Like Alexandria


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Scene Title Like Alexandria
Synopsis The Sentinel purge reaches the Library of Babel.
Date December 25, 2018

Somewhere, people are dying.

That's the kind of truth that inspires depression. Beyond the thick stone walls of the Library of Babel, a war is being waged. The sound of it don't often penetrate the walls, save for a brief but deep rumble of an explosion. The more immediate sounds are those of distress and discomfort. Under the dim glow of candles and oil lanterns, the wounded and the weary seek shelter beneath the tall stacks of books that survived the great flood. At first the refugees taking shelter in the library had cots of their own, then cots or blankets, and now the desperate are huddled together for warmth around small fires with beds and blankets reserved for the wounded.

The threat of the Sentinel is real, palpably so, but it feels less immediate than the threat of winter cold that small grease lamps barely stave off. Winter in the Pelago meant heat supplied by oil-burning, oil brought in from trade with other settlements, traded among the Pelago’s residents. In the midst of a siege, there are no such freedoms. The oil provided by the library running out, and if the Sentinel doesn't kill its residents the cold may do the job for them.

The Library of Babel
Random House Tower
The Pelago

December 25th
5:12 am

Merry Christmas,” comes along with the blank of a sloshing aluminum container down on a chair-flanked table. Ricky Daselles might well be the last surviving member of the Council of Captains, so much as the residents of the Library are concerned. The quarter-full canister of gasoline he's dug up from the partially-flooded lower levels of the building might also be his greatest accomplishment as a captain.

Eve,” comes the half-awake voice of Else Kjelstrom from her seat at the table, turning halfway lidded brown eyes up at Ricky. He opens his mouth, presumably to ask a question, which she cuts off with, “Christmas Eve. It isn't the day yet. Soon,” she says with certainty, “but not today.”

Ricky purses his lips, rolling his eyes as he does. “Whatever, look— that's all there is. Quarter gallon, maybe. Unless we all get real comfortable about snuggling up for warmth, it's gonna be the Morgue of Babylon not the Library of— ”

“Babel.” Another voice joins in, this one younger than the rest. Just a boy, dark-haired and dark-eyed, looking up awkwardly at the back of Ricky’s curly mullet until he whips around at the correction.

Christ,” Ricky splutters, “ain’t there one of you nerds who ain’t gonna correct me?” The dull thud of a distant explosion outside placed an unplanned period at the end of not only Ricky’s sentence, but the entire conversation. Petty squabbling is brought into a sharper focus, the noise of the wounded fills the air in the silence, the muffled sobs of the hopeless quieter than that. Ricky looks down at his feet, then back over to the boy. “Where the hell’s your mom?”

“I’m right here,” Stef responded in her husky voice, entering the room with a skinny black and white cat tailing her. The more people they took in, the more they had to emphasize that the cats were not a food source and anyone who thought they were and acted on such a thing had been kindly shown the dock. They might have been given a boat, but really, it was likely they had not been. She didn’t show fear, as the cat meowed and leaped up onto a book shelf and paced back and forth like the tom was examining everything. Likely he was, if the rumors about at least that cat were true, the cat that the Librarians and residents had called the Commodore.

Stef didn’t follow the cat, moving to give the boy’s shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Things might go very badly, but Stef had some hope. Mostly because she had to. Someone had to. “We’re going to be fine.” If she started to panic, she didn’t think she would stop. So she just wouldn’t let it happen if she could avoid it.

“If we have to, we can burn the duplicate books,” another voice piped up. The tall woman of Japanese descent barely had an accent, due to living in the States as long as she had, with so few left in the Palego who spoke her native language. Sumi didn’t like mentioning such a thing, even as Stef cast a hazel eye in her direction. “Or we can do the copies we’ve made. We won’t freeze.” They had spent years collecting the books they could find had, and between the paper manipulator and the woman who could control ink and make copies without a printer, they had enough they could spare some for firewood.

Not to mention the shelves themselves. They didn’t need all of them.

“The books aren’t kindling yet.” It’s meant to be a hopeful sort of notion. Things aren’t yet so dire that they’re willing to sacrifice the vestiges of humanity they’ve tried so hard to preserve in the years following the flood. Nicole Nichols’ form is less imposing than it may have otherwise been only weeks before. It’s leaner now, looks leaner yet without the leather jacket she’s given away. But the cold doesn’t penetrate to her bones like it does for the others. Her kindness is a mercy they can afford.

There’s a small nod of her head, an acknowledgement of the good deed done. “Thank you, Ricky. This will help.” For a little while. They just have to hold out for…

Nicole sucks in a deep breath and listens to the distant boom of far off cannons. She doesn’t close her eyes. She learned some time ago that she can’t block out the unbidden images with the shuttering of her lids. That would be far too convenient. So she stares past them, past Ricky’s mop of hair and Stef’s resilience.

Nobody here is going to leave her to drown.

"Don't even joke like that!" Something hits lightly against the back of Nicole's head, hitting the ground and rolling into view - a small ball of paper, which likely moments before had been perfectly spherical. It's a dead giveaway to who's speaking, even if her voice somehow wasn't. Behind Nicole, Iris Earhart stands with her hands on her hips, shaking her head.

Iris has more or less been her usual, slightly off kilter self as of late, but it's clear that impending events are weighing on her a bit more than anything else ever seems to.

A small paper crane sits on her shoulder - it's one of those things she does when she's anxious, makes strange paper crafts and carries them around with her. Last time, she was sitting atop a paper tower like a queen, hand shielding her eyes as she looked at the horizon. This time, it's a strange little bird. "Anyway!" She looks over at Stef, and then to Sumi. "The paper would burn too fast anyway. We need wood stock more than just the paper… it wouldn't last long enough to be useful!"

The doors don't so much bang open again as they swing roughly and a raucous thudding of footsteps from new entrants fills the space. Clad in varying levels of samurai-like armor and padding and brandishing an array of weapons - blunt, bladed, polearms and projectile - the small group of Syndicate enforcers bearing them appear stained in blood spatter and soaked in ocean water. This is Marlowe Terrell's entourage… what's left of them.

"Find a spot and get some sleep. Don't stain the furniture," comes Marlowe's voice floating up from behind the group that shuffles forward, parting for their Moses. The mostly official 'queen' of Lowe's HQ makes her way in to one of the last bastions of defenses in the Pelago. "Minna buji na no, Sumi-chan?" Casual in tone though her take on their circumstances are anything but, Marlowe takes stock of the library residents in a sweeping gaze while she loosens the buckles of an armored bracer from her forearm. Nevermind the red that's seeped into her own clothing. "Hope you all don't mind a few more warm bodies around, but hey at least these ones aren't cooling off?"

What little attempt at gallows humor comes from the leader of Lowe's, darkens further with the distant sound of cannons. Marlowe purses her lips into a thin line, sighing heavily through her nose. "All humor aside? We're here to help." It's a phrase she's used plenty of times in several occasions. In the past, the scenarios usually ended with a business transaction. This time, though… "And not expecting anything in return."

Nate Winters turns slowly, wide-eyes as he watches Marlowe and the others enter in their full gear. He’s too young to realize the peril their presence here represents, that if they're in here they're not out there anymore to keep the boogeymen at bay. Though many years his senior, Else likewise seems either ignorant or oblivious to the implications of Marlowe’s arrival. She upturns her dark eyes to Stef, then looks last her to Iris. “They'll all burn the same,” she says to Iris, as if quoting some long-forgotten passage in a lost book.

“Alright,” Ricky interjects before Else continues waxing creeptastic. “So maybe freezing to death ain't the worst option, right?” His attention is fixed on the Syndicate members, raising his voice to a conversational tone as Marlowe approaches the group surrounding the table.

“Hey uh, Miss Lowe,” Ricky cocks one bushy brow, “if you're in here, who the fuck —”

“Language,” Nate mutters, but Ricky continues nonetheless.

“ — is still out there making sure we don't wind up dead come dawn?” To emphasize his point, Ricky wildly gestures to one of the darkened windows. “Is anybody out there?”

“We’re all safe for now,” Sumi responds in English, because she thought everyone in the room needed to hear it and understand it, but she offers Marlowe a friendly smile. But she does add, after a moment, “Watashitachi wa tatakai nashide wa sagaranai.” And it seems that her friend agrees with this sentiment. Especially since she did not mention payment in the end.

Right now, Stef is choosing to ignore Ricky’s panic and his language, except for the small smile when her son corrects him. Yes, that’s her son, alright. Even if some of those who lived here has had to pay the curse jar more than a few times, metaphorically speaking. But he does have a good point. “Having extra bodies is always welcome, Marlowe, we’re glad you could make it,” she asks Marlowe instead of worrying about what it means that those who were armed were here.

“Should we expect any more refugees tonight? Or should all our eyes be looking out for unwelcome guests?” as she says that, she glances toward the cat, who proceeds to stretch and yawn, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.

In spite of herself, Nicole smiles as the paper pelts the back of her head. She brings one hand up to ruffle through her short hair, as though there may have been some minor injury to soothe.

Any good humor, however, is short-lived as Marlowe and her crew make their way in. Apprehension - which hadn’t precisely been absent - takes up a residence in the center of her chest, cold in ways the weather is unable to touch her. Nicole lifts her chin. “I could take a run around,” she offers, looking back the way Lowe’s people came in. “Check our perimeters…”

If they’re here, then the metaphorical walls are closing in.

Pressing her lips into a thin line, luminescent blue eyes slide unbidden to Iris. Worry twists her guts with a sensation of sickness, but it stays off her face, masked by grim determination.

Iris's cheeks puff up as she glares angrily at Else. "Don't say that!" she protests again, this time much more forcefully, her hands balled into shaking fists at her side. She knows full well the possibilities of what's coming, her and Nic had discussed it a few times.

That doesn't make her any more willing to accept it.

That anger quickly gives away to a pout, lowering her head slightly. "I could just slap some paper over her mouth, then we wouldn't have to hear it," she mumbles just loud enough for Stef to hear. It's a joke, bit it also wouldn't be the first time Iris casually adhered paper over someone's mouth, more often as an odd way of entertaining herself.

It's Nicole that really gets her attention, though, Iris blinking and looking up at her. "Oh…" Her tone speaks clearly enough - she doesn't want Nic to go off. "I'm coming if that's what we're doing. I can reinforce some things!" For a bit, maybe?

Marlowe works off her second bracer and tosses it onto the seat of a chair. The side eye she sends Nate Winters precludes a crooked, cavalier quirk of her practically trademark confidence on the exterior. Don't worry about it, the looks implies. The expression shifts to Ricky, the man's question extracting a deep breath and a short sigh. "Oh, somebody is out there," answers the Syndicate leader while she squeezes some drops of water from soggy ends. "But like Sumi said, we're safe for now. Anybody following…"

She turns to Stef, to the cat, then to Nicole and Iris. "See? Anybody unexpected, we'll have 'em covered." What she doesn't state is how it's only a matter of time, and that the Syndicate is spread thin enough already.

"Has anybody else heard from the Cerberus or other ships out there?" she asks instead of thinking on that. "What's the comms like in here?"

“Dead,” Ricky says with a shake of his head, “like us if we don’t figure something out!” Nate flicks a sharp look over at Ricky, then rolls his eyes and steps in front of him as if the boy was suddenly the adult in the conversation.

“They’re jammed,” Nate explains, “that’s what Captain Burnet said before the fever took him.” Sepsis, truly, but Nate wasn’t there to hear the diagnosis or see the late captain’s body returned to the sea.

