This Twilight, Reprise II


ff_asi_icon.gif ff_biard_icon.gif ff_darryl_icon.gif ff_else_icon.gif ff_eve_icon.gif ff_hart_icon.gif ff_huruma_icon.gif ff_iris_icon.gif ff_kazimir_icon.gif ff_martin_icon.gif ff_ricky_icon.gif ff_ryans_icon.gif wf_squeaks_icon.gif ff_veronica_icon.gif

Scene Title This Twilight, Reprise II
Synopsis Every ending is a new beginning.
Date December 28, 2018

Watch the sun

Snow whips across dark water, traverses the silhouettes of fire before they sink below crashing surf. Screams fill the air.

As it crawls across a final time

The chop of heavy machine gun fire fills the air, muzzle flare blooming in the driving snow. Ice crusts the barrel of an M1919 Browning machine gun splits the night. Huruma’s face is briefly illuminated by each rapid-fire muzzle flash. Scalding hot shell-casings fly from the side of the gun, clattering to the icy deck of the ship. Bullets tear through the side of a patrol vessel, glass shatters, bodies are perforated. There is return fire. The world is screaming.

And it feels like

A pillar of fire still burns at the heart of the Pelago, days later, the incandescent torch that was the Library of Babel, belching black smoke and choking flames like a torch. In that fiery glow the snow looks like fog, coming down with wild intensity. The Cerberus II cuts through the waves like a knife, cuts through the storm like a shield, plowing the way through debris that clatters off its hull so smaller ships can follow in its wake.

Like it was a friend

In the distance, Sentinel ships with searchlights approach. But as their lights find the Cerberus II they are bathed in wreaths of fire from the sky. Spears of flame drop from the heavens, and the silhouette of a man in a long coat hovers in the air with the burning library at his back. Kazimir Volken zips back into the dark, sending a corsucating arc of lightning down onto another ship, causing it to detonate in a fireball that rises high into the sky.

It is watching us

«We’re closing in! Darryl says we’re almost there!»

And the world we set on fire

Hart’s voice crackles over the radio in the cabin of the Cerberus II where Ryans and Squeaks hold the helm. Ricky’s boat is right behind them, the non-combatants even further back, staying away from the fire and the fury. Gunfire breaks the silence, hand-held automatic fire coming off the water, shattering the windows of the cabin and exposing the Captain and his newest recruit to the biting winds and driving snow.

Do you wonder

Huruma pibots the M1919 on its tripod, spotting four Sentinel approaching on jet skis. The gun chews through them like buttery steak, leaving bloody and dismembered bodies trailing behind the Cerberus. Bullets whizz past Huruma’s head, plunk off of the armor-plated shield at the gun turret. Long-range fire coming in from the Sentinel’s flagship, the Decatur. «We’re really close!» Hart cries out over the radio. «You’ve got to be almost on top of it!»

If it feels the same?

It’s time.

Cerberus II, Below Decks
The Pelago

December 28th
6:04 am

“You fire that flare and I’m going in after you.”

Jonathan Smith offers a warm, if worried smile as he hefts up an oxygen tank, assisting Asi in putting it around her shoulders and onto her back. “Judging by the gunfire pinging off the hull I’m figuring we’re there. I’ve gotta watch the ship, but I’ll also be watching for you.” Jonathan says with a hand on Asi’s shoulder.

“What you’re about to do is crazy brave.” Jonathan says with a squeeze of her shoulder, feeling the texture of the technopath’s wetsuit. “Mostly crazy, but also brave.”

Asi would like to say that with the cold sense of purpose drenching her soul, the Atlantic waters won't be able to touch her. But she's better than hubris, and knows even with the barrier provided by the wetsuit, she's in for a teeth-chatteringly cold dive.

Not to mention everything else that's crazy about this.

She closes her eyes as she presses the respirator into her mouth, performing one last check on it to assure herself it's functioning as intended. Satisfied, she lets it fall to rest on her chest. "If it works— if this works and everyone else is saved … it'll be worth it." Even if she doesn't surface again afterward, owing to succumbing to the bends, faulty equipment, or something else yet, she could be satisfied with having done at least that much in the name of assuring the Sentinel got what was coming to them.

Bending to scoop up the slim waterproof flashlight she hopes she won't end up needing and clip it to the vest of the oxygen tank, she looks at Jonathan out of the corner of her eye. "Thank you," she makes sure to say, because she might not get the chance later. "For stopping me before. If you'd not, then I'd not have gotten the chance to do this. And we wouldn't have the…" A thin sigh passes from her as she picks up the goggles she'll be wearing. "The artillery support we're currently receiving."

Affixing the band of the goggles around her forehead, she glances back up with a small nod. "I'm ready."

The pounding of her heart feels like such a distant thing, driven as she is.

Jonathan presses a sticker to Asi’s forehead as she looks back. A gold star. He has a whole, dog-eared sheet of them in his hand; some of his last possessions from his life as a teacher. With the most earnest smile possible, Jonathan says:

“For luck.”

Meanwhile, Not Far Away

The Trawler

“Asi’s getting into position,” Hart says as she turns from the helm radio, removing one over-ear headphone from its place so she can hear herself talk. Ricky, white-knuckled at the helm, glances over at her with a dubious look and a shake of his head.

“The second she drops I’m going to cut hard to port so we don’t run her over. Cerberus is going to have to keep moving or they’ll be a sitting duck drawing fire like they are.” Ricky flinches at every eruption of nearby gunfire, some coming from the deck of his ship as Marlowe and her crew fend off jet ski-piloting Sentinel attempting to board.

“We’ve got this. We’re gonna be okay. We just have to stick to the plan,” Hart says with a hand on Ricky’s shoulder, her attention going to the woman visible out the cabin windows standing at the prow of the ship in the freezing snow and driving sea spray. Else Kjelstrom watches the approaching flames with arms down at her side, swaying in rhythm with every pitch and yaw of the Trawler. “I don’t know why she insisted on coming.”

“Fuck worrying about that lunatic,” Ricky says, flinching at another report of gunfire. “Keep on the radio or we’re gonna turn that technopath to chum.”

Meanwhile, Not Far Away

Cerberus II, Above Deck

Thundering up the stairs from below decks, handgun holstered at her side with a fixed-blade knife flashlight in her hand, Asi cuts a sleek silhouette in her diving suit against the fire and snow. Huruma notices Asi more in the movement of an empathic resonance than visually, her eyes focused on the approaching Sentinel gunships.

In the cabin, Ryans and Squeaks can see Asi’s approach as she moves to the edge of the rail on the starboard side of the ship, vaults the railing, and falls backwards into the water. She vanishes into the dark depths almost immediately. The plan is clear now, Ryans has to leave her behind and pray that they see a flare when she resurfaces so Ricky’s crew can pick her up. The Cerberus’ goal is now clear: Stop the Decatur.

Good luck, kid.

Benjamin thinks as he watches the technopath jump, through the shattered glass. He can’t seem to stave off the sense of dread, he didn’t like this plan, but was there ever a good plan when it came to a conflict like this? Especially with their depleted numbers. He honestly felt jealousy over Jonathan’s ability to keep his positive outlook on everything. Something the old Captain lost a long time ago and recently cemented in the loss of his family.

Looking down at the young girl by his side, the Captain drops a reassuring hand on Jac’s shoulder, before turning his attention to the crew’s first obstacle. His ability grabs onto the Cerberus to steady it and to give him more control as he guides the heavier boat.

«Be ready,» Ryans calls over the coms for the crew to hear. «We only have one shot at this.»

Leaning forward until her nose practically touches the glass, Squeaks watches Asi vanish beneath the froth and blowing snow. A mix of excited apprehension fills her chest and escapes through fingertips pressed hard against the sill. She keeps watch, even though there's nothing more to see, until well after Captain Ben has looked away, barely acknowledging the heavy hand on her shoulder. Vigil stands until the call comes to be ready.

The rough timbre of the captain’s voice pulls her from her watch. Head and fingers withdraw first, reluctant. Worried. But as the teen’s body turns away from the window, she grasps that determination that's kept her on board and alive, that's given her the will and hope to keep fighting even when it seems futile.

Squeaks takes her place beside Captain Ben again, half a step behind and to the side to give him room to work. One hand raises to grip the medallion hanging from her neck, squeezing until it imprints on her palm then releasing and dropping away. The other rests with familiarity on the knife at her hip. Her eyes dart up to Ryans once, briefly, then angle to watch out the forward windows. She stands ready.

The guttural noises of the gun she mans are an echo in her head. They'll come back in force soon enough. Huruma frees her grip from the trigger to gather her own wits about her, crouching down in the saltwater spray of her perch and casting a look down to where the others ready themselves, and Asi Tetsuyama preps and begins her dive. Despite the hastening depth, she can still feel the woman under the surface, an invisible ping that darts through space and hull.

Once Asi is wholly burrowing into the sea, Huruma turns her full gaze back to her task and the turret at her hands; water hits the metal and immediately evaporates, her frame shrouded by gunsmoke and steam as she brings a bead onto the nearest gunship. Huruma uses the sights as much to take visual stock as she does to judge distances between boats and craft.

