Another Endgame — Suffer The Children


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Scene Title Another Endgame — Suffer the Children
Synopsis The residents of the Hub launch a desperate attack against the Vanguard in a bid to leave their dying world.
Date January 12, 2012

Inside the cavernous railway station at the heart of the Hub, every single survivors has been gathered together. Scouts have been recalled, salvagers have come in from every corner of the city. It's here that everything has come to an unexpected head. Under the flickering glow of string lights, chemical lamps, and candles Edward Ray has taken to stand atop one of the picnic tables so that he can be seen above everyone else. Allen Rickham and the First Lady are by his side. All in attendance watch with no small amount of uncertainty as their future unfolds before them.

“A few months ago,” Edward’s voice has a nervous quaver to it. “Visitors came to the Hub from outside. Visitors we told you were from the ruins, from what is left of the world.” With one hand outstretched, as if to gesture to the greater world, Edward’s wide blue eyes scan the crowd. “That, was a lie.”

A susurrus of voices fills the cavernous chamber, all eyes moving to Elisabeth Harrison and Magnes Varlane. “Some of you,” Edward continues, shouting over the noise to tamp it down, “already discovered the truth. Some of us knew from the beginning because we saw them arrive. I'm here today to tell you the truth. I lied to you to protect you, to keep you safe from the most deadly thing in this world of ours.”

Edward’s expression is tense, brows raised.

False hope.

K-Mart*, The Hub

A line of scouts and scavengers under the empty of Kain Zarek wrap all the way up the stairs to his salvage shop. But noone is here to trade today, they're here to go to war. Kain stands at the head of the line, along with Peyton Whitney, handing out assault rifles and boxes of ammunition.

Liz and Magnes didn't come from outside the Hub. They… are travelers from a parallel dimension to our own.

After receiving their guns, each individual locks and loads their rifle, checking ammunition and filling their backpacks with medical supplies and whatever tools they can carry out of his store. It's a going out of business forever sale. A young blonde woman in her twenties is handed a rifle next, a name patch on her olive-drab jacket reads DEAN in all caps. She gives Kain a steady look, then takes an assault rifle from him.

I know how impossible this sounds. But we live in a world where an immortal Nazi killed three billion people or more. We live in the fantastic every day. This, their story, is real.

Kain watches Helena take the rifle, brows furrowed and lips downturned into a frown. His eyes cast to the side, breath deep and slow before he turns to the next scout to hand over a rifle. “Watch yer ass out there, Jesse,” he says to the redhead behind Helena with a worried tightness in his voice.

Their world is unlike ours. It is clean, it is safe, and it offers us another chance at life. But we can't simply cross that threshold today. We lack the necessary power to bring even one of us there. But the day of our exodus is close at hand.

Maintenance Office, The Hub

Oil lamps hang from the exposed metal beams in the ceiling over a faded old blueprint detailing a sprawling brick-walled complex of mill buildings and factory space. The bottom of the blueprint reads Textile Factory 17. Around the folding table, Woods points out the entrances through the front gate and shakes his head. Beside him, Lynette and Mateo look on with concerned expressions.

We have a chance to get that power, in a woman named Gillian Childs. She is a prisoner of the Vanguard, held at a facility just a few blocks from here in Vanguard-Controlled Red Hook.

“I don't like it either, but Edward and Liz have been beating their heads all week on this. It's the best we've got, given the circumstances.” Woods taps his finger at the south wall. “Lynette, you'll be with Hana and the first extraction team. He wants you an’ the First Lady t’do a bloody rendition of Thunderstruck, yeah?”

If we can rescue Gillian Childs, we wake up from this nightmare. But it means having to go head-to-head against the Vanguard. It means taking risks, going off of our drugs that have kept us safe, risking contamination and death.

“The bloody fucking President will be with Magnes and a couple other people makin’ a scene over here.” Woods circles another part of the facility’s courtyard. “Because this building… its where they keep their fucking tank. So, I suppose that's a thing… we’re sendin’ a few people t’fight a bloody tank.”

But our lives have been on a timer since we first stole away into this ruin. If we don't succeed now… we never will. We have to take this risk, together, and if we do I see the odds of success dramatically in our favor.

Northern Mill Space

Textile Factory 17

Red Hook

Pushing double doors open, a broad-shouldered man in a fur-collared leather jacket strides urgently into the mill space. The gutted building Hans Kazakova so urgently enters is full of nothing but cages now. The kind once used by New York zoos to transport animals. Most of them are ten by fifteen, filled with grimy prisoners sitting slouched against dark bars. Many of whom are under the age of fifteen.

