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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Crossing
Synopsis Praxis Heavy comes knocking.
Date August 16, 2019

Right around sunset the fireflies come out.

In an overgrown field littered with junked, rusting cars behind the Sunken Factory, Joshua Lang wiles away his hours sitting on the roof of a derelict 2003 Ford Taurus, watching the sun dip down to touch the western cliffs. It's in the tall grass that fireflies are most abundant, and they flicker and flash like tiny fireworks all through the waist high greenery.

The Sunken Factory

Providence, New Jersey Pine Barrens

August 16th

7:47 pm

Lang isn't just watching the sunset, he's also taking notes. The spiral-bound notebook in his lap is filled with them. Notes about vehicles and where they're currently positioned in Providence, gas allowances, ammunition totals. There's some overlap with Kara Prince’s responsibilities, but the way Lang sees it the more eyes on Providence’s wealth the better. And what's more valuable out here than gasoline, vehicles, and bullets. Only the latter of which they can make themselves.

The field behind the factory is just offset enough from the overgrown road that winds beside and in front of the building that it's an easy enough place to sit without being a roadside attraction to the some hundred people who call this part of Providence home. But that won't deter the determined, and Joshua Lang isn't here to just sightsee today.

He has business with Eileen, as soon as she comes out of the factory. When that is, he wasn't sure. But if nothing else, Joshua’s Lang’s learned patience from fatherhood.

The next figure that comes out of the factory is not Eileen Gray's diminutive frame, but the long-legged, slouching shape of Byron Wolf, ducking his blonde head out from the shadowed interior and into the warmer light of sundown. Toss a coin, though — half the time, he's at her heels, if he's at anyone's heels. Not an occurrence for which there's been ready, accurate explanation. Most will only think they've fallen into some kind of rhythm. Neither are the kind to explain themselves.

If not Eileen Gray, then sometimes Kara instead, turning up in erratic beats to run errands, or to offer a quiet, doggish kind of companionship while rifles and shotguns are cleaned and maintained. Force of habit, maybe, where she was the first of the militia he was recommended to — Byron does not offer this same availability to the likes of, say, Emile Danko, Iago Ramirez.

Joshua Lang.

Byron stops outside the factory when he spies this particular figure, his expression blank of thought or feeling save for whatever his attention could possibly imply. He doesn't approach, just digs a hand into the pocket of his sweatshirt to fish around for a crumpled pack of cigarettes, but he doesn't follow through on that habit.

It’s almost immediately after that Kara emerges from the evening shadow cast by the old factory, intent on some business outdoors before the last of sunlight fades fully into twilight. Her path is interrupted by the scarecrow that is Byron Wolf, if only for the way she notes him to carry himself as he stares off at some fixed point. Footsteps carry on despite the oddity she notes in him, at least until she looks to where he looks, and sees Lang out in the field.

Now her pace slows, right as she comes up on Byron.

“Should shirk the habit,” she suggests, as if she’d not spoken to him only minutes ago to shoo him out of the armory. (An armory she no longer sleeps in out of suspicion the wall-walking man will invite himself to its spoils in the middle of the night. Good job, Byron. You’re halfway trustworthy.) “Even if it doesn’t kill you, it’s expensive to keep up these days.” Too annoying to let lapse, too, but there’s only so much uninvited advice she’s willing to pass on at the moment. Her head turns from the field halfway to the man she’s presently loitering with.

There’s a breath for pause, her excuse of a conversation aired. It’s followed by a much more direct, “Something on your mind?” She wonders at what has his attention so.

The long shadows crowding this particular spot are accumulating like the crows in the trees, coming home to roost for the evening. First Lang, then Byron, and now Kara.

Together they make a strange flock.

Its next addition comes from an unexpected direction. Eileen emerges from the treeline that flanks the road rather than float in on Byron or Kara’s wake. The tips of her fingers graze the tall grass, which has gone toasted and brittle under the blistering July sun, but gives her the appearance of wading through hip-deep water.

The Englishwoman is very small, and the grass has grown as high as it has wild.

She gives the lighting bugs the same consideration she might show live embers spat out of a burning fire: equal parts respect and solemn indifference. Her mind is elsewhere, as it often is.

A glance in the direction of familiar voices changes her present course, and she begins picking her way toward Lang’s perch like a feral cat feels out the quickest route from Point A to Point B.

Company elicits a slow reaction from Lang, being that he closes his notebook and tucks his ballpoint pen into the spiral binding. He sees Eileen’s approach in his peripheral vision, but it’s Kara and Byron that have his full attention at the moment. Sliding off the roof of the car to stand on the hood, he regards them from his rusted perch and runs one hand through his hair, trying to brush the heat off of his scalp. He’s only just become accustomed to the feeling.

Ma’am,” is Lang’s unavoidable greeting as Eileen draws nearer. He angles a look down at her, climbing off the hood of the car, down onto the front bumper, then into the tall grass. She may balk at the ma’am, but there’s some things Lang has adopted in his time with her other than Odette. The manners of his childhood being one of them. “Night’s clear, picked up a forecast on the radio. Thunderstorms tomorrow, gonna hit over 100 again next week. We lost three people in the last hot one,” he says with a glance back at Kara and Byron, then raises a brow to her. There’s no suggestion of a course of action, just an update.

Business first, socializing second. “They waitin’ on you?” He asks Eileen of the other two.

"You're right," Byron says, and Kara can hear that immediate droll affect. "Gotta save for my kids' college funds. A mortgage, maybe."

But he doesn't light up, leaving the pack pocketed where it is. Still watching Lang without particular subtlety, even if there's a temporary switch to observe Eileen's entrance, and observe her diverted path towards the Butcher of Mandritsara in his soft flannel and head of curly hair. Byron's mouth twitches as Kara asks her question, and he glances down and aside at her, lazy in his attempt to grope around for some excuse. He's been less and less concerned, these days, with fabrication.

He shrugs.

"Just standing in line, I guess," he says. But rather than do that much longer, Byron heads on over, a morbid kind of curiousity pulling him in that won't be sated by just watching at a distance. Inviting himself to business meetings isn't entirely within the parameters of his character, but he moves, now, with plodding assumption, tall grass slithering against old and worn denim.

Maybe he hadn't meant Eileen, because he doesn't look to her once near enough, and nods at Lang's notebook. "Stocktake?" he asks, shortly. Neutral. Odd, as usual. "Can I see?"

Kara lifts her chin to acknowledge Lang when he stands up on the car. She can't remember how rusted through that one in the field had been. Hopefully it wouldn't give out on him as a perch. Even though, she thinks to herself, that might tickle her sense of humor.

She hadn't intended on standing in line herself, but the nature of Lang's report draws her closer to better hear it. She asides to Byron midstep, suggesting "More like for your next plane ticket," in this game of hypotheticals that's been spun up. "You seem the wanderlust type. No one place able to give you what you need." She looks the Englishwoman's way then, reflecting briefly on the slow, circuitous orbit the two have maintained around each other.