"Squeaks." Iris Earhart's eyes are still red, cheeks matching with the still lingering stains of tears that had been trailing down her face until she couldn't cry anymore. Eyes half lidded, she carries with her a large sack, her blue jacket billowing a bit despite the lack of wind. "I need your help." She musters a small, strained smile, and while it's clear her heart isn't in it, she puts it up anyway.

She's spent the last bit getting together every scrap of paper she can find, and it seems that's in her bag as one small piece flits out. "Do you know what a ballista is?" Shoulders sag, and she turns and motions to two more sacks. "We're going to build one." There's a bit of a shine in her eyes, genuine as her smile twitches. She had always wanted to do this, and Nic had always teased her about it.

So what better time than now?

Moments Earlier

The frigid ocean wind is nothing compared to what Asi is about to jump into.

Coming up the stairs from below decks, gold star on her brow, she squints against the wind-driven sleet and braces against the sound of heavy weapons fire. Lightning flashes in the distance, flames burn on the open water, and the end of the world feels as though it is here and now.

Waddling across the deck in scuba flippers seems like the worst possible choice she could make right now. Asi stops halfway up the stairs to work them free once she hears and gets just a glimpse of the world above, setting them on the stair before her. Then she pulls down her goggles, sealing them over her face and yanking tightly on the strap. The rubber rests right over the good luck charm she's been granted for this journey, sealing it in.

Taking the respirator between her teeth, off she goes running up the stairs and onto the deck with a knife in one hand and her diving feet in the other. She doesn't say farewell, she spends the least amount of time possible abovedecks after she breaches them. That she doesn't slip and fall in her sprint is a testament that maybe luck is with them after all. She leaps onto the railing one foot propelling her out from the ship while she twists her weight to let the tank hit the chopped surf first to—

Asi doesn't remember hitting the water clearly, it's just suddenly her reality. The water is dark, the gloom above distinguished from the pitch below only by the ripples in its surface from the ship that speeds away from her. She takes in her first breath through the tank as a startled one, then focuses on kicking down as quickly as possible. The flippers are wormed into to grant her better maneuverability, rubber clinging stubbornly in the cold. Her extremities already hurt, but she turns her left wrist to review the diving watch she was granted. The speck of light tells her her current depth— will help her know which way is up if she gets lost.

And that seems likely to be so much easier than she thought down here.

A trail of bubbles is the only sign she leaves behind her as she grabs the knife again and begins to swim down, kicking strong to help her achieve depth more quickly. She has the flashlight with her… but before long, Asi closes her eyes to the meagre glow it provides, reaching out with her senses instead.

For the ethereal sound of machines in the dark, the call of a system she could join herself to.

At first it’s suffocatingly isolating. The further she dives the less connection she has to anything. The wake of the Cerberus II and then the Trawler pass overhead, one closer than the other, and then Asi is alone in the deep. Her descent is a swift one, aided by weights clipped to her belt.

She can hear her breathing so clearly, a muffled rush that roars in her ears the deeper she goes. Soon, though, the isolation of the darkness gives way to a certain deathly sense of serenity. Asi can no longer hear the pop of gunfire from the surface, the numbing cold is a full embrace, and there is something about sinking that feels distinctly familiar to settling into a networked system in times gone by.

Then, like the light of an angler fish rising from the ocean floor, Asi is suddenly not alone. There is nothing to see, but everything to feel. Her growing proximity to something massive below her, a feeling of vulnerability and access, like a breeze through an open window blowing on her cheek.

It’s here.

Diving this fast, both from the weights, and propelled by her own movements, Asi feels the metaphorical pressure on her turn into a physical one. While never having done this before, she knows descending this quickly isn't as dangerous as ascending quickly, but it still carries its own risks.

They're wholly discarded as she feels the song rising from below. She's drawn to it like the helpless to hope; the hypothermic to warmth. She kicks more powerfully down. It's as conscious as it is unconscious— the desire to be closer if not to connect. It draws her to tear off the wetsuit glove of one hand, leaving it behind her as she continues to sink.

Asi's eyes glow a neon blue in the dark of the sea. She sees the outline of a shape in the dark, and she reaches out for it with her hand not occupied by the knife. Her lungs strain in the breath she takes from the tank.

Her bare palm goes flush against ice-cold metal, intention formed at her fingertips slamming its way through the barrier and intro the circuitry, lashing its way through the system.

A thin trail of bubbles rises away from her toward the distant surface.

In her eyes, light. In her mind, connection.

Meanwhile, Not Far Away

Cerberus II

Gunfire from the approaching Decatur is a volley of death, pulverizing the water just off the Cerberus II’s port bow. The anti-ship weapons cast showering plumes of water high into the night sky. Were it not for the wind and snow the Cerberus wouldn’t have a hope of reaching the destroyer. But with the inclement weather covering their advance there is, perhaps, hope.

An escort for the Decatur comes cruising toward the Cerberus, another mid-sized fishing vessel outfitted with light machine gun turrets. By the time they get within firing range, Huruma can feel all twelve minds aboard and can see the lights of the ship clearly through her mounted gun’s iron sights. Like a lion stalking the tall grass, she was in position to strike on her prey.

In the contrast of a Siren, Huruma goes straight to Harpy; she hooks a needle into each head she can sense, barbed on the ends to cement themselves in. It takes a concerted effort to string each one back to her in the din, but she does it, despite the cold stinging her face and hands practically welded to the surface of the weapon controls. The shield at its base provides only so much for her to crouch behind when she swivels the long nose around to the escort.

Once the empath is certain of the range, a pulsation of dread ripples over the other craft, colder than the wind into the pits of stomachs in those few moments before high caliber fire spreads over the portside and across the cabin.

“Watch out and get ready,” Ryans snarls out in warning to others through Cerberus' coms. Watching the escort boats shift in their direction, he tries to ignore the cold knife of doubt. “Boat coming in close. If we turn away now, we might lose our chance to get to the Decatur.”

Tightening his scarf around his face and mouth, eyes squinting against the freezing spray, Ben had to rely on his crew to hold off the boats while he tried to reach their objective and keep them from getting hit.

The whaling boat wasn’t his old boat, this one was a bit of a slug in comparison.

Shifting his gaze to the silhouette of the Decatur looming in the dark, Benjamin feels the burning furnace of anger boiling in his gut, easing his doubt and giving him the strength to keep going. What he wouldn’t give to have a weather manipulator in his back pocket right now.

For now, he prays.

At her name, Squeaks turns to look up at Iris. A ballista? That's an unfamiliar word, but not an unfamiliar machine. “Like a giant crossbow,” she says. She's seen pictures, in books, a lifetime ago. The teen steps away from the captain’s side to fetch one of the remaining sacks without questioning the wisdom of the plan. There isn't a lot of time, the ships are closing in fast and Asi is already beneath the waves. Somehow, she's sure, they'll make the time. Or die trying.

Hurrying after Iris, Squeaks looks to the bow and beyond. It's hard to see past the spray and storm, but in her mind the shadows loom like the sentinel ships. Her heart hammers, suddenly keenly feeling the urgency of the moment. Free fingers find the knife at her belt again, briefly resting against the handle, just as her feet hustle back into motion.

Seeing the approaching ships in the distance, Iris sucks in a breath and hands two of the sacks of paper to Squeaks and hurries out to the deck of the ship. As soon as the door opens, she dips a hand into her back and pulls out an oversized parasol - both to protect from the weather, and any incoming munitions.

"Close to the edge," she directs in a vacant sounding voice. "Keep the bags closed as best as you can, so the paper doesn't get wet." They have a small window of time to get this in position and constructed before they risk both too much incoming fire and too much water. One shot at this.

All Iris can do is pray.

As they move into position, Iris looks over at Squeaks and fakes a smile. "Hold the bags open. You don't have to do anything else. You can go back inside once they're empty."

And then all she has to do is build the damn thing, paper beginning to rise and move out of the bags.

A whirling cloud of paper rises up into the air at the motion of Iris’ hands. The sheets, salvaged from the collapse of the Library of Babel, flutter in the air like so many doves. As they collide with one another the paper begins to bend, fold, and crease like some sort of living origami. Even as the ballista starts to come into shape, Iris can see corners of it peeling up and refusing to adhere. The snow, while not weakening the paper as fast as rain would, will only allow this makeshift siege engine to remain upright for so long.

To Squeaks’ amazement, the ballista comes to life within a matter of seconds, ratcheting back and locking into a firing position with a flex of one of Iris’ hands. A few more sheets of paper fly up out of the bags, forming into a jagged spear that loads into the locked ballista. Squinting against the snow, heart pounding, Iris can hear the screams of terrified Sentinel soldiers aboard the fishing vessel rapidly approaching.

Now or never.


