Checkmate - Black Knights


arthur_icon.gif cardinal_icon.gif colette4_icon.gif deckard_icon.gif eileen4_icon.gif ethan2_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif jenn_icon.gif mason_icon.gif raith_icon.gif f_rickham2_icon.gif teo_icon.gif teo2_icon.gif tyler_icon.gif

Scene Title Checkmate - Black Knights
Synopsis The Vanguard Remnant venture into the reactor level of Pinehearst Company along with Richard Cardinal, Flint Deckard, Tyler Case and Teodoro Laudani in order to bring down Arthur and Pinehearst once and for all.
Date July 23, 2009

The death of birds is conducted without weeping.

Electricity snaps and crackles, giving a pale blue illumination to an otherwise lightless concrete corridor. A single loose power cable sways back and forth, its light reflected in the mirror-still surface of stagnant and rusty water collected on the concrete floor, divided by a pair of railway tracks and loose gravel. A slow-moving cloud of steam rolls down the corridor, turning bluish-white in the glow of the sputtering and sparking.

They are not mourned for.

Mixing with the rusty color of the water, blood swirls in thick clouds, darkening the stagnant pool. Two forms lay side by side, smoke rising off of them in thin streams. One matchstick thin silhouette on her side, face partly submerged in the water, eyes wide open and motionless despite her final moments of extreme pain, her long and unruly tresses of black hair wound in thin coils down her water slicked face.

Nor do they mourn for themselves.

Beside her, the mass of pulped flesh that was once a man, now vivisected lays motionless, his bare torso rent open by a half dozen deep slashes, exposing his steaming innards and boiling blood to the air. His face, smashed in on one side is an unrecognizable tangle of hair and gore with the liquid remains of one eye. Blue light from crackling electricity illuminates the two motionless bodies, even as running footsteps splash in slow motion from the far end of the corridor. Someone running, someone screaming.

They know that each thing has its season.

A dull roar of a voice echoes down the hall, a horrible, strangled scream of raw and unbridled emotion that rises up and falls away in panting breaths. The water is disturbed by the splash of oncoming boots, tiny rusted-crimson droplets hanging still in the air to what feels like a thousand final heartbeats moving away into the infinite as light drains from her eyes.

And that their season is short

The screaming voice echoes down the hall, a silhouette of a man running as fast as he can towards the smoking bodies, his voice an anguished roar that threatens to shake these darkened concrete halls down to their very foundations. "Eileen! Eileen!" It is a voice of mourning, a voice of absolute anguish and horror, that the unthinkable is possible…

And, of necessity, is done.

…and a black knight has been taken off the board.

30 Minutes Earlier

Water drips from a crack between two bricks in the arched ceiling of an old subway access tunnel, hundreds of feet below the streets of Fort Lee New Jersey. "Pressure levels on the reactor are exactly where we expected them to be. We're good for a break I think, I'll send Simpson and Demille on to monitor." Walking down the long corridor from a steam monitoring station, a pair of workers in canary yellow hazmat suits splash through shallow standing water. As they exit out from the mouth of the railway access, they enter into a cavernous underground facility made from water-slicked concrete and rusted catwalks.

Four stories tall, the Reactor Level of Pinehearst Headquarters looks more like an old military installation. A 45 degree slope of concrete opposite from the railway entrance features an enormous freight elevator designed to crawl up the slope towards the higher levels. Other elevators access catwalks one story up. At the center of the concrete bunker lies a cylindrical glass chamber banded with metal and surrounded by four tiers of catwalks. Within the reinforced glass the small nuclear reactor responsible for Pinehearst's electricity hums loudly.

Enormous networks of steam pipes and electrical conduits snake in serpentine patterns along the walls and floor towards the reactor, one section of steam pipes being repaired by a pair of welders in the same yellow hazmat suits.

Forklifts drive around the lower level, moving heavy steel cases into stacks out of an area where water is leaking from a ruptured pipe. Far above this floor, on the fourth story of catwalks, an observation laboratory looks down on the whole of the reactor levels. Paroling the catwalks, men in brown uniforms and black tactical vests carrying assault rifles observe the operations of the reactor, a badge on their shoulders bearing a padlock is the symbol of Pinehearst's PMC security force — Stillwater.

But back down those dark halls that lead to the subway access point, the security force and workers of the Reactor Level do not know that they are not alone down here. They could have no possible indication that they are pawns on a great chess board, pawns finding themselves facing an advance of black knights intending to infiltrate the facility.

And one knight who's fate will be decided here.

Black shadows for black knights, to conceal their entry and keeping them secret; appropriate. Necessary. Perfect.

Not at all far from the facility that powers the building above, Jensen Raith quietly waits, hidden by darkness and distance from watchful eyes. Jensen Raith is armed, and he is not alone, glancing briefly at the gaggle of similarly armed ruffians and ex-terrorists that were crazy enough to actually follow him into this mess. "Everyone knows the plan," he whispers, "So we won't cover it again. Are there any questions before we go diving in?" He doesn't expect there to be questions; they've been over everything already, from what will happen on their level to what should be happening far above. This is where facts check out and skilled guesswork takes over, the edge of the map: beyond here, there be dragons. Soldiers, sound off.

"Quick question."

Thick black boots come to a silent halt next to the lead figure. Clad in black from head to toe, the man seems to be weighed down significantly. Armed to the teeth with many different weapons and sources of ammunition scattered among the person would make it seem that he would be slowed down. But he moves with a smooth and powerful purpose. A hunter, nearing in on its prey. His black suit is mostly unadorned save for the emblem on his right shoulder: A wolfs head.

"What size shoe do you wear?" One gloved hand comes off his rifle, as he motions down at his feet. "I know I should 'ave tried 'em on before, but I didn't and now they feel a little tight and I was just 'opin' maybe we could switch." Ethan says in a very chummy way, casting a sidelong glance at Raith. He then glances over his shoulder. And in a considerably less audible tone he murmurs to Raith, "If she gets hurt I'll nail your bollocks to the roof of your mouth. And then I'll start thinking of mean things to do to you." And with that he looks forward. "'Oorah, roight?"

Why Ghost is in the Vanguard's threads, armor, and colors is a subject that evoked about three lines of debate from him and his most recent and intimate of bosom companions. Unity is good to advertise, perhaps most of all when it's false. And apparently it is false, even among those who would best own these colors.

From the other tunnel wall, the ghost watches Ethan and Raith hold their little parent conference metaphorically if not necessarily physically over Eileen's head. He's trying not to do something unnecessarily articulate with his eyebrows. He decides against pointing out that, if anyone is likely to responsible for Munin's untimely demise— he doesn't point that out. Glances down, instead, runs a finger over the pockets laddering his ribs, rereviewing for the nth time the configuration of his throwing knives, flashbangs, spare clips.

It's heavy enough. God knows how Ethan's holding up, if God has anything to do with that.

"Three guards before the catwalk splits," he updates, laconically, as he has been every few minutes since they took the tunnel, whenever he wasn't deliberately avoiding eye contact with Deckard. "Two heading down the stairs."

There's another one here too, better hidden than any of them could hope to be. Gabriel is very much awake, more so than he's been in the last few weeks - alert, peering out the eyes of Teo Laudani and seeing what faces Ghost allows him to see. Most of them familiar, some more surprising than others for varying reasons. Incidentally, he doesn't have any questions. Intel gathered, intel distributed, plans discussed, queried, turned around and held to the light in inspection, and there's really not much more to do, now.

Other than, be ready. Ghost can probably feel this third presence in his head more than usual, now. A weight on his shoulders, or a breath curling against his neck, claustrophobic. As for who would be responsible for Munin's ultimate demise—

Ghost will be glad he chose not to point that out. Last thing required, here, is a headache, or, depending, vehement agreement. Anyway. It's not Gabriel's turn yet, and he stays quiet, not about to give these people here to save him (and also the world) any words of thanks, encouragement, threat. The outcome is too important.

Eileen is dressed in shades of gray rather than pitch black, but the material of her pants and the flak jacket she wears on her torso is so dark that it allows her to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding shadows, camouflaged by the tunnel's salient lack of light. At least a foot shorter than most of the other members belonging to the basement cavalcade, she's armed with a 9mm pistol, a leather satchel of magnesium flares and not much else; submachine guns are beyond her depth and anything larger than the most lightweight of assault rifles becomes awkward and unwieldy in her gloved hands.

Like a folded razor, booted feet a shoulder's width apart, her slim shape is reminiscent of something functional and dangerous but — at least for the time being — temporarily quiescent. Although she can hear what Ethan and Raith are saying, she opts not to intrude on her surrogate father's less-than-clandestine threat. She isn't going to get hurt. That's not part of the plan.

Eyes pitted dark beneath the level hood of his brows, Flint Deckard does Ghost the favor of avoiding contact there in turn. It's hard to distinguish uniforms from walls in here. Nevermind what's slinking around on the other sides of them.

There's a shotgun slashed sturdy across his back, a pair of robust semi-automatics holstered against the velcro abrasive at his sides. He's tall and lean and silent after a grim fashion, bristled stubble collection difficult to distinguish from the short sheer of his grizzled hair. No glowing eyes, and apparently no last words either.

"Y— yeah," It's an awkward, protracted response coming muffled from behind Cardinal. Rubbing one hand across his mouth, Tyler Case almost hates the sound of his voice echoing in the damp hallway. Surrounded by paramilitary figures from an organization he doesn't recognize preparing to perforate the private security of a global biotech firm, it all seems like one horrible dream he's woken up to. All of this, for his sister's memory.

Pulling up the front of his ski-mask to scratch at his itchy cheek, Tyler's eyes sweep around the darkened corridor as he passes in the jaundiced yellow glow of a maintenance light near the steam pressure gauges that were being read earlier. Further out of the mouth of the railway, two security operatives of Stillwater descend the stairs down to ground level, meeting up with the reactor technicians. "Abrahms," one of the security corps interject into the technicians' conversation. "We just did a sweep of the upper level, did you tell those two lab technicians they're keeping locked up on the fourth floor that they could leave to use the vending machines?" He squints, looking from one tech to the other.

"Oh, the Chesterfields? Yeah they— wait, locked?" There's a befuddled sound in the technician's voice. "Why're they — "

"Nevermind." The security operative butts in, "just don't go letting them out of that lab, you hear me? I'm under strict orders to keep them locked up tight unless it comes from direct orders from Mister Petrelli."

Swallowing awkwardly, Abrahms grimaces and rolls his shoulders forward, looking through the plastic visor of his hazmat suit towards the elevators that ascend the central shaft towards the higher catwalks. "S— sorry, yeah, it won't happen again. If they— "

The technician's voice is cut off by the sudden blaring of klaxons sounding out across the lower level. Red lights begin flashing and an emergency blast door begins lowering at the top of the freight elevator, a very slow and gradual descent of interlocking metal teeth that meet with doors that rise up from the floor. "Jesus Christ that's — " One of the Stillwater Security operatives nods his head towards the elevators. "Bentham, haul your ass up to Comm and find out what the fuck that is!" The other security operative nods sharply and begins hustling towards the stairs, while the other presses down on the radio at his shoulder. "This is Karlslund; Piotr, Wilson, Milton what the fuck us going on upstairs?" A static crackle of radio interference comes over his comm system. "How the — how the fuck are we being jammed?"

Hana is how. It has to be Phoenix making its move upstairs, but so early?

There's two possibilities for what's happening; either someone was smoking in the bathroom, or Phoenix jumped the gun. Doesn't matter at this point; what matters is success or failure. "Deal with the shoes, Holden. Show time," Raith says, loud enough to be heard over the sirens by his teammates but not loud enough to be heard by anyone else. The good news, perhaps, is that everyone will be too distracted by the lights and sirens to really notice a troop of armed thugs moving in to touch their stuff. "Go in, get the body, get out. If you have something else to take care of, do that, and if you could wreck the security hub on your way out, it'd be a big help." Shouldering his modified, suppressed M4 carbine, Raith raises his hand and thrusts it forward, fingers pointing straight ahead briefly before returning to his weapon. if the Stillwater personnel are lucky, they won't ever see the intruders moving through the facility.


In imitation of Raith's gesture, Ethan's hand comes up and is thrust forward. Except only one of his fingers are out. And it is pointing at Raith. After that quick salute, the Wolf is moving forward, both hands on his weapon. His gait is a mix between a trained march of a SWAT member and a predatory stalk of a beast.

The Wolf is the first out of the tunnel, taking the intel of the Ghost to heart his eyes leap to the spots indicated. The sound of explosions and alarms? They go mostly ignored, they're not pertaining directly to him. Yet.

Clearing the corner, his assault is immediate. A solid fist is thrown up over his shoulder to mark the hold, then his weapon is discharged and the three men are quickly dispatched in a hail of gunfire. Then that same hand moves up, motioning the rest of the team to move forward and deal with the rest of the security installment.

Though lankier than the Englishman by a considerable margin, there's something faintly reminiscent of the older man in the way that the so-called specter floats on, past Ethan and Raith, light on his feet. Which isn't to say that Ghost succeeds in being quiet; there's no fucking point in that, after the discharge of autofire drops three corpses.

