Erich narrowly avoided being splattered across the pavement as the car he was hiding behind was thrown onto it’s side by a ton of angry power armor.
“Gravity!” He managed to not-quite shriek as he sprinted for his next bit of cover.
Gunfire erupted from behind him as he ran, and almost instantly he heard another blast of force from the suit. Sliding into cover, he glanced out to see the sparking remains of the final outdoor drone lying in the street, while Gravity’s yellow helmed head darted between burnt out cars.
Sighing in relief, he glanced over to see that his momentary delay had cost him. Hangman was aiming at him once more.
Time seemed to freeze as he heard the low whine of the weapon's build up, knowing in his heart of hearts that his flimsy piece of cover would provide no protection from the powerful device.
‘Not like this!’ He thought, an unexpected rage blooming within his chest as his arms shot up in a futile attempt to protect himself.
The boom that followed was as unexpected as it was welcome,=.
Erich watched in disbelief as the suit's pulse blaster failed catastrophically, blowing the suit’s forearm clean off.
“Argh!” Hangman’s pained shriek echoed through the battlefield as he clutched at the mangled mess of metal and wiring that remained of the suit’s arm.
Even from this distance, and through his surprise, Erich could see tell tale tint of vivid crimson blood amongst the hydraulic and coolant fluids dripping from the construct's ruined appendage.
“You!” the suit turned on him once more, cutting off his momentary pang of sadistic joy as the sight.
“Oh shit!” Erich shouted as the suit charged towards him.
From behind, he saw Gravity fire at it as it moved, but even with it's dilapidated state, the suit slipped to the side with only the smallest of movements and continued its sprint toward him.
Fucking telepath, Erich despaired as the Hangman's bullshit power let the suit dodge every shot headed it's way.
…Only to trip as a bevy of shots crackled across its side, destroying the right knee joint in a spray of sparks and the sound of crunching metal.
Erich could only watch in dumfounded disbelief as the massive construct hit the floor with a deafening crash and slid a few more inches towards him, before coming to a grinding halt.
“Priority target located," an all too familiar voice announced, shattering the relative silence that followed.
Doing his best impression of a goldfish, Erich glanced over to see one of the drones from within the hospital, its leg still sparking and dragging behind it as it gamely limped toward the suit.
Even as his mind tried to keep up with what just happened, he found himself subconsciously tallying the damage.
Frankly, he was amazed the thing was still standing; littered with bullet-holes, it’s paint scorched, as if someone had tried to light it on fire, and one of it’s arms hung limp - forcing it to hold it’s cheap Chinese AK knock off in one hand.
But its was still standing, and Erich had never seen a more beautiful sight.
He was not so dumbfounded though that he didn’t think to immediately dash over and yank the gun out of the cheap automata’s hand while it went through the robotic motion of reloading.
Or attempted to - given that it only had one arm, it had been failing.
“Weapon lost," it announced, in a manner that might have suggested indignation if it had come from a being capable of the emotion.
Plucking a fresh clip from the drone’s belt, Erich left the grasping drone behind and strode over to the downed suit.
“Wait, Jason!” a surprisingly normal, if frantic female voice coughed from within the hunk of metal, “I can help you! Your sister- the organization I’m a part of-”
"Can't move, right?" Erich grinned, before pressing the gun into the suit, honing his aim into one of the cracks. "Sucks, don't it?"
Then he pulled the trigger, luxuriating in the kick of it beneath his hands as he lit the suit up.
When the gun finally clicked empty, he sighed, tossing it aside and collapsing onto his ass, wincing as pain shout of from his side from jarring impact.
It was done.
Not to get back to work, he thought as he took a shuddering breath - luxuriating for just a moment in the acrid taste of gunpowder on his tongue.
“Is Myra still alive, Gravity?” He called out tiredly to the open air, only vaguely listening to the continual pop of gunfire in the background.
“I don’t know, Jason.” The woman in question responded from behind him, “I thought I saw her chest moving when I ran past her.”
Erich deliberately ignored her use of his ‘real’ name. He was too tired to bother with secrets right now.
“And the rest of the New Brotherhood?” He asked as he watched the drone limp over and pick up the discarded gun, woodenly attempting to finish the reloading cycle it had started before he interrupted it.
