Storming the Katschei's Castle, Part I


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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Storming the Katschei's Castle, Part I
Synopsis Teodoro, Francois and Ethan converge outside Svyato Monastery's library. Inside: the Vidar File and something unlike anything they've experienced before.
Date December 22, 2009

Svyato Monastery, Russia

They say that the eyes are the portal to the soul. All things considered, there are few adages more appropriate when it comes to the young man who lies dying in Teodoro's arms. He and Romero have many features in common — wide smiles, expressive brows and big, strong noses that their mother spent a lot of time wiping clean when the boys were still small enough to be carried on her hip — but looking into his brother's eyes is in many respects like looking into a mirror for the Sicilian.

Tongues of flame strike out at the air around them, billowing out from wooden shelves stacked high with old tomes and burning parchment charred black by the fire that has consumed the Svyato Monastery's library. In one corner, slumped beneath a rectangular window frame overlooking the bluffs, Ethan Holden's shape is unmoving, one large hand draped over a gaping stomach wound that bleeds red between his fingers. Although someone is screaming his name, the large wolf of a man is completely unresponsive except for a faint shudder that passes through his shoulders with every breath his body struggles to take in against its better judgment.

Smoke fills the room, obscuring a pair of silhouettes locked in an embrace much angrier and more violent than the one Romero is pulling Teo into, one hand at his neck, the other clutching the front of his shirt. Bloodied lips move around whispers spoken too softly for anyone else to hear with or without the roar of the fire and the sputtering crackle of wood as the inferno threatens to reduce the monastery around them to nothing but ash.

"«Everything is your fault,»" are his parting words, gurgled from behind teeth tinged pink. "«I hate you.»"

Thirty minutes earlier…

The sound of wind whistling in between the cracks dominates the stone corridor outside Svyato Monastery's library. Team Charlie had a more difficult time gaining entry to the Vanguard's stronghold than it did, but now that they're here there is little difference between Teo, Francois and that shrieking chill that pervades the air and the inner chambers of their ears. So far, their presence appears to have gone unnoticed by those they wish to keep it concealed from, as as they approach the antechamber leading inside, the only resistance they meet is the reinforced iron door that separates them from what they came here for: the Vidar File.

An iron door is. A pretty decent obstacle, one that even Francois, who is feeling particularly overarmed just generally if not for the occasion itself, isn't immediately certain as to what to do with. Kevlar is semi-conspicuous awkwardness at his torso, beneath a jacket that does some to offer it a little disguise, as well as concealing the two sidearms and containing the spare clips along with them. One hand is still well-bandaged, along with a bracing kind of contraption to keep the fine bones of his hand guarded against movement, and he meanders to a halt as he regards the immediate space.

It feels even stranger to only have one other with him. By the same token, it's a relief to not have to worry about multiple warm bodies. Francois has been concerned for the health of his own more and more, lately. "Did you bring a map?" is only semi-joking, muttered quietly. Even then, a voice above a whisper feels like it carries too far.

No bogeymen stashed in the corners, nothing but a permeating algid chill and the inconsistent voice of the wind. Stone, shadows. The catacombs are too far away for him to check how things are going down there, and their drop-point, the noise of falling, gravity, slithering down long cables already feels far away behind the intervening layers of mortar and masonry. What cavalry Charlie had brought to the catacombs the other week is conspicuously absent now, perhaps lying far behind the front lines of combat, waiting for the wave of New Yorkers to dash themselves apart across the stones or claim a victory. Maybe Felix was right.

Not that that particularly matters, or that Teodoro particularly cares. He doesn't know what's going to happen in thirty minutes! "Non. There are people behind this door, though," he answers, conversationally, from the door's other side. He is equally armored, only a little heavier-armed. "Can't tell how many or who they are. Think we're heading toward the spot marked X."

"Ah." News of people on the other side has Francois unsheathing a gun from its holster, settled comfortably in his right hand and then bumping thoughtfully against the side of his leg as he considers the door, before glancing at Teo, and giving him the same look up and down of appraisal. It hasn't gone unnoticed by the Frenchman that Sicily has gone unscathed throughout his venture, and while he doesn't wish him ill— in fact, such a concern has him hesitating but doesn't stop him from suggesting, "Perhaps you can go first."

Francois doesn't wait for too long for some sign of consent, before he's leveling his pistol towards the door, taking his time to steady his shot. Instinct over pragmatism has him holding his breath, before he squeezes his trigger once he's certain he's got aim locked onto the— well. The lock. The gunshot cracks sharp through the room, but considering the reverberation of the bullet impacting iron, a silencer seems like an unnecessary consideration.

There's barely time for an exasperated (possibly defensive) roll of Teo's eyes before he yanks the mask up over his nose and eyes, seating the equipment in place with brusque efficiency. He steps forward and pivots on a boot, rolls the canister of tear gas in his other hand, timed seamlessly to the snapping of Francois' round of lead through the metal. One sinuous sideswipe of movement rams his boot into the front of the iron-barred wood, hiccups a gap wide enough for the easy underhand of the pressurized vessel.

It clinks off the wall somewhere inside before rebounding, cartwheeling off— hollowly— somewhere inside the chamber within. Teodoro steps backward, gun tightening in his hand. He breaks away from the door promptly.

The lock explodes in a spray of wooden splinters, its broken metal components clattering to the ground with a noise that is not unlike a gunshot itself. A moment later, gas is floating out of the gap between door and frame created by Teodoro's boot, though not in any concentration that's harmful to those out in the hall. The Vanguard soldiers holed up in the library are not as lucky, and no sooner does the canister begin to discharge its payload than gunfire ricochet off the door itself. Bullets strike against metal and glance sideways, blowing off chunks of stone around the antechamber and showering both Teodoro and Francois in pulverized grit.

Anya said that Grigori knew they'd be coming. That the illusionist would have soldiers protecting the Vidar File shouldn't be a surprise. Neither, probably, is the sound of clawed feet striking against the floor under their feet as two large shapes come barreling around the last corner that the men rounded on their way up here. The last time they saw Zhukovsky's Beast of Gevaudan, there was only one. This time, there are two, twin mouthfuls of hooked teeth flashing hungrily in the candlelight. Speed of the wolf, strength of the bear, head and jaws of the hyena — the illusions, because that's what these monsters undoubtedly are, charge toward Francois and Teodoro at a galloping lope more befitting of a rampaging bull than whatever creatures hide beneath the disguise.

They aren't human.

Francois' grandfather kept dogs, and grandson and beasts never got along. Old— old— feelings of such dreads are only just detectable beneath the sheer alarm of seeing such huge versions of canines loping towards them with a wide enough gait that could rival even the fastest of wolves. Despite having just ducked aside and away a moment ago from the ping of bullets and the shatter of debris, wood and stone both, Francois is reeling back with his gun raised aloft and pointed at the monsters bearing down on them.

