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Vellios continued to scoop the watery broth then chewed and swallowed it, the food sliding down into his gizzard. It warmed him but only filled him half way causing his figure to rise and move toward the makeshift stove. He scooped another round before he flopped upon the seat to continue eating. His head perked when he heard footsteps coming from the crew’s quarters and headed into his directions his eyes turned to spot Iosif.

Their co-pilot wearily ran a palm along his face, rubbing at his eyes - it didn’t take a genius to tell that the man had taken their shore leave as an opportunity to grab some shut-eye. Unlike the others, Iosif didn’t find any comfort in the notion of sharing sleeping space with the likes of Khosin, however much the others might’ve grown to trust the batarian by this point, so he’d instead found rest in the confines of the cockpit, if only for a few hours.

For a moment, he didn’t take any notice of the turian enjoying his broth, instead turning towards the sink unit and releasing a stream of lukewarm water which he began to splash across his face.

“Rough night?” Vellios asked as he paused on his eating, noting Iosif washing his face to wake up. His figure leaned back in his seat and studied the human.

”No,” Iosif grunted, ”Just needed some rest.”

After another moment of splashing water on his face, he tugged at the collar of his shirt and used it to dry himself off.

”You? Had a chance to visit the Alliance’s defining colony?” The tone he’d used was a dry one, not entirely endearing to his old life.

“Not really. Only colonies I've visited, aside from brief stops, were Turian and for supplies and men,” Vellios shot back easily.

”Guess the military culture does that to you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but eh... don’t you turians have some kind of equivalent of a tourist hotspot, or whatever?”

Vellios gave Iosif a look as he replied, amusement in his tone, “Likely but I've never been there honestly for a long time. I didn't do too well in those types of scenes some times and preferred more hostile ones.”
That earned him an amused snort from the slav. ”You ought to try my hometown. Nothing like a UV sun-tan to lighten up your day.”

Vellios tapped his hard carapace, reminding Iosif the UV rays would not get through it, as he continued, “I don't think I'll be getting a tan with this. However, I am curious about what type of place might've produced a hardened individual like yourself. Mind sharing?”

Yet another amused snort was produced through Iosif’s nostrils as he heard Vellios’ choice of language. ”Does Lowell City ring a bell with you?”
Vellios shook his head.

”Didn’t think so. It’s a population center on Mars. Y’know, the dustbowl planet where my species first discovered Prothean tech - nothing particularly interesting unless you’re a fan of low gravity, endless dust storms and a freezing, red desert which stretches out for hundreds of kilometers in every direction. Unless you’re wearing a suit, you’re gonna be freeze dried in seconds. Not exactly the most hospitable homeworld, I guess, but it wasn’t so much dangerous as it was boring.”
“Better than hopping from ship to ship with no ground under your feet, or plundering for living. It explains why you left, but not why you joined up here,” Vellios pointed out and continued, “I'm sure there's likely something you miss back home? I know I do.”

”Yeah, there are shittier places to start.” Iosif conceded, before continuing to address the turian’s subsequent question, ”Back there? Nothing especially, I’ve made a life out here for myself.”
“You still could've went anywhere and done anything. Now, I got a reason to want violence and thrive in it, but as far as I see… You don't,” Vellios commented and leaned into his table, his arm toyed with his spoon in his stew. His head still studied his crew mate for another answer.

”At the time, I wanted the Alliance. Or, if you’re interested in the specifics, I wanted to be a pilot. Remember, when I left home, aliens were wholly new to our species. I’d never even met a turian in the... flesh, until just after I’d been given my first posting in the Terminus Systems. Enlisting was a means to the end, really...” Iosif gave pause for a moment and shot a glance towards his own prosthetic arm, his fingers gently twitching, ”I suppose the violence came with the territory.”

“It's usually the ground troopers, not the pilot, that often suffers the physical evidence. What happened to cause that if you don't mind me asking?” Vellios asked and pointed to the slav’s cybernetic prosthesis.

”Story I’ve told enough times.” Iosif flexed his wrist for just a moment, [color=steelblue]”Shot down, arm pinned down by the fuselage. From what I was told by the medical staff who treated me, I was lucky to leave just that behind.”[/color=steelblue] Sniffing, he pointed his artificial index finger at the turian. ”Your guardian angel, Serena, would probably have a thing or two to say about misuse, but it turns out having a cybernetic limb is helpful when you need to apply a little extra force.”

“More like that human story, Beauty to the Beast, without the love interest. And you're right about that. She has a passion for machines of any variety so I suggest bring earplugs for that conversation,” Vellios confirmed and smirked at the thought, “I can't disagree that that cybernetics pack a hell of a punch when used by the right people.”
”Speaking of Beauty and the Beast.... how’d you two wind up working together?” Iosif hunched forwards with a quizzical gaze, stretching his neck as he turned a question towards his turian crewmate.

“As I told Khosin earlier before he went off to do an extranet call, we met when we both were assigned to the same job. She had been the only other none female Asari, so being my normal and charming self. I flirted with her. She went redder than that fruit called a tomato and I busted out into a fit of giggles. It was adorable.”

Vellios smiled at the memory, one of his few he cherished, as he scooped up another mouthful and swallowed quickly. His eyes drifted to note the barcode on Iosif’s neck and tightened his brow in his attempt to place it. Between chews, he then asked something he hope he wouldn’t result in a fight, “I didn't realise humans branded their military personnel.”

For a moment, the slav’s face seemed to harden, like stone. ”They don’t.” Then, after yet another pause, Iosif’s expression softened. He reached around to the back of his neck, then gave it a scratch, like some kind of phantom itch. ”I got this when the batarians put me to work in the mines.”

“That explains the tension around Khosin,” Vellios said then downed his glass of brandy, something he hadn't touched yet. Mainly since he wanted to see how long he could go before he needed it and drained it in one swallow, “They made some crude and cruel devices for that shit, but at least a brand could be burned off. However, you didn't.”

”You’re observant,” Iosif remarked, with a grim expression. ”It keeps me on my toes, reminds me of how I wound up in that situation. As for our batarian colleague, it’ll also be a good reminder for him to stay in line.”

“I figured as much, through honestly you're best putting that behind you and moving on. Just my opinion, but I also know it's easier said than done,” Vellios stated and poured himself another drink, his bottle about a fifth empty. He sat there, ignoring his stew and thinking a bit, before he reconsidered his next question, “Part of me wants to ask you how you got away but I think I already know the answer. So I'll just let it rest and change the topic. Your choice on what we talk about.”

Part of that was appreciated on the slav’s part, to which he gave the turian an affirming nod. ”So, you ever visit Earth?” He asked, with genuine curiosity.

“Hell no, according the hierarchy humans are a disorganized, crazy race,” Vellios teased then got serious, “Seriously though, I haven't and for good reason. I served during the 314 incident and I highly doubt my kind are accepted with open arms.”

Iosif couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. ”Honestly? With the history of war in our species, I think you’d be more a point of fascination than anything.”

“I doubt that. I just sort of focused on the individuals rather than what race they are. If I wanted to be bitter, I would be pretty lonely myself and likely dead,” the dark carapace Turian pointed out as he couldn't name a race he wasn't wronged by in some fashion.

”I guess you’re right, to a point. Iosif conceded yet again, though his thoughts on their four-eyed crewmate remained the same.

“Besides, I'm fucked up mentally as it is. Why do I want more shit to deal?” Vellios took another sip and stared at his glass for another moment.

”For what it’s worth,” Iosif began, treading cautiously as he ventured onto what could’ve potentially been thin ice, ”Relying on those non-prescription meds of yours won’t help. Trust me there, I know.”
“Armis would agree with you on that but she understood my condition. One of the few females willing to put with up my baggage and still love the shit out of me for all my flaws,” Vellios’ tone had a wishful and loving tone in it. Not one of mourning or regret, but fondness over a memory he held close.

He straightened up, then looked Iosif over with an approach that he knew Serena would've smacked him for later, “You're how old Iosif? Have you ever considered finding a mate or someone to share your time with? I'm pretty sure that cybernetic arm doesn't get the job done or talks back.”

”Thirty-one.” He answered, albeit he’d been caught unprepared for such a question as that, at least from someone like Vellios. ”And... well, I’ve had my share of relationships, I guess. Nothing that would’ve been called serious, guess I never had time for it.”

“I was curious was all. I'm surprised no one tried to snatch you up since. My wife didn't hesitate to tie the knot when I explained things,” Vellios chuckled, swirling the brandy in his glass bottom, “I often wonder what my mother would've thought of and if she would've been proud of me.”

