"So what did we get from the lake house?"
"Bust," the second MACE commando growled as he sidled up to guard the hood of the Humvee assigned to the pair. "One Brotherhood man alone in a study. Might be the owner of the house. Didn't even keep a skeleton crew."
"Really?" his partner snorted, the sound distorted and heavy through his helmet and visor. "Man, that's ###### luck. How'd that work out for him?"
"How do you think?" the man cracked, and both of them began to laugh. The guy who had just arrived turned and looked at the restaurant they were guarding, then out at the desolate streets of the small lake town they'd settled into. There was a quarantine up, enforced by MACE, until dawn at the earliest; they weren't taking any chances that a mutant would escape somehow or that someone from the Brotherhood would slip through their fingers. MACE enforcers and commandos filed in and out of various public and private residences with a startling lack of warrants, but at this stage in the game the Constitution was a formality. The Brotherhood had never stuck by it. Why should those fighting them? "######in' muties. Think they can take an army with a snap of their fingers.
"Listen, I gotta hit the restroom," the new arrival continued as he walked by the entrance of the restaurant, standing a good half a foot or so underneath the cheerfully campy Boar's Head Saloon! sign above the eaterie. "Watch the Humvee for me. We got a weird transmission from someone in Charlie Team out by the lake house at around 2250. Just after we breached. Said something about a water mutie moving through the house towards the lake with a couple laptops full of info. Couple minutes later, poof. No more Charlie Team. So we gotta head out there."
The first commando grunted and leaned back against the hood of the Humvee, holding his rifle at waist level and scanning the perimeter. The minutes ticked by, and ticked by, and ticked by, and his partner came strolling out of the restaurant clutching at his stomach; above him, barely missing the Boar's Head Saloon! sign as he ducked down and walked under the stairs.
"Wife's cooking," he explained through gritted teeth, slightly altering his voice with the mix of pain and helmet interference. "Not digesting right lately. HeII, at least the food poisoning at McDonald's is worth it."
The other man snorted in laughter and motioned for his partner to follow him; his hand seized in midair and twitched as the rearrived commando promptly raised the butt of his rifle and cracked the man in the back of the head, sending his helmet directly into the soft base of the back of his skull. He dropped heavily with a grunt and was caught promptly by the turncoat commando. There was a quick ###### of his hands to the right and a snapping sound before he dropped, any semblance of resistance slipping away just as fluidly as his life. The commando disappeared into thin air, carrying the dead man's body with him, and then fizzed back into existence a second later. Slowly he slipped into the Humvee and produced the key, starting up the military vehicle and driving through the streets at a lethargic, easy pace until he reached the checkpoint. One commando strutted up to him in full body garb save helmet and motioned for him to produce credentials and pop off his helmet.
The man scanned the face on the ID, the face of the commando, then snorted something about how he'd better hit the bench after all this was over and waved him on his way. Dutifully the man got in his Humvee and started it up again, driving through the gates and out of the town...but not towards the lake. By the time anyone figured that out, Dominik Lord was already gone. His helmet had stayed off, sitting in the passenger's seat beside him with a fair amount of blood caking the inside that highlighted his deep golden hair here and there. Taking the side roads and off-road spots that he knew MACE didn't have under their sphere of influence yet, he finally cut onto one of the main roads leading to a highway and cut his way towards New York City, cutting off all electronics and surveillance equipment he knew to be in this particular model of vehicle. After all, he was the boss now. He couldn't do anything stupid.
Dom knew he could have been great. No, Abraham would have been great, if he'd had a chance to put that mind of his to work. He could have brought peace, and stability, and true hope for mutantkind; he would have not only been someone to be feared by those who sought bigotry and hate, he would have been cheered on, idolized, by the common man. He'd had his hands clutched firmly around the bloody, dirty name of the Brotherhood and just as he'd been about to wring away the muck, MACE had put him down with the typical short-sighted ignorance - nay, prejudice - that had been expected of them from the beginning but had always been prayed to be nothing more than mere exaggeration.