“Seems they’re retreating back into the hospital now that their boss is down.” The woman responded dispassionately. “Probably waiting for reinforcements.”
“Good.” Erich muttered tiredly as he reached into his jacket and grabbed the detonator. “That makes this next part easier.”
Erich stared over at his suit from his position at his worktable.
It had seen much better days. Hell, one of the arms had fallen off when they finally roused Myra long enough for her to lug it into the van.
Fortunate for us that the surviving White Tigers were still a bit shell-shocked by the hospitals sudden demolition.
He had not been in the mood to argue about it taking up space in the van. Even if the return trip had made the original trip over there seem positively spacious by comparison.
Positive outcome or not, blowing up the hospital from all of a few dozen meters away had not been his wisest move.
Still, he supposed it all worked out in the end as he took another swig of his drink.
...A drink he nearly spilled when Gravity shouted out from behind him.
“Oh, for fucks sake, Erich.” Gravity roared, box of belongings in her hands, “You said you were going to get the body out of that thing! You know how hot it is in here? It's starting to stink.”
Turning to glare at the woman in question, he scowled, “Can’t a man enjoy his moment of triumph for but a few moments?
“Not if he wants to stay a free man.” Gravity shot back, “We blew up a hospital. Abandoned or not. The cops and the capes aren’t going to ignore that. We need to get the fuck out of town.”
…and find a doctor, went unsaid, as they were both all too aware of the silent member of their trio. Sarah was currently lying on a rack in the corner of the room, watched over by his one remaining sentry drone; who Gravity had had the audacity to name, Limpy.
He had wanted to scrap for the thing for useful parts when it showed up at the shop, somehow having managed to limp home from all the way across town.
More resilient design than I expected, he admitted grudgingly.
“How’s your side, Jason?” Gravity eventually sighed as she slid the box into the van.
Erich winced both at the reminder of his partially spilled secret and the sensation he had been attempting to dull with sweet sweet alcohol when she walked in.
“Only really hurts when I breathe,” he shrugged, regretting the motion immediately as it sent another wave of fresh agony through him. He also deliberately made no comment on her use of his 'real' name.
Part of him was hoping that if he ignored her use of it long enough it would go away.
Which might have been why Gravity had zero sympathy for him when she responded, “Yeah, well the sooner we get out of this city, the sooner we can find a doctor who isn’t too afraid of the Red Squares or what’s left of the Brotherhood to treat us all."
“Treat me and Sarah you mean?” Erich muttered with more than a little jealousy.
The gravity manipulator had gotten out of the fight away from the fight with nothing more than few cuts and bruises.
“Yes, treat you two,” the woman said with an audible roll of her eyes, one that utterly failed to hide the hint of smugness beneath it.
“Have we even decided on a destination yet?” He asked, wondering when it was decided that they were all sticking together, even though there was no real need anymore. Their common cause had ended with the death of Hangman.
“The West Coast.” A new voice interrupted, startling both of them, and sending Erich’s beer tumbling to the floor as he grabbed his gun.
“Who the fuck are you?” Erich muttered though gritted teeth as pain shot up his side - again - from the sudden movement, while also ignoring the belated ‘Intruder Detected’ from the useless security bot in the corner.
“Winter Witch.” The armored woman said from her position at the door, “and I would tell that drone to stand down before it does something… ill advised.”
Her tone made it clear that she wasn't going to ask nicely a second time.
“Designation: Limpy, stand down,” Erich muttered as he realized who was talking to. He let his gun drop too, but made no move to holster it.
“What would the leader of the Red Squares want with us?” Gravity asked equally wearily as she also let her weapon fall to her side.
“I’m here to thank you for removing my biggest competitor for me," the supervillainess grinned. "After the disappearance of Hard-Light a few of my people were concerned that we might be next. More than a few suggested that we should launch a pre-emptive attack on this ‘Hangman’ before he could turn on us.”
“Because that worked so well for our crew.” Gravity grunted.
“Quite so.” The woman said, “I was of the opinion that we should attempt to acquire more information on our foe before doing anything rash. An opinion that was only reinforced when all of my informants within the New Brotherhood went... dark”
Something close to a frown came over her features, before the immaculately polite mask came back on, “After that happened, I suggested that we should let the Brotherhood’s little civil war play out first. It wouldn’t for us to remind both factions that they had external enemies, lest they decide to put their own squabbles aside to deal with us. Doing so would give us time to properly mobilize for an all out engagement.”
