Shifting Sands (Pt.1)

The LexCorp private jet was a little much, if he was honest. It was, unofficially, a part of his salary, one that Luthor had insisted was a “gift" to further his operations. Of course, it had been Miss Graves that had told him that, but since LexCorp didn’t exactly reward its actual employees with such luxuries, he considered it an ongoing payment, which she had been fine with. LexCorp kept it fueled, crewed, and hotly monitored. He knew who the cameras so delicately hidden in every compartment were being watched by, and it wasn’t just Graves when she had the chance to actually check in on him.

The flight into Saudi Arabia, or what once was the independent nation of Saudi Arabia at least, had been spent cleaning equipment, honing edges, and reading a handful of documents detailing the area. Ever since its fall, ‘Eth-Alth’eban had been the target of a lot of monitoring and attempted reconnaissance. He considered it all attempted since most of the scans and images failed to show the important details, the hidden tunnels and defensive chokepoints that had once kept the sunken city safe from even the most dedicated invader. Hadn’t stopped Doomsday, of course, but then what could? He himself had no idea how Luthor got that monster to finally stop, and even more, disappear off the face of the planet.

There was another thing many of the reports failed to really take note of, and that was the layout and scale of the city. The radar did a half decent job where there was solid rock to read through, but sand dispersed the attempted signals too much to have a good read. Guaranteed ten years later without maintenance of any kind, there was bound to be some scenic changes.

”Passing the jump point in t-minus five minutes.” the pilot announced over the intercom. Slade of course had zero interest in waiting to cross miles of the harshest desert in the world, so he plotted ahead of time a route that put him directly over one of the entrances to the ancient city, and arranged for an exfiltration wing of helicopters to retrieve him at another in thirty six hours. He had everything he needed, and far more than had been suggested to him.

Slade packed all his equipment into a standard three-day bag, drew his mask on, and made his way to the exit. At four minutes and thirty-three seconds, he leapt out of a perfectly good airplane and plummeted into the Ar-Rub'al-Khalil, deploying his parachute at maybe a hundred meters or so, and landing gracefully down the side of a sand dune. The chute got folded and put back in the bag, in case he needed it later.

The desert was as barren and hot as he remembered it, the Arab sun beating down from above and the heat of the sand beating back against it, deterring almost all living creatures to find themselves in this place. This also meant the skies were clear, and with some practiced measuring with his thumb and palm, he was on track to entering the city for the first time in nearly a decade. His rifle, another “gift" of LexCorp, found its way to a low ready as he trekked across the sand, staying just below the ridge of the dune, scanning for threats on and beyond the horizon. The ancient magic that once guarded this place may be gone, but the people were never a guarantee.

It was just short of a mile before he found the old entrance he had once frequented so many years ago. In its ancient, naturally carved walls, he recalled a long history of good contracts, some decent folk as well. Plenty of good sharpshooters, duelists, and gunslingers.

There had been a few times his pride and honor had been questioned. Nothing that ever led to him losing much more than he already had. More than a few of those left bars and card tables a mess, which came out of his pocket to clean and often times repair. Hadn’t ever changed his impression of the place. Even when he was running with the League, he never really had much a care for the Demon or his grand plans. Seemed to him then much like it still does now: grand plans typically fail.

With every corner he cleared, and every advance deeper into the Earth's surface he made, the more he could sense the environment change. The heat of the Arab sun waned for the first half, but then the heat returned, along with a tropical atmosphere that made his Ikon suit bead with condensation and emit contrails of steam. His suit measured the changes in temperature and humidity as well, but also began to ping motion in the distance.

A curtain of vines capped the cavernous trail, which he swept through without breaking silence or pace. A phantom of war, all he ever needed anyone else to know him as.

