In Memoriam


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Scene Title In Memoriam
Synopsis The seeds of the Vanguard are sown.
Date November, 1900

The sun has come to set in the west, a pumpkin-orange dome hovering just barely visible over the forested horizon, yet another day has come to pass and no signs of the assassins out of time. Within the confines of the river-stone walled cabin, travelers from far distant shores find uncertainty in the future that was ascribed for them to protect.

Around the long wood-slab dinner table, plates have been arranged along with flatware and wooden bowls. The phesant has been stretched to serve over two days of meal, the meat boiled in a thick and creamy stew steaming in an iron kettle at the middle of the table, thick chunks of potato and discs of carrots float in the broth, coated by a thin layer of melted provologne cheese. The smell of onions and salted pork wafting up from the stew implies unseen additions within.

"«Everyone must eat at the table,»" is insistance by the heavily pregnant Serise Volken as she turns from the pot-bellied stove, swinging closed the front hatch with a creak of metal and a clank after having put on another log to burn. The dark-haired young woman offers a look askance to a spacious sitting room whereby light of the fire place, an unlikely couple are dancing.

Eileen Ruskin and Alfonse Volken are an unusual pairing of student and teacher.

d'Argent Estate

Somewhere Outside Versailles

November 1, 1900

Shorter than Eileen by a fair measure, Alfonse Volken has one hand at the small of Eileen's back, the other aloft and held in her hand, his feet shifting to one side, soles of his shoes clinking softly over the hardwood floor as the dark-haired lead guides him through the steps of a Waltz.

Crouched beside the fireplace, having just set a log on the fire, turning it over with an iron poker, Gabriel Gray bears witness to the scene in his peripheral vision, seeing Eileen's firelit form guiding Alfonse through the steps, a dance that he would have to teach her generations later in preparation to meet Elias DeLuca.

The front door has only just opened in the same moment, letting a gust of cold air in that disturbs the fire and swirls ashes, brightening embers. Jensen Raith is first inside from the cold evening, followed by Vladimir Volken in clomping bootfall behind him. "There were only six, I had thought we'd at least nine traps from the last time I had gone hunting…" Dark brows furrow and Vladimir is taken aback by the smell of dinner, watching Serise turning with a wooden cutting board laid out with a baguette sliced thickly atop it.

"«You never cook like this when it is just the three of us,»" Vladimir notes with a crooked smile in his native tongue, "«It is wonderful, my dear.»"

"Six, nine, I can work with either one." That is exactly all that Raith has to say about the issue of traps. Changing gears, he stretches his neck to work out a cold-induced kink, and takes off his coat to begin his readjustment to being indoors again. "«It is wonderful. We must thank all of you for everything, and we'll do it again and again, I'm sure.»" Like Gabriel, the spy is briefly distracted, or enthralled, by the dance that Eileen and Alfonse are stepping through. It's either endearing or surreal, and he can't decide which. "«Please, is there anything I can do to help until dinner?»"

If Eileen has learned one thing about herself during this expedition, it's that she misses Bai-Chan desperately. Alfonse is older than Wu-Long's son, and possesses a much better grasp of the English language, but she's drawn more comparisons between the two youths than she has between Alfonse and the man he will one day become, and although she's tried to keep him at a distance throughout their stay, there have been a handful of occasions where she's volunteered to take responsibility for the boy while his mother is busy, like she is now.

This would be easier, incidentally, if they had music. "The man who taught me how to waltz," she's saying in a gentle tone that disguises the truth (she'd be much more comfortable helping Serise prepare supper or Gabriel tend to the fire), "also introduced me to Mr. Ingram. He wasn't a very fine dancer himself, but our time together blessed me with a wonderful partner."

It's the closest she's ever going to come to telling Kazimir thank you.

Blackened wood breaks apart under enough prodding, spitting sparks and firelit ashy remnants like Gabriel had broken open a beehive instead of a smoldering log of wood. There is a difference, here, to his deliberate distraction the previous day when he'd been chopping the wood into appropriately sized chunks — he'd been ignoring the world they were in, Alfonse included. Especially Alfonse. Now, however, he can't help but sneak minor glances towards where his 'wife' dances with the child, and it's with less suspicion and more faint interest to a reasonably haunting sight.

As mundane as all this is, footsteps scuffing on worn floors, the smell of rustic cooking filling the room, the smoke of the fireplace before it funnels out through the pipe. Gabriel stands, sets the poker aside to cool.

"«You do not need to do anything,»" is Serise's patient handling of the French language back to Raith, followed by a nod of her head to the table. "«Dinner is done, all I ask is that we eat together.»" Lifting up a hand to thread fingers thorugh her dark hair, Serisa pulls out one of the chairs, but does not move to sit.

Removing his gloves, Vladimir throws them down on a table near the door, then begins unbuttoning and shedding his jacket, hanging that over the back of his chair. "You have an unconvenitional style," Vladimir admits to no one in particular at first as he drags the chair out with a scuff of the legs over the floor. It's only as he's sitting that the Colonel turns to Raith, one brow lifted. "I will profess never having much confidence in American military strategies, but your people are prolific and unconventional." It's almost a compliment; almost.

Unlacing his hand from Eileen's, Alfonse offers a bashful smile up to the young woman with a lift of his brows. "Father does not seem happy to see me dancing," the boy admits, noticing perhaps more thanks to his angle that Vladimir is sitting sideways in his chair to afford Kazimir his back. "It is a dignified thing to know though, a gentleman's dance!" Excitedly speaking, Alfonse' blue eyes angle askance to Gabriel, then back to Eileen.

"When did you and he have your first dance? Was it at your wedding?" Alfonse's lips creep up into a shy smile. "Was it romantic?"

Alfonse,»" Serise snaps gently from where she begins to settle into her seat now that Vladimir has, "«you are bothering her with embarrassing questions. Come, dinner is done.»" Serise levels her stare up over Alfonse and to Eileen, offering an apologetic smile for her son's behavior.

