Elijah's Mantle, Part 5

Summary:
January 24, 2015: SHIELD races to the Arctic to attempt to catch HYDRA before they take Skull's body

The Arctic Circle

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!


Characters

NPCs

  • Agent Larinov
  • Sin Schmiddt
  • Red Skull

Mood Music:
[*<http://insert.video.or.music.link.here>]


SOMEWHERE IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE

Ideally the attack would have taken place during the night time hours, but the timing and the rush necessitated that the strike would end up being whenever SHIELD could get there. Which meant as soon as possible.

The Hellicarrier has spent the past few hours moving into position high above the nearly limitless expanse of blinding white. The only points where the milky abyss breaks up is at the rocky peaks of the mountain ranges below.

Desolate. Frigid. Dead.

Because the carrier was not given the proper amount of time to prep it for such terribly cold conditions, the attack would be focused on retrofitted jets, helicopters, and tanks and snow-mobiles dropped from the sky.

The Alpha and Bravo teams are aboard one of the first helicopters through, flying towards the best guess coordinates where Fitz picked up on the satellite images. Speaking of Fitz; this didn't hardly seem like much a mission for the Scottish scientist. Instead, Steve called in a favor or two and had an old friend join up with the team on the way out. Many agents have an all too good knowledge about Shift and what happened the last time he and Captain American joined forces.

The other addition, of course, is the one and only Deputy Director Hill, who is in charge of the mission, no matter what Midnighter says.

The estimated time of arrival is about 4 minutes. Best get ready for touch down.

For a guy from Louisiana, Argyle looks right at home in the head to toe white survival suit. He's checking and rechecking their weapons cache, to make sure all the hardware is ready once the chopper touches down. "Y'all keep an eye out for jams. It's cold as a banshee's tits out there." Once he's made sure their cache is well and truly checked and passed out to all who need one, he takes a moment to crane his neck and look out the window. "Man. I was hoping to see penguins. And also not-Hydra."

Midnighter spent much of the time getting to the Arctic on the Helicarrier deck. Let's face it, it's very scenic. Stormwatch doesn't have a Helicarrier, a fact he's going to bring up to Waller every time he wants to annoy her. By the time it's time to get in the choppers, he's more than ready to stop sightseeing. Being told someone named Hill is in charge just gets a shrug. Makes no difference to him; he'll either be told to do something he already intends or will ignore it if he feels it's best. That'll come as no surprise to anyone. "Someone wake Hicks." he comments to no one in particular as they fly toward their goal. He'll get bonus points if anyone looks around for someone named Hicks.

This is the part that Sara hates. The part with the waiting, and the sitting in flying vehicles that have nowhere to go but down if something goes horribly wrong. The demons, the fighting, she can handle those. This part is another matter. But hey, at least she's in a plane full of people who do this sort of thing all the time. She is, however, quiet and still. This part is the waiting.

Beast has a little more insulation than most, being covered from head to toe in blue fur. He's added snow goggles over his spectacles so that they don't fog up on him, but he's foregone claws and any sort of facemask. After all, he doesn't want to hinder the use of his weapons. He's also been admiring the view and trying to figure out just how he's going to make this attack even though he'll probably just start swinging when it comes down to it.

"Do we actually have a plan?"

For his part, Shift has remained utterly quiet for the majority of the trip north. Those who were involved in the operation at Kush wouldn't notice much of a difference; only this time, the silver-eyed, Ghanaian mutant seems different. Somehow more focused, but if one held his gaze long enough, they might notice something else. A haunted expression, deep beyond silver irises.
He is dressed in the white snow suit that was issued to him, but beneath that is worn the high tech, gunmetal gray that keeps him safe from nakedness, should his mutation come into play. And, let's be honest, his mutation is precisely why Captain America called for him again.

Midnighter gets a very brief smirk, the only change in Shift's expression the entire time. Looks like he got the reference. Sara, with whom he doesn't exactly have the friendliest of acquaintanceships, is largely ignored.

As for gear, the African has chosen a light armament. A handful of grenades, a semi-automatic sniper rifle, and a tiny earcomm that may prove challenging to keep track of.