Deep Below

Asi’s mind reels against contact with the nuclear submarine’s crumbling systems. From the moment she begins to gain reports back from her subprocesses, Asi begins to realize the grim truth Kazimir was speaking. The Sentinel is a facade of strength propped up by supports strained to the point of breaking. The submarine’s systems are fragile and many once-automated processes simply no longer function and must be manually activated.

As she begins to build a catalog of what she can actually access one of her subprocesses returns a curious bit of information. A warning light turned on in the mid deck, fore weapons room. Torpedo tube 1… fired? Asi didn’t feel a displacement of water, didn’t feel the roar of a torpedo propulsion system rip through the dark depths.

But that’s when she sees a dark shape scissoring through the water toward her. No, past her. Four figures in black wetsuits with handheld sea scooters are cutting a wide arc through the dark water, visible by the small lights inside the visors of their breathing apparatuses. They’re headed to the surface.

How many people can fit in a tin can of a marine? How much of the crew is escaping, heading above to attack?

Asi leaves her hand flush on the periscope, continuing to dig through the submarine's systems with what feels like the grace of a child sifting through a toy box. She's opting for speed and efficiency, looking for the tools she needs to quickly force a surfacing. Air. Cause a misreading of one of those key life-giving or -taking gauges… or find the ballast and force a purge.

The cold ice water feels as though it should be slush around her. She kicks hard once to keep her physical contact on the scope.

The divers are gone from Asi’s limited vision by the time her probes find purchase on the internal systems of the submarine. It doesn’t take long for the subprocesses to root out the appropriate electrical system that manages the ballast and for her to trigger a—

Meanwhile, Topside

The USS Decatur

“One ship, estimate a hundred meters off the starboard bow!”

Crew within the bridge of the Decatur call out positioning of the ship approaching through the snowstorm. One Sentinel officer gets on the radio, cold hands trembling as he works the controls. “Escort ships, this is the USS Decatur, we have an inbound hostile at bearing 022.5°. Requesting artillery fire.”

Behind the comms crew, Martin Crowley stands with arms crossed and chin tucked behind the cover of his wool scarf. He stares out the helm windows, watching the plumes of light flash in the distance as the strike force from the Pelago threatens to push through the escorts under the cover of a growing snowstorm.

The door to the bridge opens, bringing with it a gale of frigid wind and sleet. Crowley’s focus shifts to the deckhand, trembling from the cold. “Sir!” He shouts, and Crowley looks agitated at the disturbance. “Sir, something’s wrong out there.”

“The fuck’re you on about?” Crowley barks back, turning to the deckhand.

“The storm, sir! Look!” The deckhand motions to the window to Crowley’s right, and the captain of the Decatur slowly advances on the window. At first seeing nothing, then, a flash on the northern horizon.

And a distant peal of thunder.


Cerberus II

Crew aboard the Decatur’s lead escort vessel are leaping into the sea, screaming in terror at nightmares unreal and imagined. As Huruma’s wave of psychic panic waves over the ship, a resounding ka-chunk blasts from the paper ballista, launching a seven foot long bolt into the side of the vessel, pitching it toward the port side and then crashing back down to starboard. The effect is remarkable, for with a physical bolt the hole would be plugged. But when seawater meets the paper ballista bolt, it begins to lose cohesion and fall apart allowing water to surge into the hold of the ship.

On the deck of the Cerberus, Iris’ paper ballista is beginning to flake apart into soggy sheets. She can feel her control on the situation flagging as the wind and sleet picks up amid flurries of snow and a distant flash of lightning.

The sudden eruption of heavy artillery fire from other ships sends Squeaks and Iris scattering. Other escort vessels, concealed by the snow, fire blindly in the Cerberus’ direction much as the Decatur has been. The ocean erupts around the ship, spraying sea water onto the deck. Iris and Squeaks are drenched as they maneuver for the bridge, leaving Huruma exposed in the freezing rain and snow.

The Decatur is closing in now, maybe a hundred and fifty meters away. Close enough for Huruma to start taking shots on the ship, and likewise in return. Small arms fire plinks and plonks off the deck of the ship, a few rounds go buzzing past Huruma’s position with her machine gun.

But behind the Cerberus, the ocean has begun to churn and bubble with a white froth of gasses erupting to the surface. The water displaces, bulging as though heavy with child. Something massive is coming to the surface.

Their plan was working.

Huruma locks in place at her station, tension riddled in skin and bone; cold bites at her cheeks, made worse with the roughness of salt and the disturbed vision thanks to the incoming snow. With the wave she first sent, the panic took hold; as time ticks on, the empath digs in to keep it there. Blood pools at her nose, disturbed by the silent curl of lip.

Incoming fire leaves pockmarks and holes punched into the new Cerberus, and until there is a moment to breathe, Huruma doesn't see the hole in her shoulder as well, and feel the sensation in her fingers flag. It was a clean shot, exit wound, mostly muscle, still blood to freeze and clot under her coat. Her assessment is silent and clinical, despite the subject being herself. Though the fingers on that hand find trouble holding tight, Huruma only needs so many to be able to fire the gun. It means that her grip locks in place, however, and she relies more and more on the gun as cover, rounds now a commodity.

That grip she had been keeping locked on the terror and despair of enemy crew finally lets go with a snap-pop of psychic energy, Huruma's frame sagging behind her post, head swimming the same as her targets' will be.

The Captain doesn’t see what’s happening with the others, his focus is fully on getting them alongside the Decauter. The closer they get the fewer things that can be lobbed at them. “Huruma, we need to get enough cleared so we can board.” The captain’s gruff voice calls over the coms. It takes everything so that the chattering of his teeth isn’t heard.

It was cold and windy, flakes of snow melting into his coat. At his age, he didn’t have the fat like he used too, so it all bites a bit harder.

As he turns the boat to travel down the side of the boat, Ryans feels a pang of anticipation. It took everything in him not to launch himself up on the deck and hunt down that bastard, Crowley. His eyes drop to the photo he had pinned on one of the gages. It was of him, his wife… his kids. Happier times.

“Patience,” Ben softly rumbles to himself, as tears threaten to cloud his vision.

“Primal,” Squeaks breathes at the sight of the paper ballista. Never would she have thought paper could be so damaging. She practically jumps in celebration, hands clinging to the rails in spite of the freezing cold and snow, when the huge bolt hits and penetrates the side of an enemy ship. She cheers, raises a finger to call a sharp taunt at the enemy, but never gets the chance.

Twisting from the rail, the teen lurches over snow and ice crusting on the deck. She keeps her head down, shoulders hunched to be too small a target for the heavy guns of the enemy ship to find.

Her feet slip and slide, nearly pitching her one direction in her mad dash to find cover on the bridge. The already icy deck becomes more slick as water spills across it. The spray that assails her and the water pooled on ice takes Squeaks’ feet out from under her. She lands hard, but wastes little time pulling herself onto her hands and knees. Soaked, so cold every movement is marked with body-wracking shivers, the teen crawls the remaining distance.

The wide smile on Iris' face is ephemeral at best, watching as the ballista bolt collapses on itself and water begins flooding into the ship. But as it fades, she turns her eyes skyward just in time for the artillery fire to send her scrambling away with the last bag of paper The paper that had once made up her own artillery begins to fold and fall apart, Iris eyes wide.

She had only ever expected to get one shot off, there wasn't really enough paper for two, but this still wasn't good. The threat of the Ballista is something she'd been hoping for. Sucking in a deep breath, she tightens her grip on her bag and pulls herself back up to her feet. The edges of her coat begin to break away and float away, revealing it to be made of as much paper as anything else she had.

As her jacket and blouse fall away from the rain, she shivers, clad in a sort of blue and black diving suit. Her lips quirk side to side, eyes turned upwards. "Squeaks, I'm going to see what I can do about the artillery fire!" And with that, she hefts up the bag of paper and takes off with little care for the small arms fire whizzing by.

As Iris is making her way across the deck of the ship with the bag of paper on one shoulder, something catches her eye. A metallic hook glinting in the deck lights, hanging off the port-side railing. There’s a nylon rope attached to it going down toward the water. She knows it wasn’t attached to the ship before. Panic spikes even as buzzing rounds of gunfire whirl around her. Someone is on the ship.

Huruma picks the presence up through the haze of pain and her focus on the oncoming Decatur when it’s almost too late. She sees movement out of the corner of her eye and spots a figure in a wetsuit with a fucking harpoon gun. She’s able to lean away from her gun and the harpoon lances through the air right where she was standing. The diver drops the gun and pulls out a fixed blade knife and rushes at her.

In the cabin, Ryans can hear the pop of gunfire coming from behind the Cerberus II. Looking over his shoulder he can see muzzle flashes on Ricky’s skip directly behind them. They’re shooting at something but it isn’t clear what. There’s no time to deal with it as a submarine erupts from the water just off the rear of Ricky’s Trawler. The massive submersible breaches the surface of the water in view of the floodlights on Ricky’s ship, glistening gray metal rolling with seawater. The submarine came up on its side like a dead fish.

But there’s no sign of Asi.