Elisabeth and Magnes have fought the Vanguard before. Fought them and won. They're a memory in their world, a footnote. They stood up against Kazimir Volken and defeated him. They’ve shown us how.

Hans strides past the cages, distant sounds of gunfire popping beyond the walls clearly evident. “You!” Hans slams a hand against the metal bars of the largest cage at the middle of the mill space, decorated with a Persian carpet and two bookshelves resting at either side of a red velvet upholstered chaise lounge. “You did this somehow,” Hans barks as he unholsters his sidearm and points it through the bars at a dark-haired woman sitting on her side upon the chaise lounge.

If we fight together, if we rely on one-another’s skills, we might be able to live another day, another month, another lifetime in a world where our loved ones are still alive.

Why are they here!?” Hans bellows, flicking off the safety and angling it down at Gillian Childs. But another hand comes up, takes Hans’ wrist. The shorter man of the pair, with his curly beard and dark green beret just shakes his head and eases the more agitated man’s aim away from the frightened young woman.

When the first survivors followed me into the Hub, years ago, I told them what I'll tell you now.

Rico Velasquez stares up into Hans’ eyes and manages a tired frown. “Hans, they're already at the wall. Multiple shooters on adjacent rooftops. This was organized. We need to make an example of them,” Rico nods to the walls, “not her. I need you with a level head.”

We either live together…

An explosion rocks the Textile Factory as a hole is blown clear through the wall of the mill space. Rico and Hans recoil from the blast and Rico shoves Hans back. “Get the fucking tank!” Rico shouts as he withdraws his Luger from his holster. “We’ll hold them off!”

or we die alone.

Rico fires indiscriminately through the opening in the the explosion made, backing away from Gillian’s cell and using one of the cages filled with prisoners as cover. “Breach! We've got a fucking breach!”

As Hans retreats from sight, several more Vanguard soldiers begin making their way inside from adjacent wings. “Ben! Lucille! Pincer maneuver!” Rico calls out to two of them, and Benjamin Ryans rushes to Rico’s side, handgun held firmly in a two-handed grip. His daughter Lucille is not far away with an uzi, ducked behind another cage holding prisoners ready for transport and indoctrination.

With a nod to her father, Lucille unclips a grenade from her belt, watching through the bars. If she fails and survives, they'll kill her father as punishment and she knows the inverse is true as well. They have to fight together, they have to be ready for whatever comes next.

One of things Elisabeth hates most about being the leader is giving orders like she reiterates just before the explosion — "Center cage is the priority. Anyone else we get out of here is icing on the cake. Without the target, it's for nothing." Because — KIDS. And Vanguard loves using them as fodder and human shields.

The collapse of the wall puts her team in motion, and they all have objectives. Sweeping the outer edge to block off reinforcements (and kill whoever they find); specific targets such as Ryans, Rico, and Lu — the latter because of Evo Reasons; or skirting the fighting if possible and getting out with Gillian.

It breaks her heart in some ways — Lucille and Ben Ryans are people who helped her just a few months ago — and now she is ready, willing, and able to pause at the threshold of the wall and make them her primary targets. She tries to make her shots count— no firing willy-nilly.

Unlike the rest of them, Ling stands mostly unfazed by the chaos around her. She doesn't carry an AK-47 or a handgun. She donated those resources to someone who could make better use of them, though she keeps some of those clips on her person, one for an AK and one for a handgun - resupplies to whomever may need them at a given time.

Instead, she carries her knife, smoke billowing out from her feet - enough to make it hard to judge if they're even there or not, or if she's just gliding across the floor, slightly formless. "This is absolute madness," she muses with very specific emphasis and enunciation. "I've never been so able to…" A thin, slightly malicious smile crawls across her face as the grip on her knife tightens, "cut loose like this before."

With that, her body dissolves into smoke, first collecting on the floor where she stood, and then rushing and winding out across the floor, in search of some unfortunate Vanguard soul. The zombies she's had to fell often offer little in the way of satisfaction. This? This would be delightful.

For Isabelle the feeling… was one of being alive. Even staring death in the face, coming up against the Vanguard. Plowing through them to get to their goal. Gillian. It started slow, the heat creeping over her body from her core. That familiar feeling, she felt like herself. The burn coursing through her veins Isabelle Ashford was okay with not having any body armor or a firearm. Her flames would just destroyed those things, things to get in the way. She comes in after Ling though not as subtly.