Beast's question draws the mutant's eye. He raises an eyebrow, then looks to Rogers, Widow and Hill in turn, expectantly.

Black Widow's on Bravo, goggles and a hood and hat covering almost all of her face, even muffling her mouth. As much as anyone can tell behind all that, she looks… well, she generally looks calm and intent, but also on her guard. Something about this is evidently rubbing her the wrong way. …Admittedly, she's on the very paranoid lookout for things to go wrong all over the place, so what else is new. As far as their plan? She's going to let the good Captain (or Hill, she's fine too) announce that at their discretion. Not that she can't give orders, but yeah. Chain of command.

Talk about complete system shock, Hill had just spent nearly two weeks in Hawaii. Now she's all the way out here, surrounded by the coldest of cold found on the globe. The tanned skin doesn't work quite so nicely with all of the white for snow ops. She's already missing her pina coladas under the sun, darnit.

Team organization won't be quite so easy with the older tech at play, which means (lucky her!) getting out into the thick of things. This also means thermally regulated armor, an assortment of electronic gizmos for keeping tabs of everything and everyone, and some assorted Big Scary Guns. Special, select stuff. High level stuff.

Seriously, why are these guys still a problem? Shouldn't SHIELD have shut them down ages ago? If there weren't such a concern about global disaster she'd have launched the nuke herself and called it a day.

"An excellent question, Doctor McCoy. If I had anything else to share I would be happy to, as it is I stepped out of one Quin only to get told to step into another. Anything which isn't part of our team is fair game, so go hog wild."

To the team at large, she radios in "Let's keep it tidy out there, people. No unnecessary risks. You find something troublesome, you call it in. Everyone comes home tonight."

Cap nods to Hill before his blue eyes trail towards Hank. While everyone is dressed in magnificent, camouflage white. Not Steve, though. Against the white the navy blue and crimson stick out, pop even more.

"Calm down, Beast, it's pretty simple." When Rogers motions, a holographic display shoots up in the middle of the deck. "Our intel is basically hogwash. We're not sure how many HYDRA agents they have up here, and frankly we were lucky to find what we did when we did in the first place. In any event, they're using some pretty solid camo to keep out of the eye of our satellites, as well as heat shielding to prevent us from tracking them that way."

"Our drop point is pretty close to where they found me. Judging by my best memories and through some of the pencil-head's best number crunching, we'll be heading south by south east towards the mountain ridge. We'll take it sl—"

SLAM!!!!

Sara's worst fears come true as the side of the chopper is hit by something and hit hard. Almost immediately a grip of supplies fly out of a large, expanding hole in the side of the helicopter, and before anyone can move, three SHIELD agents are sucked right out of the hole and towards the white ice below. It seems as if the stealth of the enemy really was rather good.

Steve, with words cut off, is thrown across the hold and slides against one of the scanners. His SHIELD is knocked loose and looks to be skittering out of the hole, but he's lucky to grab hold of it at the last minute.
"Mayday Mayday," says the non-descript pilot SHIELD-person. "This is Echo One, we are going down. I repeat, we have received fire and we are going down." Warning sirens erupt angrily and the prevailing hope is that the helicopter doesn't burst into a thousand pieces right here and now.

At the mention of Hicks, Argyle draws in a sharp breath and does his best nasally, surfer-guy voice, "Game over, man. Game over!" It's punctated by the smooth action of him clipping a magazine into place.
Which turns out to be bad timing, AND bad choice of quote. He's slammed up against the bulkhead, but he's strapped in like a good little soldier. He doesn't scream, but there's a distinct look of terror on his face as he scrambles to secure what equipment and arms he can. That's uh, that's with the hope that they won't be horribly mangled once they hit the ground.

"If it's not one of us and not a polar bear, kill it." Midnighter answers Beast. It's really very simple when put into the most basic terms. He might say more but is interupted by the explosion. At the first shudder of the chopper, he's bracing in his seat and grabbing something firmly attached which leaves one hand free to grab anyone flying by who wasn't quite so quick to anchor themselves.

