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

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"He touched down less than an hour ago. They won't be staying for much longer, so we need to strike fast. We've got no chance of getting at him inside Parasido."

"Gotta say, I don't like the look of the company he's keeping."

"Well, whoever it is, they split up after landing. If we get get him while he's alone, all the better. If not, then we'll just have to deal with it. We all knew just how dangerous this guy is when we teamed up. We're all aware of the risks, and nobody's backing out now."

The were murmurs of ascent from the other men, as the group congregated in a deserted service hallway. Behind them, round the corner, The Gentleman eavesdropped on their conversation. Despite being over a hundred yards away, he heard every word with clarity, due to the fountain pen the he currently held delicately between his fingers. The nib was pointed around the corner, the microphone inside picking up their hushed voices, and relaying them to The Gentleman through the speaker at the other end. What he heard intrigued him more than it frightened him. He didn't recognise any of these men, though their speech seemed to mark them as being from all over the continent. They were all armed, but lightly, and with no amour. It might have been prudent to kill them all now, away from prying eyes or innocent bystanders. The may have outnumbered him, but in a tight space and with no cover, all The Gentleman needed was the element of surprise to make clean work of it.

Something stayed his hand, however, from this course of action. It was more curiosity than mercy. Just who were these men, to come together from all across the Ashlands at this point, to intercept him at a time his whereabouts should have been even more illusive than usual? As many adversaries and rivals as The Gentleman had, he didn't like having enemies who'd motives and capabilities he could not account for.

Boldly, he broke from his cover and strode towards the group of men. He did not draw a weapon, and his posture was relaxed, but he remained, as ever, on alert. Upon spotting his advance, the men cut off their conversation, and wheeled to face him. While they looked threatening, neither did they expose any weapons. Interesting...

"No need to stand on ceremony chaps." The Gentleman greeted them, a cautious smile on his face.

The man who appeared to be their ringleader, or at least their spokesman, crinkled up his face in a mixture of confusion and annoyance.

"What's your business here?" he asked curtly.

"I don't like people talking about me behind my back." The Gentleman replied "It's impolite, you see."

This answer only seemed to make the other party even more confused.

"Listen, mate." Another with a Sherwood accent piped up "Just who the fuck are you?"

Now, this was interesting. Unusually, it took a couple of seconds for the cogs in The Gentleman's mind to fall in to place. When they did, his smile grew broader.

"Ah, now I see..." he said. "Have the boy's bad habits finally caught up to him?"

"That noble prick's left bodies behind in almost every dome he's ever passed through!" The Sherwood man replied hotly. "We're their family, and friends, and all we want is one body in return. We reckon that's a bargain."

"Darren..." The rumbling tones of a Frostfall man behind him interrupted "Shut the fuck up."

"Open your fucking eyes, Vlad!" Darren retorted over his shoulder "Does it look like we're dealing with a fucking amateur here?" He turned back towards The Gentleman. "He already knows the score; and the fact that he hasn't tried to kill us already, or run off to warn the Lombardi cunt, makes me think there's a deal to be struck..."

"I like this one. He'll go far." The Gentleman added.

"How about you tell us who you are first?" The first man said.

"Never to a living soul..." came the answer "but you can call me The Gentleman."

If they didn't recognise the face, then the name got there attention. Hands went to holsters in a flash, but it was The Gentleman who had his gun up first. The Gentleman was now smiling more than he had in days.

This was turning into his kind of afternoon.

Despite the pit in her stomach, despite the situation they now found themselves in, Lilith couldn't help but let a small smile curl her lips as Florian embraced his father.

Things were gonna go to shit real quick, but in this small moment, she felt happy for both of them. It was fleeting however, as Florian's eyes locked onto her's, her face softening as she bowed her head slightly.

'This isn't your fault.' Lilith wanted to speak those words to him, tell him that they'd get out of this safely, but not even she could smother this situation in optimism. Pulling her eyes away from the father and son, Lilith casually looked around the room, her gaze falling on Erik for a few moments.

The huge man didn't look happy, not one bit. Somehow, she didn't think he was acting. Silently she reached for her cigarettes, which had been frisked from her person and placed on the table. Lighting a smoke, the girl took a long drag as she placed an elbow on the table and rested her cheek in her palm.

Forcing her casual persona back to the surface, a sly smirk curled Lilith's mouth as she winked at Florian. He needed to think she was in control of her situations, that she wasn't terrified. All lies of course, but the truth didn't help anyone.

"Hey, got a minute?"

Sprout perked up at the sight of his lover. "Yeah sure, what's up?" he asked as he took her by the arm. She'd been acting a tad strange this morning, but then so was everyone else. It was probably just nerves.

Bennie thought the same thing.

"Relax," the big man told Gale out of the blue. "I can practically hear your teeth chattering." He offered her a warm grin. "I got your back, girl."


"There's another gun in my jacket, go get, but this time actually pay attention when you're dismantling it, it'll make figuring out where everything goes a lot easier."

"Uh, okay," Elizabeth muttered. Getting to her feet, the young noble made her way over to Asad's jacket and began rummaging around in it. "This small thing?" she asked, holding the low-caliber sidearm in the air. "Guess this one's for concealing?"

Elizabeth walked back over to the coffee table, knelt down and laid the weapon down on the table. "Okay, now tell me what every part is as I take it apart," she instructed.

"Yeah sure, what's up?"

Arm in arm, Amy led Axel over to a quieter corner of the depot.

"I wanted to check you were okay." She said, resting her head on his shoulder "That you were feeling good, about the mission, I mean."

"'I'm pretty pumped, actually," Sprout told her. "I used ta' get really nervous before a score, but I'm used to it now. I reckon gettin' shot in the chest puts thin's in perspective. What about you?"

Me? I'm fine. I was just..." Axel's casual mention of his near-death experience threw her off-balance somewhat. She had seen his scars, of course, but it wasn't something they had really discussed yet. Amy caressed his chest with her other hand, just over the old wounds, as if to shield them.

"This isn't your first score, I know... but, are you okay with what I'm doing? I mean, I guess I never really cleared it with you, and if you'd rather not talk about it that's fine I was just..."

Just in time, Amy shut up while she was still able to stop herself from rambling.

Sprout shrugged. "Well I mean... Bennie didn' really imply you'd be doin' any of that business," he explained, struggling to find the words a bit. "Yer jus' pretendin' ta' be an escort."

"Maybe? I dunno..." Amy replied sheepishly. "I mean, we're supposed to be subduing him. He's not gonna be in a false sense of security of nothing happens. Even if I don't have to cross that line today, next time might be different. I... how do you feel about that?"

"Um," Sprout broke eye contact and thought on it for awhile. "I dunno. I--what about you? Does it make you feel uncomfortable at all ta' do it now?"

Amy was deep in thought for several seconds before replying.

"I'm not going to tell you that what I do is just sex." She told him "That it's cold, hand heartless, and that it doesn't mean anything. That would be a lie. The people I... attend to, are looking for more than just physical release. The power they have buys that for them in many places far cheaper than anything they get from me. They come to me because they're looking for something more, that even a lifetime of free and endless pleasure can't provide. It's my job to see explore the depths of their soul, find the thing that's missing, and become it. Every detail, every moment I spend in their company, has to be a fantasy so real they can't help but believe it. The idea that I could achieve that without any intimacy on my part would be ridiculous..."

Turning to face him, Amy brushed a few stray hairs over Axel's brow, and looked deeply into his eyes.

"But a fantasy is still a fantasy Ax, no matter how real it looks. When I'm in that place with them, everyone is pretending. So, no matter what I do, and no matter how it makes me feel in that moment, the real me, the one standing here right now, is only ever yours. I want you to understand that."

Sprout pursed his lips, searching Amy's eyes as he let her words stew in his mind. Hadn't she said she was done doing this? Maybe she was just referring to work on the side. Would Bennie really order her to do such a thing in light of their relationship?

Ma' did it a few times when she and Bennie were still together...

"Do you wanna do it?" he suddenly blurted. "I mean, given the choice... would you rather do somethin' else fer the Maiden?"

Again, Amy paused in thought.

"I'd rather be where I'm needed." she replied "I'd rather do whatever it takes to help The Maiden. Or, I don't know, maybe it's more than that? Maybe I no longer want to brush the pieces of me that aren't pretty under a rug where no-one I care about will notice. What I do is a part of what I am. For years it kept me alive, and for years after that it kept me fed, put a roof over my head, and gave me a name. Hell, it even gave me my place on The Maiden, at least at first. Are people supposed to just... walk away from something that integral, even if they'd like to sometimes?"

Sprout shrugged. He really didn't know how to answer that. "I guess not," he admitted.

Suddenly there was a very deep pit in his stomach. There was something about this conversation that was really getting to him, but he wasn't sure what it was.

"Hey." Amy said, cupping his cheek with her hand "I'm not asking for your blessing, at least, not right now. It's perfectly normal if you need time to think, and even then we'll probably have a lot to talk about. I just want you to know that this..." she wove her fingers through his, their hands coming to rest just above her heart "is what I really want, more than anything, no matter what else happens."

Sprout nodded somewhat confidently and squeezed her hand. "Okay," was all he could say.

Then Brock finally showed up.

"Okay, now tell me what every part is as I take it apart,"

Nodding his head once, Asad took a bite of his omelette as he leaned forward in his seat to get a better view of what Elizabeth was doing.

Over the next several minutes the Major described every removable part of the gun and its purpose, repeating the process several times until she could describe each part without his help. Taking the gun from Elizabeth's hand, Asad nodded towards a the far wall of the apartment. "Look away and don't turn around until I tell you."

As Elizabeth obliged, Asad dismantled the pistol, spreading the parts across the coffee table in random positions. Glancing at the girl's back, Asad smirked as he pocketed a the pistol's firing pin.

"Okay, go for it." Asad crossed his arms over his chest as he stood over Elizabeth.

The quiet didn't lift quickly. Everyone looked on at the 'happy' pair as they were reunited, all of them trying to make sense of things in their head before they were forced to take some kind of action. If Erik's brow furrowed any more it would have threatened to wear a trench into his face. Sergei was far from pleased as well by the looks of things. It was easy to see why. His competition had just come back and was worming his way back into the spot he'd clawed over countless dead to get. At least that was how it seemed to him. He kept looking back and forth between Florian and the blonde bitch he'd dragged in here with him. She looked way too young to be the bandit everyone was saying she was.

She had some good curves on her though, that was plain to see as he looked her up and down another time. He'd be having some fun with her smug ass before this was done, he'd make sure of that.

Eventually Florian and Vasa drew apart, forced to look each other in the eye again and realise the gravity of the situation weighed down on them all over again. How could either of them even begin?

["You have so much explaining to do..."] Vasa said softly. Not angrily, more sad and tired.

"I know...but this isn't the way to make it happen." Florian said.

["Why are you talking that way?"]

"Because we have a guest, Father, and you taught me better manners than that." Florian did his best to keep level. His mind was racing with every plate he had to keep spinning. How he'd handle this, what he'd say to his dad now they were here, how he'd make the plan work now that things'd gone wrong. And how he'd get Lilith out of this.

Vasa looked back over his shoulder at the blonde girl, she was lounging like she was at a cafe on a lazy afternoon. He was finding her more insufferable by the minute. But he'd be nice for now. "Alright." He snorted. "I suppose we can move this somewhere more fitting. You'll like the tower, it's even better than we thought it would be." He seemed so pleased.

"And the hits." Florian added anxiously. "You have to call them off."

"You know I can't do that."

"This was to get me out and you've done that, people don't need to die."

"It's not about killing, Florian." Vasa patted his son on the shoulder. "It's about making a point. Whatever you were trying to do that is over. I don't know why you did this but we can move past it."

"Not if you keep this up." Florian was putting his foot down. "Things can't carry on this way. If you want things to change then we have to be change with them. The way things are, this, it can't work you have to see that!"

"I do." Vasa agreed easily. "And things have changed now. Now you're back, we can do this together."

"Not like this we're not." Florian took a step back and every man in the room tensed up.

Vasa was still wrapping his head around this. He hadn't expected Florian to act like his usual self, not after this strange little war he'd tried to wage, but he still couldn't understand the reasoning. Well that didn't matter now. They could work that out later, that was important now was that he was back and that Vasa could bring him home. Whatever was going on just needed a lighter touch, Florian was in a stubborn mood, clearly.

Vasa calmly raised a hand and his men backed down uncertainly. "Alright... alright... let's just talk for now. Erik, Sergei." He called out to his chiefs. "Tell them the open hits are off. time to calm down." He tilted his head to Florian. 'See? I'm playing ball.' "Now I just gave you a lot there. You're doing very well in these negotiations but it's time to meet me half way... time to come home."

"And Irena?" Florian stood his ground. "You think I don't know about her?" He shot daggers into Sergei who smugly smirked back.

"You aren't in charge here, Florian." Vasa chided him. "You're pushing your luck here, boy."

"Then her." Florian nodded to Lilith, not letting anything slow him down. "We trade. You let her go and I'll come quietly."

The lover girl, of course he was opting for her. She'd worked well enough as bait, there was obviously something between them. Whatever it was she was a bad influence and something that had to be dealt with, especially after all she'd done. He could hardly be seen to just let her go with no consequences. "You're making this very hard for me, Florian." Vasa smiled sadly.

"No I'm not. You know how hard I can make this." Florian matched his father in tone perfectly as they stared each other down. Lilith had gotten an increasingly surreal show as she was shown where the family resemblances was strongest. Forget the eyes and bone structure. It was all in their voices. It was almost like hearing the same person talking at times.