His boots shake a clangor out of the catwalk, rapid-fire, slithers to the flawed quiet of a halt with his shoulder stopped solid against the black barring of the rail for what little cover it offers. The ugly black bill of his assault rifle swivels downward, barks thrice.

The pair on the staircase are armored— but the impact is enough to crash one into the next and both end over end and elbow into jaw into an ungainly heap on the corrugated lattice of the next landing down, dazed, struggling.

"«Three on the next level, but that's going to change soon. Moving fucking fast— »" Ghost says. Radio, this time, his voice carrying clear in unrepentant defiance to the unholy cackle and squeal that their enemies' telecommunications are troubled by. "«The Chesterfields and Gabriel are both being held on basement level.»"

The sudden wail of klaxons and ripple of shadows moving over red-washed walls is sudden and unexpected. The watch that embraces Cardinal's wrist is glanced at, and even in that short time there's already been blood shed as the Wolf begins his hunt. "Keep close," he hisses through his teeth to the man behind him, that and the harsh sound of the Mossberg being pumped to cycle a shell into the chamber the only sounds he makes as he moves forward.

Once a thief, always a thief; he moves with the silent step of the cat burglar he once was before a careless attempt to recruit the arms dealer in their midst as a contact sent his life in a quite different direction. He keeps behind the others as they clear the path; the weapon in his hands doesn't speak just yet unlike those of the others, quiescent until needed in the grasp of the man. At the report from Ghost, a quiet whisper of his voice comes through the radio's headset he's wearing, "«I'll move after the Chesterfields when we split up.»"

A Glock 18, without an extended clip, typically holds about seventeen rounds. Eileen has two extra clips on her person, and while she might not be the best at arithmetic, she knows that she would be wise to conserve her ammunition and avoid using the weapon's automatic setting. She can hear the sound of brass clattering against the floor as Ethan's weapon discards its casings — a delicate tinkle, fairylike in comparison to the blare of the klaxons or the distant rumble caused by the emergency blast door as it grinds to a close.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she hangs back, waiting until she deems it safe enough to move out into the open. Then and only then does she slink forward and skirt the edge of Ethan's wolfish shadow. "«Catherine may beat you to them,»" she says into her radio. "«Do we know which room they're keeping Gabriel in, or is Ethan just going to kick down doors until we find the right one?"»

Deckard jolts, wiry muscle seized all to iron in ropy cords across the backs of his arms when the klaxon sets to its mechanical cries of 'foul' and red light rips in waves through the gloom of the tunnel. A held breath rakes past his teeth in a damp blast of static irritation at his own cowardice; the ice in his guts twists muddy and thick. It's not too dark to see — only too dark to see well — and with effort and a hard blink he manages to force tendon and bone into forward movement after the others, dragging the gun at this left side free as he goes.

The scuffing, muffled clap of his boots brings up the rear, drowned to nothing under the rail of gunfire and industrial noise. But he's there, wild eyed radio silence, whiskey stink and scruff.

Screams from the reactor technicians fill the air as they begin running for cover, security personnel on the second story catwalk begin firing down towards the emerging para-military forces of the Remnant and their allies, running and firing blindly as they make way for cover. As the klaxons continue to blare, Tyler stays tucked in the corridor, covering his ears with his hands, eyes wrenched shut as if he were trying to pretend none of this violence was playing itself out in the stacatto muzzle-flash of SMGs around him at all.

Shell casings fall like rain from the upper catwalks, clinking and tinkling down from the second story as reactor technicians rush towards a pair of closing security doors under the flashing red lights. But something isn't right, there's gunfire echoing in other parts of the reactor levels down here, screams coming from a distant hallway near the closing blast doors at the top of the freight elevator.

Three more Stillwater security agents on the second floor emerge from a hallway nearby, one of them lobbing down a bouncing and clanking metal canister that bounces off one of the metal stairwells and lands with a loud clatter on the concrete, moments before it begins spinning wildly and pissing out white smoke in all directions — tear gas.

Seeing Cardinal move through one squinted eye, Tyler bolts up from his hiding position, scrambling with slipping sneakers across the water-slicked concrete floor, rushing behind Richard as bullets ping and ricochet all around him. He covers his mouth with his sleeve as he rushes thorugh the growing cloud of tear gas, coming out choking and gagging on the other end, eyes watering and runny. "Elevator!" Tyler waves frantically towards a standard elevator on the ground level that ascends to the top of the fourth floor catwalks where the labs are contained. "Richard! Elevator!"

A grinding and scraping rumble reverberates through the enormous reactor level, followed by the horrible screams of security personnal beyond the closing blast doors. Gunfire outside of that which is already firing draws closer and closer, and through the narrow opening of the nearly shut blast doors, muzzle flashes can begin to be seen, then a blood-curdling scream just before a twisted and battered body is flung through the narrowing space between the two doors.

The bloodied corpse bounces and skims across the concrete, rolling to a stop at the bottom of the freight elevator. Red lights flash and klaxons blare as a dark silhouette moves to the closing doors, followed by a grinding steel-on-steel noise, as the blast doors are wrenched open. Warning lights alerting what would normally be scientists and researchers to get away from the docking platform glint off of pitted and corroded steel. As the blast doors are forced back, the hydraulics break in a shower of pissing fluid that sprays up and down the tall and lanky figure. A single man with tattered black slacks and no shirt, revealing a disfigured and heavily scarred body made of what looks like wire-brushed iron pitted with pockmarks, deep slices and molten regions of once liquid metal emerges at the top of the freight elevator's slope. Dark eyes of hematite view the security detail parked around the reactor.

One heavy footfall thunders in the facility as Allen Rickham steps out from the gate that opens on the front of the elevator, brows furrowing as his head lowers, one closed fist slamming into his open palm as sparks fly from the contact. A smile crawls across his lips, crooked and jagged on one end where his metallic lips have molded into some disfigured mockery of a grimace before he springs up into the air in a powerful leap from the top of the freight elevator, landing down on the second story catwalk, bending and twisting the metal in his landing.

"Oh God! Oh God! What the hell is that!?" Before the Stillwater Security operative's question can be answered, an iron fist pummels the side of his head with all of the velocity of a speeding car, shattering his skull and sending him toppling over the railing. Unleashing a baleful howl that sounds like the grinding of gears deep within a metal chasm, Rickham begins running along the catwalk, bare metallic feet slamming with sparks across the lattice metal. He shoulder-blocks one of the security guards as bullets ineffectually ricochet off of his body, sending the man cartwheeling end over end to his death one story below on hard concrete at Ethan's feet.

Rickham turns, automatic gunfire drawn from several directions, peppering him with sparks and deflected bullets before he begins making a steady advance towards the reactor entrance, swatting security personnel and reactor technicians out of the way and off of the second story catwalk.

The sudden appearance of a CS grenade is markedly less surprising to Raith than the sudden appearance of a corpse. It's enough to make him pause for a split second before he looks up at the new havoc that is being wrecked upon the ineffectual Stillwater employees. He can't see very well what's going on, but can he ever hear it, and to him, it's a beautiful sound. "Up!" he orders, "Keep going!" He raises the barrel of his rifle skyward and lets out a sharp burst of automatic fire as he moves forward, strafing and only partially aimed, less to kill and more to give him and his team time to get to the stairs and start climbing before too much riot agent starts to fill the area they need to move through. There is no immediate need for a second burst: Ghost has taken care of that already. So has the new arrival.

Whatever just showed up above them, their enemies presently seem much more interested in shooting at it than at them. Why let the opportunity pass them by?

A few more spurts of gunfire have the rest of the pressing danger taken care of. Those taking cover and firing very blindly aren't paid much attention besides a few flurries of suppressing fire. Popping out the magazine the Wolf goes to reload.

After sliding in the new clip, Ethan's brows raise at the sudden arrival of a new corpse. Glancing up, Ethan tilts his head inquisitively. "I fuckin' hate this country." He mutters quietly as he takes a few steps back, making a few gestures for the team to continue Ethan goes to position himself close to Eileen. "Stay close." He chooses not to use 'princess' figuring she might not like that term while toting automatic weapons.

If you're going to possess someone, it might as well be a ninja. Claws have quite thoroughly hooked into the psyche of Gabriel's joyride, to mix metaphors, and in all the chaos, the gunfire, the klaxons, he curiously allows himself to see like Ghost sees upon the appearance of a corpse.


On one side of the flimsy psychic membrane that divides Gabriel, Teo, Ghost so tenuously, as if one puncture would have them all bleeding into the other to create one being that's even more of an asshole than usual, Ghost will sense the shimmer of reaction from Gabriel at the realisation of Rickham's presence. A coldness, a stillness— fear, in blunter words, followed very quickly by a desire to see the source of it destroyed, as immediately impractical as it might be. Upon second thoughts, Gabriel would like his body back more.

Behind Ghost's eyes, a memory plays for all of them, one that isn't his own and barely strong enough to distract from what the physical, visual world. Rickham's metallic face, intact, barely inches from his own, and cold metal hands like a noose, a guillotine collar, around his throat. The knowledge that fingers only need to clench to reduce the column of his neck to pulp tastes like bile. It shorts out in the next moment, giving way to metal structures and concrete.

Are we going in that direction. The flatness of Gabriel's psychic voice barely lifts it up enough to be a question. It is a question. He's just not entirely sure how he feels about it. This wasn't in the plan.

He's between us and everything else, Teo observes, the flat monotone of his voice for once relatively quiet under the ringing drub of Ghost's running feet, the swooping exclamation of sirens, adrenaline. I think we have to. Maybe— Staccato interlude. He stares into the projection screen that Gabriel stutters up, watches memory reel through with uncomfortable, distinctly embarrassing clarity. He won't notice us.

Ghost scrapes to a halt under the zag of the next landing, shrinks himself into the cold column of metal support. Grips his rifle close, listens to gunfire clash and spatter down, waiting for the other operatives to close in on the climb before he ascends further. He does borrow a moment to note, brightly, out across the comm: It's Rickham.

You want to know the crazy part? No one ever wants to know the crazy part, but the ghost is wont to say it anyway. Fucking Rickham means Ray circa '19 is here, moving his piece So is Ray circa '09.

And their only real blind spots are each other. There's an unwonted tug and torque of skin and small muscles in Ghost's face: a smile, illogical but not honestly all that improbable, all factors considered, so much the mad child playing in sawdust with a box of matches. He stoops. Blinks hard against the rising vapor of gasses and pelts onward and upward.

The urgent shouting brings Cardinal's head around in a whip of motion, then inevitably up to follow the frantic gestures of the power manipulator, hazel eyes lifting to those heavy blast doors as metal fingers slide between them and wrench them violently open with a sound like the gates of Hell being torn wide. The disfigured statue of a metal man is familiar to the thief. Almost too familiar. An ally, until their mutual leader fell to Richard's own bullet.

As Rickham leaps down to the catwalk and begins his rampage, the watcher's eyes widen - the world seeming to pause as his mind gathers scattered bits and pieces of Edward Ray's grand plan and form a hypothesis connecting them all. Rickham, heading towards the reactor like an inevitability. A snippet of a newspaper article, read in passing over coffee a few mornings past, about the local faultlines and earthquakes. The slow spread of blue dominoes rattling like bones over a city street.

245,001 dominoes turning red.

As the moment of clarity passes with the crash of a body against the floor, he brings the shotgun up towards the catwalk above - but what can it do? There's no weapons he has on hand that could do anything against… no. Richard has one weapon, one terrible weapon against Allen Rickham, if he can put it into play successfully. "Tyler," his voice cuts sharp and cold through the noise to his amnesiac comrade, gaze locked on Rickham's half-melted, ruined metal form, in features and details barely resembling a man any longer in any way other than shape, "Take his power away!" King's pawn to king's rook…

Then the thief's on the move, running for the stairs.

Close enough that Ethan can feel her presence infringing upon his personal space but not so close that he experiences the heat of her body, Eileen does as he suggests without complaint — and not just because he's chosen to drop his regular term of endearment. There is a time and a place for stubbornness. It isn't here.

For the record, she fucking hates this country too! She's simply either too polite or too preoccupied to vocalize her agreement. Instead, her eyes move from the stairs to the catwalk above and the vague shapes hovering above them, coupled with the explosive spark of Rickham's feet connecting with the metal grates that act as a barrier between one floor and the next. She shares Gabriel's reservation for much the same reason; it wasn't all that long ago when Midtown was consumed by flames and the two of them lay on the scorched pavement, sides heaving, giddy with the realization that they both still lived. Rickham, on the other hand, shouldn't be. Alive, that is. The last time Eileen saw the former president-elect, he was— well—


As Raith directs the team up the stairs and she follows Ghost's lead, her boots cause metal to creak beneath her weight at a pitch inaudible to everyone's ears except her own. It's difficult not to be intrinsically aware of everything you're doing when the threat of having your intestines squeezed out through your stomach like toothpaste oozing from a punctured tube of Colgate is literally hanging right above your head.