"I hate these things," Sara mutters under her breath, unbuckling from her seat even as the Witchblade armor covers the white of her own snowsuit. "Hold on, Steve!" she calls toward the gap, starting to make her way toward the hole in the side of the plane. sharp claws form on her gauntlets, enough to help her hold on to things as she passes them, though the current paleness of her face suggests she's at least a little bit terrified. Demons, no big deal. Holes in planes? NOT OKAY.

As she gets close to the hole, she reaches out one hand, and tendrils of the blade start to stretch out across it. It's not enough to close the hole, but it might give people something to hold onto, or keep them from flying out entirely.

Golden eyes look to Agent Hill and he gives a sigh, "It's 'Beast', please…" so much for only a select few in SHIELD knowing who he is. He does glance at the others nearby who may have heard…he has no idea if he can trust them with such a secret, but now's the time to just have some blind faith.

He nods as Steve begins to explain what they might be up against when they get hit. He's also buckled in, as one does on these flights, so he's jostled…but not sucked outside yet. No doubt they were all equipped with 'chutes, so he isn't buckled down for long. With the chute strapped on, he makes his way to the cockpit to try and help the pilot make the safest landing possible in their state.

The moment that the helicopter is struck, Shift rips off his harness and throws himself right out into the open air. He adopts a diving position, picking up speed until he's got hold of a pair of chutes that flew out with the rest of the loose gear.

Moments later, the mutant is shoving those chutes into two flailing arms. The third SHIELD agent seems to have bad luck, he's on his own.

Moments before impact, the Ghanaian transforms into a cloud of black smoke that spills against the ice in every direction. Then, it comes collecting together into the shape of a man again, dressed only in the gunmetal gray. Good thing that suit is insulated. His eyes go skyward, tracking the pair of chutes that open in the sky.

Not far away, the third agent goes crunching through the ice, dead on impact.

Now, his eyes move to the chopper, and he reaches for the earcomm. "Bravo, dis is Shift. You're headed for very tall mountain. Turn fifteen degree stahboard."

So. That's not a great development. Natasha starts taking quick stock of their situation, shouting in the Voice of Leadership to anyone who's started panicking: "Strap yourselves in! Prep your chutes!" Though one of the few things that's almost as dangerous as being in a crashing helicopter is jumping out of a crashing helicopter. Especially in the windy Arctic, where 'down' is slightly relative and might not be the direction you're getting pulled in the most. Still, it's probably better than absolutely certain death. And they might even be lucky enough to survive their landing. Damn shame, though. They just paid this one off.

Taking fire while inside of anything airborne is -never- fun. Hill doesn't care what anyone else says. It just isn't! It's sudden, unexpected, loud, and very very cold out here to boot. All it takes is one solid hit to take out three agents and put everyone else within their chopper at risk. Just one hit. There isn't even time for her to criticize Argyle's choice of movie lines to share with the rest of the team, or to realize that jetlag may well have meant she just outed Beast's other identity. Nothing to see here folks, just imminent death on a frozen continent!

"-Dammit!- Everyone hold on!" It's about all they -can- do until they either land or explode! "Command, we're already taking losses out here, we may as well have a bullseye on our bird!"

At least they also have individual restraints equipped on the choppers, something which she's also made proper use of. This is not the kind of neighborhood where she'd like to be tossed out of the vehicle.

It's almost as disturbing when the hole in the fuselage gets stitched back together by that ..thing.. on Sara's arm. Body. Face. Everything. Her eyes are going to remain wide for a while longer here, thank you.

"Helpful, but that thing is really creeping me out," she flatly tells Sara over the rush of air and alarms.

Turning, starboard or otherwise, isn't currently part of the SHIELD pilot's vocabulary, as the shot took out many of the mechanical apparatuses that assist in piloting—it's all manual now, and it's a real bitch.

Steve gets to his feet as best he can and collects his SHIELD as he nods to Sara. "Thanks. I hope Shift got to the others."

"Alright, change of pl—"

SLAM!