Florian reached to his side, making his point clear. Even with his speed he knew he couldn't beat everyone in the room to the draw. He'll he was still sure his dad could have planted one in his hand if he had that damn cane on him. But he didn't need to beat them all, just to hold it on himself. The look he gave Vasa made it clear he was up to something. Enough to make him take pause.

The tension grew thicker and everyone's trigger fingers got itchier by the second.

"Let her go." Vasa said.


"Relax, I can practically hear your teeth chattering."

Gale jerked her head up from her obsessive gun cleaning to look at the chief, feeling a stupid, stupid blush start to make her cheeks glow as realised how antsy she'd been acting. Her restless foot was still tapping a little jig even now. Didn't help that she felt like an idiot now for acting like such a kid among all the old hands.

"I got your back, girl."

The chief smiled at her and Gale got her first look at that girl winning charm she'd heard so much about. It got her blushing a little more bashfully that was for sure. A traveler girl, being bashful! What was this noise?

"You know it." Gale raised her rifle like she was offering a cheers as she smiled back at him.

'What was that? What was that supposed to be? Oh just shut up, Gale.'

Could they just rob someone already?!

Lilith had caught eyes with the man called Sergei, she could tell just by looking at him what type of man he was. Unnecessarily cruel, narcissistic, and if the looks he was giving her were any indication, a pig.

'Yeah keep looking cunt, after what you've done to Renny, you're lucky I don't put a fucking bullet in your face.'

Watching Bejic junior and senior come to verbal blows was strange to say the least, she didn't really see it at first, but now Florian resembled his father more than ever. Her mind racing as her lover negotiated the terms of his surrender.

Was he really giving up? Was it because he had no choice? Was it her fault for getting caught?

"We trade. You let her go and I'll come quietly."

Eyes widening, Lilith quickly stubbed out her cigarette as she almost got to her feet, but the look Erik gave her made her reconsider that action. 'What the fuck are you doing, Florian?!'

Lilith knew it made sense, it was a simple matter of worth, and in this situation, she was worth nothing to anyone but Florian. Vasa gets his son back and kills this little rebellion all in one move. Impressive, but it didn't make her feel any better about the situation. Glancing around, Lilith clenched her jaw as her heart thumped in her chest. There had to be another way, some other way they could both get out of there. Could they feasibly take on this many of Vasa's men? Could they count on Erik to help when the shit hit the fan?

'You're not Pixie, and you don't have a gun, this isn't going to end the way you want it.' So what if she didn't have a gun, she could get one. She casually glanced at the bodyguard nearest her, his weapon held loosely by his side, if she could just...

'You're being a fucking moron, you can't win this one, the best you can hope for is...'

"Let her go."

And there it was, her little glimmer of hope.

Slowly getting to her feet, Lilith's eyes met Florian's, her expression told him everything, she wasn't happy with this arrangement and he'd better damn know it. Now she was on her feet, the girl was unsure what to do, should she just walk out? Should she try and talk to Florian? Resisting the urge to glance at Erik, she felt naked as she walked across the room, she could feel their eyes on her. At least with her weapons she'd hold some element of threat, but right now, stripped of everything but her clothes, she was a useless princess who was being saved by her man.

Fuck them for making her feel this way, and fuck them for making Florian do this, and fuck her for being stupid enough to get caught.

Stopping a few feet away from Florian and Vasa, Lilith set her back straight, raising her head slightly as she looked at Vasa. It couldn't be unseen now, the resemblance was just uncanny. As the old man almost sneered at her, she felt a knot in her throat. Were these Florian's eyes when she wasn't looking at her? When he was looking at someone he hated? She didn't like it, she hoped he'd never look at her that way. Shifting her gaze to Florian, the knot in her throat tightened further as he looked back at her, the same eyes, but filled with adoration.

'I swear if you ever look at me like that bitter old bastard, I'm gonna kick your arse.'

The look Lil was shooting him right now left little room for interpenetration. If he survived this (which he was pretty sure he would) Florian would be getting an earful later.

'Hm, maybe I should just die in the attempt like I thought I would.'

Somehow he doubted anyone else was in the mood for gallows humor though. Still, someone had to put a brave face on this. He gave a reluctant smile to Lilith.

'I know, I'm in trouble.' He'd make it up to her. Well, he'd try.

Florian set about his end of the bargain, stripping himself of his one and only gun. He'd had more before but knew how this was going to go down, there was no point in bringing his little armoury in with him but he had to bring at least one weapon for appearances sake, it would just make things even more tense if he shook the boat and rocked up to a prisoner exchange like a priest. So he undid his holster, drew the pistol and laid them both out on the nearest table before opening himself to getting a pat down. Of course he had to give a flirty smirk Lilith's way as this happened, just to help battle the awkwardness.

"That's everything." He said to the room in general as the guard started getting a little too handsy and the others started to close in.

"You can go." Vasa nodded to Lilith. "We are keeping your things, of course." He said matter of factly.

"You should really get going." Florian said to her, quietly. Looking at Lilith out of the corner of his eye, his hands still up on the back of his head. "Am I getting bound?" He asked, turning back to his father.

"For goodness sake, Florian, you're not some criminal. You're one of us! Besides... would anything actually hold you?"

"Maybe. Not much point in me trying anyway." Florian shrugged as this turned more and more civil.

"No." Vasa smiled sadly. His sad smile wasn't as inviting as Florian's. "You know what I have to do though."

"I know. I know how this works." Florian grimaced. "So!" He perked up. "Who gets to slow me down?!"

Erik stepped forward, his form looming over all three of the other key players.

"Hi, Erik." Florian smiled. "Wanna get some hits in?"

"You know I could never hurt you boy." Erik tried to force a small smile. He just looked tired.

Then, as if from nowhere, Sergei appeard at Florian's side. "Me on the other hand." He said, chirpily and in perfectly good common tongue just before he rammed the butt of his rifle into Florian's stomach. The young Bejic let out a let out a wheezing gasp as the breath was knocked clean out of him and he fell to his knees. He stayed down for a moment, coughing and retching as he clutched at his guts.

Vasa placed a comforting hand on his son's shoulder. Looking down on him like a small child who'd cut his knee. ["Good lad. It's all over now."] He cooed softly. "take her out." He barked sternly, looking up at a pair of his men who brushed Lilith on and forced her outside. One of them looked back at him as they left.

The two of them kept following Lilith down the street, herding her into the back alleys, their hands on their rifles.

"Could make yourselves useful and scope out the new recruits. See if they're as green as we've been told."

"Might as well." Jun muttered as he folded his arms and lean against the wall. Well, it was something to do. Didn't exactly help that it was coming from her of all people but at least he wasn't being dragged into a club. Again.

"Might as well.

"Oh aye, Bryan said. "Fucking with newbies oughta be a laugh."

"Okay, go for it."

Elizabeth nodded firmly, a look of determination on her face. She could do this. He had just shown her the entire process. It would be easy!

After a deep breath the young noble went to work, assembling the weapon bit-by-bit, just how he showed her. There were a few times here and there that she got stumped on what to do next--even instances where she had to completely redo a step--but she never gave up.

Then she began running into issues more frequently. What was it? She thought she'd paid close enough attention.

It's like there's something...

Frowning, Elizabeth stared down at the disassembled weapon, confirming her suspicions.

Son of a bitch.

"Hand it over," she commanded with an open palm, her eyes still glued to her work.


"You know it."

Bennie chuckled. Gale was a cute kid.

We were like that also not too long ago. These kids won't be 'cute' for long.

"Brock's here," Sprout called out to Bennie before hopping to his feet. "Y'all ready?"

They better be, Bennie thought.

Twenty Minutes Later...

Amy was up in the cab with Brock while the others were crammed away in a collection of large crates. Bennie had been stuffed away with Jesse and Marcus in one crate while Sprout, Gale, Jonah and Ruffles were getting cozy in another.

Even in that cramped, dark space Bennie could tell something was bothering the young Casanova. "Hey Jesse, you doing alright?" the big man asked. "You know, besides being horribly uncomfortable." He chuckled.

The mood in the second crate was a bit more tense. After a long period of silence Sprout nudged Gale. "Can I trust you ta' watch Bennie's back?" he asked. "You too Jonah, can I trust y'all to keep yer nerves if shit hits the fan?"

Jonah exchanged nervous glances with Gale and nodded. "Y-yeah man, don't worry about us," he stammered.

He was scared out of his wits.

Lilith lifted her hand, almost lurching forward as the Pig gut punched Florian, but was immediately confronted by the two body guards tasked with escorting her from the premises. She didn't even have time to say her goodbyes before she was pushed out onto the street.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm bloody going." Lilith lit a cigarette before turning to walk down the street. "Cunts." She muttered to herself, blowing smoke from the corner of her mouth as she angrily stuffed her hands into her pockets.

The two of them led her on for a while down the narrow streets and spooking any curious bystanders by just looking at them. The two of them muttered to each other and offered some glib remarks that they were certain she couldn't understand. Until they found a quiet spot, one piled high with odds and ends that people had thrown away and dumped.

["Here's good."] One of them said spitting out his cigarette.

["Seems a shame."] The other one commented. ["We don't have to do this do we? "]

["What, you wanna take her back to your place? Yeah that'll go well with her and the boss."] His friend sneered. ["Come on. let's get this over with and we get to be the guys who offed Valentine."] He pulled back the bolt on his rifle with a sharp metallic snap. Apparently they weren't going to ask for her last words.

As she was led deeper and deeper into areas of ill repute, Lilith had an inkling that she wasn't going to be allowed to simply walk away, maybe they'd try and rough her up, or worse? They clearly knew who she was, as her surname was uttered on several occasions, albeit pronounced in a strange fashion.

This all seemed to come to a worrisome head as Lilith found herself facing a dead end alley.

"Well chaps." Lilith inhaled through gritted teeth as she heard the telltale sound of shit about to go down. Turning around slowly to find one of the men aiming his rifle at her, the young woman tilted her head, "Don't I at least get one more smoke?" Oh sure, she was calm and collected on the outside, but on the inside she was planning on how to kill these guys without getting perforated.

["What do you think?"]

["Fuck it, fine! Play at being the cool guy see if I care."] The two of them went on bickering. Let it be a cool part of the story they'll tell later or something. Besides, couldn't blame the girl for wanting to cling on to a little bit of dignity before she got thrown in with the the trash.

The more 'romantic' of the two fumbled for his smokes and a light as he made his way to the far end of the alley to offer it to her.

'Oh you stupid, stupid boy.' It was all Lilith could do to keep a smirk from curling her lips. The man motioned for her to put her hands in the air, the woman happily obliging as he got closer. Holding out the cigarette, Lilith bowed her head forward, slowly taking a long drag, still held between his fingers before plucking it from his grasp with her teeth, her eyes not leaving his. "Spasibo." Lilith cooed. Was she trying to seduce him? 'You can't seduce shit, Lily, break his face instead.'

"I could use a drink too, don't wanna be stone cold sober for this, you know?" The wounded puppy dog eyes came into play, she just need him to drop his guard for one second, just one moment.

["Hey! Fuckwits."] Came a call from behind her would be executioner. Just over his shoulder she spied Erik, keeping up his old habit of appearing out of nowhere like annoying house cat. He must have been tailing them. Either way, it distracted both bandits long enough to give a window.

Lilith's knight in hairy armour distracted the two men just long enough for her to quickly step forward, kicking a leg from beneath the man, pulling the knife from the bodyguard's belt, she twisted one of his arms behind his back as she wrapped her other arm around his throat, holding the point of the knfe uncomfortably close to his jugular. "Shhhhh, I really don't want to kill you, you're the nice one." Lilith grunted as she held her captive steady.

["Oh shit!"] The bandit yelped, turning back to Lilith and his idiot of a friend. he didn't have a chance to raise his weapon properly though as Erik smacked it back down. he was too surprised to struggle properly as the big man nearly knocked him off his feet with a right hook. It was over quickly after that as Erik pulled his victim close, drawing a knife from his vest and driving it into the bandits neck.

He didn't break stride as he let the body fall and drew his pistol with his free hand, aiming it straight at Lilith's struggling new friend. "Finish it!" He barked at her.

Lilith hesitated for a moment as her captive froze in her grip. "He hasn't done anything, Erik." She muttered assertively as her eyes locked on his. Of course this man had to die, they couldn't let him go now, not now that Erik had revealed himself. And why not? This man was still going to have a hand in murdering her, he only gave her cigarette for fucks sake, so why was she finding this so hard?

Her captive started frantically begging for his life at five hundred words a minute in his mother tongue as Erik slowly closed the gap on them, keeping his sights trained on the man's head. "He can't get away girl..." He said the words slow and low, not looking away from his target.

"There has to be another way!" Lilith said quietly shaking her head. Averting her eyes, the woman was reluctantly glad she couldn't understand what the man was pleading. After a few more moments of begging, Lilith's eyes met Erik's once again. "Painless, do it."

Erik just zoned out the lad's ramblings, heard one man beg for his life, heard them all. He was so close now he didn't even need to think about aiming just to put one inbetween his eyes. So of course he had time to look at Lilith and her scared up little puppy dog eyes.

There has to be another way. Just like Florian kept rambling on. 'Oh god damnit...' Not now. now was not the time to be getting soft on people! Who cared if they were technically part of the family. 'We don't kill our own.' That was the shit he was trying to fight against here. Now look at him, about to gun down some poor shit as he pissed his pants and got held down by a little girl in a trash alley. Who wanted to go that way? 'If Petrov could see you now.'

Erik sighed. Bloody kids! He yanked the bandit out of Lilith's grip and pulled him so close he could feel Erik's breath on his face. ["You're not gunna tell anyone about this, are you?!"] Erik didn't bother to listen to his stream of desperate promises. ["Because if you do, I swear on your mother's grave, I will shoot you straight in the dick... and then there will be killing."] Yeah, he was bored of making threats these days.

