Kardiac expected to be dragged to holding, bodily if need be. He got exactly what he expected... at least until he was thrown into his cell. Things were going as planned until the first guard turned to the second and said, "Call her." Eddy immediately frowned.
Call her?, he thought. Call who? There wasn't supposed to be a her to call. Kardiac tried to think of who they might be talking about even as the second guard picked up a land-line and started to report to someone that there was a prisoner. It didn't really matter who she was... but it did mean the plan had to be stepped up. If there was a her coming, and she sounded pretty important, he'd need to get out of the cell sooner than he had expected.
The guard in front of Faith walked down a labyrinth of hallways, hastily deactivating security systems along the way. He did not seem to reactivate any of them, which made it seem as if he either expected someone to follow shortly behind him or for another of the guards to lock things down after he'd passed. In either case, he was obviously in a bit of a hurry. So much so, in fact, that after he swiped his card at the door he finally reached, he rushed in, swinging the door wide and leaving plenty of room for anyone following to slip in.
"Sir!" he said as he charged into the room. "The vigilante appeared, as you expected. He's been captured and taken to holding."
"How terribly unfortunate for him," a voice answered from behind a Japanese dressing screen. A painted scene of a tiger facing off against a dragon with a black, stone tower in the background adorned the object, placed strategically in one corner of the room out of line of site of any windows. There was a plain, black desk in the room, and several comfortable-looking chairs. Paintings hung on the two walls neither facing nor housing a window, both reflecting the same artistic stylings of the dressing screen "Now that the intruder has been handled, retrieve my guest from the lobby and bring him up."
Biting her lip, Faith stood off to the side. Following the guard had been easy, especially since she didn't have to rely on her memory of the hallways to get out of here. All she'd had to do was match his strides so as not to make footsteps and try not to breathe on the back of his neck. Obviously, she'd succeeded. So far.
The voice from behind the screen gave her chills and she tried not to focus on what those ominous words meant for Eddy. Rising up on tiptoes, she gave a halfhearted attempt to see over the screen. At this point, no force in the world could have gotten her to walk around it to take a real look.
Instead she focused on the room. Despite the decorations that she didn't entirely disapprove of, the place felt cold and spartan. She couldn't decide where to stand. The chairs seemed like a logical place to conduct an evil business meeting. But then again, maybe they'd sit at the desk. Placing herself between the desk and the screen--for now--the little redhead shifted her weight from one foot to the other, firmly resisting the urge to touch any of the smooth surfaces.
There was a ground plate behind the electronic lock on the outside of the cell. For all the ease of their entry, not-so-easy as it had been, Tower had planned his brig well. Kardiac was not going to be able to use the easy button to escape. With the mysterious "her" looming, however, he'd have to find a way pretty darned quick if he planned on having Sylph's back. He'd promised her he'd be safe... more importantly, he'd promised her that she would, and he wasn't planning on going back on his word.
He took a quick survey of the room. Nothing. They didn't even have a bed of chair for him. The walls were smooth and unadorned with no easily-accessible, visible seams. There was a ventilation duct, but a fat mouse would have a hard time crawling through it. Feeling a bit annoyed at the situation, he sat down with folded legs, closed his eyes, and began visualizing the buildings known defenses. The walls were re-inforced concrete, grounded, and carbon-shielding inside the outer walls to prevent electromagnetic interference. A nuke wouldn't take this building down, in any sense of the word.
The interior walls were reinforced as well, virtually unbreakable, and functionally non-conductive. Oh, and they were insulated against temperatures well in excess of his ability to generate with an electrical charge... so melting through was also a big out. They'd taken his gauntlet, but they hadn't emptied his pockets. That didn't matter now, of course... there was no way to pick the lock from the inside, and he didn't carry tear gas or flash-bangs... not his style. If he wanted any kind of explosion, he was going to have to... Wait a second! he thought... explosion...?
His mind drifted back to a time quite a while back in his career when his powers had gone wonky... it was the reason his "fingerless" gloves alternated fingers. And, if Tower was confident in the strength of his outer walls defenses, it might just work... though he'd need a serious recharge afterwards before slinging any bio-electricity. Standing up, he moved over by the door to maximize his potential for success... he had no idea how big a boom he'd get, and he only had one chance.