It's not that he didn't learn his lesson, regarding news of Robbie Dreyfus. There's a shearing glance towards Sicily before Francois sets his teeth and fires once, twice, thrice towards the one that seems likeliest to bear down on them, managing not to have his aim go too wild. Shooting men, even ones coming at you, seems to be a grim task as opposed to the mildly panicked defense of putting down a monster aiming to get you first.

Monster. Fucking— "Dolphin," is about all Teo has time to muffle out from behind his mask, a hoarse shout, as he wheels his feet backward as rapidly as he can. The information is limited in its value, he's well-aware: an illusion can cover anything, and with canine telepaths afoot, they're as likely to be wasting time on thin air as dispensing of beasts that could be of any damn size.

In hopes of actually hitting a beast of some tangible size, however, Teo levels his own handgun at the lower part of the creature's chest, aims at the center of the target rather than precarious but more vital extremities. Pulls his trigger once— maybe gets a second shot off, before the animal's massive, bounding tread manages to close in too near to focus on anything besides keeping himself out of the range of becoming squashed or pinned by rambling hide and flesh or the monastery's dusty walls.

Francois' shots strike the nearer of the two beasts, once in the chest, once in the shoulder, and sends it careening down hard into the ground. Bullets do nothing to slow its momentum, however, and as Teo opens up on its twin, the downed animal skids forward in a spin and slams over one hundred pounds of weight into his legs below the knee, flipping him up and over its bulk. His head cracks against the floor, splits wide one corner of his mouth, the skin above his right eye and fills his nose with the thick smell of his own blood clogging up its passages.

He's had worse playing football, really — as far as injuries go, these are all superficial. The same cannot be said of the wounds belonging to monster sprawled across the ground beside him, though they are not so grievous as to be completely crippling. Its lip still curls, its jaws still slaver and snap, neck arching off the floor as it tries to get a mouthful of the Sicilian's arm in its teeth.

The other collides with Francois' chest and sends him flying back into the wall adjacent to the library door. Claws catch in his clothes and softens the blow from its paws, though fabric does very little to protect him from the vicious bite it then delivers to the Frenchman's forearm. When it sinks its teeth in, it does not let go.

Francois and dog go crashing into the wall, a growling cry dragged from his throat around when steely jaws clamp down on his arm. On the plus side, it's his right, uninjured and whole without any unnecessary twinging that broken bones would have brought. On the down side, that would also be his gun arm, and though he manages not to squeeze the trigger under impulse, the barrel is pointing wild wherever the dog decides it should be pointing. "T— "

His legs scrabble under him to get to his feet, letting his pistol clatter to the ground and collecting it up with his injured hand. The trigger seems like a momentously difficult task to try and pull, hot pain flaring up the back of his hand when he starts to try, at least overshining the feeling of teeth trying to clench through the thick wool of his coat sleeve.

Ungraceful, he rams the barrel of the gun into the creature's muzzle once, and then towards a gleaming, rolling eye.


The shot does not come from Francois' gun. But it does penetrate into the skull of Francois' puppy. Blood splattering up and flying into an arc over the Frenchman's head. And maybe a little on him. Whoops. A thin line of smoke drifts away from the black barrel that protrudes from the darkness.

Stepping out of the shadows of 'where the fuck did he come from' and 'is that really a hallway' Ethan takes a few solid steps forward. Black boots thumping against hard floor. The pistol lowers to his side, as Ethan looks down at the creature, then looks up to Francois. Shifting lightly from one foot to the other. A wordless greeting given in the way he slowly bobs his chin down before shifting his weight to glance over at Teo. "You need 'elp up gay Theodore?"

Gay Theodore is disgruntled. Bleeding; has a dog tearing up the fabric of his arm despite that he's twisting extravagantly to get the limb in question out of its snout's way. It's a little like trying to lead a beast by a snausage, except that he wants the dog to go, and his arm isn't a fucking snausage. There's a curse, spat, and his boot jams up into the creature's chest, precarious inches from the leaden scrape of blunt claws on concrete below.

He actually takes his eyes off the dog for all of point-three seconds when Ethan suddenly interrupts the situation with high-caliber discharge, jerks his fingers out of the way seconds before the creature borrows one o those instead. Oh, God. "No." Oh fuck; the single word fits weird in his mouth, probably because the seam of his mouth has been forcibly ripped a fraction of an inch wider than it's supposed to be. When he buries lead in the dog's face, he gets mess on himself, too. Staggers upright the next moment, shoving out of mind the uncertainty of whose and how much of each the red staining his ragged sleeve is.

Grigori does not expend precious energy maintaining the illusion. Two dark-furred ovcharkas lay dead at Team Charlie's feet, one with a large section of its skull blown apart, the other with blood streaming from its still-twitching nostrils. These are working dogs, bigger than the Alsatians that Elisabeth observed patrolling the foundry's grounds, and it's a good thing that they've been dispatched because they're still beasts even without the Gevaudan disguise, both their sloppy jaws large enough to fit a grown man's head inside.

In the interim, the library's iron door has swung open on its hinges and the gas dispersed, though the first thing Charlie will see — and smell — the vomit scattered across the stone floor where one of Grigori's men emptied his stomach when confronted with the tear gas. Most of the stuff has already been vented out the library's rectangular windows, which several someones threw open in haste, allowing snow and sleet to blow in from the bluffs outside. It isn't enough to extinguish the torches that illuminate the library's interior or the vague shapes lurking in the shadows around the twelve-foot high wooden shelves that define the space.

There's not a lot of room to move around, but there's plenty in which to hide.

Francois near topples with the dog when its skull jerks aside, spattering apart. He has enough instinct to twist his head away, although not nearly quick enough to avoid the spray of blood and grey matter from the corner of his ear through to the thin bridge of his nose. Getting to his feet, Francois observes his arm with a look of dismay, but the gouging tracks of teeth marks are more or less superficial, and left hand switches gun to right before looking up. His heart is still knocking around his chest as persistent as you please, as if perhaps it will be admitted entry to something.

"Thank you," is gruff in Ethan's direction, a cursory glance up and down before looking to Teo. The flicker of a grimace of sympathy on the Frenchman's face mirrors back to Teo the fact that the face bleeds a lot worse than it is, and as for the dog blood on his own face, he smears it away without thought as he asks, "You are okay?"

He'll have to be, anyway. End of the world, and everything. Francois steps around the felled working dog, delicately keeping his feet out of pooling blood for virtue of not wanting to slip-slide. He angles his gun as he steps inside the room, nose wrinkling at the lingering scent of the tear gas as much as its gone thin enough not to matter.