His eyes shifted over to Iosif and added, “I don't suppose you have thoughts like that time to time, do ya?”
”Sometimes, maybe. I’ve had other things on my mind, in truth.”

“It seems like that's something common with everyone on ship. Even Serena,” Vellios said, letting the topic fall flat for the moment. His eyes stared at this stew a bit longer then slid it away, half eaten, and focused on his drink. Part of him wondered what Serena was likely doing and if she was getting into mischief or keeping the other girls out of it.
He chuckled softly, “I hope Serena isn't running herself ragged looking after Dex and Tanya.”

”If she can babysit you, I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Iosif pointed out.
“Doesn't mean I can't worry about her. She does have a knack for getting into trouble or rather, it finds her.”

”Perhaps, perhaps not - this is Elysium, nothing like Omega or Illium - with all due respect, our batarian crewmate is more likely to be found by trouble here.”

“I thought the same thing when we were anchored on a planet with a human colony. All I know, for sure, is one moment I'm sipping brandy and next she comes running up saying she needs my help. It seems one of her bots exploded near their drilling machines and I needed to climb down the vent to haul up individuals from the wreck,” Vellios mentioned as he recalled the incident in his mind, his mandibles wiggled in amusement followed by a low hum in his throat, “Still think I worry too much?”

The slav couldn’t help but crack a thin smile. ”Maybe so, though you’ve given me a better understanding of your perspective.”

Vellios downed the last of his Turian Brandy in his cup and slid it to the side with his bowl. He sat upright then glanced at his quarters door, mentally debating on retreating back to the confines of his room or stretching his legs. The slight pain in his ribs decided it for him. Twisting his legs to the other side and hopping off, he excused himself, “I better get my ribs checked out and make sure I didn't break something when I toppled out of bed. If you'll excuse me Iosif, I need to go to the medical bay. It was nice talking to you and I wouldn't mind doing it again soon.”

Iosif gave his turian crewmate a nod, but seemed content to remain in the mess for a little while longer. ”Agreed, you make good conversation when you’re not trying to commit suicide by proxy.”

The Black Hound.
(by @Mr Allen J)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

With his talk with Wendy concluded... it was time for the Hound to make RAVEN's job, much, much, easier.

He stepped through a portal, and appeared right outside the gate to the Machine... Rowan was right, he could had stopped this much earlier, but he chose not to. It wasn't a tactical decision, at least that was what the Foundation Woman told him. Either way, he stepped into the bulk of the IU defense force, and they looked at him... with eyes of fear. That was what the Family built him as - a symbol of fear. But, now... it would change today.

"Lay down your weapons." The Hound spoke through comms, and earned himself a look from the rest of the Intimidation Unit. "And pull out of the area."

"S-sir... that'd go against orders-"

"Have you forgotten who really gives out the orders here?" The Hound said, his voice clearly irritated. "It is I... as the Blessed Three are no more."

This earned gasps and other sounds of surprise.

"RAVEN has disposed of Julia and Blake the same way they killed Ezekiel," The Hound said. "Therefore, it is no longer viable to defend this position - instead we will retreat and regroup."

Most of the IU were more than willing to abandon their position, and listen to the Hound. The battle going on upstairs was savage... and the IU members there were quick to jump out at the first opportunity to leave. Not to mention a majority of the IU weren't as loyal as the Blessed Three liked to delude themselves.

"Zenith will transport us somewhere we can regroup and discuss our next course of action-"

"Forget that," A member of the IU said over the comms. "I'm loyal to the Three... I'd rather die defending their masterpiece than run away."

"...Then you'll die." The Hound said, as he stepped through a portal, and a majority of the IU both underground, and above-ground, did the same as they called for Zenith.

Meifeng Zhao, Quentin Taylor.
(collaboration between @Mr Allen J, and @Zombiedude101)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

The tremors and electromagnetic disturbance did not go unnoticed by RAVEN... but, Meifeng ultimately decided to ignore it for now. Because they had to push their way through the base.

They were being subtle, but every member of the IU that was in their way was killed. Meifeng's orders, specifically. They didn't have time to get into extended firefights and other foolishness. They beelined straight for the Machine with their weapons and explosives ready. They hadn't encountered the Hound yet... but, as they proceeded it became clear that the IU were... pulling out? Escaping through portals.

"Epsilon. this is Captain Zhao, the Intimidation Unit is pulling out of the area," Meifeng reported. "Do you think it's an ambush strategy?"

"Possibly," Quentin's voice answered, "Stay on your guard, whatever you see."

"Affirmative...." Meifeng said, as she lead the group forward. According to Shizuka, Uncle should be in there... Oh God, she had to explain to him what happened to Lihua. Even though they never had the best relationship, they did care about each other - even if Lihua had shown it in her own special way - and wanted to see the best for each other. Not to mention what would happen to Lijuan, and the Liu Family now that their mansion had been burned to the ground.

Either way, it wasn't long before they reached the vast complex leading up to the Machine by the virtue of the guards all seemingly abandoning their posts. All that was left was a small, but still very threatening force of IU Soldiers. Yet... No Bonecrusher, no Phantasm... no Hound. The place was practically unguarded, and that made Meifeng wonder what was really going on. Still, they had to break through the doors to get to the Machine, and the IU soldiers probably wouldn't be receptive to them.

"Counterpoint," Meifeng spoke over the comms. "The entryway to the Machine is in sight, but it is guarded by a sizable force. Your advice?"

"How many contacts, minimum?" Quentin asked, his team not too far behind hers.

"Around two dozen." Meifeng replied.

"They're expecting an offensive, but we've still got an advantage. Can you hold place until we're in position?" She got another query shot her way by the veteran RAVEN, who wanted to minimise any casualties on their part where he could. Losing Max and Zhao had been enough for one op.

"Of course, will hold position." Meifeng answered.

Quentin was affirmed, for now. "Understood, we're close behind you."

It didn't take long for Epsilon team to find their way to the section of the facility preceding where the Machine was kept. Whilst Meifeng's Delta team were already positioned on lower levels, poised to strike like a coiled snake, Quentin's team had opted for an approach from the maintenance access routes, taking a series of walkways which ran overhead. He assigned a few men to handle overwatch for Delta team below whilst the rest of them would push forward along the catwalks, clearing out any of the paramilitaries that would've ambushed Meifeng from above. "Epsilon's in position, when you're ready."

"Ready." Meifeng answered, before signalling for her own team to strike. Having already scouted out a few lurking around the corner, one of her subordinates primed a flashbang and cast it into the dim confines of which a few lay in waiting. The moment they heard that pop, another two pushed forward to clear the corners, squeezing off a couple of shots at the paramilitary soldiers as they blindly searched for targets. Even with all the equipment and training, morale had been reduced enough that most of them had figured it for some kind of suicide mission - hence why those remaining weren't so much mercenaries as they were loyalists to the Blessed Three, the rest having deserted with the Black Hound or gone their own ways.

Distant shots signaled Quentin's team to push forward, taking advantage of the darkness just as their opponents on the catwalk had done. With the best equipment that Maximilian's influence could've bought, it was a matter of using some cleverly adapted thermal imaging equipment to seek out their targets, mitigating what little advantage the black-clad paramilitaries held. The familiar boom of Quentin's 870 resonated as another slug punched into the body armour of one such man barreling from one end of the catwalks to another, throwing him off balance and giving another one of Epsilon team an opportunity to put a few more rounds inside him. Back below, Meifeng had already realised she had a guardian angel of sorts overhead as one of Quentin's agents on overwatch put a round through a would-be attacker's throat as he peered out from an otherwise excellent ambush point.

While Quentin's men were coming from above, Meifeng was doing what she did best as her team laid down fire on the IU. The only problem was that much of the IU were hidden behind barriers, and shields. Meifeng had a perfect idea...

"Give me your grenades," Meifeng said, as she gathered her water into an orb. RAVEN threw their grenades into the orb as Meifeng manipulated the water to pull the pins off from the grenades. "'Nade out." In an instant, she shot the water forward like a cannon, and the grenades were all launched towards the IU formation. They panicked as their barriers were rendered useless in an instant as they all desperately tried to run away (some trying to throw the grenades). It was all in vain, as the grenades exploded and the tiny IU defensive formation was reduced to pieces. Those that ran out were shot up with bullets from RAVEN, and those that managed to survive were quickly disposed of by the RAVEN ambush.

It was over quickly as it started. Meifeng had her rifle ready in case there was another IU defensive position beyond this door, approaching quickly. The Zhao woman was hoping that everything was okay, and they could just plant the charges and get out of here... though, when she walked over to the door, a RAVEN addressed her.

"Captain Zhao?" A RAVEN by the terminal said. "The door's open."