Taking off his gloves and tucking them into his belt, Kardiac spread his arms as wide as possible and closed his eyes. Slowly, both of his hands began to crackle and glow with electricity. But this wasn't his normal output... each hand carried a separate, complimentary-but-opposing charge. After several seconds, he had to fight the force of his own body as his arms desperately wanted to come together. Gritting his teeth, he kept them apart... and kept charging. When he finally couldn't take the strain any longer, he took a half-step back and moved his arms ever-so-slightly towards each other, in front of his body, hoping he wasn't about to dislocate both shoulders.
In an imperceptively fast, involuntary motion, his hands slammed together with a booming clap. The two charges interacted, and the result was an explosive pulse of energy bursting out in all directions, a blue-white sphere of ever-increasing circles... as if someone had just thrown a stone into the river that was the electromagnetic spectrum. And, more or less, someone had. Kardiac was lifted off his feet and thrown against the side wall as the pulse went out from his hands. The pain was searing, but he fought through it. He knew the next few seconds would be critical.
The guards exclaimed suddenly, even as his cell was plunged into darkness. Apparently, the pulse had been enough to knock out his cell's systems and those of the guard room. It wasn't a nuclear explosion, but it would be enough. Moving as fast as his fatigue would allow, Eddy rushed to the door and began pushing with his entire body. Slowly, it began to slide open. The rushing guards only helped matters, and in no time at all, Kardiac was out of his cell and into the guard's monitoring room. Even without his gauntlet or any appreciable electrical power, he made short work of the confused security officers.
With little time to lose, he fell to the floor and pressed both hands against the only electrical outlet he could find. Once he'd stolen a bit of power from the building to supplement himself, he got back to his feet and, without a moment's hesitation, rushed out of the door. Forcing himself to remember the building's plans, he began to head through the halls towards the office where Faith would be... and Tower. The plan's back on track, he thought as he moved quickly towards his objective. That thought, unfortunately, occurred to him just as he turned a corner and almost ran face first into "her"....
Several minutes passed from the time the guard left the room to when he returned with Tower's visitor. Shortly after he had departed, the young Japanese man had come out from behind his dressing screen. He was in tailored Armani, and he'd have presented a handsome, dashing form if not for the pure malice that seemed to radiate from his form. On his lapel was a silver pin in the shape of a chess rook... a stone tower standing in defense of the king.
He sat down at the desk, paying Faith no mind. Either he didn't see her, as they had hoped, or he was very good at playing blind. He shuffled through some papers and began assembling them into a file that already seemed far too full for its envelope. After he was finished, he set the file on his desk and rose back to his feet. He began to pace absently, his eyes half-closed. It was difficult to tell if he was impatient or, perhaps, a bit concerned that the meeting might not go smoothly with a vigilante locked in his security offices.
He didn't have long to wait, however. He was only making his third circle of his desk when a buzzer sounded at the door. As if a practiced move, he slipped back behind his desk and sat down, his eyes going to the door. "Enter," he said in a quiet but commanding tone. The guard came through the door and stepped to the right, very nearly bumping into Sylph as he exaggerated the movement. Following him in was a man in a plain, black suit, as well tailored as Tower's, if not quite as extravagant. "Welcome," Tower said, nodding towards a chair opposite Faith's position. "Please, have a seat."
The man nodded, letting out a somewhat noncommittal grunt, then moved to the chair. As he sat, his face came into the light, and Faith immediately recognized him. She'd seen him many times, both on television and in her own home. In fact, she'd been in his as well. It was a face she'd known, literally, all of her life... the face of her cousin and, if she wasn't mistaken in her suspicions, Eddy's brother-in-law. It was the face of Leland Lexington.
If she hadn't been so busy moving away from the stiff guard, Faith might have been a little more prepared for the sight of her cousin in that chair. Although, perhaps it was a blessing she'd taken a slow step or two away. The action made it more likely that no one had heard the sudden movement as she once again clamped a hand over her mouth.
For a minute she could only stare at Leland in shock. As her father's daughter, she'd always felt a biased sort of pride that she took after the Kavanaugh side of the family rather than the Lexington. But, no matter who she favored, she couldn't deny that the man sitting in that chair was family... mother's favorite nephew and someone who'd always been relatively kind to Faith. And, since she never doubted her mother's knack for learning family secrets, he was soon to be a father.
How could you? Shock quickly gave way to anger. Glaring invisible daggers at her cousin, Sylph tried to remind herself she was here to listen... not to vault over the chair to kick the crap out of Leland for being so stupid. How was she supposed to tell Eddy about this mystery contact now? Or, worse, Strategoi?