Scooping an unnecessary hand under Teo's armpit to ensure he is on his feet without a hitch, the Brit gives the man a little pat on the shoulder before glancing to Francois. "Don't worry about it, Frankie." Ethan even half-smiles at the other man as he steps after the Frenchest of the three. Stepping over the pools of blood, he glances over his shoulder at the downed doggies.

"Fuckin' maniac'll 'ave this place rigged with his fucking puppets." He tilts his head down with a bit of a grimace. "And you know whot'll be the worst part of it? Just to spite me, 'e'll make it so none of em have breasts." Ethan sounds rather sad about that as he goes to press his back against the wall on the other side of the door. Going to holster his sidearm, Ethan takes off the larger weapon strapped on his back. The shotgun is held in one hand, for a moment as the Wolf glances over his shoulder at Teo, motioning forward with his head.

"Just remember, boys. 'e's like any common animal you would find in the woods. 'e's more scared of you, than you are of 'im. And he likes to fuck animals." He holds up two fingers to show them the similarities Grigori has with birds and bees and beavers. Slapping his forearm to his mouth, he glares through the tingling sensation the aftermath of the gas brings.

It takes Teo a few seconds to realize that their teammate— former teammate? — fuck— Ethan is being facetious again. About his own fortuitous return to the fold, no less. "You first, signor," he offers, the ironic reference to Francois' earlier remark heavy as sarcasm in his voice, the syllables only slightly troubled by the fact that his fingers are around his mouth, then the heel of his hand on his brow, clearing the front of his head at least enough that he will be able to perform the necessary functions of murder, athletics, discernment of vital paper files, et cetera.

Beauty pageantry can wait. His actual eyeballs, tongue, even his teeth are perfectly intact; leaves Teo little room to complain, really, even with the best of his vanity. "We're after the Vidar file. Monk's library. How many waiting for us in there?" Forward, the way Ethan had pointed.

The staccato click of a cane cracking against the library's stone floor echoes through the high-roofed chamber. Behind one shelf, Ethan can make out Eileen Ruskin's slim profile, the shape of her face defined by its tapered chin, delicate nose and long black lashes that veil catlike eyes hovering a shade between gray and green. Dark brown hair blows a tangled nimbus around her face, and even though he knows there's no feasible way she could be here in Russia, every detail down to stubborn clench of her jaw is flawless.

Nearby, Dr. Kozlow is wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The stubble on his upper lip glistens with a wet mixture of saliva and something else — let there be no mistake whose vomit that is by the door. Gloves are closed around the grip of a baretta aimed at the trio in the antechamber from between two leather-jacketed tomes that resemble cement blocks more than they do books.

A third figure covers Sasha in the shadow of a bookcase closer to the window, and while he's the most visible of the three, he's also the most unremarkable, the most unrecognizable. His face is none that either Francois or Ethan has seen before — it's one Teo grew up with, lanky and on the cusp of twenty again, facial features etched with deep lines of grief.

Romero swivels a look in his "brother's" direction in the seconds before Kazimir Volken comes into view, wolf's hand cane dangling from leathery fingers. He's older than the shape Grigori took for Francois the last time they crossed paths, perhaps to give him a visual reference of what his nemesis became in the years before his death — weathered and gray.

He told him he didn't deserve it. Apparently, he's out to prove him wrong.

The Kazimir that appears before them now is not so different to the one Francois came to know, towards the end, of distantly and less striking than the pale-faced German scientist, if more of a distant idea. Which doesn't do much to help that interruption in what was simply nervous calm, hand gripping harder to his gun and manages to suppress the urge to jerk it up from its aim on the ground. The figure of Romero Laudani is only peripherally registered as a stranger and little more.

He doesn't start shooting or turn up his gun like a dead fish going belly up, but his mouth hasn't gone so dry he can't speak. "Teo?" is a question that contains more words than simply the man's name, holding the same question as his glance had mere moments ago.

"I know what you're after. Retard." Ethan snaps back quickly. Frowning over at Teo. "I know where it is." He offers, lowering his arm simultaneously as he lifts his eyes to peer into the darkness. His hands remain gripped to the shotgun, shifting the aim slightly at the sound from the darkness. At Teo's question, the Wolf gives a very helpful shrug. Taking a step forward Ethan frowns deeply as he peers behind one shelf. Spotting Eileen for half a second, Ethan ducks back to press his back against the end of the aisle.

"Oh fuck you if you think I will hesitate in capping a bitch." Ethan growls, going to duck to the next aisle, going into a light crouch with the shotgun held loosely in both hands. Ethan tilts his head back, glancing sidelong at Francois and Teo behind him. Bringing one finger off, he gestures for a little shelf across from him for them to duck behind.

The strap on Teo's mask is shifted away from the fold of his ear, reseated with some difficulty, a few fragmented seconds before his face goes still and shock-white at the sight in the library through the flats of his goggles. It takes a full second for his hold to reassert itself on the grip of his handgun, another— three, four, before he remembers to start a disjointed march through the minds of the three stooped and retching in the library's vacuously musty space.

His voice is a creak, however facetious the word in it happens to be: "Octopus. I can't tell—"

It's too dark in here, full of figures giving each other their backs, staring at the three operatives instead of dropping clues of trajectory or insight into which disguise obfuscates Zhukovsky himself. If any of the specters before them is immune to the illusions, Teo can't tell which, and there's only so much tear gas. They must all be disguises, of course. Romero had joined Phoenix. Romero had joined Phoenix. Rom— "Orders are to take the old man alive."

Eileen's shape moves between the bookcases like a tiger through the tall grass, the gaps between shelves creating shadows across her milk white skin like stripes. Her booted feet make no sound and suggest that the soldier behind the mask is probably female as well with a build that rivals his daughter's when it comes to its diminutiveness. Grigori may or may not be counting on his hesitation, but every disguise serves a specific purpose whether it's to invoke an emotional response as it has in Francois, or simply put the enemy off-guard.

Toward the back of the room, half-hidden by Kazimir's silhouette, a small safe is set into the stone wall. There's Teo's X.

"«What are you doing, Fenrir?»" comes the question from the Vanguard's deposed leader, his voice like sandpaper on brick, tone carefully neutral in spite of the livid expression coming to life on his face.

Francois' back meets the edges of the shelves as he ducks behind them, and as much as he's intently aware of— what he guesses to be an illusion standing guard at the end of the row opposite and in clear view, he begins to move along. Quiet and light-footed as ever, ducking enough to at least theoretically allow the shapes of the books making blocks in the shelves to conceal himself enough to a man who has three men to keep track of. Kozlow's position did not go unnoticed, as much as he does not alert the other two as to his aim.