Erich figured that made sense, if you didn’t know that Hangman was using that time to create Nazi werewolves.
“However, you can imagine my surprise and delight,” Winter Witch continued, “when before even our preliminary preperations were completed, the situation was resolved for us by the remnants of Hard-Light’s organization.”
“You’re welcome,” Gravity said in a manner that suggested the woman was anything but, “but I’m willing to bet the head of the Squares didn’t come all the way down to this shit-shack just to say ‘thanks’.”
Erich couldn’t decide whether to be more concerned or less by the fact that Winter Witch seemed more amused than irritated by Gravity’s very ill-advised attitude. It almost eclipsed his offense at Gravity referring to his shop as a shit-shack.
“Quite correct, Olivia,” the woman smiled, “you always were rather astute when you choose to be. Rare as it is.”
Gravity didn’t quite growl, but the noise she made wasn’t all that far off.
“So, why are you here?” Erich said before Gravity could say something even more ill -advised.
“Originally, I intended to recruit you,” the woman admitted as she turned towards him. “However, that was before I learned exactly how you finished off our latest foe.”
The ample application of high explosives? He had to admit that without the context of Nazi Werewolves it did seem a little… excessive for a gang-war.
“Did you really have to destroy the entire hospital?” the woman sighed, unknowingly echoing his own thoughts. “Honestly, even in his youth Hard-Light was more subtle than that. And the man was quite the beast back then.”
Erich shrugged, because it wasn’t like he was about to explain that he wasn’t so much taking out the Brotherhood as he was attempting to keep the lid on a world sundering new method of creating Metas.
One that he still had no idea how Hangman had come across.
Besides, well, telepathy.
“As a result, things have changed," she continued. "Blur arrived in the city this morning, ostensibly to investigate the recent gang violence. And with one of the Titans in New Granton, you’ve all suddenly become too hot a commodity to handle. Which means you’re both in the unenviable position of being too dangerous to leave alone, and too much trouble to incorporate into the Squares.”
“So you want us out of the city?” Erich finished.
“No.” Winter Witch shook her head, humor fading as the vicious gang leader came to the fore, “my earlier suggestion wasn’t a suggestion. The Red Squares want you out of the country. You make people nervous.”
“You're exiling us.” Gravity muttered, spitting the word as if they were toxic.
“Exactly,” Winter Witch said unsympathetically, “getting into the West Coast is easy. Getting out is significant less so. So much so that the Red Squares would feel much more comfortable with you within that madhouse's borders."
Erich was kind of worried that he was growing somewhat numb to the world crashing down around him.
...and it could be worse, was just about all he could summon up to the idea.
Sure, the West Coast was an anarchic mess, but it was still better than the big brother state that was the European Union these days, or the civil war in the Pan-Asian Alliance.
Those are even the better options as far as the wider world is concerned, he thought grimly.
It seemed that every other week some third-world government got knocked over by one supervillain or another. He was of the opinion that pretty soon there wouldn’t be any countries left outside the Big Three that weren’t under the iron fist of one meta or another.
Sure, the West Coast was cesspit, but at least it was a vaguely familiar cesspit.
“If we’re such a problem, why not just kill us now and be done with it?” Gravity asked, prompting Erich to sputter as his thoughts ground to a halt.
Gravity snarkily continued, “you wouldn’t even have to do it yourself. I’m sure that bitch, Grey Hood, is just begging for a chance.”
Winter Witch just shrugged, “the thought certainly crossed my mind, but as I said, I am thankful to you for dealing with a problem for me. That means I’m inclined to let you live for now."
"How gracious," Gravity snorted.
Winter Witch's smile was as ice cold as her namesake when she turned towards the younger woman, "It is isn't it... now get the fuck out of my city before I decided to be less gracious."
To Erich's infinite relief, Gravity was smart enough to shut up at that moment.
Satisfied, the woman turned to leave, before pausing at the door, “Oh, and for fucks sake, get rid of whatever body is stinking up the place. I can smell it from here. The last thing I need is for you three to get caught before even getting out of the city.”