Lain before him, the ruins of ‘Eth-Alth’eban, once the holy city to the League of Assassins, and the hotbed of mercenary activity and warfighter provisions. Great skyscrapers still stood in some places, connecting ground to ceiling in the huge expanse of the subterranean oasis, though most had collapsed either from the initial siege or over the years from damage and erosion. Tropical plants reclaimed almost all of the topography, and his suit got busy as it tracked and weighed potential threats, quickly picking out the heat signatures of fauna as small as a desert cat. Birds filled the sky with colorful wingbeats, and with so much natural commotion he felt inclined to just switch off the highly sensitive scanners embedded in his suit.

He chose against that, prioritizing his view on windows and exposed rooftops, or the shards of collapsed skyscrapers. His approach was low and steady, sliding down a soft and sandy embankment before dipping his feet into the stagnant, marshy waters that had come to overrun the city as its water management went unattended. Tall and dense grass bent and swayed around him, and following his suit's pings for heat and motion he found himself among a herd of water buffalo that grazed without paying him much heed.

Reminded him all too much of a few runs through Somalia he had decades back.

Soon enough, his monitoring of ‘Eth-Alth’eban's skyline proved its worth. It was a small motion, maybe a three-quarter mile away, but the light quality definitely changed in one of the windows. He watched; a tiger hidden in the brush. Three windows down, he caught it again. This time the suit also picked up on the movement, and immediately pinged it as a potential threat.

Hrmph, well no shit, he thought to himself. He drifted through the grass and shifted his own gaze to other areas while the suit tracked the contact’s movement. He caught another moving in the shards of a cracked skyscraper, roughly six hundred yards separated from his friend.

The rifle LexCorp had gifted him wasn’t much for a long-range engagement, it was meant more for shredding the more exceptional metas with unique, mission oriented flechettes, and was the most efficient means to kill the likes of Amazons and Kryptonians, but realistically only if he got the drop on them. Which wasn’t to say he couldn’t, but fighting humans didn’t exactly match up well for experience.

He chose the shard over the windowed high rise. No lens flare, so it was safe to say that by the time he entered the building no sniper had put him between crosshairs. His suit got busy again as it mapped the structure through a series of radar pings, further enhanced by his clearing of the lower levels up until it began tracking an anomaly on the eighteenth floor.

The anomaly bounced around, and was just big enough to be exactly what he was looking for. He ascended in dead silence, tailing the target as it grew in clarity from below on the seventeenth floor, then ascending with it as it rose to the nineteenth.

The one thing he did like about the LexCorp flechette rifle was its method of operation. Rather than an explosive discharge to send a bullet on its way, the flechettes were compelled along magnetically charged miniature rails. It meant carrying a hefty battery as well as magazines, and a small moment to charge up, but after that, the only sounds came from air rushing around the needles, and the impacts they made through floorboards and the unassuming targets softer parts.

There was a thud, and the anomaly ceased to exist. Slade quickly ascended to the nineteenth and confirmed his suspicions. Not only were there stragglers left in the city, but they were waiting for him. This one had one of LexCorp's newer anti-material rifles, an exceptionally long-range weapon with a lot of weight behind it. Had this sniper spotted him, the first round may have reached him before he could react, and thoroughly knock him on his arse even with his suit. A blow to the cranium would have at best left him unconscious, and Ghul snipers were nothing to balk out.

Too bad he had spotted them first.

Slade slung his flechette rifle and took up the dead sniper's weapon. The lack of suppressor was disappointing, but made sense. Hit or miss, everyone in the city would be alerted to the shot. As decent early warning system as any.

He also took the dead Ghul's earpiece. The channel was silent, which didn’t tell him if they were alerted to his presence or not. Not yet anyway.

Improvisation became his greatest tool, and he soon had a rough suppressor that'd work maybe as well as a pillow case smothered screaming, but would definitely hide the muzzle flash. The scope he found already had a lens cover that hid the reflection of light that normally gave away snipers. Clever, not clever enough though. He found himself a couple comfortable locations, set up a handful of hides, and got to work.

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