Raith's reply to Serise is a nod of his own, before his attention is back to the man of the house. "You should see me in my element," he replies to Vladimir's backhanded compliment, clearly suggesting that the use of traps is not as far as he goes if he gets the chance. "An army of one," only slides because Raith knows that Vladimir will be long dead by the time that becomes an official recruiting slogan.

Alfonse's precociousness, however, earns nothing less than a hearty chuckle from Ingram the Elder as he steps towards the table. "«Please, let him ask embarrassing questions,»" is him sticking his nose into parenting, just a bit, "«If he doesn't, then I will. Not at the table, though.»" And turning his head to Gabriel, he asks him very politely, "No embarrassing stories until after dinner. Deal?" All a part of the show. Raith and Gabriel might have one embarrassing story about each other between them, let alone enough for actual story-telling.

Eileen doesn't verbalize a response, but there's mirth in her glassy gray eyes lit pale gold by the firelight. She coaxes Alfonse in the direction of the table with a hand at the small of his back, and she knows where it is judging by the sound of Serise's voice and the scraping of chair legs on wood rather than the sparrow perched in the farmhouse's rafters. Its eyes are fixated on the window and the smear of colour on the other side of the warped glass where the setting sun shines through the trees, illuminates paper-thin leaves and casts strange shadows across the field.

The sparrow darts a look at Gabriel, then Raith. A flick of its wings sends it fluttering down to the sill like a solitary oak leaf torn from its branch by the same breeze rippling through the tall grass outside. At the edge of the property, a pair of rooks are picking at the carcass of a fox that was unfortunate enough to get caught in one of Vladimir's traps this morning, its bloodied pelt crawling with flies and left to hang from one of the fenceposts as a warning to other tresspassers. Elsewhere, the woodland's pheasants and partridges lay low and still as stones, their plumage the perfect camoflauge now that green has begun to disappear from the countryside, replaced with the drearier shades of winter.

Theorhetically, there's very little that could slip past the Englishwoman's notice, but theories like this one mean nothing when the enemy can appear and disappear anywhere at anytime. Bare feet brush over the floorboards. Vladimir should be proud; Alfonse managed never to trod on her toes.
Rhys has partially disconnected.

A chair is drawn out for Eileen, Gabriel shifting to sit beside her with a sullen heaviness to his movements, darting a look towards Raith. Play acting is fun, and Gabriel wishes he could enjoy it again, probably — he does put on a smirk for his 'brother', settling the sit of wooden legs at the table and lacing his hands together. There is a lull, a false sense of security inspired by the smell of dinner, his own hunger, his strange disconnection to this place sated by something like a family meal.

It's not exactly Queens. It's not the Old Dispensary. But it'll do. He looks to Serise, now, gaze tricking over the bump of her pregnancy, up towards her face and back down to her hands as she sets the meal, taking her place at the table at Volken's elbow. Presses her a smile, language barrier meaning probably there is little more he can do to express his gratitude without asking for a translation.

Watches Eileen out the corner of his eye to guide her down, a hand out. "I can take it from here," he tells Alfonse — the most words he's given the kid since knowing who is actually is, and delivered with gentle teasing.

As chairs scuff, bowls clink and Serise insists on being the one to doll out portions of the dinner, it almost feels like some sort of surreal family environment. As Gabriel recognized, it may not be the Old Dispensary, but it has something of that same feel to it. Vladimir's presence at the table is eventually more casual that stern, affording his son a measured smile of approval when he thinks no one else is looking.

Bowls are filled with the soup and a skin of the molten cheese, bread dipped halfway in and passed down the line almost like a soup kitchem until everyone has something in front of themselves. However in perhaps expectance, Serisa takes her time filling her own bowl as she looks up to Gabriel, then around the table. "«Would one of our guests,»" she begins in French, presuming that to be the common language she can understand between them all, speaking slowly and carefully, "«like to lead us in prayer before we eat?»"

Alfonse offers a look up to Eileen at that from his seat at the table, a smile spreading across his lips. At least he wasn't looking to Gabriel.

"«I'd be more than happy to,»" Raith volunteers. Without a doubt unexpectedly for some; the last time he gave a serious prayer when asked, it amounted to, 'Thanks for nothing.' But when he volunteers here, he politely folds his hands and, after giving a quick glance to Gabriel to make sure he's got the idea, patiently waits a moment for everyone to do the same. "«Lord, we thank You for seeing everyone here safely,»" he begins, "«For friends and for family, good health and for the meal we are about to eat. We thank You for the good fortunes in our lives, and for the strength You gave us to overcome the bad, and we ask that You continue to look after us, Your children, as you always have.» Amen."

Maybe it's a typical American style of prayer; short, direct and to the point. But it says exactly what it needs to say. When Raith finishes, his first glance is to Serise, to ensure that his prayer meets with her approval. His second glance is to Gabriel, as if to ask him, 'How was that? Sound convincing?' It had better be convincing, or he just knows he's going to get a stern talkin' to from the lady of the house.

As Raith speaks, so does Eileen, but it's in a hushed murmur so low it could be mistaken for the susurrus of leaves outside. She's translating the prayer — or the closest approximation of it — into English for Gabriel's benefit, her hands folded in front of her and dark head bowed, long lashes eclipsing the twin moons that are her irises.

She isn't religious. She does, however, show the Volkens the same courtesy and quiet reservation she showed Joseph Sumter during the memorial service on the shores of Staten Island's boat graveyard. The serene expression she wears on her face does not belong to a woman who doesn't believe in God, but neither does it belong to a woman who does.

