Shadows of War (Tsatse Intro Pt.3 - Finale!)

Steel clashed in the courtyard before the temple, ringing throughout the empty city with a harsh, violent sound. The swords they used were blunted trainers, but carried the exact same weight and design of their respective swords. Talia's, a Kilij of the traditional Seljuk pattern, was especially curved with a defining bend halfway down the blade, far more so than Tsatse's much straighter Shasquas, the sword of her homeland.

Talia always proved an exceptional scrim partner, as she advanced under a blend of classic technique used by dismounted Mamelukes as well as modern Krav Maga, following high crossing cuts with strikes both from the palm and the guard as well as high kicks aimed for center mass, forcing her to concede ground and allow for Talia to use the sweeping motions common in sabres and scimitars.

Tsatse would respond in kind with a blend of her own, her paired Shasquas working in unison to redirect both sword and hand, an adapted technique from old backsword and dagger techniques of Europe. Her motions however were far more fluid, and had an elegance found in sword dancing she had perfected and refined in the years after the blade became obsolete on the battlefield. The blades twirled and spun in hand, loose and always in motion until with a clench of her hand and a flick of the wrist, one or the other raced to meet Talia's advance. She felt her motions were lightly influenced by classical fencing as well, but the rotational motions tended to make that observation unlikely to a casual viewer.

As Talia pushed her advance, danced around, keeping the fight within the courtyard and jumping up on and then over the rim of the fountain, water splashing up her ankles and dampening the hems of her short dress, which only mildly concealed the soft kevlar she wore beneath.
As she dragged her feet through the still water, swords just barely breaking the water's surface and flicking droplets in the air, Talia was forced to stop her assault, following just outside the pool. She opted out of body armor, as usual.

She switched up the dance to get maximum distance out of her swords, flinging water at her partner. “Not one to play in the fountain then?” she teased, splashing as she went.

Talia, her guard high with the point of the sword presented, continued her slow circle. “I prefer not to get wet. I think its highly unnecessary.”

Tsatse spun, flinging water in all direction as it continued to soak up through her pants and into her boots. “You should try crossing the desert sometime. Fun like this is worth killing over after all that dry and heat.”

Talia shook her head, but as Tsatse gave her room she edged her way into the pool, rotating her guard to keep loose and not get caught in any one position even as she dragged her feet through the crystalline water. That’s when Tsatse began her assault, changing from smooth dancing motions to sharper cuts and combined blows, looking to shake Talia's guard. She deflected a paired cross over her head, and used her open hand to bat water into her aggressors face.

She followed up with a downward cut while dashing out to her right, or Tsatse’s left. A clever move, not typical of either the Mamelukes, Turks, or Israelis. That move was from China, fighting with the similar Dao backsword under duel conditions.

Would have succeeded too, if she were with someone who didn’t know she preferred using her high guard. Tsatse, in the moment that water hit her face reacted by bringing her twin swords in and guarding against a high cut, and once the collision was made, she was free to send the Talij wide and force and opening.

Talia replied with a palm strike to the chest, just below the collar, making space and bringing them back to neutral.

Lowering her guard entirely, Tsatse rolled out her shoulders and neck. “Aren’t you done yet?”

“You’re not getting tired on me, are you?” she replied with her guard still high.

“Not all of us can spend six hours a day drilling.”

“I read, too,” she stepped forward, “and someone has to do the cleaning around here.” She leapt into another press, bringing her partner back into the fray. Their swords crashed together, and Tsatse was back again at the rim of the fountain. “Besides, I’ve never seen you give so much ground,” she continued, “this was your idea, after all. Why do you continue to run?”

She advanced, and Tsatse rolled over the rim, letting the chasing sword crash against the stone, sending sparks and powder out from the impact. Back on dry ground, Tsatse went back to her loose dance, letting Talia step out of the water after her.

“I’m just biding my time, enjoying the activity,” she answered, “you should try it some time.”

Talia snorted in response, but there was a smirk. They both had their own ways of having fun. The crossing of blades and martial arts continued for another hour, long enough for both of them to dry out under the artificial sun that gave the underground ecosystem its life, its light waning into evening. By the time they finished, the swords were beginning to show wear, both had sweated out the day's clothes, and neither had anything to show for it except for a bruise on Talia's calf and a larger bruise across Tsatse's shoulder blades, neither directly caused by the other.

They came inside just as the jackals began to cry out and patrol the streets, Talia helping her to unpack just enough to linger the night, giving her an empty bed she had prepped and cleaned maybe a few days before her arrival. Undoubtedly it was the only clean bed other than Talia's, as there was no one to sleep in them, and no reason to do anything but strip the blankets and pillows and lock them away in closets for another day.

Dinner was traditional, a mix of grains, vegetables and fruits Talia had stored, as well as some lamb cooked over an open fire. Tsatse set up her boom box, one of maybe the last around, and played music on low as they ate, chasing away the silence, which continued through the night after she retired to her room. Come morning tomorrow, the false sun glowing with runes in the early morning hours, she had already packed her bags and returned the bedding, leaving an empty clean room behind her, and no evidence of her passing. She met with Talia within the chapel to say her goodbyes, handing her a private bag of assorted white chocolate truffles, all before an empty pool that once held the key to everlasting life. She made one last joke about the white strands in her friend’s dark hair, shared a parting hug, and started back out into the winding caverns that exited into the harsh Rub'al-Khali.