He whipped his arms around the guy's neck and clamped him into a sleeper hold, waiting until he fell unconscious and let the bandit's limp body half fall to the floor. Erik looked up from his handiwork and back to Lilith.

"Shut up." He grunted. "We need to move, now."

Lilith looked down at the unconscious man and then back up at Erik, a small smile curling her lips. "Thank you." She said sincerely, holding out her arms and flexing her fingers. "Wanna hug?"

"Later." Erik rolled his eyes. "Wait- shit..." He pulled his knife again and started digging it back into the man who hadn't gotten a dose of Erik's arbitrary mercy. "I need your scarf." He held out his hand expectantly from his kneeling position on the floor. "Need to make you dead for the others."

She didn't seem very forthcoming with the fabrics. He knew she heard him but the girl still hesitated. After a pause Erik grunted flapping his hand around for her to hurry the hell up.

"This was a gift." Lilith mumbled as she pawed at her scarf. "I can't..." She bowed her head as she looked down at Erik. "What about Florian, what if they... tell him. I can't do that to him." Just thinking about how he'd react was starting to break her heart.

"It will clean ooofff!" Erik droned. "Thing is red anyway, you wont even see it. Besides, Florian can get a taste of his own medicine for a second." He snatched the thing from her and started to wide blood stains on the little white heart in its middle, making sure to scratch it up a little too. "This will be over very soon anyway." He added quietly.

"You... you have to tell him." Lilith squirmed in place as Erik desecrated her most prized possession. "He can't think I'm dead, he can't, it'll..." The girl almost whimpered. "Please."

Everything had happened so fast, she still had no idea how she was going to get them out of this mess.

"Sure." She'd gotten moody pretty fast. Maybe this one put on the happy go lucky act more often than just in a crisis. "You need to get low for a while. You find Alexei, he will keep you safe." He lead her along the little maze they'd gone through to get here. She really was upset.

"You don't worry." he patted Lilith on the shoulder. "This is me, Florian and Vasa all in a room together now. We'll talk this out with no more fighting. I can fix this."

Eyeing up her ruined scarf sadly for a few moments, she looked up at Erik. "What if you don't." She said simply. "This is my fault, what are they going to do to Florian? Be straight with me, how much trouble is he in right now? I don't know how you guys work, is he..." The girl let out a long breath. "Is Vasa gonna hurt him?"

"No." Erik said plainly, without hesitation. "No more than he has. I'm sure. I don't know what he'll do, but I know he will not hurt Florian." They carried on their way for a second. "This is not your fault girl. Whatever happened, I know you can do good, so I know it's not your fault. We're on a bad road but this could help us later. This might be lucky." He mused. "A lot less fighting this way maybe."

Stuffing he hands in her pockets, she kept pace next to Erik, her eyes on the ground as she thought for a moment. "I'm not gonna sit around and do nothing, you know that right?" The girl mumbled. "What's the plan? What happens now?"

"YOU, sit and do nothing." Erik turned to her. "This is down to the chiefs now. We still have my people, noble people and now they ease up the hits for a while, Irena's people. We still have control of most of the crews and Vas has opened the front door for us. It's two against one now. Those two talk, I calm them down, we can win this. Vas just needs to feel safe for now." He brandished the scarf in front of her. "You just give me time, Girl."

"Okay, okay." Lilith held up hands in defeat, a nervous chuckle escaping her lips. "I'm just..." The girl looked down at the ground. "I'm scared Erik, I can deal with all the shit the world throws at me until the day I die, but when it's someone I... Someone I love." She mumbled the words as she brushed her hair from her eyes. "I don't deal with that very well, and I hate that I can't do something about it, you saw them back there, you could cut the tension with a knife, and Sergei..." She looked up at Erik, a face hardening. "He's gonna try and fuck this up Erik, he's not gonna take Florian's return lying down."

Well Erik could relate to that, hell, he'd lived that a thousand times over and dealt with the consequences. It was rough on her, he knew but sometimes you had to sit back and tense up when the life hands you a crappy hand.

"He will when we take him down." And they'd save him for Irena after. One last bit of Hussar style justice before their promised change came.

"We'll make him pay for what he's done to Renny." The girl nodded, anger burning in her eyes. "How is she, we haven't had chance to talk since you left. Is she okay?"

Erik just looked at her. For once he'd be tactful. "You need to get going. I will be in touch soon."

Searching the old man's face for a few moments, Lilith quickly stepped forward, placing her hands gently on his shoulder as she reached up to brush her lips against his cheek. "Be safe." She mumbled, before pulling away quickly and making her way down the street towards Alexei's place.


Gale had always assumed bandits were a stinky bunch. That how all the stories seemed to describe them and how most of them looked when she'd seen them in the past. That or they were dashing as balls - either way they didn't do middle grounds. Right now though Gale was getting a steaming great dose of the stinky kind. Crammed in their big ol' can like sardines. Yeah... this was the stuff daring raids and adventures were made of.

The waiting was still gnawing at Gale's state of mind but at least the jostling elbows and bumping shoulders were giving her an unpleasant distraction. The others still looked pretty tense though. She could practically feel Jonah shaking in his boots. It didn't help that Axel was still being the little big man and acting like the boss of the crate.

"Y-yeah man, don't worry about us." Real convincing there. Ugh and he looked at her so pleadingly too. Well, this was her third chance to try and step up and show the vets she could handle herself.

Well she could be brave for two, she guessed, Gale had been in the past anyways. Besides, with The Cap at their side what could really go wrong?

"Damn right he doesn't." Gale nudged Jonah with her elbow along with everyone else by extension. "We got this down."

Asad watched patiently, smiling slightly as the young woman hit the predictable hurdle. The Major wasn't exactly sure why Elizabeth seemed so interested in reassembling the weapon, but given their circumstances he supposed teaching her how to use one was out of the question, so she might as well learn how it all worked.

"Hand it over"

"Very good." Asad nodded his head with approval, reaching into his pocket, he removed the pilfered firing pin and placed in in her palm. "Teacher is very proud." The man smiled smugly as he leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Teacher is very proud."

Elizabeth grinned like an idiot and in no time at all she had completed her work. "I did it!" she declared triumphantly. Before she could turn around to show Asad, however, someone knocked on the front door. "Yes?" the young noble called out suspiciously, poised to spring to her feet.

"I am sorry to disturb you M'Lady," a tired voice called out from the hall. It was Dio's right-hand man, Raphael.

Signaling Asad to remain seated, Elizabeth crossed the living room and opened the door. "Good morning, Raphael," she told him. "What does Lord Baslio need?"

"He would like for you to join him for lunch," he explained. "He will be eating in the gardens in an hour. Major Harel is to accompany you, of course."

Elizabeth shot a weary glance over her shoulder at Asad before nodding to Raphael. "Thank you, we'll be there shortly," she said.

Raphael bowed. "Very good, M'Lady," he replied before disappearing back down the hall.

Once he was gone, Elizabeth closed the door and looked down at the pistol in her hands. "Mind if I hang on to this?" she asked Asad.


Nothing like a nice morning jog to clear your head.

Unfortunately it was a bit warmer than Tsubaki was used to, as she didn't often start her routine so late in the day. Utterly exhausted and covered head-to-toe in sweat, Tsubaki crouched down on the track and poured her bottle of water on her head.

"I don't usually see you out here this late," a gruff voice said to her.

Opening her eyes, Tsubaki found she'd been completely consumed by the shadow of a large man behind her. When she turned her head to look at him, she grinned. It was Ortega. "Colonel," she greeted him.

Standing at around 6'6 and weighing no less than 250lbs., Esteban Ortega was easily one of Basilio's most imposing soldiers. Though his physical prowess could only get him so far. To climb to where he was now he had to be a smart guy. Apparently he had both mind and matter going for him.

Looking down at himself, he shook his head and chuckled. "Please, call me Esteban when I'm not in uniform," he said. "So what's this? Been out here for an hour and your giving up already? You usually go on a lot longer than that."

Tsubaki cocked an eyebrow. "And how would you know that?" she asked, eyeballing him suspiciously. He replied with a knowing grin. "I see."

He shrugged as he watched her rise to her feet. "Not all the gossip about you is negative, you know," he remarked. "Some of us have nothing but praise."

"I'd rather there be no gossip at all, honestly," she muttered, looking a little annoyed. "What is this, anyway? Usually your all uptight... completely serious all the time."

Like me...

He laughed. "I need to be for my job, yeah," he agreed, "but if I was like that all the time I'd go insane."

Tell that to Jun.

"Race me," Ortega suddenly said.


"If you beat me, I'll buy you lunch," he offered. "Neither of us need to report in for another few hours."

Tsubaki crossed her arms. "And if you win?" she asked.

He laughed. "You get to pay for it," he said.

"So either way I have to spend an hour with you alone," she laughed. "How do I benefit from this again?"

He ignored her. "One lap around the track, starting here," he explained.

"You're already dead!" Tsubaki declared, accepting his challenge.

Though she had been reluctant to humor him, she really was enjoying his company. It was nice to get her mind off of her issues for a change.

"...eight crates of twelve gauge shotgun shells, and two kilos of plastic explosive," Owain finished, rounding off the extensive order of ordinance requested by the mercenaries from memory.

"Very good, sir," the servant he was speaking to via radio transmission replied. "I shall pass this on immediately. We will send word when we have everything and are ready to take it to your drop point."

"Excellent," Owain said. "Is there any news regarding my sister?"

"Nothing to speak of, my lord," the servant replied. "As I understand it, there has been some minor improvement in her condition, but she still has yet to wake up."

"I see," Owain replied neutrally, despite wanting to tear his hair out. "That will be all." He cut the transmission before the servant could reply. That done, he found his way to the one horse town's only bar. Walking inside, he approached the counter and ordered a glass of wine. Owain rarely drank, but he now found he was in the mood to do so.

Sipping at it, he grimaced at the cheap swill's foul taste.

"...I'm telling you it was him," said a voice carrying across the bar from a corner booth. "His ship touched down and people were lining the goddamn streets, trying not to piss themselves."

"Alright, you guys stay here and look out for him. I'll drive back to camp and grab the others. Let's see that bastard bullshit his way outta two dozen guns going off in his face."

Owain turned to see a stocky figure in a grey overcoat striding away from a table and heading out into the street. Finishing his wine, Owain glided over to the booth, which was still occupied by four men with visible weapons. Two of them were smoking. Leaning over the table, he gave them a jovial smile. "So I couldn't help but hear something quite interesting being talked about," he said.

"Well it ain't none of your business, you snooty faggot," one of them said, evidently somewhat drunk.

"Hey, maybe he knows something," a more clearheaded one pointed out. "Buddy, you see a ship touch down a couple hours ago? We're looking for this guy, calls himself the Gentleman."

"Well--" Owain started, but he was interrupted by another of the four. He made a mental note to kill that one slowly. He disliked being talked over.

"Guys!" it was the voice of the one who'd apparently been there to see the ship touch down; the first voice Owain had heard. "That's the guy who was with him!"

"Shit!" slurred the drunken one who'd insulted him. "Don't let him get away!" He made to go for the revolver strapped to his hip, but his hand had barely left the table before Owain pinned it there with a knife. The cigarette dropped from his other hand, and Owain caught it. Owain had never seen the appeal of smoking, but he took a long drag, until the cigarette's tip glowed bright yellow and then jammed it in the drunken mercenary's eye. The man howled and thrashed, but his pinned hand kept him in his seat.

The other three men had been somewhat stunned by the sudden violence, but now they reacted, drawing pistols, and a sawn-off shotgun. Owain responded with more knives, opening the first man's throat and stabbing the second through the temple. A gunshot went off past his ear, and the man who fired it lost his trigger finger before getting three bullets from Owain's snubnose in the chest. Cleaning his knives, Owain sheathed them, finishing with the one buried in the now half-blind drunkard's eye. Straightening up, Owain clapped him on the shoulder, and said, "incidentally, my associate went to the east end of this blighted little collection of hovels. Just follow the stench of smug self satisfaction. But I wouldn't recommend it. I'm under orders to help him, and well..." he gestured to the corpses of the man's comrades to make his point.

Striding away from the booth, he tossed a pouch of carbon to the barman on his way out. "Apologies for the mess," he said before disappearing out into the street.

So the girl had gone, leaving him alone with the cold air and a looming piece of architecture that was silently calling him for a date with destiny. Everything had gone to shit so hard, so fast Erik hadn't even had time to think. His little plan to try and bring everyone back together under more peaceful circumstances had fallen flat on its face.

They were all so determined to be difficult.

There was no going back now - not that there ever was. He had to choose sides now, between the man who saved him, who showed him how to live his life on his own terms. Or the boy he helped raise and had lost already. Maybe he could take a while to think it over? Just a few minutes. It wasn't as if anyone was going to tell on him for being late.

'Aw except the kid!'

Fuck! The bandit lad he'd let live in a moment of weakness. What had he been thinking? Knocking a guy out wasn't a precise science, how long until the little shit woke up and went running to his crew that Erik had sold them out? He had to be taken care of. So why was he just standing there?

Looming over an unconscious shmuck with his gun aimed at his head and feeling like a complete tool. He never had been one for the cold, clinical, kind of kills. They always seemed so stale and quiet. Awkward, almost. Erik had always been a heat of the moment man. Give him an honest fight, someone who could put up on their end, something that he could easily plead self defense on. Why hadn't he just shot the guy the moment he drew his gun? He shouldn't have listened to Lilith. her and her stupid, weepy, puppy dog eyes.

