almost given up on Ortega's fabled arrival until he saw a crawler pull up with a familiar face behind the wheel.

It was Tsubaki.

After jumping out of the crawler she ran to his side and embraced him, "Oh, thank God!"

"Whoa there!" Asad chuckled, grabbing the woman's shoulder, he pushed her away slightly. "What's with all the touchy feely?" He smirked.

"I-I'm sorry," She braced herself on his shoulder and put her palm to her head. Thankfully no one had seen them. "I was... I was terrified, Asad. I should have been there."

"Yeah, well." Asad averted his eyes from the woman, his expression hardening. "A lot of people died. Probably a good thing you weren't there."

She furrowed her brow, "Well, despite everything you all managed to live. I can't say I could ask for much more than that."

"Wait what?!" Asad quickly looked down at the smaller woman. "You're shittin' me?!"

Tsubaki's small smile faded as she relayed what she had been told, "Jun's hands have been broken, but he should be okay. As for Bryan..." She broke eye contact. "He's in surgery right now. They said he should be okay, but he's in for a long recovery."

The man closed his eyes for a few seconds, running a hand through his hair before stopping halfway, holding his hand in place. "I thought they were dead, Tsu." His expression softened. "This is the best news."

"Shit, I can't believe no one told you." She sighed, "The situation in the city right now is FUBAR, so it isn't really a surprise. In any event, I need to get you back to base so you can debrief Lord Basilio. He'll want to hear about what happened."

"Me? Why me?" The man's relieved expression faded quickly. "He has the girl and the Cook, and the other Maidens managed to escape, there's his debrief." Clenching his jaw, he thought back to what the Cook had said.

"Don't let her share the fate of her sister. Don't let that monster devour her."

"On second thought, I will see him."

Tsubaki cocked and eyebrow and grinned, "It's not like you have a choice." That said, she led Asad to her crawler and got into the driver's seat. As they started for the tower a thought occured to Tsubaki. She glanced over to Asad. "I'll sit in on the debriefing with you. Do you want to... I don't know, come over afterwards? Have a drink? I figure you'd want to unwind after all of... this." She blushed and averted her gaze. "Uh-and, uh, if you want you can join me when I visit Jun and Bryan in the morning. After they wake up, that is."

Asad looked at the woman, an amused glint in his eye. Was it just him, or was she less... balls-busty? Crossing his arms over his chest, The man smirked slightly. "Have you replenished the liquor cabinet yet?"

Tsubaki embarrassment intensified, "We'll... figure it out..."

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

"I'm sure we will." Asad chuckled, noting the woman's embarassment.

After a few silent moments, Asad let out a long sigh, "At least I get to chew those two out now, maybe do some bragging." He looked at Tsubaki. "Although, I'm feeling a little nervous." He chuckled. "The cook takes out you, then Jun and Bryan." He put on a face of mock anxiousness "I'm next!"

Tsubaki searched his face. He had a nasty bruise on his jaw, "Looks like he got you good already."

Raising a hand to his face, he winced slightly as pain shot through his jaw."Totally counting this." He smiled weakly, before averting his eyes to the road.

"How's the girl?" he asked, after several silent moments.

Tsubaki shrugged, "I don't know. I didn't ask."

"She'll be fine, Milla gave her a good punch though." He smiled slightly.

"I did what you asked." He said after a few moments. "Although I think she took care of me more than I did her."

Tsubaki chuckled, "I don't doubt that. You did a good job, Asad. All of you did."

"Me more though, yeah?" He winked at the woman. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

"Don' be whippin' ol' Jake. I goan do what'chu say now!"

Amy didn't take part in the banter, but neither did she admonish Jake for it. If he needed to wisecrack to distract himself from what they were doing, Amy would let him, as adverse to humour as she was feeling right now.

Once they were all down the ladder, Amy took the lead, her nose not so much as wrinkling from the smell.