Childhood memories -- Leland playing with her older brother, Ryan, or sitting sitting politely through one of her recitals -- flashed through her mind as she stared at him. Now, more than ever, she was determined not to leave this meeting until they'd finished. She was going to catch every word. Somehow, she had to find out what was going through his mind... how he could do this to their family.
The man behind the desk smiled at Leland as he sat down. The expression was one of familiarity, the kind that might be given to an old friend. His words, however, carried a different implication. "Good evening, Mr. Lexington. I am Haiyo Takahashi." His smile suddenly seemed less friendly and more like that of a predatory reptile staring down at an unsuspecting bug. "It is good to finally meet you face to face."
"I know who you are," Leland said, his face firm and stern. "What I don't know," he continued, "is what you want." He crossed an ankle over one knee and folded his hands in his lap. There was a business-like precision in his movements that made it very clear to a viewer that this was not his first negotiation.
"What does any man want," Tower answered, his eyes alight. "Enough to get by, a beautiful wife, and a safe world in which to raise his children." The line may have been cliche, but it seemed intended as such... and from Takahashi's lips, it sounded more of a threat than a common point of reference. His smile remained, unfaltered.
Leland continued to meet the man's gaze, his eyes narrowing slightly at the response. "An honest-enough sentiment," he replied, a slight, forced smile curling one side of his lips. "But if your motives are so philanthropic, why all the cloak and dagger? I've read your business proposal... we could have just as easily met at my office."
It was hard to stay mad at Leland when this man, this creepy Takahashi guy, was saying everything extra creepily. With slow, silent steps to hide any trace of her distortion, she moved a little closer to her cousin. As much as she wanted to continue thinking he was dumb, she had to admit that at least he was acting very professional. Just... a dumb professional.
"I prefer to ensure the security of my investments personally," Takahashi replied. You are, after all, not the only one with a financial contribution in this arrangement. My network and my building are, I assure you, the most secure in the world."
"I'm sure," Leland replied, his eyes still locked on his host's.
"Did you bring the documents?
"The ones that matter to this meeting, yes," Leland answered. "Obviously, the final contracts that complete the arrangement are being kept safe offsite." It almost seemed like the words "to make sure I walk out of here alive" should have been tacked on to the end of Lexington's response. Instead, he just said, "I can have someone bring them over in the morning." He bent to one side, picked up his briefcase and unlocked it. Opening it like a file folder, he turned it towards Takahashi and placed it on the desk between them.
She was dressed like he might have pictured an Amazon warrior, with a few pieces of ornate armor peeking out through elaborately-wrapped, diaphanous cloth. The gossamer fabric was wrapped thick enough to be opaque in most places, obfuscating the bulk of her vestments. Around her neck, she wore a pendant in the shape of an old-fashioned, counter-weight scale, and a sword... make that a large sword... make that an excessively-large, two-handed sword by Kardiac's reckoning was clutched in both hands. She was at least two inches taller than him, which took him somewhat aback. Her most unusual feature, however, was the blindfold that completely covered her eyes, tied back amongst her long, blonde tresses.
"Cliché much?" Eddy said, taking a half-step back and raising his fists. He tried to sound more confident than her sudden appearance had actually left him. "Let me guess...," he continued, recovering his bravado. "Justice, I presume."
The warrior-woman answered by bringing her sword down at his head. He leapt to one side, having suspected that would be her answer, and stuck himself to the wall. She was good, and she was fast. Ryu and Aaron, under similar circumstances, probably would have dodged that attack... Eddy couldn't think of many others who would still be in a fighting way. "I take it you're not much for small talk," he said, smirking. Her head turned toward him, and he got the feeling that Justice wasn't quite so blind as the expression would lead him to believe.
He avoided her next attack by leaping to the ceiling, adhering his fingertips, and swinging himself to the far wall. It was a trick he didn't pull often, since defense wasn't the primary focus of his fighting style, but he had practiced it for situations such as this. That sword was going to be a problem. He continued to dodge for the next several attacks, trying to suss out a good estimate of her average attack speed and her fighting style. Unknown adversaries were always a royal pain in the ass, and the quiet ones were worse... they didn't like to gloat. Gloating could tell you a lot about somebody.
After a few more attacks, he positioned himself for his counter. Rolling across the floor to avoid a swing, he put himself into a crouch, exposing his rear flank to attack. As she swung down, he kicked out and hit the flat of her blade with the sole of his boot. Every ounce of strength he could muster went into the kick, and it was not without success. The weapon flew from her hand, bounced off a wall (marring the metal with its blade), and clattered to the floor.