"Amen," is Gabriel's echo after Raith, hands lifting from where he'd set them palm down on his knees to draw his food closer. Goes for the bread, first, glancing into the soup which is delicious, probably, but perhaps he'd find it more so if he didn't have to eat rustic country, labour of love slowcooked soups. He tears the heavy bread, dunks a chunk of it into the broth with a stir to collect the cheese as he goes. Hesitates, unsure if that's a normal ritual for the times.

He's going to kill someone for a cheeseburger when he gets back.

Or cake.

Or bullets.


Practically on que to the call of Amen there is a crack of gunfire that explodes through the front window of the cabin, shattering glass and demolishing an earthenware pot seated on a shelf above the stove. "Alfonse get down!" Vladimir howls, throwing himself out of his chair and down onto the floor as Alfose stares wide eyed in shock. A moment later there is a high-pitched clattering sound followed by the expulsion of hundreds of rounds of ammunition punching their way thorugh the wooden door, cracking and ricocheting against the riverstone walls and bursting through the windows. Had the walls of the cabin not been made of stone, likely everyone inside would have been dead in that first volley.

The gunfire doesn't end, it just keeps going, and from the mechanical clack of each fire, Jensen has an idea of how high-caliber a machine gun is likely being brought to bear on the house, why stone is chipping and why it is not a weapon of this era.

Soldier instincts take over in an instant, and Raith drops down from his chair to the floor, right hand shooting out to grab his rifle only to be reminded that it isn't there. No sidearm, either. The only weapon he has to bring against their attacker is harsh language. "Down on the floor!" is barked out, and in a flash of brilliance, the spy lashes out with his foot, kicking out the legs of Alfonse's chair in the likely event the youth doesn't have his head together enough to get down on his own. Alfonse- Kazimir needs to live. Vladimir needs to live. Serise… is slightly more expendable, although he's not willing to place money down on exactly how much. "Gets birds in the air!" he shouts again over the machine gun's chatter, crawling along the floor towards Vladimir. "Volken, do you have a rifle?" Surely, he has to have a rifle in the cabin.

What if a bear came charging through the door?

The sparrow that had been sitting on the windowsill explodes into a messy spatter of feathers, gore and microscopic flecks of bone, and it takes Eileen a moment to realize that she's only blind, not dead, but when she does, she's hooking her arms around Alfonse's middle and dragging him down to the floorboards where she's tangled in her skirts and an overturned chair, broken shards of glass glittering in her hair and the dense weave of the woolen sweater she wears over her dress.

Dying is preferable to never having existed at all. She curls her body around the boy's, a hand at the back of his head and forcing it into the softest part of her shoulder but without giving much thought to what that might do to his face. The gunfire is her primary concern. That she might accidentally smother him doesn't even occur to her, much the same way it never occurs to young mothers who clasp palms over the noses and mouths of their infants to stop their squalling.

Only then does she open her eyes to the world outside the farmhouse. The rooks by the fox carcass have the best view of the property, and she sends them thundering into flight, intending to use them to pinpoint the shooter's location for the man who had been seated at her side. She assumes the past tense only because she can't imagine Gabriel staying in his seat. It's not as though she can twist a look over her shoulder and check.

Gabriel's first instinct is to duck. His second is to dive for the floor in tandem with everyone else.

He does the first, if only out of order of action. Manages to avoid the second. As a bullet clips window pain, a shard of wood goes spiralling, passing cleanly through him as he twists to squint out the now broken window, coming to stand with his knees awkward bent, one passing through the chair. Taking up watch from here is useless— and so it's a good thing as a vision transmitted via bird and bird-girl flickers crystal clear behind his eyes, gaining tension in his brow. A nick of blood makes a tick shape of crimson next to an eyebrow where a flying shard of glass made a small, nipping swipe.

There's a reason that people usually attack under the cover of night. In the waning light, he sees her, hands gripping the mounted machine gun at the very edge of the field, visual at the strange angle of avian life, flitting and fleeting.

Remaining immune to everything tangible that passes through him, Gabriel extends a hand in the manner he used to when invoking telekinesis. It isn't some mystical, pushing force that is summon — dust and fine dirt lifts off the ground of the field, seems to vacuum out of every undusted corner of the rural farmhouse to siphon out the window and clear the air in the time it takes to blink. Gathers into a ground-level storm of rushing, filfthy cloud, until all Kira can see through her one eye is the building walled off by something of a dust storm. One that comes howling towards her as fast as Gabriel's ability will carry it, choking and grating.

Screams fillt he air, Alfonse's, Serise's, and admittedly even Vladimir's, though his hissing curses are more frustrated then anything. With Alfonse's head hidden against Eileen's shoulder and the boy's tiny arms curled against her, he is unable to witness the spectacle that is Gabriel Gray and the utilization of his manipulation of fine particles. The whirling storm of choking dust and grit blasts out the already demolished windows, evacuating the house in a torrent that has Serise' eyes wide with shock.

"Cabinet!" Vladimir shouts as he pushes up to his feet with the cover of the dust storm, charging towards an armoire on the wall opposite of the fireplace. He throws both sides open, revealint two bolt-action rifles leaned up in racks and an old double-barreled shotgun. They're hunting weapons, admittedly, but they're still firearms and there's enough ammunition to imply that they're regularly used and decently maintained.

Grabbing one of the bolt-action rifles, Vladimir snaps it open with a click-chack and begins thumbing in shells, not crowding the cabinet so that Raith can arm himself as well. Notably, out of view of the larger firearms, the distinctive makeup of a Luger P08 handgun on a bottom shelf looks almost like an afterthought, but it's a stylish piece of hardware none the less.

Outside of the cabin, Eileen can see from her literal bird's-eye view that when Kira stops firing the tripod-mounted machine gun that she'd crouched in front of, it is because of the dust storm barreling down on her. Letting out a shrill breath of shock, the assassin turns and begins to run, scrambling back for the trees before—


A split second later there's an explosion down from the roof as bullets tear thorugh the wood-shingled ceiling and the attic, high-caliber handgun rounds pulverizing their way through planks of wood, blasting out in shards of pulp and splinters, blind gunfire. When she moved, when Kira teleported Gabriel could feel it. Maybe because she arrived closer, but it was like a change in air-pressure, one that built up before she arrived.