"Follow me." She told the others "And try to keep it down. There's not much room to scatter for cover down here. If we run into any of Austin's goons and they get the jump on us, we're dead."

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

The unconscious forms of Severa and Owain were thoroughly tied up and deposited together in the trunk of the Crawler, one of the many abandoned ones in this city at war that The Gentleman had been able to acquire without difficulty. While he wasn't taking any chances with these two any more, The Gentleman had at least given them both first aid, to ensure that their conditions would not deteriorate beyond what would be acceptable for the journey to Paradiso, and he supposed, at the very least, they could enjoy each-other's company on the way... for what time they would spend conscious.

Closing the lid, The Gentleman now turned to Florian, and took the time to examine him properly In the 'daylight' of Frostfall, he looked truly terrible. It was a wonder he was still on his feet.

"Are you... alright?" he asked "Relatively speaking, of course. I wouldn't want to ask a stupid question."

Austin had rushed forwards to his children while Heath sent grenade after grenade at the maidens. Aesop saw the grenade fly right over him from his cover ahead of the other maidens.

"PROTECT FA-" One of them shouted out, jumping out of cover before Austin threw him back against a wall for his own safety.

"TAKE CARE OF YOUR SELVES FIRST! WE PUSH THEM BACK AT ALL COSTS! NO MORE OF US DIE THIS DAY!"

That voice. That tone. That sense of demanding authority. He... he couldn't... he wouldn't! He didn't fight on the front lines with the kids, they were his barrier! He thought with the strong ones, why would he... why would he ever fight with the little kids? What the fuck was going on?

Aesop was on the verge of freezing up when Austin shouted out once more.

"THEY DON'T GET ANOTHER INCH OF MY SHIP!" Austin fired his powerful revolver, causing a massive dent into one of the metal walls.

'Your ship?'

"WE KILL THE FALSE PROPHET MAIDENS RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!"

'Your ship!'

"I AM THE FATHER OF THE ROCK! THE SAVIOUR! NOT YOU CHILD MURDERERS!"

"YOUR SHIP!"

Aesop flew out of cover and emptied the rest of the shotgun at Austin. Austin was forced back into cover as a buckshot flew past him. Another pretender trying to one up the metal man.

"YOUR SHIP!!!" Aesop unloaded shell after shell on the children who defied Austin's orders, desperately trying to protect him. Austin was forced to drag one of them back into cover when he saw the face of the pretender. Wild eyes, a bloodied face, a ridiculous beard. Austin could deal with him easily, but his children were in danger.

"PETER!!!"

Austin shuddered as that fake name was called out. He even let go of the grip he had on his child, leaving his son to run into the willing hands of Aesop who blew him to pieces. So few would ever call him by that name.

"PSYCHOTIC MOTHER FUCKER!" Aesop bashed the butt of the gun against an oncoming cultist's chin, swiftly blasting another before returning his attention to the first one, this time with his blade.

Even the voice, it had been so long and it sounded differently than he remembered, he was only a teenager when he last heard him. His skin may have looked the same, but it was too much of a leap to-No wait! He was a maiden! The Pixie had kidnapped and brainwashed him. She even had a detailed file on the boy.

Once done with that child, Aesop threw the empty shotgun in the face of the last one who was now charging at him. The gun missed but the kid had a pipe and swung wide for Aesop's hip. Aesop braced and brought his left arm down to catch it between his hip and his arm. It hurt but he could take it, he barely registered pain in the state he was in. He could have been bleeding out of his jugular and not have noticed. The kid on the other hand felt every second of agony when Aesop brought his knife from his right hand down in the flesh above the collarbone. Up and down and up and down and up and down, and thus the kid crumpled to the ground in pain before Aesop stomped on his neck over and over again.

"PETER!! PETER YOU COWARD BITCH COME OUT!"

He wasn't a pretender at all. Just a confused, scared boy. Twisted by the minds of the real pretenders into following their actions. He could be forgiven for killing his brothers and sisters, Alex had after all murdered some of her own children. But she was forgiven, and Austin wasn't about to lose his child, the very first of his children to believe.