Moments Earlier


The submarine is rising too fast and if Asi reaches the surface with it she’ll rapidly decompress and potentially drown from the paralytic agony of the bends. As she slips off the side of the submarine and the rapidly ascending vessel passes her by, Asi can see it pitching to one side, rising like a dead fish toward lights on the surface of the water. That’s when she notices the silhouette of one of the Divers. They must have seen her. Moments later that black shape cuts through the water like a shark towards her, knife out and legs kicking.

The length of Asi's tied-back hair floats past her in a shroud as she gets her bearings again, flippered feet kicking to stabilize herself. She looks up to check that the submarine is still ascending, then looks back to the shape she sees approaching her.

The light from her knife and flashlight catches the gleam of the approaching diver, and her blood warms with the thrill of a fight— at the chance for revenge in this way. Her feet push hard against the resistance of the water, legs kicking. She had the advantage on maneuverability there, at least. She lifts her flashlight, pointing it directly at the eyes of the other diver as she propels herself at him.

Her other hand goes to the hilt of the knife to support it as she readies to thrust it into his face. Were they not underwater, she'd scream her warcry. Here, she only thinks it.

A sudden burst of air bubbles erupts from the front of the Sentinel diver and Asi’s flashlight catches the muzzle of a gun a moment too late. A harpoon skims past her, slicing across her midsection just above her hip and swirling the water at her side red with blood. With the shot having gone wide, the diver tries to backpedal to clear some distance, but finds himself too close as Asi’s momentum on the updriven current from the submarine propels her into her opponent.

Asi’s knife drives in more times than she can track in the chaos, spinning in the current and adrenaline spiked by the blooming pain in her side. Air bubbles erupt from the Sentinel diver’s mouth as he loses his rebreather, their limbs tangled together in contest for Asi’s knife as they continue to ascend.

Moments Later…


Asi surfaces alongside a corpse of a man, the bitter cold winter air rushing around her. The Sentinel submarine lays limp on its side like a dead whale, artillery fire rips off through the night and distant thunder rumbles on the horizon against the backdrop of a sleet-snow squall. She is losing blood, freezing cold, and she can hear the sounds of combat from both the deck of the Cerberus and the much more distant Trawler.

If she doesn’t fire her flare, there will be no rescue from this icy death. But given what is happening on the other ships, it may be too late for everyone.

There is so much assault on her senses that the physical one registers slow; if it weren't for her gift, she wouldn't have seen it at all— which is part of the cold that runs through her aside from the water and weather.

Huruma slides out of the way, one hand still holding onto the gun when she flips over; it's her bad one, and on the rock of the boat and slickened deck, she slides up roughly against the turret shield. That weakened grip lasts long enough for the good arm to slide down her ribcage and draw a pistol from the hip. It's on the small side, though its bark speaks of an even angrier bite.

Knives. Gun fights. The oldest kind of adage.

Hunting is not Iris' forte, unless it's hunting for a book or, once upon a time, a new release at the book store. But that hook has her making paper assisted leaps and bounds around, using makeshift platforms and an increasingly soaked paper whip to pull herself around as she scours the deck looking for signs of a trail.

Anything that'll put her on the heels of whomever has absconded onboard their ship, before they can cause any meaningful damage.

But time is short. Her original plan had been to hoist herself up to the highest point of the ship and try to block as much of the artillery as she could with paper shields and arrows. Even now, what little paper she has is taking on.

This is going to be on the wire for her.

In a rough, frantic kick, Asi circles to confirm there's not a ship about to run right over her, bloodied knife slipped to her offhand, and her other pulling off the last weight from her belt to let it sink down into the dark. The updraft in current wouldn't keep her aloft forever. And if she sinks again, she'll die, undoubtedly.

Teeth chattering, she reaches across her waist, aggravating the unknown-sized slice taken out of her side. With a cry, she pulls forward the flare gun, drags it to the choppy surface, and manages to hoist it directly above her head. Her eyes flutter shut, hair slicked to the side of her face even as she's pelted with stinging snow. Cold fingers struggle to display the dexterity required in pulling the trigger, but she manages, and the gun kicks with a muffled thud.

A single red flare streaks through the sky, its color piercing through the haze of snowfall. The flare reflects off the falling white, pulling attention where it can be seen. Asi opens her eyes long enough to catch sight of the stream of smoke overhead, and then they droop shut again, her arm falling back to the surf in a splash that goes silent over the sound of ships and the crack of gunfire.

The Cerberus bobs on the choppy currents of the Decatur as Benjamin brings the boat alongside. He isn’t quite aware of what is going on the deck. His blue eyes are narrowed on the task until he feels the two boats bump, the sound of metal against metal is loud and vibrates through every spar and every board of the smaller ship.

Just in time for everything to be lit up in shades of red. The bright flare of light pulls his attention just long enough to see the blinding light arcing into the darkness.

It was about time.

“Jac,” Benjamin bellows for the kid, while reaching for his rifle. It was her moment. The one he charged her with. To harpoon the Sentinel ship to give them time to board. After looping the gun over his shoulder, he checks his pockets for one of the few grenades he had tucked into his pockets. He’d give her the best chance he can, by telekinetically chucking one of them onto the boat when Jac was ready to make a run for it.

Grenades detonate aboard the Decatur, blowing out windows and sending crew that had been sheltering behind low walls on the deck scattering either in retreat or pieces. An alarm horn blares aboard the massive ship. Reinforcements will be coming.

Inside the wheelhouse, Jac pulls herself to her feet. She wraps her arms tightly around her middle, hands tucked into her armpits for warmth. The teen moves to stand where she can watch through the windows. Another set of eyes is always a good thing, and it's a way to stay aware of what's unfolding.

“She made it!” The teen calls out as her eyes pick up the flash of red streaking through the snow. Already anticipating the next part of the plan, she swings her eyes up to Captain Ben. She bolts as soon as her name leaves his lips.

Back into the slurry of winds, seawater, and snow, Jac hauls herself from the wheelhouse to the harpoon gun. Her body shakes with renewed cold, but it's a chill she ignores as she drops into position. She'll be warm again soon. The gun is turned, as blue eyes peer through the sight. The teen's tongue peeks from the corner of her mouth as she finds the mark and readies to fire the instant she's given the signal.

The blast of the harpoon gun firing comes with a whine of rapidly unspooling cable in the same instant. The harpoon skewers the high forecastle of the Decatur, tethering the Cerberus II to the far larger ship. Jac feels a sudden sharp pain in her back after firing, finding a black-clad Sentinel diver behind her, knife embedded in her side. Jac struggles, elbow lashing out to strike at the diver’s shoulder, but he jerks the other way from a blow to the head that sends him toppling over the side of the ship.

Jonathan rushes over, pressing a warm hand to Jac’s side, blood pulsing from between his fingers. “I got you, kid. I got you!” He looks up to the flare in the sky, jaw set. “Come on, we gotta go!” Jonathan shouts. “You can’t keep fighting!” But Jac doesn’t feel the pain as keenly now, just the cold of a winter storm.

Behind the Cerberus II Asi can see the Trawler close by. The crew continues a gunfight with boarders, no line or tether is being thrown her way. She slips below the waves after a moment, her extremities trembling, body shaking, fighting off what feels like intense drowsiness that she knows is hypothermia setting in. When she hears a rustling of fabric she thinks it a hallucination until a dark shape moves between her and one of the Trawler’s searchlights.

Kazimir Volken approaches the downed Sentinel submarine like a phantom, gliding through the air. Blue-green light flickers on his fingertips, erupting in a spray of laserlight that slices into the submarine’s hull. Kazimir carves into the ship, splitting through the armored plating, breaching the hull to the freezing water.

Through blurry vision, Asi can see Kazimir turn to regard the Trawler, and she hears a horrifying series of gurgling chokes as Sentinel soldiers aboard the vessel are twisted into configurations incapable of supporting human life. Bones press out of skin and clothing, necks snap, ribs compress. He returns his attention to the submarine, once more firing that laser-light down into the hull. Screams of trapped crew aboard echo up through openings filling with water.

Asi slips below the waves again, blue-green light blooming through the dark sea’s surface. This time when she reaches up, she does not break the surface again. It feels as though she has chains around her ankles, weight of a lifetime of choices pulling her down.

Until suddenly, that pull goes in reverse.

Asi rises out of the surface of the water, pulled into the air on a telekinetic hook. She feels weightless, exposed to the blustery sea air. Kazimir Volken’s pale blue eyes stare at her from beneath a dour brow. He directs her with a motion of one hand over to the Cerberus II, laying her flat down on the stern of the ship.

For a moment he hangs in the air there, movements unclear. There is a dim light at his back, though, the barest hint of blue in the dark. A suggestion of dawn and then—like the crack of a whip—the ocean explodes from artillery fire. Kazimir turns toward ships closing in, firing on the Trawler and Cerberus, and with the same speed as the rounds fired, he launches like a missile through the air onto the advancing gunships.

