He looked up from the impromptu metal coffin surrounding him, closed as it was by a lid of meat. The taste of blood was in his mouth but it wasn't his. Not entirely his, at any rate. It was human and it was still warm.
With a testing shrug of his broad shoulders, Lethane forced his way, light finally streaming in on his face once he threw the heavy sacks of flesh off him. "Why are there bodies on top of me?"
While there were no immediate answers to why two men dressed in Penumbra uniforms were dead over where he'd crashed through the wall of the warehouse, their faces bleeding from every pore and their ears leaking, he other things to worry about...
Like ducking the incoming piece of burning metal before it ripped through him!
Diving to the alley street and rolling out of the way, he came back up in a shadowed corner and shook his head. Not usually one to hide, he was still disoriented by the shock of the attack that had flung him like a rage doll. Again.
Leth snarled and clenched his hands, letting his sharp nails rake the air in quiet fury. That was the second time in as many weeks he'd been jumped from behind. Watching after the boy scout was obviously dulling his survival instincts. He was getting soft, something he was damned well not going to let happen.
He knew who was responsible for this. Thus, he knew who was going to die. Fortress was a walking corpse. The cripple just didn't know it yet. As soon as Lethane got his claws on the big bastard, the CEO of Fortress 500 was going home 'some assembly required'.
Another shard of burning steel, this one melting even as it hissed through the air past his hiding place, got Leth's attention and snapped him out of his violent musing. Following the glowing streak of plasma and metal vapor backwards, he caught of sight of what was making such a flaming mess...
The main stretch of alley between the warehouse and whatever sad, incendiary building was being gutted by fire across the way was cracked, glowing and utterly ruined. In the middle of the destruction, two massive figures were locked in vicious combat, blood and lava flowing in equal parts down the battling titans.
One was mostly clad in metal, alloyed plates that had once been silver but were now blackened and burned. What sections of flesh could be seen through the rents in the powered suit were nearly ashen, seared and cooking from the superheated metal shoved violently into every jagged breach. Very little was left intact on Fortress' steel outer body; every limb was missing panels and much of his reinforced chest was either caved in or melting away.
And glad as Lethane was to see the 'hero' in such distress, his pleasure was tempered with surprise by the other... thing... in the pit with Fortress.
Whatever it was, it was wearing Ravyn's armor. Or, more accurately, pieces of it. The creature was easily as tall as Fortress, placing it at nine feet with its legs slightly bent. Feet and hands both ended in talons of black bone, razor sharp if the rents in Fortress' chest and helmet were any indication. Rising out of the fiend's back, huge leathern wings arched like scythes overhead.
They weren't the only things sharp about what was fighting the ex-paragon. The crimson scaled beast was completely reptilian but still humanoid, like a Snake but far more dangerous-looking. It had a tail with dark, sweeping blades at its end and a row of night-black spines piercing out the back of its barely fitting chestplate. Its head, which Leth could only describe as draconic, was crested with similar edges of bone and obsidian, both as black as a void, and it had at least two rows of wickedly sharp teeth, many of which were trailing blood from the savage bites it kept taking out of its prey.
Prey. There really was no other way to describe the combat. The battle looked to have been incredible but it was nearly at an end. The thing wearing Ravyn's red shell had obviously taken a pounding but it was still standing. The same could be no longer be said of Fortress.
A massive swipe with the beast's left hand sent flaming talons down through the front of the hero's chest armor, shredding steel and servo systems from neck to stomach. Blood and oil gushed from the wound, sending the monolith of metal to his artificial knees. A second blow with the back of the creature's right hand struck Fortress in the side of the head and tore his helmet off, ending it like a comet through the brick wall of the burning building nearby.
Even down, Fortress was not completely defeated. Tortured motors screamed within his suit's arms, bringing up the one working cannon he had left. It was sparking down its crystalline barrel, most of its containment shroud torn away, but it was still functional. Before the scaled beast could react, it blazed to life and unleashed a point blank barrage of charged cryonic particles, slamming into the dragon man's chest in a sub-zero blast of sound and cold.
A sub-zero blast that did terrible damage to the beast's chestplate and none at all it its wearer. With a roar of rage so loud it actually hurt to hear, it opened its fanged maw and unleashed a torrent of pure magma.