"I'm here." The voice came softly as Austin stepped out. "I've missed you."

Aesop began panting like a rabid dog. He was standing right in front of him, but not like some kind of villain, like an old friend. Acting so casual. Where the hell did he get off acting like that!

"Your siblings will disagree, but I forgive you for these trespasses on our family."

Aesop's jaw literally dropped. How could he talk like this? Aesop expected-hell he wanted a big stupid villain speech. Why was he acting like this? This wasn't what Aesop had thought. What he had wanted. This was wrong, so wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong!

"We must get to safety Sillah, Heath is keeping those maidens in the mess hall busy, come with me quickly." He then turned and began running back the way he had came.

Running? RUNNING? Where was... why was he... was nothing he did consistent? Did any of his motives make sense? How could he so easily choose one stupid path then disregard it a second later? How mad was he?

'Does it fucking matter! Get him! Rip out his fucking vocal chords, cut open his brain if you wanna see what's inside!'

Yes. Yes that was right. The build-up might have been fucked up, but he could still finish the scene the way it was meant to play out. He'd defeat this barbaric bastard and make him scream for all the pain he had caused the rock, and Sillah. Howling like a banshee, Sillah charged forwards to chase the bastard down. He'd nail his heart above his bed as a trophy.

Austin however knew what he was doing and ran to the navigation room of the ship, getting a good look at his city before Aesop ran up behind him. "Remember when I took you for your fir-"

"SHUT YOU FUCKING MOUTH!" Aesop hadn't stopped until his was within reach of Austin. He swiped his blade at Austin's face, to which he ducked under surprisingly elegantly. Aesop swiped and jabbed at the man repeatedly, forcing him to back up against the wall, yet he dodged every attack. Sillah's mistake came in trying to gut the man too early. Austin side stepped and punched Sillah as hard as he could in his outstretched arm, making the knife go wide, before following up with an elbow to the forehead. Sillah didn't know how, but Austin seemed to have grown like a giant in his absence. He was much, much bigger, and hit a lot harder than when they were younger.

Sillah stumbled back but planted his foot back, regaining his footing swiftly, not wasting a second he swung his knife in an upward arc. Austin ducked again, but Aesop raised his leg high and kicked him hard in the chest three times over, though the father barely flinched. Austin brought his elbow down on the leg, but Sillah had already swung around to round house him in the back. Austin jolted forwards before Sillah could stab him in the back, turning just in time to catch his arm as Sillah leaped up into the air with the knife. He couldn't stab him in the face, but he could punch him a good few times in his nose. Austin reeled back as his broken nose was struck, but he held strong and, still gripping Sillah's wrist, brought him in close and kneed him harder in the stomach than Sillah had ever felt before. He hadn't felt such pain since Rodrigo's men assaulted him, and that was from just one kick. Worse yet, he wasn't feeling numb to pain anymore, in fact he felt the complete opposite, as if his guts were about to fall out.

His hand was useless, but his arm wasn't. Bringing his elbow down on Sillah's outstretched arm, he was forced to let go of his knife. Before Sillah was able to recover and counter attack, Austin brought down another crushing elbow onto his own nose before kicking him in the chest, throwing him back across the floor. His nose was bleeding but it wasn't broken, and even if it was that wouldn't stop him. Rushing back to his feet Sillah attempted a bicycle kick at Austin. Stupid idea. Austin reached his arm between his legs and gripped his body tight, slamming him down on the back of his neck with incredible force. Sillah spat out in pain as Austin held him down.

"Listen to me! This isn't the time to do this! Those people want to kill your siblings, we need to have a game plan!"

"FUCK YOU!" Sillah screeched and volleyed Austin in the nose again and again and again until he let up just enough for Sillah to squirm out from under the man. In a flash Sillah was on his back, his forearm pulling on Austin's throat while the other pushed his head forward. Austin instinctively reached both hands up to grab Sillah, despite one of them being utterly broken and... was it bleeding?