Bright orange flames roar and crackle engulfing both her arms fully. She doesn't seem to be affected by the heat of the flames rolling off of her. She seems to be reveling in it. Izzy holds in one hand the knife of the huntress Vör, a gift from her sweetie Shaw. The grin on her face is dark, fire and enmity reflect and rage in her eyes. A look is given to the smoky woman that is Ling and Isabelle can only agree. Cutting loose was fun. Dressed in a plain white tank top and short shorts of a soft material and sneakers, her attire meant for free movement and less things to be burned by the flames. The edges of her tank top already transforming to the dark burnt brown before becoming ash. She doesn't anticipate being able to remain fully clothed. That doesn't really matter to her though. Revenge does.

She casts a fiery gaze over to Shaw and winks at him a scuff from an earlier fight evident on her cheek, “Don’t die or anything babe,” before running forward while throwing her arms out in front of her. The glow of the fire radiating around her to cast the shadows away from her immediate area. Flames swirl around and down her arms, the velocity whipping her brunette hair in the wind, wild. The smoke that billows off from her and the objects being set aflame by a touch wafts in and around the room, lending more for Ling to work with.

Out of one hand a jet of flame is aimed at the feet of Lucille. There's something about going head to head with a fellow female warrior that excites her and her eyes narrow and she takes her hand that's free of the knife and tendrils of fire whirl together to form a medium sized ball of flame that launches towards the woman, crackling and popping as it goes.

Heading up the rear is Shaw, armed with rifle in hand and the rebar knife he’d taken with him on the last scavenging trip that managed to land them the intel for this all important raid. The most important of all. The fight up until this point has been intense already, but he has kept his cool - unlike polar opposite Isabelle. Now that they’ve made it this far, now with the wall breached, he focuses on their main goal. Getting to and extracting Gillian Childs. Not before a half-smile to Isabelle for her comment to him. “Be safe, eanqa’,” he bids her, and breaks off to slide around the breached perimeter wall opposite of Elisabeth’s position. The flashier Evolved being the distraction, he circles along the cages, looking out for danger as well as for any mechanisms that might trigger on the way towards Gillian’s central cage. The imprisoned children get a few disturbed glances from the man, but he doesn’t yet try to free them. There is a larger, more pressing goal in his mind.

Compared to the others, Gillian’s accommodations are particularly posh, though she doesn’t seem to appreciate it much. A book lays open on the lounge, a notepad with tribal-like scribbles as if she’d been designing a tattoo falls to the floor as she moves, getting down as the bullets hit the bars a little too close to her. She knows that they would avoid hitting her if they can— their boss would be greatly displeased if something happened to her.

“Get down,” she rasps to the kids next to her, gesturing in the universal language, hoping that they listen, though they are stacked so close together she’s sure some will get hit even if they listen to her. Or listen to their own instincts.

Crawling over to the edge of the cage, she looks through, allowing a shred of hope to show in her eyes as she tries to make out faces, make our figures she might have once known— but at the same time they find no help from that direction. Either they leave her negated when they don’t want to use her, or she’s not quite ready to publicly show her side—

She’d already been threatened once and who knows how long they will leave her if she actively gave assistance.

Pinned down in an ambush, the Vanguard are cornered in an area that they could flee from, given the enormous warehouse doors behind their number, but seem unwilling to. Whether it is out of a sense of loyalty to the Work, or fear of punishment for failure, they hold the line in the face of what could be certain death. Lucille faces that fear immediately as a rolling wave of fire spread across the floor toward her. She springs backwards with catlike agility, eyes taking on a vibrant golden glow as she does. When she lands, it is with a backwards skid across the concrete floor, then dashes to the side and ducks for cover behind a cage full of terrified, screaming children.

Isabelle catches fire from Lucille’s automatic pistol, rounds ricocheting around her and impacting the brick wall behind her. The frantic, suppressing fire keeps Isabelle moving, but Lucille’s focus on Isabelle means she fails to notice the distinction between the smoke caused by fire scorching the floor, and smoke caused by Ling Chao’s sinuous approach.

Across the warehouse floor, Rico Velasquez drops behind one of the cages packed with children, offering a wordless look to Ryans. “Fucking Evolved, padre.” His brows raise, Ruger holstered at his hip and grenade unclipped from his side. “I tell you, they’re fucking desperate.” Ryans says nothing, just checks the magazine in his pistol before popping back up and firing in Liz’s direction. The smoke from Isabelle’s pyrokinetics and that of the earlier explosion makes the gunfight perilous. Every now and then there’s a strangled, panicked cry from a child injured in the crossfire — it’s a nightmare scenario.