Hunched against the skitter and skirt of sparks and spent casings alternately hissing or ringing hollow against the wet floor all around like a jack rabbit in a hole that doesn't actually exist, Deckard watches the passage of Rickham overhead as he might a dirigible piloted by giant wooly spiders in monocles and tall hats. It's Rickham? As in that pussy who was going to be president and then wasn't? Vegan Rickham? Not really the place to wonder though, is it? Wide eyes washed pale by each hot flash of red across lifeless blue while he exchanges his pistol for the shotgun slung across his back, he looks down again in time to note that the others are hustling for and up some stairs and he probably should too.

A bullet bricks solid of the back of his vest, flattening itself into oblivion, possibly in an effort to move him along. Okay, okay. He's going. Blood in his piss isn't going to help.

Rending his way across the catwalk towards the entrance to the reactor, Rickham hurls bodies out of the way that rain down in broken heaps on the floor below. Arriving at the sealed doors to the reactor's coolant chamber, all it takes is the smash of metal fists against the steel door to buckle the framework, followed by iron fingers grasping through aluminum like talons through parchment. Struggling with all his might, bullets ricocheting off of his back and leaving deep depressions in the iron, Rickham tears the metal door out from its framing and hurls it over his shoulder as though it were a slice of cardboard.

The huge piece of steel collides with the concrete floor two stories below with a loud crash and a shower of sparks as it bounces across the concrete, tearing chunks out of the floor and barely missing Tyler as it whizzes past. "Oh my Christ! Oh jesus god damnit!" Covering his head with his hands, he folds himself inside one of the elevators and crouches in the corner, staring out between his fingers as red crackling bolts of electricity snap and pop over his fingers. Cardinal's shout comes with a blind look of terror on Tyler's face, a look of absolute fear for his own life as bullets begin to ricochet around in the elevator and Tyler fearfully slams on the door close button and runs his hands down the keys. With a whirr, the elevator doors close and it begins to ascend the elevator shaft from the ground floor. God. Damnit.

Striding into the coolant chamber of the reactor, Rickham wraps his hands around the water pipes that lead into the coolant tank, keeping the small reactor from overheating and melting down. With one jerk of his arms, Rickham uproots the water pipes and sends coolant spewing around the internal reactor chamber. He turns his head to the side, eyes sweeping for a specific pipe Edward had left as instructions for him, hammering his fist down on it several times as scalding hot steam begins issuing out in a constant jer in the coolant control booth.

Turning in the boiling steam, Rickham's heat-washed body thunders out with heavy footfalls, rolling his shoulders as he rips up part of the metal railing with one hand and hurls it towards one of the gun-toting Stillwater security officers, sending the iron shrapnel piece smashing into his head and flipping him over the railing to tumble down below. It's only as the Remnant begin to make their way up the stairs that Rickham's coal-black eyes start to focus on something other than the Stillwater security, it's only when he spots Eileen a floor below him that a look of unbridled anger starts to sink into his half-molten features. "Russssskin."

Far above Rickham on the fourth floor, the doors to one of the mezzanine labs blows open with a sudden crack of boot, sending a passing security guard collapsing to the ground. Scrambling out from the lab, a wiry old man brandishing a folding chair steps up and behind the downed security guard, swinging down with both hands to smash his head with the chair in a loud clang.

"Jennifer, now!" Yelling back over his shoulder, Mason Chesterfield calls to his wife, watching her hustle out of the lab and sweep down to pick up the security guard's assault rifle. She doesn't hold it quite properly, but as she pivots on her heels and sprays a wild and blind fire towards approaching guards, causing them to duck back into a hall, it at least has its desired effect.

"There's an elevator coming up!" Jennifer shouts, watching an elevator ascending from the ground floor. Bolting towards the elevator call button, she slams the barrel of the rifle into the switch, causing the elevator to slow and come to a stop. Mason comes rushing after her, stumbling over each step as he looks over his shoulder and then down from the catwalk to the approaching Remnants.

"This isn't how Edward said— " he swallows back his words, looking up to the distance between himself and Jennifer as he goes rushing for the elevator. When the doors slide open, revealing just a sliver of crackling red lightning, Jennifer leaps away with a warning shout too late for Mason. A sudden, crackling blast of red lightning slams into him and knocks the old man clear off of his feet, sending him rolling head over heels down the stairs to the third floor, head spinning from the impact and mind reeling from the supercharge to his hypercognition.

"Mason!" Jennifer turns around frightfully, and coiled up in the elevator, Tyler begins to realize what he just did. Struggling up one one arm, the klaxons change their tune, beginning to beep loudly as an automated warning message sounds out across the Pinehearst facility.

«Warning. Coolant Breach Detected. Reactor Heat Levels At Maximum. Please Evacuate Facility.»

"Oh dear god," Mason whispers to himself, pushing up to his feet as he wheels around and looks at Jennifer. "Go! Go!" One hand frantically flails in her direction, "Get out of here, I'll be right behind you!"

"Mason! Get up here right now!" The fury and fear in Jennifer's eyes is a painful mix as she sidles towards the elevator door, lowering the barrel of her assault rifle towards Tyler with a very don't you dare look on her face.

"I have to stop the reactor!" Mason calls out with his hands cupped over his mouth, "The steam ejection! Just go!" Breathing in a sharp breath, Jennifer clenches her jaws as bullets rattle around the outside of the elevator.

"I love you!" She shouts down to Mason, slamming the close doors button as she rests the assault rifle up against her shoulder and closes her eyes. "I'm coming for you Arthur." Her words are like steel, sharp on the edges with both a mother's rage and a wife's fury, "Every last one of you." And the elevator doors close as it begins to ascend out of the reactor level and up into Pinehearst's laboratory levels beyond, taking Tyler Case with her as an unwilling passenger.

"Ears." Ethan mutters abruptly, giving Eileen a quick but relatively gentle jab of his elbow. It's the only command slash suggestion slash warning she will get before the Wolf's weapon is raised once again and fired off at a Security Officer who got brave. His courage though is short lived. His eyes go up for a moment. "Who th'fuck's side is 'e on?" He growls before he soon has his answer.

That menacing look and that noise that sounds too much like Ruskin. His grip on his weapon instinctively tightens. "Back down the stairs Princess." He says briskly, pausing midstep. His weapon is tossed to the side, as he levels a stare up at the metal man. "Come on."

So we are going in this direction. Gabriel doesn't protest, distantly sensing the way the body he inhabits jolts around him upon the climb up the metal stairs. Anticipation is beginning to bleed back over the inherent fear in the nightmare made iron that is Rickham. Freedom. It's fucking close. Eileen. He'll go after Eileen, Gabriel thinks to project through Teo's skull. He hates us both, he doesn't care- Ray, being the reason he's even here, going back over the crazy conversational topic Ghost had offered, with only dubious consent. His piece.

Gunfire rattles metal, punctures flesh, all around them, and the sirens beckon them to run in the opposite direction. It's all the same, to Gabriel. You know, the misleading thing about chess? he says, voice purring and calm, ultimately removed from the external chaos, no louder than a whisper but more than enough for Ghost to hear, clearly, every syllable, each edged consonant. There's no blood in it.

There's enough light, however unnecessarily vivid and sporadic in its emergency! emergency! seizure-like consistency, that the ghost can see corpses. He doesn't trip over them. Damn, there are a lot of corpses. "«Somebody's going after the reactor,»" he reports back, sharply. There's a grudging instant's hesitation, lip-bitten, harsh with temper, before he admits, shortly: "«Can't tell who.»"

Mason. God willing, or someone else who might have a snowball's chance in hell of doing what needs to be done in that groaning, dying beast of a containment unit. He rak-a-taks long strides across the platform, tracking a beeline that is interrupted only by the sudden outcry Gabriel's baying in the chamber of his skull. He cuts a sharp glance through the intermittent darkness to the origin of the thrown masonry. Rickham, as indicated— razor acuity of attention now on Eileen. A different psychic shout, from Teo, gets the ghost's rifle onto his shoulder, but he doesn't fire. Sitrep comes instead, terse, passed up the chain of command. "«Gabriel's body is in the lab opposite the one we just heard go pop, and Eileen is about to draw fire from the metamorph.

"«I'm going to secure an elev…»"

Ator. A— what. Did he just see— ? "«Where the fuck is Case?»" Ghost snaps, crashing his back into the wall between shafts. He digs his elbow into the nearest button panel. Come on. Come on.

…pawn put into place and promptly swept to a different part of the board by another's hands, after making an unexpected move in a flash of red lightning. Its results will remain to be seen, but for the moment— Cardinal swears sharply under his breath as the elevator rumbles along up its track towards the upper floors, taking the metal stairs a few at a time as he heads up to the next floor— and then heads for the nearest of the other elevators, giving no heed to the continuing rampage of the metallic figure and those attempting to stop him, head down and shotgun in his hands. He slams the heel of his hand into the call button to call one down to his level, hissing into his radio, "«Someone just— I don't fucking know, I think he's been hijacked to the upper floors, I'm in pursuit. If Allen breaches that reactor, it'll crack the fault line wide open!»"

Nobody ever accused Edward of thinking small-scale.

No argument from Eileen. Raith is upstairs, Ghost isn't far behind and Gabriel is presumably still riding along in the back seat. His body, wherever it is, is in capable hands. "«Keep going,»" her voice crackles over the radio, though this direction isn't necessarily aimed at the man standing beside her. It's meant for Cardinal, for Deckard. Not that they need the encouragement — the former of the two is already well on his way. "«We'll hold Rickham.»"

As she speaks, she's beginning to back down the stairs, slowly, cautiously, careful not to make any sudden movements that might be misconstrued as bolting. Her pistol is useless against anything that isn't composed of flesh and bone, which might be why she trades it for one of the magnesium flares she keeps in the satchel draped across her shoulder. There's a sudden burst of heat and sound when she rakes it across the guard rail, white hot light exploding from the rod's tip in a shower of luminous sparks.

It's their best defense.

Keep going. Okay. :( Somehow or another, Deckard's managed to make it up the stairs. All of them. Long legs, blood alcohol levels, a preoccupied disconnect. The combined effect pans out into His surroundings fade in and out with his attention span — wet concrete one violent whirl of red, cold fog and hissing steam the next. Frost glitters in his beard growth when he breaks over Raith's position, white on grey. His knuckles bleach automatically at the pump of his shotgun, ejecting a spent shell. Apparently he might have shot someone on the way up or something? He looks briefly unsure, brows knit and breath ragged past the bare of his teeth and the penned in rise and fall of slatted ribs against the stiff of his vest. Where did the others go?

Expression set at a loss, the wiry crook scrubs the back of his left hand across the bristle of his chin and eyes Raith, whoever the fuck that guy is, and leans out over the railing to squint into the chaos below while he finishes roughing snowy coolant out of his hair. One of his ears is kind of icy and black, skin burnt crisp and raw across his temple, brow and neck on the same side. He will make a mental note to fix it later, once he gets around to noticing. In the meanwhile, he blasts another knotted mass of lead shot down at the crown of metal hippy cranium making a mess of things further down. Mainly because it's the shiniest thing down there. Or maybe because he subconsciously registered that it sounds like it wants to eat Eileen's face off. "I don't think they're coming." They look busy.

As Rickham stares down Eileen from the higher vantage point, he begins stalking along the catwalk, watching as tear gas billows up from the ground below from the single canister thrown when this firefight began. As the klaxons continue to blare out a warning about the state of the reactor's overheating core, Rickham pays no heed to Cardinal as he rushes past and towards another elevator, repeatedly tapping the call button until the doors slide open with a creak of steel. Slipping inside, Cardinal stares at the buttons for the higher floors, then slams on one of them as the doors push shut with a soft hydraulic hiss, and the elevator begins to ascend.

Just as Cardinal's elevator is heading up and out of the reactor level, another begins to come down from the surface levels. Coming to a stop on the fourth floor, the elevator creaks when it comes to a stop, followed by a loud hiss as the doors open, and a weathered old man dressed in a pinstriped blue suit steps out, adjusting his tie. Dark brows furrow together as he jerks his head to one side, looking down at the catwalks and hears the klaxons blaring, then turns his blue eyes up to Raith, the reactor core column between he and line of sight with Ghost and Deckard. "Do I have to do everything myself?"

Taking a few steps forward, Arthur Petrelli raises his hand in Raith's direction, but then is disrupted in his concentration by the metallic roar of Rickham two floors below. The iron giant leaps off of the catwalk, dropping like a stone to the concrete below with a shattering collision, his feet smashing into the ground and leaving spider-webbed impressions in the stone. Slamming a metallic fist into his palm, his mechanical voice growls out a hollow and deep, "You. Always you! No matter where I go, you hunt me!"

Narrowing his eyes, Arthur looks back up to Raith and Ghost, waving one hand in the manner someone would swat at a fly, sending the former Vanguard intelligence agent hurdling off of his feet and up against one of the reinforced glass slab windows with a shuddering impact. "Exactly how many infestations in my building do I have to stamp out in one day?" Holding his hand up, a sustained force keeps Raith up against the glass, an unseen hand closing around his throat, "Who are you? Who do you work for?" Not that Raith can answer, with a telekinetic chokehold squeezing his windpipe shut.