"Probably a trap... where all the IU went," Meifeng said. "They're waiting for us to open, then they'll light us up."

"What do you suggest, then?" The RAVEN said. "We got the thermic lances... but, wouldn't that make no difference?"

"It won't... so here's what we're going to do," Meifeng said. "We're going to get from out of line of fire of the door, then open it... at least we'll have a better chance of surviving whatever they throw at us. So, get in position."

Meifeng held her assault rifle with both hands.

"Affirmative." The RAVEN said, as he did the same as many other RAVENS got in the hallways in the side, and in the catwalks above them... they were completely out of the line of fire, so they wouldn't get destroyed immediately upon opening the door.

"...So, who's going to open the door?" The RAVEN asked. "Do you want me to get the straws-"

"You, since you brought it up. Just haul ass to the door and back." Meifeng said, and the RAVEN groaned as he moved over to the terminal, and pressed the terminal to open the doors, then quickly ran back.

Upon receiving the signal, the two frightening metal doors opened widely, and RAVEN were prepared for anything... before nothing appeared on the other not. Not a single IU soldier, or trap. Only the frightening Machine in full view, and the few enslaved scientists.

"Huh...?" Meifeng said. "...Move in slowly. Don't take any risks."

That went double for those pushing in from overhead. "You heard the woman," Quentin addressed the others with a hushed tone, "Stay on your guard, we don't know what we're dealing with."

The RAVEN squad slowly entered the massive room... and the first thing they did was clear the left, then clear the right. Once everything was safe, they proceeded in. Meifeng immediately crossed off the possibility of a bomb. Because they wouldn't let a bomb anywhere near their precious Machine... everything felt too easy... Meifeng kept her guard up.

"Clear," Quentin's team confirmed, "Delta, what's the situation downstairs?"

"Clear," Meifeng also added. "... They obviously jumped ship."

She looked down at the bag of explosives her fellow RAVEN was carrying. "Alright, start setting charges...."

"Alright, we'll head down to join you." Quentin couldn't help but pass his gaze across the complex yet again, scanning for anything else that warranted suspicion as he started making a descent. "But we'll keep overwatch whilst your team does their work... what about the scientists?"

"Working on it," Meifeng said as she immediately went for her uncle... she glanced at Dr. Cross, and Ignatius, whom were keeping their distance. With the power suppressant collar around Ignatius' neck, he won't be a problem. "Uncle..." Meifeng spoke to Jiao-Long.

"Oh, Meifeng, you're here," Jiao-Long smiled. "I knew you would come... the Machine is almost finished chargi-"

"We know... just don't worry about it," Meifeng said. "Where is Chunhua?"

"I am not sure... she is being kept with the other prisoners."

"Then a friend of mine should be handling that one," Meifeng said, before she pointed at the other RAVENS. "Hurry up, they'll escort you out of here."

Jiao-Long nodded his head.... He didn't even ask about Lihua - he probably thinks that she sat this out... Oh God, it was going to be hard telling him about what happened to Lihua.

"How's those charges looking?" Meifeng said as she marched towards Dr. Cross.

"Almost set."

"Set them to twenty minutes," Meifeng sternly said, before she looked up at Dr. Cross. The two were silent as they stared each other down. "How was your taste of freedom?"

"... I, for one, enjoyed it." Ignatius snarked, and got a cold glare from Meifeng.

"Well, the two of you are getting sent ass-first into the Vault," Meifeng mentioned the famous RAVEN prison... that made criminals cringe at the thought of it. She pointed at the RAVENS. "Now, turn around-"

"No Mannequin?" Quentin's voice was heard before Meifeng realised he was already at her back.

"Oh? The Mannequin?" Ignatius grinned at the veteran RAVEN, who returned a sharp, disgusted glare. "By the way; hi Quent." He laughed before he got to the point.

"Our little Mannequin-friend jumped ship... he left through one of the maintenance ducts the second the fighting started," Ignatius laughed. "He's probably on the Brave-Water bridge by now. Ha..." Of course, that wasn't the full story, but a very convincing lie.

"Fuuuck..." Meifeng groaned, before she focused on the two. She reached for her handcuffs. "We'll worry about the Mannequin later... for now, turn around with your arms behind your back."

"What not going to kill us like all the others?" Ignatius taunted Meifeng as he did as she said. "Or did the little Hero of Prague grow a heart-" A firm backhand caught Ignatius over the back of the head just as he was finishing that remark, but Quentin's effort did little to keep the man quiet.

"Ah, this is why I miss REAPER so much...." Ignatius said. "... We were the perfect group to put you bastards in your place."

Meifeng kept her lips sealed as she put handcuffs on both the former leaders of The Hands of Science... as disgusting as they were, they were the only leads to the other members of the Hands that went under the radar. The second the cuffs were applied, the RAVEN Captain pointed towards the door... but kept a gun against their backs as she escorted them over to the entrance to the Machine room.

"Charges have been set," A RAVEN spoke into her ear. "Give me the signal when you want to time them."

"Let's ensure all our-" Meifeng said... before her eyes rested on the man standing before them...

... Blake Schmidt.

Blake Schmidt.
(by @Mr Allen J)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

It was annoying seeing Wendy and Rowan slip out of his grasp again, but he would hunt them down like dogs at the first opportunity!

For now, he needed to tend to the Machine... and the first thing that Blake wondered was wrong was the fact that his security force was gone. The place should be full of Intimidation Unit soldiers, and where are they? It wasn't possible that RAVEN killed all of them so quickly. He kept running, and running... until he made it to the doors, to see that his Security force was dead, and RAVEN was all over his Machine. Blake couldn't believe his eyes! He grasped both sides of his head, and watched as RAVEN put their hands all over his Machine.

Meifeng immediately aimed her rifle at him, as Jiao-Long hid behind the RAVENS in fear of the man.

"Blake Schmidt..." Meifeng said. "If you were smart... you would get on your knees, and put your hands behind your head."

And disgracemyself? No, I am too esteemed for that.[/i] Blake narrowed his eyes at Meifeng as he thought to himself... then he realized that, after his fight with Wendy and Rowan going sour, he barely had enough strength to take on RAVEN. Perhaps... he should retreat. He turned into stone immediately, and earned a few gunshots from Meifeng from the other RAVENS in the process. His stone form was able to resist the firearms with ease. He merely raised his foot up into his head, and slammed it down hard as he could, as he sent a shockwave through the area that knocked the entire group of RAVENS off balance.

Then he turned around and started hauling ass.

"After him, don't let him get away!" Meifeng said.

Not far away, Quentin could be seen vaulting over one of the nearby apparatus in pursuit. "You heard the woman!"

Blake was running for his life from commoners, it was disgraceful enough that his Machine and hard work went to waste! Blake immediately pressed his earpiece as he shoted, "Zenith!"

Only for no portal to appear.

"Zenith! I said Zenith, God damn it!" Blake loudly shouted.

"Oh, you want Zenith?" The voice of the Foundation Woman appeared in his earpiece. "Sorry, Blakey... but, Zenith had a change of heart... all of them."

"Foundation Woman?!" Blake shouted as he picked up the pace. "What is the meaning of this?!"

"Isn't it obvious, Blakey?" Foundation Woman started off. "It's about time that your actions finally caught up with you... after decades upon decades of crimes against humanity."

"You can't do this to me?! I built the Machine! I built up everything you own from the ground!" Blake shouted.

"What? Things aren't going your way, little Blakey?" The Foundation Woman said, in a very mocking tone. "Are you going to cry...? But, believe me, this was a long time coming, and I do have to thank you for giving me all these resources... For what you ask? I'm going to do something greater than stroke my own ego about how much better I am than everyone else."

Blake didn't respond.

"... But, let me spare you the rhetoric... The Zenith line is on my side now, and all you have to do is be a good little dear... and die." The Foundation Woman laughed. "Alright, bye-bye, Blake. Best of luck to you!."

That's when the line went dead, and Blake pulled his earpiece out, and crushed it in his hands. Damn her, damn all of them. Blake had to run.

Footsteps were pounding hard against the concrete floors behind them, the faint voices of RAVEN's assault force pushing through the darkness.

Blake stopped - pounding his foot against the ground as he pivoted - he erected a wall of stone to give him some distance... but, there wasn't much he could do exhausted from his fight with Wendy. He turned down a side hallway... before he came across the Secretaries that survived.

Then he got an idea.

"Shit!" Meifeng shouted when the wall was erected. She turned her head down a hallway, then whipped her head around to the other hallway. "Quent, you and team Epsilon go down that hall, we'll take this one."

Meifeng said as she took the left hallway.

