Watch Across the Spiderverse, and it's wildly excellent, can't recommend enough.

Water plugged his nose and ears; coarse grains of sand stung his eyes. He tumbled through the rapids. Up became down and down became up just as quickly, all sense of direction being undone and redone moment after moment.

Ozymandias focused on clutching to his sword and shield, while also spluttering whenever he got his head above water. Difficult, considering the river flooded his mask, where it tried to smother him like a heavy hand.

He went with current, gritting his teeth as he raked over sharp, toothy rocks or cracked through sodden logs. He knew that something more deadly than the river pursued him.

Soon enough, that thing caught up.

He vaguely perceived a furious shout, then he felt arms wrap around him. Sharp blades contested his aura. Tyrian attacked him just by hugging on, with his gauntlets sawing into his defenses with each tumble. They smacked into a rock or dragged along the floor, driving the blades in.

Ozymandias felt his lungs shudder and wither like paper set aflame; his heart writhed and slammed against its bony cage, like some kind of frenzied animal. He didn't have much time.

So he jammed his knee into the riverbed and kicked off to the side. They tumbled beside a low shore, first crashing into the roots of precariously leaning trees before sliding into a shallow, muddy pool.

That was when Ozymandias let go of his sword and shield. They both drifted down into the black mud as he linked his hands together.

He bucked back, driving himself out the water, Tyrian on his back with arms wrapped around him tightly.

Breathe deep. Hold. Release.

Ozymandias ferociously wrenched his hands apart, breaking Tyrian's grip on him. He pivoted and collapsed down onto the assassin. His hands reached onto the lapel of his coat pushed down.


Tyrian's voice—seething with solid hatred and cracking with pain from his still bleeding tail—was smothered before he got out another word.

The water here was shallow, little more than knee height. But the mud went deeper, constricting around your ankles like boas. It grabbed onto Tyrian, like many hands helping the Vacuan master with his grisly work.

He was old. But the executioner was still strong. And even as he himself coughed and wheezed and spluttered, he forced all his remaining power—and what more strength his exhausted aura could provide—into his arms as he kept Tyrian's heads below water. He put his whole weight on the man, straddling him and driving his knees into the mud around Tyrian's waist.

The assassin nearly broke out, pushing up and reaching for a breathe—but Ozymandias shoved him back below, sparing him just a mouthful of brown water. Bubbles spluttered up to the surface.

Tyrian fought back. He still had his bladed gauntlets, and he made use of them. He tore them up through the mud and water to gouge and cut at Ozymandias wherever he could: the arms, the sides, the shoulders. He chiseled at his aura and started to break through it, cutting open his tanned leather clothes and drawing blood.

But what blood did come out, didn't flow freely. It was yellow and thick, leaving its host only reluctantly. Soon, Tyrian's blades were covered with the sticky, sap-like substance.

Ozymandias heaved and choked. He coughed and spluttered. His own vision blurred and darkened. But he focused on the bubbles that drifted along and then popped at the water's surface. He held on tight to the man's shirt. He did not let go. They sank lower and lower into the mud.

Closer and closer, Ozymandias was driven to the end. Even he could not ignore the pain of his open wounds. And his tired muscles began to shake, like a building about to collapse in an earthquake. His heart shook and rattled like an alarm clock. His lungs felt fit to explode.

But Tyrian's attacks slowed. Each cut hit softer. Even with his aura exhausted, if a sharp edge got through then it would barely tear at his clothes.

The frenzy beneath him slowed. The thrashing weakened. Then it stopped completely. Bubbles popped at the surface; no more came.

Ozymandias didn't let up. He drove the body beneath him further into the mud. He panted and choked, but kept his iron grip. It felt like an eternity had passed, like even though it couldn't have been more than a couple minutes.

Despite his will to continue, his muscles broke down. They slackened. His grip uncurled.

But nothing else moved. The body below remained where it was, as limp as the mud that consumed it.

Ozymandias forced himself to his feet. The mud clung to him and tried to trip him—he nearly lost his balance more than once. He stumbled away, then fell to his knees a couple paces back.