She and Florian were like a pair of nonviolent peas in a pod. Erik was still trying to figure out if it was her that'd turned the boy soft or his pseudo spiritual nonsense that had rubbed off on her. Their talk in Renny's kitchen was still fresh in his mind.

"Yes, it got hard at times. Time and again I'd try to end things peacefully and people would just not listen. Didn't matter if you made sense, didn't matter if it was in everyone's best interest to just calm down and try to put the guns down. Some just wanted to fight, just wanted to see others suffer as they got on top and they wouldn't be talked down. I swear, sometimes, people are just the worst thing ever."

"It's not always that easy, Flor, you know sometimes the only way to get something done is with a strong hand."

"I know. But you know what? I think that's the easy path. You can tie yourself in knots rationalizing it and justifying pulling the trigger. But is it right if you have to convince yourself if something was right? Not for me. Not until I really had no other choice. Till I honestly tried. That's a fucking hard handed path to walk, Erik. An believe me, people will make you want to kick them down. But I'll tell you this. I regret a lot of things I've done but I've never regretted not killing someone."

["Well that might all change soon."] Erik muttered to the tense air of the alley. He still didn't pull the trigger though. He just stood there, quietly looking at the defenseless little thing at his feet. ["Fuck!"] He growled, putting the gun away.

He was probably about to do a lot of horrible things in the coming days. Whatever happened. This might be his last chance to do something undeniably nice for a long while. There was a store round the corner, maybe they'd have a phone he could use and something to use as rope to keep the kid under wraps while he was gone.

Winter was in town and still owed him some favors. The hunter could drop the kid off at Alexei's and he could keep Blondie company while Erik cracked some heads. That knocked out jerk had better know how lucky he was to have gotten grabbed by Little Miss Sherwood Shenanigans.

Asad had remained on the couch, arms crossed over his chest as he listened in on the doorway conversation. Another meal with the psychopath? Sure, why not, it's not like it could be any worse than the last time. The Major clenched his jaw, as he decided he wouldn't put it pass the man.

Ending the conversation, Elizabeth closed the door and walked over to him, pistol in hand.

"Mind if I hang on to this?"

Furrowing his brow, Asad shook his, a small smile curling his lips. "Sorry kid, no can do." He pushed himself to his feet planting a hand gently on the girl's shoulder as he looked down at her. "It's too close, we can't risk anything." Before Elizabeth could reply, the man cut her off. "Ah, ah, I know you'd be responsible with it, but what if Dio finds it on you? We've managed to divert enough suspicion for now, we don't want to jeopardise that." Asad smiled as he slowly pulled the weapon from Elizabeth's grasp. "I'll keep hold of it, and if we get into a rough situation, I can always give it you then, deal?"


The bar looked all but abandoned when Lilith finally got there. It was only after a bit of exploring that she found the stairs in the back that lead up to the second floor and the heavy security door at the top. After a tentative knock the looking slot slid back and she saw Alexei's eyes angrily looking back at her before they realised who they were looking at in the dim half light. The latch quickly opened up for her.

"Everything seems quiet for now." Alexei sighed as he poured himself another glass of wine once the two of them had locked up and gotten comfortable, ready to ride out the coming storm in his homely little bunker. "You want some? It's helping me take the edge off."

Lilith had gotten all comfy cosy in what was looking to be her home for the foreseeable future. Alexei had let the girl borrow a t-shirt to wear, and had found herself a thick blanket to cover her bare legs.

"No thanks." The girl mumbled sulkily as she pulled her knees to her chest, rubbing her cheek gently on the soft blanket. Refusing alcohol? Was this a new personal low?

"I wouldn't mind some tea though."

"Suit yourself." Alexei mumbled as he went into his tiny kitchen and turned the kettle on. Neither of them said anything for a little and he could feel a yawn coming on. "Fuuuuuuck!" He droned loudly.

Alexei handed her the hot mug and joined Lilith on the couch. "This got so fuckin messed up. Y- y'know, sometimes - most days - I just wish I'd cashed in and left this town. I don't care what those old boys say, it is not fucking worth all this."

A tired smile curled Lilith's lips. "You're drunk Lexie." She cradled the cup of tea in her hands, resting her top lip on the brim as she let the heat crawl up her face. "How long you been at the bottle? Since we left? That was hours ago."

"You're not my mom!" He chugged a bit more of the red. "Whole dome's on fire, people gettin shot outside and fuckers at my door trying to break my knees. And where is everybody? Out trying to be heroes and.. and... and honourable mens. This is why I got out of this business. Like I can handle this!" He actually hiccuped a little, like a REAL drunk.

"Yeah, this place sucks a whole bag of dicks." The girl nodded in agreement. "At least in the South we have hot weather, this place is just freezing, and miserable, and murdery." What a pair they made, the pity party.

"Yeah!" Alexei cheered, clinking his class against her mug. "Aint even got folks to keep us warm here." He slurred. "And you!" He started leaning into Lilith more heavily. "You drive here in storm season! Aaah - you're cool you should stay. Or take me with you!" He veered from one thought to the next. "We'll go to Feroxi, we'll get tanned and buy fancy coffees and shit. And then we'll jus- ppft- w-w-w-we'll get all the girls for us!" He sputtered out, remembering Lilith's close encounter of the lesbionic kind.

"Feroxi sucks." Lilith chuckled as she rested the side of her head on Alexei's shoulder. "Frostfall sucks, Vasa sucks, everything sucks." The girl pouted as she took a sip of the tea. "Tea's a'reet I suppose."

Yawning sleepily, the girl's eyelids began to lull. "I hope Florian's okay." She almost whimpered.

"If they kill each other that would be totally metal." Alexei yawned as the sleepiness proved contagious. "They wont do that though-" He caught himself as Lilith shot him a glare made even scarier by his drunkeness. "Vasa's a cool guy maybe." She didn't care for that either probably. "Erik used to crush on him super hard!" When in doubt, throw someone else under the bus.

"Really?!" Lilith let out a single loud laugh. "Hah!" She shook her head incredulously. "Does Florian know? I get the feeling he should know."

"Like we ever let either of them forget!" He laughed back at her.

"Sourpusses, the both of them, they were made for eachother." Lilith nodded her head sagely. "Were they always like that? Is that why Florian's a little high strung?"

"Pssshhht! Erik used to be cool, y'know? He was the quiet and reserved type, all distant an shit... it was hot!" Alexei smiled to himself as his face continued to get redder. "Your one wasn't." He almost nudged her with his elbow. "He got up to shit- nah, nah, I shouldn't though!" He snickered to himself.

"No, tell meeeee." Lilith pouted, nudging the man with her elbow. "Tell me now." She demanded.

"Nah, no it's fine!" Alexei weakly flailed against her. "It's fine he was a cool guy when he wasn't being a dick. Cus he had the whole mama being a noble thing - did you know his mom was a noble?!" He drunkenly rambled on. "Like, a distant cousin thing so it was crappy but it counted! And he loved it. Walked around this place like the bandit prince."

"What? Nooooo." Liliht knew of Florian's heritage, but she didn't believe for a minute that he was the kind of man to flaunt it over others.

"He didn't." She shook her head, unconvinced for a few moments before glancing sheepishly back at Lexei. "Did he?"

"Like- like he'd never be like - I'mma noble don't you know? - cus that gets your teeth kicked in round here. But cus..." He was drifting into his wine again. "Cus his mom taught him fancy noble stuff. have you ever seen them, the way they are? They just walk in and they own the room. Well he did that. He owned the room and... an he kinda owned you."

"I don't see it." Lilith shook her head as she took a long sip of tea. "I know what people who think they have power act like, I spent my entire childhood being looked down upon, people turning their noses up at the little orphan girl." Lilith's eyes lost a little focus as a small smile curled her lips. "Florian never looked at me like that."

"Man I am way too drunk for this shit." Alexei rolled his eyes at her lovey dovey... d- doveyness. The two of them went on dishing and generally sharing information that their significant others would want kept private. Until they were interupted by a loud knock at the door.

The room wnet tense again and as Alexei quietly got to his feet and edged towards the door. He shared a few words with a voice behind the door before something they said seemed to take him aback. He quickly looked through the viewing slot, acted even more confused and then slid back the latch and opened up.

"The hell are you doing, Winter?" Alexei stepped back, looking on in disbelief.

["You tell me. Why the hell am I getting calls to go across town and bring you an unwilling boy toy? If you and Erik are into this kind of shit now then I want no part of it."] The bounty hunter grumbled as he struggled through the door with a confused, half concious, bandit in his arms. He let his captive drop to the floor with a thud as they squirmed in their bindings and tried to say something through their gag. ["And who the hell is this?"]

"Winter, this is Lilith. Lilith, this is Winter."

"Conrad." Winter interjected.

"Hi." Lilith said simply, a slightly confused look on her face as she looked down at their new delivery. "Is that...?" The girl scoffed incredulously as she quickly recognised the guard from the alleyway. "That big softy." Lilith cooed as she took a sip of tea. "But a cautious softy" She nodded sagely.

["You took your sweet ass time."] Sergei called out from his perch where he squatted on the balls of his feet, drinking a beer he'd pilfered from somewhere. Maybe to deal with the stress of the day, maybe because he didn't care, or just to seem like he didn't. Frankly, Erik didn't care.

["Didn't realize you were waiting on me."] Erik walked on, not bothering to look at him. ["Just making sure your lot did as they were told. Knowing your most recent recruits I figured they'd fuck this up and fall over and land neck first on their own knives."] He held the bloodied scarf he was carrying. Their little bit of 'proof' to bring for their Bejic masters.

Sergei quickly sprang to his feet and hurried after Erik. ["Well look who's getting back into the swing of things."] He laughed. ["You'll be back to snapping kiddy necks again in no time!"] He patted Erik on the back.

["I swear to God, Sergei, if you don't back away from me I will backhand you across this courtyard."]

["And there's mister sourpuss again."] He mock pouted. ["Here. You want to be anti social so much, how about you let us young folks take care of the boring business?"] He laid his hands on Lilith's scarf, stopping Erik in his tracks. The two of them stared at each other in silence, yet again. ["Just let me have it."]

'Oh believe me I would love to.

But this time it was Erik that backed down, loosening his grip and letting the scarf slip from his fingers. It took all he had not to lash out with everything he had and smash in Sergei's shit eating grin. Let him have it. Let him take the credit - because Erik just knew that he would - he still needed to work out how he was going to do this. Erik's mediator days were far behind him and he needed to prepare. There was no strategy he could actually think of that would work well in this cluster fuck of a situation but at least he could get his head together.

Besides, better Sergei get whatever was going to come to the messenger here than him.

"A convoy is coming by in the next twenty minutes. Be ready to leave in ten," Bonnie explained to the two would-be assassins. Being Contessa's liaison to Pixie, it was only natural she'd come check up on her client before the big event. Though Pixie had enjoyed her wiles when they first met, Bonnie's presence was beginning to grate on her.

Pixie gave the blonde a tired look.

Had I a dick I'd jam it in yer mouth jus' ta' just you the fuck up.

Noticing her annoyance, Carlos chimed in. "Yes, thank you Bonnie. We've got it from here," he told her.

Bonnie nodded. "If you say so," she replied as she turned to leave the safehouse. "Good luck out there. You fuck this up and we'll all pay for it."

"No pressure," Pixie muttered under her breath just as soon as Bonnie was out the door. Her and her companion continued to make their preparations in silence. By the time they were done suiting up the two of them were covered head-to-toe in black tactical gear: kevlar vest, knee and elbow pads, utility belt and holsters, all manner of different shaped pouches, combat boots and fingerless, tactical gloves. They even had helmets with built-in infrared and night vision capabilities. If there was one good thing about working with Contessa it was the toys.

Carlos glanced over at Pixie as she was making a last-minute check on her gear. "The laser sight's outta line on the plasma pistol," she explained. "Why the fuck do they build them into the frame? It's hard as fuck ta' fix 'em that way."

"It's to make it harder for criminals to maintain them," he explained matter-of-factly. Pixie didn't look convinced. "I'm serious. They know they can't keep military-grade weapons out of the hands of bandits, but they can make it harder for them to use it."

"Pricks," Pixie whispered with a sigh. "Fuck if I need it anyway, these thin's can fire so many shots you may as well spray'n pray. The damn thin' 'as an auto settin'."

Carlos smirked. "You really haven't used many plasma weapons, have you?" he accused. "A weapon that small will overheat fast if fired rapidly."

"Well you jus' know everythin', don' ya'," she replied, a little annoyed.

"You feel more comfortable with lead," he said with a shrug. "I can understand that."

"I should use the bes' shit I got available. Don' matter if I 'ave a preference; it's all about what'll get the job done better."

Carlos crossed his arms and chuckled. "Hey, relax," he said.

"Shut the fuck up!" Pixie snapped.

"We'll get it done, Meredith."

Pixie was silent for a moment, her eye fixated on the plasma pistol in her hand. "He's bein' served ta' me on a silver platter," she mumbled. "I can' fuck this up."

"You won't."

She stared at the pistol for awhile longer before suddenly tossing it over her shoulder and drawing her M9 sidearm. "Thanks Carlos," she said as she pulled back the slide and holstered the pistol. "I'm glad I 'ave you here with me."

"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said with a grin.

Pixie returned the grin and began looking over her carbine. Unfortunately Mr. Monroe wouldn't be joining her on this mission. "Do you really think we can fix this?" she asked cryptically. "You think killin' Dio will..."

"'Violence begins to mend what was broken...'"

Pixie cocked an eyebrow and laughed nervously, "'The fuck was that?"

Carlos looked away sheepishly. "A poor attempt at poetry," he admitted. When he looked back to Pixie she was standing before him with her hand on his shoulder. Looking into her eye, he didn't see fear. It wasn't like before.

