Shifting Sands (Pt.2)

His newfound rifle rocked again.

“I hardly think now is the appropriate time to be asking for news, Miss Graves.” Slade adjusted his sights to the new pair that were attempting to cross a still surviving skybridge and turned the braincase of one into fine mist. “Would you settle for an update once I’ve finished?”

“I cannot believe you got yourself into a gunfight already,” was her response, and he could see her face in his head almost as easily as he could see the second Ghul in his final moments of having one. “Are you even in the city yet?”

He fired, the Ghul went down, no longer having much to think on, and Slade rolled off the table as he ran to his next position. “I am.”

He heard a sound over the radio, one he was fairly positive was a slap of some kind. “And you’re engaged with who exactly?”

He dove on the set up he had, re-zeroed his aim, and found the next target finally putting scope of the last window. He let her see through his eye, and scope, for a moment before surgically removing the entire structure and dress above his shoulders with a well-placed shot and a truly loud report from the rifle. The rest fell behind cover, and he shifted aim to seek his next victim.

“… I’m sending you a strike force to back you on this op. There weren’t supposed to be any members of the League of Assassins left.”

He found his mark and, with professional courtesy, expedited his exit from the sniper duel. “That won’t be necessary, I’m just about cleaned up here,” he replied, seeking a third target before moving to his last sniper hide, “They’ll just slow me down, and draw attention to this ‘secret mission' of yours.”

He found his final mark as he and four other Ghuls attempted to cross ground between their building and his, correcting that behavior in swift order.

“Not exactly much of a secret if the League knew about it and had time to prepare.”

He entered the last hide and took his first shot standing as the remaining two broke cover and made for more ground. Only one left now. “If it makes you feel any better, in my own experience, the League knows about almost everything. Being knocked down by Luthor was never going to change that.”

The last Ghul vanished on him, likely weaving through the underbrush and marshy environment that pervaded the city streets. Slade widened the field of view of the scope and waited, watching the reeds and tall grasses. The greatest problem he saw for the Ghul was forgetting that the environment was only deceptively like the surface, with day and night cycles and the illusion of sun and rain. Wind was what made grass and reeds good concealment, and this place had none of that. He fired, paused, and released his breath with content that the grass would move no more.

“There, finished. You can tell your strike force to stand down.”

“Negative, I still want a force there to properly secure the area. Continue with your mission, they’ll be tasked to control of egress points.”

“Graves, I’ve got everything-"

“Dorrance and Lynns botched their's because of their damn 'glory day' crap, do not test me Slade.”

It became abundantly clear then that she needed far more sleep than she was getting currently. He left the comm channel dead as he descended the tower back into the city.

The rest of his walk passed without incident. It was slow going, having changed his route to be even more concealed than previously intended, but in the end, he still reached the temple steps before Graves' reinforcements came within ten miles. Good thing too, since he now had one more problem to handle, properly.

Sitting on the steps, hair long and showing the first signs of age, was the last person he had wanted to see here. Talia al-Ghul.

“So,” he called to her as he approached, setting his new rifle on the edge of the fountain. “Somehow, after all these years, you’ve managed to stay alive. I hope that’s been through wiser decisions than this.”

She remained seated, her arms crossed, her loose attire concealing something in her lap, and he had a good guess as to what.

“You should have known better than to presume me dead. Unlike my father, my pride has never gotten the best of me.”

Slade unslung his flechette rifle and set it too on the rim of the fountain. “I don’t suppose you’ll be so kind as to show me what I’m looking for then. I imagine your skill in self-preservation isn’t as bad as you’re making it seem.”

She took a deep breath in and exhaled, an unspoken disappointment. “I can’t let you find that which you seek. It would be better for us both if you walked away from this.”

He stopped just short of the stairs, not yet drawing his swords. Best judgement said to have just taken her out from afar, but what kind of honor would that be to one who once he considered friend.

“You were on our side, Talia. You were the key to what we’ve accomplished, providing us with the Batman's one true weakness.”

She stared him down with worn, steely eyes. “And it was the greatest mistake of my life.”

The air stilled into silence. “Don’t make me kill you, Talia.”

A small, thin smile came to her face. “Like I’d give you the chance.”

He heard the whistling first, of air breaking away from the nose of that first salvo. In the second and a half it took for the incoming rocket to enter a shrieking cry as it raced towards him, he managed to hit to dirt, the rocket impacting on the steps between him and Talia. Ghuls emerged from fighting holes around the temple square and charged, some firing decade old assault rifles and handguns, others resorting to their traditional weapons of choice. The IKON suit soaked up the incoming fire like a sponge.

Through the roar of gunfire, he could hear another rocket launch, probably from one of the towers behind him. He rolled out of the way, the rocket cratering the ground where he once lay, the shockwave sending him into a less controlled tumble.

As the first wave of Ghuls closed, he drew swords and went to work. Each step made was a practiced art, an exercise he had drilled into his muscles since all those decades ago when he first started. The blades became an extension of his arms, of his will, and cut through bone and tissue as easily as air and fabric. With the armor he wore, it was even more unfair than they probably even realized. Rifle and pistol caliber rounds glanced off him as if striking tank armor, ricocheting into the kamikaze Ghuls who had closed the gap. Their blades, at least the very few that wove through his guard, hardly even left a mark as their edge dulled against his exterior, costing the user his hand, or arm, or in one case the entire shoulder and then some.

Death became his dance, and within the first five seconds of the ambush, the kamikaze force was dead, and he had moved on to the shooters, hurling two of their own swords back at them before reaching the flechette rifle and firing on the run, all while more rockets rained down from what was now several towers. Fifteen seconds, and he had the flechette rifle slung, taking up the material rifle to target the launchers, rolling out from under incoming rockets, planting round after round until twenty-five seconds after the ambush was initiated, he was the only one left standing.

Talia had remained seated through the entire performance.

Slade turned the rifle her way, “Apollyon. Where are the documents that-"

Smoke rose out from the temple, black from the ink and ancient texts that burned within. All the while, Talia stayed where she had been through the entire fight, staring down the barrel of the material rifle.

“You can’t kill her, Slade. And I won’t help you either. She’s the only thing left willing and capable of putting an end to Doomsday,” she called down to him, as smoke turned to flames behind her. “He’s turned you into a slave, Slade. Luthor, his corporate hegemony, and everyone under his command, he’s got the world over caught in both a collar and a noose, himself included. What happens when Doomsday breaks loose? When all that power Luthor holds proves to be nothing," she declared, her voice echoing down to him, "Will you slay the beast? What power do you hold, Slade Wilson, to kill such a monster for good?”

The alert came up on his display, the reinforcements were almost at the divide where helicopters could enter the city.

“There’s more to this world than just money, Slade. What good has Luthor's pay done you? All I see is a noose of gold hanging over you.”

“... Maybe,” he replied, “Maybe you’re right. But at the end of the day, I’m the one who’s still alive.” With that, he pulled the trigger.

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