If he can get the hang of how to use this ability, he might be able to catch her ride.

Although Raith advances towards the armoire in a crouching crawl rather than a full-standing sprint (clearly, Vladimir still has to grasp the finer points of machine gun warfare), but when his hand reaches out for the other rifle, the rain of bullets from the ceiling stalls him. The wimpier report of a submachine gun is noted instantly and the spy grabs, of all things, the shotgun, swinging the barrels opened and grabbing two shells that he practically throws into the breaches. The weapon snaps back into its locked position, and the barrels are aimed upwards somewhat haphazardly at the approximate spot where the hail of gunfire from above seemed to originate. Each shell discharges in rapid succession, one after the other, into the rafters. If handgun cartridges were penetrating down, then the wood above should pose almost no problem for 12-gauge buckshot. Even if it doesn't kill their assailant, the sight of part of the roof exploding outwards should throw her off her game for a moment.

Raith drops back into a crouch, grabbing another pair of shotshells to reload. In the days before plastics, stiff paper was used to hold this type of ammunition together. Paper that, stiff or not, might get crushed and ruined if stuffed into a pocket.

Alfonse will hear the laboured sound of Eileen's breathing and feel her hammering pulse through to fabric of his clothes, her heart knocking against his. The closest she comes to screaming is a pained noise she makes at the back of her throat. With the gunfire chewing up the floorboards above their heads, it's only a matter of time until one of them catches a bullet, and without proper medical supplies or equipment, the only one not in danger of bleeding out on the floor of farmhouse is Gabriel.

The rooks carve a winding path through the twilight, their view obscured by the same storm that had been shielding the farmhouse's occupants only a few moments ago. Broad wings carry them above the rolling cloud of dust while sharp black eyes search the roof for their attacker.

Wood and bullets and buckshot hail back and forth, and in the confusion— maybe the three natives will manage to see that when Gabriel goes to belatedly take cover on the ground, he's turned to inky intangibility as soon as he hits it, a swatch of black flows across the scuffed ground, aiming for the hearth and filling it through with darkness. Blots out the fire for the span of a few seconds, before rising like thick smoke up the chute as slickly as a snake through grass.

It is probable that no one noticed the poker no longer present by the hearth.

Spilling out onto the rooftop in the waning light of late day, Gabriel is moving as soon as solid feet hit rooftop, barely needing to check the identity of the figure on the roof before he's swinging still fire-hot poker directly for her one-eyed head.

Back to the chimney, Kira hears the whistle of the poker moving through the air with just enough time to move with startling alacrity, her head jerking to the side away from where the fire-poker cracks against the mortared stone of the chimney where her head was. There's the faintest tremor of fear twangs like a piano string as she spots Gabriel's figure looming beside the chimney with poker in hand.

The eye-patch wearing brunette turns her paired handguns on Gabriel, squeezing the triggers repeatedly as she launches a volley of gunfire towards him, forcing Gabriel incorporeal around the bullets, even as she falls backwards down the slope of the moss-covered wooden shingles. Kira's back strikes the corner of the roof and she tucks into a roll, coming down off of the rooftop and landing in a crouch in front of the bullet-riddled front door, looking up to the roof.

"Stay in here and protect my wife!" Vladimir shouts to Raith in an instruction that, ultimately, Jensen knows is inspired by his own fear more so than anything. Vladimir is afraid, Serise is afraid, Eileen is afraid and Alfonse is afraid. That Kira is marginally calm means little, it also explains why the poked is bent in an L-shape now.

Charging to the door, Vladimir's footsteps thump closer and closer to where Kira is crouched in wait, slowly lifting up her paired pistols to the wooden surface. But she doesn't pull the triggers at all. Insted, she has something to say.

"Now, Linda."

All the dust in the air blots out what little daylight is left, shrouding the roof in hazy gray shadows that are reminscent of neither dusk nor dawn but remind Gabriel instead of a future he once saw in which the boy downstairs proclaimed himself god-king of Nothing. He sees the outline of the woman first, though she has no facial features or even a face to speak of: only an opaque silhouette that blends in with the background except where the dust glances off her body, allowing him the briefest glimpse of Linda Tavara's invisible form before she raises her hand and lighting arcs off her fingertips—

— and jumps into the poker he still has in his. The force of the blast throws Gabriel back into the chimney, which crumbles under his weight and sends large chunks of rock tumbling back down into the hearth. Logs crackle, embers explode outward and flames leap out of the fireplace as pieces of smouldering wood go scattering across the floorboards. Soot fills the air inside the cabin, then a thick, choking smoke.

Up on the roof, colour bleeds back into Linda's shape, and she takes several plodding steps forward, hand still outstretched and lips peeled back into a feral grin directed at the man half-crumpled against the ruined chimney. "Boy have I got something special for you."

Before Raith can protest that his job is to protect Vladimir and not his family (really, not his wife), some part of the chimney explodes down into the cabin, and it's in one moment that Raith knows that staying inside to protect anyone is not going to happen. Protecting Vladimir is still his primary objective, and even though everyone is afraid, what sets Raith apart is nothing more than the fact that, even if he does not master his fear, he controls it and turns it into action.

The next explosion, at least from inside the cabin, is the chair that Raith has transformed into a weapon, hooking his foot through its legs and sending it flying into the Colonel's legs. Volken cannot be allowed through that door, and if making him stumble and trip is the only way to do that, so be it. The second explosion from inside the cabin is the shotgun is Raith's hands, one barrel discharging into the door, weakening it even more than the machine gun fire did, moments before the spy slams his shoulder into it, purposing throwing himself off-center so that, when he appears outside, his only choice will to roll across the ground, hoping that the chaos resulting from the suddenness of action will give him enough time to identify the location of their attacker and then discharge his second- and really, final- shotshell into them. His has exactly one shot. He can't afford to miss. He won't miss.