“Jammed is dead, kid,” Ricky tramples over the conversation, stepping in front of young Nate as if threatened by the boy. “Yeah, whatever, they’ve got some kind of broadcast interference going on. I don’t know if that fucks them like it does us or if it even matters because they launched a fucking missile!” He throws his arms out to the side. “I’m real glad your beat up boys are here though, Lowe, because I was wondering who would save us if the Bad Men came up the stairs.”

He points at Stef, “The librarian,” then Sumi, “the printing press,” then Iris, “the other librarian,” then a flailing gesture at Nate, “the wunderkind,” and finally a jerk of his thumb over at Else, “or the doomsday preacher!

To her credit, Else lids her eyes halfway like a tired cat and lounges back in her chair at one of the book-laden tables, folding her arms over her chest. “God can still hear us,” Else says, as if that were somehow a suggested course of action. Prayer.

While the man raves and points fingers around, the head librarian just bites her lip, holding back an argument that she probably wants to make. “This library is more than the books and the women who take care of them, Captain.” Stef glances toward Nicole, for starters, who had been in charge of the security as well as a lot of other areas. “I wouldn’t underestimate the Library. This isn’t the first threat we’ve faced over the years.” But from the tightness to her jaw, most can see she is well aware that this is the worst.

It had always been best that people had underestimated them, though. It had kept them safe.

“Nicole, can you check upstairs and see if there’s anything insight? And if you see her, tell Tibby that we need eyes in all directions, but not to put herself at risk.” She casts a knowing look right at the black and white cat, who gives a yawn and stretch and then starts to hunker down as if about to pounce on something.

If those who rolled up thought that the worst they would have to face was Marlowe, then she knew they were in for a surprise.

After a moment, Sumi speaks up, to add, “Don’t forget, Captain Daselles. In Jan-ken-pon, paper beats rock.”

Nicole squares her jaw as she listens to Ricky rant. He needs to get it out of his system. Nervous energy doesn’t serve much purpose without an outlet to convert it to productivity. She actually frowns when he doesn’t have some quippy little title for her. Well fuck you too, Daselles.

Stef’s request gets a nod. “Yeah, of course.” Nicole turns to Iris and fixes her with a serious look, resting her hands on her shoulders. “Rissie, I need you to stay here. You can do the most good here with the others.” Her partner isn’t as capable of a speedy retreat as she is. Nicole leans in and presses a kiss to Iris’ forehead. “I’ll be back in a flash.”

Rather than head toward the exit and the stairwell, she heads toward one of the shelves and crouches down to the floor next to it. Resting her hand on a long-since dormant power receptacle, the dark-haired woman disappears with a flash and a quiet pop! that leaves those closest with the hair on the back of their necks standing on end.

"Nic, wait-" Iris isn't quick enough, her protest coming just as Nicole vanishes out of sight. A pout forms on her face, frowning as she looks at the spot where she was a moment ago. "Be safe," she whispers, before turning back to face the others

Her eyes land squarely on Ricky, and her friend becomes a but more lopsided. "Someone's never gotten a paper cut before!" she assumes, hands slipping into the pockets of her old, worn beige coat. As they emerge, the sound of rustling paper can be heard as she slowly pulls a paper bow up out of one pocket that isn't nearly large enough for such a thing, pulling an arrow out of the other.

She points the arrow at Ricky, and smirks. "We may be librarians, but knowledge is power!" she cheerily proclaims like an early 90s PSA. But in her mind, if anyone can put the knowledge available to them in this library to use, it's the four of them.

"Urusee na…" A grumbled voice - a decidedly female voice - rasps out of one of the Syndicate heavies in Ricky's direction, but she's silenced by a turn of Marlowe's eyes upon her in silent chastisement. The woman's submission punctuates with a thump of the end of her improvised mace (a nail-welded, metal softball bat) against the floor.

Satisfied with the show of obedience, Marlowe turns back to Nate and Ricky, her expression serious. "There were two," she states flatly, "and Varlane was only able to redirect one." Her gaze zones out to the bookshelves. After a blink, she's back. A wicked curl returns to the edge of her mouth at Sumi's comment. Marlowe nods slowly, casting another glance around to the library.

The smile grows wider with Iris' cheery PSA, but moreso with the appearance of the bow and arrow. "Now that's a neat trick," murmurs Marlowe admiringly, almost curious, "But where do you get the string?" That said, she reaches up to her tied up hair, pulling off the stringy elastic holding her curls. Her natural hair bursts out in a flop, yet somehow holds its volume (by virtue of product). But then it's her turn to put a power twist on an object as a small spark jumps over her fingers and the string in them while she stretches the matter out, forming a longer length. The final product she eventually holds out to Iris, held out in thumb and forefinger.

"The jamming makes sense, but maybe there's a way we can override it or locate and disable the source," notes Marlowe with a glance over to Stef, golden irises fading back to brown. "Or, fuck it we'll figure it out by semaphore if we have to. We just need to know where the hell the others are before the Sentinel find them first."

“Yeah,” Ricky agrees in a distant, uneasy voice. “We just gotta’ survive ‘till morning so we can do that. Ain’t shit— ”

Language,” Nate mutters behind him.

“— that we can do,” Ricky pivots and levels a glare at Nate before looking back up at Marlowe, “before dawn. Can’t tell what fires are signals and what’re dead ships. Nobody’s heard from Ryans since the Cerberus went under. So I just…”

“The water is cold, but the fish keep swimming,” Else opines, drawing spirals in the margins of her notebook. Ricky blinks a languid look over to her, then back to Marlowe.

Thanks, Else.” Ricky deadpans with one hand against his head. “Really…”

“Just great input.”


Somewhere in the Pelago

5:21 am

Sea spray washes over the sides of a hard-bodied inflatable raft. The motor at the rear roars noisily as the vessel skips across the turbulent surface of choppy surf in the dark of a moonless night. The Pup is all that is left of the Cerberus’ once mighty naval assets, with the mothership now lost beneath the waves after its hull welds broke during the initial onslaught with the Sentinel. Bitterly cold air stings the faces of the small watercraft’s passengers, each one of them surviving on two intermittent hours of sleep and adrenaline.

“That’s it.” Situated at the rear of the raft, Cat Forrest stares with eyes ringed by dark circles toward the tall and dark silhouette roughly a mile away, occluding the still-burning flank of the Empire State Building. The building that was known as the Random House Tower before the flood goes by a different name now, its windows dark so as to not draw attention to its residents. A tactic that, for a time, saved their lives. Ever since the selfless sacrifice of her sensei Magnes, Cat has been a woman of few words, hunched against the cold as she is in her water-dappled pea coat, she looks smaller and thinner than she once presented herself as.

The Library of Babel may hold the greatest repository of pre-flood knowledge left in the known world, least of all the most knowledge in the Pelago. Silhouette by the burning stand of the Empire State Building, it looks like an ominous monument to a war not yet ended. To the survivors of the Cerberus, it’s another battle to come.

”Dad! Dad! Did you see!?”

There is a blink from the old man as Cat’s voice pulls him from the brink of that black pit of grief. It is enough that the… former… Captain’s attention shifts up to the building looming before him, reminding him of his purpose. Pushing to his feet and stifling a groan, Ryans feels the exhaustion pulling at his body. It wasn’t time to show weakness. Not yet. So he uses a bit of his ability to help him straighten with more grace then he really had.

Only Huruma truly knows what Ben’s going through, the fierce storm of emotions threatening to topple him. So many lives… because of him. Only the strength of his will keeps him on course.

A calloused hand grips the edge of the controls to maintain his balance. “See if you can hail anyone,” he asks of Asi, his voice rough from shouting orders. This way, they don’t get shot up by their own people.

Asi snatches the radio receiver from its resting place, ignoring the way her raw fingers ache. She wears a set of goggles to shield her eyes from any more unnecessary strain, not wanting to give them reason to sting to when she was already running on nothing but spite at this point. “Library, this is Asi and the crew of the Cerberus. We’re approaching from the north in an escape boat. Repeat, friendly approaching from the north. We’re bringing news and fighting, able bodies— where should we dock up, over?” Deadpan, straightforward delivery of the message is betrayed by the steel in her shielded gaze, her readiness to finish this.

On her back, she wears her sword. At her hip, someone else’s gun.

She shifts in her seat, free hand weaving into her pocket while her foot braces against the front of the raft. Eyes are kept ahead even as fingers close around keys to a tower, a home destroyed. Perhaps the fight in the Stormfront goes more smoothly than the counteroffensive here. The way things were looking…

With a hard blink to refocus her gaze, Asi returns to the present. She shouldn’t think such things. The fight wasn’t over yet.

With Ryans at the helm of the boat, it gives Huruma scant time to sit and rest and add to the equally scant energy they've somehow managed to dredge up. She is sat back against the console, shielded from saltspray by virtue of just a hooded layer of coat.

No rest really comes, though; her body is tensed and alert the entire ride, breath still riding waves of its own between memory and the present. They've all lost a lot today, some clearly more than others, and that invisible fiber between herself and Captain Ryans remains coiled tightly at each end. Triple knotted, if her determination has anything to do with it.

As Asi raises the radio to test the airwaves, Huruma stirs and rises up from her huddle to survey the water's surface and the horizon beyond that.. The dark skin under her eyes is all the more prominent for the color of them. Red, from saltwater and silent, steely salt of her own.

She's ready, though.

She always is.

Wrapped in a jacket that she stripped from somewhere, from someone, Squeaks makes a small, becloaked silhouette not far from Cat’s vantage point. On her frame, it hangs more like a trench coat, long in the sleeves and draped just past her knees, but it cuts the worst of the spray and cold — useful for the times her turn for a nap has come up. When the woman speaks, she lifts her head from a similar study of the dark waters and distant lights to look at the building they've been searching for.

Her attention swings to Ben next. The captain’s first orders aren't meant for her, but she moves anyway. It helps keep the slogging exhaustion from finding her.

The teen eases away from the front of the small craft to approach the old man. Not to say anything because she doesn't have wise words to offer. She just makes herself a presence, a reminder that they're alive in spite of everything they've faced. She gives Ryans’ sleeve a single tug when she's near, a thing that's become habit during the endless days or nights.

The radio returns a dull hiss of static. There's either no one to receive their hail or no one is manning the transmissions. Or, perhaps more worryingly, the Sentinel are deploying some kind of electronic countermeasures against radio contact. It might explain why the two-ways have been quiet for as long as they have. Shifting forward away from the rudder, Cat comes up beside Ryans and rests a hand on his bicep. It's a wordless gesture of consolation, one delivered in sympathy. They'd both lost family to the Sentinel.

Cat’s grip on Ryans’ arm tightens as she sees something up ahead, silhouette by the firelight. “Ship,” she whispers, but it's lost over the engine. “Ship,” Cat says loud enough to be heard a second time. Sure enough there's a sailboat passing out from behind a Pelago skyscraper, lantern lights on the deck and blood running over the sides like it was a whaling vessel. It isn't. The silhouettes on board appear to be armed in the dim lamplight. Sentinel soldiers who secured a new vessel.

“Radio off and cut the engines,” Is snapped out by the Captain with no hesitation. Ben can feel the weight of his body on his aching joints as his ability shifts to the important matter of keeping them away from that boat. He seems to almost visible hunch under his own weight. As soon as the engines go silent, everyone onboard will feel the sudden shift of the boat from forward to slipping backwards, keeping them out of the lamplight and into the shadows of the remaining buildings.

The only sound could be the slap of the water against the hull, but even then… that could be any sounds.

There is a part of him that wants to decimate the lot of them all, but there was more at stake than just his life.