When the Frenchman goes forward, it's pressed to the left wall of the library, between where the shelves abortively end near the wall, as opposed to slinking up the aisle. Two forward, until he leans his shoulder against the wooden structure rather than step into Kozlow's line of sight from the opposite side of the library, settling his hand firmer around his weapon. Resolve doesn't need to be gathered — he did that on the way there.

"You fucked up. He never called me that in person." Ethan explains, maneuvering to keep shelves in between him and the stupid illusions. Shotgun hugged to his chest, the man growls quietly. "And, I'm betraying you, idiot. Again." Ethan smiles sunnily at this prospect. Even if it's not a betrayal againt the actual Kazimir, again, it's close enough.

Slowly standing up, Ethan peers around his little corner at Kazimir. "I'm going to fuck you in the face, dick'ead." The Wolf growls, spinning around the shelf, he brings up the shotgun high, this time trying to find 'Kazimir' for aiming purposes.

There's no tremor in the 9 that Teo has up, shifting its focus between the approaching likeness of Volken and that of his brother, alarmingly close. All of them read through his ability as armed, but he doesn't have to tell the others that. His comrades know well enough even to approach the barfing doctor with caution, if they're going to be approaching anyone at all.

"Grigori Zhukovsky," he says, pitching his voice across the room. "We've been told to offer to take you out of here alive and into the custody of the United States Government," which is only mildly ironic, given the fact that none of the three who've come for him here are American, but only a little: he's stretching the truth, as per almost usual. "Seems like your friends are little fish in comparison, though we aren't going to kill anybody we don't have to.

"It would be to all of your your benefit to drop the illusions and your weapons, and come with us." Or for Zhukovsky in particular to be summarily beaten unconscious while the others are beaten to death, either way. The difference can not be dismissed as merely academic. Teo sidles along in the other men's wake, making progress into the room, though he's the furthest behind out of three. Either bringing up the rearguard or reluctant to let Romero slide out of sight; hard to say which.

Kozlow's focus twitches between Teodoro and what he can view of Ethan. Halfway between the two, it occurs to him that he's lost track of Francois — his pistol snaps in the former revolutionary's general direction, skims past his head and then backtracks in a swift wavering motion. He knows he's out there. He just doesn't know where.

Kazimir's face is changing. His transformation from unruffled calm to righteous indignation and then fury is a slow, gradual thing but does not stop at lips curled over uneven, yellowed teeth. His mouth lengthens, jaw unhinging from his skull like a snake spreading its maw wide to accommodate a particularly plump rat — insciors grow long and curve inward around a forked tongue that darts out as if to taste the air, then flickers away again. Worn skin darkens and takes on smooth, salamander-like texture absent of scales in spite of all the reptilian comparisons that can be made. Blue eyes become two flecks of obsidian seated on either side of a grotesque head with fleshy frills where jowls should be, and as Kazimir steps forward, the sound of bones crunching and joints popping echoes in the library's high wooden rafters, making Romero flinch and Eileen falter in her stealthy stalk toward where Ethan has positioned himself.

Both their heads turn to watch Kazimir's spine spring open out of the black suit jacket he wears, his movements strange, jerking and alien. "«Teodoro Laudani,»" he snarls, lurching forward onto all fours as his body expands, filling out the old man's frame with cords of rippling muscle beneath a thick hide that shimmers iridescent under the glow of the torches. Fingernails become talons, and soon a tail twice his length is bullwhipping madly behind him — fifteen feet and growing. "«This is no illusion. This is art, and it is as real as anything.»"

Ethan does not have his shotgun leveled with a man. The barrel of his weapon is pointed at something he has only seen once and in a book, a gift from Eileen, The Comprehensive Guide to Norse Mythology: Nidhogg the Serpent, tearer of corpses, he who eats the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasill.

Francois doesn't have a good view of what's going on, fortunately. But he can hear it, and the sound of shifting scales, liquid muscle movements and bones cracking into place does tend to prick hair on end, going very still where he's hidden. He can only imagine what's going on, and be grateful he's not in the immediate path of whatever it is. Thickly bandaged hand does little more than steady the shot, veering around the corner of the shelving and directly into the line of sight of Kozlow, sharing the same row if not the same side, the aisle making a gap between them.

Two shots are fired, aiming towards the healer, punctuation at the tail end of Grigori's booming words before the Frenchman is hastily ducking for cover once more, between where the next row of shelving ends and the wall begins, feeling the stone brick scrape against his shoulder as he goes.

Grimacing for a moment at the grotesque display of Evolvedism, Ethan's brows jerk back contorting his features into a sickened slash annoyed face. It is only when the Illusionist starts speaking, does Ethan go full annoyed. Rolling his eyes as he goes to hide from the new monster in the room. "You sound like a gay twelve year old tryin' to convince 'is da to let 'im into the ballet." This is snarled at Kazimir/Yggradssillgil's way while Ethan is hastily ducking back behind his safe little bookshelf. Pressing his back against his books, Ethan's glance goes back towards the entrance. "That sound 'bout right, Theodore?"

Then the sudden shots, bring Ethan's attention swinging around. Brows narrow, Ethan leaning forward to try and peer through the mass of books to see who was the shooter and the shoot-ee but this exercise only gives him the whereabouts of one fakeEileen creeping up on him. The barrel of the weapon hoists up and aims directly at the young woman's head.

Finger over the trigger, the Wolf's jaw sets as he looks very put out at the sight of her. "I'll give you three seconds to commit suicide, or I'll just kill you myself." Quite an ultimatum. His hands stay steady on the weapon, pointed levelly at Eileen.

Although Teodoro doesn't have the specific phobia of snakes that he's read about over brain MRIs in college, that is still a really— fucking— big snake, evolving in his view past Ethan's head. His eyes grow steadily larger and rounder in his bristly-haired head as he essays backward a step into the aisle that miiiight even be termed involuntary. Horribly unprofessional, yes. A beat's hesitation, and he

Gunshots. Sudden, agitated rupture of noise in the air: Teo jerks an abortive glance in its direction, before ceding his limited line-of-sight to a short-lived glance through the nearest human minds. In the ghostly overlay of secondhand perception, Francois' sleeve blurs briefly in his peripheral, boots plugging sturdily into retreat across the floor. All right. All right; he isn't going to chance the time and the risks involved in checking who his target was on the same throw. Process of elimination has that fairly straightforward. Little luck, they'll hear a melodramatic thump of a body colliding with floor, and he'll be short one mind to look through in the next few minutes.

"Yyyep," he answers aloud for the Englishman's sake, with reasonable clarity despite his obvious distractions. He glances haphazardly over his shoulder and down the aisle for Francois, throws him a questioning gesture: hand flattened upright, tilting one way, like a domino, before he jerks his thumb at the intervening stretch of bookshelf between them. "Fuck if his giant phallic metaphor isn't blocking the fucking safe. Zhukovsky. You'll have time for your art later. Please be reasonable: what loyalty do you have to these men?"