Before she could recover the weapon, he leapt to his feet and raised his right hand. "I don't like punching women," he said, triumphantly. "But I'm not above giving them a jolt now and again." As he finished the statement, his hand began to crackle with power, electricty arcing between his fingertips. Without another word, he lunged for her, hand outstretched.
She caught it. Her left hand darted into the air and her fingers interwove with his own. The energy seemed to have no effect on her, and then he noticed her other hand. She was clutching the pendant that he'd noticed around her neck. She smiled at him, and he heard a familiar voice speak to him, even as her lips remained locked together. "You killed him. You killed my father." He didn't have time to react before the pain hit him like a wall. In a heartbeat, he knew what Jorge Vega had felt at his hands. He knew what it felt like to be electrocuted. And soon, he'd know what it felt like to die....
Takahashi took a few moments to look over the documents, mostly financial reports and projections, but also a list of holdings and subsidiaries of the Lexington family. It was a long list, such that it wove a very intricate and encompassing web through the streets of Garrison City. If TAROT could get access to such a network, it would take decades to unravel it to its depths... if such a thing was even possible. After a moment, he looked back to Leland. "This list is comprehensive?"
Leland's eyes narrowed, though his lip curled up slightly. The gesture seemed out of place on such a man as him, known as he was to be both philanthropist and entrepreneur. "As comprehensive as you're going to get," he said, firmly. "So long as our business association remains unofficial."
Now she really wanted to hit him. Anything to wipe that horrible look off his face... and get rid of that folder. How could he even think this was at all a good idea?
"Of course," Takahashi replied.
"But you haven't answered my question," Leland interjected, before Takahashi could move the conversation along further. "I'm waiting to hear what you want." His lips slipped back into a tight line. "I wasn't born yesterday... I know who you are, Mr. Takahashi, and I know this 'business' arrangement of yours goes deeper than profit-sharing.' He leaned forward in his seat. "I want to see the 'bigger' picture."
Tower smiled. It was a frightening gesture, and Leland proved his strength in not reacting to such a frailty. Takahashi reached forward and closed the briefcase, relocking it and spinning the combination wheels. At that action, there was a very slight reaction from Lexington -- barely more than an eye twitch -- but Takahashi's face suddenly went flat.
"I thought we were friends, Mr. Lexington," he said, his eyes locked on Leland's.
"We...," Leland said with a slight pause. "We are," he said, the words seeming somewhat forced. "But if we're going to be in business together, I want to be involved... all the way."
Takahashi pushed himself back from his desk and stood up, smoothing his clothes as he rose. "Friends don't bring listening devices into my office," he said, his voice tinged with suppressed anger.
Leland's eyes narrowed, though it was difficult to tell if it was a reaction of shock or annoyance. "Friends also don't try to acquire their friends assets and contacts for criminal purposes," he snapped back, rising to his own feet with a touch less grace.
"In any case," Takahashi continued, "The police will be receiving no confessions from me tonight."
Leland smirked, an impressive gesture under the circumstances. "What tipped you off?"
"I knew the moment you turned on the transmitter," he replied, not smiling himself as if engaged in some form of entertainment. "I was hoping you'd see the benefits of my offer and change your mind."
"Unfortunately, the instant you turned the bug off, you told the boys in blue that things were not going to go as planned," Leland retorted confidently. "So it appears we're at an impasse."
As much as she wanted to hug him, to apologize for doubting that he would do the right thing, Faith remained still. She didn't know how Eddy was doing. No one had come to report anything about the 'prisoner'. And now she had a new worry. She had to make sure her cousin got out of her alive.
"Hmm," Tower hummed with a growing smirk. "If I kill you, the police will have sufficient evidence to arrest me. If I do not, I'm forced to leave the city without my contracts and not return... assuming my employers don't kill me in return." He spoke very matter-of-factly as he demonstrated his understanding of the aforementioned predicament. "I prefer the third option," he said, after a beat.
Leland raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Takahashi dropped a high-caliber, two-shot miniature pistol from his sleeve. "You sign the agreement and call to have the contracts delivered before I depart the building," he said, smiling as he raised his gun and pointed it... directly at Faith's invisible form. "And I won't kill your invisible bodyguard."
For a minute she was sure her heart had stopped completely. How could he possibly know she was there? They'd taken every precaution.