Elsewhere on the Cerberus, divers lay sprawled out in freezing pools of their own blood. Smoke issues from Huruma’s sidearm, and atop the cabin, Iris Earhart lets loose her remaining satchel of paper to the wind. She paints with it in the air, directing pages within the gleam of the Cerberus’ spotlights, forming a hemisphere in the air that is soon anchored to the deck of the ship. Automatic gunfire from the reinforcements aboard the Decatur is absorbed by the thick shield.

Wind, freezing rain, and sea spray already threatens to loosen the pages, the shield’s integrity flexing against both its own weight and the water it is taking on. Iris pushes herself to maintain the shield from the roof of the cabin, and she can feel the warmth of blood running down her upper lip from her nose.

Palms outstretched in the air above her and eyes locked on the paper shielding her from both the munitions and the elements, Iris swallows hard as her hands shake. She looks like something out of one of her old pulp sci fi novellas or superhero comics, and that fact isn't lost on her - it's just hard to enjoy given the circumstances.

Gasping for air against the chill, blood trickles from lip to stain clenched teeth. "Huruma!" The perk of using her paper to dull the attack is that it also dulls the howling wind, allowing her voice to travel a bit further than it might otherwise. "Go! Get on offense while I can still hold this!"

Which isn't going to be long. Her head throbs and her hands ache. She's never pushed her ability like this before, resisting both her natural limitations and the beat of the mixed precipitation falling against her white canopy. Failure, at least in this respect, is an inevitability.

The test is how long she can hold out before that comes.

Jac sags a step toward the harpoon gun. One hand grasps Jonathan’s shoulder, to keep from falling. The other goes to her side in reflection of the pain that had been there just seconds ago. She doesn't need to look to know what the thick wetness she finds there is. Fear plunges into her gut as easily as the knife had pierced her side, and she shudders with cold and lagging strength.

“I've got to…” Jac looks in the direction of the ship. The line from the Cerberus II, from the harpoon she launched, is invisible in the blowing rain and snow. She shivers, her small frame briefly wracked by the involuntary movement. It's so cold. Lifting her eyes to Jonathan, the teen looks to him for direction.

Even the whisper of paper is missing from the fray; Iris' shield is a boon, however, giving Huruma time to reassess her situation and that of the others on deck. Kazimir in his borrowed body is enough of a sight that she even finds herself able to catch her breath in the time he has taken on himself to wreak what he may.

Huruma holsters the pistol in her grip and pushes herself up, snatching up fallen weapons as she finds her way against the wind and rain, following the dread trail of Jonathan and Squeaks. It's not exactly good.

"Get her back." To Jon, simple and direct; Huruma drops a bloodied hand against Jac's hair, fingers shivering though her features are hard. The fear and apprehension she feels eases somewhat, and the warmth of something more determined slides its way in, a comforting thing in the cold. "It's enough. Go." The empath points Jon towards the nearest deckside door. She doesn't wait before moving away again, gritting past the sting on skin and her wound, smoothing water from her face as she approaches the harpoon station.

All aboard who's going aboard.

“We have to—” The Captain sees Jonathan with Jac and he is by their side instantly. An old calloused hand touches her foot, even as Huruma touches her hair. “Protect her. If Kazimir comes for her. Go. I know this isn’t your way.” They could use the invincible man's help, but even Ryans knew that Jonathan was a pacifist and only acted after all options were exhausted.

“Let’s go,” Ben shouts, “We’re running out of time.”

Looking up into the lashing rain, he just manages to see the figure of Kazimir. He could only hope that the man would live up to their agreement when it came to the smallest Hound. Ben didn’t want to see her future snuffed out like so many children already.

For now, he’d have to put his faith in a stranger.

“Iris, check on Asi and follow when she’s ready,” Ben says before looking down on the technopath and nods to her. “Don’t forget the fireworks,” his smile tips to one side creasing the lines of his mouth all that much deeper.

Only then does he turn and offer his hand out to Huruma, only just noticing the blood. His jaw clenches and she can sense that he’s going to make her stay… His hand reaches up towards the edge of the boat, his ability grabbing hold of the railing above. But… he pauses. Ryans knows better, swinging his rifle to his back again, the other hand is offered out to her.

“May the Captain have this last dance?”

Who knew if either one of them were going to survive this next firefight, but… as always, they’d do so together, side by side; as Hounds, as equals, as friends.

Huruma's expression says she's staying, even before she realizes the apprehension in him. She's ready for it, and thankfully… both of them know it. His question posed to her after those long few seconds, it's enough to coax out a soundless laugh. Lip curling in a feral smile, she takes his hand.

"He may."

Dropped on the deck herself feeling like an injured kitten dragged from the surf by their scruff, Asi crawls for the center of the boat. Crawls, because she doesn't have the energy or time to waste on kicking off her flippers yet.

Someone has to keep this rig steady while everyone else jumps to the Decatur. In her state, additional boarding party is no longer her.

But she can stand still and steer. She means to do just that once she makes it to Iris, past her paper shield. Her teeth grit with the realization Ben still means for them to follow. "Iris," she calls out as she starts to push herself to her feet in front of the cabin door. "I don't know if I'm jumping anywhere at the moment." Blood soaks her wetsuit, but she'll still fight on as long as she's able.


The USS Decatur
Command Bridge

“Sir! They’re attempting a boarding!”

An officer screams from within the helm of the Decatur. Martin Crowley’s stare hasn’t broken away from the approaching storm since it first began rolling in. The squall was one thing, but the lightning behind it has him tensed.

“Then send a bloody repelling force,” Crowley growls through clenched teeth, snapping a look to the officer. “Now!” The officer jolts back, scrambles through the door, and then dashes out into the sleet. He hollers for others, an alarm is sounded by someone else aboard the vessel; yellow lights flash, klaxons blare.

Crowley reaches up to place a gloved hand at the middle of his chest against his sternum, feeling something beneath the heavy wool of his black greatcoat. His eyes wander to the floor, brows knit together, and he reaches for an antique Luger resting on the console.

Bloody hell,” he curses, following the officer out into the storm.


The USS Decatur
Starboard Beam

Indiscriminate automatic weapons fire chatters over the edge of the Decatur as a row of Sentinel officers comprised of unwilling conscripts and jack-heeled loyalists aim assault rifles down into the dark and stormy night, firing blindly in the general vicinity of lights on the Cerberus II’s deck.

A dark shape whips through the air, coat flaring out, and two of the officers necks snap as if twisted by unseen hands. Benjamin Ryans lands as if by flight behind them, and with a wave of one hand hurls four men over the railing to their deaths in the icy water below. Huruma, unwinding from his side, unfurls her ability like a thousand gnashing teeth, biting and chewing at the officers egos.

To the Sentinel, living nightmares just boarded the ship. They see Ryans with inky black skin and glowing eyes, Huruma as some tiger-eyed predator with bone white teeth. Terror fills them with irrational hallucinations, they scramble backwards, pissing themselves before they can even train their firearms on their attackers.

Captain Ryans moves like a knife through the Sentinel’s ranks, snapping limbs, crumpling men into metal bulkheads so hard their skulls rupture like ripe fruit, throwing others so far into the sky they simply disappear in the storm. Bone-deep dread unsteadies the hands of those not within reach of Benjamin’s telekinetic death grip, and hands trembling from fear and cold send ricocheting shots against the hull and into the sea.

The pair leave a trail of broken bodies and blood down the length of the ship toward the metal stairs that lead to the bridge. Sharpshooters one level up open fire, but the wind, snow, and sleet drives their shots wide. Soon, panic makes their aim worse, followed by mind-shattering 66paranoia, dread, and disgust. Some are so afraid they throw themselves over the railing, hitting other metal rungs on the way down with the hollow snap of bones, others simply turn their weapons on themselves.

Shell casings and freezing blood crunch underfoot.

Kazimir had been right, the Sentinel’s strength was fear, and they were ill-prepared to have a taste of their own medicine.

Halfway up the metal stairs, Ryans and Huruma find themselves face to face with a lone man armed with an antique pistol. Martin Crowley stands in the blustering wind, his face a dour expression of contempt, brows furrowed in a chiseled look of disgust.

“You are a doom upon the whole world!” Crowley howls over the wind, gun not aimed at Ryans or Huruma, but held at his side. “You are a pestilence! A curse and a blight!” His voice cracks, and lightning flashes at his back, followed by a peal of thunder a moment later.

“You are going to kill everyone!” Crowley screams. “You are killing the world!

Stopped with the Captain on the stairs, sleet pelts blood from Huruma's frame in fat drops, lean limbs under her coat long and sodden, knives in both hands more silver than the sparks in the clouds.

She knows that Ben has words in his head. She feels it there. She can also feel the disgust and angry resignation as it gurgles from within now that they are nose to nose with Crowley. Huruma's teeth show in a snarl.


This moment has played in his head a million times ever since Benjamin Ryans had to watch the building with his family in it become an exploding inferno, after he held the lifeless and bloody bodies of his girls, and watched his loyal crew die one by one.