"We'll try and head him off," Quentin nodded, signalling for his own team to press down the adjacent corridor. One way or another, the veteran RAVEN was determined to ensure that this time there would be no escape. They'd bled enough fighting this monster already. Soon, as Epsilon team pushed down the hall, they could make out the sporadic, desparate footsteps of Blake Schmidt. All it took was a turn down a hall to come face to face with Blake. The man came to a stop, and raised his foot up into the air one more time....

And felt an overwhelming force slamming into his mid-section, a slug fired off from Quentin's 870 that caught him off balance and caused him to stumble backwards until he slumped against a wall.

"Don't move, limbs where I can see them!" The veteran RAVEN barked as he pumped the weapon's action, the words coming out of his mouth as though he were on autopilot, but another threatening gesture from the fallen olympian prompted him to squeeze off another shot, one which punched through that layer of volcanic stone which had formed his skin and left a bleeding rupture in its place, the hard, cracked surface decalcifying around it.

"You... bas..." Blake tried to say... before he fell to the ground, leaving a puddle of blood as his life finally faded. Epsilon team advanced forward just to confirm he was dead and it wasn't long before Meifeng approached, drawn by the gunfire. She looked down at Blake's body, and narrowed her eyes. "... Good riddance."

She pressed her earpiece. "Okay, set the charges, and let's go." She stared at Blake's face and nothing something a little off... but, she shrugged it off as being exhausted.

"... Our work here is done."

Blake Schmidt.
(by @Mr Allen J)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

Walking through the halls of Blake's glamorous tunnels was simple, he knew the place like the back of his hand!

He made it to the very place where his machine was located, hidden behind two massive metal doors, and the Family's legion of Intimidation Unit soldiers at the front doors. When Blake approached with his hands behind his back, all it took was one raise of his hand for his security forces to step aside, and for the intimidating doors to part. The doors closed behind him, as he gazed upon all the excellent work he, and his "loyal services," had done! It really brought to a tear to his eyes!

The Machine, the pride and joy of the Family, took the appearance of a nuclear reactor core, but glowed a vibrant green color. Infused with Metahuman energy that was ready to put everyone on equal footing with each other. All he needed to do was make a few check-ups... Blake walked over to the terminal at the base of the Machine, pressed a few keys, and brought up the progress of the Machine.



Oh, for the love of... They were just short of their required amount of Metahuman energy. Probably when that brat killed Ezekiel, and freed all those candidates... now, they have to waste even more time, when the Machine could have been long finished by now. Unfortunate, but the situation would have been far more dire if Blake hadn't gathered more candidates than necessary, in case a situation like this arises. He had to make haste, or else his enemies would be on his doorstep before he even had a chance to do anything! Now, all he had to do was send a few people to the conversion chambers - no more than a dozen - and then activate the Machine so it'd fully charge. First offers that came to mind were the many, many, bottom-line cannon fodders.

In the middle of his deep and complex line of thought, one of his Secretaries approached, "Master Blake, sorry to interrupt you," the same shape-shifting Secretary that Blake used to spy on the brats spoke, with an odd and lifeless smile on her face. "But, RAVEN is approaching."

Oh, they were much faster than expected. No matter, there was one ace in the hole that'd buy Blake plenty of time to finish charging the Machine.

The same ace in the hole he employed in Silver Hills, in fact.

"...Activate the shield of light."

Veronica Davis, & Shizuka Takashiro.
(collaboration between @Mr Allen J and @tsukune)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

The two managed to follow Blake all the way to the doors of the Machine room - Veronica stopped right before she saw how tight security was, instead choosing to press her back against the wall, and look over her shoulder. She, ultimately, decided to keep her distance. It might seem suspicious if she appeared in a place vital to the Blessed Three's plans without a good reason. When the doors opened, Veronica caught sight of the Machine, and grinned.

"Yeah, that's the place," Veronica whispered, "Now... that's a lot of security... I'm surprised the Hound isn't present, but he's probably going to be leading the charge against RAVEN."

That wasn't relevant right now, Veronica had a question for Shizuka.

"Do you think we should try to get a closer look?" She, again, whispered. "Might be risky... but, it might be worth it in the long run."

Veronica, far as she could tell, was still in the Blessed Three's good graces... or at least they think she's an obedient little doggy until they least expect it.

"Otherwise... we can go find my sisters in the upper floors."

Shizuka thought for a moment. RAVEN would be here anytime soon, but hearing Blake ordering his Secretaries to put up the 'shield of light' would mean that they still had a bit more time before RAVEN stormed in here and wreck this hole, just like what the IU did to the West Coast Headquarters the day before.

"...Wouldn't hurt to sneak a peek at the Machine first, then we go get your sisters," he finally replied in a low tone to Veronica, his eyes watching Blake and his zombie slaves to make sure they wouldn't catch him and the double agent gossiping behind their back. Besides, RAVEN could use more intel on the Machine... which was also one of the objectives he was here for.

Then there wasn't a second to waste as Veronica stepped through the metal doors with Shizuka behind her. She would have to hope that IU doesn't gun her down on sight, but she should be strong enough to save both of them from a barrage of bullets (well, her shields stopped worse in the past). Right when she approached, a burly member of the IU walked up.

"Veronica..." the man said. "What are you doing down here?"

Veronica put her hand on her hip, and loudly scoffed. "We're Blake's security, we got separated from him because God these tunnels are a maze..."

"Hmph, some guards you are..."

"We're doing work miles above your paygrade," Veronica hissed, she poked the man in the chest to make her point quite clear. "So, are you going to get out of our way, or do I have to move you myself?"

Veronica might seem as if she's being... overly aggressive, but that's how she interacted with the rest of the IU. With absolute contempt! It would simply be out of character if Veronica decided to start playing the role of a pup.

The man grumbled as he stepped aside, and the two stepped inside of the massive room. Veronica stepped in, and looked up at the Machine. It was gigantic, and the Machine was quite threatening. The Machine needed to be destroyed, or the already powerful Blessed Three were going to get a lot more powerful (and, thus, an even bigger pain in the ass). While saving her sisters was Veronica's true goal in all of this... she acknowledged that, if RAVEN failed, then there was nothing stopping them from taking Veronica's sisters back, and killing her.

She shook her head.

The urge to kill Blake here and now got far more intense, but she realized that would ruin the mission (and the fact they couldn't take on an entire army). She relented... but, Blakey didn't even realize that they were there. Probably too caught up with his Machine to pay his surroundings any attention.

Beneath the mask, Shizuka narrowed his eyes at the Machine up ahead - even at this distance, it was an intimidating sight. However, seeing how Blake was on the verge of pulling his perfect hair out of his sorry scalp, he couldn't help breaking out a smirk. Everything the Founding Fags had built up was starting to fall apart... Once they got the biggest threat in front of them out of the way, they could finally put the not-so-Blessed Three (Two, now that Ezekiel was confirmed dead as he should be) to where they truly belong.

But before that, they would have to get Veronica's precious sisters... and the scientists out of the way, first. Among the figures in white lab coats working restlessly on the Machine, he spotted Meifeng's uncle, Jiao-Long, and whatever was left of Hands of Science, Dr. Cross and the Mannequin. They all seemed fine, if not for the haunting look on their face, a sign that they hadn't been sleeping well. (Who could, anyway?) A random thought popped into his mind as he wondered how Jiao-Long was going to take the death of his sister once all this was over.

"...Ugh! Where is the Hound?!" Blake loudly exclaimed into the comms as he whipped around, and started walking towards the exit. Veronica and Shizuka dipped behind nearby cover, watching as Blake walked by. "No matter... I need to get to the conversion chambers fast as possible, and get the Machine ready!" He said. "Tell the Hound he's on thin ice! Very thin ice!"

Shizuka had seen enough to bail out of here and leave it to the main RAVEN force to deal with this Machine once they breached the shield. They had other things to do than getting themselves killed by the already mad man brisking nearer towards their hiding place. "Let's go before he really sees us here," he whispered to Veronica, giving her his hand.

Veronica didn't say a word, merely took Shizuka's hand as the two quickly left through the walls. Veronica wasn't going to waste time in fooling around down here anymore. It was RAVEN's job from here on forward, and if those jarheads couldn't do one simple job, then, well...

...It might as well be her that would bring of all this bullshit to a fitting conclusion.

Meifeng Zhao, Quentin & Reed Taylor.
(collaboration between @Mr Allen J and @Zombiedude101)

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

Unfortunately, RAVEN didn't have a whole lot of time for planning. They had a map of the base, and a lot of RAVENs ready to bring this madness to an end at last.