He would have been great, Dominik repeated mentally as he reached out with one gloved fist and threw it into the windshield angrily, with a scowing, twisted grimace that fought back tears as he pounded on the glass surface, threw all his hatred and loss and heartbreak into the reflection of the military checkpoint in the distance. He would have been great, but it didn't matter now, did it.
Now he was the boss.
"Daken Akihiro. My young...multi talented...friend."
The sounds of rushing wind greeted Daken as his eyes opened up slowly and lazily behind heavy lids; two guards in all black body armor stood, holding guns at him, and a figure obscured in the shadows with a voice that Daken recognized to be his employer's (though he didn't sound very South African anymore...) stood behind both of them, further towards the end of the cockpit. Below them, Daken could catch glimpses and pieces of the New York City skyline. If he could so much as land in the water, or even bring someone as a cushion to break his fall, he could be fully healed in what, fourteen hours? Plenty of time. Less time it'd take him to heal after being shot to ribbons and then tossed out of the helicopter.
"Why does the tone of your voice make me feel like I've been dragged inside a ######-o-copter, boss?" Daken asked genuinely, a sense of anxiousness permeating his normally carefree attitude. The man snorted and motioned for the men to put their guns down, then walked over and patted Daken on both shoulders, motioning out towards the New York City skylines, out towards the clouds hovering above the plumes of smoke. His unvocalized question was clear: what do you see?
Daken didn't know what he saw. A lot of fire. A lot of death. Enough that he could smell it even here, at eye level with the skyline; they'd been all he smelled since he'd been flash frozen in the Canada wastes after being set aflame by Ashlynn Summers by the boss' best and brightest cryokinetics. After he'd been brought back from the brink with the blood of everything with a healing factor under the sun, from Hellfire vampires to other mutants. After he'd been carried through the customs departments of several international airports inside a casket and brought to the Caribbean to recuperate completely. As he'd only found out later, his employer was well-connected. It was the only thing he'd found out about his employer since then.
"I want to renegotiate our deal," the man said with a sinister smirk, "but first I want you to tell me what you see."
For the first time in his life, Daken wondered if he'd royally ###### up.
He shrugged simply, followed his employer's gaze to the crowds, and said, "From here, if I tilt my head, I can kinda see a Viking ship sailing into Dory the fish's mouth--"
Big mistake: he caught a heavy rifle butt right in the ribs and buckled to his knees in time to be smacked around again in the dome. The boss (henceforth to be referred to as Big Bad, Daken noted with a spot of mental dark humor through the kaleidoscope splotches of pain in his head) knelt down and pointed out to one cluster of buildings in particular. Daken's eyes followed the man's trembling finger out to the cluster and furrowed his eyebrows, narrowed his eyes. He had a bad feeling about this one.
"Look out there, Daken. Tell me what you see, and you'll find out who I am," the man instructed, as soon as Daken's eyes found what he presumed Big Bad wanted him to look for. Six letters in big white text that made Daken's heart pump with adrenaline, surprise, and more than a little genuine fear:
"Oooo-kay there, boss," he laughed nervously, held precariously at the edge of the helicopter on his knees, practically tasting the air currents; they dried his mouth out almost as quickly as the sudden surge of understanding and hormones did. "Let's...let's not get hasty now. Let's renegotiate. It'll be fun."
Norman Osborn smiled and lifted Daken to his feet, shaking him warmly by the hand.
"I thought it might be," he agreed. "Now, sit down. Need any refreshments? This offer might take a while, so you might as well get comfy..."
"Sir, this is a mistake."
"We're being monitored, Agent Hill. Watch what you say."
"Sir, you know this is a mistake."
Nick Fury sighed deeply, arms crossed, as he and Maria Hill stared out through the glass viewing box at the prisoner below. His head was tucked down so that his face was unreadable, but his torso was shirtless and bloodied with wounds that even now his healing factor could not totally nip away at. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director's face, normally unreadable and rigid like a carpenter's block of wood, was contorted in thought and a bit of apprehension; three teeth tugged away at the right corner of his bottom lip.