The Captain of the Cerberus had gone over what he’d say if he ever found himself standing there in front of the man who he’d been fighting against for years. But now that Ben was there listening to this man ramble on about how horrible their kind was, all those carefully tailored words fall away into the burning pit of Ben’s cold… festering rage.

He suddenly realizes he’s 100% done with Crowley’s shit.

With a narrowing of empty and world-weary eyes, Captain Ryans simply lifts a hand and snaps his fingers to—.

Crowley vanishes in a crackling eruption of electrical energy. Huruma feels him vanish off of her empathic radar, only to appear a split second later behind—

Pain blossoms, sharp and hot, a knife in her back carved down from shoulder to rib. As she wheels around, there is another electrical burst and Crowley literally explodes in front of her, showering Huruma with sparks. He reappears next to Ben in mid-air over the edge of the stairs’ railing, hands wound around the collar of the old Captain’s jacket, and free falls, dragging Ryans over the edge with him.

Before he hits the ground, Crowley explodes into electricity again with a pained howl and materializes in a standing position right when Ryans lands at his feet with a hollow clang of the deck. Light shines through the closed double-breast of Crowley’s wool greatcoat. “You’re a puppet.” Crowley spits out, holding a fixed-bladed knife dripping with Huruma’s blood in his right hand.

Steam rises off of Crowley, sparks jump from around him and a low mechanical hum fills the air. Rippling, distorted heat mirage twists his silhouette.

He's gone,

And then the pain precedes her shock, somehow, vision flashing white as she wheels around. Reason and belief are quick to clash in her head, even before the sparks leave her disoriented.

Rain stings harder than the cut as it runs under her clothes with more abandon. The taste of copper doesn't belong to her, water blending down face to mouth. Eyes and senses follow the howl when Crowley coalesces back, joined by the rising anger of tracking Ryans falling with him and hitting the deck.

The empathic waves which helped to incapacitate the crew snap back like as many barbed tongues only to spring back out and lance through Crowley—

—just like the dagger slipping between collarbone and muscle, a hornet's strike angled through the base of neck. Huruma comes from above in the light of the storm, vaulted over the rail and hitting Crowley like a train.

Everything hurts.

It all happened so fast that the old man was left dazed on the ground, his head throbbing from where it hit the deck. A fall like that isn’t a good thing for someone his age. Squinting and blinking up through the rain, a gnarled hand lifts to block the cold rain from his eyes.

His vantage point allows the captain to see the silhouette of Huruma descending. With no time to think, he makes a hasty choice. Pushing past the pain, Ben reaches out with his ability to grab the blood soaked knife, with hope, twisting it back to his own hands and breaking a wrist in the process. It’s a desperate attempt to protect Huruma from another hit from the knife, but also, he hopes it will push their adversary to jump again.

It was one thing Ben noticed, with each jump it was hurting the guy… they need to get the bastard to jump again… maybe two more times. Overload it.

Wrestling with Huruma, Crowley screams as his wrist breaks under the tension of Ryans’ telekinetic gift. He struggles with the taller and stronger woman, trying to wrench himself free as he pushes at her face with his free hand. The sleet hammers down on them both, the eastern horizon beginning to bloom with dawn light, even as lightning traces spiderweb paths through the sky.

Crowley howls as Huruma takes a hold of his broken wrist in their struggle and wrenches it against the break. It feels like everything that could happen at once, does. Crowley is wrestling with Huruma. She is overpowering him, bending his broken wrist back and driving psychic knives into his shattered mind. She can feel the strange heat radiating from his jacket. The psychic assault and the pain is too much, he clenches his good hand closed and uses his thumb to depress a red button on a ribbed leather glove. This is when he panics. This is when it all goes tits up.

Huruma is struggling with Crowley. They roll around on the ground, and she manages to get on top of him, pinning him with her knees. Blood is slathering on the ground beneath them, mixing with the sleet. Crowley pushes Huruma back with a hand at her cheek, she falls backward but lashes out and grabs him by the front of his jacket. Crowley screams, and—

teleports, away, from Huruma.

But he doesn't pay attention to the fact that he's on his back. A static-electric sphere crackle-snaps to life around him. The deck below Crowley is cut away in a glowing white-hot cauterization of steel, and so is one of Huruma's arms.

Crowley reappears, but not where he'd intended. He's back by Ryans, yes, but he is halfway between the stairs. Two metal steps run straight through Crowley's chest, fused with the fabric of his jacket and whatever he's wearing beneath it that is now showering sparks down on the ground below. Crowley gurgles, chokes, and trembles as he sees the lengths of metal fused with his body. He tries to move his good arm, but finds his arm partway fused with the side of the cabin from bicep to elbow. Blood trickles from his mouth and smoke rises from his jacket.

On the deck below, Huruma rolls onto her side clutching the smoking, cauterized stump where her right hand was.

She's so close to being able to tear him apart. His blood is on her hands and she has him by the throat. It is a blessing that she doesn't see it coming— or realize what's happening until it's too late. Huruma's eyes clench shut as Crowley explodes in a shower of light for the third— and final— time.

Huruma's frame stumbles partway into the sinkhole left behind, momentum from an attempt to pull her enemy in sprawling her onto the steaming cutaway. The shot at her shoulder throbs. The cuts on her skin sting. The slash at her back is hot and sticky. Her limbs burn with exhaustion. Her right side is napalm, and before she knows it, she's writhing and clutching the shorn arm.

The sound of a hellish scream is an alien one; it shrieks briefly like a harpy in the aftermath of a bolt striking the metal tines at the Decatur's crown.

While he’s not bleeding everywhere, Ryans feels a sharp pang in his side and the world seems to wobble — or is that him? — when he pushes himself up. He leans heavily on the use of his ability to assist him upright. One hand continues to grip that knife, the other is held tightly to his aching side. There is only a weary, dismissive glance at Crowley before he stumbles towards the Cerberus’ injured officer, grimacing at her scream.

“Hooms,” Ben huffs out quietly, going down to one knee to check on her, a hand moving to cup her cheek, “I got you.” He needed to get her off the boat and to safety, she was one of the last of his family… he was tired of losing them.

Huruma can see Ryans’ shoulders sag a little as it gets heavier, weighed down properly by gravity. In fact, he feels the first protest of his knees. That energy is shifted to the woman laying on the deck, using it to pick up Huruma.

“You did good, friend, you can rest now.”



“Sir, the Decatur has been boarded.”

A sentinel officer in one of the Decatur’s remaining escort ships brings the missive to the vessel’s captain, who lowers a pair of night vision goggles and turns to the officer. “Status?”

“Unclear, they didn’t break radio silence. But they’ve been tethered by another ship. Confessor Crowley might be—”

“Thank you.” The captain says, turning toward the ship radio. He picks up the receiver and brings it to his mouth, depressing the call button with his thumb.

“Fire control,” he says into the receiver, “target the Decatur with everything we—”

Lightning flashes bright against the coming dawn. The captain hesitates, spotting a massive and dark shape within the churning storm. His thumb comes off the call button and the officer in the helm with him turns to follow the captain’s line of sight.

Lightning flashes again, silhouetting a ship so massive it feels like it takes up the entire horizon. The captain’s eyes widen, his words are swallowed back in his throat.

Reverse.” He says in a hoarse whisper. “Full reverse.” His hand starts to shake and he turns to the helmsman and screams:

Full reverse!


A hurricane moves across the water, a churning ring of devastating wind, rain, and snow. Until suddenly…

…it doesn’t.

The bow of a massive tanker ship punches through the flagging wall of storm wind, at its head a blonde woman with arms outstretched and head tilted back, curly hair flailing in the freezing sea wind, yet she is bare-armed and not dressed for the cold. Dozens of crew rush about the deck of the ship, bundled in heavy jackets as they move to ready mortar launchers. A dark-haired man in a gray cabled sweater and a patched peacoat hustles toward the cabin.

Lightning flashes in the sky, highlighting the designation on the side of the rusting hulk of a vessel.


From around the sides of the tanker, other ship come into view. Speedboats, barges, tugs, catamarans, sailboats, yachts. A fleet of personal watercraft armed to the teeth with pirates, brigands, and weapons. As the fleet begins to pull away from the flagship, one rickety barge of a vessel pulls to the front, upon which a cackling old woman shakes her fist at the storm.

The Forthright.

Mad Eve has returned to the Pelago.

There's a high pitched wheeze that can barely be heard over the roar of the wind and the waves but Mad Eve indulges still, bowled over holding onto her staff. Cackling with eyes closed, she lifts her head with a jolt and screams to the heavens, "Never late! Always right on time." The crew of The Forthright are hard at work, one young woman with platinum blonde hair swings onto the deck from a rope.

"Mad Eye! You'll crack your back," Poppy hisses at the old woman.


"Ow! For fucks sake!" The butt of Eve's staff somehow had whacked the woman behind the knees without her seeing it coming. Dark eyes widen and Eve hoots with laughter. "Come on Pop Pop! We made it just in time. You owe me a soda." Eve gleams, striding forward to wrap a wrinkled hand on the railing around the ship.