Benjamin takes a moment to look at the few that were left of his rescue crew. “We have a choice,” he rumbles out softly, keeping his voice down. His head turns to the enemy boat and nods towards it. “Remove the threat?” He turns to look another way and nods towards it. “Or try to slip past it. My head and my heart are of two minds on this. People’s lives depend on our choice here.” It took a lot for him to admit that weakness.

Ben looks to Huruma and asks simply, “What say you?” Then to each of the others. “Revenge or Stealth?”

Revenge, obviously screams the hard-eyed look Asi cuts back in the captain's direction. She barely withholds from voicing disapproval at them cutting their engines. But charging in might have been too headstrong. Instead, she settles for, "Both."

At least, if that's an option.

"We kill them while they're exposed or wait until they have backup." She's never given into considering a scenario where they retreat entirely from the Pelago. Unless dragged to safety, she'll either see the Sentinel driven out or die trying. "This—" And the hot anger in Asi starts to temper, her voice becoming less passionate. "This is an opportunity. We should take it."

The ache and pain inside and out which seems to plague Ben even more right now can only be subsided properly with rest- - but barring this, Huruma does offer a hand to his shoulder and a flush of something both reassuring and emboldening. It's not much, but it gives that phantom warmth nonetheless.

The dark woman doesn't answer at first, instead looking on as silence creeps in and Asi whispers her assent. Lean frame bristling against saltwater, Huruma's mouth flattens and the lines of her face are stark in the dimness.

After self-imposed silence and a brief dissociation in her gaze, Huruma runs her tongue over teeth before answering. "She's right. And we do need that ship."

As the grownups each give their answer, Squeaks watches and listens. One hand lifts to press hard against the medallion that hangs from her neck, covered by shirts and jacket. A reminder and a promise to herself. She isn’t here for revenge or to be a hero. She’s here because this is her home, and these people her family every bit as much as the Lighthouse was. Is.

“Both,” she agrees on the heels of Huruma’s words. “That boat could be our sneaking way in. They wouldn’t expect their own ship to be coming in against them.” The teen’s head lifts slightly, to look at Asi and Huruma, then Ryans and Cat.

“Both is good,” Cat agrees, fingers winding tight around the grip of her dead master’s sword, finalizing the majority rule. Ryans runs a democratic crew, whether it’s a dinghy or a warship.

Democracy just voted for blood.

With the engines cut off the passengers on board the Pup are ghosts against the blackness of night. The current draws them slowly onto the same path of the rusting whaler, its blood-streaked sides lapped by the icy darkness of ocean waves. Huruma easily gets a head count of their quarry aboard the vessel, nine souls divided between five above deck and four below. Based on the taste of their psychic imprints, none of them feel like prisoners. Not that the Sentinel has been keen on taking those.

Through binoculars with one cracked lens, Squeaks can see the Sentinel on board the deck are dressed for the winter weather with thick jackets and heavy scarves, comforts that will also need to be salvaged along with the vessel they’ve commandeered. It may not be as good of a disguise as they’d hoped, what with this being something the Sentinel must have taken by force. As they close in, Ryans’ spots the original designation printed near the prow. The Cutthroat, more often seen at Palisades Sill than the Pelago. Had the fighting already spilled into the Sill?

Crouching by the silent motor, Cat’s white-knuckle grip on Magnes’ sword remains adamant. She is coiled like a spring, tense and full of potential energy, waiting to strike. Huruma could undoubtedly fill the entire crew with dread and terror at this distance, but without her companions ability to fight back should the panicked crew open fire such a feat would only serve to make them aware of their approach.

Instead, the Pup is navigated with makeshift oars of flotsam toward the port side of the whaling vessel where netting spills over the side of the ship like the entrails of some great beast split open by predators. As soon as the Pup brushes with the vessel’s side, Cat springs into motion to lead the attack up the ship, climbing the netting like rigging with one free hand. When she climbs up onto the deck she only rises into so much as a crouch, unsheathing the blade and letting it flicker through the air, catching lantern light in a gleaming arc as it cuts through the belly of one Sentinel soldier whose gurgling scream cuts the air just as readily.

There is only a small nod of his head acknowledging each voice in turn, unable to shuck off the mantle of his position with the sinking of his ship. It was his nature and has always been. Huruma can feel his anxiety over the choice, but also the acceptance… allowing the fires of revenge be stoked again.

“Slaughter them all,” growled out in a heated growl, “but try to leave one for questioning,” Ben adds reluctantly, crouching again with a pop of aging joints. His ability stays focused on the boat and closing the distance between them on the Cutthroat.

They would either succeed or he’d join his family in eternal sleep. He’d welcomed either outcome, but may favor the latter.

Taking advantage of Cat’s distraction, Ryans loops an arm around Squeak’s waist and launches them off the Pup with a push of telekinesis, forcing anyone left behind to hold on as the boat wobbles from the energy of it.

When the old man lands at the bow of the ship, he tries to quietly, but with the extra weight from Squeaks, his boots thump heavily on the deck with a soft grunt. Letting go of the girl frees him up to turn his ability on the enemy, launching the first guy he sees roughly towards the side of the boat, using only a casual sweep of a hand.

Then he sees it….

“Squeaks.” Her name is spoken gruffly as he points out a harpoon cannon not too far from them. That’s all the instruction she gets before he turns towards the fight again. In this world, there is no such thing as keeping weapons out of the hands of children. A sad and yet, a necessary evil, especially when they have proven to be capable in combat.

Ben prays he doesn’t regret this decision.

Asi is off the boat before it starts to rock, leaping after Cat onto the rigging. She unsheathes the sword across her back after slinking onto the deck. Between Cat's gutting and Ryans' sweeping use of his ability, she feels good about their initial odds. But: they needed to keep the Sentinel's attention split, specifically just off of their leader and the child he carried aboard with him.

She lets out a warcry as she rushes the man closest to Cat's prey, poised as she brings the katana down in a slash across his torso hopefully before he can react. It feels completing, bringing her journey full circle to be able to strike out at the Sentinel like this. Each face might as well be that of Shen Gong Wu. Each swing makes her heart sing.

Asi charges on to the next closest target as soon as she takes care of the first, eagerly chasing more of that feeling.

Though there is no need for her to, Huruma closes her eyes for a few moments to pick out the exact points of the crew ahead, psychic antennae giving her time to harbor the briefest of plaintive thoughts for the lost, and a prayer for whatever forces out there are patron over righteousness. It's enough, at least for her. For now.

Salt spray slicks over Huruma's frame as she claws her way up onto the boat; last off, her eyes angle up to quickly study the first hits, bloodhound's senses tugging her in the other direction towards the stairs into the lower deck. Her crouch is practiced and what energy she has conserved is carefully portioned, a skinning knife braced in one hand, the other at her side.

The blade does its job a few moments later, sliding around the throat of the guard standing at the door, carving up through vein and skin and voice. Huruma's free hand is muffled against their face, even as she draws them down. Warmth blooms on her clothes again, blood a small mote of heat against cold.

A grunt escapes Squeaks as she's suddenly lifted by some force of Ryans’ ability. The hand that had lightly tugged at the man’s sleeve now grips it tightly, surprise more than anything driving instinctual reaction. But even that surprise is masked by determination, only the fingers wrapped tightly in the fabric of the captain’s sleeve giving it away. Her eyes look ahead, to whatever place they might land, trusting it's not going to be in the water.

She stays at the old man’s side upon landing, her booted feet touching much more gently. With solidity beneath her again, she starts to take in the layout of the deck until her attention is directed to the harpoon cannon.

“Got it.” The girl darts a look up to the captain, then slips away to take control of the weapon.

Quick but crouched steps carry her through the darkness, slinking away from the unfolding chaos. There's trust that the crew, her crew mates, will hold attention and allow her to get into position unnoticed. Just a few seconds, maybe a moment, is all she needs.

The five Sentinel on the deck of the ship are cut down as quickly as the Cerberus crew could get aboard. When four more come hurrying up from below decks at the sound of conflict, they find themselves walking into the middle of a killing floor. Cat steps out from beside the doorway after the first three exit, cutting the fourth and final Sentinel soldier off from his advance and driving the curve of her sword through the side of his neck. She twists the blade sideways, levers with her elbows, and separates his head from his shoulders, sending both parts tumbling back down the stairs.

Another is soon to catch presence of Asi’s matching blade, one that cleaves through the unarmored Sentinel soldier as easy as the blades on this ship once cut through whale flesh. As he screams and hits the floor, the two in the middle turn back to back, each raising battered assault rifles to—


The sound the two men make when they are impaled to each other is horrifying. A gurgling, rasping scream that deflates like a sad balloon. The only sound louder than their death rattle is simultaneously the firing of a harpoon and the impact of the harpoon into the deck of the ship. It trails a cable of braided metal between where Huruma and Asi stand, spooled all the way back to where Squeaks stands behind the harpoon gun, turned inward toward the ship.

They were a bit eager. Ryans didn’t get his captive.

A booted foot, toes at the leg of one of them men impaled on the deck, of course, it rolls lifeless. Surveying the rest of the carnage, a heavy sigh rolls out the old man.

Welp… So much for that idea.

After a long moment of reflection, Ben speaks up with a, “Good job, crew.”

There is no sarcasm in those words, he showed pride in how quickly and efficiently they dispatched the enemy. It gave him hope. No reason to cry over spilled milk, he thinks sweeping the small twinge of disappointment under the rug.

Wrapping a hand around the end of the harpoon sticking up out of the deck. He gives it a test jiggle, his ability wrapping around it to test if he could pull it out. They couldn’t leave it there. “Search them, salvage what you can of their weapons and clothing. Dump the bodies overboard.”

The captain turns to the technopath, “Get us there.” Asi knows where. “See if their radios are working while you’re at it.

The blade Asi carries with her is wiped clean on her sleeve before she stows it again, satisfied that the lack of additional movement or sound means they've dispatched all of the terrorist crew. The order to take the wheel is heard, accepted without argument. Heading into the pilot's cabin, she takes her time in resetting the course of the ship before she even begins to think about the radio. The escape boat they'd coasted in on is left in the wake of the larger vessel as Asi points them in the direction of the darkened Library towers.

She glances at the ship's communications panel, eyes narrowing before she ultimately leaves that one be in the event of any Sentinel communications that come through on the channel it was tuned to. Instead, she unhooks the handheld she'd clipped to her gear before leaping aboard the Sentinel craft. She tries again, the same way she had before: "Library, this is the Cerberus, do you copy?" Anxiety about the earlier silence spikes, frustration mounting with it. She lets only a moment elapse before she depresses the trigger again.

"Shit, is anyone there?" Asi asks into the static, and receives only more of it in reply. She sets aside the handheld, still listening to it in the hopes of hearing something else come through. At the same time, she turns up the speaker for the ship's communication device, in the hopes they might at least intercept a transmission there.

The knot of anxiety in Asi deepens with the continued silence. Their small victory in this takeover would mean nothing if they could not reconnect with the rest of the Pelago's fighters or if they were unable to stop the last of their strongholds from falling.

If The Library At The End Of The World was lost, the Sentinel might as well have won here, even if the survivors of the Pelago managed to regroup and drive them out. The knowledge enshrined there contained both a link to the past and hope for a brighter world. Asi takes a moment to pull her goggles up her forehead before resuming a tight grip on the wheel, eyes ahead on the dark horizon.

There are too few of them to be satisfied. Huruma sets to looting the bodies as if she were just waiting for the go-ahead, and she's going to take Special Delight in flinging some dead men into the sea. She comes away with a few additions, and a thicker coat against the chill. Pay no mind to the blood. Or the hole.

If it works, it works.