Unfortunately for Arthur, he's unaware of the brain-spliced Teodoro Laudani and a scraggly healer tucked just out of his line of sight.

It is unfortunate for Arthur, but it'll be unfortunate for Raith too if his buddies don't figure out that they should do something. It's a chance he'll have to take, however; he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. Unable to vocalize an answer as he struggles to get air into his lungs, he instead focuses his energies on his own version of Ethan's earlier salute, pointing his one finger towards the floor and awkwardly waving it back and forth, turning a simple 'Fuck you' into a slightly more complex, 'Fuck you, limp dick.' Just so long as Arthur focuses on him and doesn't notice Deckard or Ghost or anyone else but him. It'll be all the better when some terrible thing happens to the old tyrant.

Ethan follows Eileen's movements silently, his steps mirroring hers as she backs up. One hand slowly lifts and is placed on the back of her shoulder. A brow arches as the man dents the floor, flying in from above. A little hum is given as Ethan glances over at Eileen. "What th'fuck 'ave you been up to?" He asks, a bit of irritation in his voice.

Looking back, his other hand goes to his side. "Not just ears this time love. When I say, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Got it?" Uncliping something from his side, a flashbang is raised. Ethan watches the metallic man carefully. The Wolf gives a sidelong glance to Eileen's flare. "We shut this fucker up quick and quiet. 'it 'im 'ard and put one of those things in 'is fuckin' trap." A quick gesture to his mouth. His hand grasps her shoulder tightly, should he need to throw her backwards or otherwise shove her viciously yet mercifully out of harms way.

It's an unsurprising misfortune, that this wasn't the plan. Unexpected, Arthur looms beyond the nose of his rifle. His back turned, the fabric of his very expensive suit— Brioni, maybe?— and breath clots humid between Ghost's teeth.

Time seems to slow down inside the specter's head. Turns ponderous, and he feels the details of its passage, even as space seems to distend like the gassy rot of a dead cow's torso, membraneous and organic, this blinking awareness of the distance to bullets sparking ricochet off architecture and ruined masonry, the crippled spread of the team between its weapons and targets, and the garland of melted rail and bladed light up the laddered edge of stair platforms.

It isn't very strange, that he's waited so long for this moment and now he's hesitating. In truth, a cold, fluid, commonplace trickle like ice-water, he's kind of scared. Just scared. Eight years is a long time to cultivate a crop rotation of hate, rage, resignation, and dread.

Fortunately, it's just about then that Teo asks: Would it be asking too much for you to actually hit something?

Ghost does. Pops up on his feet, then, swiveling his rifle down in favor of the dart gun slight in his hand; instead, he launches himself out of the psychic saddle with as much reckless physicality as a drunken cowhand toward a steer. He hits the periphery of Arthur's mind rather than the back of his skull, crashes disembodied energy into matriced energy, a systemic shock to the old tyran's brain and columned nerves even as he wrecking balls his way through the ordered structure of telepathic defence and construction.

It's loud inside Arthur's head. Raith's heartbeat racketing inside his ribs, Rickham's hearing and voice resonating through the bands and binding of hundreds of pounds of sentient metal, and Teo himself, heard in the third person, an insignificant bleat of organs inside their bag only a few yards behind him. There's more than that. Infinitely more than that. He only has an instant, split, to see, hear, feel, register what he can before—

He's back. Blood a sudden sticky spurt out of his nostril and metallic in his mouth, a migraine filling his left eye. "«Six clones,»" he says, caving into rather than actually taking an optimistic sidelong step toward the elevator shaft. His voice doesn't sound right across the radio. Not to himself, anyway. "«Lobby, heading there, hunting Zimmerman, and two on the fourth floor.»"

Ethan's instructions are reverberating in Eileen's ears above the klaxons. One of these days, she'll sit down with him and confess to all that she's been up to — from storming Moab Federal Penitentiary to igniting a meth lab in the bowels of Midtown — but right this minute she intends on treating his question as the rhetorical one that it is. "Sylar and I doused him in sulfuric acid and set him on fire," she tells him instead in a low voice, resorting to a dramatically abbreviated version of events that never rises above a breathy whisper. "I'm not sure that's going to work."

Arm outstretched, the flare held away from her face and Ethan's, she keeps her gaze trained on Rickham rather than chancing a glance at the hand on her shoulder. She doesn't need to look to know that it's there, and she doesn't need to know that it's there to realize what it means. Muscles tense beneath her clothes, limbs growing taut and wiry as she braces herself for what might come. "«Copy that, Teodoro.»"

Old guy, sweet threads, all powerful. A sideways glimpse of pinstriped blue caught on the way up from peering over the railing and Deckard's immediate, flinching sidestep further out of sight is indication that he must have been paying at least some attention at the meeting that organized this invasion. For the first time since his boots scraped over the tunnel threshold downstairs, he really looks patently and distinctly worried when he feels the curl of breeze that accompanies Raith's abrupt departure, brows tipped up up, wrinkles scraped in deep across his forehead, fuzzy lines slack around a frown. Take flight, brave asshole.

Raith has a front row seat to his busily looking worried, actually, blue eyes alternately dipped into shadow and ringed pale by the crimson light still washing regular as a pulse over the creak of the catwalk. This is doubtlessly endlessly reassuring, especially given how long five seconds tends to feel while you're having the life squeezed out of you by invisible forces.

He twitches once like he's going to do something, one shoulder dipping and narrow jaw slacking partway open. Then once more, going nowhere. It's Teo's voice crackling into his ear that finally spurs him to suicidal stupidity; in a single jerk of motion, he slings the shotgun back over his shoulder, unstraps the dartgun opposite his .45 and steps around into the open to level the muzzle and squeeze the trigger.

Only then does what Teo actually says register. There are more of him.

The backlash in Arthur's mind from Teodoro's psychic intrusion sends the old man staggering back with a jerk of his head as if he had been struck in the forehead by a punch. The concussive force of Teo's mind in his own breaks his concentration, sending Raith down to the catwalk with a clatter of boots on steel; the former Vanguard soldier managing to — like a cat — land on his feet.

Arthur staggers to one side, bringing a hand to his head as he hisses, "Get out of my head!" A wide-eyed stare is volleyed towards Teo, followed by a shuddering groan of the catwalks as a blast of telekinetic force lashes out and lifts the Sicilian off of his feet and slams him body into the glass in the same moment that the dart from Deckard's gun slams into Arthur's neck. In a wild, panicked fit of rage, Arthur clenches both of his fists and flings Teodoro skyward, slamming him into the concrete ceiling, then whipping him backwards to collide with the glass of the lab's windows once, twice, three times before finally smashing him face first down onto the catwalk — all seeming to happen so fast.

Blood trickles in a constant stream out of Teo's mouth and nose, his limbs spasm as the telekinesis begins to press down on his back, popping vertibrae and cracking ribs. With a dart hanging out of his neck, Arthur struggles and lurches back for a moment, teeth clenching as he reaches a hand up, fingers palming the dart as he pulls and tugs at it before it falls out with a clink to the ground.

"What was that supposed to do?" At the moment, it seems, absolutely nothing. Hopefully Teodoro had a long-term plan there, because as Arthur raises one hand towards Deckard, the dartgun is ripped away to clatter down to the catwalk, another motion sending the scraggly arms-dealer up against the reinforced glass wall of the lab with a shuddering slam.

"Look what you did to me!" Rickham's voice fills the air as he comes charging across the concrete towards Eileen, with Ethan interposed between the two. Rickham's thundering footfalls slam hard and bare metal against the concrete as Ethan shoves Eileen out of the way and lets the flashbang go, hurling it towards the iron colossus as the lever comes popping off and it twirls end over end towards the metal man while Ethan dives out of the way.

From down on the ground, the sudden flare of white light and the nearly deafening crackabang of the flash-bang going off shakes the catwalks, and as the light from the flashbang dims, Rickham is staggering back holding his head, sonorous vibrations from the flashbang disrupting whatever tremorsense he uses to see rather than eyes. The sound emitting from him is a high-pitched squeal of twisting metal, mouth wide open and head jerked back.

Air! Precious air! Raith, despite landing on his feet, sinks to one knee as he gulps down a lungful of air. His celebration, however, is short-lived as he remembers exactly how it is that he got into this mess in the first place. It has to do, mainly, with the intervention of Arthur Petrelli. Suffice to say, Raith isn't all that happy about having been choked.

Then he realizes just how bad things have really gotten; Ghost is in sad shape, maybe dead, it's hard to tell. Deckard's in trouble too, and that leaves Raith as the man to try and fix things. Quickly but quietly, without rising up from the floor, he unholsters and prepares to introduce Arthur to his good friend 'Wilby,' a short-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 500 with a red-dot sight and, perhaps confusingly, a short suppressor. He doesn't bother with any sort of remark as he lines up the weapon with Arthur's back hoping the he didn't just imagine that the old man pulled a dart out of his neck.

Bracing himself against the recoil, Raith squeezes Wilby's trigger, and the gunshot that follows shouts so loudly and forcefully, that the can on the end of the barrel only prevents it from causing permanent hearing damage. That ringing in the ears should, eventually, go away. Hopefully.

No— !

Because God knows, Gabriel did not wind up here, of all places, only for Teo to break. But there's a certain wet snap of broken bones, and he can almost feel it, pain enough to reverberate through flesh, bone, muscle, into the psychic domain that he and Teo share. The world goes black for all three the moment Ghost goes crashing down, lands hard against metal, doesn't immediately move.

Can't immediately move. Gabriel knows that much.

Oh, well. Time to go. I'll see you on the other side. It's a promise, directed to them both, and all of a sudden— Gabriel leaves.

There's a sense of tearing; pure metaphor, but in the mind, in dreams, metaphor is everything. Visibly, Teo Laudani's mouth parts in a silent scream, but rather than a ragged throat sound of pain or dying, there is nothing but the ashy black vapour that comes whistling out as if it really mattered, the way out, so long as it's out. Smaller tendrils lift off the man's skin like smoke, bleed from tear ducts, from wounds, collecting together in a tornado presence that shows faces in its shadows, that gives an almight scream on its own, the mingling of voices, feminine, masculine, combining into one choir.

Between consciousness, there's a desert, somewhere, in Teo's, as red as the martian planet, as turbulent as a dying star. A campfire crackles, breaks apart. A mighty chasm, water rushing backwards out of it it in defiance of gravity, suddenly slams together. A dream ends but only to give way.

Meanwhile. This is something Gabriel had not counted on, the pure unadulterated need to feed off the life around him. He sees everything and nothing, only vapour and ash, rising up. The blood that spatters from Arthur upon Raith's attack attracts him like a swam of gnats might, the smokey essence suddenly slamming through the dying man's body, taking shreds of life-force with him, feeding off what remains within Arthur Petrelli.

But. Dead already. Wounded. Not acceptable. Won't work.

Filled with purpose over sentience, there is no difference to Gabriel as to who he goes to next. The ashy monster he's become goes waterfalling off the side of the catwalk, whipping through the air with that continually dying scream, descending down, down— and Mason Chesterfield won't know what hit him when the smoke quite suddenly wraps around him like a shroud, piercing him with invisible needles as it vanishes beneath him, knees giving, a clatter of metal as he collapses against the railing, tumbles to the floor as the last trace of smoke snakes its way into him through the eye.

Dead already, wounded, not acceptable. Teo views the world perpendicular to what it ought to be, concrete cold up the side of his face, one eye seamed open to study the contorsion of light, shadow, the collapse and mushroom of Arthur's ashes which remind him of the taste of sand, the taste of blood which reminds him of the feel of imploding, chasmed floodwater.

His head is full of noise, wholly unlike that which had characterized Arthur's inner-life before it had fizzled out on the end of Wilby's round and Gabriel's pernicious touch. Static. Only the pain saws through it, the dull awareness he is drowning where he lays and will continue to do so if he doesn't— all right, here he goes—

He rolls over. Peels his mouth off moistened concrete, leaving a round mark in parting. Gets an elevator door chiming, singsong, shut on his leg for his trouble, half a view of Deckard's lanky figure. His other eye is filled with blood.

For a moment or two, Eileen can't hear anything at all. Overcome by an crippling feeling of nausea that cocoons her senses and slithers snakelike through her gut, she collapses against the railing and sits there, dazed, her equilibrium utterly decimated by the effects of the flashbang. It's not that she failed to heed Ethan's warning — she just didn't know what to anticipate, and as a result suffers for her inexperience.

The initial shock fades fast. The associated symptoms are harder to shake. Off-balance, she reaches up and closes her free hand around the railing, knuckles bulging against the leather material of her glove. A moment later she's pulling herself to her feet in what feels like slow motion, surrendering to the pull of her forward momentum as she places one booted foot in front of the other.

An upward thrust of her outstretched arm shoves the lit flare into the elect's open mouth. Twists. She's not spiteful or vindictive, honest. Simply thorough.