"It's not exactly fair, you have a complete advantage."

"Oh but life isn't fair dearie! Root Beer. Not that Cream Soda shit, if you please." A trio of the cats on the boat yowl and slink between Eve's legs, she stops for a moment, cooing. "Run below, you're gonna fly away! Shoo!" Slapping her hand on the rail. "That's it! We're almost there. Ready your weapons, your gifts!"

Looking over her shoulder at the modest crew, "We sail for our comrades!" The group cries in unison, "No woman, or man," she guesses, "Gets left behind! No chickens with a feather unplucked! We save them all! And we drink ourselves blind at the end of the night. YES?!"


Having stirred the energy as much as would be needed the old woman hunches over becoming more small wrapped in her pitch black hooded coat. Her mind was elsewhere for a moment, with two people no longer in her world. But they had a purpose. A painting locked away in a box where she couldn't even lay eyes upon it. The separation was necessary. The ache engulfed her still. Silly Eve making the same mistakes, this time with her own blood.

"Be safe." She whispers, clawing at the ends of her coat and twisting.


Bridge, USS Prospero

It had been considered a fool’s errand, and yet, here she was ready to play the part.

Veronica Sawyer surveys the smoking wreckage of the Pelago of New York against the first rays of breaking dawn. The storm has parted for their fleet, putting them right on top of the Sentinel’s ships without being spotted. The sight of the Empire State Building reduced to a fire-belching stump twists something in Veronica’s stomach, a pang of momentary guilt; or the ghost thereof.

“Captain,” Montgomery Biard says as he comes in from the deck, “the fire team is ready to start the bombardment at your command. It’s hard to tell who’s friendly or not out there, but I think it’s a fair estimate all the old US Navy vessels aren’t Pelago.”

Biard comes to stand by Veronica’s side, jaw clenched. “I hope this wasn’t a mistake.”

Sawyer doesn’t turn at the sound of Biard’s voice. Her gaze remains on the carnage in front of her, eyes narrowed slightly as if to guard themselves from the hazy mix of sunshine and smoke, despite being enclosed on the bridge. When her first mate moves beside her, Veronica shifts slightly to lean against him — to give him more reassurance or herself, it’s hard to say. Though his nerves always show more than hers do, Biard knows the “dread captain” well enough to know that she still feels worry, apprehension, fear.

“If it is, I blame you.” As Veronica glances at him, the deadpan delivery is belied by a small smirk at the corner of her mouth to let him know that isn’t the case.

It was his suggestion, but her decision, to come to the Pelago, after all — to go out in a fight with a chance for a better existence than the cold, miserable half life they were living hiding in a storm on rusty ships.

“Aside from the Decatur, there’s no way to confirm without taking away the advantage,” she agrees, lifting the radio from her belt, but she hesitates to push the button, to give the command. Turning toward him, she studies Biard’s face for a long moment. “I just realized, really realized, that it’s the last battle, however it goes.”

Biard looks at Veronica, studying her in silence for a moment. He hadn’t considered the notion of finality in all of this. That, win or lose, this would be the end of a pirate fleet. That whoever survived this day would find the next a different one. His eyes wander away from Veronica, to the floor, and then when he finds his strength ahead— to the war to come.

“Orders, Captain?” Biard asks, lifting his chin up.

Sawyer tunes her radio to the channel the Forthright shares. “«Let us know if you see any other ships we don’t want to hit with friendly fire. All military ships but the Decatur are targets, as far as Prospero’s concerned.»”

After one more glance at her first mate, the dread pirate turns to face the battlefield and they stand, shoulder to shoulder, as they have for so many years now. She lifts the radio to her mouth, her thumb depressing the button to talk.

“«Commence fire.»”

Dark, intense eyes watch the reaction to the command. Veronica reaches out to grip the edge of the instrument panel, knuckles turning white. It’s the only outward display of the nerves, the fear she feels.


The Cerberus II

Through a gap in her shield where paper sloughs off in wet heaps, Iris Earheart sees sunlight.

The storm clouds have parted, revealing the early haze of dawn on the eastern horizon over the bow of the Decatur. In this frigid wintry morning, there is at first peace, and then… dread.

The Dread Pirate Sawyer.

The massive silhouette of the tanker ship Prospero is the thing of legends. As soon as Iris sees the ship it's too late to call a warning. She hears the noisy blast of mortars firing in the distance, even as the Sentinel ships—now visible as the storm abruptly clears—turn their deck guns on the Cerberus.

Iris’ heart climbs up into her throat, her shield begins to crumble, and she hears the whistling incoming of a mortar shell. Iris’ eyes reflexively wrench shut as—


The Trawler

A massive plume of fire and smoke erupts on the open water. Ricky Daselles, face spattered in blood, recoils from the light of the blast and shields his eyes. Squinting against the glow, he spies the towering plume of fire rising up into the sky along with a shower of debris. Four more massive explosions hit a moment later, then another. Ricky scrambles back, eyes wide in disbelief.

Darryl Lincoln emerges from the cabin, watching the explosions across the water with disbelief. “Ricky,” he whispers, spotting the fleet of pirate ships closing in from the east. His mouth opens in a wordless gasp as more mortar rounds strike down with startling accuracy, the wind somehow always in their favor.

With a hoot and a scream, Ricky leaps into the air and claps his hands. “Holy shit!” He cries, as the Sentinel’s escort fleet for the Decatur is obliterated by the mortar bombardment. He sweeps his ball cap off of his rainsoaked head and screams a joyous cry into the sky.

They’re here to help?” Darryl asks in confusion, to which Ricky grabs his cousin by the cheeks and bubbles with laughter.

“They did it!” Ricky howls. “Mad Eve fuckin' did it!


The Cerberus II

Explosions erupt from the Decatur’s escort vessels, and Iris Earheart watches them beginning to sink into the deep. The Decatur remains untouched, and she sees Ryans aboard it leading Huruma toward the side, the latter of whom looks grievously wounded.

In the sky, Kazimir Volken is nowhere to be seen. As soon as the first rays of sun crept over the Pelago, it was like he receded into the darkness like a vampire.

Ships, a fleet of pirate vessels, scream across the water around the Decatur, zipping between the smoldering wreckage of the escort ships. Small arms fire pops off from their decks as gunners pick off Sentinel soldiers trying to flee their sinking ships.

This was it.

It was over.

Still, Iris finds herself frozen in place for the barest of moments. Was there another shoe to drop? As paper falls and flutters around her, the atmosphere, the sight she sees before her gives her a resounding answer:


In that moment, for the first time in what feels like an epoch, Iris Earheart lets down her guard. Soaked damp pieces of paper release from her grasp and fall to the ground, some with fat, wet plops and others practically disintegrating on contact with the ship.

Teetering back on her heels, she lets exhaustion overtake her and she releases the hold her ability has on all around her, blood draining out of the corner of her mouth as she falls backwards into a soggy and messy bed of paper. Inhale, exhale. Disbelieve, believe. Joy.

A smile crosses her face as she lays there catching her breath, arms splayed out beside her. Tears well up in the corners of her eyes, and try as hard as she might she can't choke back a sob.

"That was for you, Nico."

At the helm of the Cerberus II, Asi holds onto the wheel with cold fingers that are slowly losing feeling. Keeping the smaller craft away from crashing into the Decatur achieved, only then does she turn to listen to the sounds of distant fire— to see the break in the clouds.

The tension in her expression slacks in disbelief first, then relief, and she holds on to the wheel— to fighting— more tightly than before. She had to, now.

The Forthright had come home. Eve, Silas, Poppy, Monica—

Asi blinks away the sting of tears and turns to look across the deck. They'd barely hung on until support had arrived, but they had. "Let's get the Captain back aboard and get the hell out of here!" She'd not seen what had happened above save for the bodies flying off the side of the ship, wouldn't feel assured until she saw Huruma and Ryans again, both safe and sound.

And then they could support burning the last of the goddamned Sentinel out of their Pelago.

Sheltered in a corner of the wheelhouse, Squeaks lays on the floor, nearly motionless except for the shudders that erratically wrack her small frame, head and shoulders propped up on Jonathan’s knees. She’s pale, almost ashen, with eyes closed and breaths shallow. Blood soaks through her shirt, spilled over the fingers meant to staunch the flow. While Jonathan prepares fresh bandages, dark red drips from slackened knuckles into water from the sea and the storm that’s already pooled beneath the teen’s torso.

“Hey,” Jonathan murmurs, “hey stay with me.”

Squeaks barely moves when Asi’s voice calls orders to the crew. Her eyes flutter sluggishly, refusing to open fully — it’s so cold, and she’s very tired — but she turns a vaguely focused look in the technopath’s direction.

“Squeaks, c’mon.”

From where she lays, she can’t see the ships that have arrived, but she can hear notes of hope and victory in the woman’s voice.


It brings the girl a sense of relief. Squeaks’ hand slips from her side into the pooled bloody water, her eyes slide closed again. Jaw trembling, tears leak from the corners of her eyes and cut fresh tracks down her cheeks. It’s over.