With a nod of greeting at Eileen, Kara approaches so together the four of them form a loose, oddly-shaped circle.

"Instead of riding horseback, might be worth spending gas doing welfare checks this time around. Bring fresh water around for anyone running low, easier to bring someone into town for medical care if they need it." She suggests idly.

A mirrored tip of Eileen’s chin communicates her agreement. It’s subtle enough that it might be misinterpreted by anyone who doesn’t know her well, except that they all do—whether they realize it or not.

“If temperatures rise above ninety degrees,” she adds, “suspend the border patrols. We’ll send birds instead of horses.”

A firefly winks cheerlessly from somewhere inside her hair like a flash of lightning as it peeks out from behind a stormcloud. It’s nothing special; more of the insects alight on Kara’s sleeve, and near Lang’s flannel collar as if attracted to the sweat growing stale there. Another crawls the length of Byron’s hand.

Eileen reaches into the leather satchel she wears slung loose across her shoulder and cradles a small, nondescript black box in the seat of her hand. It looks heavy but unremarkable, old but functional—even if it isn’t immediately clear what its function is.

“Kara,” she says, “this is for you.”

“Gas and vehicles,” Lang says distractedly across the divide between he and Byron, his attention more focused on the exchange between Eileen and Kara. But he holds the notebook out, swiveling a look over to Byron as it's offered. “We've got a lot of one and not enough of the other. S’fine when we’re rationing but the long hauls for supplies we need t’salvage or barter for are taking a chunk out.”

Lang looks at the notebook when Byron takes it, then back up to scrutinize him a bit closer. “Way I see it, we’re gonna need Praxis t’start payin’ us in barrels of oil if we’re gonna make it through the winter. Or we start cuttin’ down trees more. We ain't weathered a Nor'easter before… an’ I'm inclined to be safe over sorry.”

(Byron, tilting a hooded look to Kara at this last bit of improv. Scouring her profile to see if there's more there than a glib response, but the moment is gone.)

And he's taking the notepad, looking over Lang's writing like it's of interest for more than just its numbers. He resists the urge to fan the pages and peruse them, only just, instead focusing on the data jotted down in shorthand, lifting a look to the other man as he speaks. Keyed in, as ever, to Eileen's presence, and he idles with the edge of the page as he notes the exchange of goods between the two women.

"Put less of a strain on basic resources if we consolidated territory. The people in it, the ones we care about."

It sounds like: a dimly stubborn argument to cluster, in spite of the threat of robots. Perhaps Eileen can translate: try caring about fewer people. Byron flips the notepad over, offers it back. "I have people I can talk to about a better rate on gasoline," he says. "Might need to be willing to give some favours."

Eileen's offer to send her birds is met with a glance. "That's good knowing," Kara remarks, her own attention equally split back to Lang and the handing over of the almanac he's crafting. She leaves her tongue to her cheek as she considers the forecast he's laid out. Sure, he's thinking months down the road, but maybe it wasn't too early to be considering the winter ahead in the same space they discuss the heatwave next week.

It would be easier to care about fewer people, but it's not a topic she'll be weighing in on, even silently.

Her attention drops to the gift she's been given instead, hefting it to see if she feels a shift in its weight to indicate there's something worth opening it for now. "I hope you didn't account for Sharrow's people in your numbers," the munitions chaplain voices.

Because that's not a matter of caring. That's just pragmatism.

“Bannerman’s Castle didn’t fall to the cold,” Eileen reminds Lang gently. In other words: The underdogs have seen worse winters than the one waiting for them around the corner. Her concerns are more immediate, closer to their noses.

She indicates the box in Kara’s hand with a dipped gaze. “Courtesy of Hector Steel,” she says. “The octopods,” because that’s the word people have been whispering, “are attracted to Expressives, but they’re mechanical—not biological. All electricity and fine little wires. They can be fooled with the same stuff.”

The glance she steals in Byron’s direction is so swift it could almost go unnoticed. He probably appreciates how these things work, she thinks.

“Moths float toward flame,” she adds. Then, darker: “There’s your torch. Time to set some fires.”

Lang eyes the box with the same languid uncertainty he had given Byron, though with a longer arc. When he looks back up to Eileen it isn't even so much as commented on. There's some things in heaven and earth that he doesn't need more fully explained. Those machines are one of them. “This might be my circus but they ain't my monkeys,” he comments to Kara about Sharrow’s people.

“But, t’be fair about that other thing,” Lang indicates with a rise of his brows, “I wasn't at Bannerman Castle.” It's his sarcastic way of implying he would've made the difference somehow. Or maybe they never would've been there in the first place. It's hard to tell which side of that old argument he'd be on. He never gets the chance to elaborate, either. "An’ if you ask me, we need t’keep— ”

Suddenly, Lang’s attention is drawn up and over past Kara’s shoulder, across the firefly-strewn stretch of tall grass, and to the road coming out of the tunnel in the hill. Footsteps and horse hooves, the sounds of a slow-paced rider and multiple boots crunching dry earth. Lang rests a hand on the knife he keeps at his hip, forgetting the notepad he'd given to Byron entirely. It isn't the sounds that has him quiet. It's who is making them.

Eileen must have known for a while, it frames the timing of some of her choices when Iago Ramirez comes riding out of the tunnel on horseback, leading six unfamiliar faces in. Five of them look like they could be some of Sharrow’s people; paramilitary, rough edges, coordinated. But their equipment is too expensive. Top of the line body armor, smartguns with built-in target tracking software. There’s money in each glottal, enough to make even Charles Sharrow blush.

It's the woman walking with them that stands apart. Squarely between Kara and Eileen in height, chin-length chestnut brown hair, likewise dressed in black as the others but seemingly unarmed. They're looking for Eileen, and she recognizes the woman at the front of the group.

That's Lanhua Chen, Eileen’s first contact with Praxis Heavy Industries before Yi-Min came into the picture. Eileen hadn't seen her since Sedro-Woolley.

The large black horse that leads this little parade is drooling in the heat, thick white froth gathered and streaking, moving with heavy-set fatigue that the man on the back of his mount is not immune to. Less impressively dressed than the people he's escorting onto the property, almost washed out in grey, faded blacks. Iago leans into a halt, the rifle strapped across his back more visible from this angle as he spies the cluster of familiar faces.

He doesn't get down from his perch, just peels off aside to allow Eileen Gray to come forwards.

As with Lang, Byron's attention is pitched alert and sharp at the group closing in from the tunnel, the same amount of readiness and cluelessness of a Doberman. Leans into the latter thing by asking the others, "Who the fuck?" by the time they're near enough to get a glimpse of high-tech body armor and weaponry. Probably not loud enough for Lanhua and her crew. Probably.

"Praxis," Kara answers off-handed, quiet. The box she has is shifted from one palm to the other, resting against her hip so her dominant arm is free. Satisfaction about the device's completion, and about the proposed use for it, will have to be voiced later, it seems. Dried grass crunches underfoot as she steps forward, nearer to but still behind Eileen. She glances the Englishwoman's direction to gauge her reaction, their reaction to the surprise visitors.