Driving his hands down into the water, he felt around the mucky riverbed until finally he came across what he was looking for.

Tangled amid rotting branches, he hauled out his sword and shield.

Breathe deep. Hold. Release.

His legs almost broke as he forced himself upright again. With herculean effort, he took step after step, slogging through the mud. He felt floating arms bump against his legs. The rest was held in place by the dark mud.

He drove his sword down. He stabbed once, twice, ten times. Just to be certain. He felt no hard reflection from aura, only the spongy and feeble resistance of inert flesh. The water darkened, turning from brown to black.

He coughed. He tried to breathe.

He dropped his sword and shield again, clutching at his chest.

Then Ozymandias fell back, splashing into the river, twitching but otherwise quite still.

Logic might dictate that someone, with enough time, would get used to being on a boat. The human body is an adaptable machine, after all. Eventually, you should stop getting seasick.

Jaune thought this to himself, angrily, as he stared off the edge of the ship and fought the urge to vomit. Again.

Orion had joked that, having already hurled some meals overboard a few times, he would make them run out of rations before they made it to Mistral. Jaune had laughed, but a meddling part of his mind feared it would really happen.

Just my luck, he thought, that this whole stupid trip ends because I can't stop throwing up.

He burped, grimaced and finally felt better. He turned around and leaned back on the railing like a beaten wrestler leaning on the ropes. Then he sighed.

It was early morning, and Neo had gotten up on deck to do her usual routine. This involved stretches that would have broken half his bones and torn more than half of his tendons. Presently, she arched her back in a way that he only could have accomplished with a few shattered vertebrae. She straightened back up and yawned, still not even fully awake.

Jaune grumbled something halfheartedly. The human psyche, like the body, learns to get used to things, even things that it doesn't like. For Jaune, he had somehow gotten used to Neo faster than the ocean.

The groggy assassin blinked. Her bleary pink and brown eyes swapped color, caught Jaune's own for just a moment.

She tapped her chin with one hand, brought it to her hand, then swept her other hand up in a rising gesture. It took just a second. It must have been a word or phrase.

She blinked again, then shook her head to drive out the last of her sleepiness and got back to ignoring him entirely, as per usual.

Jaune had thought about asking her a few times why she couldn't talk. He would have guessed that she didn't have a tongue, but she had mockingly stuck it out at him a couple times. Perhaps no vocal chords? An accident or something from her childhood. Or maybe just the way she was born.

It felt like a personal thing to ask.

But still… he had not spoken with her beyond the rudimentary use of a scroll for her to write out her thoughts. Granted, there was little need to learn any sign, since they both acted like they other wasn't there. But we're supposed to be working together, he thought.

Might as well try to make that a bit more efficient.

It also irked him, the that she could just hurl insults around without his knowing.

"What did that mean?" he asked a little belatedly.

Neo had grasped both of her hands and brought them high above her head, stretching her entire body taut like a piano wire. She relaxed, then looked at him with an eyebrow raised.

Are you talking to me? she asked.

"Yeah," Jaune said, "you. That sign"– he made a crude imitation –"you just did. What's it mean?"

Neo rolled her eyes. She stepped apart, feet wider than her shoulders, and leaned back again. This time, she managed to fully plant the palms of her hands on the deck; her long hair fell down and mingled with her fingers.

"Oh c'mon," Jaune said. "It just makes sense for me to know at least some of the important words. Here. There. Run. Shoot. Crap like that."

Neo held her pose. Her chest rose and fell methodically, as her controlled breathing flowed throughout her lithe body. Then, quickly, she slung back up to a 'normal' standing position. She huffed.

Neo held one hand flat and tapped it; this was one gesture that she had bothered to teach Jaune: Give me a scroll, I need to write.

Jaune fished out the burner he had picked up from one of the smugglers they massacred and tossed it to her. She snatched it, spelled something out and tossed it back.

"Morning?" he asked incredulously. "What, you were really saying good morning to me?"