He is the King of Swords.

The boomerang-bent poker goes skittering across the roof, landing somewhere down below as Gabriel grips the wrist of that hand, teeth showing in mute pain at the burn mark that sears his palm. The dust storm kicks up erratically around them, uncontrolled whorls of movement through the air as he gains back his bearings and stares across at this new unfamiliarity. The only warning she really gets is that hair-line thin crackle of bright blue electricity that shimmers and sparks from one hand to the other, before the left hand with its shiny burn rises—

An arc of raw electricity leaps from his fingertips in zagged lightning spirals towards Linda, somewhat untamed and seeming to fray like a thread in the dust-choked air, but with a goal in mind in the form of the woman who delivered the first one. He does not say, Glad I got you something. But he's definitely thinking it.

Linda's eyes snap open wide, showing their whites, and that self-satisfied sneer transforms into a hitching gasp in the time it takes her to realize what's happening. Her other hand comes up as if to deflect the stream surging toward her. Instead, it passes through and into both her arms, and for a moment a bridge of blinding light hangs suspended in the air between them, crackling angrily with white-hot energy.

When she pushes back, Gabriel can feel the eletricity seem to reverse its flow as Linda attempts to redirect it, but he's physically stronger than she is, and apparently this power doesn't rely on will and mental fortitude alone. "You really are his son, aren't you?" she asks around a snarl, the words bit off through her teeth. "Doesn't matter. We're taking care of that too."

Wood flinders and blood droplets move in slow motion through the air. Through the doorway, Vladimir Volken is falling to the side, one foot kicked up in the air arms windmilling, rifle barely grasped in one hand, a surprised look on his face. Flames are tumbling out of the hearth with hot coals onto the wooden floor, smoke billows, the wind plays at the tall grass in distant fields.

Jensen Raith is barreling through the door, his body a blur of gray and black, a quick flash of pink and then muzzle flash. Kira St.Croix sees it all happening in languid, dragging speed. Her mind processes the information at superhuman speeds, blood from her forearms, hands and legs hanging in the air where she'd been struck by the shot she couldn't see coming through the door. Her vest is shredded on the front, nylon torn to reveal the layered fish-scale style plates of Jensen Raith's personal favorite in modern body armor.

The muzzle flash is fire in slow motion, a burst of light renderedin three dimensions. A thick cluster of buckshot begins to exit the barrel, and like trying to steer a dump truck going ten miles an hour around a parked car, Kira twists her body in that slow-motion time, throwing herself forward and right, lifting her arms up, in the hopes of—

It all happens in the blink of an eye. Raith explodes through the door as Vladimir crashes down onto his side with his rifle bouncing from his hands. Smoke, flames and ash rise up inside of the cabin, accompanied by Serise's screaming as she hustles over to where Eileen and Alfonse are crouched, trying to get them to their feet. "Fire," may be one of the few English words she knows, but it's fortunate that it is.

Raith's shotgun discharges the moment he rises up from his roll, and that black-haired cyclops is pirouetting away from the barrel of the gun, the trail of her long jacket flaring out and then shredded by the gunfire. Kira aim's down with one of her handguns towards Raith, well within arm's reach as her finger squeezes down on the trigger.

Perfectly timed.



Looks like even the King of Swords can miss on occasion. Doesn't matter. 'Click' is exactly the kind of sound he likes to hear, when it's coming from someone else's piece. Unfortunately, it'll come from his too. Change of plans.

"Hold this."

Raith tosses his empty shotgun to Kira as if she had politely asked him to pass it over. Pumping adrenaline allows him to move with frightening speed, given his age. The instant his firearm is in the air, he's in motion again. His pirouette is less graceful than Kira's and is not, in fact, a pirouette, but a grounded, anchored spin that throws extra momentum and power into his foot when it sweeps out at her knee. It doesn't take much to cripple someone's knee, and for someone like Jensen Raith, it doesn't take much more to completely mangle one, either. And there's nobody in the world that can fight with a mangled knee. Nobody.

Struggling to his feet, Gabriel keeps his focus on the trade back and forth of electrical power, near oblivious to the contents of the house beneath his feet, the thunder sounds of shooting below. The purpose behind his presence, even, the fact that it's 1900. What matters most is the raw energy that leaps and sparks and twists between their hands, and of course, the woman's words which nearly splits apart his careful attention altogether as he handles this new, volatile ability.

Not as well as he might like. There are other powers he could be tapping, ones that would probably drop his guard and electrocute him before he can thoroughly trigger a different attack. White-blue light gleams off a grin he splits across at her.

Insidiously, the air begins to mist around Linda, growing abruptly foggy and pressing condensation against her skin, and minor, pricking zaps play out against her exposed skin just as Gabriel gives one last surge of power. The rooftop setting of the farmhouse flares bright like a lightning strike, Linda flung back on the receiving end as Gabriel staggers back against partially crumpled chimney top.

As Linda lifts her head, blinks, Gabriel is suddenly— in no time at all, literally— standing over her, a fist coming down and fueled enough with fear-based superstrength to tear tanks apart by hand or, in this instance, split skulls like overripe cantaloupes A.K.A rockmelons.

Directing Serise and Alfonse out the front of the farmhouse ceased to be an option when Kira dropped off the roof and Eileen, not knowing how many allies the assassin brought with her, finds herself faced with a difficult decision. She can either attempt to put out the fire now spreading through the kitchen, consuming the floorboards underfoot and the flimsy tablecloth sprinkled with broken shards of glass, earthenware and ceramics, or she can drive them to safety through the back.