The helicopter is hit by another large shell, ripping yet another hole in the hull. The helicopter is now in a full fledged tailspin—it has been said that it takes a whole heck of a lot to take these things down, but we're about to find out. And if they get his by another, no one might live long enough to find out.

Whatever is shelling them from below doesn't seem ready to stop.

Rather than strap himself in, Steve grabs his SHIELD and makes his way towards the hole. It's not just their helicopter—it's all of them coming after their helicopter too. SHIELD severely underestimated HYDRA's surface-to-air capabilities and perhaps figured they would be much less capable. But in actuality, HYDRA has been up here for the better part of a year; they arrived shortly after SHIELD took the Capsicle back to New York. Steve looks over towards Sara one last time and throws himself out of the new hole.

Until now we haven't had the luxury of meeting Agent Larinov. He's one heck of a pilot, a family man if SHIELD agents can even find the time, and excellent at billiards. Did I mention that he's a good pilot, because despite the force pushing everyone out towards the edges and the two massive holes in the side of the chopper, the SHIELD agents (and friends) land in a heap atop a large snow bank. Very much alive.

Now on ground level, it's easier to see the HYDRA agents. They have large white tanks with giant treads moving in towards the chopper. They also have surface to air trucks that seem to be pulling back towards the ravine.

*

The fall from 100 or so feet would kill a normal man and would have killed Steve Rogers too, without the vibranium qualities of his shield which takes the brunt of the force on his body. He seems to have landed halfway up a steep incline. His head, half full of snow, looks up in the sunshine to see a trio of skiing HYDRA agents coming straight for him.

"Okay, okay. I'm usually an optimist but I'm havin' a hard time seeing the positives in this situation!" shouts Argyle over the noise and whine of the engine moments after the second hole is blown out of the chopper. After they crash and /don't/ end up in a million pieces, he murmurs a thank you to some kind of deity. Note to self: buy Agent Larinov a drink.
He only allows himself a moment to compose himself before he's unsnapping the restraints. "Everyone in one piece?" he coughs as smoke starts to flood the compartment. "Cause we got big freakin' white tanks and HYDRA agents incoming. And you know, a good chance this chopper's gonna blow. Just sayin'." He stuffs his pockets full of gear, then starts for the gaping hole that's facing the incoming enemy.

"We should have brought Armory." Midnighter mutters as he stands up. He's bruised by the impact from landing/falling but they're already healing and he can just shut down those pain receptors anyway. Times like this overwhelming firepower on demand would come in handy. "Everyone out and scatter! We're one big target right now so don't clump up when heading toward the enemy." Not bothering to see if anyone listened, he races for the exit himself, his duty as not-leader of the strike team fulfilled.

"You should try living with it," Sara calls back to Hill with a grimace, nodding to Steve as he climbs back into the plane. The second hit, though, it more than she's going to be able to cover, even partway. As Steve goes out the new gap, her jaw sets against another shout, and she tries to focus on bracing herself for the crash. Between the armor and the makeshift bracing from those extra tendrils, she's…in decent shape coming out of it, though she's shaken. That could be cold, though. It's very cold.

Beast reaches over to clap Agent Larinov on the shoulder, "Good man…" before he tosses the parachute aside and looks back, "Anyone injured find shelter immediately." They'll have to get to them later in the hopes that this chopper doesn't explode. In the meanwhile, he's glances at the others, "Good luck," before he bounds out of the chopper towards one of the tanks. There's hope that the white may help camouflage him despite the blueness of him in general while moves in to attack one of the tanks. With luck, he'll be able to take control of it and turn it against its makers.

Down on the ice, Shift is tracking the descent of the two agents he rescued. He's in the perfect vantage point to see the second incoming shell. "Damn!" he curses. However, there's little he can do for the chopper down here. Instead, he looks back toward where that shell came from.

"Team," he speaks into the earcomm, "Tanks move in on all fronts. De big guns ah moving back toward… Can't see dem. I'll track dem."

With that, Shift is on the move, running full force toward the ravine and where those surface to air guns were retreating.

