Fallen Castle (Pt.2)

Night fell once more, and with it came the first snow to Gotham, incredibly late for the local season according to Sharon's memory. As if to make up for lost time, the snow turned into a blizzard, hitting hard and fast. Under other circumstances, she would have challenged her commanding officer on any decision to move under the conditions out of safety concerns, but given the nighttime white out conditions made for the absolute best conditions to evade and escape. It just meant layering up even further, and ensuring they stayed moving at all times, which they could actually do since the blizzard grounded all air assets and hid them from even some of the best thermal optics as the freezing wind equalized surface temperatures like that of their external, soon snow coated coats.

They crossed Gotham's waterways unimpeded and, with any luck, unnoticed. There was a scare almost halfway across as a LexCorp armored personnel carrier equipped with a snow plow came through, followed by an infantry fighting vehicle providing it with cover. It was hard sometimes to remember that Gotham now served as LexCorp’s perfect, self-contained research and development lab for chemical and biological weapons, tested on the city occupants regularly. The exclusion zone was their buffer between them and the rest of America.

Once across, Sharon took the lead, keeping hold of Casey with both hands to ensure she didn’t get separated. With no visibility and gale-force winds eliminating verbal callouts, she was taking no chances.

Even with her caution taken to the extreme, they still hit hazards. Twice Sharon found them standing on ice, and several times she had to dive both of them out of the way for ground vehicles. An idea to try and commandeer one came through her mind, but she chased it out. She was at a massive disadvantage in manpower and firepower, and could guarantee the vehicles had trackers in them.

Two hours passed before they found a shelled-out structure to hide in, taking a moment out from the storm. Given their circumstances, Sharon weighed the odds and found herself putting the HK 416 back together, and readjusting her attire so her vest was on the exterior again while Casey rested her legs.

She took the liberty of consolidating bullets into magazines, separating her now empty ones from the fresh ones. The storm wasn’t about to cease any time soon, so she did an actual count as well, and eventually broke into the comfort of old habit in a gear check. Nothing broken, but almost everything was still dead on battery. Night optics, flashlights, laser sights, all dead. Her radio was on one bar and flashing as well.

She hadn’t given it much thought, but her helmet had never turned up after waking in the alleyway days ago. Not that she could get much use out of it here, what she had now provided better protection for the current threat, but she wished she at least had it so she could strap it to her bag.

Speaking of, she found almost all the liquids inside frozen. No shock there.

“What’s the tattoo on your back for?” The sudden question startled her, wheeling about to find Casey practically poking her in the back. She immediately regretted her instincts though as Casey recoiled.

Sharon braked her heart rate with a sigh. “Sorry, its ah… old Navy SEALs thing we all had done in the Arctic base.” She leaned back, recalling the time years ago, “One of our salvage teams brought back some equipment that could do tattoos since they had room in the subs cargo hold. Turned out one of the old sailors was a decent artist, so he drafted some designs for us. Said ‘If we ever win this, we should have something that lets us stand apart'. So, had us all come in one day and we all got inked.” Sharon tugged the collar of her uniform aside to show the front one off, just above the heart. “This one is the classic SEAL anchor,” she pointed with her other hand, letting Casey get close enough to see the details. “From what I’m told, we dropped the trident some time back, something to do with the Atlanteans and cultural history.”

“Like Aquaman?”

She laughed. “Yeah, exactly like Aquaman.”

After that, she turned back to her equipment and found nothing else to work with. She had all she needed, and they were back in the storm within the hour, crossing cracked roads covered in knee deep snow. The ground began to steadily incline, and the storm lessened to a downward snowing rather than lateral crosswinds of pure white. How they found the Manor, she still wasn’t wholly sure, but it took them nearly six hours of walking to do so. The doors were of course locked, so she found a broken window and swept the jagged edges of glass out, propelling herself into it and using her body as a counterweight to lift Casey after her.

It wasn’t much to look at, which didn’t surprise her. It looked abandoned, probably a result of the battle that effectively ended Gotham's proper status as a city. If she were a millionaire, she wouldn’t want to live within twenty miles of the place either.

Snow had found its way in some places, and where there wasn’t snow there was dust and debris as the structure suffered from complete and utter neglect. It was, unfortunately, something she had seen in plenty of other places too, and the distinct comparison of old manor houses through Germany, the Baltics and France came to mind. Where once there were grand chandeliers and carefully maintained furniture across what must have been a colorful, warm, and inviting atmosphere, now there was shattered glass, rusting metal, and decayed wood. It was clear that some areas had been reclaimed by nature, as delicate webs of ivy crept through the walls, their vines bare of leaves for the winter.

Even having been in hundreds of other decrepit, ruined cities and structures, something was distinctly off. Whatever was going on with her blinded her normal empathic sight, which she had been testing every so often on Casey as they walked. Perhaps it was just the lack of trace that made everything feel wrong, like she was half blind to the world. It was something she would have to figure out later, if later ever came.

Regardless, she decided to treat the structure like any other location she as part of a SEAL team would. Room by room, in systemic order, she cleared the structure, with Casey at her hip the whole way. Couldn’t exactly leave her somewhere and have the expectation of safety.

In all, it took her an hour more, and by the end she was exhausted, having crept in every corner, every closet, and poked her head into every nook and cranny she could find. She found trace evidence of previous squatters, and rats, but that was it for the most part. They had the manor to themselves, and retired to what must have been the library, though she chose it for the fireplace, which she proceeded to feed with the broken limbs of chairs that could no longer support sitting. A part of her hated doing so, but at the same time it was better than burning books. Even Luthor hadn’t stooped that low.

With a fire going, she took the liberty of lightening her attire once more, going back down to her old uniform over thermal layers. Casey also ditched her layers, and even went as far as laying out the snow-soaked clothes to be dried by the fire. It was six in the morning then, and for a moment Sharon thought that maybe, just maybe, they’d actually found a moment's peace.

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