Whether she was aware of it or not, she'd already forgiven him.

"We're gettin' drinks afterwards," she told him. "I'm buyin'."

Carlos' grin widened. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's kill us a noble!"

["You seem awfully calm considering everything that's happening."]

["Oh don't let me fool you, I am absolutely livid."] Vasa said, calm and happy as he took his seat across from Florian. The same one he'd sat in when he'd talked to Lord Boykov.

The two of them sat in an awkward quiet, the scared city stretching out below them. Looking at it now, like this, there was no way Florian could call it home. For himself or anyone. It was just another battlefield now, the ground that soldiers trampled underfoot with no care for what it might have once been. At least the sight let him distract himself from his father's unblinking eyes. Or the bloody bullet hole in the couch he was sitting on.

Vasa was the first to test the waters. ["I'll be honest. I have no idea where to start with this."]

["I find just diving in is the easiest way. Just go for whatever's furthest at the front of your mind."] Florian looked up, saying it in an uncharacteristically Lilithish tone. Luckily he'd gotten his share of this conversation over the past few days. The experience was standing him in good stead.

["Why?"] Vasa said after some thought. ["I have... so many questions. How this happened, why it happened... where have you been for so long?"] The coldness was starting to drain from him now. They were alone, he could let his guard down, just a little.

["Which one would you like me to answer first?"] Florian sat up properly, crossing his arms. His guard was up as high as it would go.

["I still can't bring myself to believe it."] Vasa stared into the middle distance. ["Tell me, please tell me you were taken, that something horrible and vast snatched you up. That this is something just beyond my understanding and you've come back to make it all clear."] He almost seemed to be begging.

["I'm not going to do that."] Florian said flatly, not leaving a pause where his Father left off.

["No I didn't think so."] Vasa matched him perfectly.

["I guess I should start from the beginning."] Florian sighed. It was only right that he go first. ["Can you promise not to interrupt me?"]

Vasa nodded and with a push Florian got to recapping his reasons for leaving. It went better than it did when he told Erik, no one was drunk and no one got decked. He'd been through this enough times and was given enough space to actually explain himself properly and do it in a clear and eloquent manner. And Vasa listened in silence, even after Florian was done he was silent, just letting it all sink in. It was quite the task but he felt he was up to it. Meanwhile, Florian was left to stew in his capture until he stepped up to take his turn in the questioners chair.

["So can I ask, why did you let this happen?"] He held his hand up to the window, motioning to the battered buildings. ["Carrying on where we left off, that I get, speeding things up... ugh, understandable but this... this chaos, it was never part of the plan. You've sat back and let them run rampant. Letting the family tear itself and everyone standing too close apart. There's no future in this, there's no logic or reason to it, there's just one dragged out bloodbath after another."] Florian knew his father wasn't a stupid man, hell, you didn't even have to be a smart man to see this. IT just didn't make sense to him. Everything he'd known Vasa to do served a purpose, however small, everything had its purpose.

["What did you expect from me, Florian?"] Vasa laughed bitterly. ["I'd lost you... and Anna soon after. All this time, boy, you think this was for me? You think I'd bother to topple a regime just so I could struggle to climb the ruins with my hobble and wear my cane down to the handle? This was never for me and this was never meant to be my war! It was for you and your mother, all of it was for my family!"] He was getting angrier now, more indignant.

["Don't you dare use her, don't you DARE try and hide behind her now!"]

["You are in no position to play Anna's champion, not after you left her when she needed you most. All the life left her when she heard you died. Her only child sent back to the ash, forced to watch you burn. Say what you will about me but I swore I'd do better by you than my father did by me, that I would act selflessly as any parent should."]

["You turned half a city into your own weapon for selfless reasons?"] Florian sneered cynically.

["I did it to return those I loved to where they deserved to be... to where those that claimed our power for themselves said they could never go."] He took a deep breath. ["I never expected to see the end, Florian. To live to see what you would make of your birthright. Honestly, I never thought we would be capable of something like this!"] Vasa laughed a little at that, at his little personal joke. ["But the world looked at me and expected me to take my revenge and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want it. So here I ended up, with no one left to fight and no one to fight for. Looking down my final years alone and getting passed by by younger, hungrier fuckwits of a generation. So let them fight over the ruins I said! What do I care? I Wanted to see the world around me burn, lets see how much I can fan the flames. I was leaving a legacy of war anyway. What reason did I have to keep going but just for the sake of it?"]

Florian didn't know what to say to that. Vasa's tone and his meaning was all too clear, that his was his fault, that htis wouldn't have happened if he'd stayed. He knew it. He'd known it for a long time and like his father, he'd have to live with it. ["Guess that didn't work out?"] Florian finally offered.

["No you've made me feel quite silly there."] Vasa countered snarkily. After a while they had to start again. ["I take it you aren't here to claim your place among the family then, given all you've done?"]

["I'm not the only one. A lot of people aren't happy about the way things of gone and they're looking to see a real change."] Florian said sadly. ["I'm just here to speak on their behalf."]

["Yes, I know."]

He knew? Well of course he did, he'd taken Irena after all. Hopefully that was as far as his knowledge went. ["This doesn't have to end in violence. Not again."] Florian offered, taking on his old priestly duties one more time.

There was a knock at the door and Sergei let himself in as Vasa turned back to see him. ["I'm afraid it's too late for that, Florian."]

["What are you talking about?"] Florian asked as he saw the long strip of red fabric and a panic came upon him. No, it couldn't be. No.

["I know you were fond of her, son."] Vasa looked back to him solemnly. ["But she wronged us, personally and posed a threat to everything. We couldn't let her bring any more outsiders into this, you know that."] He would have sounded soothing if everything wasn't making Florian sick to his stomach.

["Shame to waste a piece of ass like that."] Sergei quipped. He started saying something else too but Florian didn't hear him, it took all he had to keep looking as the scarf was passed over and he saw the blood stained white heart.

This couldn't be happening. This wasn't true. She couldn't die, not like this, not to someone like him. There was noise going on around him. He still didn't hear it. Vasa tried to say something too but he was interrupted as Florian sped passed him and hit Sergei like a speeding crawler, falling on him like a madman and raining blows down on him. Florian may not have realised it yet but he was screaming like an animal.

["Guards! Can you please take my son to his room until he calms himself down?!"]

Armed men ran in quickly and tried their best to drag Florian off of Sergei who started crawling away in surprise, clutching at the bloody mess of his face. ["What the fuck kid?!"] He snarled as he spat out blood and what looked to be part of a tooth.

Florian wasn't listening. He'd given into the red mist as he struggled against the gathering of men that were struggling to hold him back, lashing out at them in a wild attempt to get free. ["You're a dead man, you hear me? YOU'RE A FUCKING DEAD MAN!!!"] It was the last coherent thing he said as something heavy hit him between the shoulder blades and he was brought to his knees.

Amy didn't really have anything else to say. They were committed now, and what would happen would happen. At this point, she was just glad that none of her part in this involved being stuffed into a box with everyone else's body odour, so she just sat back, and tried to relax.

She wondered how Sandra was getting along. Her sister's spirits seemed to have improved markedly over the past few days.


Sandra sat with crossed legs on the end of Talbot's four-poster bed, feeling the delicate satin sheets beneath her fingers. She wore a violet, sequinned dress, low cut at both the front and the back, and with a slit travelling halfway up one thigh. The colour went well with her dark curly hair, that tumbled down over one shoulder, fastened above her ear with a golden clasp, wrought beautifully in the likeness of a damselfly.

Looking up, she smiled as she took in the rest of the room. Talbot's taste was ostentatious, but not quite tacky. As her gaze fell on Talahassee, who looked distinctly less comfortable in their surroundings than she did, she could help but giggle coquettishly, helping herself to a grape from the silver bowl beside her.

"You should see the look on your face right now." She said mischievously, reclining a little on the bed and continuing to peer at him.


'Three to go.' The Gentleman thought, as he garrotted the life out of the man named Vlad in a dark corner of the terminal's generator room. Quickly, he stowed the body away, and then went in search of new prey.

The men who'd come here with murder on their minds had by now occupied almost an hour of his time. They were all good, but he was better. The most difficult part, in truth, was making sure that none of their party got away to go after Owain while the other's kept The Gentleman busy. It was forcing him to be clever, to keep their group misdirected and fearful of every shadow, diverting their full attention to protecting themselves from him, while he picked them off one by one.

It had been too long since he'd last had a challenge of this sort, a proper test of the skills of the predator, rather than the unrefined contests of brute strength that his company of late seemed to prefer. The Gentleman couldn't help but enjoy the challenge, even if it was nasty work. he'd have a lot of apologies to make after today, to fathers, mothers, children and wives of average men with a just, but unfortunate cause. It was always easier with nobles. At least the families always got a good inheritance out of it, and often hated the loved one in question anyway. Of course, The Gentleman wasn't going to let such matters bother him too much. Good, or evil? Right or wrong? No matter what the brave soldiers or gallant outlaws might believe, fate cares little for the hearts of those it brings together in bloodshed. No matter what these men were seeking vengeance for, The Gentleman could not allow it; and the moment they had drawn their guns in his presence, they may as well have turned them upon themselves.

His thoughts were interrupted by the Sherwood man, Darren, as the two met down a hallway. Without hesitation, the other man brought up his revolver, an ugly, squat thing of an unnecessarily high calibre, and fired three times. The bullets took heavy chunks out of the wall behind The Gentleman, as he ducked and rolled into an alcove. Darren rushed forward, hoping to seize this chance to corner The Gentleman and end him at point blank range, rather than engage in a prolonged test of marksmanship that he would likely lose. It was a bold plan, and a clever one, but flawed all the same...

"Nowhere to run you c-" Darren snarled at he drew closer to the alcove, before yelping in surprise as the tube light above his head exploded, raining glass down upon him. He was unhurt, but the small distraction was all The Gentleman needed. Cat quick, he dashed to his opponent and kicked the revolver out of his hand, sending it ricocheting off the opposite wall. Fast strikes to the throat, the side of the knee, and then midriff sent Darren sprawling on his back. The man tried to reach out for his weapon, but The Gentleman was already standing over him, one foot trapping his wrist, and with his pistol aimed between Darren's eyes.

It took a moment's struggle before Darren accepted his fate, and, raising his free hand in surrender, he laughed bitterly.

"You know," he said "for a moment there, I really thought you were gonna deal."

"I considered it... briefly." The Gentleman's reply was impassive.

"How much did that cunt pay you to watch his back?"

"This isn't a job." The Gentleman told him "Lady Lombardi and I just have a mutually beneficial arrangement at present."

"I guess it would take more time than I have left to explain that one to me, huh?" Darren said. When The Gentleman nodded, he grimaced. "You in the habit of granting last requests?"

"It depends on the request."

"When your 'arrangement' is done, give that bitch her nephew's head as a parting gift!" Darren spat "He deserves to be put down like a dog!"

"If I get the opportunity, it would be my sincere pleasure." The Gentleman told him, before shooting him dead without another word.

'And then there were two...'

Enough was enough. It was time to go and find Owain and leave this place.

Florian had been dragged away and Sergei had been sent to skulk off to lick his wounds. Vasa was left alone again with nothing but his thoughts. Here he was, seemingly having had his wish granted by divine will, and instead of being over the moon all he could do was look over how royally screwed up everything was. His son hated him, his home in ruins and he'd surrounded himself with ruthless scavengers and reprobates. If Anna could see this. She'd hate him.

It'd be funny if only it was happening to someone else. He took the ribbon that Anna used to wear out of his pocket. It had long since lost any smell of her but he held it close to his face anyway, for the little comfort it could offer.

'You can always win. Just not the way you wanted.'

["So what do I do now, Anna? Can't just sit here and mope. How do I salvage this?"] He asked the empty air.

Well, the situation wasn't beyond hope. Florian hadn't totally lost his touch, he still had some forces and Vasa still had his own spies. Ones that had kept him quietly informed as he played spectator over the rotten war zone he'd created. All he really had to deal with were a handful of people he knew very well, ones he could anticipate and manipulate with his eyes closed. The rest would follow them easily enough. It wouldn't be easy but he could pull this back.

'Time to scheme one more time, old man. Just put your thinking cap on... and paly your part well.'

"Hey Jesse, you doing alright? You know, besides being horribly uncomfortable."

"Fine, just fine." 'Jesse' sighed. The opportunity was right there: he could tell Bennie all about the deception. However, that would probably just throw a wrench in the works at the worst possible time. The runaway noble could imagine the commotion, 'Why yes I am Lord Chetwynd-Talbot's son - well one of his sons - you know, the man you are about to steal from and kidnap! And yes, we are just such a cushy family with strong bonds, I ran away because I found all that too boring. Absolutely.'

It was awful.

Part of Astor still clung onto the possibility of his little secret staying secret. Even if it was very, very unlikely. That, and he didn't exactly want to endure Bennie's wrath in the middle of a quite cramped crate. No sir. Well, 'Jesse' was pretty damned if he did 'fess up and damned if he didn't, so it could be said that it hardly mattered. 'Jesse' laughed at his doom and said, "Please, if you are expecting newbies to be utterly fearless in their first mission, you are expecting too much."

This was it, now was the time. Erik had gathered himself properly, he'd braced himself for whatever he imagined was about to come. It didn't help that the whole tower was on edge. he kept finding himself getting lost or turned around as he wandered from room to room. How could the place have been easier to navigate in the middle of a siege?