Neo sighed, exasperated. She didn't bother looking at him, but instead opened a hand palm up, like a parent expecting a child to give up their toy.

Jaune tossed her the scroll again; again, she typed and threw it back.

"I'm tired," Jaune read aloud, "it was reflex." Huh.

What a… normal thing. To just quickly say 'good morning' to someone in a half-asleep daze; not very cognizant of your surroundings, reliant just on routines to get you by for the time being. He never thought of Neo as doing 'normal' things. She was an assassin. She was an ally to some bastard that had tried to get him and his friends killed; she had faced off against Qrow, taking part in a terrorist plot on Vale.

He was going to kill her the moment they had finished off Bishop.

But now she seemed like such a regular person. Waking up and going about her groggy morning routine.

Jaune tossed her back the scroll. "Alright, got any other signs you think I should know?"

She flipped him off.

And there it was again, that spike of hate for her that had been quite thoroughly nailed into Jaune's skull for a while now.

"Fine." He sighed. "What, you really don't see how it could be useful for me to know anything else?"

She rolled her eyes; annoyingly, he couldn't tell if she was exasperated that he had taken the middle finger too seriously, or that he was still trying to talk to her.

Whatever the case, she meandered beside him and swung an arm over the rail. At her height, that was already nearly up to her shoulder. She eyed him up and down.

Then she tapped quickly on the scroll and showed the resulting words to him.

Over there.

"And what means that?"

Jaune should have known better—Neo simply pointed.

He was tempted to snatch his scroll back from her as she soundlessly chuckled. His hands itched at the thought.

But then she leaned back and typed into the scroll again. She tapped a few times, stopped and deleted whatever she had written. She held her finger over the screen, thinking. Then she looked up at him again; a second passed once more, before she nodded, typed again and showed him a word:


She passed him the scroll, then laid her left hand flat and swung her free hand up, thumb extended and hitting her hand with her wrist.

"Huh." Jaune mimicked the act, and Neo nodded.

His brained sucked him back to classes in the vault, where they all were encouraged to take one course of French. Because the original Vault Overlord happened to like Les Mis and figured it would be a fun part of the curriculum. Not like they would ever need to learn a new language, since when they inevitably returned to the surface "when the time was right" the rest of the world would have seen the err of their ways and be speaking English, also.

So Maxwell had never paid attention in those classes, and people in DC just spoke English, and so did people in Remnant. He had never actually committed himself to learning a new language.

Neo took the scroll again. Safe. She showed him the sign.

It only really struck him then that she was bilingual. Before that moment, he had been equating this to the limited number of simple calls signs that he had used both back on Earth and with JNPR. He had always thought it would be interesting to be fluent in more than one language, but never once thought that it would actually be useful to.

"Thanks," he muttered, mimicking Neo's newest gestures.

She shrugged, then continued.


Ruby hadn't thought that she was going on vacation. No, she had mentally prepared for a grueling trek through the wilderness in pursuit of her moron boyfriend—

Or ex-boyfriend.

—until they caught up to him. And, of course, the entire way would be dogged by Grimm and assassins.

She hadn't expected a luxury cruise ship.

Yang had floated the idea, but she hadn't thought it would happen. Then it got Weiss's seal of approval.

But how to make money for this cruise? Again, Weiss proved herself quite resourceful and, after a call with the line, got them all passage. It turned out the ship would indeed enjoy some additional hunter protection in these times, thus room and board could be provided.

Not good rooms, Weiss had warned. But a small set of crew quarters in the bowels of the ship.

"I actually like that more," Ruby had said, "will make us less noticeable."

"Speaking of noticeable," Weiss had said, "Given the tournament and the news, we're all quite recognizable. Hardly a strategic advantage to be easily tracked or to have our positions coordinated on social media. I think that we should all really lean into subterfuge going forward. At least, to a certain degree"

"What, do you mean disguises?"

Weiss was silent.


"Not disguises," Weiss had said, getting the word out of her mouth as if it was slimy. "But… minor alterations."

