Her Game, Her Rules

"Don't worry," he said to the dying man. His voice was neutral. "I always put down dogs."

There was a single booming report and Jack turned away. He had taken two steps when he heard another car. He aimed up, cupping the pistol in readiness as the car in question came to land lightly before him. A man stepped out and Jack knew him.

He stared at Cross as he stared back. There was silence punctured only by the popping of growing flames. Jack kept his revolver trained on him. He still said nothing.

"I see you've been busy." Jhonen finally said as he gestured for Jack to get in. "Come on. Joanna's waiting. I'll explain what sort of nightmare you just unwittingly walked into on the way..."

Behind Jack, metal creaked and groaned as one of the mercs regained consciousness. Out went the door, revealing a battered but thoroughly pissed off, steroid-fueled muscled nightmare of a man. Silver lines ran like veins through his arms as they bulged even further, a plastic pop heard from him as he twisted his neck to crack it. He let out what Jack could have only described as a primal call before slowly, menacingly stomping forward.

"Yeah..." Jhonen sighed and went to grab the rifle he'd brought with him, made sure the clip of dragon's bane was slapped in tight, then flicked off the safety. "I really don't have time for this crap today..." He fired three shots into the uber-merc. Center mass. The dragon's bane did its job of piercing the dermal armor the merc had been upgraded with, then exploded inside of him for added measure. The merc bellowed in agony as chrome blood and smoke erupted from his bulky form and he fell back into the flaming wreckage of the car once more.

But Jhonen wasn't a fool. He knew chrome blood meant that merc was a full conversion. A cyborg of the highest order. Nothing but a brain in a hyper-alloy combat chassis with an outer layer of humanoid flesh. And sure enough when the merc rose again his skin had burned away revealing the bio-mechanical monstrosity underneath. By then, Jhonen had rushed to Jack and placed himself between him and the merc.

"Stay behind me..." Jhonen said firmly. "If this fucker still has any common sense he won't go through me to get to you. It's a standing order from their boss, the one who sent them after you and your daughter. I cannot be harmed unless it's part of her game..." The look of confusion he saw on Jack's face at that meant he didn't know about The Crimson Queen. So he had no clue what den of dragons he'd fallen into... Great... "Just trust me, Jack..."

The mecha-merc started to approach them but stopped as Jhonen continued to play defense by keeping Jack behind him. "Jhonen Cross..." The merc said, his voice warped by the damage he'd sustained. He sounded like a goddamn electronic demon. "You cannot stop this. The Darks will die..."

"You'll have to get through me first, tin can." Jhonen said. "And if you do... she'll deal with you." He glanced up and behind the merc. The merc turned and saw The Angel... standing on a hovering platform, her bore spike was poised to wreck his metal ass should he try to interfere with The Queen's ultimate prey.

"It appears we're at an impasse..." The Angel said, her voice somehow able to carry over the mess of noise from the devastation.

"I won't let her have them," Jhonen said to The Angel. "You know I won't..."

"It is an irony... A father and a daughter..." The Angel smirked. "No wonder you're so protective of them..."

"Call off the hit!" Jhonen demanded.

Then another voice sounded from The Angel. The Crimson Queen's voice echoed across the devastation now.

"Jhonen... You're being a naughty player today..." The Queen said.

"You put a hit on the Darks because they were hunting me. You already killed the Citra Corp exec that signed off on the hit. There's no payment coming for the bounty he put on my head. The hit is null and void. There's no reason to kill them!" Jhonen said.

"Have I ever needed a reason, Jhonen?" The Queen said. "You should know that better than anyone else..."

"This does nothing but get in the way of our game... I killed your dog. Cut The Wendigo's head off with my own sword. That's one down... three to go." Jhonen said with a sneer. "Why not just end this needless detour and get back to the real fun?"

There was a pause. The air grew thick. Jhonen was praying that Jack was as smart as he thought he was and knew to grab for the rifle Jhonen was holding limply behind him in an offering gesture should things go horribly wrong. He was already gearing up the Scorpion arm. The damn harness that he had to wear along with it to properly use it was digging into him. But it was better than wrenching his shoulder out of place should Hilda's insane invention actually work.

"Fun is your only reason for being, Jhonen." The Queen said with a hint of laughter in her voice. "I think we'll go ahead and add this to our game... The Crimson Rule has been lifted for this moment. Any and all Crimson souls are welcome to try their luck against my dearest Jhonen Cross..." She laughed. "Rather poetic given the circumstances I feel. You get to fail another family... Another daughter..."

Jhonen didn't waste time. That remark ignited a powder keg in his soul. With a flick of his metallic wrist, a small harpoon attached to a rope shot out of the Scorpion arm and soared into The Angel of all people. She didn't see it hit her before it was too late. The harpoon plunged into her chest, hooks extended from it and dug themselves deep into her. She sputtered and clutched at the rope as the internal winch inside the arm began to pull with a furious power. Jhonen had shoved the dragon's bane rifle into Jack's arms before the winch pulled him up into the air and towards The Angel who had become pinned to the safety rail of her floating platform by the line.

In this brief moment of flying through the air Jhonen produced his sword with his left hand and, as he reached the platform, severed The Angel's head from her body. He grabbed onto the safety rail and pulled himself over it. The limp, headless body of The Guardian Angel tumbled over the side and crashed to the ground with a dull, wet thud. Jhonen disengaged the harpoon hooks and the arm reeled it back in. Then he pulled his sidearm and turned to Jack.

"Welcome to The Game, Jack Dark!" Jhonen said as he trained his gun on the mecha-merc. "Now fucking shoot that piece of shit!"

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