One friend imprisoned in the depths below him, one held captive on the top and here he was wandering around in the middle of it all. So what was keeping him so long, why didn't he just dive in and be his usual blustering self and demand all these idiots sit down and sort their shit out? 'Because you're scared... and not entirely sure why.' Maybe because this huge?! For better or worse there was no going back once he went in there and after all that had happened between them and Irena now Erik was sure that things couldn't just go back to the way they used to be. Whatever was going to be wouldn't wait forever though, eventually he'd have to bite the bullet.

Erik found Vasa in the grand study, or parlor room, or whatever it was supposed to have been. He'd claimed this spot as his own since the takeover in classic old person fashion. Vasa was writing at his desk when Erik let himself in.

["So quite the day we've had, eh?"] Vasa said calmly, folding up and putting away whatever he was writing before taking off his glasses and rubbing tiredly at the bridge of his nose. ["Seems your gut was on the mark this time."]

["Everyone should always listen to me. That's the one piece of advise I will always stand by."] Erik forced the shreds of an awkward smile as he tried to open light.

["I suppose you're here to say your piece now? Everyone else has, may as well get the full set. Where do you think we should go from here, Erik?"] Vasa turned in his chair and arched his fingers as he looked over his old adviser.

["We have to come together here, Vas. This whole 'rule of the strongest' thing you've got going on here, it's tearing the syndicate apart. Look at what we did, Vasa."] Erik spread his arms and motioned to the room around him. ["We actually did it. First family to ever just beast one of the ivory towers and take a dome by the horns. And we did it when we were united. Which we need to be now more than ever. With WV and other noble houses on the horizon. We can't afford to have any kind of weakness."] He was doing okay so far, starting strong, playing to his logical side.

["While we're surrounded by dissenters and traitors intent on tearing us apart from the inside."]

["I understand you're angry with them. Believe me I'm still trying to get my head round some of this. I'm not even saying you have to forgive Florian but you have to do something about him."]

["And Irena?"]

As much as it rankled Erik to do this, he had to approach this subject softly. He wasn't sure how much Vasa knew and given how erratic he'd been acting recently pushing him too hard might send him over the edge, with plenty of hungry climbers ready to take advantage of that. ["I believe she acted with the best interests of the dome, Vas. Maybe she could have done things differently but... but you need to let her go. We need her, we always have, and after this I don't know how she'll be."] How could she ever come back to them after what they'd done to her, what Erik had failed to stop.

["And of course it would be very difficult for the two of you to plot and scheme with her locked up and watch."] Vasa threw the line away like it was nothing.

Erik froze. ["Wh- what?"]

["You're as subtle as a brick, old friend, it's a trait I've always found so endearing in you. It also makes keeping track of you and anything you might be up to so much easier."] Vasa leaned back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself as he cut off any rambling excuse Erik was trying to conjure. ["You think Irena's the only one with eyes around this place? For every hand you might call your own there are those that answer to me, as well as any that might openly serve my needs. You think I've been acting strangely, well from this perspective, Erik, you have gone totally mad!"] He rose from his chair now as Erik backed away, toying with the cuffs of his suite. ["I had mu suspicions for a while but nothing that warranted action... until recently. I usually have a few people who can report on you at any time anyway, it was no trouble calling in the extras. Getting some late reports of your comings and goings and of some late night meetings with people who don't hold this family's best interests at heart."]

Erik was at a loss, he knew far more than he could have thought and yet had totally grasped the wrong end of the stick. ["Vas, just let me explain-"]

Vasa didn't let him continue, any sense of civility dropped away and Vasa quickly closed in on him, practically hissing through his teeth. ["You knew! You knew my son was alive and you kept it from me!"] Erik had nothing he could say to that. Not that Vasa gave him a chance. ["Haven't I been kind, honest? After all we've been through together, why turn on me like this? For your own gain? I never held you back, Erik, everything I had I shared with those that were loyal."]

["It's more complicated than that."]

["How!? How can it be more complicated?!"] Vasa was losing it now, shouting in Erik's face.

["He's changed! We all have, Vas. You have to see that. The war is over but you wont let it go, you've been looking for one fight after another when we should have been settling, rebuilding."]

["Fighting is all we're good for, Erik, it is all this world knows."] Vasa practically growled.

["It doesn't have to be."] Erik pleaded as Florian's words started ringing in the back of his mind. ["All this death, it can't have been for nothing. We keep saying this was never meant to be our war... well I don't think it was ever meant to be theirs either. But fuck if we're the people who can put this place back together. We need to step down. We- you have him back, Vas, be the bigger man and let him have his life. You can be a real family again if you just put down your damn pride!"] He said it so confidently, still, Erik felt weaker than he'd ever been.

["Do not assume that just because you're buggering boys young enough to be your son that you know anything about having one."] That was a low blow. ["Anna put up with you trailing around after me like a lost dog and I was willing to let you try and leach off my own family to make up for your lifestyle's short comings-"]

Well Erik wasn't having that. Not from him. ["But he isn't just your son! He's mine too!"] They were both taken aback by that outburst until Erik composed himself after a second. ["I raised him, just as much as you did, more than you did! I held Anna back as we turned him into our own personal weapon and I will carry that. I'll live with the wrongs we did that boy and everyone else my whole life. I'm under no illusion that I am beyond saving here, or that I'll make it to whatever end is waiting for this place. But I am not giving up on them. Florian, Renny, they're my family and I will see them safe and you too... if you'll just let me help you."]

Neither said anything for a while s they took a moment to calm down as all their anger simmered down. Vasa finally broke the quiet as he stepped closer again and placed a hand on Erik's shoulder. ["I can respect what you're trying to accomplish, Erik. But you are the last person here who is capable of changing the world, much less by swimming against the stream. This is a personal matter and I will take care of it myself along with this organisation... but I can't do it if I can't trust those that stand beside me."] Erik protested weakly to no avail. ["For the loyalty we once shared, I am allowing you to leave here on civil terms. You have twenty-four hours to leave the dome in peace, after that you are a marked man. If you fail to leave or are ever seen here again I will have both Irena and that street that you've filled with perverts and reprobates burned to the ground along with everyone found there."] He said it so calmly, like he was just listing off his plans for the day.

["Vas... please, please don't do this."] Erik begged, his eyes going wide in desperation.

["Go. Now."]

So Erik was left to make the long walk down the tower and out of the compound, feeling all those eyes upon him as the gun toting residents stared daggers at him. What was he doing? He shouldn't be walking away, he should have stayed, should have fought his corner. But how? He was alone here with a small army standing against him. One being set on him by someone he thought was his friend.

'Why ware you doing this, Vas?' None of it made sense. he was acting like a mad man, a tyrant who just wanted to push and push just so he could see how much the people around him could take until they broke. Erik could have made sense of it before, hell, he'd come close to going down that path a long time ago it weren't for the people around him that had dragged him up, people like Vasa. So why was he doing this?

With everything going on this was just too much for Erik to process in the little time he had to get away from a horde of people that were probably itching to get the credit for taking him down. Everything was falling apart and Erik found himself walking those same familiar steps that he always found himself taking when he was down these days. Shouldering his way through the front door, not noticing if it was locked or not and looking around the desolate bar. Not seeing anyone around the place he glumly started helping himself to whatever was on offer, stomping and crashing about the place as only someone of his size could. Draining Alexei's stock even more and letting all the neighbors know he was doing it.

Ruffles sat in one corner of the crate with his holdall between his feet. Despite the cramped conditions, he was still rooting around inside the bag for something to fiddle with. Eventually, he found what he decided was a conversation piece.

"Hey Sprout, Gale," he said. "Wanna see something cool?"


Bang. Bang. Bang.

Millie crept closer to the door of the armoury. She'd never been inside, as it'd always been closed and locked down, but now it was clearly unlocked; ajar, even.

Bang. Bang, bang, bang, bang.

"Dude, you suck!" said a voice from beyond the door.

"Hey fuck you!"

"Don't point that thing at me!"

It was at this point that Millie pushed through the door. Three teenagers turned to face her. Two were former Austinites, but the third, Millie wasn't sure where they'd picked her up from.

"Hey, ain't that Fifer's kid?"

"Think so. Saw her trashing people at beer pong like a pro."

"Reckon she can shoot yet?"

"Let's ask her."

"Mommy never let me near real guns," Millie chimed in.

"Really? She seemed like a real militant hardass when she was throwing us all over the sparring mat." He turned to his friend and grinned. "If she's gonna get me on my back, the least a fine-ass like that could do is bend down and--" he was interrupted by the girl elbowing him in the stomach.

"So," the other boy put in before Millie could process what she'd just heard. "Never fired a gun before. Wanna try it?"

"I dunno," Millie mumbled.

"Aw, c'mon, we'll start ya off with something teeny-tiny."

And so it was that a couple of minutes later, Millie was standing at the back of the armoury with an oversized pair of ear defenders slipping down her head, with a a snub-nosed .38 in her hands, pointing shakily at a tin can.

"Alright," said the boy who'd given her the gun. "Now breath out and pull the trigger.

Millie breathed out and pulled the trigger. There was a deafening bang, muffled not at all by the ear defenders that were more accurately defending her cheeks at this point. Her arms snapped up and lights went off in her head, followed by a fiery pain and warmth trickling down her face. After a while, Millie became aware she was sprawled on her back. She didn't have time to think about that, however, as she was immediately scared out of her mind by the sound of her mother shrieking mere feet away. Loud footsteps. Twin thumping sounds. The shapes of two boys flying over her. Dull metallic thuds as they landed.

"I take it things didn't go well?" Lilith smiled sadly, arms crossed over her chest as she leaned against the wall around the corner from the that led to the 'bunker'. Taking a log drag from the cigarette hanging from her lips, the girl sighed as she raised her head, banging her head gently on the plasterboard. "Super."

Erik wasn't particularly quiet upon entering the bar, a small glimpse through the peep hole had quickly confirmed that the need for bullets and the shooting thereof was not required, and Lilith had hastily threw on some jeans.

"What happened?" Alexei asked as he eased up towards Erik who was busy throwing back another shot of whatever was closest to hand.

Erik grimaced and took a deep breath as he tried to reign himself in and not grip the glass so hard it cracked. "He's lost it." Erik croaked. ["How did we get to this... h-how did this even happen?"]

"Erik!" Alexei barked.

"I'm out." He shrugged. "He knew, he knew... I- Everything maybe- but he knew I was up to this." That didn't get a great reaction from his audience. "I'm marked. I have to go... get out of the city before tomorrow. Or he burns this place down and kills anyone he finds."

"What?" Lilith mumbled as she poked her head around the corner. "What the fuck did you just say?" Pushing herself away from the wall, she moved up behind Erik. "What do you mean? Vasa knew?!" She shook her head incredulously. "What about Florian, what did he say?!" Evidently Lilith was getting very quickly agitated. "Did you even speak to him?!"

"They locked him up. Sergei took credit for you and- and Florian fucked him up!" Erik snickered a little at that. "I don't know what Vasa will do with him, try and bring him round maybe."

Alexei fumed quietly, though very visibly at the news himself. "Motherfucker tries to drag me into this again?!" Winter was standing further to the back of the room, watching all this play out.

"Wait, wait, so he doesn't know? He doesn't know I'm not dead?!" Lilith pulled up a stool next to Erik, snatching the drink from his hand and downing it in one gulp. "Jesus fucking Christ." The girl croaked, slamming the glass on the table before before hold her head in her hands. "What the fuck are we gonna do?"

There was a pit in her stomach the size of a small dome. She couldn't imagine what Florian was going through right now.

"Give him some of his own medicine for a while."

"Seriously though, what are we going to do?" Alexei added to Lilith's own worries as he started imagining the net tightening.

Winter wasn't far behind though with a more practical angle. "Whatever you're going to do it'll have to be soon. Wont be long until someone decides to try and come after you."

"Somebody already did." Came a voice from near the entrance door. The group of plotters spun their heads to see the perky pair of White-Eye and Bleach, Lilith's friends from her time as a dance floor duelist. The two of them casually took in the shocked looks of the people assembled at the bar. "Hi." White-Eye chirped. Bleach raised a hand and waved.

Rolling her eyes, Lilith folded her arms on the bar and buried her face in the nice little nest of worry she had made herself "I swear to god, if you came to make trouble, I'm going to lose my shit." The others could hear her mumbling. "I'm dead, I can haunt your asses, that's a thing that I can do."

"She's not as fun as she was before."

Bleach didn't seem concerned by any threats that were being sent his way. "Is it true?" He asked in that just too soft voice of his. "Is the boss alive?"

Erik nodded back at them and neither one seemed happy. "Why the fuck didn't you tell us?!" White-Eye yelled, waving a hand at Winter.

"I just found out from them!"

"Well this is a shambles then! Where even is the boy?"

"Locked up!"

"I'm very disappointed in him." Bleach mumbled.

The only noise coming from Lilith was incomprehensible whining as she shook her head in her arms before she cried out in frustration, leaning back on her seat. "Fffffffffffffffffffffffffuck!' She exclaimed. "I thought you were supposed to be good at this Erik? Now my boyfriend thinks I'm dead because of his fucking dad who's a goddamn psycho who wears the same face, but not the same face because he's old and jaded and hates the world because his wife who just happens to be a noble is dead, but also because his son faked his own death, but he's not actually dead, he's alive and came back to make sure that his father doesn't burn his home town to the ground."

The girl panted slightly, before raising a hand to point at the others "And you were there, and you, and you." She stopped at Winter. "You're late, I blame you."

"What is she even talking about?" Winter didn't look amused.

None of them could quite tell. Erik didn't really care. He was too busy being bitter. He'd given this family everything, blood, sweat and years of his life. Was he the only one who remembered when a promise made meant something, when you stood by your people and treated them with respect?