With Asi at her post in the cabin, Huruma trails behind her, hovering at the entrance and listening closely. If the other woman's words worry her, she doesn't show it. Instead, Huruma takes this time to make use of her vantage point and concentrate the thousand-handed reach of her field to feel as far as it can push.

Huruma's eyes still, pupils pinning and staring, distant in her focus.

“Oh,” is a breathed response the to report of the harpoon cannon. Much like a kid who'd pressed the big red button. Squeaks looks away from the squelched, pinned people, a little guilty at just what she'd done.

Her eyes find Asi first, drawn to the technopath’s movement. Then she searches the deck until spotting Huruma, Cat, and Ben. The task of salvaging is left to the adults, while she remains posted with the cannon. It needs to be reloaded, made ready to be used again.

“All hail the Cerberus II,” Cat says with a lopsided smile as she cleans off the edge of her blade on the wool jacket of a dead man.


The Library of Babel

Six hundred and eighty-four feet above what was once ground level, the Random House Tower looms high above the sea level some three hundred feet below. A cold and driving wind carrying sleet and freezing rain scours the rooftop, having torn apart some of the tents and shelters erected there amid rooftop gardens. When electricity crackles and pops up from a wall socket by the staircase it quickly coalesces into the form of Nicole Nichols. There are a handful of burning lanterns by which to see the surrounding carnage, the burning hulks of sinking ships forming fiery blockades between the looming concrete of Pelago buildings. Those buildings look more like tombstones lately.

The entire roof was supposed to be covered, that’s the first thing Nicole realizes is amiss when she materializes. The cold rain soaks through her clothes and the enormous tent that should be covering her point of arrival has collapsed, a large windblown length of the canvas snapping over toppled tables and broken furniture. In the lantern light, she spots the first of the bodies. It’s like a squall dropped down on the roof, tore up everything in a hurricane of winds, and then evacuated to leave behind only destruction. A leg sticks out from under one of the tarps, a rifle discarded a little bit further away.

But there’s shell casings glittering in the dark. You don’t shoot at the weather.

The cold wind is a sharp shock on the moment of arrival. Nicole’s eyes go wide for a moment until she realizes that the canvas has just been blown down. That relief only lasts a second or two before the rest of the scene begins to register.

Carefully stepping through and around the debris, she makes her way over to the rifle, kneeling down to retrieve it. She glances at the leg not far from the weapon. There’s no urge to find out who it belongs to, she realizes, and feels uncharitably toward herself for that. There will be plenty of time to count their dead later. She starts to rise.

Unless they’re not dead.

A sigh escapes her lips as she returns to her crouch and scoots forward to start to lift the tarp and check the status of the person beneath it. The toe of her boot nudges against one of the shell casings and Nichols freezes in place, listening as she slowly pulls the rifle closer to her chest, adjusting her grip. In case she needs to use it. Something is already on their doorstep, much closer to home than she would like it to be.

There were only a few floors between the roof and the Library proper where Stef and the other survivors were holed up. Only a few floors that would need to be descended through before an armed force came spilling into the Library. As the hairs on the back of Nicole’s neck start to stand up straight, she realizes it isn’t just because of adrenaline and the dawning realization that she passed them on the way up through the electrical system.

It’s because she isn’t alone.

A knife finds its way into the right side of Nicole’s torso just below her ribs. It misses her lungs and is too far forward to hit her kidneys, not that she has the time at present to confirm any of that. The sudden searing pain comes at the same time that a hand is trying to grab her mouth and cover it with a leather-clad palm. Except the shock of being stabbed isn’t the only shock to come. Whoever attacked her didn’t see her arrive. Or they’d have known—

They were in for a shock too.

Nicole reflexively releases a blast of electricity from herself as she’s stabbed, a fight or flight response that sends her attacker staggering away as if blasted by a taser. The metallic clatter-clink of a knife striking the rooftop means he’s disarmed, but the agony of the electrocution courses through Nicole’s bones, sparks in her teeth and sinus cavity. It’s raining, she’s wet, grounded. Through vision blurred by pain she sees the dark clad frame of the man who stabbed her clutching his knife hand, teeth gnashed together. He’s shorter than her, broader, older. Dark eyes flick up to Nicole, he has a gun on his hip.


She’s only going to get one breath before she has to make that choice again. Fight or flight.

Nicole’s eyes go wide in surprise and terror. The knife clatters to the rain soaked ground and she manages to keep from following suit. She hasn’t survived this long by freezing up when danger arrives at her door - but it’s been some time since it was quite this — This.

Fuck!” Finger squeezes the trigger, popping off two rounds at the center of her attacker’s mass even as she’s scrambling back toward the nearest conduit. She could stand her ground and fight, and wants to sorely give back as good as she’s gotten so far, but warning the others is paramount.

Fumbling the rifle, she reaches out for her point of entry with one blood-slicked hand so she can make her exodus.

Feng is struck both times, the first staggering him and the second knocking him flat on his ass. His knife goes sliding across the floor giving Nicole the time she needs to scramble to the rooftop outlet and touch, disappearing in an audible crackle-snap of electricity —

The Library at the End of the World

The Pelago

5:43 pm

There are no other ships en-route to the Library’s sea entrance level. Even on approach the crew of the ostensible Cerberus II have spotted the docks of the library destroyed, burned and sunk into the sea to prevent easy access to the structure. They were following invasion protocols, they were pulling up the rope ladder, so to speak. A few half-sunken wrecks float around the Library that give pause, ships with recognizable designs that weren’t a part of the Sentinel’s fleet.

“Nothing from comms,” Cat reports as she steps out onto the deck from the cabin, moving up to Ryans’ side. “Asi’s been keeping a close eye on it, but so far it’s blank. Sentinel might be operating on radio silence, or maybe they’re just jamming everyone.” She looks up to the cloud-filled night sky, squinting against the freezing rain and sleet. “Maybe that aurora — if it’s still up there — is interfering too. We’d picked up some weird stuff…”

As Ryans assesses the entrance to the Library, one floor up through an area where the glass windows had long ago been demolished and a large portion of the buildings side fell into the ocean, he sees one simple solution to entrance: harpoon gun.

Huruma, however, has noticed something else entirely. A meter off the port side of the Cerberus II, a matte black and gray motorized raft adrift on the water. It appears to have come untethered from a mooring with a black nylon tie line drifting on the surface of the water beside it. This looks military, this looks Sentinel. They may already be inside.

“Mmmm,” is growled out in agreement to that assessment, but he didn’t like it. The captain looks upward at their way best way into the building. Ryans sighs out and turns to the group.

“This is it,” Ryans says gruffly. “This is our last hope of getting to our people.” He looks out over the ocean around them, “And a lot of people lost their lives to get us here, lets not let their deaths be in vain.” He reaches down to pick up one of the recovered assault rifles and slings it over her head to settle across his shoulders.

A hand raises to get Squeaks attention from her spot at the harpoon. The two of them had discussed this plan already and she had deadly aim. With a flick of Ben’s wrist he gives Squeaks the order to fire.

Asi watches on from within the cabin, working with the ship to get it at a good angle for their anchoring shot to fire at. This was one way to make berth, all right. She takes one last look around to see if there's anything worthwhile to grab and take with them, including refastening the handheld radio to her person. The last checks include sweeping a look over the waters behind them for any telltale moving lights that indicate other Sentinel might be enroute here.

"We need to assume they're already inside," Huruma appears at the captain's shoulder with a jerk of her chin towards where the raft lingers, free-floating and distinctly empty. "There will likely be no more sneaking once we're up there." Her assessment comes in a murmur, and a look over to where Squeaks holds onto the machine.

She looks back into Ben's face, tongue running across the edge of her teeth and eyes somewhere between sunken and hungry. "No prisoners?"

Because that's clearly what she wants.

She’ll know her answer from the taste and feel of the dark emotions that roll through him, but for the rest, Captain Ryans speaks up in a deep gravel-filled growl…

“Kill them all.”

From her post, Squeaks keeps watch on the remainder of their already small crew. Her hands rest too easily on the cannon, ready for the signal to fire, feet positioned for balance while the ship cuts through the water and as a buffer for recoil from the harpoon cannon. And when the Library comes into view, she shifts her attention to the building. Her grip tightens and the cannon moves with her in coiled readiness.

The girl takes in a quick look. She'd visited once, not long after arriving in this world that's both incredibly different and frighteningly similar to her own. The destruction is disheartening, but she huffs against the sinking feeling. No time for that.

Anticipating the captain’s orders, Squeaks begins searching for a place to anchor. Her site settles on a point, a clear shot, and she flickers a look to Ben. As soon as his hand lifts…

…she fires.


In the Library

Conversation had died down in the handful of minutes Nicole was gone for. Else sits in silence at one of the long library tables, scribbling in her journal with brows furrowed. Ricky has gone to sit by one of the dwindling fires, warming his hands and looking worried. Nate had gone off to talk to Lowe, wanting to hear all about what she and her people had been through with a child’s sense of wonder.

All that stops when the audible crack of a rifle echoes twice in rapid succession. Everyone in the library startles from the sound, and a split second later all the hairs on the back of all the necks rise as Nicole Nichols explodes back into the room in a shower of electricity, visibly bleeding from her side.

They’re here.

People might have moved around while Nicole was gone, but Stef had not moved off very far, doing one of the only things that can keep her calm, moving to the shelf and making sure that all the books were in the right order. Such a thing might not seem like something of importance, but this was one of the few rooms that had original books in it, and she couldn’t help but do something. As soon as the zap is heard again and deposits the bleeding security guard back where she’d come from, the head librarian can’t stop of the soft gasp and she leaves a book on its side as she moves over to where the woman landed. “How many?”

Sumi, however, whispers a curse in Japanese that at least Marlowe could understand and begins to move toward the only entrance, a sudden shimmer of slick liquid rising up from under her coat, covering her face and hands in lines of delicate shiny black ink. At a time like this, hiding was not an option.

The black and white cat on the shelf hisses and then looks around as if trying to find something, or perhaps, pass on a message.

Nicole gasps and holds her side as she bursts into solid form on the floor. “I don’t know,” she hisses out between her teeth, pulling herself up into a sitting position. “I tagged one on the roof. More are coming. I didn’t see…”

Blue eyes, duller now than they were when she left, seek out Iris’ form. “Rissie.” One bloody hand reaches out for her lover briefly before it plants on the ground so she can push herself up to stand. “You’ve got to—”

To what? There’s nowhere to run. No where they can hide.

Regardless, Nichols isn’t going down without a fight. Without taking others to hell with her.

"Nic!" Iris is quick to rush to the other woman's side, the paper bow collapsing back down into itls composite sheets in her hand. With a flick of her wrist, they become slightly less rigid, and as she reaches Nicole's side she moves to place several days of paper over the wound like a Band-Aids.

Miraculously, they stick like one too. It's not the first time Iris has had to put temporary bandages on her partner, and Nicole can feel the familiar way it holds tight against her skin.

"Stay close," Iris whispers to her, reaching up and wrapping her arms around the other woman's shoulders, head pressed against her. "I've got to make sure you're okay, until I can't."

She leans back, offering her a sad smile. "If the Library burns, than at least we go together." There's a solemn look on her face that suddenly breaks as her lip twitches, unable to keep back to reluctantly dredged up snicker. "Like a proper romance novel!"