She wonders about that comment Eileen made, the one about Bannerman's Castle.

She says nothing.

Eileen’s expression is one of resignation. There’s a solemn slant to her brows and the shape her mouth makes when she recognizes Lanhua at the procession’s head. It’s the sort of look that appraises the first droplets of rain on an overcast day.

Praxis’ arrival in the Barrens was as much an inevitability as the weather, or the sun dropping behind the trees. The last slivers of light slice cleanly through the branches, leaving only the fireflies and the ambient glow of the factory at their backs to illuminate the field and its inhabitants.

Eileen doesn’t reach for her weapon, either because she doesn’t carry one, or because she doesn’t yet feel the need. Her shoulders are relaxed, but her posture straight; she holds her ground where she stands rather than move to meet their visitors halfway.

If people continue to liken the old Vanguard and its associates to wolves — and they will — then this is her pack. There is strength in numbers.

“Chen,” she says when the Praxis representative is within earshot, making no effort to project her voice further than is necessary for it to be heard. Her tone compliments her body language: all neutrals.

Lanhua’s tired expression at Eileen’s greeting probably has something to do with the perspiration on her brow. The body armor her team is wearing and the suit she's been crammed into don't look like they breathe much. “I'll try and make this brief,” she says with a look over to Eileen’s additional entourage, then up to Iago, and back to Eileen again. “Terms have been renegotiated. Funding and supplies were contingent on activity that you've lapsed on, so we need some collateral.” It's clear the heat is getting to Lanhua and her people. She's tense, frustrated, not at her best. Part of it may have been intentional, to march them across the Pine Barrens in the middle of the summer, depending on how much into power plays Iago is. It isn't immediately clear.

Lanhua glances over at Byron, uncertain of the one unfamiliar face in the crowd. “First,” she continues, undeterred by the heat or the abruptness of this conversation, “and I know you've been reluctant to comply on this in the past, we need one of your suits. The armor. Temporary basis, entirely for research.”

As Lanhua talks, Lang edges closer to listen, leveling a briefly worried look over at Kara. Lanhua’s requests continue regardless of Lang’s suspicions. “Secondly, we know you're in possession of an advanced robotic drone of indeterminate origin. We’ll need you to show us the machine’s remains so we can take it back for examination.”

The look on Lang’s face is further laden with tension. His brows pinch together, back straightens. Lanhua’s final request is delivered as though she's talking about an inanimate object. “Dr. Yeh will be leaving with us as well.”

The jingle-jangle of stirrups and bridle sounds out as Iago comes down off the back of his horse, careful as he goes with the uneven weight of the robotic appendage visible past the rolled cuff of his trouser leg. Once on the ground, the tall sea of grass disguises this particular exceptional detail, giving an illusion of more weakness than is implied when he makes his limping way towards the group of Praxis henchmen.

Up to Chen, directly, although he steers a look towards the gathering of Remnant standing by, from Lang's tense features to Kara's expression, from Byron who has drifted to dog Eileen's heels, and then to Eileen.

Whose gaze he holds for a moment as he says, "Give them mine," he says. "If collateral is what is needed."

Then, down at Lanhua, looking her over a little. The life he's led so far in Providence, after his years in jail, has almost made Iago unrecognisable to the man that died in Argentina, with his sharp suits and terrorist cell who would obey him with a half-glance and the kind of casual brutality that can only come from someone who feels very little, rather than great amounts of anger. But fundamentally, there is no difference. If he finds Chen's directives and demands offensive in any way

well, it doesn't read on his face.

"Dr Yeh is a valuable asset to our operations." His accent is soft at the edges, his tone all gravel. "Reconsider."

Kara's fingers twitch over the box pinned to her side as Lanhua makes her demands, for one reason or another. 'Terms being renegotiated' sounds so much like this was a two-party agreement. She doubts Iago solitarily agreed to all of this previously.

Even if he was agreeing to it now.

Her gaze tracks in his direction, meeting his eyes. No blank stare is leveled his way, no incredulous or angry gestures. She holds it in, passive and patient. Her other arm continues to rest by her side, loose, posture effusing calm as much as resignation starts to pull at it.

Outnumbered, outgunned, with Iago agreeing to surrender his suit, what else could she possibly look like?

Kara shoots Lang a hard glance, the kind that indicates they'll discuss this, certainly, just not now. Even if she is seeing red over their demands.

And so the balance of power shifts. It’s a palpable change in the air; if Eileen was indeed a wolf, her ears would be flattening against her skull, eyes lowered and head bowed in deference to Iago’s unspoken instruction.

But she isn’t a wolf, so she does none of these things. What she does instead is reach back and place her hand on Byron’s forearm, imploring him to either stay or be ready.

As Kara is seeking out Lang’s eyes, Eileen lacks the opportunity to communicate something similar. Fortunately, there are other ways. In Kara’s periphery, she glimpses a barn swallow scissor off in the direction of Yi-Min’s quarters.

Or maybe it’s just a bat. But she can at least be sure that she and Eileen are of the same mindset where the petite Taiwanese woman is concerned.

Yi-Min Yeh isn’t going anywhere she doesn’t want to.


“Doctor Yeh is already gone,” Lanhua says with a scrunch of her brows and a bit of an awkward smile, as if the other’s should have expected that. “We requested she return and she rendezvoused with our operatives before we even came here.” That’s how Lanhua paints the scenario, at any rate. “Let’s be realistic,” she says, spreading her hands and looking between the Remnant with a little bit of a crook at the corner of her mouth, “she was always on loan to you and that investment isn’t paying off very well for us right now. She’s a more valuable asset to us and you know that.”

The team Lanhua came with shifts nervously, one of them watching Iago, another eyeing Kara, one watching Lang, and another Eileen. They seem to have all dismissed the threat Byron may or may not represent. Lanhua herself doesn’t seem as tense as the others for whatever reason.

“This should be a simple transaction, and Ramirez seems to get it,” and Lanhua looks up briefly to Iago with an incline of her head in an appreciative nod. As she turns back to Eileen, she spells it out. “You supply us with the robot, you give us one of your fancy suits, and we roll out of here and maybe a few months down the line things feel better on both sides, yeah?” Lanhua spreads her hands, one brow raised. “Because let’s look at what happens if you push back. You say no and send us on our way,” she extends her index finger, “the Director gets word and he sends us back.” Then Lanhua extends her next finger, “Or let’s say you try and use force — and heck, let’s be generous and say that actually works. Exactly what’re you going to do next?” That rhetorical question comes with a tone of incredulous humor, as if she believes it a laughable proposal. “Because I don’t think you’d build something like this if you were that eager to cash in all those lives over something so straightforward.”

Lanhua returns her attention to Eileen, looking for her to confirm what Iago proposed. “We’re asking nicely because we want this to be nice, but we both know …” Lanhua lowers her voice to a condescending stage whisper, “we aren’t really asking.”