Surrender!” Ryans screams over the sound of the gunfire, “we have hostages! Withdraw now or we’ll begin executing them!” Another three rounds pop off when he catches sight of Shaw weaving between the cages, there’s a metal-on-metal ricochet and the round punches into the leg of a boy no older than ten. Shaw sees the child drop to his knees inside the cage, screaming. Each of the cages are lashed closed with chain and locked with a simple padlock, Gillian’s cage included.

Five Vanguard conscripts dressed in mismatched body armor and civilian clothes come hurrying in from the opposite entrance the Hub attackers did, each taking a knee and opening fire past Gillian’s cage. One of them fires through her bookshelf, sending fragments of paper and binding exploding from the shelf. A round buzzes past Liz, impacting the wall near her, and her heart is racing. She’s surrounded by armed combatants, deprived of her power, ears ringing, blood pumping. She fires through the smoke, striking a Vanguard conscript and sending him down to the ground with a muffled scream.

Don’t make me do this!” Ryans hollars again, firing at Isabelle and clipping her in the arm with a handgun round. The shot makes her spin on a heel, knocks her down to the ground and sends a wave of pain up and down her right side. Her fingertips ache, bicep screams with pain, and then a tingling numbness of shock quickly sets in.

The sounds of the children crying out gives Elisabeth a moment's pause as she ducks back to avoid Ryans's fire. But they knew there were children here, and as horrifying as it is, the dark reality of the situation is that they cannot be the priority here. Nor can they be allowed to be used as leverage. The audiokinetic may not have her power, but she's got years of experience fighting this kind of bullshit… and she's got experience with Benjamin Ryans. She has to block out the emotions that come with this day — it will have to be remembered as a horrible nightmare later, when she has to live with her choices.

"Ling, slit Lucy's throat before she can ramp up," she murmurs calmly into the headset. Isabelle will just burn everyone. Her own primary target is shooting back, and they have to cover Shaw — whose focus is exactly where Liz wants it. On Gillian.

She steps back around the rubble of the wall and takes a knee, getting a bead on Benjamin Ryans. She knows exactly where he is, thanks to his own shouting and her now instinctive calculation of distance. Grimly, she waits in the partial cover of the fallen wall for Ryans to step back out and give her a solid target. When she fires, it's with lethal intent to take the older man out of the picture. He is, after all, probably the single most experienced soldier they own.

"Lucy" is a name that means little to Ling Chao, but she can figure out well enough from context clues exactly who Elisabeth is referring to. A husky, mischievous laugh carries across the air like a whisper on the wind. With pleasure are hushed words that follow, smoke billowing up from fires started by Isabelle Ashford.

"Sight" in Ling's current state isn't the most correct word. She can't truly see in the strictest sense. But she sense, move, form up. And Isabelle has given her the perfect cover to make sure that neither Lucille nor Benjamin Ryans have much of a chance of seeing her coming. She tries to keep track Kain as she moves, ready to provide resupply or assistance - once she handles this.

Even as unnaturally black as the smoke that forms her can be, it blends in well with the churning black smoke that rises up and out of Isabelle's fires, and Ling rises upwards, using her limited movement to snake up into the plumbing blackness and intermingle into it, riding it up into the air until it carries her up into the air above Lucille.

And just as suddenly, her knife splits through the smoke, thrown downwards towards the woman attacking them as Ling solidifies her form and plummets towards her in it's wake, eyes wide and wild as she dives in for the kill.

Bullets hurt when they make impact on the body, bullets really hurt when it strikes your naked flesh. And the burn that follows that is new one for her, one that makes her cry out as she spins to the ground clutching her arm with bared teeth. It's a wonder she hasn't been shot yet. A miracle really but Isabelle was wondering when that would pass and it has.

With a growl, she rises to her feet in a crouched stance. The wounded arm hanging at her side. The one with the knife is tight, the veins popping out. She's angry. Angrier. Izzy grits her teeth as she takes cover and hears the words of that old fool over there. Screaming about children. The flames roar as she channels this fury through her ability. Blue eyes narrowed to slits as the fire engulfs her whole chest, the tank top disintegrating to ash that blows out around her. “You burned the world to the ground..” her voice rings out as she winds her arm in a circular motion, the flames burn brighter as she does so.

“You murdered everyone. And you THINK,” a knife in her hand serves as an anchoring point for the flames to gather. “I CARE ABOUT A FEW FUCKING KIDS!” Isabelle roars as she throws her hand out in the direction she saw Rico taking cover, launching a large fireball towards him and the cage that he's hiding behind. Flames trail behind it and Isabelle shoots another jet of flame that way to follow, screaming.