So there they were. Ruby yawned, because it was so early that the sun hadn't even come out yet. In keeping with their incognito mandate, they were moving around at less crowded times. She hadn't been out and about in the sunshine for a few days.

A depressing sight greeted her when they made their way to the pier. Tents lining the street, dark and seemingly uninhabited. Except for the occasional drone of snores, or the piercing shrill of a crying baby. Then there were more people—whole families, including toddlers and their grandparents—lying out uncovered. Just jackets or thin blankets for cover. These unhoused people clustered by the buildings, hoping that they would break the cold autumn wind. Perhaps some of them hoped the owners of those buildings would invite them to stay in their guest rooms or dining halls.

"Refugees," Weiss had whispered. "The cruise liner said they would be taking lots of refugees. Sponsored by the Mistral government, people who have family or property in Mistral can relocate there from Vale right now.

"No one's sure whether or not their village will become the next Vale. Or the next Mountain Glenn. Mistral looks safe by comparison, less Grimm and robots running rampant on TV."

"Yeah… don't blame them."

The eastern sky finally started to warm with the soft grey of fresh ash. As morning came, so too did the desperate. Many had already been sleeping by the beaches, ready to jump and try to get a nice room as soon as they could.

Ruby stood by the pier, listening as the others passed some quiet conversation between each other. She passed time by clicking the metallic fingers on her left hand against each other. She had grown to like the slight ding that they would make. She disliked that she would need to put a glove over it, a part of being low profile.

She didn't even realize that she had lulled into a kind of standing sleep—not until she was rudely awakened from it. Her sinking eyelids shot wide open and she nearly hopped out of her boots when the ship's horn blared with the strength of a trumpet blowing straight into her ear.

She stumbled back, dazed and confused. When she finally managed to see straight, it was the sight of Yang snickering at her that came first.

"Wakey-wakey sleepy head," her sister said. "Come on, there's already a line."

Ruby noticed a crowd coalescing around the pier. Staff from the cruise filed out to take names and luggage, while maintaining a semblance of cohesion.

The entire beach and the sidewalks shifted and rumbled as people rose, tents shuddered and even a few pets started to bark and meow.

Ruby rolled her shoulders back and shook the soreness out of her legs. "Alright," she said, "let's get going."

Sarah Lyons—or Pride, as her Atlesian comrades knew her—enjoyed her new position. It certainly beat the Foreign Legion, where she was assigned to cleaning the latrines one moment, then directed to run straight into the middle of a firefight the next to soak up enemy bullets.

But overall, she did prefer the adrenaline-inducing to the droll. She found herself stuck now in a latter situation.

"Our overall findings on the failures of Atlesian security…"

The officer droned on. Sarah paid rapt attention to every word—of course—but even she had to admit that his fearsomely monotone voice made it a little hard to stay focused.

She, Winter, the AIS agents and various other military officials all sat around one long table; situated beside a window in one Atlesian battleship, the clouds formed a vast white sea that stretched out beside them.

Sarah's eyes sometimes drifted off and looked at the clouds; for just a second, before she wrenched her attention back to the meeting at hand.

The officer scrolled through a powerpoint presentation, reading word for word off of the bullet points on each slide and occasionally using a laser pointer to point at already highlighted portions of maps and graphs.

"The chemical compounds utilized were distributed through the ventilation system. Here you will see the schematics of the ship's air ducts and our modeling of its travel. Every duct has an approximate thickness of…"

Sarah idly looked at the person just beside her. Agent Moonlight, the personal assistant and protege to Sundown himself. She had idly tapped her sharp fingernails against the glass table; once, twice. They made a ting sound that was like a blot of color amidst the man's plain, gray speech.

She saw Moonlight's hands, the backs of which were covered with thin scales like a snake's, colored green as freshly cut grass. They disappeared under the sleeves of her gray suit jacket. Her black nails were pointed, sharp and hard. More like claws than nails, really.

A second glance up, and Sarah caught sight of Moonlight's own eyes. Golden and reptilian, with slitted pupils shaped like knife wounds.