Deckard's already taken one hard hit to the back today. He makes a strained sort of grunting sound when he wonks solid against the glass, air forced out of his lungs at a disgruntled wheeze. A sizeable break in his blackened ear chips, teeters, and simply falls off to land on Teo (pat) below, leaving icy sludge to creep sluggishly out of the gap it leaves behind. The shotgun braced across his shoulders isn't doing much to help with comfort — cold metal screeches and grates across smudged glass and a squeegee line of colder blood under the pressure.

Resigned to his wasp and pin state, at Arthur's question he manages to look surly in a hangdog kind of 'dickholes told me it was fast acting' way, jaw set and brow hooded. Odds are, he has a beat to look perplexed when all audio switches over to shrill ringing static and Arthur experiences sudden onset interior remodeling. Reason fails. Nobody told him it would make him explode and turn into a pile of ashes. …Not that he's objecting. It's just. That stuff is apparently like really dangerous and he'd been playing with the darts earlier —

There's a stir in his gut. It feels like gravity. He swallows, but there's nothing to swallow, so he closes his eyes instead.

Ashes clatter down through the grating mixed with tiny chips of bone and tattered cloth, the dessicated skeletal remains of Arthur Petrelli's clone crumbles into the grating and rains like soot down on Mason Chesterfield from above. Staring down at his hands — new hands — with wide eyes, the ashes only seem to drift silently past him on their eventual path past the corpses of Stillwater Security agents, reactor technicians, and finally down to cling in the hair of Eileen Ruskin, like so many familiar ashes earlier in her life had.

For the barest moment, the serenity of these falling ash snowflakes before the white-hot flame of her magnesium flare begins burning a molten hole through the front of Allen Rickham's face. The high-pitched squealing wail of Rickham's mutilated body turns into something as soupy as his iron flesh as white-hot molten steel drips in gobs off of the front of his face, his jaw eventually separating from his head as it splits off and falls with a heavy clang to his feet.

Turning around with a glowing white-hot hole in the front of his face, Rickham survives the attack, moving to grasp out at Eileen, only to have a sudden interposition of Ethan's body in front of her knock her out of the way. "Back up, Princess!"

Shoving the barrel of his pistol into the molten hole of Rickham's mouth, Ethan pulls the trigger several times, resulting in flashing sparks and a shattering explosion as his gun gams and practically fuses to the front of Rickham's face from the heat, eventually sliding off and tumbling out. The other side of the basement can be seen through a hole at the back of his neck from the gunshots on the softened metal. "Well, now m'just not sure entirely wot kills you," his brows lower, eyes uplifting towards one of the catwalks, then along cabling traversing the floor and finally to the broken water mane that the workers were repairing when they first came down here.

Distracting Rickham as he unholsters another pistol, Ethan fires a shot off into the iron man's throat, then brushes past him, making a beeline for the far wall. Rickham turns, feeling another gunshot peppering the back of his head. Staggering, stumbling, he makes his way across the floor towards Ethan. The Brit unclips something from his waist, looking back at Rickham before lobbing a grenade off to his side and rolling behind the forklift for cover. The grenade stops at the wall, bounces twice and then explodes in a sudden blast of stone dust and metal shrapnel.

Rickham reflexively covers his face with his arms, looking around for Ethan as another cooling glob of molten steel drips off of his gaping upper jaw to slap down on the ground. Blue and white sparks start flicker-snapping in the air, as where Ethan's grenade blew up on the wall, exposed electrical conduits now spark and crackle, loose wires dangling back and forth, sputtering and popping with live electrical currents.

"Princess, all we got t'do is— " As Ethan dives out from behind the forklift, Rickham is already there, moving with a long stride to slam Ethan with his shoulder, sending the Vanguard soldier flying through the air and into the concrete base of the reactor. He crumples up against the wall, struggling up onto one knee before one of Rickham's iron fists comes down and slams him in the back, dropping him face down in a pool of water. As the iron man winds up for another strike, he catches Eileen's silhouette in his periphery, and turns slowly, beginning to advance back on her.

He tries to speak but this time all it comes out as is a hissing gurgle of molten metal.

Raith longs for simpler times, when men just died when you shot them. They didn't smash you against walls, and then explode into ashes when you shot them. For times to be simple again. Oh, for the ability to answer the telephone between his ears.

Shaking his head to try and clear out the bells, Raith gets back to his feet and, holstering Wilby, King of Revolvers, appraises the situation. "Scruffy!" he shouts, hoping that his words make it through the cotton that has doubtlessly been shoved into Deckard's ears as well, "Scruffy. Fix Mario. I'm going after Eyebrows." He leaves it entirely up to Deckard to figure out what he's attempting to communicate. Bringing his M4 back up to his shoulder, he gives his head one final shake and then for the laboratory door that, allegedly, Gabriel's body is kept behind. Allegedly.

For a moment, Mason is unmoving, upon the third level catwalk on which he is sprawled. But there's only so much time, something both he and his new inhabitant know, and such a sentiment that is rattling in their newly shared skull. Slowly, Mason rolls over. Slowly, Mason gets to his knees. And slowly, Mason stares at his own too hands with an expression of horror. Because let's be honest, it certainly isn't Mason doing this. Christ. Gabriel can feel the other man's heart beat in his— their— his chest, and it isn't like the foggy distant-reality place he had curled up within Teo's skull. No, this is his body. Gabriel can feel every bruise, every weariness, every breath in and out and knowledge that he controls its wave-like rhythm.

God. God.

Not exactly.

Who are you? What have you done? Do you have any idea what you've done?

Gabriel manages not to say 'no! :D' and instead wraps a hand around the railing, getting this body to its feet. Older than he's used to, slower, in pain. Mistake. My name is Sylar, Gabriel says, managing to retain his own voice— for now— as it echoes through their shared skull. He tramples over the sputter of disbelief and abject horror at this truth, continuing with, I need to get to my body. Raith's clanging footsteps are tracked with his eyes for a few moments, towards the labs, but for now, Gabriel simply needs to breathe. He's bent half over the railing, getting used to this. Pain. Life. Other poetry. His back hurts.

There are more pressing matters, Mr. Gray, Mason replies, somewhat acidic. Somewhat resigned. You must understand. Think. And Gabriel does. Think. And the world opens up to him like a flower. Like a map. Everything, for the first time in a long time, seems to connect together.

The reactor.


There's no second thought. With this ability triggered, there is no need for second thought. Gabriel's footsteps land heavy on the catwalk, towards the stairs, to clambor down it and away from the labs. If he wants there to be labs to access at all, there is something he has to do first. Tell me what to do, is his inward order, and Mason perhaps recognizes what little choice he has, here.

What little choice he ever had before. So, he does. Which is why Gabriel does not continue down, down, where every fibre of his being is screaming for him to go, to attack the man of metal gaining ground on the bird whisper. He veers sharply, instead, once he hits the next level down; he bolts for the entrance of the reactor as fast as Mason's legs can carry him.

Breathing comes hoarse. Blood tracks sidewinder, delineating the course that Teo took to the elevator door, and there is frozen sheared-off Deckard sticking to the back of his vest, somewhere. Felt that.

Feels, also, like he just went through two packs of cigarettes in an hour and there's someone — out there — he isn't supposed to be leaving. Mistakenly, he coordinates this against the words guttered across the radio, squints haphazardly in Deckard's direction as an idiot owl chick imprints the hand that feeds. Any hand that feeds. Deckard— is unavailable for nurturing, but is at least recognized, the image of him caught and held somewhere in the wavering, shallow water of Teo's forebrain's migraine. Glances away from the fallen healer just long enough to glance up when Raith passes by, sort of overhead on his way to the laboratory.

Doesn't wave good-bye, quite, but there's something akin to manners in the way he pulls his leg out of the door, cooperative, peculiar permissive rather than strictly pragmatic the way he's been— awhile, now. Deckard, he thinks, loud as he can, but this time there is no one to hear.

He closes his eyes briefly. Squeezes, reopens. Crawls a bloody hand up the wall panel and presses the other elevator button.

Being unable to do anything from her vantage point except watch as Rickham brutalizes Ethan further shreds at Eileen's nerves and frays her composure close to the point of breaking. There's not a lot holding her together anymore except for the acidic taste of fury in her mouth and the blood thundering in her ears. She can hear again, see again, hold herself upright for the time it takes her to retrieve another flare from satchel and strike it against the nearest surface, but none of this matters. Not really. Heat blasts her face, blows through her hair and casts her features in a resplendent glow that makes her skin appear even paler and radiant than it really is.

Far from an avenging angel, however, her gray-green eyes are wild with an emotion that would look more appropriate if they were rolling around in her skull like a rabbit's caught in a wire snare. "«Raith?»" she tries over the radio, tone tight, words terse. "«Teodoro?»"

She doesn't have high expectations. The chances of someone answering her are about as good as Ethan getting up again, and while she's desperately hoping for both, the only external force she has left to rely on is the glowing flare she holds clutched in her hand.

This isn't going to end well for any of them.

Grounded. At some point the earth stopped moving up or he stopped moving down. When Deckard's pupils contract and condense empty black out of the fog flooding soft through the hard angles and hollows of his skull it's to focus on Raith's mouth moving further down the catwalk with an urgency that fails to qualify as fishlike. Things aren't moving slowly, they're just moving dumbly — the bleary blotch of words through the stuffing in his 1 and 3/4s ears indecipherable until Teo's movement catches on the edge of his vision.

Hghh. Stiffly and with slogging effort, he manages to roll himself off his side, one bony knee finding purchase against grated, war torn metal until the rest of him can follow suit. Up onto both boots, shotgun strap hooked up by fumbling fingers as an automatic afterthought.

For a pulse of light he seems to vanish, irrelevent motion in the big scheme of things. Then he's there at Teo's back, half trip half shove from behind up against the wall with the elevator button lighted a polite shade of golden yellow. Hold please :D says the light, while Deckard claws one wrought iron hand into a brace at Teo's shoulder and mashes the other up around into his broken face, whiskey breath thick in his chest, Eileen's inquiry muted at his temple. Next time he is asking for more money.

A groan splotches red and vapor across Deckard's grimey, corded palm. Pain, ballooning Teo's cheeks, briefly, even as the ruined bridge of his nose heaves a sticky tide into the cuff of Deckard's sleeve, a whimper catching on the coattails of the name that had come before. His jaw pops open, swollen mouth meeting cold concrete, a voiceless entreaty. Oh, God. He can't breathe

"Where?" That's what the query sounds like, anyway. Staggered gasp, faltering wheeze. It's hard to mangle one syllable, but between structural damage to himself and the cacophony of rambling mechanical parts in the elevator, the nuclear reactor's warning system crowing klaxons, Teodoro makes a lovely mutilation of the term. His hands clutch curled on the meet of floor and wall. "Dow — d - downstairs — ?"

"Be still," muttered with an intensity that does little to penetrate the klaxon's pounding past the numbness in his ears, Deckard does not seem to notice the pain in Teo's reaction. Nor does he register that sinew in his left hand is twisting of its own accord, knuckles hooked to pry the younger man's nose back into a marginally more recognizeable position with a tangible rice paper crackle and scrape of bone on bone.

Healing comfort is slower to follow than Teo might hope — white hot through finger bones to face in a scalding, unclogged surge of unleashed energy. It eases off from there, pain fuzzing tepid and indistinctly tolerable as a swallow of warm beer while white electricity snaps and hisses around the fringes of Flint's vision. "I dunno. I dunno — Eileen's down there, and the metal guy."

Teo didn't like the sound of that. Or he doesn't like the feel of his nose cartlidge being forcibly wrenched into a new axis on the go of the old man's grubby piggies. Both, possibly. A howl of protest stays caged behind the Sicilian's teeth, heartfelt if ineffectual. He twists, his shoulders swiveling hard inside the rickety-jointed circle of Deckard's grasp. Thwaps a hand on the bend of Flint's knee, dying fish flailing, all muscle without traction.

He means to object. Succeeds without clarity. "No— " His cheeks puff round with the syllable. There's a dragging scrape of denim on asphalt, a scraping click of round, blunt nails against his best guess at the pocket in which he'd jammed his frag grenades. "Help— " his voice sounds ridiculous, ruched up nasal in the back of his throat, pitchy as a pubescent boy's, this plea. "Eileen— she can't— sh's got t' run."

Viewed through the lattice of rusted metal, the battle down on the lowest level of the reactor looks like little more than a play of shadow puppets. The bright light cast by the remaining magnesium flare burns jet black shadows against a white-hot backdrop as Rickham's rickety metallic frame lumbers like some Frankenstein monster around the yellow-painted metal of the forklift. Frustratedly, he shoves one hand into it, sending the heavy machine toppling end over end, bouncing across the concrete floor before smashing into the wall, one tire dislodging and rolling away from the buckled axel.

A hissing shriek of metal comes where a voice once was, and yet Rickham's unstoppable rampage has battered down Eileen's last savior, leaving her alone with the iron giant. His bony fingers curl and flex like talons, shoulders angling awkwardly as he circles around the concrete cylinder of the reactor base, following Eileen's backpedaling footsteps.