Meifeng was seated in the back of a RAVEN truck, staring at a photo of Lihua as she waited for them to reach their destination. The lives she'd lost... there were no words to describe it. She sighed as she longingly stared into the photo and asked herself questions. Was there something that Lihua hadn't told her yet? What about Lijuan? How will she push on without her guidance? And truthfully, those were all valid concerns in her mind. Right now... she knew that she had to stop the Family, and bring Biyu, and whoever the hell else was behind this, to justice. And most importantly, save Cindy from their mind control. Guess all I can do is save what I have left.

"Alright, RAVENs, our goal here is simple," Maximilian broke the comm silence. "We are to destroy the Founding Family's Machine, along with the capture of their leadership, and the liberation of any prisoners. This will be a grueling battle, and I am glad to lead you into battle."

"Hmph," Meifeng grunted out loud. She couldn't pay Maximilian any mind right now.

"We're approaching the base now," Maximilian said. "We'll be splitting into three squads once we breach, each with a different task within the building. Team Alpha, lead by me, will be keeping the main IU force busy. While teams Delta and Epsilon, lead by Captains Zhao and Taylor, will be going for the machine. Team Zeta, will be led by our DOVE correspondent Reed Taylor and will be responsible for the recovery of any hostages that the building may contain, and getting them to safety."

Simple enough... Meifeng couldn't help but feel a little bit of bias on Max's part towards her. Didn't matter.

"Wait..." Maximilian said, as the building came into view. Panels on the sides of the building opened up, and glowing blue rods were erected. These rods fired off a beam into the air that formed a transparent bubble shield around the building. The RAVEN vehicles came to a skidding halt in front of the Family's first defensive measure, but Maximilian wasn't deterred. Meifeng got out of her vehicle, and gazed up at the bubble shield that was much larger than the one employed in their Silver Hills base. It reminded her of Verthaven... but, fortunately, they had something that'd render the whole thing obsolete.

"...Want me to get the lances, Maximilian?" Meifeng said. Thankfully, they scrolled on past to where Maxine's (God rest her soul) informant had told them where to pick up the shield disruption technology. In the RAVEN truck were the lances that were explained to be able to cut a hole in the shield.

"Yes," was Maximilian's short and sweet reply.

Meifeng hopped back into the truck, and grabbed the case with five of the shield piercing lances. She hopped out of the truck with the tools, and put it on the ground, and opened it up as Quentin headed over to see what kind of equipment they were dealing with. She reached inside and handed each of the RAVEN's the high-tech tools until eventually all that was left to do was manoevure into position.

"Alright," Maximilian said with his arms crossed. "Once we get started, there's no turning back. So, is everyone ready?"

"Epsilon's ready to push in on your cue, Praetorian." Quentin's firm voice hailed in over the comms, as Meifeng's own team assembled adjacent to his. The two would be responsible for covering each other's backs where needed in addition to their intended destruction of the machine.

"Delta is ready," Meifeng said.

Finally came Reed's assuring voice, "Zeta team, ready on cue."

"Alright," Maximilian called out his mighty Echo, who stood behind him. "...It's time, all RAVENS, push in."

The explosions that were going on in the base were the perfect cover for Meifeng's small team to make it to the elevators. However... it would be fairly stupid to take the elevators themselves. Meifeng had another idea. She had her team pry open the elevator doors with a crowbar, before her team set up rappel lines on the ground. Firmly attaching the tools to their waists, Meifeng nodded her head, and signaled her team to continue down the elevator shaft until she hit the bottom. The doors were promptly pried open, as she stepped inside. Guns were ready, aiming forward, as she proceeded forward with her team.

"Counterpoint, your status?" Meifeng asked.

"Found a maintenance shaft separate from the elevators, we're pushing down as we speak. No contacts as of yet." Quentin replied as his own team prepared to make their own descent. A brief inspection of the shaft had brought up nothing suspicious, no traps, nothing - but to be sure, the veteran RAVEN had them toss a flare downwards. Still, nothing - and so he too had himself and the first few members of the team rappel downwards for a rapid strike, giving the others a chance to make a descent down the ladders without fear of being ambushed.

"Delta squad has already pushed down into the base," Meifeng said. "We won't be proceeding until we get your team down here."

"Don't worry, we're not far behind you," he advised as the first of them made their advance, rappelling down to the lower levels. It was clear, giving the others the opportunity to follow up behind, "Keep moving."

"Roger that, we'll push in." Meifeng said, she figured that they had wasted enough time here.

Besides, her old friend wasn't far behind.

Every RAVEN who'd been armed with the lances punched through the shields, breaching it just as Veronica had told them. With the shields pierced, all of RAVEN merely just rushed through the opening. Meifeng lead team Delta on the charge, with team Epsilon not too far away. Maximilian, however, was leading the bulk of RAVEN into the building, with Team Alpha. He made a note to have the highest profile as his team came in guns blazing. Opening fire on the IU almost immediately. Causing a battle to break out between the two groups that Maximilian was determined to win.

No sight of the Hound, however.

Wendy Emily Lucker, Rowan Campbell, & Kumiko Fujimoto
(collaboration between @Mr Allen J, @Zombiedude101])

Regal Square, Prince Ed-Field_

A pair of IU guards scrolled by, as Kumiko, peeking around the corner, was essentially the guide for Wendy and Rowan.

Thankfully, most of the guards are concentrated in the lower levels of the base near the Machine. Unfortunately, that'd be where Kumiko and the crew would have to go if they were going to have any chance of finding Blake. Going straight into the mouth of the beast. It was vexing, yes, but they came this far, so they were going to follow through with this. When the guards were clear, Kumiko ran across the hallway to an elevator, and willed the door open with her metal manipulation. She stared down at the dark expanse of the elevator shaft... before she peeked back upwards. The elevator was, fortunately, above them as she could see the metal contraption going back up.

"Hey, Wen," Kumiko said, turning to her daughter, "This shaft should take us to the little underground tunnels underneath the building... only problem is that it's one hell of a drop."

Kumiko chuckled.

"Can you work your magic again?"

"Yes..." Wendy said, then she presented her hand to Rowan and Kumiko. "Grab on tight."

Rowan quickly hooked an arm around one of Wendy's shoulders, then Kumiko followed likewise - then Wendy took in a deep breath as she hopped into the elevator shaft. Any other person would be terrified of these heights, but Wendy couldn't fear such things. They fell as a group. Wendy was going to hold off on using her weightlessness, because it made zero sense to float down the shaft at five miles an hour. Instead, she was going to time it just right...

"Huh?!" Wendy abruptly shouted.

It was there that Wendy realized that her grip of Rowan was slipping. She wasn't quite as ready to hold onto two people, going at terminal velocity, as she thought. "Ro-Rowan!" She desperately tried to grab onto Rowan's wrist, but the scrawny teen's limb slipped apart from hers as the hard brake of concrete and metal loomed in closely below.

Yet contrary to the grim sound of meat slamming hard against the ground came a strange metallic groan and an awkward thud. It was too dark to see, however, until finally Wendy and her remaining passenger descended further down the shaft, following a trail of warped metal and cracked concrete until they could just about make out the bottom, where a scrawny figure awkwardly levitated just a few feet off the ground.

"I'm o-okay!" Rowan called up, albeit a little shakily.

Wendy had already activated her weightlessness, and the force that her form had built up had been negated. The two touched the ground, and Wendy had almost broken out in tears.

"Holy shit..." Wendy said. "Ro-Rowan! You're alive! I'm... I'm so sorry for letting go of you like that! I-I could have killed you."

"Y-yeah, I think I'm okay, don't sweat it but uh..." He trailed off for a moment as he tried to steady himself enough to touch down, only to find himself dry retching as his feet touched solid concrete.

"It's all good," Kumiko said. "But, seriously, keep it down, Wen. Remember? This place is crawling with the IU."

"Oh, yeah, sorry." Wendy said.

"Let's get a move on," Kumiko said. "There probably won't be a lot of people using the elevators... so..." Kumiko explained as she willed the doors open to reveal the small section of the tunnels which had the elevators. There was nobody nearby, so she merely stepped out and gestured for the teens to come along. "Make sure you keep your heads down at all times."

"Mhmm..." Wendy said, following Kumiko. The latter of which was in awe of how tight the security was. Fortunately, a team of three was able to slip through here just fine. Kumiko was glad that Wendy dumped the extra weight (not that she hated them... she would have asked them to stay behind anyhow, there would have been far too many many to make sneaking an option). Either way, they would have to avoid the key areas like the plague if they didn't want to be spotted. At the same time... the key areas were where Blake's mostly likely going to be. God damn it, if only she didn't practically out herself with the defeat of Ezekiel- She looked at Wendy for a moment, before shrugging off that thought.

What she gained in return was far greater, so she'd have to make do.