Nate may have been getting a rendition of the plot for Return of the Jedi, for all that Marlowe had been describing the various skirmishes that had taken place until she and her current crew of guards and militia fighters had come to the Library. "The key is that we don't make another mistake of being split up for too long," she advises the boy. "One pencil will snap if you bend it hard enough. Put many together in a bundle, and—"

The sound of gunshots above cut her off. Marlowe glances up, jovial manner falling away like a split Noh mask. The others of the Syndicate are already startled to their feet and grasping at weapons. Nicole's reappearance has Marlowe standing. "How the fuck did they get to the roof?" she curses, but that's beyond anyone's ability to answer here and now. So with that, her next words come more as orders. "Stay back here, take care of her. I'll be right back."

The leader of the Syndicate quickly steps away, headed for the doors which she and the others came through, and those which she'd seen. Opening one, Marlowe peeks around to study the basic structure with the door attached to the wall. Placing a hand on the wall, she exerts her power upon it, blue and white miniature bolts of energy skittering away from her fingertips. The goal becomes clearer as she pulls the material like putty, drawing it over the doors to conceal the existence of them and make it appear like this section of the library doesn't exist to the outside.

All to buy them some more time.

Mom,” Nate nervously splutters out, moving swiftly over to Stef’s side and hooking an arm around her. As he does, he lifts up and off of the ground, floating weightlessly by her side with his grip moving from her waist to her bicep as though he were a scared little balloon tethered to her.

“God damnit,” Ricky hisses, pulling a handgun from the back of his pants and moving to the doors, only to find that they’re sealed by Marlowe’s ability. He pauses, looking to the handful of her security team she’d come in with, then around the room with wide eyes. Spotting what he was looking for, Ricky barrels up the stairs to the balcony on the second floor overlooking the library floor. Here, he finds a couple of other survivors and the three flip over one of the tables and duck behind it for cover.

Still seated, Else looks up to watch the table flipped, then cranes her head to the side as she listens to the sound of rain pattering on the windows. Captain Tibbs hisses loudly again, ears pivoting around as she scrambles across the bookcase she’s perched on.

“Mom, I’m sc— ” The rest of Nate’s words are drowned out by the sound of shattering glass erupting inward from the ocean-facing side of the library. Four windows simultaneously explode as figures in dark colors body armor come swinging in on ropes. Gunfire fills the air, muzzle flashes popping brightly as the Sentinel soldiers rappel down into the Library from the outside of the building.

To be honest, Stef might have even admitted she was scared too, if the words had finished and if the explosion of glass hadn’t been followed by a rain of deafening bullets. She grabs onto her floating son and pulls him toward one of the bookshelves, trying to use it as cover, pulling him close to her as she does and even trying to put her body between him and the windows. The shelf also is between them, heavy thick wood and books of thin paper. She doesn’t seem to be bleeding.

Sumi isn’t quite so lucky. She spins as a bullet impacts her arm, hand flying out and a spray of ink flows through the air in the direction of the fire. There’s a curse under the dark-haired woman’s voice and she drops down to a knee, black ink spreading around her on the floor, mixing with the red blood that drips down her arm. The cat on the bookshelf’s hair rises up, and he jumps down gracefully and dodges behind the furniture, apparently unscathed, ears flat against his head and tail bristling.

Marlowe bars the doors. Ricky begins creating cover. Nicole places a warm hand against Iris’ cheek and pulls her in to kiss her hard. At least she won’t have that regret if things go completely south tonight.

And they do appear to be on that trajectory.

“Get down!” Nicole cries, shoving her partner to the floor and throwing herself over the top of her as the glass shatters and bullets begin spraying. Once she’s sure neither of them is dead, she rolls over on her side, granting Iris freedom of movement. She raises the gun she collected from the roof and fires on the invading Sentinel as she scrambles for the nearest bookshelf.

The pain in her side makes the world swim in her vision and she slumps back as soon as she’s made it to the aisle, the shelf wobbling slightly as her weight presses against it. Nicole slowly turns her head, looking to see whether Iris has followed her lead, or taken on the offensive.

That last moment before everything goes to hell is savored, Iris' hand finding Nicole for just the split moment they have, crumpling to the ground when Nicole instructs. The moment is taken to run her hand across scattered paper on the floor, hers and otherwise. It clings together, to her hand as she sweeps it across the floor. She knows she's going to need as much as she can, and damaging any non-duplicate books is a last resort.

As Nicole rolls off of her, Iris counts in her head; one, two, three, four. It's on that count that she quickly raises her arm, flicking her wrist as paper rises up and forms into a rod of some sort. Attempting something resembling grace - and largely failing - she scrambles up to her feet and holds out the rod towards the intruders.

A smile crosses her face and she presses an invisible button on her shaft, causing the front end of it to billow out - it's not an odd shaft of paper, it's an umbrella. One still made of paper, but resilient enough to somehow stop a hail of bullets thrown her way. She can't help but giggle despite the severity of the situation as she twirls it once before rushing over to join Nicole. She's not crazy, just excited to get to flex a little for once, even if the situation is dire.

The umbrella folds back in on itself, Iris running a hand down the shaft once she's safely behind the bookcase with Nicole. She takes a deep breath, reforming it into the bow she had shown to the others earlier, stringing it with - yep - paper. "We gotta help Sumi!" she practically shouts, looking over to Nicole as she plucks a piece of paper from… the edge of her jacket? "The paper should staunch the bleeding as much as bandages. Don't worry about staying too close. Just be careful!"

The look in her eyes also says but don't go too far.

Marlowe ducks as gunfire explodes into the library, whatever curse sworn lost in the shattered glass and roar of assault rifles. It's not panic that pressures her into moving; between fight or flight, the former urge wins. She scurries towards the danger, diving forth to snatch up where she'd left a couple bracers, upending the table to use as cover. "Levi, slip 'em up! Smith!" The names she calls out alerts the five Syndicate fighters scattered about.

Up on the second floor balcony, Levi utilizes the blasts of ice and the bitter winter cold to freeze up the wooden floor beneath the soldiers' boots.

Smith rises from his position not missing a beat and runs over towards Marlowe's cover without worry for the bullets being shot in his direction - because the bullets don't penetrate the man's skin. His thick black jacket bears some old bullet holes already, what are a few more.

While the Syndicate fighters return fire from both upper and lower floors, Marlowe finishes securing her bracers. Golden eyes shine as her fingers pull the thick metal plating into large katar-like points over her knuckles. A nod goes to Smith, and together the pair stand and jump the table, Smith in the lead taking fire and Marlowe ducking behind. They aim for the closest Sentinel soldier, where the leader waits for the last possible moment before coming out from behind Smith to forcefully punch a pointed dagger into the enemy's more likely unprotected throat. She screams out a war cry; this fight is personal.


Two Floors Down

The lower floors of what was once the Random House Tower were all emptied out. Suites that were businesses and apartments before the flood had become community shelters, all of which looked hastily evacuated. Most likely fled the building when the missile struck the Empire State Building. Evidence of this fleeing retreat is scattered across the floor in the ephemera of abandoned lives; stuffed animals, a shoe, a handbag. The crew of the Cerberus had the unenviable task of sweeping the floors as they went up, made significantly faster thanks to Huruma’s ability.

Everyone was gone. They’d checked eighteen floors in a switchback sweep from north stairwell to south stairwell and back again, using Huruma like a bloodhound to sniff out any trace of feeling minds. By the time they’d reached the fifteenth floor from the water line Huruma could sense a mass gathering near the top floor of the Library, dozens of people. As they ascended to the next floor via the stairwell, there was another more universal sign.

The distant pop of gunfire.

When the gunfire echoes above them, the Captain’s hand comes up to halt them on the landing. His attention is focused upward as he listens for a moment, mind going over what they have. “Huruma, Squeaks,” He finally looks down to focus on them. “We are going to be relying on you both to know how many and where.”

For the taller of the two, Ben adds, “And I want them to feel.” What was up to her and he trusted her with that decision.

Looking at the rest, Ben sighs. “Try to conserve ammo. We don’t have a lot. Let's hope the fates are one our side,” he rumbles out, God having long ago been struck from his lips. There was no God in this world.

Pulling his rifle around in preparation for what's ahead, Ryans starts up the stairs towards whatever this life had in store for them.

Asi is already sliding free the gun she’d liberated off a dead man’s body, eyes narrowed as she strains to discern specifics about the guns from their position on the stairwell. How many different weapons could she pick out? How many of them were there?

The further they head up the next flight of stairs, the more she wonders about engaging a sense that’s long been of little use to her. The sharpness in her gaze changes, a flicker of neon gracing the deep blue of her eyes.

She reaches out, listening.

As the group ascends, Huruma stays near the fore; periodically she flashes back numbers on her hands. Fist, fist, fist, it goes like this until she pauses at the front and tips her head. Then comes just— a series of fives. A lot. Maybe too many.

It shows her why she has that feeling when she hears the first pops. This is also precisely why she was moving ahead of the rest, a half step ahead of Ryans, until she isn't. There's a more deadened haste, expending just that touch of energy to carry her faster.

Feel is an understatement. Once Huruma can sense them closely enough, she grips her gun tightly and latches onto whatever she can before they arrive. Hooks and lines sink barbs into auras above their heads; beads trickle down the length to deliver a mist of despair born of her anger; while it isn't all of them, she hopes it is enough to cripple.

With a hand wrapped tightly around the knife Adam had given her, Squeaks keeps a small and sneaking presence in Huruma’s shadow. From her, only the faintest sounds of her boots on the stairs can be heard. Her own heartbeat sounds loud in her head. But the tiniest sounds, chirps and clicks and squeaks, create a symphony that blankets everything but the gunshots.

The sounds are directed as well as sound can be, sent outward to search where eyes can't yet see. It's helped avoid surprises before, in this flooded world and the wasteland she's from. Squeaks holds ready to give a signal of whatever might be waiting up ahead.

As the Cerberus crew hustle up the stairs, Huruma can already feel the swell of emotions surging through the building. A dozen or more frightened people, some more emboldened to fight than others. She recognizes some emotional textures; Stef, her son Nate, Captain Daselles’ distinct flavor of cowardice. But she also feels the dedicated commitment of the Sentinel forces above her, four of them at the moment, their flavors are familiar too. Less so once her particular brand of despair sinks into their hearts.

Asi can sense the presence of no powered electronics within range up above. If the Library has anything it was cut when the generators ran out of fuel. The Sentinel seem to have avoided utilizing digital technology to minimize their footprint, it may be why they’re jamming all communications. Which also means they’re limited in their means of relaying back as well. By the time the group reaches the floor where the fighting is happening, Cat rushes right past where the sounds of gunfire are, then comes to a skidding stop as she sees the stairwell continue winding up.

“What— where— ” Cat wheels around, sword in hand, “where’s the door to this floor?”

Squeaks, already using her echolocation to try and find enemies feels something unusual in the wall. There’s a ten by six section of the wall that is irregular from the others, like the plaster and stone isn’t made quite the same thickness. She can feel the vibration of the gunfire from that wall, but it’s like the entire entrance had been… sealed over by some sort of ability.

Muffled screams for help are barely heard on the other side of the wall over the pop of gunfire.

Squeaks breaks away from the crew without explaining herself. She creeps along in careful feet long practiced at sneaking and slinking and avoiding notice. The noises she makes continue, short clicks and squeaks drawing an outline of the different section of wall for her to see. Her head tilts a little and, when she's close enough, she presses her hands against it.

“Here.” It isn't a guess. It's a certainty. Squeaks looks at Captain Ben, answering Cat’s questions without words. “It's here. Covered over.”

Turning towards the voice of his youngest crewmate, Ben is drawn to where the door used to be. He listens to the gunfire on the other side, good ear turned towards the sounds. Nothing can ever be easy he thinks as he reaches out with a hand. Feeling the cool texture of the wall, he tests the strength of it, with a push of his ability. It holds, but he thought so.