Pitted iron fingers reach out to scrape along the concrete, trailing sparks beghind his fingertips as he leaves stark white tracks in the dark concrete, chips of stone falling away from his rough caress. The dark, hematite eyes of Rickham's now monstrous visage peer into the magnesium flare unblinking, and with every heavy footfall, he attempts to draw Eileen into a corner.

Meanwhile, high above them, loud footfalls carry Mason's body down the metallic stairs towards the reactor level, stopping halfway down to hunch over and brace himself against the railing, weary knees and aged lungs screaming with pain from the effort of his sprinting; it isn't the body of a young man, or even a healthy man.

We can't stop here. Mason's voice echoes from the back of Gabriel's mind, frightened but at the same time conscious of the weighted responsibility laden down on his shoulders, and now Gabriel's. It's not going to matter soon anyway, just keep going, don't stop until we get to the reactor door!

Rickham will be hard-pressed to maneuver Eileen in any direction that doesn't put her between his body and Ethan's unmoving one. She can hear voices over the radio, though the exact words being spoken and traded between the two remaining men upstairs isn't a detail that her ears are presently privy to. It's comforting, at least, to know that someone else is still alive — even if they aren't in a position to provide her with the suppressive fire she needs to maintain her distance from the enemy.

Her footfalls splash through the water as she continues to retreat without showing Rickham her back, flare held out in the space between them and banishing shadows to the far corners of the bottommost level. It reflects off his exterior, paints his hulking shape in burnished shades of silver and blue. "«Whatever you're doing up there,»" she snarls, voice broken up by staccato clicks and shrill hisses of static interference as her fear gives way to something even nastier and base, "«please finish it quickly.»"

Mason's voice echoes and buzzes like a gnat. Like Gabriel must have been for Ghost, like he had been for Kazimir. It won't make a difference to these muscles should Gabriel choose to collapse here and let everything sort of end in bright light, fire, noise. Breath rattles in and out of his lungs more laboriously than he ever would have anticipated, and without a word to Mason, he simply moves, foot steps rattling the metal catwalk as he goes.

There's no real time for a prayer, and both men are silent in their shared cranium as a code is input, as a door that likely should not be opened, is opened. The screaming of warning sirens rattles teeth even louder, as if it were needed as steam shoots blistering hot streams across the space, and heat seems to catch the air on fire.

It doesn't matter. Gabriel knows exactly what to do, from the instructions being shot through neurological pathways, through to everything making more sense than it ever did before. Process of information elimination, all that matters is running those several feet that way, turning the water valve. It's easier to do it if you know you probably won't die. It's why it wasn't particularly easy for Mason.

Just necessary. Around the time the klaxons have changed their apocalyptic song from death to simple intrusion, and Mason's knees hit the ground, shoulder connects shortly after, that same impossible, smoky entity that is pure life-force is snaking its way out the reactor with its own kind of scream. Spiraling up, trying to keep a hold of sentience, up and up and making for the labs in defiance of the impossible need to find the nearest warm body for its own.

Giving his head one last, good shake to chase, unsuccessfully, the rest of the bells out, Raith busies himself entering the labs proper, firing a short burst from his rifle into the door's locking mechanism when it decides it would rather not let him in. That particular issue is quickly resolved, and as the portal opens, Raith finds, happily, that personnel manning this level seem to have some level of intelligence and decided they should hide in the labs when the guns started going off. His head hurts and his muscles are starting to ache as the last burst of adrenaline starts to wear off. The sooner he finds Gray's body and leaves, the sooner he can relax in a hot bath with a cold beer. Bonus points if both of them belong to somebody else.

Raith said to fix Teo. At least, that's probably what he said. And he's the guy paying the bills. So Deckard insists — tempered grip and wire cables shifted coyote quick to release and reset face to face, left hand splayed open across Teo's retarded puppy mug to stifle his fuzzy head right back into the cold concrete wall again while they jostle for position. Coarse pads lead yellowed and sticky with blood clamp vice-like against howling and flailing and struggling and gnashing of teeth. Healing continues whether he likes it or not, forced down his throat in only a semi-literal sense while uncomfortable warmth seeps steady through his system and the graverobber cranes his scruffy head around to squint after the cornea searing sizzle of Eileen's flare far below.

"God — damnit. The fuck is Holden?" Select syllables rake harsh across the radio channel, broken but distinctly Deckard in tone and inflection. He's squeezing Teo's skull too hard again and his fucking knee hurts and he's forty-two there are a lot of stairs between this floor and the first. There's accusation in the icy rake of his glare back around at Ghost, bolstered by unsubtle shades of displaced, hard-eyed irritation. Lucidity checked out somewhere around the big hairy spiders, most likely.

Still. He's present enough to register that Teo is intact such that he should make all the right pops and squelches when the remaining Arthurs upstairs rend him into raggedy chunks. With a flash of teeth and a stiff-shouldered shove, he breaks off to sling himself along the railing for the stairs, now steam slick and increasingly hot to the touch, spent casings glittering brassily away from the ash clotted thick on his boots. Sorry Arthur.

There's a woman's voice in Teo's ear, easily mistaken for that of God. He can't understand what she's saying because he made the rather stupid executive decision to stand up just now, and his whole skull is resonating with the tooth-rattling drone of a thousand bees.

His stride swoops out of axis, catches on a stumble across the sawtoothed soles of his boots; he tries to tell God something reassuring, or answer Deckard's earlier question, but either— both— it comes out in a haggard slur that ends with his newly healed face mapped against the button panel of the elevator.

Ding. There's a blurred blink, confusion as Teo rocks his head back and stares at the gap through the open doors. Hey. H—ey.

The music changed.

He still tastes red, though. All over red. "«F'got something.»" Two words hiss up into Deckard's ear up out of the radio unit neglected on the man's shoulder, a moment before the throwing arm of the lone blurred shadow that remains top-side sends a fistful of metal rattling down at him.

Like rats leaving a sinking ship, the swirling black miasma of Gabriel Gray's incorporeal form funnels out of Mason Chesterfield's body and evacuates the reactor, heedless of the scalding smoke that blisters and peels flesh back, heedless of the radiation that ensures death even if he had escaped. For those last, languid moments o fhis life, blinded from the heat and laying dying on the floor, Mason Chesterfield thinks back to the decisions he has made in his life up until this point, finds the pain gone from shock, and knows — all too well — that he will never see his daughter's face ever again.

He has no voice to ask her for forgiveness, for the life of lies he forced her to live, for the choices he made that led him down this path of death and destruction. But in the end, even as steaming blood pools out around him and those last few fluttering beats of his heart pound hollow in his chest, Mason Chesterfield dies knowing he is proud of the woman he raised as his own, and the proud, strong woman she became. In that last breath he takes, he hopes she knows how proud he was.

With the klaxons no longer warning of an iminent reactor meltdown, only the flash of emergency lights fill the reactor level, allowing the sound of a moving elevator to finally be heard. The scrape and grating of metal on metal sounds too loud, too much for an elevator simply coming down at a slow pace. When the shower of sparks from one of them begins to be seen flashing and flickering, followed by the horrible squeal of emergency brakes grinding against the interior wall, it herald the cometary fall of an elevator with its cables cut as it plummets down the four story descent from the otherwise unreachable higher levels.

The elevator comes grinding to a halt six feet above the concrete floor, the emergency brakes pressing out against the elevator shaft. A panicked scream inside ends only moments after the elevator stops, followed by a pressurized hiss as the doors slide open, revealing a pitch blackness within. After a moment, light seems to slither into the elevator, snaking in through areas of patchy darkness as a wide-eyed and terrified figure comes rolling out of the open doors.

White leather partially stained with blood slaps down to the concrete floor. Shaky and thin arms push a young girl up onto her hands and knees, panting out panicked breaths as she spits blood onto the floor, one hand immediately moving up to the torn shoulder of her white leather jacket where blood flows freely from an open wound. Tears wet her cheeks, teeth gnash together, and as she struggles up from her knees to stand, sightless milky-white eyes peer ineffectually around the reactor's lowest level. "Oh God." Perhaps not entirely ineffectual eyes after all.

Distracted by the fall of the elevator from the upper floors, Rickham jerks his focus over to the black-haired girl in the white jacket, his head craning to the side as he emits that horrible metallic squealing noise, thundering footsteps moving towards her with two heavy beats, before he remembers the equally wiry woman that is the focus of all his rage. Snapping his focus back towards Eileen, Rickham crouches down like some predatory animal reach to pounce, metallic fingertips lightly brushing the ground as his lanky arms and protruding spine shine defined in the flashing red lights.

Eileen's attention is likewise drawn to the elevator and Colette's matchstick silhouette. There are some days when she isn't sure whether her life is a tragedy or a comedy, but times like these firmly cement the belief that she's forever trapped in a twisted version of the latter where the object is to inflict as much cruelty upon herself and others as possible. What is the Nichols girl doing here?

"Don't move!" she barks at the younger woman from her steadfast position at Ethan's side, his prone shape distorted by the flare's blaze and the shadowy tongues that flicker at the edges of its radiant halo. Her tone carries with it a certain amount of authority, hardened by necessity rather than any feelings of resentment she might be harbouring for Colette's sudden appearance. The only way this could get any worse is if something explodes. Thankfully, the combined efforts of Gabriel and Mason have already averted that particular catastrophe. "«Deckard, I've got a kid down here. Where are you?»"


In a room of medical white, stainless steel and hard edges, the smoke monster Gabriel has become is a distinct contrast, rolling in through the broken open door like poison, that deathly scream of voices, past and present, quieted to a hiss that only barely rises above the sound of machinery. He can sense more than see Raith's presence, and there's a gravitational pull to simply siphon his way into the shell of flesh and muscle, wear it as his own. Before he can't hold himself together anymore, the vapour feeling it could break apart at any moment.

He contents himself with feeding from the still cooling body of a scientist who's chest is making a crimson mess on the floor.

More coffin than container, a glass, plastic lid rolls back, a white fog seeping out the sides just as the far black, far more insidious smoke of Gabriel Gray goes pouring inside. He can barely recognise himself save for an instinctive, sensory knowledge of belonging, twining bast medical tubes, sinking in, in, in—

Until the world turns around, and he can feel everything. A monitor that had shown a singular electronic line of zero brain activity quite suddenly kick starts around the same time he starts choking around tubes in his throat, down his mouth, his nose, needles in arms and wires tangling with the convulsing movement of a patient waking up in a panic, heart racing. Hands claw blindly for a moment, before ripping; a breathing tube, the one for negation, the one for sedation, are torn out of him with a similar feeling as if Gabriel were tearing out his own insides. Fluid rattles wetly in his throat as his coughs, and, for his next trick, leans over the side of the container and lets bile spatter against the tiled floor with the wet, gut-deep sound of a cat hacking up a hairball.

For a defining, glorious moment, it could be better.

Fashionably late to the party, if you will, Gabriel comes staggering (limping) out of the broken open doors, bare feet numb against the tile, and then the metal of catwalk outside. Trying to negotiate pants on, caked in wet ash and blood, when his body isn't quite working the way he wants it to, is enough of a chore, the pilfered shirt drawn over a needle-tracked torso, and discarded labcoat left amongst the remains. He lands hard against the metal railing— even Mason's body didn't feel this bad, muscles screaming in protest at all this moving they suddenly have to do— and with a blurred gaze, Gabriel tries to pick out—

Well. Tries to pick out what's going on.

"«Coming.»" Deckard rasps clear across the radio for the first time since he's been here, damp boots squeaking over metal with an urgency that doesn't carry over into the distraction in his voice. Why is there a kid here? He can ask later. For now, Teo's present is bouncing ominously down the stairs after him and he has to drag a hand back after it, tacky blood finding purchase just as one of his boots loses it. He slips, falls, slides, rides the next few stairs bump bump bump squeak down on his side until his feet catch and he's up on them again, hardly slowing down while his ear oozes at an accelerated rate, slush melting past the blackened flesh along the side of his face.

When he finally blows out of the steam lingering at the base of the stairs, he doesn't have more than a beat to catch his breath before he has to swing the shotgun down into both hands. The first wad of shot molds itself into Rickham's shiny metal ass; the second plows itself against what remains of the back of his head, plastic shells scattering one two in his wake. "Hey. HEY. You won't eat a fucking cow but you'll expose yourself to little girls?"

Back pressed up against the wall beside the open elevator doors ever since Eileen snapped out those words, Colette Nicols stares wide-eyed and frightened by the sound of the woman's voice. With her color-sensing vision only able to extend thirty feet away from her, it's that stupid bravery and confidence that she can't come to serious harm that has her peeling her back away from the concrete wall, one hand clutching her bleeding shoulder as sparks of electricity shower down around her from the exposed cabling. "E— Eileen!?" Of all the people she expected to see here, none of them were the sweet bird-lady from Felix's old tenement, the woman who may have been far more than she seemed.

"W— what're you doing h— " Colette stops dead in her tracks when Rickham's metallic form finally filters in to the fringes of her vision. She shrieks, loudly, the shrill cry of a frightened young girl piercing the air as she stumbles back, her heels catching on the tail of her white leather longcoat, causing her to fall backwards and slam down to the floor. "Oh shit! Oh shit!"