Francois' first shot goes wide, imbeds in the bookcase directly to the left of Kozlow's head. The second strikes the healer's shoulder and sends him reeling back, gun arm dropped, the other closed around the wound to keep more blood from escaping than already has by the time he ducks behind the shelves, disappearing from the Frenchman's line of sight.

Antagonizing Grigori has not been a successful strategy thus far, unless Team Charlie is intending for the illusionist to siphon all his negative energy into the dragon that is indeed blocking the safe. Nidhogg snaps at Francois, but it seems that even imaginary beings have to obey the laws of the world in which they inhabit — it can't quite get its neck around the bookcase, and so it curls talons around it instead, claws leaving deep gouges in the wood. Streams of flame shoot from its nostrils in a startling display of pyrotechnics that feels as real as it appears, superheating the air above Teo's ruffled blond head and igniting the shelves that flank the aisle on both sides closest to the safe.

Eileen has her gun aimed at Ethan's center of mass. "You won't," she says, rubbing one lacquered thumb along the weapon's grip. "You love me too much, I can feel it. Did Daiyu finally catch up and tell you what Kazimir's been hiding?"

Francois could have sworn he saw the healer tumble under impact of bullet, but any kind of peeking yields nothing — particularly when the monster's ghastly head and claws crash in through the row of book shelves, obscured view as well as motivating the Frenchman to dive the hell out of the way with a hissed curse, heart leaping up into his throat. Scuttling along the edge of the wall, over the sounds of voices, of flames and gunshots, he tries to warn them both—

"'ware Kozlow. I've lost sight of him!"

Gives away his position, certainly, but the Frenchman is moving all the same, trying to find his way towards where he knows the safe is, bristling, crackling flames making his progression hesitant.

Ethan desperately wants to look back to make sure that giant flame breathing dragon snake weird thing isn't right behind him ready to gobble him up. But his eyes remain steadfastly on whoever or whatever is being made to look like Eileen. His hands remain on his weapon firmly, as he takes a clean step forward, towards the girl. Features set in a commited, or purposeful type look, Ethan seems rather determined in convincing Eileen she should kill herself. He sticks with his threat, "One." He growls quietly.

At Francois' warning, the Wolf almost glances away from Eileen to find Kozlow sneaking around the books. But the shotgun remains on her, not allowing himself to move. Eyes on her trigger finger, Ethan takes another steady step forward. "Two."

Frowning hurts the side of his face, and Teodoro isn't maniacal enough to try the opposite. Astral read merely corroborates the illusion, or what the Sicilian can pull out of the sickly air, anyway. So many children lost in the dark, sound drowned out under the pop-pop-cackle of flames and scent, as well, touch confused by movement except for the fleeting impression of weighty composite in every pair of hands he wanders through. Everyone's armed.

Honestly, water's more his element than the sinister incandescence gnawing hotly across the book shelves, flames pulling themselves closer tendril by tendril. They couldn't have told Team Charlie what they needed Zhukovsky alive for, could they? Nooo. Noooo, Charlie doesn't get to know anything except—

At least they can say they tried. "Fuckin' A, Holden," he grinds out, finally. Quicker than the twitch of an eyelid— and quicker by far than it took him to circle the bulwark of memory and hesitation, Teo swings his firearm around so sight down the length of his arm, squeezes of a shot into the base of Eileen's torso, where belly meets the cradle of hip. He drops one hand off the pistol's grip the next moment, scurrying gloved fingers through the lining of his jacket for another handful of tear gas to stuff the unaccountably huge snake with.

The only person who needs to be warned about Kozlow is Francois himself. As he makes his way toward the safe, he narrowly avoids being struck in the head by Nidhogg's spiny tail on its way past, but no amount of ducking — no matter how incisive or quick — will protect him from the healer as he hurdles out from between two shelves and throws all his weight into the other man's midsection. He's abandoned his gun in favour of something better suited to the significantly more intimate style of combat that the library's space demands. It's a knife, and he plunges it into the space between his ribs while his bloodied hand — the one that had been clutching his shoulder wound — clenches fingers around Francois'. Pain lances through his knuckles, up his arm and takes root in his shoulder. Again he'll hear the sound of flesh distorting, bones bending to accommodate an unnatural transformation taking place, but unlike the dragon's shadow in which he and Kozlow are grappling, none of this is in his head — it's all very real, and there's nothing he can do to stop it.

Skoll is healing him.

The skin and muscle around the knife buried between his ribs contracts, pulling the blade in deeper as scar tissue bubbles up, seizes hold, grows over the metal all the way up to the hilt and calcifies into cartilage.

The tail that had missed Francois' head by inches crashes into the bookcase Teo is positioned beside, knocking tomes from their shelves and onto the floor with a sound louder than any of the gunfire peppering the library. It then begins to tip, set off balance by the blow or whatever the blow was designed to mask, spilling more books into the aisle and adding additional fuel to the fire. If the Sicilian doesn't move out of the way—

Eileen crumples, slumps against the bookcase directly behind her, yet untouched by flame. Her weapon clatters to the floor at her feet, abandoned so both hands can press down at the bullet wound Teodoro punched through her abdomen. The illusion doesn't so much as flicker. She turns gray eyes toward Ethan, pale lips parted into a small o of surprise.

The ribcage of shelving rams hard into Francois' back around the same time the knife is driving deep into flesh and cartilage, air out of his lungs in a gasp at the sudden pain. He doesn't quite hear where his gun falls, only that his right hand is free of it and gripping onto the man's bloodied shoulder, which is a great tactic and done completely without thought. The strength of his grip promptly loosens when that hand comes to clasp around his other, twinging first with customary pain, before it sears all the brighter and shoots up his limb.

He howls, ragged, a sicker feeling turning over when that same strangeness tightens around the blade buried as deeply as it is, slicing as much as it remains stuck. The flames, the beast of Grigori's choosing, the safe — these things are briefly forgotten as the Frenchman drives himself foward, surging against Kozlow. The second gun is jostling around also neglected in its holster as he instead brings around his right fist to crack is across the healer's nose, desperate attempts to dislodge the man's grip before he feels like his left arm might fall off.

Immediately scowling at the sound of the shot, Ethan's weapon swings over in Teo's direction for the barest of moments. Sending a very angry look, the Wolf is then glaring back at the girl on the ground. Moving forward rapidly, the gun is kicked solidly, sending it skittering across the ground away from her. If it existed at all, in the first place. The shotgun goes to hover inches in front of Eileen's mouth. The man still looks resolute, not allowing emotion to interfere with his front.