From bullets ricocheting and striking screaming children around to fireballs and choking smoke, chaos raining down around him, Shaw flinches back into cover like a spider sensing the booming vibrations of a shaking web. He knows how close those trio of bullets from Ryans came. But his singular goal lies ahead still, with the addition of a firing line of Vanguard conscripts.

Crouched by the cage, he takes stock, calculating a few possible paths. Then Isabelle's shot, and he sees her rise again covered in flames. The man's eyes round out, witness to the phoenix rising. And there he spots his opportunity. Shaw pushes forward from the cage cover as Isabelle throws out the wall of flames, sprinting for the next cover, rifle bobbing in his hands. Once closer, he stops beside the next cage, focusing on his own ability, bringing rifle up to bear. Enhanced sight tunnels like a hawk's as focused down the barrel of the gun, his other senses dropping away. No smoke scent, no roaring fires. The man aims for a Vanguard conscript's head like a raptor on a mouse in a grassy field. Adjusts. And, not even feeling it in his fingers, squeezes the trigger.

No, Gillian didn’t actually expect either side to care about the kids who’d been rounded up, but she still closes her eyes as they scream and cry and burn and die. Like many of them, she’s seen so much death that one might think she would be immune to it— but she’s not. Probably part of living in the gilded cage as a pet, protected and coddled, even as those who did not care what their boss thought still spat at her behind his back. Sometimes, the boss didn’t even care, either.

There’s a scarred over handprint burned into her shoulder to prove that point. No energy leaks out, as they might wish. Though it would benefit both sides, if it had. So perhaps best. Her hands go up over her ears and she leans against the grate of the cage, close to the lock, as if waiting for someone to pull her out.

Or just by coincidence.

Partially hidden by roaring flames, a Vanguard conscript trains her bolt-action rifle on Elisabeth, ratchets back a round in the chamber, and then jerks to the side from a gunshot fired by Shaw. It’s only then that Elisabeth notices how close to dead she was, and when the conscript hits the floor, it’s Shaw’s shot that changed that fate.

Hunched beside the hole in the wall where they’d breached the compound, Kain Zarek is slack-jawed and frozen in place. As the violent glow of fire rises into the room, carrying smoke aloft on thermal wind and the screams of children burning alive, he can do nothing but stare. The fire reflects in his eyes, lights his face and highlights the horror in his expression. The grip on the rifle in his hands is slack, jaw unsteady and brows raised in an expression of dread and revulsion that he has not experienced since the early days of the outbreak.

Isabelle’s pyrokinetic conflagration sends Ryans scattering away, diving from behind one of the cages and running in the opposite direction of Rico Velasquez as fast as he can manage to. Rico tries to move away from the fire as well, but it spreads too fast, rolls outward from Isabelle like a carpet and is soon racing up his body. He drops the grenade reflexively, it lands at his feet, pin already pulled.

Lucille turns toward the fire, gun raised and is about to fire on Isabelle when Ling’s knife finds purchase in her neck. She gurgles a tangled scream and drops her gun, helplessly pawing at Ling’s arm as the knife cuts forward across the front of her neck. Bare hands grasp Ling’s wrist and a biokinetic surge rolls through the assassin’s body, sending a shockwave through her nervous system that drops Ling down into a seizing, convulsing mess on the floor. But it’s too late for Lucille. She sputters, blood flowing out of her neck and mouth, knife still lodged in her throat.

Dropping to her knees, Lucille looks at the fire, eyes unfocusing, gold flickering back to paler blue. She exhales a wet gurgling noise, and then falls face first onto the floor. Blood pulses out around her, a wide pool of dark red quickly forming. Seeing Ling go down, Kain finally springs into action, diving through the hail of bullets, gunfire ricocheting around him. He slides through Lucille’s blood and lands on his side beside Ling, firing at a Vanguard conscript now in view. There’s a puff of red from the back of his head and Kain’s white-knuckle grip on his assault rifle doesn’t loosen. “Ling! Ling! Fuck!

As Rico flails, screaming and wreathed in fire, the grenade detonates along with the other explosives on his body. The blast is catastrophic, sending shrapnel across the warehouse. Ryans falls forward from the blast, rolling onto his side and skidding across the floor to leave a bright red streak in his wake. In the same movement, he goes to get up but is struck in the side by one of Elisabeth’s shots. Ryans lurches away, rolling onto his stomach and then his back, just barely hidden behind a column of black smoke issuing out of one of the cages that once contained future Vanguard.