Unthinking, Sillah snapped his jaws at Austin's gloved hand. The scream was delightful, delicious, everything Sillah had wanted. NEEDED for years! Nearly a decade of pain was finally leading up to somehting. A conclusion that actually meant something. Peter would scream his lungs out by the time Aesop was done with him, before he fed on his heart.

Austin wouldn't allow such a crime to happen. Lurching to his feet, Austin lamped Aesop with his working fist in the face. Aesop refused to stop biting his hand and Austin had to work up desperate measures, throwing his entire body onto his back and crushing Aesop under his weight. Barely a second had gone by and Austin was already mounting the insolent child. Bringing fist after fist after fist down on the little boy that was Aesop. He tried to knee Austin between the legs but Austin had reacted first, stealing Aesop's idea and assaulting his manhood with his knee. Aesop flinched and screamed out in pain as he was pelted in his face and his testicles. He helplessly punched Austin in the sides but it was no use. The weight of Austin's heavy fist forcing his head against the floor was making him dizzy and the pain down below was enough to make him nauseous.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't it wasn't it wasn't! He was supposed to own Austin. To make him his bitch! To make him beg for forgiveness, force him to apologise for all his sins. It wasn't meant to be this hard, this impossible, and certainly not this quick. The fight had barely begun and already Sillah was on his back feeling unfathomable strength destroying his face and manhood. By the time it let up Aesop was seeing stars. Austin pressed his forearm of his bad hand against Aesop's throat.

"Don't you understand she stole you from me! From your family."

Aesop struggled to breathe and even speak as he clambered his hands on Austin's face. Austin batted his hands away like nothing as he pressed harder against his throat. "I'm not..." He barely managed to get a few words out. "Your son!"

"So what you're hers! The Pixie is a liar! A murderer!"

"Liiike, you."

That earned Aesop another fist in the lips, enough to knock out a couple of his front teeth.

"You aren't a pretender Sillah! Please, please stop hurting me son! You have no idea the agony I am in!"

Aesop began convulsing beneath Austin. Those words had pissed him off more than anything Austin had ever said. Where did this bastard get off! Who the fuck did he think he was! Who did-

It was becoming harder for Aesop to think such thoughts as he was struggling to breathe, his eyes rolling in the back of his head and his face going from a dark brown to a bright, feverish red.

Placing the jack under the crawler, Lilith angrily pumped the handle as the vehicle slowly lifted.

They had managed to clear Feroxi, driving nonstop for several miles in complete silence, When it appeared they were not being chased, Lilith had brought the crawler to a stop. The rear tyre needed replacing, or they wouldn't be getting anywhere.

Falling to her knees in the ash, Lilith placed a hand on the offending wheel, thankful that the crawler was of the fully outfitted city guard variety.

Without looking at Axel, Lilith held out her hand. "Tyre iron." She demanded curtly.

Sprout hopped out of the crawler and handed Lilith the tool without saying a word. Once she'd taken it in her hands he simply stood over her and watched, his hands buried in his pockets. The inside of his breathing mask was a mess of humid liquids but he didn't really have any way of dealing with it at the moment.

The silence throughout the journey was... oppressive. Maria scraped the ground with her heel, just standing there as the duo made the repairs. She had her eye on the horizon, nothing much to do as the more mechanically-inclined did their work on the crawler. All in all, Maria just felt... drained.

Snatching the the tyre iron from the boy, Lilith quickly set to loosening the bolts on the damaged wheel.

The woman was still furious, it was all she could do to not scream at the other two.

After all that talk, after all those promises, after swearing that she'd never let Dio get his filthy hands on the girl. All that meant nothing now. She had failed Elizabeth, failed Cranston, failed Meredith, failed everyone.

Failed Margaret.

Did she resent him? Resent Maria? Sprout wasn't sure. It was a tough call, but one they had to make. They had no other choice.