"Whot were you going to say?" He growls, lowering the barrel of the weapon to rest against Eileen's throat. A look is thrown over his shoulder. Yeeaah, he should be helping save the world right now, but the world will wait a minute. A bit of anxiety comes on in the form of the illusion not fading, even under the gunshot. Ethan looks up for a moment, frowning lightly before staring back down at Eileen.

The world can not wait, which would be precisely the reason Theodore doesn't sit down to lecture the Englishman on his priorities. Nor, fortunately, does he spare a moment's panic when Ethan's gun begins to haphazard his way, although it is kind of hard to keep one's eye on the prize when one's very real and corporeal recent lover is getting the pointy end of a grapple with a homicidal mutant healer.


Unhelpful as anything. His feet are occupied with knotting rabid footsteps in the other direction, scrunches himself out of the way of falling bookcases, fingers stalling on the tear gas grenade in his jacket. Opposite urges bounce his certainty between them; he collides shoulder-first into another bookcase, crouching against the billow of smoke that isn't even fucking real so fuck knows why he's doing this. Perversely relieved that Eileen's illusion holds despite her injury, he coordinates his finger into a hook, jerks pin out of metal cylinder and flips the decompressing gas through the room, over-arm, toward his best guess at the man behind the snake.

It's either deduction or optimism. If anyone's going to be Zhukovsky, he should be there.

Eileen lowers her gaze to the barrel of Ethan's shotgun, her face reflected off the metal, enhanced by firelight. "You don't know, do you?" she asks, voice tapering off to a thin rasp as her eyes begin to dim and lose some of their brightness. She reaches up with one small hand as if to bat at the weapon he has resting against her bared throat, but strength fails her and she ends up feebly sliding her fingers over it instead. Laughter mixes with the blood and saliva in the young woman's mouth and spills a frothy stream of it down her chin. "No one ever told you. Not even Daiyu. God—"

Whatever she was about to say next is interrupted by the clap of another gunshot — closer than Teo's had been, but it doesn't erupt from the end of Ethan's shotgun either. Her face remains intact, pallid and wan, damp with sleet and sweat as she watches the front of the man's jacket grow dark, fluid pooling outward from a hole in his gut. Romero, unaccounted for in the chaos until now, steps out from behind a shelf and fires two more unapologetic shots into Ethan's midsection.

Kozlow's head whips to the side, trailing blood from a broken nose before snapping back in the next instant and snagging teeth in Francois' ear. His hand, at least, has fallen away and taken up the knife's handle in its palm as if preparing to wrench it out of his opponent's ribs the first opportunity he gets. All he needs is leverage, but as long as the pair is cinched together in a tangle of limbs supported by the flaming bookcase… that simply isn't going to happen.

Gas spews out from Teo's thrown canister, mixing with the smoke and forming eddies of charcoal black and silver white that encoil one another and create intricate spirals of contrasting colour that Grigori would probably be jealous of — is jealous of, if he's in any condition to take notice.

It's like trying to wrestle one's way out of thorny thicket — the harder you fight, the quicker and deeper it snags. Francois has neither the patience or the stamina to find some calm and slow way to pluck himself free of the healer's grapple, breathing hitching at every jostle of the knifeblade when Sasha's hand finds it. Both men go careening together into the opposite stacking of shelving, flaming books scattering down around them, glancing off skulls and shoulders, and it's around when Sasha's teeth catch on soft skin that the jut of a pistol's muzzle is sticking high into his thigh, which would be a good time for an obscene joke or two—

The sound of it going off is impossibly loud between them, a bullet passing through muscle and bone, aiming to splinter that joint between femur and hip, somewhere higher, but Francois is making do with whatever fates chooses to put into his hands.

"Know whot?"

Instinctively, Ethan pulls the trigger on his shotgun at the faint sound. Someone approaching, the own loud blast of his weapon discharging surrounded by the popping shots of Romero's gun. The slug smashes itself into Eileen, obliterating everything in its path in such short range. The backfire from the weapon, being it was only held in one hand sends it flying backwards. With the combination of the three bullets, the shotgun flies out of Ethan's hand and goes skittering into main pathway in between the bookshelves.

Blood erupts from Ethan's chest as the bullets explode into his torso. A few backpedalling steps as the force is driving Holden backwards, his upper body rocking back. A grasping motion flings out at the air, sending Ethan into a spin. Collapsing chest-down on the ground, the man doesn't have time to yell out before his face slaps against the ground.

One hand pinned underneath his mass, Ethan's free hand scrapes desperately against the ground. Pushing up powerfully seems to have little to no effect. The strength in his arm quickly gives out, and his chest is slapping back down once again. A quiet sound emits from the man's lips, unsurprisingly sounding angry. Another moment of silence, Ethan's body becoming rather still and then—

A single powerful shove of both his arm and Ethan's knees has the man propelled almost instantly to his feet, his sidearm coming back out from his side, swinging around. The Wolf turns fully, aiming in a breath, and taking off a shot on Romero. Then another. Then another. Then another. The gun is finally lowered, as Ethan lets out a bedraggled sigh. Stumbling forward, one hand flinging out to brace himself against the window.

Ethan Holden summarily murdering Vanguard-model Romero Laudani is maybe number four on the considerable list of shit that Teodoro would never want to deal with, and so: he opts not to. Turns away, half to physically, forcibly refocus his attention and partially to better hide a certain stricken expression that's turned his goggled face from injured fair to blood-flecked heroin-chic gaunt. Funny, how the least appropriate time to spend sorting borrowed memories and traits from owned ones is the most direly needed. Suddenly, everybody's bleeding more than he is again. The least he can do is steel himself.

And run, however ill-advisedly, toward the snake. His courage — recklessness, whatever — isn't entirely seamless; he still ducks from the jut of splintered bookcasing, watches for the creature's tail, attempting through the scattered disarray of perceptions to track the operative within the snake and pop through to the safe.

The dragon is disintegrating before Teodoro's very eyes like a piece of parchment eaten up by the fire. Its outline dissolves into wisps of smoke and CS gas, head thrown back and jaws parted as its coils loop and corkscrew, twisting around in serpentine death throes. That tail comes down on Teodoro's head, implodes harmlessly into an messy black substance that is summarily drawn back into the air like a solitary drop of ink in water. As the illusion clears, it reveals a man doubled over with his mouth and nose turned into his sleeve, a pack of propane strapped to his back, M2 flamethrower cradled in crook of his opposite elbow.

There is nothing imagined about the fire roaring around them or the embers drifting out the open window under which Ethan has collapsed. The flames have spread to the rafters above and transitioned through to the roof, lighting up Svyato Monastery like the torches that line the library's walls.

They can safely eliminate the dragon and the spattered remains of Eileen Ruskin from the running — only Kozlow and Romero are left standing, and one of the two is much more likely to be Grigori than the other.