In the end, Eileen's messenger never does make it all the way to Yi-Min's quarters, even as swiftly as it is sent. It does not have to. Dr. Yeh is someone who keeps well-appraised of the goings-on of this little town; by the time the bird flutters abreast of its intended mark, she is already well on her way towards the situation unfolding beyond the fortress-like walls of the factory.

Dr. Yeh who, despite recent bold assertions from a certain visitor, is certainly not yet gone from this place.

Not by any coincidence, the manner and direction of Yi-Min's approach echoes that of Eileen's sometime before her. It takes her through high, undulating cascades of sun-browned grass rather than alongside the far more exposed roadside, her gait unhurried but conscientious with purpose even as she allows the prominent profiles of derelict cars to obscure her small frame as she passes them by.

Ultimately, when Yi-Min finally does make her entrance, it is very suddenly to anyone may not have been specifically looking for her.

A deliberate decision, of course, as is that of her timing.

"Getting a little ahead of ourselves, are we?" she inquires plainly in the moments after she emerges into the clearing in a position somewhere opposite Lanhua, her posture more curious than it is combative. Like Iago, Yi-Min is not in the habit of letting what emotions she is feeling— if indeed she is feeling any— register on her appearance. Like the lilt of her voice, the expression she wears is as untroubled and deceptively delicate as spider-silk.

From her tone, she may as well be asking if Lanhua prefers milk in her tea or sugar.

The keen, highly appraising light somewhere behind her eyes may well suggest something else.

Heck, says Lanhua.

Throughout her spiel, Iago's attention does not waiver. There is even a suggestion of amusement when the lines at his eyes deepen, and he wonders: what mutant magic trick resides in her diminutive frame. There must be one. That he doesn't know what it is means an added variable for which he cannot accurate account, but there is one fixed point.


It's when Yi-Min makes her presence known that he experiences a more visible uptick in tension, a sharp look dealt her way. It isn't one that carries any kind of instruction, just a hint of confusion about whether Lanhua is dealing in bluffs, or is handling misinformation. He lets it go, deals with what's in front of him, tension that had transferred to his shoulders, ready, seeming to relax.

"If this is no negotiation," he says, a little bluntly, intruding on the space where Lanhua expects Eileen Gray to speak, "then we are done talking. Munin can show your people to the machine pieces." And it's to Eileen herself that he looks to, and adds, "They are only gathering rust, down there."

He doesn't need to be an actor, to put that unique mix of impatience and boredom into his voice. It's just deliberate, instead of default.

"But it seems you are not done asking," is to Lanhua, with a nod across to Yi-Min.

Byron makes no visible or physical response to the hand at his arm, but Eileen can feel that barely perceptible empathic brush against her sense — a familiar kind of feeling that does not have an easy name.

It is a reliable readiness, a watchfulness, attuned to every subtle signal she chooses to give, and he takes a slight step to imply he will be accompanying her, should she move.

The gun holstered at Kara's back has been burning a hole into the base of her spine since the exchange grew terse, for all her outward control. Lanhua's smug declaration that Yi-Min is already gone takes but a moment for nuance to be sifted through. The patience she had been pressing for Lang to have is gone from her eyes. She slowly turns away from him to look back the way of the Praxis entourage, jaw set.

What had they done to Yi-Min?

Perhaps Lanhua's monologue is for Kara's benefit, given the murder that flares in her eyes. Then again, maybe it's for her own. It's the only thing that gives her enough time, seemingly, for Yi-Min to step from the grasses, not as a spectre or woman appearing to be held against her will, but freely and with her brow raised in that way that's familiar to Kara. It brings the munitions chaplain to let out a breath that does not change the shape of her posture, but ticks her gaze in the diminutive doctor's direction.

It's a glance filled with more than words could ever say, even if Kara took the time to write them all out. Somehow, it would still not be enough.

Where Byron shifts to indicate he is not leaving Eileen, she shifts her weight as she looks to Iago instead, waiting for Ramirez's next direction. She tries to keep her focus there.

Even though she imagines the look on Lanhua's face must be intensely satisfying about now.

Through the empathic connection he shares with Eileen, Byron is privy to the emotions roiling beneath her very measured exterior. He feels the hot flash of anger and the way Lanhua’s words warm her cheeks. An anxious knot in the pit of her stomach tightens, growing hard and impenetrable. When Iago calls her Munin, she imagines she’s sixteen again: delegated to the least interesting, most unobtrusive corner of the room.

“That’s not my name,” she reminds him, and maybe that’s part of the act they’re putting on. Or maybe the words leap out of her mouth without her permission, and it just so happens that they support the idea she isn’t entirely happy with the instructions Iago has given her to carry out.

Unbeknownst to anyone except for Byron, who hears it too, the conduit is whispering even though she doesn’t need any advice on what to do. Her mind has already been made up and her heart set.

In spite of everything, Eileen smiles a kind smile, but it isn’t one Yi-Min has ever seen before.

“This way,” she tells Lanhua’s entourage, pushing back toward the factory.

You go get it and bring it out. You got it wherever it is, so go get it and we’ll take it the rest of the way.” Lanhua seems inexperienced, but not enough to walk into an enclosed space she doesn’t know. She brushes an errant lock of dark hair from her face and the look she fires in Yi-Min’s direction is at once baffled as it is scathing. For a good moment she isn’t even sure how to react to her, fixing a spurious glance at her own armed escort, then back to the doctor.

The Director ordered you to come back. Get back to the Qingniao,” Lanhua snaps at Yi-Min. Jaw set, it’s clearer that Lanhua isn’t experienced at dealing with these situations and maintaining the same level of confidence and smugness she was before. As if she expects Yi-Min to blanche at the Director being invoked, she turns her attention to back Eileen and the others.

Something has changed in Lanhua’s demeanor since Eileen saw her last, well over a year (and a lifetime) ago now. She seems jittery, unable to stay still. It’s reminiscent of someone suffering from withdrawal symptoms, but that isn’t quite right enough either. She doesn’t look unhealthy, doesn’t look sweaty or overly impaired. But whatever transpired between the last time she came out to Sedro-Woolley and today has left her changed.

“The armor, the robot, and,” Lanhua looks to Yi-Min as she makes her demands, “the doctor is needed elsewhere. Then we leave, and we re-evaluate.”

The whole while, Lang has been slowly taking steps back. Just a step or a half step here and there, a little to the left more so than the right. He fires a meaningful look at Kara, then over at Eileen, and back again. By now he’s backed up almost into the blonde. “Remember that time you helped me work on my car?” He says quietly to her, but only that much.

Kara's meaning-laden glance is not responded to by Yi-Min, at least not directly. There is no returned look. Instead, there is only the growth of an aura of quiet reassurance for confirmation and almost the remote shade of a smile that Kara had seen fit to worry about her at all.

But towards Lanhua, Yi-Min only shakes her head sedately. In the side of her mind, she maintains a heightened awareness of the subtle volatile signs materializing on their circumference: Lang edging backwards. That smile of Eileen's.