Either way, she does not have very much time to arrive at a final verdict. The smoke, with nowhere to go except out through the windows, thickens in the farmhouse's interior, swirling in thick black eddies around the shredded wooden rafters with splinters still raining down on their heads.

Something groans in the attic, and the Englishwoman grows tenser still. "«Take him,»" she directs Serise, enfolding Alfonse in his mother's arms, and in the process her hand touches the swell of the other woman's belly. The smoke won't be good for the baby. Neither will the weight of the roof collapsing on Serise when it goes. "«Out the back.»"

Her terse command is punctuated by the sound of crunching shingles as Gabriel's fist connects with the weakened roof rather than Linda's head. There one minute and gone the next, she simply disappears at the moment of impact, though not for long. Footsteps scrape across the shingles somewhere behind him as she climbs to her feet, her body still trembling from head to toe as it recovers from the jolt that landed her on her back, and with the sound of her haggard, uneven breathing comes a stark realization.

Like Gabriel, like Gabriel's father, she has more than one ability.

A pair of arms snake around his front, and Linda's hands find either side of his face. Suddenly, her breath is washing over his neck and he can feel her mouth near his ear, but neither of these sensations is particularly important because their unpleasantness pales in comparison to what happens next.

It's as though the breath is sucked out of Gabriel's lungs and a fist closes around the heart in his chest, squeezing until it begins to slow, then falter. Linda inhales deeply, her lashes fluttering, and as she does silver creeps through Gabriel's mane like gray threads woven through his hair. Something inside of him dislodges and Madeline Baldwin's puppetry is lost to him. Maybe forever.

Or maybe not. Because that's when the roof gives out.

Creaking wood and splintering floorboards give way to an explosion of smoke, embers and flames in the moment that Serise is charging out of the house as fast as her legs can take her, the dirties, tattered hem of her skirt rustling wildly around her ankles as she runs barefoot across the grass out back of the cabin, passing by a pent fireplace poker driven partway into the ground.

Alfonse's screams of fear are muffled against his mother's shoulder, though an eleven-year-old's weight is difficult to manage for a pregnant woman, and as Serise's knees buckle, she collapses to the ground with a wave of cinders, ash and smoke billowing at her back. Rolling onto her side, blue eyes stare up wide at the collapsed roof of the house, smoke wafting up in a pair of thick, spiraling columns together like a helix.

Around the other side of the burning building, a hop backwards with an unloaded shotgun in her hands has Kira narrowly avoiding Raith's kick to her knee. The sheer speed at which her mind and body had to react even with the distraction of the gun implies that there is something superhuman going on here, that the cards are stacked in her advantage.

Swinging the unloaded shotgun around, Kira brandishes it like a club with one hand down towards Raith's shoulder. She hits, sure, but her upper arm strength leaves something to be desired as the impact is mostly just uncomfortable. When she levels her secondary handgun up to Raith and squeezes the trigger at center mass, though, that's got more kick.


Or would, anyway.

Kira's eye goes wide, and it's in that moment that Raith realizes something. She's flushing, skin reddened, sweat beading on her brow, her pupils are highly dilated. She hasn't even been fighting for that long, she's young, and she's clearly athletic. She shouldn't look like a fat kid that just had to run a mile in gym class, and she's making frantic mistakes like with her counting of ammunition.

All of it adds up to something that just might be to Raith's advantage, because it looks like her tank is about to hit empty. It's only through his absolute focus on the situation in front of him that he's able to regard other things, like the roof collapsing, as 'distractions' and keep pushing forward. Tunnel vision: It happens to everyone.

Even with an empty gun aimed at his chest, Raith's hands shoot out to grab both it and her wrist as he steps forward before applying some torque to twist the barrel of Kira's sidearm back around in her direction. And twisting it away from the palm of her hand will do a lot more than just point the muzzle the other way. The finger that is trapped between the grip and the trigger guard will experience the simultaneous hyperextension of every one of its joints. And the sheer volume of pain from that will only open the girl up to further abuse as the spy winds up and wheels his arm around to bash his radius into the side of her head.

Gabriel's cry of shock is drowned out by the creak and tear of the roof giving in, collapsing in; a baking project gone dreadfully wrong. Linda and Gabriel both plummet down within the stalwart stone walls and the tangled debris of collapsed roofing structure and loose shingles gone flying and sliding like scales when someone runs the knife the wrong way across the hide of a fish. It's dramatic and loud and painful, and Gabriel is primarily remembering the ease in which Arthur had drained him of his own abilities, and how much more painful this version is as he feels puppetry slip from his grasp.

Not so long after he hits the ground with the house, durable skin splintering wood instead of sharp wood puncturing skin. On his feet, he scopes a glance around, disoriented, his voice rasping through the wrecked space; "Anything you can do…" Fatigue has him stumbling, broken wood and stone slipping beneath his feet.

Eileen's presence feels like a moth battering against a glass, distracting, frantic, ultimately irrelevant. While he's focused.

Is that what we're calling it now? But it does serve to pool strength in his system, debris cracking underfoot. The first sign of movement through the haze of smokey dust has him twitching a stare over towards it, a hand immediately out. A sound like a gunshot fills the space, and anything that wasn't wrecked before abruptly is in the immediate path of a concussive blast. Gabriel is automatically chasing it and the woman caught in it, lunging as if he really did hunt with his hands.

Tangled in the wreckage of the rafters, Linda flinches away from the cacophanous boom that resonates through the farmhouse, but holds her ground— largely because she doesn't have any choice. Her lower half pinned between two wooden beams, flames lurching up all around her, she makes no immediate effort to free herself. Something feels broken, and it isn't the debris Gabriel's concussive blast sweeps away like battered beach houses in the path of a raging typhoon.