Romero looks down at his chest and the gunshot wounds oozing from the puncture marks created by the bullets fired from Ethan's sidearm, takes to a knee beside Eileen's body and wraps his arms around the bookcase for support, face turned away from the brunt of the fire and smoke swelling out under from its red hot mass.

Howling, Kozlow rips away from Francois, a chunk of the Frenchman's ear dangling from his teeth, and staggers backwards over pieces of fallen wood. Normally activated by touch, his power ripples outward in every direction, fueled by adrenaline, and hooks its claws into everything within fifty feet with hearts still beating. The cut at the corner of Teo's mouth pulls upward, becomes glossy and white against the pearly flash of his teeth. Muscle cocoons the bullets implanted in Ethan's gut and staunches the flow of blood. A scream tears its way out of Romero's throat.

It's as Anya said. He can heal anyone except himself.

White scarring stems the flow of red blood slicking down the Frenchman's neck, gaining a flinch from Francois as if it had been cauterised. The staggering from of Kozlow has the Frenchman in quick pursuit all the same, face white with either bloodloss or shock, undecided as to which, and the howling scream of the younger man, not one of theirs, doesn't quite register. Not much does, actually, and he brings the handle of the gun around to whip across Kozlow's jaw, energy motivated more by anger than true strength.

He levels the muzzle somewhere at Kozlow's midsection, green eyes blazing and jaw set before the glimmer of silver at the good doctor's throat is detected. The smell of smoke, stinging eyes and nostrils, is snorted out for the moment, before Francois goes to press the gun against the soft flesh of Sasha's belly.

His left hand is tasked with the job of plucking at the silver chain and its dangling key, the whole limb trembling with the effort but determined to do it all the same. Francois' expression is masked in stoicism and disgust, trying to conceal avid wariness.

Slumping against the window, Ethan's hand goes weakly for the frame. Gripping at the side of it shakily, the man slowly lowers himself back. His gun slides out of his hand, clattering against the ground below him. Shoulders slowly melting against the wall, the Wolf looks over hazily at Francois and his wrestling buddy. One hand comes up to rest over his stomach. A quiet groan is let out, "Fuck me." He mutters, letting his head sag over his chest.

The screaming has him lifting his chin slightly to shift over the remaining occupants of the room. Eileen still hasn't changed back. This does not look good. Glancing over to Kozlow one last time, Ethan starts to lean down and reach for his sidearm once again. Pulling in breaths raggedly, Ethan's motion stops halfway, head slumping against the window. His eyes shut.

Oddly enough, the fact that there's a man with a flamethrower in instead of a man with a giant serpent is not so reassuring: old building, flammable papers, asshole with compressed tank of volatile stumbling blind around the place is not a factor that particularly delights the Sicilian. Still, he's roughly on-task. The first round plants itself solidly in the safe's front door, bending a silky pit into the surface of the metal. The second round would probably do the same, only the side of his mouth is ripping itself open like an anthropomorphized Disney purse grinning bright through its toothy zipper, and it hurts, shorts out his left eye with a blur of reflexive tears. He reaches up to touch his face, but his fingers connect with nothing but rubber and metal, the mask that has been protecting his respiration and his eyes for so long— but against Kozlow, it does nothing.

Very suddenly, it snaps into conscious perspective how close to the wire they are, now. His attention frays, shocks a strobe-light series of short-lived glimpses through the perceptional cortices of his other companions, ally and enemy, among the library's other mutilated and hacking occupants. He sees Ethan's eyelids letterbox in before sight deserts him to blurry black; a key-shaped coruscation of silver metal sharpening in Francois vision, and Francois' face in Kozlow's salt-streaked vision. He sees through Romero, too.

Grigori. Fuckin'.

"Romero is the handsome brother," he adds, genially. It's true now, isn't it?

Humor comes later. "ETHAN! Eth— " He yanks the mask off his head, finally, hurls it aside without stopping to stare at the saliva-strung cling of crimson to its mouthgurad. "Get up! Francois has the safe key! HOLDEN!" Gay Theodore's awful loud, even considering the hounding processes of entropy in rivalry. Sacred texts burning. Phantasmic corpses bleeding. "I'll get Gri—gori." Changing clips takes more time than swapping guns, so Teo does the latter thing instead, jolting a roughly-even stride toward the marionette wearing his brother's face, his own weapon held out.

"Drop it. Drop the fucking weapon, Zhukovsky."

Romero's weapon hits the floor without discharging, his fingers sliding easily from its grip even before Teodoro comes within range. He takes his pant leg, claws up it fist over fist, unable to rise without assistance, heedless of the gun barrel bearing down on him.

They say that the eyes are the portal to the soul. All things considered, there are few adages more appropriate when it comes to the young man who lies dying in Teodoro's arms. He and Romero have many features in common — wide smiles, expressive brows and big, strong noses that their mother spent a lot of time wiping clean when the boys were still small enough to be carried on her hip — but looking into his brother's eyes is in many respects like looking into a mirror for the Sicilian.

Tongues of flame strike out at the air around them, billowing out from wooden shelves stacked high with old tomes and burning parchment charred black by the fire that has consumed the Svyato Monastery's library. In one corner, slumped beneath a rectangular window frame overlooking the bluffs, Ethan Holden's shape is unmoving, one large hand draped over a gaping stomach wound that bleeds red between his fingers. Although someone is screaming his name, the large wolf of a man is completely unresponsive except for a faint shudder that passes through his shoulders with every breath his body struggles to take in against its better judgment.

Smoke fills the room, obscuring a pair of silhouettes locked in an embrace much angrier and more violent than the one Romero is pulling Teo into, one hand at his neck, the other clutching the front of his shirt. Bloodied lips move around whispers spoken too softly for anyone else to hear with or without the roar of the fire and the sputtering crackle of wood as the inferno threatens to reduce the monastery around them to nothing but ash.

"«Everything is your fault,»" are his parting words, gurgled from behind teeth tinged pink. "«I hate you.»"

Kozlow is screaming, too. One bullet in his shoulder, another in his hip, he breaks off from Francois the instant that the chain around his neck snaps and the Frenchman's hand comes away with the key to the safe. A vortex of thick black smoke churns around his feet as he stumbles toward where Ethan has fallen, desperately groping for something to catch his fingers on — in this case, it's the window's stone sill. He leans into it, bent and the middle, and unsheaths a second knife from his boot. Much thinner and easier to maneuver between his knuckles, this is a weapon meant for throwing rather than stabbing. He raises it above his head, arm cocked back, and takes careful aim at Teodoro's neck.