Pressed into the corner of her cage, Gillian feels agony in her side. She didn’t feel the initial impact, but with ears ringing she now sees that the explosion of what was once Rico Velasquez has destroyed her sofa, blown her bookshelf apart, and lodged three pieces — or perhaps more — of shrapnel into her right side. Blood blossoms darkly through her clothing.Pain spreads along with an icy numbness up her body.

Three more Vanguard conscripts come in from the back entrance, two laying down suppressing fire toward Liz, Kain, and Isabelle as a third moves to try and grab Ryans.

Oh God, this is so much fucking worse than Elisabeth ever thought it could be. She walked into this knowing the kids could not be the priority. That the Vanguard would use them as human shields. That we might in fact be the ones forced to kill them. But no matter how hard you try to steel yourself against the horror, when it happens… it hits with the force of of a freight train. Fire is a hideous way to die.

Tears that she cannot stop run silently down her face. Shock and the ability to compartmentalize are the only things keeping her moving forward with the same stoicism she was forced to employ when she had no choice but to use her power against innocents controlled by Rupert Carmichael.

This is a dying world. The mantra repeats itself over and over again in her thoughts; the reminder is the only way she's going to survive this emotionally. These people are already dead, they just haven't stopped moving yet. They are the walking dead. All of them. And they are burning. The smell alone is sickening, much less the sight and sound of people screaming — KIDS screaming — on fire.

Elisabeth's bead on Ryans' location is thrown off by the gunshot that saves her life, and she has a moment to meet Shaw's eyes and nod her thanks. Then she's moving, keeping partial cover where possible, and firing at the conscripts with surprisingly steady hands. Compartmentalization for the win, in this instance. Her blue eyes seek out clear paths, making note of Kain's movements toward Ling. She fires at the men shooting at her team, methodically seeking to take them down one by one.

Eyes wide and convulsing, Ling is unable to do much more than feel trapped in her own skin despite the black airy smoke that wafts off her, swirls and dances in the air above her like a beacon. She can't scream, or she would. She can't shift into smoke, or she would. She isn't fond of being so exposed, out in the world, but there's little she can do with it. Wracked with convulsions, her entire body feeling like it's on fire… it's possibly the worst thing she's ever felt in her life.

It takes everything she has to not pass out on the spot.

As Kain slides up next to her, she has no way to acknowledge him beyond a distressed sound that escapes her throat. She's thankful to have him there, and mad at herself that she let herself be caught in this position. But you can't argue with results, can you?

The screams pierce the veil of rage that Isabelle is working from. Kids. Briefly but enough to make the woman blink blue eyes as she tries to dispel them. Shaking her head with a grunt and close of her eyes. There are bullets flying still and screams though.

The scream that the pyrokinetic focuses on is that of Rico’s. She allows his screams of pain to envelope her and she stands in a ground position as the flames on her body roar and crackle again this time consuming all of her body. Her sneakers are kicked off before they melt. Her white skin and brown hair and blue eyes are still visible beneath the flames but she is fire.

Striding forward with purposeful steps the woman continues to launch fireball after fireball at the Vanguard soldiers around the room. She flicks a gaze at Shaw, eyebrows arched but barely able to be made out beneath all the flames. The orange and yellow flames swirl and circle her body. Her blue eyes reflect the fire burning around her.

The Vanguard put them in this position, who made them so desperate and she holds onto that feeling as she targets the Vanguard troops, periodically ducking behind cover when necessary but whatever cover she takes soon erupts into flames.

Shaw, though mainly focused on progressing towards the goal of Gillian’s cage, is temporarily halted as the blast from Rico’s detonation blows him back. He lies on his back for the few seconds, the screams and gunfire and heat and chaos swelling back into chaotic crescendo as he releases his ability, sight returning to normal. But he remain on the ground for long, rolling to his belly then up to a knee. The wet trickle of blood on the side of his face is ignored; who knows whose blood that is at this point.

Precious seconds more are spent reassessing the room. With Ling down and Kain at her side, it jerks Shaw’s gaze to look for Isabelle, and seeing the woman-on-fire advancing towards the back, closer to the firing lines, alarms him. More, when three more soldiers arrive and start laying on suppressing fire. “Liz!” he shouts into their short wave radio, hoping the screams and shots don’t garble his message, “go get Amp! Isabelle and I will cover!” Then, he makes his way after Isabelle, a different, more nefarious tactic in mind.