The force of the glowing gout sent Fortress flying backwards, sprawling him against the street in a pool of instantly slagged asphalt. The sheer heat ignited Fortress' hair, scalding his suddenly bared face and blistering his blood-slaked skin. The man's cry of pain was drowned out by the low growl of the creature in Ravyn's clothing as it descended over its fallen foe.
It drove talons into Fortress' shoulders, the wet noise within making it painfully clear that at least one on each side found its way into flesh and bone. The crackle of cut power lines sent arcs of blue lightning across the ruined chestplate before grounding out in the beast's scarlet scales. With a snarl of savagery, it lifted Fortress up off his mangled legs. In the moonlight, the thing's scarred face could be seen clearly. One eyes burned while the other was a dark, ravaged hole but both stared directly into Fortress' face.
Past a split lip and a burned face, the ravaged man stared back. Despite his injuries, Fortress managed to whisper something through a broken jaw.
"This... is why... we had... to kill you... Ravyn."
The creature growled and raised its bladed hand, dripping talons poised to strike. Its one eye blazed like the sun while its missing eye was as dark and deep as an abyss. At the back of its blood-scaled throat, a rumble of fury given voice echoed up. It was a nightmarish voice, dark and forbidding, forged from the very essence of hate itself.
"You tried. You failed. You die."
Fortress closed his eyes, the look on his face somehow becoming peaceful despite the tortured state of his body. "Of course, my friend... I... I am sorry for... for everything. Forgive me." He leaned his head back, exposing his burned throat without another word.
Bloodravyn, fangs bared, flexed his talons high over his old friend's head, muscles trembling in anticipation of the killing blow. Antipication...
...or hesitation? A long moment passed, then another. The only sound now was the slow drip of blood and lava onto the sundered street. Even their haggard breathing had slowed, the tense second of battle's end stretching on into a quiet stillness with neither foe moving at all. What remained of Fortress had ceased to struggle and what might still remain of Ravyn within whatever his body had horrifically become was poised to strike yet holding back.
Gazing down at the metal-entombed man impaled on the claws of his left hand, Ravyn's draconic eye slowly dimmed, its flames burning lower and dimmer until there was merely a glimmer of heat surrounding the slit pupil.
It had been so long since Fortress had heard anyone use his real name. The sound of it made him open his tired eyes and look once more into Ravyn's bestial face. What he saw there he had never expected to see. It changed everything. In an instant, resignation became hope. Not for himself, but for the terrible wrong he'd done so long ago.
The Beast had not entirely won. Something of the Man still remained. But for how long? Fortress closed his eyes again and sent a final command to his armor's core. It was time to do what he should have done a decade ago.
It was time to die.
The central controller of the Fortress-One armor turned off, killed by a master override from the wearer. When it did, all the feedback from the suit's many breaches and ruined neural receptors flooded unchecked into Markus' brain. The result was a massive, instantaneous cerebral hemorrhage. He was dead before the word "Ravyn" had escaped his lips.
There was no regret in him for this. It was not suicide so much as sacrifice. He had been living a lie on borrowed time. Now, at last, he could let go of the guilt. There was something within that did not belong to him. His last thought before oblivion embraced him was to give it back.
As his world fell into darkness, everything else became light. Fortress' body instantly became a flare of brilliant energy, blinding in its sheer intensity. A wave of power flooded outward in all directions, an explosion of the spirit. It engulfed everything in its path, consuming Ravyn and the now-empty armor in his grasp as it blossomed into a blazing column of radiance reaching all the way through the clouds overhead and into the heavens above.
When, a few seconds later, it burned out and faded away, all that was left in its wake was a steaming alley street and a single, naked man collapsed on his back. Unconscious and unharmed, Bloodravyn looked completely healed and returned to normal. His only wound was the old one, the scars around his lost eye. Those remained, the ruined orb slowly seeping a line of red in a single crimson tear...
Leth winced, blinking to clear his vision.
"Yeah. That was subtle." Then, under his breath as he slipped out of his hiding place and moved to Ravyn, "Quick, Darkwing, let's fire up the Come Eat Me signal as bright as we can!"
He hefted the unconscious man over his shoulder, noting with a low grunt that whatever just happened hadn't made the big guy any lighter. "Come on, Duck," he grumbled to the sleeper in his arms. "Let's grab your stuff and go. Every villain with eyes is going to be here soon to throw us a little going away party."
Slinging a bag and packing everything within easy reach, he added, "You know, that sounds fun... but you're in no shape to dance."