THUDthudthud. Well. That was a thing. "Larinov, zolotse, I could kiss you." Not that that's necessarily good or anything. Black Widow's out of her own harness in a jiffy, sprinting for the big gaping hole and into the blinding white of the snowbanks. She snags a lovely big gun on her way to match the slightly less big guns she already has on her. The snow and ice are deep here, but her boots are quite capable of giving her at least a little more traction. That, and she's dancing across the top layer of snow like an elf nancing in a Peter Jackson movie. She doesn't pause to fire. She just fires, anticipating the kickback and moving to compensate for it. She, too, is making her way toward the center of the camp. There's a certain strong feeling of why the HELL did we not know about this?

"It's not game over until I say it is, dammit!" Hill yells as -another- hole gets blasted into the side of their bird. If she could hold it together with the power of her will alone then she'd do just that!

Fortunately, Pezzini's already doing just this. Also fortunately, the pilot lands it, in the one piece which yet remains.
"Evac, watch the rotors, grab whatever you can and dig in! Take out their AA's before they take out our support!" And thank goodness for a polycarbonate helmet or the back of her head would be spitting blood against the inside of the chopper.

Passing by Sara, she offers a quick "I'd rather leave that honor to you" while powering up her primary weapon. See the others out first, she's not going to split then leave them to fend for themselves. If a hand out is needed by anyone else, a hand out they will receive.

She's not joining this fight proper until the bird's empty of personnel. Then she's going to introduce those surface to air trucks with her very favorite man-portable railgun.

Captain America takes a look at the trio, and like a kickoff team they're keeping their space and attempting to flank him and prevent him from moving to the side in order to get a good position on them. Smart. They're well trained.

So instead, Cap splits the difference with his shield as his aid. His powerful legs trudge up the hill in the snow, going faster, perhaps than the enemy thought he might. By the time he collides with the point man, the combined impact of the force ends up being extremely severe and the other skiiers have blown right by him.

The shield is slapped down upon the snow before Cap begins to use it like a snowboard, heading back the way he came. He puts the skiers at a disadvantage now—they don't have nearly the speed and strength he does, and can't make their way upwards with such efficacy. They can only shoot, and though one bullet pierces his shoulder, Steve keeps on until the very last minute when he leaps from his shield and tackles another skier, burying him into the snow, and breaking several ribs as he does so.

From there a large knee rests on the HYDRA agents face as his rifle is stolen. Cap pivots on said knee and, in one smooth shot, takes out the remaining agent.

As soon as the helicopter lands, Lairnov can barely tell people that they are welcome before the chopper starts taking heavy fire. The pilot knows he's got to get unstrapped quickly and get the hell out of the chopper before one of those upcoming tanks hits its mark.

SHIELD has their own tanks, their own snowmobiles and will be getting some shell coverage from the Helicarrier miles away, but the coming choppers are going to need some help, too.

"Hill, it's Rogers," Steve's voice comes across on the radio to the Deputy Director. "I'm going to go search out those anti-air vehicles. I counted three shots, two hits. Presumably there are at least three. We're gonna need to hold the line to give the helicopters a chance to land. Those tanks are going to be a problem for you pretty quick here."

Just then, Steve sees Shift go running out ahead of his view towards one of the jeep style vehicles. That'll save a bit of time if he can get there. Steve heads in the opposite direction, running towards the one in the opposite direction, shield held out in front of him.

"Yo, Widow!" calls Socks over the radio. "Paint the target. Find a soft spot. Please and thank you." Manners are important! Then he's grabbing a hard-sided case and tugging out something that looks like a goddamn uzi. That's because it is - with a few of his own personal modifications. It's got a very sophisticated guidance system that, if Natasha paints the tank just right, should make it rain metal and HYDRA agents. While he's waiting for the paint, he fires out at anyone exposed and on-foot with his rifle. He picks a few off Widow, Beast and anyone else making a run at the tanks. "Gang, stay away from whatever one Widow's gonna paint. Gettin' two of 'em close together'd be two birds, one stone. That's what I'd like for Christmas."
If Midnighter saw the weapons in the chopper, he just ignored them on his way toward the enemy and snaps together the three parts of his staff. Permafrost makes for good footing actually, taking into account the rough terrain, and he runs straight toward one fo the tanks, heedless of the gun swivelling in his direction. It fires before he's even halfway there. Planting his staff firmly, he leaps forward and *KICKS* the shell toward a second tank which didn't even see it coming before it hits directly. Barely breaking speed, he continues toward the tank, grinning. He loves doing that.