She doesn't have to. She twists around to face him, lips peeled back around bloodied gums, and makes a claw of her hand. What happens then is something Gabriel possesses an intimate familiarity with, but not from the receiving end. His spine goes rigid as if replaced with a metal spire, and his arms lock at his sides. Booted feet grind to an abrupt halt. The joints in his knees seize up.

A flick of her wrist has him bending at the middle and retrieving a glimmer of metal from the wreckage: the Luger P08 handgun, lost in the choas until now. Her finger twitches, guides Gabriel's around the trigger, and she angles the weapon against the underside of his chin.

This is how it feels to be Eden McCain.

"Vladimir! Vladimir!"

Screams rise up over the crackle of flames and the clunk-clatter of wood and stone. Sittingo n her side in the grass as embers drift on the breeze like pyrokinetic fireflies, Serise screams at the flaming wreckage where monsters do battle and her husband and Eileen were last seen. Alfonse is transfixed, blue eyes wide, lips parted, confusion painted on his face even those tears track down his cheeks at the sight of the fire and the silhouettes of monsters fighting inside of it.

Outside of Alfonse's field of view, there is a clatter and crash of wood, a muffled scream from beneath the kitchen table's burning bulk, and when the table's broken top pitches to the sie, a blistered figure rises up onto his knees, one side of his face seared pink and bubbling, an eye milky and hair missing from his scalp.

Borning wood falls of his back, his right sleeve is ablaze, but Vladimir Volken seems fixated on something else. "I am sorry," he whispers, reaching down to grasp at the hand of the woman he had thrown himself atop of when the roof collapsed. His bare hand contacts Eileen's, and a moment later there is a pin-prickling sensation followed by an old, familiar sting. White-hot fire burns inside of her bones, her joints scream in agony and flesh begins to turn an ashy color as veins //blacken under his touch.

As Vladimir Volken steals life from Eileen Ruskin, his skin begins to rapidly heal, hair grows back where there was none a moment ago. All the while, Gabriel is helpless to do anything as he watches Vladimir recoil his hand away from Eileen's now shriveled and dessiccated arm, sweeping fire off of his sleeve and trying to pat himself out.

Vladimir abandons him.

Staggering out of the burning wreckage towards the sound of his screaming wife, Vladimir's voice is raised softly. "It is alright, I— I am fine, I am fine." His clothing is burned, but Vladimir's flesh is not. In the modern era, it is proof of something superhuman, but in Serise Volken's eyes, it's a miracle.

A snap, a scream, a wail and a crack occupy the other side of the house. Where Raith breaks Kira's delicate wrist and finger in his twisted snap, followed by the battering of his hand against the back of her head. The one-eyed soldier goes down, face first, into the wet grass like a sack of bricks. No one can move with the speed and agility she does forever, and Raith just prooved that.

But the moment Kira falls, something else catches Raith's attention, a dark silhouette in the flames, of Gabriel Gray with the muzzle of a gun pressed under his jaw, and Vladimir Volken shambling away and leaving Gabriel to the proverbial wolves.

Kira goes down, and Raith follows her to the ground, removing the pistol from her grip and extracting a fresh magazine from her effects. He needs to be able to defend himself and everyone else from her partner. Who was on the roof. It occurs to Raith, at that moment, that he may have far more pressing concerns than defending himself or anybody else from an imminent threat. His plan to charge back to the possible rubble, however, is thwarted by the realization that Gabriel is in the middle of increasing his daily lead intake. There's only one instant solution that comes to Raith mind, and it has two very serious problems. One is the fact that Gabriel will be really, really mad about having his finger shot off. The other is that, with only a pistol, Raith is unsure that he can even hit Gabriel's finger without also striking other, possibly more vital parts of his body. Stay calm, Jensen. Just let Gabriel work through whatever issues he has on his own. And take some comfort from the fact that, despite everything, Vladimir survive unscathed. Somehow, that fact is strangely disquieting, because as far as Raith knows, that ability would not allow anyone, even Colonel Volken, to no-sell a house falling on them.

There's a wheezing sound of protest at the feeling of cold metal pressed up against his throat, and needless to say that Gabriel is tense — Madeline's power is what makes him that way, currently, the constricting clamp of that power more unpleasant than he'd particularly imagined. Not as bad as telekinesis. (Nothing is as bad as telekinesis.) Dust coats and clings to his skin, his clothes, his hair, near masking the effects of her powerstealing as black hair now peppered with silver is rendered with homogenous dullness, made hazier in the gathering smoke. His eyes like slits as he regards her through eyelashes, a crooked smile forms on his face.

Soft laughter shows teeth and makes the dust that spirals through the air in the immediate track of his breath play new patterns in the air. "Bang," he suggests, as brutal psychic energy suddenly knifes through Linda's brain, cutting loose the tether that binds her soul to body. The force of it knocks Gabriel on his ass in the midst of burning rubble, blood shining in a smear beneath his nostrils at that last ditch effort of power use, a little too little too late with regards to Vladimir already saving himself.

And fatigue is why Gabriel lazily points the gun at where Linda has collapsed, and pulls the trigger.

Pitches the weapon away from himself, turning to climb to his feet, hands like claws through broken brick and wood. "Raith," he growls out, voice sounding rusty. "Get— Eileen— "

Whether or not the bullet hits Linda or punches through the wooden beams she's tangled in, Gabriel won't immediately know. Either way, she isn't getting up, and neither is Kira outside, but as Gabriel is dragging himself to his feet and Raith is still recovering from his skirmish with the other woman, both their still forms flicker, then blink out of existence one after the other, and maybe someone will glimpse Linda's shape stooped over her friend in the instant before Kira goes, one of her hands at the felled woman's shoulder, the other oozing blood through clenched fingers where her palm clasps around a gunshot wound courtesy of the man she tried to murder on the roof.

