House of Swords (Part 3!)/ The State of the Union

She descended the mountain the following morning, capturing maybe four hours of sleep at most. It would have been more of course, if she hadn’t needed to spend time rewiring Matriarch, and then listen to her complain about it and list off a hundred and three complications that resulted from her shut down incident. She almost considered just climbing down that night, but what could be done. She needed sleep, there wasn’t really another option.

Just before the sun began to rise, casting light down on the coast over the mountains, she gave up the comfort of bed and dressed for another day. She returned freshly dried clothes to her go-bag, and donned her weapons which had hidden themselves in long sleeves during her international travels. Two shasqua of Kabardian origin, several hundred years old in fact, and well maintained through numerous conflicts. The brass pommels and wood hilts had been replaced several times, sometimes a dozen or more within a decade of heavy use. The first few times had been done by master craftsmen, whom she learned from to do it herself every time after. The blades however were special, and had only been completely replaced four times since she received them, twice during the Silesian Wars, once during the Napoleonic Wars, and the last after the end of World War II.
They rode as a pair on her left, blade up rather than down like a sabre, protected by matching black and silver scabbards that had been with her for centuries now.

Below them, and on her left, as well as in a brace running diagonal her chest, were five third model colt dragoons, modified for eight chambers each. Each was stained black over the years from polish and spent powder, and still fired flawlessly nearly a hundred and thirty years after their inception. In the day, she had loved them so much, she even picked up the Baby Dragoon, which always rode in her boot opposite of whichever dagger happened to be available. Today it was a Smith & Wesson HRT.

There was a time she carried a 1911, but the ammunition had grown scarce now, and bullets were easier to hand make for the Dragoons since they weren’t modern cartridge based. Now her Mustang rested in her bedroom, holstered next to the bed, with the last five magazines hidden in the dresser. She often spent her first night loading them, and her last unloading them, a habit that put her right to sleep.

Her final weapon was slung around her chest, and dangled a bit as she made her descent. Solid wood furniture, stained black to hide in the night, with a dovetail rail added many decades after she had first purchased it. An 1852 Sharps rifle, she was possibly one of the last to use such an old weapon. Like the Dragoons, it fired a ball rather than a cartridge, but this rifle was of .52 caliber instead of .44 revolver.
All things considered, she could easily switch to a modern rifle of her choice. Probably a Russian rifle, since that’s what happened to be most common, but why? She’s good enough with the antiques, being an antique herself.

She let herself fall the last ten feet, tanking the impact. The sun was just cresting over the mountains, and she could see the light of the sun glancing off the Black Sea far below. Sochi was still cast in the mountains shadow, and didn’t begin to turn the street lights off until she reached the village where she waited at the church doors for Voykova and the other sisters to arrive, greeting them warmly at the door before services.

This was a routine day, opening the building up and ensuring everything was set properly. Many would go back home after the initial opening, but a few like Voykova worked here permanently, filling essential roles and rotating breaks on the piano that sat embedded at the very front of the chapel, behind all the upper pews. Tsatse wound up doing much of the playing, hiding her weapons in a locked closet in case someone got too nosey.

She wasn’t just here to play though. As the sisters rotated and joined her on the piano, a far more beautiful instrument than the organ in her opinion, they would update her on what has happened over the last year or so. With the piano going, they could speak plainly even about how Luthor's army has upped patrols in the region, afraid of a breakout attempt from the Arabian Peninsula and the aggressive cells there into Europe. One gave news how the local militias were being more regularly hit and forced deeper underground, metaphorically speaking. Another cited how for three weeks straight they couldn’t pull water from the well because a chicken had fallen in it and sank to the bottom.

In fact, hearing the news and talking idly with her long, long distant family was a wonderful experience. She could be honest, something she rarely got to do these days. She could laugh and smile without checking herself. Even Talia couldn’t draw this enjoyment out of her.

Then, just past midday, one of sisters sat down without a word. She put her fingers lightly on the keys, but didn’t play a single note. By her slightly arched nose and dark hair, Tsatse knew exactly who it was sitting next to her, even if she didn’t turn to greet her. Liyne.

Tsatse lifted her covered hands away from the keys, placing one on her shoulder and cupping the other gently beneath her chin, turning her face towards her. The right side of her face was swollen and bruised, her eye practically shut because of it. The other refused to meet her gaze.

In an instant, the joy of the day was flushed from her system, and she felt the twang of power run through her veins.

”Where else did they hurt you?” she asked. She had no doubt her eyes were alit with flames.

When she got no answer, she drew the girl in close and, for the briefest moment, touched her cheek to hers, before guiding her the rest of the way into a warm embrace that quickly developed heavy sobbing. The touch hadn’t been enough to do her harm, but it had been enough to sense the extent of her pain. While Liyne cried oceans against her shoulder, tears forming streams as they rolled off the waterproofed leather of Tsatse’s coat, Tsatse herself felt the inferno rage inside her, could see the burning light of her curse begin to glow through her black gloves. Her entire body radiated heat, a furnace that has been lit and is roaring with life.

Tsatse, gently pushed the girl away, rose from her seat, and left without another word, grabbing her weapons from the closet on the way out.

_____________________________________________
Graves waited while the phone rang, sighing in annoyance. He out to know by now to at least ask someone to pick up the phone, she thought as she was kicked to voicemail, cut off the accent heavy speech, and dialed again.

It took her three times before she was able to actually get an answer.

“Yes… hello? Miss Graves, I was not expecting your call so soon after having your invitation delivered to me.”

“Bane, change of plans,” she tapped her fingers on the tablet screen, where a massive flare of energy was being detected in Metropolis, “I’m sending the details to you now. Take whoever you think will best get the job done and get over there, pronto. We have people on the ground trying to gather intel, they’ve been instructed to keep you updated regularly.”

“Ah,” he replied in that long, drawn out tone of his, “I see. Someone you fear in need of breaking then?”

“I’d prefer you capture any you find, alive and with limbs still attached. Reports from Gotham however indicate this may be a more violent crew, shot the hand off of Crane's kid.”

“Of course, Miss Graves. Anything more you’d like to share?”

“Crane's kid included a description of the primary opponent, the one he never recovered. We pulled some security camera footage as well…” she brought up the documents and expedited them direct to Bane, “There, we think it’s the Batman.”

There was a long silence between them, not even Bane's signature breathing could be heard.

“You are certain of this?” Bane asked, his voice far less welcoming than before.

“You have all the current intel at your disposal. Grab everything you need, and anyone you want, and get over there. As soon as you’re on scene, let me know so I can track the situation and send reinforcements as needed.”

She heard him let out a long breath over the phone. “Of course, Miss Graves. Give the others my regards.”

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