Sarah looked away.

Winter had told her that Moonlight was one of the few they believed fully not to be a traitor. Not just because she was a Faunus, and it was nonsensical at this point for one to be allied to the Enclave. No, because Sundown seemed to really trust her, and he trusted no one.

"The essential issue," droned the presenter, "is that it was a combination of issues. The gas combined with the hacked robots is already a chaotic, fatal scenario. A ripe scenario to be exploited by an elite strike team."

The presenter drew in a breath, sipped some water to cure his dry mouth, and switched to the next slide. It depicted a bullhead, and a couple men.

"See here for the standard Atlesian transport craft. Two were involved in the tragedy. See here for the pilots that evidently defected to the Enclave. One is responsible for ramming his bullhead into the arena mid-flight, detonating an unspecified amount of explosives in the aircraft at the same time. The arena's projection fields were down at the time. We have reason to believe that the pilot parachuted out of the bullhead before it struck, as recovered footage depicts someone jumping out minutes earlier, a dangerous move into the forests.

"The second aircraft brought the Enclave strike team straight to the main ship. There, they quickly cut through unprepared personnel. We are already planning on readjusting training to better account for the event of hostile boarding, as many officers seemed to have gotten complacent with the idea that our ships cannot be boarded. What with the, well, large cannons and all."

Sarah fought the urge to scoff.

"So our crew, largely unprepared to fight those armed with aura, were overwhelmed initially. The robots called in went haywire. The remaining human guards were dispatched by the robots and the gas alike.

"You'll notice that this whole plan relies entirely on one thing." The present took another sip of water. "Infiltration."

This was when Sundown pitched in. "From top to bottom," he said, "this attack is more of a tremendous security error rather than anything else. All of this would have been impossible were it not for Enclave members inside Atlas's military making it so. Not just the pilots, but whoever on the arena was suicidal enough or stupid enough to turn down the shields. And even people higher up, who looked the other way or… made arrangements."

Now Moonlight spoke. "We discovered that the pilot who brought them into the flagship was not originally scheduled to go on the mission to Vale. In fact, they had not even completed the requisite training. Instead, their file was 'updated' and their position changed barely days before the Atlesian fleet set out."

"Someone with higher clearance," Sundown continued, "or someone with access to those files, was able to make this possible. This infection isn't just among soldiers on the ground, but among members of the administration itself. The Enclave has bit deep into our ranks."

"A pity," said one man at the table, "that the rat catcher wasn't able to catch the rats." He waved his hand dismissively. "That is your job, is it not? Mr. Counterintelligence?"

"Oh I assure you," Sundown said, "that heads are already rolling in my department."

Everyone felt like he meant that literally.

"But please"– Sundown flourished his hand like a conductor –"continue with the powerpoint."

The presenter nodded, dryly cleared his throat and continued:

"As I'm sure you all know, we face many raids on outposts and dust mines from the White Fang. We label essentially every attack as being by them. Upon review, however, there were a few particularly brazen assaults that might more accurately be ascribed to the Enclave. On some iterations, Faunus bystanders were killed. Or the White Fang didn't claim immediate responsibility as they usually do. Or we simply did not detect any planning or organization via our contacts and spies, who really should have known—"

Someone piped up, the same man who had told off Sundown moments before. Sarah recognized him as Colonel Stahl, one of Atlas's counter-terrorism chiefs. His bulky jaw ground out each word. "The problem is they were smart. Spray-painting White Fang symbols everywhere, wearing those masks. Kept us from even knowing that the Enclave existed."

"But you didn't think to keep tabs on, I don't know, the many war criminals and their associated sympathizers who escaped captivity?" Sundown asked. "Ironwood (with my assistance) locked up a whole host of those monsters who had ethnically cleansed the Borean Valley of their Faunus settlements. Many of those men and women disappeared after a prison break. And associates resigned, then dropping off the map. You didn't think that it would behoove you to keep track of dangerous, professional fighters with a bone to pick against the government?"