The man stretches out his ability, willing the invisible spread of a blinding field to cover any and all caught in its range. The sensation of a sudden drop in the ability to see - a crucial sense in a fight like this - the new goal. The children caught in it are likely terrified even further as that sense goes dark, leaving the suddenly black world a mess of barking gunfire, choking smoke, roaring flames and screaming voices. They are an unfortunate set of victims, but he doesn’t focus on their plight. Shaw’s steps aim him for the back entranceway, towards the soldiers coming in and those already there, bringing a curtain of darkness down upon their eyes.

When it looks like the effect has taken hold, Shaw brings up his rifle again, coldly aims at the one with Ryans in tow since that one has their hands full, and fires.

The pain in her side causes Gillian to openly sob, reaching toward the shrapnel with the desire to pull it out, but part of her mind telling her not too even then. Rico had been one of the few she had liked. He didn’t wave weapons in her face and threaten her, at least— so it had made her at least not despise him like so many others. She shifts, trying to move, to crawl, but she can’t even get half an inch before she ends up on bloody hands and knees, still crying.

The one person among the group who had known her— or at least another her— would expect her to be bleeding energy right about now. The fact that she’s not means she probably has negation working to keep her safe, keep her from getting affected by the virus. Or this one has a much better control than even the Gillian she knew had.

She looks at the broken bodies all around and wishes she had never looked at all.

It is absolute pandemonium. Flames roll up to the ceiling, crackle and pop louder than what were once screams. No one is screaming now, there are just human candles burning in those cages. Gillian is surrounded by flames, some have leapt onto the books on her shelf, others have collected on the chaise lounge and now slowly encroach onto the Persian rug that carpets her cage.

A single gunshot from Shaw strikes Benjamin Ryans in the chest. He slouches back and onto the floor, never truly prepared for the battle he found himself in. His vacant eyes stare across the floor at Lucille’s lifeless form, one hand weakly reaching out toward her, before another gunshot stops even that.

Amid the gunfire, Shaw’s brilliant plan cuts down the remaining Vanguard conscripts with the combined fire of Elisabeth and Isabelle; bullets and flames both incincerate and eradicate their ranks leaving nothing but charred bodies engulfed in flames behind. After the gunfire in the building has halted, another shooter emerges from behind one of the belching pillars of smoke. David Cardinal ducks out, checking his AK-47, “I'm out!” He had been using Elisabeth’s eyes to line up his shots from behind cover, and only now emerges when the majority of the immediate threat has ended.

“C’mon Smokey, get up!” Kain shouts through grated teeth, and as Ling’s seizures end she can more readily feel her limbs from the quaking numbness, more clearly see the room and the carnage and Kain helping her to her feet.

There are shuddering sounds of explosions in the distance, the report of a tank firing somewhere too close for comfort, and screams mixed with peppered pops of dozens of more shooters across the courtyard by the entrance. The flames rise, higher and higher, closing in on Gillian.

Flames and smoke are everywhere, but perhaps the most worrisome (to some) are those threatening Gillian. But she has a guardian angel looking out for her.

A figure pops into view inside of Gillian's cage. A tall, lanky figure topped with stringy, dark hair half-covering her face. Spidery limbs move away from the fire to reach out toward the amplifier. "I'm here, Gillian," Vör says, her voice gentle, "they won't hurt you." Her arm slides around the other woman and her touch seems to kickstart a purple glow. Vör glances over Gillian's shoulder, out the cage and over toward Shaw and Isabelle. She recognizes them. And she smiles. And waves. And disappears with Gillian in tow. Wherever they reappear, it isn't in the group's line of sight.

Elisabeth reacts to Shaw's call-out immediately, making her way forward through the flames with a cautious expertise — it won't do any good if she is burning, after all. She moves like a soldier, well trained and using the cover while still making steady progress. The chaos, perhaps oddly, doesn't seem to panic her — she keeps moving, albeit quickly, in the direction of the mission. Seems like whatever she was in her own world, she's definitely seen combat like this before. Three-fourths of the way there is when Gillian isn't alone. And a moment later their target is gone.

For a split second, it occurs to her that this could all be over — that if she doesn't walk out of this conflagration, she doesn't have to face either the fact that what she is watching is a horror that she herself perpetrated or death by virus. But the fleeting thought is dismissed. Giving up is not an option. We'll rest when we're through.

After a long moment where she cannot form words, her voice comes through the headsets (the ones still functioning, at least). "Fall back. Repeat, fall back — target not acquired." Her tone is flat and in-control despite the horror and heartbreak she's both feeling and witnessing. "Package is out of play."

She turns to make her way back out of the flames, if she can find a clear path. "Shaw, get Izzy to clear the path!"