They're gone, then, and so is Eileen, though their disappearances aren't directly related to one another. The breeze carries the smoke away from the ruins of the farmhouse, exposing the blood-smeared rafters where Linda had fallen, fragments of broken furniture and the remains of the attic and roof, including the blankets and pillows allocated to the Remnant during their stay.

A thick blanket of soot covers everything, and it's only the rapidly changing weather that prevents the inferno from consuming the farmhouse or the fields beyond it. The first droplets of rain glitter in Gabriel's graying hair, and it's either the blood pounding in his ears or distant thunder that he hears. Tendrils of steam rise up from the smouldering wreckage when the heavens part.

Beyond the ruins of the farmhouse, sitting in the rain, there are screams coming from the space beyond still. It isn't screams of panic but screams of pain, screams of frustrated agony that breaks into sobs moments later. It is Serise's voice, followed by Vladimir's urging for his wife to be silent. There is no telling if the battle is over, even in the downpour, but no amount of quelling that scream will have any effect on Serise's desire to wail at the top of her lungs.

Beyond the cabin, she's laying on her back on the grass, hands clutching at her stomach, eyes wrenched shut, breathing shaky and hasty. Alfonse is standing nearby, rain beating down on his blonde hair, flattening it to his head, watching his father crouch helplessly by his wife's side, fingers curled apprehensively against his palms.

Blood is staining the front of Serise's dress.

The Volkens will have to wait a moment. Or, in fact, several moments. Presently, Raith is far, far more concerned with his search for Eileen, somewhere among the collapsed cabin. And through it, his single greatest fear is directly related to the fact that Vladimir Volken seemed unhurt by the event. He barely even remembers the pistol in his hand long enough to tuck it underneath his belt before he's looking in the most obvious places, and then overturning some of the beams. She has to be somewhere in this mess. "Eileen! Say something, you crazy bitch!"

In the rain, errant electricity crackles over Gabriel's skull, leaps between his exposed hands as he crawls out onto open ground with the ruined farmhouse behind him, getting a groan of pain from the serial killer before he clamps the ability down. Content to have his legs fold up under him on damp grass, gracelessly, a hand up to rub palms over his face even as his psychic radar goes haywire in picking out any threats. Only the clusters of minds that is the family some distance from him, Raith's feedback sounding louder to him than his own voice, and Eileen's presence strengthened through avian telepathy. That she feels more angry than critical is good.

He blinks bleary eyes towards the scene playing out like a movie, glances from the wife and the thick blood soaking her clothing, crouching father who earns only fractionally less sympathy than his wife, than boy staring and watching his own history unfold. It occurs to Gabriel to give comfort, some left-field, misplaced urge that sparks lonely in cold apathy, dies before it begins as it had embered for Bai-Chan, for a little while.

Looks over a shoulder to see how Raith is progressing. "She's over there," is dull report, a head tilt to indicate the crumbled wall blocking her from view of their leader.

And she is. Eileen cradles her withered arm across her chest, her pale face streaked with rainwater and soot where her hair isn't plastered to it. She appears to watch the Volkens through the stringy veil without doing any actual watching at all, except through the eyes of the rooks circling the farmhouse as she, like Gabriel, scours the landscape to ensure that the battle is truly won and there aren't any other surprises lurking in the tall grass.

The temptation to go to Serise is strong, but so is the black rage Gabriel can sense, and it turns her heart to the same marble that her complexion resembles, her face's austere features gone ashen and gaunt.

Kazimir Volken was never meant to have a baby brother or sister. To interfere now would risk everything, and although she's almost certain she wouldn't be changing the course of history by moving to Serise's side and holding her hand through the ordeal in her husband's stead, she ultimately chooses to set off in the opposite direction and wade through the grass at a slow stagger.

She isn't immune to spite. Or making decisions that she'll probably regret for the rest of her life.

Thunder rolls across the plains, accompanied by flashes of lightning in the now dark night's sky. The rain is icy cold, prickling so against bare skin. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, a life is lost. Serise's screams pierce the night, first pain, then anguish of a mother's loss. Crouched at his wife's side, unable to touch her with his lethal caress, Vladimir Volken will forever remember the daughter he was going to raise as his own — the daughter he knew could not be his — died before she was ever fully born, no cry ever piercing that night sky.

Vladimir would always remember that it was his son who stood by and watched, crying, when he pleaded with him to help. Theater, art, France; it had all turned him soft, made him less of a man. Vladimir Volken would endeavor, until the day he watches his son lay dying, to harden him into the man he wished he was.

Alfonse Volken would remember this day too, resenting his father for doing nothing as his mother miscarries his sister, as the young girl who could have been a pivotal change in his life was born dead. He would never, truly, forgive his father even in his longing quest to earn the approval from him that he never attained.

Serise Volken would remember the death of her daughter the most, how her husband watched on as she child was bore into the world without breath. Inwardly, she would blame herself for the child's death, believing that her husband refused to aid her because the child was not his. This, coupled with his refusal to lay so much as a hand on her or even sleep in the same bed and the disappearance of both her only son and husband in Leuven, Belgium in 1914 would lead to her suicide just one year later.

None of them would ever perfectly recall what happened the night that cabin burned to the ground. They would never remember the guests who stayed at their home, the monsters who returned to take Vladimir's life, or how the fire truly started. But perhaps somewhere, deep down inside, that subconscious memory of Eileen Ruskin would haunt him through his long, dark life.

Maybe some memories are too powerful to forget entirely. Maybe even suppressed, they help turn a person into who they are. Help them decide what they will do in the future, what lives they take, what lives they spare.

Kazimir Volken would never know his sister beyond the name his mother had etched into her headstone, one that still rests today in a wooded copse outside of what was then Versailles, and is now part of modern day Paris. Under the sagging bough of pine trees, near an abandoned cellarhole is a headstone, mossy and old that reads.

Yvette Volken

November 1, 1900

Some memories are too powerful to forget.

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