The tension colors how she speaks her next words. There is no vitriol of an active challenge to authority within them, only an earnest entreaty to the sense of the younger woman.

"I'm afraid I cannot do this, Lanhua. I have heard nothing from the Director himself regarding reassignment. Until I do, I am unwilling to risk giving up the progress I have made here."

"The armor and the robot these people will give to you, if they will. I do not speak for them. But as for me, I will stay. My mission is too important to abandon to your personal spite towards the people of this town. People who have done nothing to you, and who have value still if you let them."

Her hand outstretches slightly, palm upwards, a gesture of endless calm to match with Lanhua's jitteriness.

"Qing ting wo shuo."

Iago imagines: there was a moment this could have gone differently. Not very differently. Not as differently as Yi-Min is hoping because it's already sealed with Lanhua's words before she has a chance, but she has his attention as she makes the case for her individual importance to the work of Providence than his own powered suit. He breathes slow and even — she is correct to look to the others with her silent appeals, because there is no tension in his body, his expression.

Qing ting wo shuo.

It's a motion practiced since boyhood, like learning how to shave your face or drive a car. His hand reaches back to grasp the butt of his rifle as casually as scratching an itch while the other flicks the latch on the strap. In a fluid and nearly silent motion, the rifle is brought up into his hands and aimed for Lanhua's turned head.

She's already moving when he squeezes the trigger. Wartime thunder patters through the tranquil grassy fields, muzzle flash singeing her hair as she pivots with preternatural agility.

Ah, well.

Iago turns his rifle and mows bullets through the head of one of the henchmen quickest off the mark, matter erupting in a roostertail, a body already before it disappears into the tall grass. Iago bears down on Lanhua, cold steel and iron slamming hard into her hip in a vicious kick as if she were a door he was breaking through.

No time for more silent signals. He expects everyone knows what role they are playing, and which side of the line they stand.


Iago's movement prompts a mirrored action from Kara, hand touching the small of her back in a motion that barely moves her shoulders. There is no flourish in her efficiency, merely a snap of her arm in the direction of the guard who had his eyes on Lang. Two twitches of her trigger finger send shots through his heart and lung, a necessary evil before she can pivot her arm in the direction it had wanted to swing first.

She can already hear the sound of alarm rising from the factory behind them, the Remnant calling to arms to investigate, to descend. Before clear direction can even be called out inside its walls, she has Lanhua's form set squarely in her iron sights, aiming just slightly back in the anticipation of movement away from Iago.

The pull of her trigger finger is just another simple transaction, Kara thinks absently.

Eileen mourns the timeline in which this situation was dealt with cleanly and efficiently, with no witnesses to what awaited any Praxis representative unwise enough to follow her inside the factory. She would have liked to spare Yi-Min from the difficult decision she now has to make.

But she doesn’t fault Iago. The blame for this rests squarely at Lanhua’s feet.

The first cracks of gunfire propel Eileen into motion, and maybe Lang shouldn’t be so quick to question her commitment; she shrugs the satchel from her shoulder, unceremoniously dumping it into the grass, and reaches across her body for the slim knife she keeps hidden in her boot.

Leveraging the conduit as a weapon is too risky, the chance of collateral damage too high. She leans into the knife’s metal edge instead and pops back up with the vengeful precision of a striking cobra.

Praxis should have known better than to poke at them with sticks.

The blade goes in smooth and quick. It’s unlikely the soldier closest to Eileen ever registers that there’s an object where there shouldn’t be—his legs go out beneath him and his blood empties out into the reedy grass.

Three of Lanhua’s company are dead before she even realizes what’s happening, having leapt away from a gunshot into the full force of a cybernetically-enhanced kick. She lands on her side, rolling across the ground and turning that momentum into a somersault. Panic is clear in her eyes as she’s surrounded. One of her own pivots on his heels, training his snub-barreled assault rifle up and managing to get a four shot burst off at Iago’s center mass, sending him off of his feet, before Lang can clear the distance and tackle the Praxis fighter into the tall bush. Blood paints Iago’s face as he lands on his back, horse rearing up in a jolt of fright and galloping back from the sound of gunfire. Eileen can see where the bullets perforated his chest, where dark red is weeping through fabric. In the high grass, Lang’s arm comes up and down with the knife held backhanded, each time coming back with a little more blood on it.

Lanhua doesn’t stay stationary, moving and flowing in ways that Byron can understand as a form of superhuman agility. He’s fought people like this before. He understands how it works and—

— Lanhua’s eyes glow gold, she ends the momentum of her movement by throwing both of her arms forward. The ground shakes, the air trembles, Iago’s horse and Kara are thrown clear off of their feet and knocked backwards with the force of a kinetic shockwave. But when it reaches Byron—

— he lifts an empty hand, past the one already pointing his sidearm.

Byron does not squeeze the trigger. Other instincts override, and the air ripples in a shockwave out from his open palm. Two invisible forces strike one another like a clap of thunder, dust coming up on either side of a momentary barrier that negates itself, and then— explodes outwards without force, just dust kicked up as air displaces and tall grass bends.

A haze lingers in the air, whorling.

Byron staggers back, after having moved nearer with his knees bent and gun held, blue eyes flashing wide. No time to care.

He keeps moving in. Someone fires at him, a short-sharp patter of bullets that pass through his body as if he were a mirage.

Lanhua throws her arms down at her side, launching herself into the air with that same clap of kinetic energy. She soars forward, eyes shifting from brown to gold again as she gestures toward the Sunken Factory with one hand and yanks a section of the wall around a window out. The air hums with telekinetic vibrations as a shower of bricks rains down around Byron, tumbling through the air, bouncing across the ground. Lang, rising up from his kill like a gore-covered lion, is struck by several of the bricks and thrown back into the grass.

Lanhua! We have to go!” Shouts the last of Lanhua’s escort team, turning to train his sights on Eileen. Lanhua lands down beside Byron, the grass soft underfoot, clattering shards of brick falling around her. Gold eyes, seething. Eileen. Himself.

In the haze of dust, muzzle-fire diffuses and flares as Byron levels two shots that both miss as Lanhua dodges in serpentine movements, coming nearer. The third is not a bullet, but that crack of sonic energy slamming into her like a wall, her hands rising quick as snakes to absorb the worst of it as it seems to dematerialise around her while broken rock debris and dust and dirt explode out from around them both.

He reaches, catching the flat of her powered armor with his palm, and there's a splintering sound, an electrical whine, as kinetic energy shatters through it. Showing his teeth, he attempts to throw her aside in a fit of strength that is highly dependent on sources of fear.

But even the man dying in the reeds isn't that afraid.

The decision that Yi-Min apparently comes to may not have been nearly so difficult as Eileen might have thought, given the alacrity with she acts when combat begins.