"I sort of figured," Sara smiles briefly to Hill as she passes, helping to hand out anyone left in the helicopter. SHIELD knows what it's doing when it comes to this. She…is a little bit different. Once the personnel are all safely out, she takes a breath, as more of the armor forms around her, a helm shielding her features and a wickedly-curved blade sprouting in her hand. Time to get to work.

Sara may not have much experience with HYDRA, but the 'blade remembers an encounter. A very cold day in Russia, during a certain siege. The nazis called the bearer the angel of death.

Those were good times.

Very rarely does Sara give the Witchblade free rein. But this? This is all out battle, and there's no room for holding back. Centuries of memories rush into her mind, the combined experience of generations of wielders guiding her limbs as she dives into the nearest unit of HYDRA agents, painting the snow red.

Beast's target is one of the tanks. "Don't take this one," is growled out as he leaps from the snow onto his chosen tank-target. It makes it hard for them to shoot at him from the tank once he's on it. Even as he rips off the hatch to the inside, he uses it as a shield as he's shot at. In a lull in the shots, he reaches down, pulls out one of the soldiers, grabs the man's gun, and throws him off of the tank. They can't fit but so many inside one of those.

Now that he has a gun, he leaps down, landing on one of the others.

That particular tank sort of freezes before another HYDRA agent just crawls back out and jumps off all on his own.

"Beast here. Have control of the tank. Don't blow this one up please."

And just to prove it, he fires into the troops.

Shift continues to gain speed, his boots leaving dents in the ice and kicking up snow behind him. Within moments, the soldiers guarding those S-to-A jeeps start firing at him. Of course, the bullets go right through, flesh and bone turning to smoke upon impact. Little trails of the black gas chase the bullets, only to be sucked back into his body. The mutant's DNA, it would seem, is fairly resilient.

Reaching his target, Shift doesn't do a damn thing about those soldiers. Those who are still firing track him as he closes, and end up shooting through him, hitting each other. When dealing with a bullet-'proof' target, friendly fire can be a real bitch.

A heavy leap puts him on the trunk of the jeep. He scrambles into it, and begins swinging his fists and arms. Crackling noises tell the tale of his transformation to super-solid state, and each blow ends up shattering bone and spilling brain matter everywhere.

Even while his enemy tries to pepper him with bullets, Shift remains unphased. He turns the machine upon one of its partners, a third not being approached by Captain America. The munitions may be designed for surface to air, but they work just fine in this context. A shell goes screaming across the snow.

"Say hello to mah littah friend."

The third jeep goes up in a blaze of glory, and in that same moment, Kwabena's super-solid arm swipes through the face of another HYDRA soldier.

"Asshole."

"Shift here, have captured heavy artillery at de ridge." In other words, please don't take out my stolen surface to air jeep, thanks!

The thing about Black Widow is this: she can be a team player, as long as her place in the team is understood. Most of the team is currently mowing through HYDRA agents like a farmer on harvest day, and Natasha is going to do her best to help them blow up as much as possible. They're her colleagues, see. And they're also her distraction.

She very obligingly finds a pair of tanks quite close to one another, trying to block off the clearest way into the compound. One's painted. Then the other. "Hey, Socks: follow the bouncing ball!"
And then she's rather pointedly leaping, somehow managing to leap on rolling tracks, on the barrel of the guns themselves, and on… something in the back before darting through the snow past them. It befuddles the tank pilots enough that they're trying to re-aim. The explosion that's sure to follow is one she's able to duck and roll past and keep going. Keep going.