With a grunt and nod, he looks at the others and motions them towards the way they’ve come. “Go down.” Huruma will know what he is up to.

His rifle is slung across his shoulders so that he can reach into one of the inner pockets of his wool coat. From it the old man extracts a rusty old tin. In its heyday, it might have held mints or cigarettes. Today, it holds the last of his smaller charges. There is a twist of grief as he pulls out a small, wired chunk of C4. He had worked on these with the girls before the world went to shit. Felt like forever.

He looks down at Squeaks and nods for her to follow the others, before he goes about setting the charge. A simple timer, meaning he’ll have to run himself. He won’t set it until the others are safely hidden from the explosion. Once it starts counting down, he can only pray that none of their people were in the blast range. With a quick push of his ability, Ben vaults over the railing and drops to the others, telekinesis cushioning his landing.

It irritates Asi more than it should that the Sentinel don’t stand out like beacons against her ability. She almost keeps charging on with Cat, figuring they must not be at the right floor yet, nearly crashing into her with she turns on a dime. The technopath takes a step back to avoid Cat as she turns back around, looking from her to the rest of the Cerberus crew. Her eyes flicker when she sees Ryans produce what he does, thinking for a moment on arguing that someone else should place it before deciding there’s just no time. Not with those screams happening on the other side of the wall.

She makes her way back down the stairwell to find cover, pulling free the MP9 she’d liberated off of one of the Sentinel’s corpses. Checking the clip, she keeps the spare magazine that had gone with it held in her other hand, planning ahead. As she keeps her head down and waits, she wonders what caused the wall. It seemed out of place. Did the Sentinel still have someone with them who was Special?

Her brow furrows. She’d heard the Vanguard had also had Evolved members — and that they were all supposed to have died when the Vanguard completed their purpose. The people who ran the Palisade Sills were supposed to be an exception, people who defied the will of the Sentinel. Like Eileen, who had gone out with Adam and never come back. Something didn’t quite add up here.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Asi sees no problem in muttering, given it’s uttered with vitriol.

Huruma knows. She holds her arm out to gather them back and behind the rail, senses on the room beyond and taking her influence elsewhere. It's difficult to bring the feelings of love and warmth and sympathy to herself, but for others? It reaches through the ether like a thousand hands.

"I know." Asi's words are met with a look, pupils pinned as Huruma's pale eyes turn to her. Me too, it says. But… they need to do this. There's no going back.

Once everyone is clear of the wall, once the timer has finished counting down, there is a massive blast of stone dust and debris that fills the stairwell. Even with covered ears the sound reverberates through everyone’s chests, felt bone-deep as a throbbing vibration. Ears ringing, they rise through the cloud of dust, hearing the pop of automatic gunfire and screams rising through the opening.

Something was happening.

Something horrible.

And Now

It begins, the walk,

Else sings to herself over the sound of gunfire, eyes half-lidded as she rises from her chair in the midst of a growing battle, “the steps in and outside, the way we never were — here, everward.” A bullet whizzes past her close enough to throw her hair to the side, but she moves undeterred across the floor, one arm extended so fingertips can touch the books stacked on the shelves. “For all we ever were, now we’re aiming heavenward. You and I, begin the walk, alone.

Bullets ricochet off of Jonathan’s body as he charges forward, jostling back from the force of some of the blows. He closes the distance to one of the gunmen, wrenching the firearm from his hands and smashing him in the face with the butt of the rifle. Under his swing, Marlowe comes lunging out and drives both katar-like blades into the soldier’s chest and drives him back to the window and out, accompanied by a rapidly fading scream.

Another one of the Sentinel soldiers pivots toward Jonathan, raising a .50 assault rifle — strong enough to punch through skyscraper-thick windows — to the seemingly invulnerable man. But a gale force blast of polar wind, sleet, and ice sends him staggering to the side, legs kicking out from under him as ice crusts the floor. His gun fires, spraying destruction up one stone wall and into the ceiling rather than into Jonathan.

Here we are, you and I, reaching out — eye-to-eye — singing my praise for you. Oooh.” Else continues as she reaches another table, ducking down to pick a scrap of paper off the floor as a spray of bullets tears through the bookshelf behind her a split-second later. She rises with a blank piece of paper in hand and begins folding it. “Singing my praise for you. Oo-ooh.

Five more Sentinel come rappelling in through the same blown-out windows, these in heavier ceramic-plate-carrier body armor. Their boots land with a slap on the water that’s collected on the floor, and one angles a gun upward and fires at Levi Walker, hitting him in the chest and shoulder. Levi jerks to the side, falls backwards, and collapses against the book shelf. A second later, that same Sentinel officer is shot point-blank range by the assault rifle Jonathan grabbed. Blood and bone rains down on the ground, and the other newly emergent sentinel focus their fire on Jonathan, causing him to drop to one knee and raise a hand to shield his eyes as bullets ricochet off of his hand and face.

Three of the newly arrived Sentinel circle back towards what is now a sealed wall thanks to Marlowe’s ability, trying to get better line of fire on other targets. All three are annihilated when a sudden explosion rocks the library. The three Sentinel by Marlowe’s barrier are thrown off of their feet, missing limbs and torn apart by shards of explosion-launched stone. A cloud of billowing dust fills the air and the surviving Sentinel turn toward this explosion with abject confusion.

This wasn’t a part of the plan.

While the others from his boat crew have to walk up the stairs, Benjamin Ryans launches himself up to the landing above, rifle in hand into the billowing dust and smoke. Only way they knew he’d landed safely was the crunch of boots on wall debris.

Meanwhile in the library, a sentinel - too dumb to put distance between him and the window - gives a shout of surprise as he’s lifted off the ground by an unseen force. Arms windmill as his feet leave the ground. That sound of surprise quickly turns to a shriek of terror as he is flung out the window to follow his comrade to a watery grave.

It was a distraction that hopefully works in his favor, as Benjamin Ryans, the Captain of the Cerberus, steps through the drifting dust, laying down cover fire for his crew to join the fight.

Snap, snap, snap. Bullets fly and the arms of Huruma's ability reel back; she's only as far behind as lunging can take her, breath heavy through her teeth as she makes her way onward. As the empath reaches the top, her ability lashes out again- - this time striking with the precision of a needle, venom dark and despairing.

The Captain's cover gives her time enough to survey the scene through dust and rubble, the coppery smell of blood in the air. Shock and pain leads her after the nearest fallen Sentinel. Blood in the water, when Huruma bears down on him with the curve of knife, the shape of his dropped gun in the corner of her sights.

As the smoke clears and the terrifying percussive tat-tat-tat of automatic gunfire chisels through the ringing in her ears, Squeaks shadows her elder crew mates. She creeps and crabs amidst the debris, a small and slinking creature that should hopefully — hopefully — escape notice.

She stays low to the floor, practically crawling. The Captain’s cover fire is taken to its full advantage, she banks on the distraction of reinforcement to cut a path to one of the light-armored Sentinel. She isn't a match for the others, but that's okay. She can probably hold her target and that's one less for her crew and allies to deal with.

Squeaks takes her knife in hand, fingers curled around the familiar handle. If she can get close enough, come up from behind, it would be to her greater advantage. If she can, she's going to need that blade ready to stab and cut between plates of armor.

The moment they breach and spread out on the library floor, Asi runs an assessment of the situation. She's better with a sword, but she knows how to shoot. The heavies with their focus on Jonathan are a secondary concern, as she knows he'll be fine. Marlowe's presence nearby is a concern, but at least she's armed. Her attention goes past him instead to others under fire who appeared to be unarmed.

Spying one of the lighter-armored Sentinel lining up a shot on Stef and Nate, she fires repeatedly on him, not trusting that a single bullet will do the job. No, she wants the bastard dead. For all her anger and righteousness in this moment, she still sees fit to call out across the library: "お待たせたごめんね." There's something joyful in it, heard even by those who might not understand its meaning.

The cavalry was here, and not a moment too soon.

“Did you have to blow a hole in my library?” Stef murmurs under her breath, as she takes a moment to run her hands over her son to check him for injuries. The surprise appearance caused her great relief, but she felt the need to say that anyway, as she gives Captain Ryans a look that shows she appreciates it. They had needed the save, after all. They had thought they could handle a lot of things, but this— she couldn’t do much other than make sure her son was intact. Even if she could have left it unsaid, she adds hoarsely, “Thanks for the assist.”

They were going to have a lot of work cleaning all this up, and preserving as much as they could.

From where she’s down on the ground, Sumi presses a hand against the floor, a roll of black liquid going down her arms and spreading on the floor in a slick black pool. It starts to form into lines, like a black cobweb expanding out from an epicenter of her palm, sliding around the floor. “お帰りなさい,” she murmurs quietly to Asi, trying to hide the pain and weakness as she bleeds red from the gunshot to her side.

A black and white cat hisses and growls from his place on a lower bookshelf, ears pulled back and tail puffed up.

Some sick satisfaction runs cold through Marlowe as she swipes the katar-bracers down to fling excess blood from the blades' edges. There's barely any time to gloat when more reinforcements rappel down, sending her ducking away and wincing as a sprayed bullet ricochets off her raised arm. She winces; it's going to bruise for sure. But that's nothing compared to Levi's gunshot wounds, and her teeth grit as she sees the cryokinetic fall. "Levi!" she shouts, rushing for the downed man, dropping by his side. "Come on Iceman, don't you fucking quit now…"

With her three remaining Syndicate fighters and Jonathan still in the mix, Marlowe collects herself and, hand on a wooden bookshelf, pulls the material out to another impromptu melee weapon in the form of a long spear-ended polearm. The three Syndicate fighters concentrate their fire on the three Sentinel soldiers making their way around, and Jonathan, with the eternal patience of a saint, waits for a break in the soldier's ammo clip to counterattack. There is a break - it just happens to come in the form of Ben Ryans flinging the soldier back out the window. With an exhale and vague salute to the Cerberus captain, Smith returns to Marlowe's side where the nearly-invincible man bends a knee to check Levi's pulse.

It's lost amidst the explosion of the wall behind them. Marlowe grips her spear in full expectation of the next wave… but barely relaxes as it's the rest of the crew and allies. "おまえ、また遅れたな、アスィ! And fucking hell, Ryans, you sure fucking know how to make a girl worry while you make a fucking entrance," barks the Syndicate leader, but it's a fierce, happier cry of greeting. In the moment of breather, she scans around for the library's residents once more. The leader gives a short whistle to the other Syndicate fighters to be careful about their newly arrived cavalry.

Huddled and hunched up against the bookcase, Nicole focuses on breathing, her eyes squinched shut tight as the chaos explodes around her. Literally. On that last one, she was sure that was the death knell. Instead, she hears Asi’s voice, and backhanded praise for Captain Ryans. Leaning out from her hiding place again she raises her voice to call out, “Now you’re a sight for sore eyes! I could kiss you, Ryans!”

But she won’t.


Squinting and taking aim, Nichols fires off two more shots at the Sentinel forces, if only to provide cover for the Syndicate fighters pressing the advance. It’s all she can manage before the pain has her slinking back around that corner, leaning heavily on the floor, propped up with one arm. The other presses hard against her side and the paper-turned-bandages there. “Yeah,” she mutters under her breath. “Let’s worry about the goddamn books right now.” Forgive her if she’s an uncultured daughter-of-a-bastard.

"Nicole!" The chastising exclamation comes as Iris looks at her pointedly. Of course they're going to worry about the books! Just maybe not as much as the many people that they were trying to keep alive.

Maybe. Either way, she offers Nicole a reassuring smile.