After standing in silence a bit longer, Sprout finally spoke up, "Hey... are you okay, Lily? I can do this if ya' wanna rest."

Glancing up at the boy, her eyes told him everything he needed to know. Clenching her jaw, she held her tongue as she returned her attention back to the task at hand.

Sprout balled his hands into fists. He hated seeing her like this. He hated that pained expression. But worst of all, he hated being the target of her anger. Her despair.

As Lilith went back to work, ignoring Sprout's words, he bowed his head and closed his eyes, "Ya' know, ya' don' 'ave ta' suffer alone. They were ar' friends too."

Biting her lip, Lilith ignored the boy as she reached over to remove a stubborn bolt from the damaged wheel, catching her hand on a jagged shard of metal hidden behind a sagging section of the tyre.

Gasping in pain, Lilith jumped to her feet, grasping her hand as blood steadily trickled from the deep cut on her palm.

Holding her breath as she tried to quell the rage rising in her throat, it wasn't enough.

"GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!" The woman roared as she buried her injured fist into the side of the crawler.

Maria's eyes darted towards the shouting Lilith. Of course it would be foolish to run up to the bear with a sore head and ask if she was okay - Lilith was clearly the very opposite of okay. And so were the rest of them.

Maria walked towards the injured woman both calmly and tentatively. Afterwards, the doctor placed her hands on Lilith's bloody one, moving it away from the crawler's side.

Maria sighed and said, "Y'know, I've seen plenty of hands get broken that way."

Her tone rang of exhaustion. And to be honest, Maria fully expected to get hit by an angry Lilith.

Sprout winced when Lilith screamed and reactively reached out when Maria approached her. He withdrew his hand and furrowed his brow, "Need me ta' grab anythin' from the first aid kit, Maria?"

Lilith snatched her hand from Maria's grasp. "Don't touch me!" The girl hissed as she turned away from the doctor, kneeling back down in front of the damaged wheel.

Using her unwounded left hand, she more carefully removed the bolt she had tried to shift from before.

'Can't even removed a goddamn wheel without fucking up.'

Sprout and Maria shared a concerned look before Sprout knelt down behind Lilith to get a better look at her hand, "Lilith..."

"No." The girl muttered simply as she struggled to do the job with one set of fingers, her right hand resting on her lap, blood slowly pooling in her palm.
Well, at least Maria didn't get hit in the face. She crouched close to Sprout and put her arm on his shoulder. The doctor let out another sigh, "C'mon, just get it bandaged."

Sprout couldn't help but scowl as he reached out and grabbed Lilith's shoulder, ignoring Maria completely, "Lilith, listen to me!"

"FUCK OFF!" Lilith roared as she got to her feet, pushing the boy off balance as she got to her feet. Standing over the pair, Lilith balled her her hands tightly into fists. "WHY DON'T YOU BOTH JUST FUCK OFF!"

This was a familiar sight.

Despite how desperately he wanted to reach out and embrace her, Sprout couldn't simply turn the other cheek. This wasn't the Lilith he knew. Lilith wouldn't take out her pain on her loved ones. No, this woman was weak.

Rising to meet her, he closed the small gap between them so that their faces were but a few inches away from each other, "Fuck off to where? Huh?! Come on, tell me Lily! I'd love ta' hear what'cha gotta say!"

For the briefest of moments, the woman was impressed with the boy's reaction. Her eyes bore into his as she desperately fought the urge to lash out.

This wasn't his fault, none of this was any of their fault. Then why was she so angry?

Just as Lilith had mentally gotten into a place she felt confident in, life just had to go and throw her a curve ball didn't it? Just had to sucker punch her, just had to hurt the ones she loved.

"Back off boy." Lilith muttered through gritted teeth.