For now, she would have to keep moving regardless with the teens behind her. She heard some people walking up, and she gestured for the teens to head into a side room (one of the currently vacant lab rooms - though, to Wendy, it looked more like an operating room, which made sense as to why it was desolate). Kumiko peeked out the door frame, before she saw Veronica and an IU member scrolling by... Oh yeah. Ronnie! That was the perfect way to find Blake! Only problem was that Veronica was probably going to be as receptive to Kumiko right now as anyone else in the IU.

"Alright, kids," Kumiko whispered as she kept her eyes on Veronica... switching to her teleportation powers, while grabbing onto her chains that were hanging off her hips. "I'm going to do something risky and stupid, sit tight! Anything goes wrong, I'll buy time for you!"

"Huh-" Wendy didn't have time to question anything before Kumiko teleported over to the two.

She was in perfect position - her chains raised in the air, completely silent - to strike. Even with Veronica's reflexes, there was little she could do when Kumiko merely just brought the chains down around her neck, and kept them nice and tight. Afterwards, she grabbed her pistol (a Glock 17) and pointed it at her IU companion.

"Hey, Ronnie," Kumiko said, as the woman grit her teeth at Kumiko. "Tell your friend not to make a whole lotta noise, please? I just want to ask you a question." Not like she had to, anyway - sure, Shizuka could easily walk over and free Veronica from those chains, but something in their looks at each other told him it was best that he stayed out of their business. He merely stood motionless with his hands raised, watching the two women quietly.

"Ma... Makoto!?" Veronica hissed, realizing that there was no way to telekinetically pull herself free as she couldn't get a good line of sight on the chains. "What are you doing?!"

"Hey, don't give me that, Ronnie," Kumiko replied. "I just betrayed the entire Family, and far as I can tell... you want to kill me... Uh, do you?"

Wait... was she the member of the IU that Shizuka told her about? The one that killed Ezekiel? "...I don't." Veronica said, with serenity.

"I knew you didn't after all the good times we had," Kumiko said... slowly removing the chains around her neck, and letting Veronica off. While the latter would normally kill someone for doing that... she had little to no time to waste on idiocy when there was so much more at stake. She merely massaged her neck. "Sorry for being rough, Ronnie."

"...Yeah, yeah, what is your damn question? We don't have a lot of time here." Veronica asked.

"I need to find our favorite master, Blake," Kumiko said. "It's... urgent."

Veronica pointed backwards. "He's down that way, but I heard him mention."

"...Anything more precise?" Kumiko asked.

"Hell if I know," Veronica said. "This place is a damn maze... but, I'd be careful. That place is locked down tight..."

"Yeah... Thanks, Ronnie." Kumiko said.

"This encounter never happened."

Veronica figured they wasted more than enough time here, and merely powered on past Kumiko, with Shizuka in tow. Kumiko grinned as she just took the challenge. She walked back down the hall to the lab, and threw it open. "Alright kids... that went better than expected."

"Who was that...?" Wendy asked.

"...Ehhh, it's better that you don't know," Kumiko answered with a chipper smile. "But, we got to worry about Blake... I think the only thing that'd be locked down that tightly would be their little magnum opus..."

"And that is?" Wendy asked.

"I'm not sure what it is, but whatever it is, the Family's got the biggest hard on over it."

"Magnum what?" Rowan asked, oblivious to the meaning.

"Masterpiece, Rowan," Wendy answered, looking at him. "It means masterpiece."

"That isn't important right now... you two gotta be ready for a little fightin'." Kumiko said. "It's a lot in asking kids to fight, but if we do this just right RAVEN will hopefully keep the main force occupied, and leave us with the stragglers... but, I know you've came this far." Kumiko said.

"Yeah... let's get a move on." Wendy said as her group moved forward.

Even this deep below the base, Kumiko could hear the explosions. It was no large leap of logic to say that the IU noticed as well. 'Course, that also meant they were going to be ready for the party to get started down here. So, they were on high alert, and were probably going to shoot anything that didn't look like it belonged down here on sight. Kumiko thought about just grabbing some IU gear, but that'd have been too big of a waste of time, especially when Blake was heading to the conversion chamber. Hopefully, Blake wasn't doing what she thought he was. Worst of all, Veronica's "directions" were as shitty as they come, but beggars couldn't be choosers.

Going in the direction Veronica pointed her in was easy. The teens were oddly composed... they were confident in Kumiko, and she could see that. Though, that composure would dissolve away in an instant if they get spotted, and shot full of bullets. Kumiko was hoping that RAVEN would be louder down here.

One hallway they were stepping into was splitting off in two directions, stopping immediately when she saw how fell guarded it was, and Kumiko could only shake her head. Great, just great. This was probably what Veronica was talking about...

The soldiers suddenly held their guns up, as they saluted someone, stepping aside to let Blake Schmidt and his posse through, and Diana came in full view. Wendy moved forward a bit as if she was planning on acting rashly, but was stopped by Kumiko's hand almost immediately.

"Only fools rush in, Wen," Kumiko said. "That said, I have an idea... but, it'll require you two to double back and look for another way into this hall."

"Yeah," Wendy said. "What's your plan?"

"Make em' think RAVEN showed up early... Don't worry about it, just don't get caught!"

At that moment, something that could only be described as a dangerous expression formed across Rowan's face as he furrowed his brow. "Got it."

"Yeah," Wendy said.

"Once you find a spot, throw a paper airplane or something down the hall... I'll sit tight here," Kumiko said. "You'll know when you see it, just make sure you turn into paper and haul ass down the hallway."

Part of Wendy wanted to say something snide, but right now, she couldn't find the nerve to. Instead, she kept all her attention on the halls in front of her, keeping her head down the whole way. It must be awfully important down that way, and Kumiko must have one hell of a plan if she was going to divert all these guards away. Either way, Wendy could turn into paper if spotted. Just disguise herself as paper, maybe they'd pass it off as scientists dropping it in a hurry to leave - wait, no one but a fool would fall for that. Wendy kept moving with Rowan in tow, and praying that they wouldn't get lost or worse, separated. Just to ensure that, close to the ground, she left a dot with ink, before she continued onward.

Before long, they made it to another pathway to that hall. Wendy wasn't sure whether or not it was the only hallway there... but, Kumiko said find another way around for whatever stunt she was doing. Wendy pulled a paper slip out of her hand, and formed it into a piece of paper. Actually, she wished they got walkie-talkies, or something that'd let them actually communicate. Either way, Wendy was overthinking it a bit, and instead focused on sending the paper airplane down the hallway. She used all of her will to push it down the hallway.

It flew over the heads of the IU agents, but it didn't go unnoticed. Several IU let out a "Huh", or a "What's that?" before the paper came into sight of Kumiko. The woman grinned as she got firecrackers that she kept in her armor (for... diversion purposes). Once she got the signal, it was time for Kumiko to give them a signal of her own. While the kids were off doing their thing, she was looking for the wires that go through the house. She, currently, found a power box, and grinned widely. She quickly went back, and saw the paper airplane in the nick of time.

Time for the fun to begin.

She used her metal manipulation to pull the power box off the wall, and the lights in the area went dead... specifically the hallway. Breaking one power supply wasn't going to take out the power in the whole basement... but it definitely was going to knock the lights out here. Once the lights were out, Kumiko was surrounded with a jet black smoke that signalled her teleportation ability. She prepped some firecrackers, and teleported throughout the hall, throwing them around wildly. There was chaos in the hallway as the IU had no idea what was going on. Kumiko was gone before they could get a lead on her. Some even started shooting at each out in sheer paranoia.

By the time the lights went out, Wendy already caught onto the meaning, and grabbed onto Rowan's wrist. "Hold your breath!" Wendy whispered as the two turned into a mass of paper, and flew down the hallway. It went unnoticed among the firecrackers, and friendly fire that was going on.

The two made it to the end of the hall, and Wendy transformed the both of them back into flesh upon seeing the massive doors of the conversion chamber. It was unguarded... and with doors like these, they probably didn't need guards to begin with. They had to be quick, so Wendy turned to Rowan and said, "Rowan, we don't have time, you gotta break it open."

Without addressing her, the scrawny teen clenched his fingers into a fist and drew an arm back, wrenching the doors apart with a great metallic screech until there was just about enough space for them to slip through.

They caught sight of a room similar to the one in Silver Hills - round, white tiled, full of the same pods - and the scene was eerily similar, too. The pods were full, and across from the room was Blake and his posse of Secretaries, who merely grinned.

"Oh, hello, Ms. Lucker, you're here," Blake said as he walked over with his hands in his pockets. His powerful presence could be felt from the other side of the room, but Wendy had to be strong. "...Close the door behind you, we can't have anyone interrupting us."