"So what are you gunna do?" Alexei asked. All eyes seemed to be on Erik again. Why did everyone keep asking him questions? He didn't want to be a big time leader guy.

What was he going to do? 'Should I stay or should I go? Hell, like I got much time left on my clock. Seems I'm only good for one thing anymore.'

"I promised I would be loyal to the Bejic family and all those under their wings. And they have sent me away into the cold." Erik said slowly, as if he was forming the words as he went. He straightened up and steadily rose from his chair. "Well there is two people left in that tower who need me. If I go, I do not go without them."

The girl looked up at Erik, a small smile curling her lips as a glimmer of hope sparked in her eyes. There was something about him that she couldn't put her finger on, something Bennie and Pixie lacked, it certainly wasn't resolve, the latter had that in spades. Honour? Well that was nothing Bennie didn't already possess. Whatever it was, it filled her with confidence. That they could actually pull this off.

Lilith ran her hands through her hair at some attempt at regaining her composure, getting to her own feet as she stood next to Erik. "Cunts have my guns." She waved her hand dismissively "Oh, and something about love and Maidens don't leave Maidens to die and blah blah blah, let's do this!" The girl punched a fist into her palm before placing her hands on her hips. "You wankers in or out?" She nodded at the other men in the bar. "I mean, me and the big guy can do this alone, noooo problem." Lilith pursed her lips. "Would be a shame to have to split all that glory several ways..."

"Think we can make it, guys?" White-Eye tilted his head.

"Been a long time. I'd like to see the boss again." Bleach nodded sagely.

"And working cheque to cheque gets pretty depressing. I wouldn't mind something close to a cause to fight for again." Winter said, stepping up.

"An like I'm just going to sit this all out." Alexei scoffed. "Especially if you three idiots are actually thinking of putting the old crew back together."

"Rebelling against the rebels." With a toothy grin Lilith swayed her hips gently to the side. "Gonna be big damn heroes." Looking up at Erik, the girl nudged him with her shoulder. "What's the plan?"

Erik carried on mulling things over, his brow furrowing as much as his face would allow. "Plan's easy, you already gathered an army to show off. So we show them, and if we have to we hit them with it."

Alexei wasn't looking as enthusiastic. "That's more of a what, Erik. How about the how? Like how are we going to do all that in less than twenty-four hours?"

"That's the tricky part." Erik admitted. At which point he looked to those gathered around him. "You people need to grab phones." that got a bitter groan from them. "Now! Just get the troops together, everyone you can! You let me worry about the other stuff."

"Like how the hell we're supposed to-"

Erik wasn't standing for any back chat as he put his bandit face back on. "I took that tower once! I will do it AGAIN!" That took them aback. "Now move!" He roared, bringing all his size to bare and sending his minions scurrying to their tasks. "And we need to get you ready." He said, turning to Lilith, suddenly much calmer.

"Hmm?" Lilith raised an eyebrow curiously. "What do you mean?"

"They have your guns. So I guess you can borrow some of mine."

"Oh?" Lilith pouted flirtatiously as she winked at the old man. "But we barely know each other."

"Oh shut up." Erik scoffed, turning her around and marching her on the way towards an armoury. "We don't have much time now. Later we can be making the love."

"Ooer" Lilith cooed as she was led away. "You know how to talk to the ladies."

"Hey Sprout, Gale," he said. "Wanna see something cool?"

"Um... yeah, sure." Gale gave a little nod, not enticingly sure what to expect from the mechanic. If the stories Allie had given her about him were anything to be believed then whatever he had in that bag might make the crate they were hiding in fly apart in four different directions. But anything was good so long as it distracted them from the mixture of tension and awkwardness that was filling it up right now.


Lilith was dead. Gone. No more.

'No! No it can't be! I wont believe it!'

But belief was all he had. He could hold onto it though. What did they have? The testimony of a scumbag that Florian wouldn't trust as far as he could throw him and a bloody scarf. That didn't prove anything, it proved that Lil got into a scrap, that maybe she got a little beat up but not that she was dead. If she was dead they'd have gone all the way, they'd have brought her hand, her head, her... oh god.

And he'd dragged her into this! Why hadn't she left? Why had she stayed? FOR HIM!

Florian had paced his cell floor raw. They'd locked him away in some threadbare room that may have once been a maid's room that had been glanced over during the ransacking. For all his grief he could still find his mind wandering to his own predicament. working up schemes and plans to get out of this. To win. Then he hated himself all the more for it, that something could distract him from her. The rational part of Florian's mind told him that this was pointless, that he wouldn't accomplish anything by wallowing in misery and self loathing, as was his old way of doing things. The rest of him didn't care though, it was caught between crushing depression or blistering rage.

That combination came out right now though as he let out a furious howl and slammed his fist into the weakest looking part of the wall, again and again until his knuckles were scraped and bloody.

'She can't be dead. She's better than that, she's too good to fall to them, in this godforsaken place.' He'd never hated his mother dome so much in his life.

He had to get out of here. Somehow, anyway he could and then he'd find out what had happened. He'd find Lilith and she'd call him an idiot for ever even thinking that such a could have happened. No doubt she'd smack him round the head for losing faith in her for even a moment. she would, she would.

'What if you don't find her?' Dread sent a shiver through his skin.

Then he'd start with the people responsible. And he'd move out from there.

"I'll keep hold of it, and if we get into a rough situation, I can always give it you then, deal?"

"Fine," Elizabeth relented with a sigh. She knew he was right, but she was still miffed about it.

A short time later and they were in the elevator, ascending to Basilio's penthouse at the top of the tower. Elizabeth was nervious, but some controlled breathing went a long way in strengthening her resolve. She'd had to steel herself many times against Dio since the knife incident, and fortunately it was becoming easier to keep a lid on her emotions.

Still, she couldn't help but worry, as was the case with Asad. "Hey," she whispered to him. "Everything will be fine."

"I know." Asad said simply, hands behind his back as his gaze stayed firmly on the elevator doors. As on edge as he was around Dio, he had found it easier to simply stay fixed on one thing, whether it was the food in front of him, or the wine, or even a piece of furniture. One visit he had even counted the ceiling tiles in one of the offices. Three hundred and fifty seven.

Somehow Elizabeth didn't seem convinced. "Good," she replied, choosing not to press the issue. Once the doors opened an armed escort appeared almost immediately and guided them to their destination. Instead of dining in Dio's lavish dining room, they'd apparently be eating a more "homely" brunch in his lounge. The decour was far too stuffy for Elizabeth's tastes, but at least it had a bar.

"Major Harel," Dio announced to the soldier as they entered the room. "And my lovely Lady, of course. How nice of you to join me."

Elizabeth ignored the pleasentries and sat down on a velvet couch nearby. "What's on the menu?" she asked rather disinterested.

"Raphael can help you with that. Actually, I was wondering if I could borrow your loyal soldier for a brief drink," Dio told her. "We have a few business matters to discuss. I have sent for company. You will not be dining alone, dear."

"Thank you, M'lord," she said plainly.

Nodding his head gently, the Major stepped in line next to Dio as they proceeded to the bar. Thinking it best to keep his mouth shut until he was addressed directly.

Dio stepped behind the bar and waved his hand across it in a theatrical fashion. "What will you have, Major?"

"I'm on duty my Lord." Asad replied, a smile smirk curling his lips. Best to keep up the casual banter, can't act too different or he may get suspicious.

"Nonsense!" Dio barked, somewhat amused. "Come on, live a little!"

Asad closed his eyes as a small chuckle grumbled in his throat. "Well if my Lord insists..." He looked over the selection of fine drinks on display, and in classic Asad fashion, decided to go for the same think he always went for. "A martini wouldn't be so bad right about now." He loved the little olives they put in the glass.

"I would have never guessed," Dio joked. After pouring himself and Asad drinks he ushered the soldier towards the door. "We're going for a quick walk." Dio announced to Elizabeth.

"Don't get lost," Elizabeth muttered sarcastically.

Stepping through the door, Dio led Asad through a part of the penthouse he had never seen. One entire side of the hall was comprised of windows, giving them a breath-taking view of the metropolis below. About halfway down the hall Dio stopped and turned towards the window, peering out towards the horizon. "What are your prospects, Major?"

Asad sipped gingerly at his drink, narrowing his eyes slightly as the sun glared through the window. As much as he hated what the city represented, he was still taken aback by the view every single time. "I'm unsure what you mean, sir." Asad glanced at Basilio as he thought on the subject. "I go where I'm told. Right now that's at Lady Maribel's side. When I am no longer needed, I imagine I'll be needed elsewhere."

"Come one," Dio groaned. "I am sure you have some places you'd rather be? Some higher stations you'd like to see yourself occupying some day? Everyone wants to be bigger than they are."

"Maybe for some, my Lord." Asad lifted his head slightly. "I want to be where I can be the most useful. An office isn't for me, can't stand all the paperwork." he Major smiled. "I want to be out there." He tipped his glass gently towards the city below. "Doing all I can." The man wasn't lying, despite being specific about who it was he'd be working for exactly.

Dio cocked an eyebrow. "Be 'out there' you say?" he mused. "So I take it this cushy security job isn't to your liking? As someone who has received the training you have, I can only imagine how benign this must be for you. Would you rather be out in the world again, doing things few others could ever dream of doing?"

"Don't get me wrong, my Lord, it's been a pleasure guarding the young Lady." Asad's eyes rested back on the horizon. "Lady Maribel has never really been in any danger here, I understand the need for caution of course, I'm just eager to my feet back on the ground and do something more proactive." Asad sipped as his drink as his eyes met Dio's. "Results are easier to see when you have a hand in making them happen."

Dio chuckled and nodded enthusiastically. "I like the way you think Major," he approved. "That's exactly what I was hoping to hear! I have a proposition for you, Major. Would you be willing to hear it? This may be the opportunity you've been waiting for!"

Asad's eyes widened enthusiastically. "Oh? Please, by all means continue." What was Basilio plotting now?

"With his most recent mission Colonel Ortega proved that he's well past his prime," Dio began. "You and your team, however? You succeeded where 'the best' had failed. After the wedding I plan to sit down with Doctor Pym and restructure our special operations divisions. I want Samsara to be the new Chimera. I want Commander Saburo to lead it and I want you to have her back. Your team will be given the most dangerious assignments, and as a result, will be given the maximum amount of resources we can afford. That means bigger guns, more men and a bigger paycheck."

Dio grinned. "What do you say to that, Major?"

Asad couldn't help but let a genuine smile curl his lips, forgetting for a moment that he hadn't planned to stick around long to savour the opportunity. "That's amazing, I... don't know what to say, my Lord." Asad rubbed at his stubbled chin. "I wasn't really sure what was going to happen to Samsara after the last mission, truth be told I was convinced the squad wasn't going to get back together, but this? This is a great honour, sir." The man bowed his head modestly.

"Great," he replied. Holding his cocktail up in the air, he nodded at the Major. "To the future; may this empire stand for thousand years."

'Not if I can help it' Asad raised his glass. "And maybe an extra year on top of that." He had gotten his fake smile down to a T.

One after the other, the latest batch of new recruits got their equipment, having gotten their paperwork sorted out. A conveyor belt of bodies, that's all a bored Jun saw. Fresh meat for the grinder.

How since how it been since he had stood in that line and they had handed him a form with strange letters? Since they had asked him questions with words he hardly knew the meaning of? Jun could hardly believe so much time had passed. Back then, he had sworn never to look back on the past; to bury his failure and shame under new memories made in a new world. However, Jun had failed to follow that oath. He thought more about Mugunghwa-i than ever. At least back then it could be written off as homesickness, but now the reason had changed into something entirely different. Something kept his past just a heartbeat away. It was childish, really, expecting it to go away like some spectre.

Jun gave the newbies one more look over. What was their story? Why were people who definitely didn't know how to hold a gun rushing for the chance to be a soldier? Probably the carbon, that was always the main reason 'round here.

At some point between leaving the bar and travelling to one of the abandoned Bejic hideouts on the outskirts of town, a silence had fallen over Lilith as she smoked in the passenger seat next to Erik, his large thick jacket over her shoulders. Few words were shared by the two, both seemed deep in their own thoughts as they drove slowly through the dome so as not to draw attention.

Lilith was agonising over Florian and what he must be going through right now, thinking about it was killing her. We need to hurry, we need to hurry and find him, the longer we wait...'. Lilith's expression hardened as she clenched her jaw.

The pair finally arrived at their destination, quickly hurrying inside the old dilapidated building, Lilith and Erik started preparing for the fight ahead.

Several minutes had passed and Lilith was engrossed in her preparation. She had changed into something a little military looking, khaki trousers, a green sweater with a kevlar vest, fingerless gloves, topped off with a headband pushing her hair back over the top of her brow. With a look of utter determination the girl checked and rechecked several weapons as she loaded them with varying types of ammunition. She hadn't decided on what she was taking, she had never been without her revolver, she missed the poor thing already. Deciding that a bit of everything was the best option, Lilith loaded herself up with guns and bullets. Two pistols on her waist, one stuffed down the back of her trouser waistband, one on her leg holster, as well as a couple of grenades hanging from her belt and a dozen magazines stuffed into the pockets on her kevlar and trouser pockets.

They would regret fucking with her, every single one of them, they would regret the day they took something she loved, and today they had taken three, they had taken the man she loved and made him believe she was killed by some punk ass fucking yokel from the arse end of nowhere, but most importantly, the one transgression she could never forgive, they had taken her guns.

"Fuckers are gonna die." Lilith stated matter of factly, as she angrily smashed a magazine into the bottom of one of her pistols and stuffed it into its holster before turning around to look at Erik preparing on the other side of the room.