Maybe now she can finally rest.


The Decatur

As Ryans leads Huruma away from the scene of their battle, back through the blood-soaked deck of the ship and the path of destruction they cut through Crowley’s flagship, some flicker of life still burns in the Confessor.

Crowley’s vision tunnels as he watches Ryans and Huruma depart. Pain is gone, just the dull cold of death running through his body like the lengths of steel stairs and bulkhead he is now partially-fused with. As blood froths in his mouth, Crowley pulls with his only free hand at the buttons of his jacket. He pulls his greatcoat open as much as he can, revealing the heavy vest worn beneath. Not body armor, but something else entirely.

A portion of the stairs runs through the gold-plated tubing on the vest, causes coolant to leak down the front in frosted trails. Steam rises from the liquid nitrogen that soaks his chest, mixing with blood. Sparks emit from the triangular metal lens in the middle of the vest that the coolant pipes wind around. He flips a switch on the vest, a toggle, up and down.


Crowley exhales half a wet breath.

And then never breathes again.


The Cerberus II

And the sky is filled with light

Benjamin Ryans, soaked to the bone by freezing rain, lands on the bow of the Cerberus II and feels the throbbing ache of overexertion of his ability behind his eyes. Huruma has fallen into shock, the blinding pain of her missing arm replaced by a deathly cold. Iris and Asi are the first to see the Captain’s return, the cauterized stump that ends the middle of Huruma’s right forearm, and the look of weary fatigue on the Captain’s face.

Can you see it?

Pirate ships flying the flag of the Dread Pirate Sawyer skim across the water, gunshots ring out in the distance. The war is over, and the cleanup has begun.

All the black is really white

Jonathan emerges from the cabin, carrying Jac in his arms with her head cradles against his chest. Worry paints his features. “We’re gonna need a doctor,” he says with a tightness in his voice and eternal optimism.

If you believe it

Despite the fatigue, Benjamin feels worry for his young crew member. Still gently clutching Huruma to him, he moves closer to Jonathan so he can get a better look at the girl's injuries. A hand gnarled and shaking with exhaustion, reaches out to take one of the girls smaller hands. “Stay strong, young hound,” Ryans says in a quiet rumble of encouragement, “this was but one battle and there is much to do before we can rest. Who’s going to protect my back?”

As your time is running out

He didn’t like her color, it was so pale. With a look at Jonathan, he gives a sharp nod and turns towards the helm.

Let me take away your doubt

The small hand Ryans takes is cold to the touch. Too cold. The slack in the limb is void of any resistance save weight. Squeaks is unresponsive to words or touch. In the short handful of seconds that passed between the wheelhouse and the deck, the girl’s shivering stopped and she's grown very still and small in Jonathan’s arms, like a candle’s flame in a storm, shrinking around the tiny ember at the end of the wick.

You can find a better a place

Asi!” Ryans calls across to the wheelhouse. “Put out a distress call for medical and we need some firepower over here to help clear the rest of the rats off our new ship,” he says with a jerk of his head towards the Navy ship.

In this twilight

That’s right, Ryans was claiming the destroyer for the Hounds.

Dust to dust

The whaler served its purpose, but if they were going to continue to protect the seas in the area they would need a better ship, and what a better way to repurpose a symbol of fear but to turn it into a symbol of hope.

Ashes in your hair remind me

It's the cold that hits her first; Huruma feels the hand on her face and the support it takes to get her moving, the dimming flicker of Crowley having himself a lovingly slow death, different flickers up ahead as the Captain gets set back on his path. There's no real ability to discern them, adrenaline slipping away and icy water finally digs through everything else.

What it feels like

Almost everything, anyway. There is still shelter to be had in the crook of Ryans' arm, even as the littlest of them skirts the entrance of Hades; it's harder and harder to hear her there. The empath's only response is the muffled warmth of pained breathing at Ben's side, shoulders slack and face burying against the solid wall of his frame.

And I won't feel again

The hand she has remaining is clamped like a vise around her own bicep, shorn limb quaking both from injury and cold.

Night descends

It's only when Iris hears the clamor of those returning to their ship that she slowly sits up from her bed of paper. Brushing snow off her body suit, she heaves out a cold, wet breath as she pulls herself up to her feet and wraps around her arms around herself. Adrenaline starting to fade leaves her feeling weak, head swimming as the taste of blood occasionally touches the tip of her tongue. Her head pounds with the force of a thousand jackhammers as her nose continues to drain down her face.

Could I have been a better person?

With a stumbling step, she starts her way down the ship, back to join the others. While the pervasive feeling of dread hasn't yet faded, there's a victory to be had, and have it she will. It's what she owes to those they lost, that she lost. Even if her steps are uneven and her vision dimming, she'll make it.

If I could only

Asi's one of them needing that medical assistance, but she stays on her feet out of sheer will. Once they're behind the Decatur does she look again to the approaching fleet and pull the radio.

Do it all again

"This is the Cerberus II, astern the Decatur, requesting a medic. We've killed Crowley, we're taking the Decatur, and have multiple injuries." She lets off the call for a moment before dipping her head, adding on tersely, "Welcome back, Forthright, you crazy bucket of fucks. Glad to fucking see you."

And the sky is filled with light

She keeps a hold on to the radio like she's held onto hope all this time that somehow they'd win the day.

Can you see it?

They're close. This close, if they can just last a little longer in the dogfights still needing ended.

All the black is really white

In the distance, fires burn in the dawn light. Clouds pull back from the eastern horizon, and the fleet of the Dread Pirate Sawyer descends on the Pelago. In another time, this would be a nightmare scenario, but here at the darkest hour before the dawn, nothing is as it once was.

If you believe it

From the sky over the Pelago, Kazimir Volken watches the death knell of the Sentinel. His pale eyes regard the miniature tragedies below with great attention as the dying winds buffer him around. At first there is ease in his posture, relaxation in his arms, and for a moment… peace. But then there is a twinge of something, not doubt, but concern.

And the longing that you feel

Volken turns toward the western horizon, still dark, and considers someone that exists in the periphery of his memories. Or rather, his host’s memories.

You know none of this is real

Stef,” Kazimir whispers, before disappearing into the sky.

You will find a better a place

Fires burn in the Pelago, guns fire in the distance, thunder roars on the horizon. Peace will be won.

In this twilight




Shimmering motes of blue-green light dance through a hazy brown-red sky.

Dust swirls across a barren, parched stretch of desert dotted with scrub vegetation. Between the holes in a rusting chassis of an old automobile the wilted blossoms of dead wildflowers blow in the hot wind. Footprints in the baked earth trail away from the ruined car, across an open stretch of parched land, and toward the mountains on the horizon.

Two figures walk side by side across the stretch of desert, each clad in a heavy suit of pitted and scoured armor. The helmets covering their heads are scuffed and battered, impact marks from errant gunfire mar their surfaces. Streaks of old ferromagnetic fluid long-ago wept from the flexible under-armor stain the quilted fabric leaving only the armored plates for protection. One of the two armored figures holds a device in their hand, ticking softly as numbers scroll across a cracked display.

«This is it.» He says, looking to the armored woman beside him. They move in practiced coordination, setting down their heavy packs. Each one retrieving a set of metal spikes from the pack, setting them into the ground and twisting an actuator on the end that causes the spike to set down stabilizers and stake themselves into the ground, then extend an unfurling array like a satellite dish up from the top.

The dishes are arranged at one-another, nine in total, forming a triangle.

«And we’re at time in six…» The woman starts counting down, checking the hand-held device.

Thunder roars in the distance.


The shifting auroral lights swirl and churn overhead.


The wind picks up, kicking up fine granules and shifting the coppery sand…


…revealing a length of faded green and white painted metal partially buried in the sand.


A freeway sign.


“Welcome to Alaska.”


Lightning flashes in the distance, thunder rumbles, and nothing happens. The two armored figures look at each other, one checks the hand-held device. «Trying for manual reset,» he says, hitting a few buttons.

Nothing happens.

«Where is he?» The armored woman asks. Her companion shakes his head, he doesn't know.

«Fuck.» She curses, pacing around angrily. «Fuck!» Her partner walks over, putting a hand on her scarred shoulder armor. She pauses, looking up at him through the scuffed faceplate of her helmet. He can just barely make out her features through it.

«Protocol.» He reminds her. «We have to trace his steps.»

She pulls away from his hand, pulls out her own handheld device and checks coordinates on it. «Resetting the array,» she says with tension in her voice. The satellite dishes begin to vibrate softly. Their hum is dissonant, piercing.

«One of us has to stay behind to—» He starts to say and she cuts him off.

«I’m going.» She presses a button on her device and the stakes begin to spark and sputter. He doesn’t put up a fight as she walks between them, and electricity begins to arc between the pylons. «And when I find Crowley…»

Her partner watches with tension in his eyes.

«He better have a good explanation.»

Thunder roars in the distance.

Lightning follows.

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