Rowan gave him a scowl as Wendy shook her head, but Blake merely snapped a finger and a Secretary that was hiding behind the pod quickly pressed a switch on the wall and the door was slammed shut.

"You know, Ms. Lucker, you amaze me," Blake said. "Not only did you survive this long, but you've managed to do the impossible... I was correct when I said there was just something about you, Ms. Lucker."

He tilted his head downwards as he stared at Wendy, whom was silent the entire time. She noticed that Blake's Secretaries were blocking the view of a pod with their bodies.

"But, you've gone too far this time... too far to allow me to continue these little chit-chats, and playing around," Blake said. "...And by that I mean you've slain an associate of mine... Ah, does Ezekiel Anagnos ring a bell?"

"...That man was a monster, and so are you." Wendy replied rather curtly, making it clear where she stood on the matter. "I don't care, I don't care about any of this. If you wanted me out of your hair so badly, you knew exactly what needed to be done."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk, Ms. Lucker," Blake shook his head. "I did know what needed to be done... but, you turned me down so harshly, and now...? I've had a change of heart."

He put his arm down, and it was surrounded with an orb of molten lava that took the vague shape of a fist, his other hand reached into his pocket and pulled out a remote.

"So, here's how this is going to go; I'm going to kill you, but first, there's something you need to see," Blake stepped aside, and so did the Secretaries... revealing Diana in the pod they were blocking.

"Diana!" Wendy called out, putting her hand out.

"...You brought this on yourself, Ms. Lucker." Blake pressed the button.

"No!" Rowan growled, outstretching a palm towards the pod and clenching his fingers, hoping to pry the hatch off before Blake could do what he thought he was about to do.

But it was far too late, the moment that Blake pressed the button, all the pods in the room were activated. Every single poor soul (many of which were Secretaries that Blake decided to feed to the machine) was converted into pure Metahuman energy. Wendy had to watch in painful detail as Diana fruitlessly pounded against the glass in a desperate attempt to break free... only to give up, saying something to Wendy, before she finally faded away just like all the others.

Wendy immediately dropped to her knees, as she broke out in tears... Diana... everything she fought for here, was all pointless. Diana died just like all the others, and Wendy... was just frozen in shock. She couldn't move.

All while Blake looked at his clock as he did calculations in his head. The Machine should be fully charged... in about ten minutes, then it'd fire in fifteen. Hard work pays off, doesn't it? Blake thought to himself as he thought nothing of Diana's death. It was just means to an end.

For a few seconds Rowan was left speechless. They'd seen friends lost, kidnapped, but never killed, nothing like this. Fresh hatred sparked across his mind as he turned his sights towards Blake yet again as Wendy mourned her sister.

"...You want Ezekiel's killer, asshole?! Come fucking get me!"

"Gladly." Blake said as he charged Rowan with his fist, red hot with magma, and swung it overhead to the ground with such force... No one could walk away from that.

Only, the scrawny teen hadn't walked, so much as dove out of harm's way, thanks to those plates slipped into his shoes and the metal bands he wore underneath that hoodie of his. Lights flickered inside the room as Rowan's magnetic interference began to disrupt the electrical supply, strobing like a disco as the teen continued his verbal tirade, backing up against the doors.

"You know how he died?!" he shouted at Blake in a half jeering, half infuriated tone, "C'mon, guess!"

"Do you want to know how you'll die?!" Blake shouted as he dropped to his knees, and slammed his hands onto the ground. He created a cascading wave of stone that went flying towards Rowan. "Getting crushed to death seems fitting, doesn't it?!"

The lights flickered yet again as stone smashed against stone, yet as the dust cleared in Rowan's place stood a battered slab of metal, the hatch to what had been Diana's pod, finally torn off in the heat of the moment as the boy's one saving grace.

"You ever had a shard of metal stuck in you?!" Rowan defiantly shouted back, voice resonating off the metal, "Ezekiel only got the same as what he did to me, except he was pathetic!" As he spat that last word out, he pushed his improvised shield back towards Blake with all the force he could muster, gesticulating wildly with his arms.

Blake swung his flaming fist at the projectile shield and the earsplitting sound of metal clashing with stone filled the room. He'd punched clean through it... but, there was still more to his intentions. "Enough talk, child! Before I reconsider making this painless!" He bellowed.

More metal debris was pulled into Rowan's reach, surrounding him in a sphere pattern.

"Painless?!" He asked, spitting the words out at Blake, "You assholes don't know what pain is unless you're causing it."

Emphasising that word was a portion of the shield being hurled at Blake. "Ezekiel got it painless, he got off easy!" Another chunk of twisted metal was pushed against the man's Olympian form.

There wasn't anymore for Blake to say to this child... Because it was time for action. The only thing Blake needed was to kill this child, nothing about this sound nonsense. He raised his lava-infused fist up into the air, and slammed it down with such colossal force that the ground shook. A tremor was sent forth from the ground they stood on. Cracks in the ground formed that glowed with a vibrant orange light as the air danced as raw heat filled the room.

The same trick that he'd used to defeat them earlier had yielded similar success, forcing Rowan to move as fast as his already trembling legs could carry. Knowing they couldn't stop, he yanked a distraught Wendy up to her feet and dragged her alongside him, "C'mon!" he yelled, trying to snap her out of it, but another tremor from Blake's blows to the ground made him lose his footing, pulling the both of them to the ground. "Get up, c'mon!"

Wendy just couldn't believe it... her sister.... reduced to ash in an instant. All because of Blake's overwhelming arrogance. Not only did he kill Diana, he had the audacity to gloat about it. It was... it was too much. Wendy was practically shaking, but she didn't realize that she was losing control of not just her emotions, but her powers. As she drug her hands into the ground, she carved deep marks into the concrete. Blake... he went too far this time...

...And he was going to pay dearly.

Wendy loudly screamed as she pounded her fists against the ground - but, her voice seemed to carry a supernatural distance. What followed was the stone in the room wildly being launched in all directions. The Secretaries and pods in the room were obliterated by Wendy's barrage, and it was enough to make Blake stop in his tracks. He leered his head around at Wendy, and bared his teeth. Almost like he was annoyed that Wendy had killed his Secretaries. Well, not for long.

The ground flipped over, and Wendy was launched high up into the air as she loudly screamed. When she hit the ground... a cascading wave of concrete shot upwards and hit Blake, before continuing through the wall. Blake was sent flying because of the sheer, unrelenting force. He went barreling through some confused members of the IU (crushing them) before he finally hit the wall, and stopped. His body leaking lava because of the wounds dealt to his body.

Wendy let out one more scream, body oozing blood, as she jumped up in the air, and kicked both legs onto the ground. Sending another wave of concrete at Blake that sent him barrelling down the hallway.

At either side, another few members from the IU who hadn't been crushed by Wendy's wrath had pushed in, training their sights on the girl, but before any of them could open fire they felt their own weapons acting against them, the triggers remaining firmly in place as some other force seized control of them. One man who realised just what was about to happen frantically reached for his sidearm, but in a matter of a few seconds his own weapon turned over to face him and its trigger squeezed back firmly, painting the wall behind him with blood and brain matter. "Walk away or you'll end up like him!" Rowan demanded, tailing Wendy as she trailed between them. None of them wanted to face the same fate as their colleague and backed off as soon as they saw an opportunity. Soon the two teens were free to focus on Blake.

"Cowards..." Blake painfully said as he picked himself back up. He stood straight up with his chest puffed out as Wendy screamed, sending another wave towards him. "If you..."

Blake could only grin at this girl's sloppy form! Rage could do that to you. Fortunately, it would be her final mistake. He cocked his fist back, and punched the cascading wave with an impact so deep that it could be felt throughout the underground section of the base. The wave was reversed, sent back towards Wendy and Rowan. There were few things that could get in the way in the way of such an attack, and Wendy could only desperately hop out of the way. However, the moment Blake knew he'd got her on the move, he slammed a foot into the ground, which raised spikes where Wendy was about to land. The girl tried her damn near hardest to stop herself from getting impaled... but, she let out a loud hiss of pain when hit the ground.

And suddenly, that rage melted when she saw a stone spike through her hand. The girl's first response was to scream. "Oh, shit!" Rowan exclaimed, turning his focus back towards her.

Yet instead of trying to finish her off, Blake went for the scrawny teen, knowing that he'd try to save his friend. He drove a fist into the ground, and it split beneath their feet and upwards towards Rowan, who's already battered knee knee gave out under him at just the moment the fissure opened beneath his leg, pulling his foot under, a sharp yelp erupting from him as agony shot upward from where it enveloped him.