This was perhaps the last time she would see a friendly face she knew of for another few years, as she set her heading for Riyadh. She wrapped her scarf tight over her face, and waited in the shadows while the burning sun rose overhead, north by several hundred miles across empty sand dunes. She kept her binos close at hand, watching the horizon for the next sandstorm to mask her exit from the fallen sanctuary of ‘Eth-Alth'eban. It would be night by the time she entered the once prominent city of Saudi Arabia, and by morning she was gone once more…
___________________________________________

Halfway across the world, descending into the depths of an undisclosed location, a blonde haired Amazon towered over two attendant soldiers, who were mostly present to form a barrier between her and the people that could get trampled beneath her.

The elevator creaked and groaned, coming to a halt with one last scream from the stressed gears and emptying its occupants into a sterile white hall, filled with windows that revealed scientists in everything from radiation suits to lab coats busily working as they marched down the halls. The facility wound deeper and deeper into the earth, and with each level came a heavily fortified checkpoint that lowered them by wide cargo lifts. Unbeknownst to the staff, this facility was built so that if its experiments broke contamination, escape would be exceptionally difficult. Several hundred pounds of demolition charges sat ready to detonate, maintained by an ordinance team on the surface, ready to ensure nothing succeeded in the attempt.

It should stop everything down here. All except one permanent occupant.
They stepped aboard the last lift, and descended twice as far as the others had for each level, and entered the observation room.

Military scientists, and their watchful security, snapped to attention when she entered the room. She quickly dismissed them with a snappy “As you were.” The science officer in charge, a somewhat decent looking man whose nametag read “D. Lawrence,” was the only one who approached her, the rest ducking back into their work.

“Ms. Graves,” Lawrence greeted her, “a pleasure to receive you here in our facility. The President wanted an update on the big guy, correct?”

“He wants to be sure you haven’t broken his favorite toy,” she replied tersely, “and sent me to make sure of it.”

“Of course ma'am, of course, but I’m not too sure why he thinks we can even begin to-"

“Save the discourse and show me,” Mercy cut him off.

The science officer nodded and showed her and her attendants to the observation window. “He stirs every now and then, though we have no idea what’s keeping him under,” Lawrence explained, the both of them peering down into the pit illuminated by red floodlights. Far below, a massive casket rested half embedded in the earth, the surface of which depicted a monstrous image of the creature within. Invisible to his eyes, and those of all the mortal men watching over the beast, luminous runes pulsed with power, wards sparked and burned across the casket and the surrounding area, burnt into the very bedrock the casket rested, with free lines of magic weaving them together, unbroken chains that ensured the sleeping beast remained dormant.

“We’ve continued experiments, as instructed of course,” as he spoke, a team in radiation suits entered the pit from an airlock no bigger than her thumbnail at this distance. Far, far down below, the men entered the sarcophagus. “We’ve seen remarkable results regarding our test subjects, the cloning technique we have has done nothing but improve, and we’re learning more every day.”

She didn’t really care, but, she was assigned to see it through. With a sigh, she gestured for the science officer to lead on, taking them down the only stairs in the facility to the labs where monsters were being born.

Behind glass panes, on either side she could see them, dissected on tables or floating incoherently in vats of liquid, wired in to a host of machines monitoring their development. Unlike their genetic father, these spawn were mostly man sized, and varied in small clusters depending on what they were spliced with, whether it was distinct like herself, one especially large brute of a specimen she suspected as such, or derived from a meta of lesser blood. One set had wings, which the scientists had removed on a few for further study, while another had an especially lean figure and long legs, perhaps a runner.

Above, drawn across the ceiling were similar runes and wards that kept the children silent. Some of the little monsters even bore their own runes, placed upon them directly during maturation. She hardly even listened to the science officer as she visually inspected each and every one, ensuring the safety of this facility.

At the very bottom they came to a single chamber with only one subject, massive in physique, and absolutely monstrous in appearance. This one alone came the closest to looking like his father, and had the heaviest protection lain around him, both in magic and material.

Second only, of course, to the beast himself.

“And here is of course the crown jewel of our scientific research and development,” Lawrence said, gesturing at the lone specimen of the room, silently floating in a clear vat. “His maturation has gone well, ten years in the process and no signs of genetic desynchronization, a problem we’ve had with some of our other specimens over the years, but have mostly resolved. We’re confident that the first batch may be ready for live testing in a few years, five or so at most.”

She glared at the child monster they grew. The lines of protection were unbroken, so her job was finished.

“Not my concern officer, I’m simply here to ensure the safety of this facility. You can explain your timetable to Luthor when he comes down again for his inspection.”

“Of course ma'am, anything else you wanted to see?”

“No.” The only thing she wanted was to be as far away from this abomination as possible. They turned their backs and proceeded to exit the facility, leaving the spliced spawn of Doomsday and Kal El behind, silent in the depths of the Earth.

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