"Okay, here's the plan." Lilith mumbled as she lit up a cigarette and took a long drag, impatiently blowing smoke from the corner of her mouth as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Here's what I've got so far. We go in, and kill everyone, but mostly Sergei." Lilith's eyes narrowed as they filled with fire. "Especially Sergei." The girl sneered as she said the man's name. "I'm probably missing some key details, but fuck it, I'm pissed off and anyone who gets in my way is gonna get my boot up their arse." The girl was giving off some major Pixie vibes as she began pacing around the room, angrily puffing smoke from her nostrils.

"We grab Florian and Renny, kill some more wankers, then go find the king wanker himself and ask, nay, demand answers!" She turned quickly, pointing a finger at Erik. "And ask him where my fucking guns are while we're at it!"

Erik let the girl have her rants and little whooping calls. Whatever helped get her energy up for what was to come. Mostly it all went over his head as gibberish as he haphazardly readied the final touches of the plan. Not that it was much of a plan, more like organising a really big, last minute, violent party as he ordered around all the various parties they'd dragged into this mess. His crews were down as a cert, those that were in on the escapade anyway and Renny's people saw the writing on the wall, those had had survived the hits. With those last minute factors though their numbers weren't looking great. They needed those loyalist forces to step up and swing things in their favor or they were royally screwed.

'Oh god this stress is not good for my digestion.' Erik grimaced as butterfly and angry shit vied for control of his stomach. 'Come on, it's just another job... think of it as just another job... just lay on that slick Ablev charm. You can do this. you have to do this.'

The time had passed in a blur and before he knew it game time was almost upon them. Erik and Lilith stepped out into the quiet street to see the small gathering of crawlers and the APC at their column's head as Erik's personal crew busied themselves with their final preparations. "Masks!" Erik yelled and the gas masks were on. These ones were a far cry from the thugs and goons Lilith had faced so far.

"Anyone here need a big speech before we start?!" Erik called to his assembled shock troopers. "Anyone?" He said after a pause.

"Fuck off!" Came a muffled cry from behind one of the masks followed by a few chuckles here and there.

"That's my boys." Erik smirked. "I get you a good one later, now we go on the clock." And he was off, marching straight for his armoured ride. "If I can make this work, I am your king, girl. You tell all the blonde girls. I want that power." He mumbled over at Lilith as the two of them piled in to the troop carrier.

A deep breath, a knock on the back of the driver's compartment and the march roared on, ready to meet up with their cohorts at the rendezvous. ["Here we go..."] And Erik found himself in need of another deep breath.

Arms crossed over her chest, Lilith tapped her foot impatiently as their crawler made its way down the street. She had managed to get her blood burning, but it was threatening to wane. The long drawn out silence of travelling to a fight were always the worst, it gave her time to think, and the last thing she wanted right now was to be thinking.

Fighting, she wanted to be fighting, she wanted there to be blood and hot breath, she wanted to show these people what happened to people who underestimated her, she wanted to watch the helplessness in their eyes as they realised that a stranger, a girl from nowhere, this unassuming blonde girl with the wry smile and blue eyes had undone everything they had accomplished. Nobody was untouchable, especially if that certain someone had taken something Lilith wanted back.

And this girl wanted him back more than anything.

Did she have something to prove? It always felt like she was trying to show others her worth, was that a bad trait to have? Did it come across badly? Maybe it worked for her, made people underestimate her, and when people underestimated her they tended to lose. She hoped they didn't, she wanted them to fear her and still lose, she wanted them to try their hardest and still see that it isn't enough to stop her fire.

Eyes locked on the passing scenery, Lilith lit a cigarette and took a long drag, sneering slighty as she blew smoke from the corner of her mouth. Would it be enough? This little crew her and Erik had put together? They didn't have numbers, but they had spirit, a reason to be doing this, a purpose to fight for. Could they just barge into the tower and take it? Just like that?

Glancing at Erik, Lilith noted how tired the man was. And why wouldn't he be? He was older than any other fighter she knew, but he was sturdy, indomitable, like Merry, but not as chaotic, there was a calmness to his demeanour, even when he was ranting and raving, she could tell the waters in his mind were tranquil. A small smile curled the girl's lips as she looked at him fondly.

'I wish I could have known you earlier in my life, I have a feeling you could have taught me some amazing things.'

"I miss home..." Lilith muttered to nobody in particular as smoke crawled from her nostrils. "I miss my ship, and my Sprout." She wondered what Axel was up to right now, and if he was still pissed at her for bailing. Then her mind wandered to Meredith. Sure she had seen her for a little but when her and Sprout got back from Feroxi, but it felt like nothing, it felt like months since the two had sat down and just... talked.

She missed her mother. She was her mother right? The age gap wasn't huge, but she was more of a mother than a sister, right? Lilith didn't really know, she had no idea what having a mother must feel like, but she hoped it was like what she felt for Meredith.

"When we're done here Erik..." Lilith paused for a moment as she turned her attention back to the window. "You should visit the South, I think you'll really like the Maidens, I'll buy the drinks." She smiled at the thought. "Florian can come too, I guess." She sighed as she rolled her eyes. "We'll leave him with the kids while you, me, and Merry hit the town, I get the feeling we'd get into all kinds of trouble." She chuckled as she took another long drag. "She'd really like you I think, but I can't promise she won't try and fuck you."

'Come on... come on!'

Florian grunted and grumbled through gritted teeth, losing all sense of delicacy as he got more and more frustrated with things. He'd managed to break apart some of the homely additions to his cell. If there were any guards outside his door they must have just passed it off as a petulant tantrum. Not that Florian had to do much acting to sell it. Smashing things up had never offered him much in the way of release. Inanimate objects always just seemed so unphased by his attempts at retribution that it just made him angrier. But this time it served a purpose! Now he could try and break away the thinner parts of his splintered victims to fashion a makeshift lock pick.

If only he was skilled in the sneakier side of breaking and entering and the pick quickly snapped. ["Goddammit!"] Florian snapped. There were no windows either. Maybe he could kick the door down?
There were empty glass bottles scattered around the place and the crumpled up pieces of paper that had been discarded along the way had been gathered up and disposed of. Had to keep things neat now, couldn't get too drunk now, things were far from done yet.

Vasa sighed and ran a sweaty hand through his hair. He was finished, it was all done. He folded up the letters he'd just finished, signed them, sealed them and took another light drink. One for Florian, one for Erik. Speaking of which, the big lug was taking his sweet time coming back. Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he'd back down for the first time in years and do as Vasa told him.

'Oh that would be awkward, I'd certainly feel silly there.' The old man chuckled to himself at the thought of what the hell they'd all have to do if that happened.

He could just walk down the hall and find Florian. Just speak to his boy and hash things out between them. They could settle their problems in a calm and civilised manner.

'Oh come now, you know that isn't the hand you've dealt yourself.' As nice as it seemed it wouldn't finish things here. A cliched as it sounded this was bigger than them now. Still... maybe he could claw at a little bit of piece for himself.

That thought was interrupted though, as one of the nearby radios crackled up with someone yelling urgent messages to whoever would listen. Seemed a fight was breaking out at the gates of the compound.

["Took you long enough."]

"That is a risk I am willing to take, girl." Erik shook his head a little at that one. She made them sound like a bunch of sex obsessed maniacs these ones. So... not unlike most criminals he'd met. Though the idea of them keeping kids around sounded pretty weird.

They neared the edge of the compound, the lone vanguard crawler had already engaged the guards. By which they meant Bleach had gotten out and started some petty argument over whatever he could think of to annoy those on duty while the attack force edged in from their scattered positions, gaining as much distance as they could before everything went insane.

As they craned their necks Erik and Lilith could see the snow white weirdo waving his hands around in entitled indignation and probably shouting something about someone's mother. Erik gave the knock for their driver to give the signal. The horn blared and from their window Lilith could see one of the guards look away just in time to miss Bleach drawing his machete and convincing a man's blood to leave his body.

"Hold on!" Erik yelled in her ear as their driver gunned it with gusto, along with a small swarm of other motorised murder vehicles that fell on the compound with marauder like passion. Engines roared and tires shrieked over the sound of panicked men scrambling for safety and returning fire.

Erik and Lil's ride was peppered with light bullet fire that its armoured bulk managed to shrug off with nothing more than a few scratches. It was about to get a whole lot more as their crawler lead the charge and ran straight for the barricade that blocked the courtyard outside the tower proper. The thing shook as it blustered its way though the metal barricade with an almighty crash. There was the distinctive soft thud of someone going down underneath the tires just before the crawler swerved on and came to a halt. The back door swung open, letting in all the sights and sounds of the battlefield it had rocked up onto.

Erik gave Lilith a hearty smack on the back. "Gun it!" His language skills were slipping a little as he got more and more worked up but the message was clear as he charged forward, rifle up and firing bursts of bullets in the direction of anyone stupid enough to be standing in his line of sight. Other crawlers and squads quickly followed them as the scorched garden was turned into a chaotic mass of red scarfed fighters baying for blood.

As he charged into the light Erik found himself getting wistful, as he occasionally got during times of life threatening violence. He came to wondering what would become of them as this got more extreme, what would become of his reputation? What would the people of this city say about this day in years to come? Personally, he was hoping it would get a spot in history books. Hopefully as 'The last civil war of Frostfall.'

Or should it be for Frostfall? He didn't get to think of an answer as he put the last round in his magazine through someone's eye.

A grin curled Lilith's mouth, narrowing her eyes as a hail of bullets zoomed overhead. Pistol in hand, the girl sprinted across the open ground leading onto the outer garden of the tower, firing several covering shots to keep some heads down until she finally found refuge behind a rather gaudy statue of a naked man. "Nice try fella." Lilith chuckled as she checked the magazine in her weapon. "Nobody has a cock that big in this weath-" The girl's eyes widened in surprise as a stray bullet cleaved the exaggerated member from its place of display. "Ouch." The girl winced, pursing her lips playfully as she bent over to pick up the stray piece of stone. "Tough luck mate." She sighed as she tossed it over her shoulder.

Taking one less drag of her cigarette, the girl spat it out, exhaling through clenched teeth as smoke mixed with her hot breath. "Freezing my goddamn tits off to save your arse, Florian." Leaning out of cover Lilith let loose three shots, "You better pay me back!" She called out, as if she thought her words would find him. Loosing several shots, three Bejic men fell dead to the ground. Using the opening she had created, Lilith moved up closer to the tower entrance, covered by some of Erik's men, gaining herself a nice little place on the right flank that was out of view from the main courtyard. "Y'all fuckers have better brought buckets!" Lilith shook her head, chuckling as she called out over her cover. "'Cos I'm gonna... er... ice... you fools?" Lilith's words trailed off as she looked up at the huge armoured behemoth of a man towering over her.

Glowering down at her, a distinct grumble could be heard echoing in his throat. "Hi." Lilith smiled nervously. "Where'd you... come from?" Lilith's eyes shifted as she had trouble figuring out just where he had come from and how he had managed to stay out of view. her words were met with rage as the huge man leapt forward in an attempt to grab her. Almost squeaking, Lilith ducked under the man's grapple, tripping him in the process. As he landed face first into the pavement, Lilith shook her head incredulously. "Why the fuck would... I don't... Fuck it." The girl rolled her eyes as she buried a round in the back of the soldier's skull. "Why does everyone here think fists are better than bullets?! Who does that?!"

"Um... yeah, sure."

Sprout rolled his eyes. "Please," he said, "he's jus' gonna show you this dumb---" His words died in his throat when the vehicle suddenly screeched to a halt, jumbling everyone together even further. "We here already?"


"Please, if you are expecting newbies to be utterly fearless in their first mission, you are expecting too much."

Bennie chuckled. "Take it easy, Jesse," he advised. "I've got your back. If you aren't whole confident in yourself yet at least trust that I'll be there to pull your ass out of the fire. Every badass bandit out there started out like you an' you'll make it just like they---" As with those in the other crate, Bennie and Jesse nearly bumped heads when the truck came to a sudden stop. After a moment of silence Bennie took a deep breath.

You can do this girl.

"It's your show now, Amy," the big man mumbled to himself.


They were a mere thirty meters from Talbot's ship when two guards stopped their vehicle. Brock sat in the driver's seat with his elbow resting outside the window. His expression was less than inviting. "Sir, can I see some ID?" he ordered. "We're not expecting any shipments before take-off."

Brock rolled his eyes and reached into his pocket for his fake ID. "Talk to the broad," he moaned. "She's the brains behind this operation. I just do the drivin'." The guard nodded to his counterpart who walked up to the passanger-side window as Amy opened it.

"Ma'am, I'm going to have to see some identification," he told her.


"You should see the look on your face right now."

"I reckon I'd be lyin' if I said that was the first time I'd ever gone down on'a noble," Tallahassee said with a nervous laugh. "Whenever Pixie needed a man ta' whore out she'd pick either me 'er Bennie. She usually chose Bennie if it involved both of 'em." Tallahassee shook his head, grinning stupidly. "That kinda stuff... this kinda stuff... well, it happened few and far between back then. We usually jus' ripped people off at gunpoint."

The cowboy leaned forward and grabbed a grape from the bowl. "I really hope these kids ar' ready fer that," he remarked, tossing a grape into him mouth. "Sooner 'er later, they'll all 'ave ta' face what bein' a bandit's really about."

Just as soon as he'd finished saying that Talbot entered the room dressed in nothing but a robe. Groping the air with his fat, pudgy fingers, he smiled cheerfully at the undercover Maidens. "They say there's one final shipment to process and we will be cleared for departure," he explained. "Shall we get in one final romp before the adventure?"

Glancing to Sandra, Tallahassee barely hid his disgust. "This definitely ain't what it's about," he whispered.

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