"Our policy," Colonel Stahl stated, "is to pursue legacy, known threats. Isn't that right?" He tilted his head to the presenter.

"Yes sir," the man replied. "As such, our intelligence operations have long been directed to the White Fang. And of course to Faunus protest movements, associated political parties and human sympathizers. These avenues—

"It sounds to me," Moonlight interjected, "that our security apparatus is… somewhat biased." The lone Faunus in the room tilted her head, feigning an innocent curiosity.

The presenter was very quiet for a second, then two, then another. "Well," he said, "we're considering re-training."

"I suppose you should." It was Agent Sundown who spoke now. Sarah had never seen him talk before without his slim smile and notes of smugness in his voice. Now his words sounded like chalk scraping across a chalkboard, and he looked unamused. "Unless more people die."

"Yes…" The presenter tugged on his collar, suddenly feeling like the temperature in the room had ratcheted up a few degrees. "Well, we have certainly shifted our priorities now."

"Continue with the overview," Stahl said, "with no further interruptions." He turned to glare daggers at Sundown, only to be met once again by the man's smug smile, come again as quickly as it had gone.

The presentation continued, returning to the droll drumbeat of granular details that Sarah nevertheless paid attention to. A lot of it was things she had already heard, although that may just be due to her close attachment to Winter. And, through her, Sundown.

"Don't mistake their close cooperation with us for friendliness," Winter had told her. "AIS trusts no one, and their rivalry with the Specialists goes back a century, to our establishment before the Great War, in the time of the Atlesian Kingdom. Fighting over royal recognition, resources and power. This is undoubtedly a 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer' ploy by him."

It all made Sarah's blood boil.

The presentation came to an end, with her learning nothing new. Overall, the Enclave had used their deep connections to pull off one of the most brutal terror attacks in history. But it was something of a one-off, as now Atlas was aware and hunting for this subterfuge. The kind of blatant document doctoring and 'oversights' that had enabled this weren't likely to happen again.

After the last word on the last slide was spoken, Colonel Stahl was the first to leave. He grumbled something unintelligible that could have been a thanks or a curse for wasting his time, then plodded out of the room, aids in tow. Others filed out after him, until only Sundown, Moonlight, Winter and Sarah herself remained.

Sundown sighed.

"A despicable state of affairs," Sarah said. "Every division in this military views every other as their rival, if not an outright enemy." That there was bad blood between the Specialists and AIS went unsaid, but sounded very loud to those present. "It creates a pervasive sense of distrust throughout the whole military, which is grinding this investigation to a standstill."

It felt like a lot of the interviews being made only accomplished anything through a mix of the respect held for Winter and fear held for Sundown. But around Atlas, it seemed like tight lips were the norm. Even in investigations for treason.

Perhaps, especially in investigations for treason.

"The problem is that the Atlesian military is a very political space," Sundown continued, "with some delicate posturing needed to balance the various factions. If that means letting corruption slide here, letting nepotism get through there, we overlook it. Nobody likes feeling overly targeted.

"Because then people in charge of giving soldiers their orders are looking over their shoulders, wondering how nice it would be if they could give some orders to get rid of these people hounding them. See where I'm going with this?"

Sarah hid her disgust. The Brotherhood of Steel had been bound by honor and duty. The Atlesian military ostensibly espoused that as well. But it seemed like many only joined because it was their best route for social advancement, or power.

"And signs are pointing to a mixture of old guard establishment and younger extremists as the culprits here." Sundown pulled his glass off, breathed on them and rubbed the lenses against his cuff. "So we are going to start angering a good number of people, old and new."

"I must admit," she said diplomatically, "that from the perspective of the Foreign Legion… things appeared less complex."

"Of course," Sundown said. "Everyone treated you like garbage, so you could view everyone else as one big monolith of people acting better than you, right?"

Sarah said nothing.

"Anyway," Winter interjected, "I expect transcripts of your recent… interviews shortly."

The less pleasant but more correct word was interrogations.

"Of course," Sundown said.

"Including those involving SDC employees."

Sundown smiled, and so did Moonlight.