In the chaos of the cascading shockwaves, the volleys of gunfire, the blood and swirling mess of the bodies of the Remnant and Praxis, the doctor focuses on one target in the center of her vision—


When Byron lunges for the other woman, Yi-Min is right there instead, a lean, angular knife flashing before her in a cruelly precise streak. Nearly straight down it thrusts into Byron's much larger frame, but she does not linger to savor the wound she had created or to drive the blade deeper in, leaving her handiwork and pulling nimbly away into a far more conservative stance with a new knife in one hand. There is a handgun in the other.

"Get out of here," she echoes of Lanhua's teammate between her teeth, even as she tries to keep the other woman behind her as much she is conceivably able to. It is a very stern command, as much as the other woman had tried to issue to her earlier. From the position she is in, Kara, too, will not have a clear shot at Lanhua unless she moves from where she is. "I will be behind you."

The knife strike did not feel, in Yi-Min's hand, as smooth as it ought to have been, even as she hears Byron's grunting breath out as it bites flesh through clothing layers and comes away crimson. Partially so. A shallower cut than she is capable of, as if he is made of denser, tougher stuff than normal flesh.

Still. It's a window of opportunity.

Iago's world is slower than the second-by-second moments of action transpiring nearby. His rifle is lying in the dirt, and when he can't quite lift his own hand up to try to snag it back, he instead focuses on retreat. Fingers push into summer-dry earth, which crumbles, fine like ash. He can hear insects clicking and the grass rustling around him just as clearly as gunshots and screams and shouts, maybe even more so. Blood, heavy and warm, trickles thick and dark from his mouth as he opens it to try to breathe. But it's like his torso has been turned into dense, dead meat.

He manages to crawl away about half a foot before he stops moving.

Being blasted back off her feet by an invisible wave of force was not Kara's plan, but it's one she adapts to. There's an attempt on her part to classify what hit her, figure out which of Lanhua's compatriots still standing it came from, because it's surely not—

no, but it is her, Kara realizes as she lifts her head up off the ground, sees the woman soaring through the air like a fucking one-woman artillery.

Figuring out what the hell her ability is comes later. Still prone on her back, Kara lifts her arm in the direction of the man yelling that they need to retreat. They're damn right, even with Lanhua doing whatever the fuck she's doing. She lines up a shot in the man's direction, pushing herself up to give her the stability she needs to fire confidently at his head before he can get any further away. She fires twice, and aware of just how few shots remain, turns her attention back to where Lanhua's landed.

Byron's inexplicably shredded through her armor, giving her a wider canvas of a person to work with, and seems like he's going to throw her away. But for some reason, he doesn't. He staggers back instead.

There's a blind spot in her vision, and it is precisely the size of Yi-Min Yeh. She realizes it when she visualizes pulling the trigger on Lanhua's form, and could have sworn she has, but the final shot in her clip doesn't leave the gun in her hand. Kara stares, eyes wide as Yi-Min continues to stand in her line of sight, blocking her shot.

She orders her hand to fire, if only to give someone else the shot at Lanhua.

Her hand does not listen.

That’s because Kara’s hand is listening to her heart—not her head.

So she might still be surprised when blood blossoms like dark red dahlias opening out of Yi-Min’s chest. She hears two shots instead of one, and knows that they didn’t originate from the barrel of her own gun. Charity Thornton stands among the first responders in her fuzzy rabbit fur slippers, willowy arm outstretched and compact pistol in hand.

Pop pop pop.

Fortunately for Yi-Min, she’s not that good of a shot. Her next three attempts, all of them wild, go wide and miss. Not that it much matters now. The first two bullets hit their mark and did not exit the other side; one sticks between her ribs, the other gets caught in the wiry muscle of her left shoulder.

Johannes is there, too. His arms loop around Lang’s midsection and effortlessly lift him out of the debris with the deliberate care of a mother cat picking up picking up one of her kittens in her mouth.

But Eileen sees none of this. Her feet, guided by some sort of strange compulsion she can’t explain, have carried her to where Iago lies still and prone. His blood that came away on the grass rubs off on her legs as she enters his field of vision, even as darkness crowds its periphery—or maybe that’s just the energy emanating from her shape like heat straining to escape a low, dying fire.

Her counterpart, the one whose body she possesses, loved this man. And the sliver of her that still exists in harmony with who she is now clings stubbornly to those feelings in spite of all reason and better judgement.

Iago feels Eileen’s hands on his face. She must be very close because he can’t hear the insects anymore or even the sound of his own breathing—only hers matching its rhythm. Then, another sound: voices, whispers, promises exhaled on a late summertime breeze.

“Stay,” she murmurs, voice heavy and thick, and rests her forehead against Iago’s. To the others, she is kneeling at his side, his head safe in the cradle of her hands.

Lanhua crashes into the side of the Sunken Factory, displacing old mortar and knocking bricks she’d torn loose with her telekinetic attack. She falls forward, dropping to the ground and struggling to pull herself to her feet. Her body jolts with pain, gold eyes flickering, darting left and right as she tries to make sense of the carnage. Seeing Yi-Min shot after defending her, Lanhua calls out to seemingly no one. “I need an extraction! Now!

In the dirt beside Iago, Eileen can feel something in her hands, in her spine, behind her eyes and in the tremors in her fingertips. It isn’t adrenaline, it isn’t fear, it is a yearning not her own that is pushing at the back of her sternum as if her heart were trying to leap from her chest. There is a sense of anticipation, primal and instinctual, wetting her lips and prickling the hairs on the back of her neck. She—

”«The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.»” The voice comes from one of two people in this grand foyer. At the center of the entry hall on his knees, is a sandy-blonde haired man in an unbuttoned gray trenchcoat. The creases on his brow and cheeks show his growing age, and the lightness of his hair at the temples suggests encroaching gray. Where he kneels, there is a body beside him, laid out in a pool of thick, still warm blood. The corpse is of a man much younger, with somewhat lighter hair, trimmed to a crew cut. His stomach is dark with blood staining, his uniform from a gunshot wound. Utterly motionless, save for one hand that is cradled between the two hands of the kneeling officer's. “«He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.»”

— feels it, pulling —

There is an obvious emotion in the older man's voice, every word wavering and shaking as he squeezes the dead soldier's hand in his own, “«He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.»” Vladimir Volken was a penitent man.

— like a hand behind her eyes, reaching —

”«Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,»” There is a twitch, a motion of three fingers on the clutched hand, a spasm of nerves. The older soldier stops, letting out a ragged breath as he brings his mouth down to the young soldier's knuckles, “«I will fear no evil: For thou art with me.»” He squeezes the hand harder, hopeful, but knowing full well the chances of surviving such a wound.