"I know it is, Agent Hill. But it's an order. One that we don't have the power to defy without a Helicarrier, without Avengers, or without resources. It's gotta be done, and if it's not done by us it'll be done by someone with a lot less qualms about it than we have, so we might as well make it easy."
"But sir," Hill pressed, "you know what this man can--[/i]"
"Maria, I have seen all too well what this man can do. If you don't stop questioning me, the next thing the NSA recording devices in this viewing box will hear is you being busted down to an administrator's spot in Fallujah. Now, I'm not going to ask you to prep him again."
Maria Hill's turn to bite her lip. She looked down at the prisoner then at Fury.
"I'll be guarding the door, but that won't be enough."
"I'm handling him personally, Maria. I'll be fine."
"Sir, with all due respect, that won't be enough."
Fury looked back from Hill, debating the merit of the assessment in her deep gaze, to the prisoner one last time. Finally, he sighed, a rare, uncharacteristically deep sound for the Director.
"Fine. Bring Coulson, too."
"I want you to know I'm not proud of this Initiative," Fury concluded after explaining it fully to the prisoner. "You're a good man. A loyal man, despite the reports flying around about you. But this has gotta be done, or--"
"Or what, Director?" the prisoner spat back. "Or I rot away in some Third World prison? Never see the light of day? Finally kick the bucket, after it takes a million years for me to turn eighty? Please."
"Warren," Fury started again dangerously, "I don't think you realize how bad the world's gotten since you last checked in on it. New York City's half in shambles. Hank McCoy's dead. Pietro Maximoff is dead. As we speak, the Brotherhood's last vestiges are being stamped out in the New York countryside. We have reliable word from the Institute that your own son has shacked up with some pretty little lady on an epic road trip to find you, and God only knows what they want. Half my Avengers are dead, the other half beaten half to heII. This could help a lot of people."
"And ruin a lot more."
"I'm sure you're used to that."
Warren spat again, silent for a minute.
"And what about you, Director?" he finally asked. "What are you supposed to be? A loyal man? A patriot? You were a lot of things during a lot of crises, Fury, but you were never a mook. Times really have changed."
That shut Fury up for a second.
"What do you want?" Warren finally asked, for the third and final time in the fifteen minutes.
Fury rolled his eye upward in faux thought, stood up and walked over to Warren where he was shackled to the wall, and simply said, "Death."
In an ironic echo, the man's hand reached out against Warren's jaw and viciously snapped it to the left, breaking it and killing Warren instantly. Fury stepped back for a minute and displayed his handiwork before pressing a button on the wall. The Tesla coil-like device that Warren was hooked to fizzed to life, crackling and burning his restraints. The smells of charred flesh and impending permanent physical damage kicked the ring into overdrive (something Fury had found in the old journals of Dr. Strange while cleaning out Ares' belongings) and Warren's body jerked backwards against the wall, head thrown back and skin shifting to a deep cerulean blue. The restraints started to shake and clatter around; given a few moments and the revived Warren would shatter them instantly.
Fury didn't need a tenth of that time. In two easy movements he'd withdrawn a syringe from his coat pocket and jabbed it into Warren's heart, pulling back with all his might and quickly extracting a lighter, more iridescent blue substance. Warren's head jerked back again in a scream, no doubt giving him some form of whiplash and lasting concussion even as his skin faded back to a light, regular flesh tone. Fury pocketed the syringe with a low "God help us" and turned around. He stopped just short of the door and turned back.
"You can leave at dawn," the Director said. "They found Hank McCoy's will. Turns out you have an Institute to run."
Fury closed the door and walked up to the control room, flanked closely by Maria Hill and Phil Coulson. Time to report in.
The ARCHANGEL Initiative was now in Phase II.
OOC: One last wrapup comes tomorrow. For now, please enjoy/feel free to use discussion to speculate/stuff.