"I know that you're looking into the Schnee Dust Corporation," Winter said. Whether or not that offended her, you couldn't tell from the rigid sound of her voice or the blank blue in her eyes. "I agree that looking into every organization with significant influence should be part of our investigation. I don't appreciate you not informing the Specialists of this. I also do not appreciate you going about it by borderline kidnapping civilians and forcing them to sign NDA's of their experiences with trumped up threats afterward."

"Our findings—should they have proven relevant—would have been shared with you. I'm sure you understand, Miss Schnee, why we did not want you directly involved in the investigation on the Schnee Dust Corporation."

"My ties with the company are cut."

"Forgive me for not taking everyone's word at face value."

"My name carries significant weight with executives and partners—"

"Who are more loyal to your father than they are to you. Invariably." Sundown shrugged, and his infuriating smile seemed to get a little more smug. "We will keep you up to date on it. I'm not surprised that a few tattled directly to you; we'll spare them consequences."

He pushed his thin-rimmed glasses up his nose and nodded at Moonlight. "I think we are both due for another meeting. You will remain updated."

Without another word, he and his assistant departed. Their feet made no noise as they left, a far cry from the harsh clipping of military boots on the steel.

"What an insufferable bastard," Winter said. "If it wasn't for his proven reputation, I would swear that he was a traitor."

"He was a close ally to General Ironwood," Sarah said, "during his rise to power. Yes?"

"He wasn't just close," Winter admitted bitterly. "He was instrumental. After Sundown himself consolidated total control over AIS and 'disappeared' some of the previous agency heads. He believed that Ironwood could make Atlas a better place, especially with the Faunus and corruption reform policies. So he threw the weight of all his blackmail and covert funds behind the General's efforts.

"The Specialists are Ironwoods most trusted division of the military. No one has as much loyalty to him as we do. And, like it or not, AIS is our ally. Especially against the Old Guard. It's one thing for extremist recruits to agree with the Enclave; it's another for entrenched bureaucrats and commanders."

The Old Guard. Those who had kept tight control during the previous regime before Ironwood's bloodless 'coup' that now left them either imprisoned or politically side-lined.

Sarah shook her head.

What an extraordinary mess, she thought.

The bar was a simple place. Outside was a dust-stop for travelers to power up their vehicles again. In the same building, separated by a wall and a door haphazardly balanced on its hinges was a general store offering chips, cigarettes, bottled water and twenty brands of jerky. In the bar's bathroom, the urinals were filled with ice to keep the smell of piss at bay. The bar's counter was oddly sticky, but the clientele at that dark place weren't accustomed to cleanliness, anyway.

A dirty dive along a dirt road in rural Mistral, an area full of small-time farmers and people who don't want to be found.

"So anyway," said one grimy guy at the bar, "I was socking him in the stomach, right? And he still wouldn't fess up about—"

The door swung open, slowly. A weak push opened it. Every patron and the bartender glanced over.

A bulky figure limped in. He held his arms close to his stomach. A strange, viscous, yellow liquid stained his filthy, mud-laden clothes. His soggy boots squelched with each dragging step. An eerie iron mask, shaped after a lion's growling visage, covered his face.

The place was quiet. Some men leaned back, cautiously taking in the strange figure.


He coughed.

"I need bandages."

Bit of a weird chapter, I think. Kind of just setup, not a ton of plot happening. Or at least not much forward movement in the plot. Just lining up the groups, explaining how the Atlas disaster occurred. I find this a little more plausible than in the show, where Roman and Neo were apparently the only people on the whole ship. Maybe there's some lore explanation that I'm missing.

Also, Tyrian was originally going to survive this fight. In my first plan, he stopped at the top of the cliff and cursed Ozymandias as he escaped. Then I was writing it and realized that he was mad enough and crazy enough in that moment to definitely dive in after him. Then I realized that he wouldn't actually play much of a role in the story moving forward if he survived anyway, so yeah Ozymandias showed off how he became Executioner in the first place. Sometimes the story just wants to write itself, and you need to go with it.