— clawing —

Then, abruptly, the wounded soldier's eyes snap open, staring blank and empty towards the ceiling. “«Kazimir…»” Vladimir breathes out in a heavy exhalation, squeezing the hand again. “«Kazimir you — »”


Words are replaced by a raw, agonized scream. Where Vladimir’s hand clasps his son’s, flesh begins to pale, veins blackening before the skin on his palms cracks and flakes. A deep, low and roaring sound like a hollow wind being blown through a deep cavern exhales from the young Kazimir Volken's mouth, and like the speed of a wildfire, the rapid desiccation begins to take effect. Hands become brittle, cracking apart as fingers snap and break, falling to the floor as the young man rises up into a seated position and a bullet forces its way out of his abdomen and onto the floor. «K-Kaz — Kazim — »

Stay, the voice behind her eyes demands of Iago, as it has to so many others in the past. All at the same, horrible cost.

Unaware of what has become of Eileen, Lanhua takes a hold of Yi-Min from a distance, yanking her up like a lifeless marionette doll and then drawing her forward with a rush of telekinetic force. The gunfire all around her is so much buzzing noise, bullets arresting in the air around her where they meet some sort of telekinetic field that prohibits forward movement but at the same time does not deprive them of their kinetic potential.

As Yi-Min is drawn to Lanhua, the clone shakily wraps her arm around Yi-Min's waist and closes her other hand into a tight fist, then spreads her fingers and sends once-stilled rounds back in the general direction of where they were fired from. She doesn’t look to see if any of the others are struck, doesn’t care. After the exertion, Lanhua staggers forward and cups one hand over her mouth, blood spraying out from between her fingers in the choked exhalation.
It was covering fire, cover enough for—

Lanhua!” A woman in her mid-twenties — Val, a cousin of sorts to Lanhua — in a too-large sweater of rainbow wool fabric spun loose and patchy appears from out of nothingness. Her pink hair is blown back by the breeze cutting across the grass, and as she sees Yi-Min bleeding from a shot to her abdomen and shoulder, her eyes well up with tears.

She is there for but a moment, and then in that same displacement of rainbow-colored light and distortion not only is she gone, but Lanhua and Yi-Min as well.

Fuck, you— ” one of Lanhua’s escorts gurgles, possibly to her, from the ground. He struggles, trying to drag himself toward his gun.

Yi-Min has full knowledge of what ‘Byron’ is. The resistance the knife encounters when driven into his too-tough flesh does not surprise her: she had expected it. Counted on it.

Is very glad of it.

That mitigation involved in that calculated choice is the only mode of apology that he, or any of them, are going to get today; fewer still will be in a position to ever understand it. But further penance for her is immediately forthcoming, in the form of the pools of blood that flower in her chest. As the trio of impacts staggers her narrow form one after another, she has the chance to get an oblique look at those terrible slippers—

And then, finally, her eyes search upwards from that sight and lock with Kara's as they had not before in this encounter. They are serene and assuring, as though that rivulet of red is not currently dribbling from a side of her mouth, and she has just time for one last weak, immeasurably sad smile

before the world falls away from her, wrapped as she is into the possession of Lanhua, and she remembers no more.

There's another timeline, another history, in which Iago Ramirez is on his back and dying, blood thick in his throat and oozing out the corners of his mouth, painting his teeth. His vision had narrowed like this, and a powerfully familiar presence had presided over him. Here, and now, that face is much more familiar to him than the younger Petrelli, but it's still with Eileen's bright blue eyes that he manages to lock his gaze.

He opens his mouth as if to say something, but nothing comes out.

So he wraps his hand around Eileen's slender wrist where he can barely even feel her hands, and uses what strength there is left to grip. She can feel something slightly less than real, something like acceptance. Acceptance of his survival, and equally, acceptance of oblivion so long it is at her hand. Acceptance, too, of something more.

Byron is staring down the spot where Lanhua and Yi-Min used to be, lips pulled back from blunt white teeth as his hand grips his shoulder, several inches shy of where Yi-Min's knife had slashed through his clothing, scarlet soaking up into soft sweater fabric. It's a keen edged hint of murderous intent that only dulls when he acknowledges they're both truly gone, looking then to the arriving cavalry, to Lang's blood-streaked face, and then around to where Eileen is kneeling in the grass over the unmoving shape of Iago.

Straightens from his hunch, keenly listening to what only Eileen, Iago, can hear, only to him it's mere whispers. But he can fucking guess. Byron's expression darkens as he stands there, undeciding.

Then, he hears the muffled cursing nearby, of the remaining Praxis escort.

Anger is diffused into Byron's surge forward towards him, grabbing the gun and pitching it aside. Then, circling around, reaching down to grab the man's ankle, and then dragging with an impressive show of strength that is not so beyond the capabilities of a big dude like him. He hauls him nearer to Eileen like a hunter dragging a fresh carcass, except this one is weakly struggling, still. Grass bends beneath the man's body, comes up bloody.

She will need him alive. Byron drops the feebly twisting leg of the agent, and steps back, watching her, fixed.


Kara's lips part soundlessly, a shock of breath taken in when she sees the telltale bloom of color on her shirt. It's a deeper red than even the sunset on the horizon, darker than the dusk that creeps closer with each passing moment. The sound of a consonant half-forms as she stares, expression unguarded, unable to look away from Yi-Min's form as she smiles, staggers… and falls.

A strangled note escapes her as she scrabbles to her feet, gun trained on Lanhua now that she's no longer shielded. Kara moves, ignoring the coppery taste in her mouth as she clenches her jaw. The note erupts into a yell, the last shot she has to fire aimed directly at the shorter woman's head.

The bullet, along with so many others come to a hold, hovering in place in that field around Lanhua. When they burst and fire back in the direction they came from, Kara clutches her arm, keenly aware of the injury she now bears, but she staggers forward in the direction of the two anyway, pulled by something she couldn't explain if she tried.

Anger, for one.

Pain, for another.

Her head jerks in the direction of the rainbow smear of a human that appears out of nowhere, her gun hand lifting automatically. There's a hollow click as she pulls the trigger on an empty clip. And then that's it — They're gone, but the image of Yi-Min's blood-spattered form will remain burned in her mind for an untold amount of time.

For a moment she stands there, gaze fixed on the negative space left behind where bodies were only a moment before. Byron's moving brings her to stir, taking in the situation. Lang. Charity. Morales sprinting from the building all too late. She finds Eileen crouched by Iago finally, her brow lifting.

They had protocols for this sort of thing. Eileen's frequent role as a tactician and commander was not the only thing that dictated she fall on their backline in maneuvers. Everyone was aware, in some way or another, there was a reason for it.

The reason prickles the hair on the back of her neck as it stirs within the Englishwoman's small form. Kara looks to Byron as she catches his movement in her periphery, hand lifting to indicate he stay back … until she sees he drags the Praxite with him. Wordlessly, her brow comes to a knit and she lowers her arm, turning instead to watch.

Hoping, against all hope, that yet another one of her nightmares does not play out today.

Gabriel once asked Eileen to find the part of herself Kazmir hasn’t touched, and she’d argued that no such part existed. The Vanguard arranged for her conception and her birth; its figurehead is as much a part of Eileen as the genetic marker that allows her to commune with birds.

But she draws on his advice now, searching her heart, bones, and the very pit of her stomach for something that feels distinct from the entity that presently inhabits her body. She’d only wanted to before— now it’s a matter of need.