"Finally!" Blake loudly said as he lunged for Rowan's neck... with his hand covered in lava, it would had been an instant death. Right before he closed those last few meters, chains wrapped around his leg, and utterly destroyed his momentum as he fell forward. Cracking his face on the ground was the most disgraceful part of this fight. He knew exactly who it was, and focused on the ground around Rowan's foot so he could rightfully kill him....

Only for Kumiko to teleport in, and teleport the both of them out, before Blake had a moment to process it. He turned to Wendy, before realising that she had disappeared, as well.

Kumiko had teleported the two far away from Blake... and for good reason. Blake would have killed them, and while Kumiko could understand Wendy's rage, she was being incredibly rash and emotional right now. Now... the three were inside a massive library of some sorts. The whole damn place was gigantic... there had to be centuries of knowledge here. No guards, or anyone tending to this place, either. This place was probably not thought to be a strategic target as the Machine would've been, and any information in there was probably expendable to the Three... but, not to a certain someone in here.

"...Diana!" Wendy loudly cried out as she fell to her knees, crying... ignoring the horrible wound done to her hand. "I... should have been faster!"

Rowan had slumped against one of the index shelves of the library, clutching the leg that Blake had managed to pull beneath the ground. Despite being saved from the worst of Blake's wrath, he winced as he rolled up the torn sleeve of his leg to reveal some nasty bruising, then a sharp gash along the side, where the stone had bitten into it. By all accounts, he was lucky it hadn't taken a major artery. "I'm sorry, Wendy..." He muttered, angry with himself not just for failing to save Diana, but also because he'd let that asshole get the drop on him.

"Wen... as shitty as it sounds, there was nothing you could do," Kumiko said. "Blake... he's a monster to his very bones. All of the Blessed Three, and there ain't no changing that." She said, turning her head away.

"I... I can't believe she's gone! After all these years, just killed just like that!" Wendy said.

"...I understand what loss feels like," Kumiko somberly said. "But, you gotta remember, it isn't the end. Far from it. While most people will just express pity, and turn their heads, you'll have to deal with it forever... you just gotta remember that, long as you keep your loved ones in your heart, their memories will never die."

"I... guess." Wendy said. "I think... I think it's best that we just go now..."

"Yeah... this is RAVEN's fight," Kumiko said, before she smiled warmly. "And you have to get out of here... for Diana."

"Wait... I..." Wendy said, wiping her tears away. She looked around. "...I want some of these books."

Wendy could just feel Rowan groaning, though one couldn't tell if that was because of her interest in such literary treasures or because his leg had taken a couple beatings too many tonight.

Kumiko groaned as she rolled her eyes up into her head. "...Fine, hurry up." Kumiko said. "This place is going to blow any minute."

The first thing that Wendy did was gather up all the paper she could when she raised her hand up into the air, and a swirling mass of books formed above her. She wasn't above cannibalizing these books to heal herself - because, one; bleeding all over the place would make it hard to escape, and two; having a giant wound in her hand was not a good idea to begin with. Fortunately, her paper manipulation allowed her to regenerate. The individual pieces of paper were torn off from the books, and they funneled into her wound - her hand turning into paper as the paper filled her wound. When she shifted back, there was not a trace of the wound aside from some lost blood.

Wendy, despite all of her grief, didn't waste any time here. There were millions of books here, it'd be impossible to sort through all of them. Especially if this place was an archive of sorts. Though, there was a small area which had some chairs, and tables. Which Wendy figured was the place where the Blessed Three reviewed anything in the archive. The furniture was ignored in favor of the pieces of article that were presently there. The books... it looked like someone was reading something, or giving their books one last look before putting it in the library. Wendy marched over, and the first book that caught her eye was the Lord of the Rings book that she saw when she first infiltrated Ezekiel's base in Courtbridge.

It was an eyebrow raiser, but she shifted through it... and it was all of Ezekiel's notes. Hmph, part of her wanted to burn it, but she felt it sufficiently insulting that Ezekiel was so hell-bent on getting it back, that the children that killed him take it instead. She put it underneath her arm, there's not much room for her to carry any books, so she was going to take two. The other book on the table were also notes.

Dr. Rosier's Research Notes.

Well, Wendy just chose to snatch it just to save time looking for a second book. With both books underneath her arm, she ran back to Kumiko.

"Okay, I'm ready." Wendy said, prompting Rowan to suck in his breath, clench his teeth and drive a palm into his good knee to stand. It took him a few moments to steady himself, but after a little bit of testing his weight on it, then clenching his fingers inwards, he braved it as best he could.

"Let's..." Kumiko said as she turned towards the door... and a portal opened right in front of it. The same swirling portal employed by the Hound and co. "No..."

The Hound stepped out, and Kumiko cringed as she realized that none of them were in any state to fight the Hound of all people. The titanic man in black armor stepped through with his M60E4 slung over his shoulder. Everyone appearted to be filled with dread as the red-eyed man stepped through... and reached into his armor...

...Only to throw the phones of Rowan, and Wendy at their feet. The two teens looked up at him, the former casting him a threatening glance nonetheless.

"...I mean you all no harm," The Hound somberly said. "I came here to offer an explanation... and an apology."

"Huh?" Wendy asked, still ready for anything to pop off.

"I never meant for... any of this to happen," The Hound said, shaking his head. "The goal was for you to recover your sister, and liberate any prisoners to slow progress on the Machine... at least that was according to the Foundation Woman's calculations."

"W-what are you talking about?" Wendy hissed. "You kidnapped her in the first place."

"...And you have every right to hate me for it," The Hound said. "But, it was orders... and for my true goal to reach fruition, I would have to appear loyal to my masters..."

"Orders..." Wendy hissed.

"You could've led the cops into it, or DOVE or RAVEN or whatever they're called," Rowan found the words pouring from his mouth, spitting venom with every tone, "Why'd you pull us into this bullshit?!" His fingers clenched and for a moment the Hound could almost feel a certain constriction, ever so slight as it was, from the metal plates of his own armour. At least, until he realised the assassin still had something to say, and his temper abated.

"I could have indeed, but..." The Hound put both hands on the bottom ends of his helmet, releasing a few locks, before slowly pulling it off. He revealed his face to the group... and if it could be called a face. The Hound, underneath all that armor, was vaguely human at best. The man had many tiny eyes covering the left side of his face, while he had a large, freakish, red eye on the other. His mouth was full of sharp teeth, and the skin around his cheeks had eroded to reveal even more of the monstrous man's teeth. Wendy had to winch a little. He pointed at a metal plate on the side of his head, explaining,

"If there was even the slightest sign of rebellion... my masters would have killed me with this bomb implanted in my skull," The Hound said. "I had to appear loyal... or else... but, that doesn't matter anymore, does it?"

Kumiko narrowed her eyes, she didn't buy the sad puppy act one bit.

"And it was the Foundation Woman who truly pulled you into this," The Hound answered.

"Who's this Foundation Woman, then?" Wendy asked.

"My associate, and the general for the Blessed Three, in essence," The Hound's eyes focused on Wendy. "And our goal from the beginning was truly..."

The Hound put his helmet back on slowly.

"... The utter destruction of the Founding Family and all their assets... she believed that you two would play a part in their destruction."

"And how?"

"Her power... but, we do not have much more time," The Hound stepped aside from the three. "RAVEN has already infiltrated the base, and with your distraction of Blake... they most likely couldn't coordinate a proper defense of the Machine."

He pointed at the exit.

"You need to leave, and once you are gone... the Foundation Woman will give you all the answers... Believe me if you want to... if I really wanted to kill you... I would have done so by now."

Wendy was conflicted... but she instead took her phone back, and took his advice to leave the base fast as possible. If she would get to converse with this "Foundation Woman" after all of this, she might as well not have wasted any time. Wendy was the first to go past him, giving the titanic man an off glance... he was still responsible for Diana's death by starting all of this. She couldn't forgive him so easily...

Rowan came limping past next, all the while glaring at the assassin. Part of him wanted to crush him in his armour right now, but... there were more important things to do, maybe there was some degree of truth in his words, even if he didn't trust the creature that stood before them.

Either way, both pushed through the doors, and decided to go for the elevators they came from. It took a bit of backtracking... this base looked absolutely trashed, but once they made it to the elevators that were pried open, Wendy was the first to start climbing up the elevator... she thought on the Hound's words the whole time.

Even though she'd failed to save Diana... did she play a part in the fall of the Family like the Hound said?

Or was it just filling her head with lies?

She'd get her answers later.
Yo, anyone want to throw ideas for russian/ukranian first names at me? Gotta be for a male, by the way. It's relevant to something I'm gonna be writing.
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