The librarian is surely excited about the new arrivals that seem to be going in their favour, but there's still bullets flying and books exploding off of the shelves. None of this was acceptable, Iris peering over the shelf she stands behind as she runs her fingers down the strong of her paper made bow .

Biting her lip, she takes a deep breath and tenses her shoulders. In a quick motion she turns and sweeps one hand to the left, twisting her wrist as she moves. Her ability latches on to the paper in the books on the shelf like a vice, and with the quick motion they seperate enough to leave her a gap several shelves deep - just enough to see some of the Sentinel soldiers bearing down on them.

Another piece of paper is removed from her coat, reshaped into a jagged tipped arrow. Nocked and aimed, she lets it fly down the canal through the bookshelves she has created, following it up with a second one before she releases her grip on the shelves and ducks back down out of sight.

Huruma’s psychic knife thrusts into one of the Sentinel, twisting open an unseen emotional wound through which raw, unfiltered panic bleeds out. The soldier screams, clawing at his face with gloved hands, staggering from left to right in helpless terror. The others Sentinel seem equally as shocked by this turn of events, but before they can reorient, the massacre continues.

One of the soldiers cries out, toppling down onto one knee from a knife to the back of his leg. He turns, trying to aim a sidearm but is met with a knife to the mouth by Squeaks. She screams — isn’t even aware she’s screaming — as she lunges in with a rapid series of stabs: face, neck, eyes, mouth, eyes, neck, neck. Blood covers her hand, wrist, and spots fleck her cheeks like her freckles. The Sentinel soldier gurgles up mouthfuls of blood, clutching as his neck as he thrashes, dying, on the ground.

Behind Squeaks, another Sentinel soldier is perforated by gunfire. Bullets first punch into his armor, sending him staggering away from Stef and Nathan, then the continued concentration punches through the weakened points in his armor, exiting out the other side to impact bookshelves. He finally collapses to the floor, spraying a burst of automatic fire at the ceiling as he goes down.

When another Sentinel soldier raises his rifle, he finds his right arm cut off at the elbow. He falls to the side, screaming and slouches against a wall and the gleaming arc of a sword cleaves into the front of his throat and drags him to the ground. Cat steps forward with the motion, putting her boot on the back of the sword to finish the cut through the officer’s spine, severing his head from his neck.

Nearby, Jonathan keeps two fingers at Levi’s throat. “He’s alive, but he’s bleeding out!” Jonathan calls out, unsure of who can even help. “I need a medic over here!” Levi grabs Jonathan’s hand, staring up at him, blood pulsing out of the wound in his chest. “Stick with me, Ice Man,” Jonathan says firmly, calmly.

A Sentinel soldier tries to train a shot on Huruma, only to be struck in the right temple by an arrow made from a fucking cookbook. He makes a single choked yelp and jerks to the side, collapsing onto the floor in an unmoving heap. Two Sentinel remain, one overwhelmed with howling panic and the other, unholstering a

flare gun

which he fires out the window.

There’s a pop and a loud hissing as a red flare erupts just outside the window. It bathes the library in crimson light, casts long and dancing shadows. The soldier turns, about to ready his assault rifle from where it hangs over his shoulder, when something comes through the shattered window at his back.

There is a blur of darkness, a rustling of heavy black cloth and a keening scream. The Sentinel soldier begins to cough, exhaling a lungful of ashen smoke. He turns, toward the rising silhouette of a man forming from smoke and ash behind him. A tall figure, a horrifying thing made of soot and death.

The Sentinel surviving soldiers barely have a chance to scream before his body crumbles inside of his clothes and armor. Bones crack like wafers, skin crumbles like burned parchment. The soldier crumbles into a heap of chunky ashes like a campfire log long left to burn. A cloud of dust billows into the library, and the face of Peter Petrelli with glowing blue eyes forms an unfathomable silhouette against scathing crimson light.

But it isn’t Peter Petrelli. It is


Do not run,” Kazimir states flatly, raising both of his bare hands, palm out. “Or you will die.

Nathan, peeling himself away from Stef cries. “Dad!

Whatever he might throw back to the others is derailed as the ashy figure blows in, there would be time to answer when their lives were a little less threatened. Ryans is quick to bring his weapon back up; but as the Sentinel disintegrates before his eyes he hesitates. He wanted to believe they had help, but… he was concerned. While he doesn’t shoot, he doesn’t lower the rifle either. He stands there stiffly, eyes narrowed as he tries to place the face.

“Hounds. Stand down, but be alert,” Benjamin barks out.

Then it clicks as the young boy races towards his father and the Captain just looks confused. “I’ll be,” Ryans finally breaths out, the rifle lowering a little. “Arthur’s little boy. I see death couldn’t keep you down.” He recognizes the man, though not what he’s become.

The panicked screams of the next to last Sentinel come to a croaking halt with the help of a knife. Huruma has her fingertips at the dropped weapon nearby when she tenses, catching the sight of those sights on her, prepared to move- - thwick- -

Her breath leaves its hold in her lungs as the arrow pierces him, and those few inches to pick up the fallen gun don't come fast enough. Huruma lacks the targets, once she does have it, eyes instead on the coils of ash spiraling in through the window, taking up invisible arms against the remainders. Blood going tacky on her skin, Huruma lifts slowly upward, stance widening, rifle held forward.

"Don't." Huruma's warning lacks aim, though firm; perhaps for all of them at once. Don't run. Don't move. Don't try it. Her eyes are locked on 'Peter', her senses locked on the presence wearing his skin suit. "Get him," She hisses through her teeth, jerking her chin towards Nate. Somebody, please, for the love of God.

The arrival of someone new pulls Squeaks out of the haze of combat. Slowly, she stands, blood and other icky things dripping from her knife, her hands, her arms. Some clings still to her clothes. She ducks her head slightly to rub the side of her head against her shoulder. It only smears the mess further.

Through the gore, her own bright blue eyes track the movement and settle on the speaker. He has an unknown face. Her fingers tighten around the handle of her knife. But Captain Ben’s voice holds her from trying anything.

Instead of moving to investigate the stranger, Squeaks peels away from the body she had destroyed. She takes up a position at Ryans’ side and occupies her hands with finding a clean spot on her shirt to clean her knife. Her eyes remain attentive on the unknown man.

The poltergeist who comes through the window is very clearly some kind of Evolved, which makes this all the easier for Asi to decide on. The barrel of her gun rotates about the room several times checking for signs of other enemies the new energy in the room might have missed, and then she lowers her gun entirely.

The boy screams Dad, and Asi slides her a look, a single eyebrow raised. She's too grateful for the backup to risk this gift by asking her or him what took him so long in showing up, so her attention moves smoothly on to the next threat: that cloud of red still smearing the air.

"Can you clear their signal from the air?" she barks out, not running, but definitely moving toward the nearest window to see just how far the room has spread. "That thing is sure to call more of them unless we take it down." But it's nothing she can fix herself, so she goes back to taking stock of things in here. Levi is down, tended to by his fellows, but there's also…

"Sumi!" Asi's alarm spikes instantly. "Iris," she calls out across the space. "Help her." Please. Her eyes are wide as she looks to the paper master, hoping she's able to do something to staunch the bleeding. She'd run now, not away, but across the space— save for the raised hands Peter(?) still has lifted. The look she shoots him asks for leave to move with the urgency the situation calls for.

Stef does two things very quickly— the first being to move up to put a hand on Nate’s shoulder before he gets too far, for many reasons, mostly because they don’t know if all the enemies are gone and where they might come from next. And also because she heard Huruma’s call and didn’t want someone else to do it, either. The second is a curt, “What took you so long?”

It seems what the technopath chose not to say is the first thing the founder of the library says. Had she been expecting him? Hoping for him? She had been pretty confident that they would survive this situation long before the cavalry arrived. The black and white cat’s hair stands on end and he starts to make that spitting sound that cats sometimes make when faced with something they both fear and want to fight, but then he turns around and runs off, scurrying past the barriers and out of the room.

The black conduit had that effect on animals, but not everyone saw it in action. The whole library was always filled with cats. That had been the only one in the room with them when the attack started, though.

Gritting her teeth, Sumi glances up at Asi, trying to get to her feet, but failing. The black slick liquid continues to expand around her, but it seems to have taken up a pattern, like trying to form words or letters or symbols. It almost looks like it’s forming into multiple circular seals. One looks like the seal of Sendai. “死にはしません.” she murmurs quietly under her breath. But she definitely isn’t going to stop Iris if she comes over and staunches the bleeding??? with some paper bandages.

With the commotion having seemed to ebb, Nicole pushes herself upright again, twisting with a pained grunt to look out over the stacks of books to figure out what’s happened out there. Have they really managed to turn the tide here?

But more will be coming.

Iris's attention is drawn upwards from the moment of the man's arrival, eyes wide with an uncertain horror. As Nate suddenly calls him Dad and takes off, her first instinct is to throw a barricade in his way, but- she doesn't have the paper or the wherewithal for such a measure. Instead, she looks to Nicole, and then to Sumi.

She doesn't need Asi or anyone else to tell her her help is needed, but the shout out helps snap her out of her momentary shock. Her feet seem to move before she even thinks to, only lingering as she approaches Nicole long to place a hand on the other woman's shoulder and squeeze.

As she approaches Sumi, she pulls her quickly shrinking coat. Silently, she turns away and snaps it in the air - the arms disappear and in an instant the jacket becomes one large sheet of, well, paper. But pliable paper. "Show me," she says quietly. "This should be able to staunch the bleeding but- between you and Nicole, it's gonna stretch me pretty thin." But she'll do it, even if it leaves her useless should the fighting resume. "It's also going to be really uncomfortable."

From the upper level, the Syndicate fighters drop down from their positions to converge on the remaining Sentinel soldiers, their intent to provide added cover and protection for the Cerberus crew and the others. All of which proves unnecessary when Peter (fucking) Petrelli, or the creepy blue-eyed phantasm that resembles him, floats through the unexpected yawning maw of the library's shattered window panes. Another sharp whistle from Marlowe stays their trigger fingers and blade brandishing, but doesn't stop them from retreating a few paces in sheer surprise.

One of the Syndicates drops to her knees beside Levi, pressure being applied but there's not much she can do with the likely fatal wound. Marlowe stands in overwatch, attempting stoicism and failing as she stares at the latest arrival. "Run?" echoes the Syndicate leader with a humorless laugh as she thumps the butt of her materialized spear down on the blood-slicked floor.

“どこへ撤退する場所がないよ、まったく.” Still, her attention remains split between her people’s ministrations over their wounded, the statuses of the others, and the powerful, multi-faceted man. A twitch of Marlowe’s brow upwards notes her surprise at hearing Ben Ryans’ and Nate’s recognitions. Connections draw invisibly as she looks from one face to another.

Those cold blue eyes that once belonged to Peter Petrelli focus on Stef across the room with conflicted torment, only furthered by the presence of young Nate. Kazimir Volken turns to Ryans and shakes his head. “I am not who you think I am, but that is a conversation best reserved for another time. That signal flare is not to call reservists, but a targeting flare. It’s already done its job, there’s likely a spotter on the ocean waiting for it.”

Kazimir moves to one of the blown-out windows, looking out through the howling rain. “We need to evacuate. The Sentinel will fire on this building with a cruise missile like they did the others.” He turns, black coat catching in the wind, lashing around behind him as he makes a headcount of how many people are holed up in the building. “I can fly and haul two people with me with telekinesis,” he notes, striding forward as if he were suddenly in fucking charge. “I can help the wounded, but not until we’re somewhere safe.”