She's a shadow moving through the camp faster than an Olympic sprinter, and she's running on snow. She's never seen, and when she is, the unfortunate HYDRA operative is down without Black Widow even missing a step. All the structure of the camp is set to guard and surround the heart of the operation — and that's where Natasha is going now. She's not going to let them out with what they came for.

"Copy that, Cap," Hill radios back while diving for cover within the plentiful snow. "You want to hit their AA's first be my guest, I'm going to start tagging the back of the pack."

The back, where there aren't any friendlies yet. She's got more than a mass driver in the shape of a rifle in her hands. She's also got a target painter. A different sort of painter than what Argyle has. Hers can guide some big nasty missiles directly from the helicarrier.

Three of the tanks still a ways out get tagged, spread out to best share the mayhem with their neighbors. Then the call is made. "Three locked in, fire!" It'll still take a moment for the missiles to arrive. It'll still be worth the wait.

Then Hill turns one of the tanks almost inside out, clouds of white dust kicking up away from her rifle as the projectile explodes out into the open and punches through the armored vehicle, then the one behind it. Get a piece of metal moving quickly enough and there's barely a thing in the world that can stop it. What had been rolling armor is now just a couple more heaps of rolling scrap tumbling backward through their ranks.

A number of vehicles get similar treatment before the missiles find their marks, the three landing in rapid succession and sending shockwaves across the battlefield. Giant chunks of snow and ice are thrown into the air, leaving behind nothing but vacant, tankless craters.

Cap goes the old fashioned route. He goes down to a knee and begins to fire potshots at all sorts of enemies. His first targets are a pair of drivers for AA gun-jeeps. Smooth breathing, squeeze the trigger slow on the exhale.

BANG

The window explodes in red and the jeep veers out in front of one of the tanks, getting smushed up under the tread and making both inoperable.

POP!

There goes another one. From there he's running towards the battle, leaving the rifle behind in favor of a hand gun.

"Fire in the hole!" calls Socks. Then he pulls the trigger on the uzi, sending a significant payload towards the tanks. The thing course-corrects as it speeds through the air, then hits its mark. The tanks both go up like birthday pinatas, sending firey wreckage everywhere. There's nothing much left but tiny bits and singed snow. "Aww yeah. Thanks, Widow. Nice paintjob." Then he scoops his rifle back up and starts picking off anyone who's still moving who's clearly a bad guy. There might just be a couple of grenades lobbed for good measure. "I've always wanted to blow up part of Antarctica! One explosion on every continent! Bingo!" and then there's the sound of laughter, followed by a small explosion as a HYDRA agent gets a little too close.

Much like what Beast did, Midnighter got to his tank, ripped the hatch off and went in. Unlike Beast's tank, no one crawls out. But the turret does swivel and start firing at its previous allies.

Sara is not entirely herself. As bullets spark off of the Witchblade armor, she wades into another group of HYDRA agents. The blade rips through one man, as she reaches out and rips the throat out of another. Tanks? Who needs tanks?

Beast's tank is headed at full speed…which isn't very much…towards the camp. He's firing at anything that's getting in his way while he has ammo. "Anyone know where this thing might be held?" He won't shoot at that — until they get the mantle out. At least he can work on thinning some of the ranks before having to go in with tooth and claw.

Back at the fringes of the battle is where Shift works best. He's got relatively free reign and a field full of bad guys to mow through. Incoming fire keeps piercing his body and pegging the jeep's interior, but he just keeps on filling the field with AA weaponry. It's absolute carnage. There's snow, ice, fire, and mangled bits of blood and bone flying all over the place. The whole time, behind his mask, Shift is just grinning. This kind of thing… it was something he missed.

Eventually, the damn gun just runs out of ammo. He ditches the tank in style, by transforming into a cloud of black smoke that's easily lost in the smoke of burning fires and flaming wreckage.

Time for a little reconnaissance. Any HYDRA goons who are still alive get promptly Shift Choked to death. It ain't pretty, but it's sneaky and damned effective.

It's not easy to factor in something which cannot be seen. Hill's rifle is putting out enough flash and destruction to draw some attention. One of the tanks gets a near strike, the shell blasting her icy cover to dust and sending her flying backward.