Shaking from head to toe, Sylph tried to think of something --anything-- heroic. Blessed with a musician's ear, she was confident she could recognize a family member's voice no matter the circumstance. Hopefully, Leland would not... "Don't sign anything," she told her cousin in a low voice.
She knew she could leave. She could call for Marcus and live. But that would leave Leland and the file in Takahashi's hands. And Eddy... he was still somewhere in the building. So, no matter how easy it would be, Faith wouldn't leave. But she could pray that her new uniform was as strong as Kardiac seemed to think it was. Because if she could get to her cousin...
Takahashi just looked her in the eyes... in the invisible eyes. Either he was very good at guessing, or he could sense a heck of a lot more than Strategoi or even Kardiac had estimated. "Step out of the veil," he ordered, his eyes darkening. "I don't know if a bullet will kill you," he continued, his lips curling up slightly. "But I'm betting you don't know if you're fast enough to stop me from killing Lexington after taking my shot at you." He flicked the barrel of his gun briefly in Leland's direction.
"Leave her out of this," Leland said, guessing based on the voice that his invisible benefactor was a 'her.' "I didn't even know she was here...," he said, his eyes locked on Tower. "It's me and my business network that you want."
Takahashi's eyes went from Faith's invisible form to Leland. There was an incredulous look on his face. "I thought you'd sign to save one of your own... but you're willing to sign to save a complete stranger?"
Leland's expression became firm, resolute. "Yes," he said, straightening his posture to demonstrate the seriousness of his words.
"Such nobility...," Tower replied, a smile coming to his face, "...might save this girl." His eyes were now fully focused on Leland. "But it would also never cease to find ways to interfere with TAROT's plans. These negotiations are at an end." With a flash of motion, Takahashi turned his weapon from Sylph to Leland and squeezed the trigger. The barrel flashed and kicked as a resounding "krak!" shattered the stillness of the room.
Looking back, Faith couldn't remember making the decision to move. The minute Tower focused his attention on her cousin her muscles began to tense, coiling like a teal-clad spring. She heard, or felt, or imagined the click as the hammer pulled back. In that instant, training became instinct. She was running, racing to Leland, her invisibility dropped in favor of speed... and distraction.
The tiny redhead slammed into her cousin, knocking him out of the way as that "krak!" split the air. Sylph staggered back, nearly falling to the floor as her hands came up to cradle her chest. Eddy had said that it would hurt like hell. But it was worse. The pain was like a fire that licked down her chest and spread back and forth along her collarbone. She wanted to curl into a ball and cry.
But Kardiac wouldn't let something like this slow him down. So she couldn't either. Sylph didn't stop; her momentum simply shifted. Adrenaline and sheer stubbornness carried her forward. She had to get that gun.
A wild smile on his face, Takahashi squeezed off two more shots. This time, he aimed for Faith, deliberately aiming towards her body, not her head, and letting the impact of the rounds against her costume bite into the woman underneath. Not only did he seem to not care that his target was armored, he seemed to revel in it. With the first of the shots, he began to laugh. By the second, his laughter was riotous. This was not the reaction of a man whose plans had just been undermined and his attempted murder thwarted.
Faith was not a large person to begin with and now, at this close range, the shot hit her diminutive frame like a blow from a sledgehammer. It hurt. It hurt more than she had the presence of mind to describe. But Takahashi was laughing. Laughing! That was enough to keep her moving, even when she staggered, and to keep the tears from her eyes.
The second shot hit her in the stomach. As hard as she tried, she couldn't hold back the small cry of pain that made it past her lips. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she made a mental note to complain to Eddy about it. After all, he'd told her that she wasn't asking to be shot there anymore.
Her thoughts were scattered as she came closer. What kind of a person laughed at something like this? Her left hand came up to grab the gun away. Was it supposed to hurt so bad? Something was wrong there. And where was Kardiac? But, despite her thoughts, her time training had not been wasted.
As her hand closed over the gun, her right fist --baton and all--collided with Takahashi's jaw. Sylph couldn't be sure how much it had actually hurt but it did get him to release his grip. She hit him again as she pulled the weapon way and flung it to the far corner of the room. With all his fancy security, there were bound to be surveillance cameras in here. And, under no circumstances, was Faith going to leave them with a video of her pointing that gun at anything.