As she scrambles back, Colette's body ripples and distorts, shimmering like the disturbed surface of a pond before fading out of sight entirely. Her panicked screams and panting breaths are still heard though, despite all her attempts to render herself anywhere but here. Clomping bootfalls come across the concrete, eventually meeting in splashes in the stagnant water, reflecting the sparking electricity overhead.

The water splashes up her, runs down like some optical illusion over her invisible body, bending and distorting the water droplets in the bending of light. Rickham's focus is entirely on her, a moving target he can feel the vibrations of, his sight no longer working on anything resembling visual acuity. But then, all of the tremorsense in the world cannot save him from the sudden report of a shotgun slamming into him, knocking him off of his footing. As he wheels around to turn, a second shot stops him dead in his tracks, blasting a five inch diameter crater into the back of his head, molting out like a blossoming flower.

Rickham lurches forward, letting out a metallic squeal as Colette rushes past him with splashing footfalls, her invisibility bleeding away and peeling off of her as she runs to Deckard's side, "Y— you!?" Her boots skid to a stop, looking over her shoulder as Rickham turns around, that squealing shriek of metal turning into a low, growling scrape. The man that was there, the man that was Rickham is gone now, entirely. He's like a wild beast, and that, in a way is almost more tragic, to see someone brought so low.

"F— Fff— " Colette staggers back, breathing in sharp and shallow breaths, "Fuck!" No, she doesn't remember Flint's name, just expresses her horror as Rickham turns towards Deckard, crouching low again and slinking to one side in some awkwardly feral, predatory motion.

There's an old proverb, the origin of which Eileen cannot recall, but it goes a little something like this: You can't leap a twenty foot chasm in two ten foot jumps. And while there might not be a twenty foot gap in the floor between herself, Deckard and Colette, there is at least twenty feet of open space. It would be nice if she had the legs to accomplish such a feat — somewhere out there, buried under all the names attached to the government registry, she's sure that there's someone who does — so instead she'll have to settle for something a lot less athletic and a little more self-sacrificing. When it comes down to it, it has everything to do with the math and nothing to do with the martyr complex Teodoro likes to accuse her of having; two lives are worth more than one, and among those two is a healer who can fix the man lying unconscious beside her.

Eileen's flare cartwheels through the air and hits the cement in front of Deckard's feet with a terrible crack of metal connecting with concrete. Smoke billows from the end of the rod, illuminated by its brilliant glow, and swathes their shapes in what looks like a luminous white vapour. "Take her back up!"

The shrieks and gunshots from four storeys down is easy enough to pay attention to, especially when half folded over the side of the railing directly above it all. Gabriel grits his teeth against continued aches, pains and nausea as he tries to assess long enough to think. The sound of bullets loosened from a shotgun rattles his ears. Eileen, Deckard, Rickham, Col—

Colette? Wh—

Scoping a look around the layout, a collection of half familiar glimpses out the eyes of others, Gabriel takes in the configuration of staircases, platforms and catwalks all angled down, down, down towards the mayhem going on outside. The very idea of running down stairs is enough to make him go into early retirement. So he doesn't run. Despite having only just won back his body, Gabriel promptly implodes into a similar kind of smoke as before - but far more liquid, far heavier and with far more silence than before.

The legacy of Wu-Long is quick to leap suicidally over the edge, pitching itself for one walkway, then over the side of another, a billowing mass of darkness that cuts the air like a downward falling wind. The thrown flare illuminates the shadow's underbelly, but only to separate it from its surroundings. Upon coming to land on concrete ground, there's a slight thud as flesh going from phased nothingness back into itself hits the ground.

It's a solid shape of legs, arms, torso, head that goes rolling out from the shadow, a hand slapping against the floor to stop himself. Head lifting, Gabriel stares at the thing Rickham has become, then a hurried glance back towards Eileen as he climbs to his feet, around the same time a shadow wraps itself around, as intangible and shifting as smoke, Rickham's mangled eyes.

Wait. As often and as deeply in earnest as Teodoro thinks this imperative, it does nothing; nothing waits, not the shrill of the facility's intruder alert, nor the irregular jolt and spurt of blood that seems to think the membranes in the back of his nose wasn't restored in full.

The magnitude of his migraine is legendary, the stuff of epic poems and songs, that ought to be peopled by a cast of characters that ought to be larger and closer to him than it is. Someone's missing, and he can't remember who, the program is upside down and smudged with sprinkler water or bird urine— and— wait. Kid— Eileen said— Eileen's saying— ? Colette— ? There's a one-note then, a momentary jolt of clear cognitive resonance, albeit desperately uncouth.

Tamara, you little bitch.

His boot crashes ungainly, reverberating into the bulk of a corpse, leaves its blocky print across the fabric of uniform. Loose limbs flail, spin, jump the herky-jerky motions of a poorly-manned puppet before they swivel up as the body falls down, down, down, bending back like the wings of a stooping falcon against the airy rush of its own inertia. Falcons don't land with a noise like cracking melon, however, or scatter chunky red viscera.

For all that, there could be less accuracy on a haphazard kick of a profoundly unaerodynamic projectile into four stories of indistinct flare light and blacked silhouettes. "Leave 'm the fuck alone," the Sicilian gruffs down, hoarsely. If it were the roof of any other man's head he was looking down at, there would be a rifle, a gun, another grenade rolling down assistance, but the sudden solidity of Gabriel's bird's-eye outline invites no such insult.

"Ma che stronzi bastardi figli di puttana—"

Those insults are for the metal guy. Some thirty feet above Deckard's head, he spits. It's a little like returning a favor, however inadvertent. "Run."

"Holy shit." So goes Deckard's private assessment of what's left of Rickham when he lurches around to bear, blandly disconcerted in the middle of everything. His head. Cynicism evaporates out of the lines of his face all in a rush, narrow jaw slack and brow knit in time to receive Colette's approach with pre-prepared bafflement. Yes, me. What the fuck are you doing here? He does not actually say. But it's the sentiment that permeates the slow clamp of his jaw when he glances her over and raises the shotgun again, only to nearly catch a face full of chemical ash and ANGRY FIRE for his efforts.

A second curse quashed behind grit teeth, it's all he can do to startle backwards and shove Colette along with him with the cross brace of his gun, violent sparks threatening to catch at a trouser leg until he can do enough of a dance to pat them out.

Even through the acrid smoke and crackle of smoke, the inky coil and pool of a human body rising up out of the floor is enough to make Flint's heart seize up in his chest. Old instinctive memory and fear locks him in place for half a second longer than he should, and then he's shoving the shotgun off onto the girl he's been herding with it. "Five shots left. Don't point it at me. GRAY." He's not calling him Gabriel, okay? A grenade arcs out of the haze on the other side of Eileen's flare, softball like, pin unpulled. You know — just in case he needs it or something. Then he's grabbing at Colette's jacket to yank her for the stairs.

"Tavisha?" The name is spoken as a whisper against the grating beep of the alarms, Colette's voice swallowed by the noise of near death experiences. "Tavisha!" Suddenly far more frantic, Colette pushes and struggles against Deckard only a moment before a loaded shotgun is shoved into her arms to safeguard. Staggering back, she shouts out towards Gabriel, "Tavisha!" Her words continue to erupt from her as she's pulled back towards the stairs.

"No! No you have to let me go! He needs me! There's not enough— " she struggles and then starts to slide out of her jacket, wincing as the torn ligaments in her ragged shoulder shoot with white-hot pain. Leaving Deckard holding a coat two sizes too large for her, Colette charges towards Gabriel and the monster. There's not enough ambient light. The thought races through her head. Tavisha's not a monster. He's not what Felix said.

Presented now with the face of his most hated enemy, Rickham unleashes a feral howling noise that rumbles like some distant metallic scream of twisting steel before the iron man lunges up into the air, leaping down towards Gabriel seemingly unhindered by the seething shadows that ripple and swirl like a blindfold around his head. Landing practically on top of Gabriel, the monster 's unexpectedly precise motions come with a wide swing of an iron fist capable of pulverizing stone. Jerking back and away from the blow, Gabriel's screaming legs continue to burn with an aching sensations of unrelenting pain from use, finding Rickham's speed only slightly hintered by all his injuries.

Reaching out with a metallic hand, the wild iron juggernaut grabs one of Gabriel's arms as the grenade is caught in mid air, as if realizing the threat of a live grenade. He squeezes, putting too much pressure on the former serial-killer's forearm, fracturing bone in the barest instant before the flesh on steel contact elicits an unwelcome substitution of reality.

Smoke in streets, crowded tenement buildings and a long hill. Upturned cars, fire, it all floods Gabriel's senses in a sudden wash of imagery from his tactile telepathy during the wrestling match with a steel frankenstein. He sees a woman, raven hair and a black suit of bodyarmor, birds swooping down at her flank between flickering patterns of blue green light. Such familiar lasers, such familiar — and lost — power. Only when the form of Rickham comes charging through the smoke from the burning cars does it all click. Does he see from Rickham's perspective Gabriel in a uniform bearing the United States Military insignia on the shoulder. Does he feel the snap of lasers biting into Rickham, feel all of the confusion, the pain the

A cabin in a wooded and rural area, a door busted off of its hinges. A woman in her fifties lays on the floor, unmoving, and the dark silhouette in the doorway wears a three-piece suit. Familiar dark brows, familiar gray hair; Arthur adjusts his cufflinks and walks in, polished shoes treading through Marie Rickham's blood. Anger. Rage. Rickham's flesh turn to iron, his feet move, but his mind reels as he makes eye-contact with the old man

— "I need a martyr, Allen. I apologize."

And then after hearing Arthur's voice in his mind, his will is no longer his own.

The reality of pain snaps Gabriel back to the world he's presented with, the glow of a white-hot magnesium glare on the ground, a young girl's screaming, and a sudden blossoming of brilliant light redirected from the intense glow of two white-hot flares, brightening the area around Gabriel. "Gabriel!" For a second time she calls out his name, this time the one he recognizes himself as, and that's what breaks him out of the memory as his arm begins to snap under Rickham's pressure. "Gabriel! Bright and hot!" Rickham turns to look down towards the girl nearby, one holding up her good hand with a swirling disc of white light spiraling over her palm, tiny fireflies of energy dancing around the edges as every last bit of ambient light in the reactor level is drawn down towards the magnesium flare, giving Gabriel everything he needs at the last possible minute.

Head reeling with memory and thought and pure burning anger that is not his own, it truly is only the fracturing of his arm that keeps Gabriel from utterly losing himself in the wash of telepathic images. The unpulled grenade bounces off the ground, skitters and rolls away from a hand rendered useless, no longer even acknowledging the sting catching it had brought, Gabriel flings out his other hand, palm upturned, a summons to the light suddenly flaring brilliant all around him.

The retina-searing glow of the magnesium flare constricts, and then flares all the brighter as a singular, snake-like lash of light comes whipping out of it with the speed of— well. You know. Curving, twisting, it sears metal and concrete, redirects through the glow of light gathered between Gabriel's fingers. Utterly silent and unforgiving, the metal flays deep black marks over Rickham's body, over his mangled torso and over his face. It's a wild and ruthless attack, tinged a blue of high-frequency.

The lasers cut out around the same time Gabriel staggers back, trips, and hits the ground, injured arm clamped against his chest and snarling pain written across his face.

Teodoro and Raith are missing; Gabriel's arm is bent at the elbow like a broken matchstick; Ethan may be dead. Their allies upstairs probably aren't faring much better. By Eileen's estimation, this has all gone on long enough — she needs to be back home, or the closest approximation to it, Bai-Chan's tiny figure slumbering in the crook of her arm, his dark-haired head buried against her shoulder while Lucrezia dazzles the other children with a symphony of fireflies blinking over a saltgrass field. In her mind, Gabriel and Ethan are there too, their presence a heavy blanket that envelops her in feelings of warmth and belonging and allows her to rest easy, secure in the knowledge that it is safe to love and be loved in return.

The reality of the situation is that this is something Eileen won't ever experience, and on some level she must realize it because she's already moving when she wears the wet snap of bone splintering beneath the pressure exerted by Rickham's hand. No longer a folded razor, she moves with the swiftness of one of her airborne birds as she channels its speed and precision, booted feet banging against concrete, sloshing through water. If all else fails, Deckard will take care of them. Right now there's no one she trusts more, not even the ghost — wherever he is.

Gabriel's done most of the work for her already. All that's left is the grim task of finishing what they started several years into a future that will never come to pass, thanks to Dr. Edward Ray and Phoenix's well-intentioned meddling. Leading with her shoulder, she slams all her weight square into Rickham's center of mass and tackles him off balance—

— into the tangle of live wires.

Not at all interested in entertaining the idea that Gabriel needs anything from Colette that he couldn't pull out of his Bag Of Sociopath Tricks on his own, Deckard jerks Colette along until all he's left with is a jacket and a sinking feeling. Eileen said to take her upstairs. He has now effectively failed so hard that she is moving in the exact opposite direction of upstairs, sucked towards the fray like a moth to light, except she's the light and — there's too much going on for figurative language at this point.