It's around this time that Romero stills in his brother's arms and Eileen's corpse is replaced with that of a delicately-proportioned redhead missing half her face. The younger Laudani flickers once, his image coming in and out of focus, then shifts, edges blurring. As Grigori loses consciousness, the remaining illusions evaporate into nothing, and Teo is left holding an unconscious old man on the verge of death.

The key is warm from Kozlow's skin and biting insistently into Francois' hand. More so now that his fist closes harder around it, barely seeing Kozlow's break away, gun snagging along with him but not going off. It joins its twin on the ground when it falls from a suddenly loose had, Francois tipping back a couple of steps until his shoulder hits the edges of shelves. His right hand comes to feel the hilt of the knife but never quite gets the courage to touch it, white lights dancing in his vision as his left hand gives another tremor and drops the key.

Deliriously oblivious to the drama going on some several feet from him, Francois works on getting to his knee to pick it up again, the world swaying in and out of focus around him. Made hard by his refusal to bend his back, curl his torso.

Gay Theodore's shouting has little to no affect on Sleepy Ethan. Slumping forward as if to purposefully contradict Teo's pleas of up-getting, Ethan's eyes remain closed, his features remaining rather peaceful. For a moment, a brief moment in time, Ethan actually looks… Nice. Devoid of any snarling or glaring, no nasty words spewing out of his mouth. In the midst of the whole place coming down in flames, Ethan is the picture of a sleeping serenity.

And then he wakes up. "Fuckin' fuckin' fuuuck—" The angry words bubble out as the Wolf sets himself into motion. Blinking off the fogginess, he manages to trail the man in front of him, drawing a blade from his boot. The foggy look trails over to the target. Then back. Ethan's head tilts back, his shoulders driving against the sill of the window. A blood soaked hand launches forward to slink itself into the crook of the other man's arm.

Grasping at his arm as to keep him from making the throw, Ethan's leg juts out to brace against the back of Kozlow's legs. At the same moment, Holden is rocking, using his body weight to lever the other man over his leg and propel him out of the window. With a single heave, Ethan takes another ragged breath before collapsing against the wall again.

There's a chopper somewhere in the sky outside equipped for the treatment of bullet injuries. Perhaps even burn wounds, knife injuries. Not the hypothetical injuries that would have been inflicted by Nidhogg's awful curving scimitar tail nor the crippling calcifications to Francois' torso, the knives or his hand, however. Not— sparing a moment to be self-absorbed, here— Teo's face, either. Still, none of these pressing physical concerns and pernicious injuries rank better than second, for the long moment that he stares blankly into his brother's face.

Still staring, even after Grigori's weathered features and peppery hair roil into view with his dissipating consciousness. It isn't until the ringing rip and shatter of glass he jolts back to alert. The apple of Teo's throat jumps up and down once, a hard swallow; he glances up in time to see smoke and gas hurl themselves in uncoiling trials out of the freshly-broken egress, and he claps gloved hands hard over the welling holes in the old man's body even as he hauls him up onto a shoulder.

Mucus thickens, the body's natural defense against airborne particulates, slicks a thin veneer across his cheek and down his jaw, goes largely unnoticed. Someone will fix it. Later. He steps his boot around the spill of red hair on the floor and tries not to stare at the speckling below Ethan's boots. "Allegre— Alleg— Francois." France doesn't look too good from over here. "Can you get the safe?"

Whether or not Kozlow could have survived his injuries at this point is probably made irrelevant by Ethan's actions; if the gunshot wounds don't kill him, it's likely that the fall will unless the snow drifts at the bottom of the tower are deeper and more forgiving than they look at a distance. Under the cover of darkness, it's impossible for Team Charlie to tell — they don't even hear him hit the ground. He's standing in the frame one moment, poised to flick his knife into the back of Teo's neck, and the next he's simply gone.

Blrgh. Francois lifts his head at that from where he'd beeeeen… taking a break, kneeling in the ground and good hand clasped over the key. Fingers curl, scrapes it up, and levers himself up — his left hand remains curled against his chest protectively, knife hilt jutting out that V of space between forearm and upper, above the crook of elbow. "I will be behind you," is croaked announcement, smoke making everyone's voice harsh as well as eyes blurry. He doesn't see Teo's face scar, not now.

The trek towards the safe is short and could not be longer. He fumbles with the key but finally wedges it into the lock, one-handedly gets it open with fingernails, sweat and blood both slick on his fingers. Bundles of cash are rather casually pawed aside, allowed to fall in soft thumps to the ground. Tonight, hundreds of thousands of dollars will burn.

It's the CD case and then after a moment's hesitation, the paperwork that are gathered, bundled to his chest, heart rate thrumming a bird's pulse through his veins. One can assume he follows after.

Pushing against the sill hard, Ethan lets out a string of coughs into his sleeve. Fighting against the pain he goes to straighten fully, one hand tracing along the healing wounds along his torso. The Wolf presses one arm around his mouth as he stumbles deeper into the library behind Francois. His back thuds against the end of one of the bookshelves as he waits. When Francois is able to get away from the safe, Ethan goes to walk alongside him.

His free hand goes up to support the bottom of Francois' arm, half supporting, half-tugging him along out of the smoke. Obviously he's not as good as walking out of fires as Ethan. Another cough is let out as they make their way towards the exit.

"Come on, Gay Theodore."

Teo is way ahead of them, mostly by virtue of having been closer to the entrance for the duration of the safe-opening with Grigori mounded over his shoulder. He moves at a gait that holds caution and haste at roughly equal priority, careful not to trouble the dying man he's carrying with more trauma than is strictly necessary, and to get himself out, both. By the time he clatters out into the tower's open hallspace, clops toward the stairs, his eyes are rimmed red, throb steadily in their sockets, and look more raw by far than the surprised flesh rucked up the corner of his mouth.

He hears the other men behind him. Turns back a quarter of a circle, head craning around, under the bulk of the old illusionist's prone torso. There's blood squishing down the collar of his shirt, bright ketsup relief where it meets the skin of his neck. For all that, he's all dark from tactical gear and soot streaking, even his hair more dirty than blond. Oh, good.

"'Djacent roof's closer, but harder to get to," he tells them. His voice sounds to have been surgically transplanted from a chainsmoker. By 'harder to get to,' he means it involves the jumping out of windows and landing on a slight, snowy incline. There's an unspoken inquiry in Teodoro's brows that never actually reaches verbalization. There's no real question that they're heading for the roof: navigating down the tower, out the mazey warren of the monastery's main complex and out into the field holds a great many risks that are no longer feasible for three European ninjas to quarrel through.

Reverberations in the sky outside. The whooping chop of helicopter rotors precedes a swoop of shadow dragging translucent across the stone floor before them. The Company is a silhouetted buzzard circling around a kill site, waiting terse seconds for the last of the operatives to emerge.

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