Tower stumbled backwards, still laughing. He caught himself against the desk, then rolled over it, employing it as an obstacle between Faith and him. There was a gleam in his eye that some might mistake as a hint of madness, but to Sylph it actually looked like he was enjoying this... like it was all some sort of game. "You're well trained," he said with a wide smile. "For an amateur. Did the vigilante bring you along?" he asked, looking her in the eye.
"A Strategoi agent wouldn't have blown her cover just to save this rich trash," he continued, "And he clearly had no idea you were here." As he added the last statement, his eyes fell on Leland. The man still stood where he'd been when the gun was drawn, watching the fray as if dumbfounded by the action going on around him. With a snap-kick, Takahashi sent the table-lamp flying across the room, straight for Lexington's surprise-painted face.
"Lee!" The name she'd called him when she was just a kid tagging after the older boys came tumbling out unbidden. Not trusting her cousin's reflexes, she whirled and lunged out one of her sticks, hoping to break the lamp or knock it out of the way... or something. Anything to give Leland a chance to get out of the way. "He's not trash!" She may have been able to hold her tongue when it came to the vigilante but there were limits to her self restraint.
Eddy could not withdraw his hand. Between her grip, which was superhumanly strong, the pain, which was unbearable, and his guilt over his own mistakes, he was virtually paralyzed. She was using his past to kill him... literally. Then something hit him. It wasn't much of an idea, but it was all he had... all he had had for a long time.
He managed to choke out the word "Justified...", then closed his eyes and fought against to pain. There were other memories... stronger memories. He watched as his father's casket was lowered into the ground and heard the voice of the officer telling him that Frank Lane had died in the line of duty. He watched himself beaten to near-death and left to the not-so-tender mercies of the Brazilian rainforest and heard the voice of Jorge Vega as he gave the order to leave his son-in-law to die. He heard Vega gloat about the death of his father.
His other fist struck out, a fierce rabbit-punch with every ounce of strength he could muster. Somewhere, subconsciously, he'd been playing with his bio-electrical system, refocusing his energy, even as he fought to overcome her power. The attack forced her to stumble back... to release him so that she could retain her balance. The pain disappeared immediately, a past phantom no longer relevant. God, Eddy hated psychic powers.
Still a little dizzy from the experience, he windmilled a kick to her midsection, his foot following its own path to the region still aching from the rabbit-punch. She stumbled back again. He wanted to say something witty, but she had pissed him off far too much for the wasted effort it would take to formulate words. He'd closed that chapter of his life, and he wasn't going to let some TAROT witch bring it back.
He feinted with his left, and in her befuddled state she actually fell for it, bringing up her right arm to block. Kardiac narrowed his eyes, not smiling but satisfied with the action. Her right hand still held the pendant, the chain still around her neck. He grabbed the golden strand that connected hand to throat and yanked, simultaneously bringing his elbow up so that, in the flurry of motion, it connected hard against her nose.
The crack was a sickening sound, but it was one he'd heard many times before. He'd never broken a woman's nose before -- it just wasn't his style -- but this time he made an exception. This was not just a woman... she was an opponent, and a damned effective one at that. Plus, he was still more than a little sore at her for dredging up his past. His next punch went straight into the front of her right wrist. Her hand was forced open, and the scales-of-justice pendant fell into view. Still holding the chain, Eddy yanked it over her bleeding face and tossed it aside.
One push and two kicks later, she was on the floor, the violence in her eyes fading behind drooping lids. "Incidentally," Kardiac said, feeling like himself again, "Justice is blind... not mute." One more kick and her consciousness faded. As the darkness enveloped her senses, he added, "Do some research, next time."
Almost instantly, his mind went from celebration to worry. Justice had been an unexpected twist to the evening. That meant Sylph was in greater danger than he'd expected... and he'd put her there. Without bothering to take the time to tie up his fallen foe, Kardiac turned back down the hallway and headed for the main office at a hard run.
Leland was looking at Sylph with a mix of confusion and curiosity. He had done well hiding his fear, but some of that leaked through as his mind raced amidst the events of the fight. The girl had called him "Lee," and there was something about her voice and the way she carried herself... he shook his head, seeking clarity. He had come here to a purpose. There was a clear and present danger, and so far, he'd done little to show his valor in the situation.
Takahashi continued to smile, his eyes sparkling as Faith countermanded his assessment of her cousin. She had given him information he hadn't had before. He didn't know what to make of it, but it was there. He put it aside for the time being. She was proving to be more of a challenge than he first assessed. It was unusual for his threat-assessment to be wrong.