He stumbles after the sudden release of tension, jacket dropped on a dumbfounded delay while leap and light and lasers surge to wicked life all in turn. It doesn't occur to him that he should go after her until lasers have already bit through blackened metal and cut out.

Wiry muscle jolts to life a breath behind the rush of motion that is Eileen, and he's powering his way across the remaining distance after Colette until he's informed of Munin's master plan by the fact that he's ankle deep in the same murky water pooled around those exposed wires. A puff of smoke, a brzzt and a bustle of sparks so fleeting that it's hard to register at all later, his progress is stalled into a rigid jerk, twist and collapse across damp concrete several feet short of his goal.

The tiny weight of a single girl is all it takes to push things in their favor, all it takes is one monumental sacrifice to change the future. Staring the aftermath of her own future in the face, Eileen Ruskin's small body collides with Allen Rickham's like a pale bullet, dislocating her shoulder from the impact as she tackles him backwards and off of his precarious balance. Rickham's metallic feet scrape and skid across the water-slicked floor, and the moment the two hit those live wires, there is a near deafening sound of electrical charge that sends thousands of volts coursing through both Allen and Eileen.

Eileen's single, selfless act does what no weapon, no ability, no man could possibly hope to accomplish. As the electricity courses through them, short-circuiting nervous systems and damaging muscle tissue, it has a wholly unique effect on Rickham's metallic physique. His iron conductor of a body channels the electricity through Eileen, and ultimately forces his iron flesh to soften and pale, reverting back for just an instant to human frailty, and transposing all of those horrific and grievous wounds his metal form shrugged off into brutal reality.

When the circuit finally blows from the power surge, the lights go out just as Rickham's flesh fails and he begins to separate entirely. The whole reactor levels is sunken into consuming darkness for just an instant as the last vestige of electricity is briefly cut. Lights blow, sparks shower down from high overhead, and in that darkness the horrified screams of Colette fill the air, "No! No!" Deckard's limp and smoking body lays prone at her feet, and standing unmoving in the face of the disastrous repercussions, Gabriel Gray is backlit by the slowly fading light of one sole magnesium flare.

Electricity snaps and crackles, giving a pale blue illumination to an otherwise lightless concrete corridor. A single loose power cable sways back and forth, its light reflected in the mirror-still surface of stagnant and rusty water collected on the concrete floor, divided by a pair of railway tracks and loose gravel. A slow-moving cloud of steam rolls down the corridor, turning bluish-white in the glow of the sputtering and sparking.

Mixing with the rusty color of the water, blood swirls in thick clouds, darkening the stagnant pool. Two forms lay side by side, smoke rising off of them in thin streams. One matchstick thin silhouette on her side, face partly submerged in the water, eyes wide open and motionless despite her final moments of extreme pain, her long and unruly tresses of black hair wound in thin coils down her water slicked face.

Beside her, the mass of pulped flesh that was once a man, now vivisected lays motionless, his bare torso rent open by a half dozen deep slashes, exposing his steaming innards and boiling blood to the air. His face, smashed in on one side is an unrecognizable tangle of hair and gore with the liquid remains of one eye. Blue light from crackling electricity illuminates the two motionless bodies, even as running footsteps splash in slow motion from the far end of the corridor. Someone running, someone screaming.

"Eileen! Eileen!"

As if, perhaps, her name could rewind time for a few short seconds ago, as violent, as horrific as those seconds were, but Gabriel makes his throat hoarse with them. There had been a moment in a desert in Africa when he had done something similar, and there, the noise had been swallowed up utterly by the sheer amount of space, the vacuum of an infinite sky and a plane of red sand that would make anyone feel like the smallest of pawns. It hadn't worked out there, either.

Here, it echoes off the walls, bounces right back, filling up the cramped confines of the basement, reverberating through the darkness over the sounds of his feet hitting the concrete and coming to an inelegant fold next to her, ignoring the mess that was the memories of the man still opening through his brain, frizzling, kernels of information that pop and bloom behind his eyes and threatening to consume him. Gabriel clenches the hand at the end of the fractured arm, reminding himself of where he is, who he is, and—

The other hand grips onto Eileen's grey fatigues, pulling her onto folded thighs and a hand pressing against her throat, trying to find the butterfly-flutter of a pulse beneath her skin. In contrast to that broken moment of vocal panic and mourning, Gabriel's expression has closed down completely, a blank sort of mask, even as darkness begins to unfurl around him, sucking away what little light there is as tendrils of instinctive, life-seeking vagueness reach for what he needs.

Falling down to her knees, Colette reaches down shakily to grab at Deckard's collar, "H— Hey y— you— guy," tears well in her eyes, dribbling down her cheeks as she curls her fingers into the lapels of his coat, trying to pull his unmoving form out of the shallow water, "please get up, p— please get up!" Trembling from head to toe, the young girl tries with all her might to lift Deckard's weight, unable to move the prone man as her voice takes on more depserate cries for help.

"S— Someone help! Help!" Wrapping her arms around his body, Colette struggles backwards in a seated position, boots scraping and slipping on wet concrete as she tries to drag him to drier ground, "Oh God, oh God…" One of Colette's hands comes up to cover her mouth, trembling fingers forming a cage around her lips as she turns sightless eyes towards Gabriel and Eileen. "Oh God, no…"

The live power cable sparks and sputters again, swaying from one side to the other, and slowly the dim light of that magnesium flare begins to fade further. Silence, an awkward and haunting kind fills the cavernous reactor level, save for what sounds like distant rumbling of thunder that dully pounds against the concrete walls from some far off place. Sobbing, Colette hunches forward, hooking her arms under Deckard's as she tries to claw her way back again, feet finally finding purchase as she struggles to pull him from the water, dragging him a few inches in that single act being all she can do to help.

Terrified, the young girl huddled forward and cradles Deckard's head and shoulders in her lap, rocking back and forth as she watches Gabriel's grieving form and the familiar black tendrils of smoke beginning to unfurl. She's seen it before, felt the effects, and knows full what needs to happen and why she is here. Everything, Colette would say, happens for a reason.

Running a hand through Deckard's hair, she slides her legs out from under him, carefully setting his head down against the concrete as she moves to stand and walk awkwardly across the distance between herself and Gabriel — Tavisha — her friend. She doesn't say anything, doesn't need to, just walks ankle-deep through the swirling haze of umbreal fog that has formed around Gabriel, bears the prickling pain it gives her feet and ankles, bears the leeching sensation that pulls on her heart and the center of her chest. She simply walks up behind Gabriel and lays her hand on his shoulder, squeezing once, firmly, wordlessly communicating her intentions.

I'm still here.

Gabriel's shoulder feels fever-hot beneath the slightly damp cloth of his shirt, trembling perhaps not from grief or fear, but from the utter exhaustion that was bone-deep in his body from the moment he'd resituated his soul within this frame. He twitches beneath her touch, as if distracted, disjointed, scattered apart in many ways except for the one that, similarly, knows what to do.

With an arm curled around Eileen's shoulders, cradling her close, the other drifts up to rest his palm warmly over Colette's hand, a simple, sweet gesture, and in many ways, it is that. It is that until the white-hot needles of his ability sink into her skin beneath his firming grip, scissors up her hand, a burning poker of pain driving through the core of her bone from wrist to elbow, that twist of sickness in her gut coiling even tighter. Fever-sweat stands out on the girl's pixie face, and she aches like a woman far older than she is might.

The life-force being sapped from her warms Gabriel completely, but does nothing. Pure conduit, it bypasses bruises, fractured bone, the war the drugs Pinehearst had pumped him full of had waged on his body, and siphons through Eileen's. Bone deep, heart deep, skimming through the finest of veins and arteries faster than liquid ever could.

"Munin," he mutters, harshly. "Eileen." As if he could warn her of consequence in this state. Go straight down to Hell and tell her exactly how he feels about her dying on him. If anyone could do it…

Exhaling a ragged breath, Colette's voice sounds in nothing more than a sharp whimper as her legs buckle and give way, causing her to collapse down onto her knees, eyes wrenching shut and fingers winding tight around Gabriel's hand. She whimpers, hisses in a sharp breath and then groans in severe pain before a cry finally escapes the pale girl's lips as she doubles over, her entire body shaking as the searing hot ache of Kazimir Volken's legacy courses up her arm like white-hot iron.

Mirroring the warmth entering Gabriel, a coldness and numbness washes over Colette, from her prickling extremities to the dull ache setting in to joints and bones, to the dull gray and lifeless color where flesh is split and cut at her wounded shoulder, blood making her black skirt stick to her skin there.

But she endures, for the faith she has in serendipity, for the faith she has in Tamara and her visions, and the faith she has in the ideal of destiny, that nothing here has been left up to chance. Joseph would call it God's plan, and while Colette may not be religious, part of her deep down is praying for Eileen right now.

There was a time in another life, not unlike this one, when Gabriel laid his hands on the bird whisperer and drew her inward, her body as utterly still as it is now, bleeding out onto the floor of a ruined hotel room covered in goose down and gore. He'd known not to heal her then. Known that for Eileen Gray there were no second chances.

Such is not the case for Eileen Ruskin.

It starts as a twitch at the tips of her fingers, burnt skin yielding to pale, pinkish growth as the tissue begins to repair itself, gradually mending under the influence of Volken's ability. Colette's lifeforce flows into the dead woman's circulatory system and spreads out through her nerves to repair the damage inflicted by the crackling bursts of energy the wires spat out when she and Rickham collided with them. On the outside, not much changes. On the inside, fueled by the release of adrenaline, a transformation is taking place.

Beneath Gabriel's hand, Eileen's pulse skips once. Twice—

The ocean-like surface of the surrounding shadows dwindle into nothing as Gabriel's hand releases Colette's as soon as the thrum of a pulse comes to life, a dark eyed glance towards the youngest here; unreadable in the half light of flickering sparks and the dull glow of the dying flare. A splash of light reveals nothing - not shame, guilt, satisfaction, these things can't be portrayed in the flicker-flash of barely a few square inches of flesh.

It can come later. Gabriel's attention snaps back down towards the crumpled woman in his lap, a hand coming to cradle the back of her head, fingers carding through dark, wet curls. Break apart, and return. Perhaps Gabriel should have predicted this as slowly the more metaphorical vultures circling overhead will back away, chased away. Nothing here for them, no dead flesh to tear, exposed bones to pick. He glances towards the remains of Rickham, a vanquished nightmare that, truly, he created. Maybe not in this time, but another one altogether, and then with her, forged in the fires of a burning Midtown.

There's the sound of approaching footsteps. Likely Raith, making his way from the labs, to get them out of here, to end the mission, an echoing distance away. Another look towards Colette, before Gabriel's voice, utter rough, broken gravel grating together, mutters through the quiet of the corridor, "Thank you."

Nodding awkwardly, Colette looks up to Gabriel with a weary smile, her jaw trembling and hands unable to stop shaking from exposure to Kazimir's power. Trapped as she is, down here with the wolves, there's no way that she's heading back out there, back up towards where the sound of distant thunder rumbles and cracks, as if a storm is slamming down on Pinehearst at a great distance. Here, entombed beneath the earth, it is only a muffled warning that nothing is ever truly over.

When strength finds her, despite pain, Colette pushes up to her feet, turning blind eyes away from the gore heap and towards the approaching silhouette that finally breaches the color sense of her unique vision. An unfamiliar face, but in a way Raith Jensen prefers it that way. Though the dead weight slung over his shoulders in a fireman carry — the dead weight of Ethan Holden — may never live down the fact that he was hauled out by the King of Swords.

"I— " Colette hates the sound of her own voice, especially in these moments when it seems so loud no matter how quiet she tries to be. Instead, she just offers Gabriel a smile, wringing her aching hand as she turns towards the darkened corridor of the railway tunnel. For now, she'll have to trust in the Remnant to get her home, or lead her where she needs to be next.

In Gabriel's arms, Eileen curls against contour of his chest as hers rises and falls, shudders with the painstaking effort required to breathe. True consciousness lies on the other side of a hazy sea, colours and shapes blending together into an amorphous cloud of static that reduces her vision to shadowy blurs when her eyes finally crack open and peer up blearily up at his face.

The death of birds is conducted without weeping.

Chapped lips move, forming words without sound as breath leaves her mouth in the form of a whimpering hiss that resembles his name but isn't really. The ability to recognize anything beyond the warmth of his body or the vibrations of his heart hammering against her belly eludes her in much the same way that her voice does. Dying will do that to you.

They are not mourned for. Nor do they mourn for themselves.

When her eyes close again, her body seems to relax, the tension in her muscles growing slack as she slips back into that primitive darkness and — not for the first time — allows it to claim her. Her dark-haired head rests against his shoulder, rivulets of bloodstained water running down neck and further darkening the soiled fabric of her clothes and his. It isn't quite the approximation of home that she envisioned, but for now it's close enough.

OOC Note: "The Death of Birds" is a poem by Hugh Cook and the intellectual property of its author. You can visit his website and read some of his other work here.

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