It isn’t just Iago bleeding out in her arms. It’s everything he represents: the protection he and the other senior members of the Vanguard provided her when she was most vulnerable, and her betrayal of that in the service of something greater.

Eileen is very sorry, Iago. She’s—

— turning her head to shift her focus to the last remaining Praxis representative. Kazimir would have just let Iago die, she thinks. And maybe that’s enough.

Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe it isn’t the part of her Kazimir hasn’t touched. Maybe it’s the part of her she’s somehow preserved in spite of his influence.

The bloodied grass crackles and blackens, and so does everything in the immediate area except for Eileen and Iago. Byron was smart to step away. Tendrils of energy strip the Praxite of his skin and wither the flesh on his bones. His face sags, jaw coming unhinged as the connective tissue holding his body together crumbles into dust.

He’s screaming, but so is Eileen— because this hurts.

Unpracticed, she channels one dying man’s lifeforce into the other, using herself as—

— a conduit.

The scream that begins in the Praxis escort turns to the crackling snap of splitting bone and crumbling parchment flesh starting at the source of Eileen’s touch and spreading out like an infection. Not only does flesh blacken, but it dries, crisps, and crumbles away like fire-blackened wood. Ashes stir in the air, swirling around the Praxite’s writhing, still-living form.

As one man is thrown into unfathomable agony, another sucks in a sharp breath of life. Eileen can feel something stirring inside of her, the part of her that had remained in spite of him. She feels it like a hot coal, like the burn of whiskey, but it spreads inside of her and overwhelms her senses. Wispy tendrils of something like an aura of gray and ashen black spread out from her, and bullets twist and push their way up out of Iago’s chest and roll away under his shirt. Wounds stitch themselves shut, his heart beats with renewed strength and blood is restored to flush his cheeks with color.

Tá tú i bhfad níos láidre ná mar atá ar eolas agat.” Eileen can hear the woman’s voice above and beside her, but only Eileen can. She is the only one who can see the red-haired woman dressed in cotton and linen and rawhide, with a sinew-seen bag at her hip and a pendant worn around her neck in familiar craftsmanship to an antique delivered by her far-seeing and far-wandering son that never was.


Her blue eyes regard the kneeling Brit with curiosity and uncertainty, but her hand on her successor’s shoulder remains firm. “Creidim i duit féin…” the phantom says, as Iago’s eyes open, and for the barest of moments, connected to Eileen as he is thinks he sees a blurry figure standing over her. But then, perhaps not.

Lang, clutching into his burly savior, watches with his one good one eye that's not swollen shut as the Praxite’s chest cavity crumbles and breaks apart, turning to so much dust and blackened bones. He leaves only a sooty skeleton behind, and when the dust settles the phantom beside Eileen is gone.

Life struggles in, messily, without grace. Breath returns to Iago's lungs in the form of a series of wet coughs, blood rattling through his throat as violence is enacted upon flesh, squeezing metal between muscle. A holy fire. His spine arcs as muscles tense against his will, one hand wildly reaching and gripping onto grasslife that crumbles into ash, fingers raking fine earth. Dark energy siphons through into bullet holes and dissipates when they close.

That great pressure that only he could feel is lifted off his chest. Breathing easy, muscles spasming, relaxing, and he has enough wherewithal to look and see the strain in Eileen's face, barely hearing the ragged notes of her screams as his blood pounds in his ears with renewed vigor.

And he senses it — that same prickling heat, circling his leg where flesh and bone meet metal.

With an animal growl, Iago pushes away from her, kicking back a foot in the dehydrated grass as his hand reaches for that leg protectively. "Basta ya," he breathes out. There is still blood in his mouth, drying dark down his chin, his throat. Dust and ash stick to where his skin is damp. "Enough." But he is still unable to stop watching her, and the hand that has gone to his leg hovers out, blood-smeared, trembling. He does not notice Charity in her slippers, or even that all the enemies are dead. They could be bearing down on them both right now, and Iago would not know the difference.

Byron, meanwhile, has sunk down into a crouch at the very borders of the spreading shadows, watching tensely, as if it is taking a great amount of effort not to charge in closer. More aware of his surroundings than some, he finally lifts a look towards Kara, and then downturns his attention to the dirt in front of him, free hand creeping back to reach after his own shallow injury.

The sounds of those screams will not be easily forgotten, Kara imagines, not for a good while. They're nothing like the screams of mothers and the children they bear, the sounds of life beginning. The sounds of life restarting are much more horrifying, an awful struggle to trade essence for essence. She's stilled by the shriek, unable to turn away.

She tenses like an animal ready to run, waiting for the moment the power Eileen channels to run rampant and free and for herself to need to dive out of its path. But that doesn't happen. This time, the dark energy that surges from Eileen saves in a more obvious way. Iago's rejuvenation causes Kara to take an involuntary step back, jaw slack only for as long as she starts. Then after, she looks down to Byron, and past him still to the box, the device that had been blown from her hands by Lanhua's shockwave.

Kara crouches to pick it up, the blackened grasses only feet from her and Byron's position eyed warily before she focuses on the box, checking it for damage. Their world had changed, flipped upside down in the course of a sunset — but some things had stayed the same.

It was no less needed than before, and she would pursue the use of it with an especial vengeance now.

"They had a teleporter," her voices rises from her, authoritative and well-projected. "Secure the Factory. They had a transport, potentially more men waiting at it." Her head lifts, gaze going from a potentially-damaged object to one she knows is. She frowns openly at the work done to the factory walls. "Gaskill,” she calls out. “we need to assess that damage!"

Gun in one hand, beacon in the other, it leaves her no room for her hands to shake after everything that's happened — they had work to do.

She does not look once in the direction of Charity Thornton, not while giving her rallying cry, and not after.

There is nothing left for Eileen to give. Iago breaks physical contact, and with nowhere else to go the energy flickers and recedes, dissipating into nothingness at the same time her screams are petering out.

Her wail becomes whimper. She folds into herself. This her first time using the conduit in such a way, and like all first times it’s messy and graceless. Eileen’s face is a filthy smudge of blood, tears, and a residue that looks like soot but isn’t.

Charity, whose gun was leveled at the Englishwoman next, finally lowers her weapon when it’s clear she isn’t a threat—not to her, not to Iago, not even to Byron who is the next closest. If she’s experiencing any satisfaction at having hit Yi-Min, it does not show on her face or in her body language, which is impossible to read at a distance.

Not that Kara is looking. What she sees instead is the way Eileen starts to turn toward Byron on her way back to her feet, unsteady and faltering. She succeeds in taking one step before her legs go out beneath her and she crumples within easy reach of where she started.

It’s exhaustion, not death, that claims her.

Johannes amplifies Kara’s orders, his voice booming out across factory’s courtyard and adjacent field. Her words become thunder, then thunder becomes thunder—and the first droplets of rain begin to fall.

It’s going to be a long night.

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