Groaning as she rises to her feet, Ling takes as much of a moment to survey the chaos around them as she can. A look is offered over to Kain, an expression that says thank you given - something few people besides Kain Zarek ever see. But as she hears Liz announce that the package is out of play, thankfulness gives away to anger gives way to fury.

Dipping down to pull her knife from Lucille's neck, she doesn't take a moment to admire her work for once. As soon as it is wrenched loose from flesh, her body practically explodes into smoke, collecting and racing forward as fast she can towards the cage that used to contain Gillian Childs. She forms up by it, looking into it with empty eyes.

"Gāisǐ de!" she shouts, a rare moment of losing her cool. She shakes, before forming back into smoke once more, starting towards the others so that she can back up Liz's infuriating claim.

While Liz might be calm and in control, Isabelle is not. The flames are raging stronger and stronger and Isabelle’s senses for it are alive and happy, the fire is good but the fire has also killed just about everyone in the room.

She's looking for Shaw when her eyes settle on the cage with their prize and Vör shows up, gives a cheeky wave and blips out of existence. Izzy shakes her head in disbelief, she was wondering where that, “Motherfucking bitch,” went and now that she saw her again? And she had taken Gillian? And this operation seemed to be for nothing.. well she closed her eyes and a shudder runs through her. “Ready or not baby, we gotta roach to kill.” Her eyes find Shaw’s as she opens them, channeling her anger to a fine point inside before..

She's taking off out of the room, as she goes the flames die down significantly, without her anger to fuel them. She drains the flames as she passes the bodies of the living and the dead, there's murder in her eyes as well as fire, nude as the day she came into this world but bathe in fire. Brown whipping back as she charges ahead, she howls in anger at being deprived of strangling Vör with flaming hands.

Later, Shaw might come to a stark realization that this one event alone has turned his world on its head again. Later, he'll think on what's transpired, from the first use of his power in such a terrible result to the number of casualties he himself has directly had a hand in. But, right now, the horrific results are swept away in the rush of the moment, in the roar of the flames… the appearance and disappearance of Vör. With Gillian.

The shout of "NO!" that comes out of his throat is a smoke-choked sound he doesn't fully register. His turn and frantic rush towards the fire-filled cage yields nothing but a grave understanding that for all their effort, their objective is failed and they have naught but senseless death and destruction to show for it. The man stands stunned, staring at the flames emptily, the fiery colors playing off his paled, distraught face and watering eyes. He snaps out of it and comes back to attention with his name and when he's spoken to.

The sound of tank shelling startles him as well, ducking in expectation of another volley of gunfire. The man looks back to Liz, her command making him sweep his gaze to look for Isabelle. Then upon sight of the woman-on-fire, startling him further in seeing her quit the room in vengeance filled rage. Well, they did say they wanted the path cleared.

"Isabelle! Wait!" Shaw calls after her as she runs into the back entrance the way the soldiers had come from, one halting step taken after her. Then another. And after a pause, Shaw tells the others, "I'm going after her." And he takes off on the heels of the flaming woman, pausing only to scoop up a second rifle from one of the dead Vanguard conscripts as a backup.

Smoke and fire churns up from the charred bodies, fills the ceiling with blackness, rains ashes back down on those within the burning building that smudges on skin and clothing, clings to hair and will stink in them for days to come. There is nothing left here but death, and the sinking sensation of dread that comes with failure and the potential impossibility of ever escaping this living nightmare.

Kain stays beside Ling as they begin to retreat, his gun aimed at the smoke-choked corners of the warehouse, eyes trying to avert from the roiling columns of flame that were once people. Nearby, David Cardinal watches this display of inhumanity with glassy eyes, either from smoke or emotion is hard to tell. As he backs away from the horror, retreats from the chaos and the death, he meets Liz’s stare just once, and there is both dread and apology in his expression. Sympathy, too, for the devils in the room.

As Elisabeth’s team retreats from the burning warehouse, supports in the ceiling begin to crack and split from the heat. On the outside, the fire has engulfed the roof of the building, spilled out heat-shattered windows and isn’t the only fire. The adjacent building is partially collapsed, also churning with black smoke. It couldn’t be from Isabelle, it is two fires joined together in a massive conflagration.

They aren’t the only ones retreating, they aren’t the only ones struggling. Beneath a slate gray sky, surrounded by empty buildings, abandoned cars, and the detritus of a world left to die a slow and agonizing death they have struck a match and started a fire both physical and metaphorical. This was but one stronghold of the Vanguard, one footprint of a far broader stride.

Now they’d set it ablaze, lit the signal fires, and sounded the call to arms.

In their retreat, there is only one certainty.

This isn’t the end.

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