Armor! It helps keep the squishies alive!

Still sprawled on her back in a snowy Deputy Director-sized depression, Hill levels her weapon back out across the field. "Tag."

The offending vehicle loses half of its treads, sheared away with such energy that the crippled chassis spins about before it tumbles into another pile of ruined machinery.

She crawls out of the snow a moment later, smoke and steam rising off of various components of her weapon. "Socks, think I've got a problem with the driver here!"

A 'problem,' as in 'she used an anti-materiel rifle like an assault rifle.' The extreme cold let her get away with it for a nice long while, too.

Any baddies left on foot are easy enough to cut down with her pistols, if they're even capable of getting close enough to being within her range. There's..really not a lot of them left.

"So how many of their heads do you kids think we just cut off?"

The compound's center has a base — a bunker, camouflaged so perfectly that even flying straight overhead it would have been hard to know there was anything there but snow. Black Widow shoots straight inside, only to find it… uncomfortably empty. This doesn't stop her from darting down into the bowels of the place, down into the ice sheet. There's a good deal of equipment in here — sensors, temperature control, servers to keep the whole place wired, the whole nine yards.
When she gets down to the bottom, it's a maze, a labyrinth of twisty turny passageways, all alike. She wishes rather fervently that Fitz was here — his D.W.A.R.F. bots would have done a fantastic job of mapping this place out and showing her where to go. The hand-held sonar device she has is going to have to do. It's not great — she's getting a very vague map of the place by pinging it — but this, along with the clues of the most recent footprints and such, lead her to the end of the maze with little fanfare.
When she's there at last, however, her eyes go wide. She takes in what she sees quickly, measuring heights and depths. Approximately eight feet by three feet by three feet. It's a good size. Gives them a border, a buffer to work with. Disturbing the contents would have been a bad plan, particularly since they'd be so preciuos to HYDRA.
What she's come to find wasn't the mantle. That was probably never here. What HYDRA came to find was a man who should have been dead decades ago. Who was dead decades ago, but when it omes to the boundaries between life and death, HYDRA would be all too pleased to cross right over them.
What they came to find was Red Skull. What Black Widow found was a perfectly rectangular hole where he must have been.
"Hill. Captain. The package is gone. They're guarding an empty hole up here. We need to get out of here, now."

Rogers sighs as the transmission from Widow comes through. The fight is dying down, and now so are his spirits.
HYDRA gets more than they bargained for as the small but zealous unit from SHIELD takes the ridge and allows reinforcements to land. From there, it's a free-for-all. Within a few hours, SHIELD overtakes the fledgling group with its superior numbers of infantry, tanks, and air-support.

Whatever soldiers live, and there are some, are taken in as prisoners of war by SHIELD and presumably taken to facilities you'd rather not know about and interrogated through means you would rather not know about to find information you may or may not find out about.

But although militarily the day goes to SHIELD, tactically it's a victory for HYDRA. What Romanoff sees is eventually witnessed by the rest of the command team. The large gaping hole where Red Skull used to sit, frozen in stasis, not unlike Captain America. Wherever he is, HYDRA has him. And they also have Elijah's Mantle.

*

Inside a lab of some sort, the body of Red Skull lies still encased in ice. The front sheet, however, has indeed been drilled with all sorts of little holes. SHIELD had presumed they'd been at this for almost a year, but it seems they've been at this for far, far longer.

The young woman in grey fatigues sits with her arms folded over her chest as she inspects the proceedings.

"Frau Schmidt?"

The redhead's eyes never leave Skull.

"Frau Schmidt? Where should I tell them to set course?"

Finally, Sin's eyes turn back towards her number two. "That was close. Too close. Set course for Luxembourg and, specifically the Sandweiler Cemetery."

"Yes, Frau Schmidt."

She turns back around to watch as her father is thawed. "Slow and comprehensive, doctor. No mistakes."

Deep under the water, the submarine sets a new course; this time, towards Europe.

TO BE CONTINUED…


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