Kazimir turns his attention around the room, considering the people he is present with. “Unless we have anyone who can teleport, the majority of you are going to need to evacuate down the stairs to the water. We have… maybe ten minutes before the submarine is in position for a missile strike.”

Across the room, Nate struggles in Stef’s arms. “Dad, dad!” But Kazimir’s expression is only a frown and what Huruma feels as a growing sense of shame and regret. Now that she has had a moment to be in his presence, she feels layers of emotions that cannot belong to a single person. Two are prominent, unified in emotional synchronicity, the others are like notes in a fine wine, hints of other feelings in manifold presence like some sort of psychic hydra.

Slowly rising up from behind cover, Ricky Daselles looks around the room and smooths his curly hair back, creeping over to Nicole’s side and pausing when he sees all of the blood around her. “I— I’ve got a boat. Could probably fit us all.” He says meekly, hands trembling. “H-Hey uh, this— she’s bleeding pretty badly.”

Apart from the planning, Else slides out from behind a bullet-riddled column, treading over the torn pages from demolished books. “Somewhere, beyond the sea… somewhere waiting for me…” she starts to whisper-sing, hands out to her side, walking in heel-toe like she’s crossing a tightrope over to Ryans. “Somewhere, waiting for me.

“We have a boat too,” Cat says, wiping blood off of her sword as she looks from Ricky to Ryans. “We can take half, and Daselles can take the other half. That way if one group gets caught once we’re on the water at least— ” she shakes her head and swallows audibly, looking to Kazimir with wide, dark eyes.

If there was anyone that Ben didn’t quite understand it was the seers of this world. Else and Eve often left the old captain scratching his head, so when she makes her way towards him, his brows furrow deep in confusion. As she watches her on her invisible tightrope, he speaks up with some council of his own.

“I’d rather us not get split up if we can help it.” Old Ben looks over the ragtag group spread out before them. “Our boat is armed for a fight. We also still have the Pup. I suggest the Hounds and anyone else that wants to go with us run defense.” Swinging the gun over his shoulder stiffly to hang on his back, looking at Ricky. “Civilians on Daselle’s boat, then you’re going to run for it and we’ll follow with the others two and run interference.”

Glass crunches under his boots as he moves to the edge of the building, standing near Peter and looking out. “I wouldn’t mind having you with us for this, especially, if you can get our worst injured to the boats. I’ll owe you.”

He starts to turn away and pauses briefly. Even though he takes Huruma’s reaction into consideration, Ben also knows there are times you have to take a leap of faith. ”If it is as you say and you’re not Peter. What name do we call you?”

For as tired and as filled with adrenaline as she is, Huruma nonetheless focuses herself on the myriad of tastes inside of that head. The textures are different. The shape is the same. Two significant halves, themselves split like pieces of a fruit. Huruma's gun lowers just a couple of inches as Ryans approaches the amalgamate she is listening to; her tension remains, ramrod up her spine and shoulders. A jerk of her head motions to the others.

"Get ready to go—" Stepping forward, Huruma rounds on the sight of Peter and those blue eyes. Her own pierce right through him; she sees him for what he is. "He is a stranger and should remain one. One of your two will be her." There are only a few demands to be made, as she points out the injured, specifically Nicole. "It is time to leave. Now. There are no pauses when it comes to missiles, Ben. We can worry about the who and why after."

Squeaks, taking her cues from the elder members of the crew, hangs back when Ryans starts toward the stranger. Her eyes remain steady, watching the man everyone else seems to recognize, and eventually her knife is carefully slid into its sheath once she's satisfied that it's clean enough. It's only after Huruma makes her statement that Kazimir — Peter — should remain a stranger that she looks to the woman. If he's a stranger, can we trust him?

The question sits in the teen’s eyes, a vague knit of her eyebrows, subtle shift of her feet. After a moment her eyes swing back to the captain, with arms crossing over her chest as she waits.

That this place will fall rends a knife through Asi's heart in a way she didn't think was possible. The Library at The End of The World was the last hope for a future where the past isn't forgotten. They'd fought for it, tooth and nail. They'd done so much for it over the years to ensure it was a bastion. It wasn't just a home— though for a number, that's what it was— but a beacon, a city on a hill, the promise of a better future than the one the Vanguard wished upon the world…

And there was nothing they could do to prevent that, too?

"Can we not stop them?" Asi barks back in challenge, teeth grit in her grief. "Two powerful telekinetics among us, and we do nothing to try and save this place? Do you understand what it is to let the Library fall?" She looks to those who have fallen already, her rage growing. She feels impotent, thwarted to effect change herself because her ability requires a connection to activate on new devices. "Are we truly going to let their sacrifice be in vain?"

Not just those here, but in all the skirmishes across the Pelago.

She grieves and she rages, willing to fight, even if this portion of it she can't do herself. But Huruma can feel a dark resignation bleed into the bedrock of her being. She prepares for the old hound and the stranger to encourage them all to run.

At the words of the blue eyed man wearing the face of a man Stef knew well, she merely responds with a quiet, sad, “I know.”

She knew he wasn’t really the man she wanted him to be. And she knew that her home was doomed. She’d known for a while. She didn’t have to like it, though. She’d had hope. Hope had been held onto for as long as she could, but it had been lost when he turned those ice-eyes on her and said those words. She tightened her hands on her son’s arms and then shook the youngster once. “We need to go. You know the evacuation plan. Nate! Look at me.” He knew the plan. They had gone over it many times in the last few years, because this always could have happened.

With that, she lets him go. She trusts that he’s old enough to know what he needs to do, and do it, to be ready to get to the boats that were available, to grab only the things that he needed to grab. She moved to kneel beside Sumi and Iris, as Sumi continued to spread black slick out onto the floor in an intricate design. Her teeth were gritted, and the Japanese woman began to protest. “I’m not leaving our home.

Stef’s hand touches the dark woman’s shoulder with one hand, and Iris’s with her other hand. “We will rebuild. But I need both of you. The library isn’t a building. It isn’t even the books. The library is us.”

After a moment, Sumi nods, and that black ink that had been spilling out retracts back into her coat and she straightens up. “Go to Nic,” she says to Iris, with a nod. “Save your paper for her and for our escape.”

Stef stands again, moving toward one of the bookshelves, where earlier she had placed a steel lockbox, she opens it and pulls out a single book, wrapped in plastic, which she puts in her pocket, and then starts to call out, “Captain Tibs! Commodore Amadeus! Where are you two!”

After a moment, one black and white cat, the same cat that had ran at Peter’s appearance, pokes his head back out, still looking ruffled. “Gather your troops, get them on the boats that are docked. We’re leaving.”

Some kittens are too young to travel, the cat telepathically sends toward her.

“I know.”

The tuxedo cat just nods, and then hisses in Kazimir’s direction again, and bounds off.

Nicole reaches out to grasp Ricky’s forearm tightly when he approaches, a grunt of pain escaping her. She’s frightened, because he’s right, she is wounded badly, and she isn’t sure she’s going to make it far enough to receive aid. “Look after her,” she hisses to the captain, darting her glance to Iris. “Whatever happens.”

Her grip tightens almost painfully. He can feel the tingle of her ability, but there’s no threat to it. “Promise me.” Then Nicole loosens her grip, luminescent blue eyes drifting toward the rows of books now. Toward the children’s section and the place she knows of one particular book she’d like to save.

It seems silly, and yet, with her whole heart she wants to save the book she used to read to her little sister when they were both still small. When the world was… Well, Nicole Nichols’ world was never simple or innocent, but it was simpler than the flooded world they have now.

“Rissie,” Nicole calls out to the librarian in a shaky voice. “Popcorn.

It’s like saying I love you.

There is a mix of horror and awe on Iris's face as Kazimir addresses them, blinking at Sumi's instructions. "But-!" It's the beginning of a clear protest, to not tending to Sumi, to leaving The Library behind, to all of it. But the biggest sound of protest rises in a distressed whine from the back of Iris throat when Nicole says Popcorn.

In that moment, the enormity of everything that's happening, of everything that's happened in the last few minutes and will come to pass on the near future sinks on. Her shoulder slump like she's holding hundred point weights, eye wide as she stares as Nicole.

"Nico…" The long paper sheaf that had once been her jacket goes limp, Iris bending down beside Nicole. Reaching down, she places a hand on the other woman's head before running it through her hair. "Don't talk like that. I'm not willing to lose everything today."

Because that's what Nicole is to her.

Standing back up, she neatly splits the long sheet of paper into two halves, letting them wrap around her arms like extensions of her sleeves, the ends folding out into long, thin fingers. Awkwardly, Iris bends down and, using her ability to adjust the flexibility and tensile strength of her paper, begins to lift Nicole up into her now oversized arms. As she pulls her close, she smiles as brightly as she can manage. "You're gonna be fine! It might just hurt a little getting there."

A lot of emotions are coursing through the room, and Marlowe is all at once glad to not be the empath among them. At first she's only watching the others in silence. Then she turns to the structure of the library as if to memorize it to her mind's eye. It isn't likely they'd see this place again. Her gaze drops to her own small squad left, to Levi's wounded chest and Jonathan's steady pressure kept there, and to the remaining three others. "Hey Sinatra," she calls over to Kazimir, "if you can take two, take him…" Her head angles to Levi. "… And I'll owe you."

It's a big blank check, not one the Syndicate leader simply gives out lightly. And this is the heaviest of situations.

With a shake of her head to clear it, Marlowe then regards the others and with a nod to the boat captains, gestures with her materialized spear. "Well then. All aboard, right?"

Kazimir turns a blue-eyed look down to Levi, watching him with considerable uncertainty for a moment. He then looks over to Nate, jaw tensing as he surveys the boy and his mother’s interactions. He looks at Ryans, then over to Huruma.

“She’s right,” is all he says before motioning toward Levi, hauling him up with a telekinetic tug. “Even I can’t stop missiles.” Kazimir says, looking back to Marlowe, then rocketing out the hole in the wall with those too wounded to walk in tow.

Ricky watches Kazimir’s exit, rushes to pick up a backpack and slaps Else on the shoulder on his way by. “C’mon spooky! I’m not getting blown to fuck and back over books! Whoever wants to live, come with me!” He hollers, rounding out the stairs.

From outside, the towering skyscraper now known as the Library of Babel looks like a warning. The hellish red glow of the flare drifting down the side of the building pops against the orange glow of distant fires. Of flames swirling on the surface of the water where gasoline burns in the night.

There is a calmness in the darkness, the starless sky of deep cloud cover, the whirling flakes of snow mixed with freezing rain. In the minutes that pass, the world feels like it exists within a snow globe. But as the minutes stack up, the night’s peace is brought to a close by a distant light on the horizon.

A plume of fire and smoke just outside the Pelago, tracking a burning arc in the sky like a time-lapse of the sun moving through the heavens. The plume of smoke following the bright like is dread harbinger made manifest.

Across the Pelago, survivors of the Sentinel’s siege find dread chill flow through their veins as a short-range missile impacts the top of the skyscraper. A billowing cloud of flames and debris erupts from the top of the building, sending fiery wreckage scattering down to the water below, crushing ships and demolishing docks.

The top of the building collapses down on itself, then lists to the side and slides down the side of the building, tearing windows open, ripping apart concrete, and sending the flaming wreckage of the great library plummeting into the icy ocean. Clouds of sea spray, smoke, and walls of fire surround the building.

Now a burning plume of smoke and flames extends from the top of the building, much as had the Empire State Building. All that was light and hope in the Pelago, reduced to ashes and ruin by the darkness of ignorance and hatred.

But the flames, the smoke, and the spray of the sea would do one good thing on this dark, dreadful night.

It would cover an escape.

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