He dropped his arms straight to his sides and let the two one-foot blades slide down from his shirt sleeves and lock around his wrists. "This is starting to get interesting," he said as he stalked around the desk. "I'd offer you a place in my organization, seeing as we're going to need a new 'Justice,' but I'm sure you'd refuse." His smile broadened. "More the pity."
Without a second's more hesitation, the attack began. He was a skilled fighter, but Sylph was equally well trained, especially in defense. Strike after strike was parried and dodged as silvered blade clashed against the blackened graphite coating of Faith's hittin' sticks. When an opening would present itself, Tower's blades seemed just as adept at blocking her attacks.
Had the melee been an exhibition, their motions would have been a thing of beauty. As it was, however, they were a terrible dance intent on breaking bone and flesh. Takahashi's smile never faded, though his banter seemed to disappear as his focus on the task before him grew. There was a lust in his eyes, fueled by the heat of battle and the skill and beauty of his opponent, and her defiance and continued evasion of his attacks only solidified his admiration for her. Of course, that just made Tower all the more eager to bring this fight to an end.
Her death would be delicious.
The door burst open, and both Takahashi and Leland saw the guard that had reported on Kardiac's capture step inside. There was a distant noise in the hallway, the sound of weapons firing broken up by the painful grunts of the security guards who fire them. His weapon in hand, the guard had arrived to warn his master that the vigilante had escaped and was on his way. Upon seeing the brawl before him, however, he reacted instinctively.
The guard fired three rapid shots at Faith's back. The third stung her left shoulder, the impact softened but not deadened by the Kevlar weave. The first two never made it to their target. Lee had moved. It hadn't been a conscious choice. He was a good man, and while his connection to the costumed woman was still unclear in his mind, she was trying to save his life. He had leapt to get her clear, and the first two shots struck him from the side, the first on the ballistic vest beneath his suit-coat and the second under his outstretched arm.
"Leland!" No sight in the world could have been worse than her cousin's expression in that instant. Confusion flickered across his face, as if he still didn't quite understand what had just happened. Or he couldn't bring himself to recognize her. He seemed to fall forever as the redhead watched in utter horror. Her tears pooled at the edge of her goggles as he hit the floor... and lay there.
Faith suddenly felt an intense pain. The momentary distraction had been enough for one shot. An opening the length of a heartbeat. Kevlar did little against blade, especially when they were thrust straight into it. Fortunately, Sylph's costume had been reinforced and the distraction had been enough to throw off Tower's aim. The cestus blade had cut deep, but it hadn't hit anything vital. Of course, that didn't stop the intense burning sensation that such a wound caused. The numbness of seeing Lee lying motionless on the floor, however... that was enough to dull the pain.
Another guard came through the doorway. This one, though, was not travelling under his own power. The sounds of combat had moved closer to the room. Kardiac was just outside, Leland was bleeding on the floor, and Takahashi was sporting an arrogant, excited grin just a foot in front of her. The party was coming to an end. Time to finish this.
But she needed one thing before she could wipe that smile off his face. One thing she had to know. It was easy to look small, scared and wounded by everything that had happened in this room. She was bleeding and Leland wasn't moving. She wasn't just scared; she was terrified. Gradually, Sylph began to falter under his blows, giving ground and falling back. She let him press the advantage, hating that grin more and more with every second.
Purposely leaving herself open and bracing herself for his attack did nothing to dull the pain as his blade bit into her skin again. She would have wondered why everyone seemed to be picking on her shoulder but, as she found it harder and harder to use the hittin' stick in that hand, she knew exactly why it was the target. But she had to let him underestimate her again... even if that meant she was going to lose more blood.
"How..." It took no acting ability whatsoever to let her voice tremble. God, she was scared. But she was also closer to the center of the room. And to the door. "How did you know I was here? How did you see me?"
Takahashi's smile widened and darkened. He stopped looking like a smug villain and began to resemble a tiger playing with a wounded meal as it stalked in for the kill. "You've been a most entertaining diversion," he said as he slid his outside foot and shoulders to the right, his inside arm rising as he moved. "So in consolation, allow me to insure you that it was by no conscious fault of your own."
"Much like I knew of Lexington's treachery the moment he activated the transmitter," he continued, his right arm dropping to his side in what was clearly meant to look like he was an open target. "The instant you wanted to interfere with our transaction, when you wanted to stop Lexington and were no longer fully content to watch, you became an imminent threat to my operation." His eyes narrowed, ever-so-slightly. It was a tell... Eddy had taught her to look for those. Every time he was about to end a sentence with an attack, his eyes narrowed.