"Or what!?" Sprout barked. "You'll hit me? Really? You'd do that? After everythin' that's happened?! After everythin' you've learned an' experienced?!" His expression softened as he let out a deep sigh. "Lily," He searched her eyes. "Yer like Ma' in a lotta ways an' I've always been happy ta' see that, but... this? When I look at ya' now I don' see a brave woman whose willin' ta' sacrifice everythin' fer her loved ones. What I do see is a weak, scared little girl who strikes down her own children when her life gets to hard." He grit his teeth. "So what!? You gonna man up an' get over yerself or ar' ya' gonna hit me!?"

Maria stood up and rested one hand on her hip. She cocked her head, "Well, what are ya gonna do Lilith? Just sit there bleeding on dusty sand?"

She shook her head, adding, "Can't carry on like that forever."

Lilith stood there silently, her anger smouldering as the duo laid into her. Eyes still on the boy's, she couldn't help but notice the familiar situation she found herself in. It didn't feel so good in the other side either.

Pursing her lips, her eyes softened as she let the tension from her body.

"We left them, Axel." Her voice cracked as her expression softened.

"Yeah, we did," He replied. "We told Cranston we'd do as he said. You can' blame yerself fer what happened. None of us could'a done any better than we did. Look, we'll go back home. We'll go back to Ma'. Maybe she'll have a solution. Maybe we can fix this. Don' lose hope yet, Lily."

"Hmph" Turning away from the boy, she walked over to the crawler, her hand dripping blood onto the ash. Leaning with her back to the crawler, she slid to the ground, pulling up her knees, she buried her face in her arm as she draped it over her legs.

'I hate it when he's right'.

She closed her eyes as a wave of shame washed over her.

Silently, she held out her wounded palm.

"Sprout." Maria said softly, "Just get some bandages, will ya?"

"Sure." Sprout said simply as he walked over to the back seat of the crawler to retrieve bandages from the first aid kit. Once he had them he gave them to Maria.

Bandages received, she walked over to Lilith, knelt beside her and wordlessly began to dress the wounded hand.

As the doctor wrapped her hand, Lilith winced slightly. Surely there was still hope? Elizabeth would still be alive, and who knows, maybe Cranston was captured, or he escaped!

She wasn't particularly optimistic about either outcome, but they were better than the alternative.

"Thanks." The girl mumbled quietly to Maria, her head still buried in her arm.

"No problem." Maria beamed. "Wanna just sit here for a bit?"

Lilith shook her head.

"Hey," Sprout bent over and held his hand out at Lilith. "What did we say ta' each other? Back in that bar... do you remember?"

A short grunt escaped the girl's throat as she reached out with her wounded hand, pulling the boy down next to her. She then proceeded to point at the doctor, clicking her fingers before pointing at the empty spot of ground on her right side.

Maria nodded, moved and sat down at the decided spot.

Head still buried, she wrapped her arm around Sprout's neck, pulling him into her as she herself leaned against Maria's shoulder.

"Sorry." The girl mumbled pathetically.

Sprout chuckled, "No need ta' say sorry, Lil. But if it makes ya' feel better I'll accept it."

"Yeah." Maria agreed, "Hmmm, maybe I should start renting out this shoulder."

"Fuck you guys." Lilith grunted, with exaggerated self pity.

Whatever was going to happen, they'd do it together.

Always together.

"Alright, enough of this pity party," Sprout got to his feet. "The inside of my breathing mask feels like a fuckin' swamp. If ya' don' mind I'd like ta' get ta' where I can clean the damn thin' ASAP." He laughed and helped Lilith to her feet.

Maria chuckled, "Did that tyre ever get fixed?"

"Fuck," Sprout trudged over to it. "I'll take care of it. I mean I did a pretty---FUCK! MARIA! Yer moped's still in Feroxi!"

"Mierda!" The doctor said as hand met face as she mock-mourned the loss of a mostly unreliable machine. "Nothing's the same without it."

A short sharp laugh escaped Lilith's mouth. Before she knew it, she was doubled over, tears welling in her eyes as she struggled to breath. "FUCK!" the girl sputtered. "YAH SHITTY MOPED!" She clutched at her sides as the laughter refused to stop.