"Even with my extrasensory abilities, I can overlook a spy," he said, finally. "But I never overlook a threat." And, just as she knew he would, Tower rushed her, leading with his left, the obvious attack, while his right arm dangled, waiting for her to side-step into its path.
But Faith was done being his victim. Instead of going to his right, she ducked in under his left arm, hearing the rush of air as his blade came all too close to her skin again. In his eagerness to move in for the kill, his momentum carried Tower forward. It was Sylph's anger that kept her moving. Her hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him down as her knee slammed up into his ribs.
She heard the sharp exhale of breath as she pivoted away from him, her foot connecting with the back of his knee to bring him fully to the ground. Sylph knew he wouldn't stay there long but she didn't intend to give him the time to get back up. Her boot immediately came down on the back of his hand, forcing him to release his blade so she could grab it. Then, feeling it to be entirely justified, she stabbed downward, piercing his hand and pinning him to the floor with his own knife.
Takahashi's grunt of pain, though highly restrained, was far too satisfying. "How many kids have grown up without a father because of you? Because of what you do..." Her voice trembled as she held back a sob. Leland still hadn't gotten up. But Tower didn't care; she knew it. Leland meant nothing to him.
His glare locked onto her, eyes meeting hers with an expression she was sure she'd be seeing in her nightmares. "Kazoekirenai." he said, his breath more labored -- less controlled -- than it had been before. "You are magnificent," he added, eyes drifting across her form.
A shape moved into the room, larger than Faith. It approached her right flank from behind. But she remained focused on Takahashi. His free hand moved to remove the blade that kept him pinned. "I'm not going to let you hurt more people. Not today." It wasn't much of a threat... but it was one she could follow through on.
Her foot snapped up, breaking his nose as she connected with his face. Another kick had him slumping to the ground, bleeding but not nearly as motionless as her cousin. She wanted to kick him again, to hurt him, but there was a hand on her shoulder. The warrior she had unleashed wanted to strike out at the sudden touch, but her heart sensed no malice from the familiar hand.
Looking up at Kardiac through eyes blurred by tears and pain, Faith broke. She couldn't say a word. The little redhead sank weakly to the ground, shaking as she did everything in her power to sob quietly. Eddy dropped to one knee in front of her. His left arm pulled her against his chest. He didn't reassure her. Instead, he apologized. "I'm sorry I wasn't here to protect you."
He wasn't talking about protecting her from harm. In a sense, he had been here for that -- the training he'd given her meant a part of him was always there for that. Seeing the room, the state of her enemy, and the state of her cousin, he knew where her emotions had taken her. It was that, that dark place within, from which he wanted to protect her. But he'd been too late.
His right hand held his comms, and his thumb flipped the transmitter to on. Before he could speak, Marcus was standing beside him. "Evac Lexington to Mercy, now!" The Strategoi teleporter disappeared again, Leland with him. Eddy pocketed his comm, then looked down at Faith and stroked her hair with his now-free hand. "It's over, sweet thing," he said in the softest voice he could muster... Eddy's voice.
Kardiac's voice was back when Marcus reappeared a moment later. "Take her to the beta evac point we discussed. Do not take her to the Castle and do not leave her alone!" Eddy said, glaring the teleporter in the eyes as he opened his mouth to protest. "I'll take responsibility with Fairchild. Once the strike team takes Tower and Justice out of here, I'll meet you there."
Eddy dropped his voice to a whisper and leaned close to Faith's ear, embracing her gently. "I've got a doctor on standby... he's a good man. I'll join you soon."
Through the sound of her tears, Faith choked out a word, "Corin...."
Eddy nodded to her, whispering in reply, "Okay... okay." He'd wanted to leave the Mid-Night Man out of it -- he knew Jenna had dealt with him at the museum but he wanted to keep him off of the rest of Strategoi's radar as much as possible -- but Faith's comfort was more important to him than Corin's privacy at the moment. He looked ap at Marcus and gave him a new address. "Go!"
The younger man nodded to Kardiac. "I won't take my eyes off of her." Without another word, he placed his hand on Faith's shoulder, Eddy let go of her, and the two of them disappeared.
After a moment, Kardiac turned back to Takahashi and slapped him repeatedly on the cheek until his eyes began to drift open. Eddy smiled, his eyes dark, and stared directly into Tower's own. "Extraction is three minutes away... plenty of time for us to chat."