"It was a dear friend!" Maria pouted.

Sprout started working on the tire, "To think I stripped ar' old crawler ta' fix it. We left that poor ol' girl too. Ruffles would be so disappointed in us." He laughed. "If I ever lead the Maiden I'll 'ave ta' be sure not ta' park 'er in enemy territory."

Maria turned towards Lilith and pointed at Sprout, "I bet you know your odds pretty well, so... Tell me, what are odds of this pipsqueak taking over the Maiden? High? Low?"

Still reeling from her bout of laughter, Lilith coughed as she caught her breath. "He's the captain's son, he'll inherit that shit no matter how much of a snot nosed little dumbass he is." She winked Axel, as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"I feel sorry for ya then." Maria quipped. "As soon as he gets the post, I'll bet he'll put on a hat and cape and everything."

"Pfft, who wouldn't?" Lilith smiled. "Capes are fuckin' awesome."

Maria replied with, "More like dangerous. You wouldn't believe the amount of injuries they cause."

Sprout scoffed, "Don' matter what I wear. Once I'm captain I won' 'ave ta' worry 'bout gettin' pussy ever again!"

"Aye aye, Captain Underpants." Maria snarked.

"Whatever," Sprout laughed. "You know ya' wan' it."

The doctor just stuck her tongue out in disgust.

Lilith scoffed. "She's about as old as your mum, dude." Lilith grimaced. "That'd be like Merry shaggin' a seventeen year old or somethin'"

Sprout shrugged, "My Ma' fucks anythin' that moves, you know that." He rolled his eyes. "Fuck, why do I know that!?"

"I can't un-know that." Lilith slapped her palm to her brow.

"What sort of education did you guys get? Geez." Maria sighed.

"The best kind," Sprout chuckled as he got to his feet and wiped the grease off his hands. "Alright, good as new. Let's get the fuck on outta here.

Maria shot Sprout a look before stretching and getting into the crawler, "Righty-o."

Jumping in the backseat of the crawler, Lilith slumped onto her back, draping an arm over her eyes. "Wake me when we get there."

She needed today to be over.

"And try to keep it down. There's not much room to scatter for cover down here. If we run into any of Austin's goons and they get the jump on us, we're dead."

Ruffles put a finger to his lips and gave Amy a silent thumbs up.

Whiskey shouldered her shotgun and instead drew one of her pistols. As Amy was taking point, she could not fire The Persuader in such a confined space without risking wounding the other woman. As they advanced, she wondered idly whether Austin's brainwashed army would really have kept guard down here. Or even sent people down in the first place.

It was possible, but she thought it more likely they might run into Yuteni citizens hiding out. That didn't mean it wasn't dangerous, though. They were all just about young enough to be mistaken for one of Austin's fucked up children. It was a crossfire incident waiting to happen.

There. It was over. The two of them were dead or at least close and bundled together in the back of the crawler. Florian should have been furious. He should have been screaming for their blood, reaching for the nearest gun or knife or brick and setting about ruining their bodies in the most bloody way possible. But he was just so tired, drained and weak. The cold that he'd once welcomed as the brisk embrace of home was whipping around his tattered torso, sinking in under his skin and claim its own selfish toll. Somehow taking his frustrations out on the pampered, foppish, face of these maniacs just didn't seem worth the energy.

"Are you... alright?" he asked "Relatively speaking, of course. I wouldn't want to ask a stupid question."

"This isn't right." He croaked out, looking at the desolation around him.

The Hussar crews had been trained harshly over the past few years, they were professionals. This looked like a gang of children had run amok through the streets with heavy ordnance. It was as close to quiet as things had been in days now (however many days he'd been trapped there) but the sounds of fighting had kept up. Not higher calibers, the sounds of pockets of resistance being put down but small weapons. Street crime and thug activity.

Something was wrong here.

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