Mizizi Aflame

April 21, 2017:

Wakanda opens its borders for the first time in many years to host the Mizizi na Nyasi scientific collaboration conference in Birnin S'Yan. But a firebombing cuts the conference short, and several Wakandan residents go missing. And at the center of the chaos, Bucky Barnes: unwittingly placed by the perpetrators to look guilty as hell…

Birnin S'Yan, Wakanda

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

If there is one thing that Wakanda does well, it's defend itself.

The border cities are all named after great Black Panthers of the past, and strategically speaking they are less cities and more armed emplacements and fortresses carved from stone to form the gravestones of all who would seek to occupy them. Though the Wakandan king had ordered the men to stand down and avoid confrontation where possible to prevent an international incident, it still shows a remarkable amount of cynicism on the part of the country's internal security chiefs to hold the Mizizi Confluence inside what is essentially an armed garrison.

As now and as ever, this proves to be in wise counsel.

Part of the city still burns from the firebombing, the blast having extended over a square mile of downtown Birnin S'Yan. However, the fire is curiously left untended. Even as the sky fills with smoke and the red alert lights of approaching automated extinguishment systems, the flames are not treated with even a tenth of the concern they would have been in any other country.
Part of this is because Wakandan priorities lay elsewhere.

After the explosion occurred at the Mizizi Center, most of the guests were rounded up and confined to their rooms throughout the city with a swiftness to rival even an organized military response. For their own safety, it is said. More intelligent minds would make the observation that most of the attending parties were split up across the city purposefully. They are also relocated, where appropriate, to places where most of them cannot see the national guardsmen storm the Mizizi Center. Those who do not come willingly are taken by force.

On the outskirts of the Mizizi Center grounds, the area is thick with the acrid smell of smoke, and the flash of warning lights. Despite the flame, holographic tribal dancers still wind their ways invitingly through the center, eye scanners flashing and scattering off of the featureless visors of the men who storm through the ghostly images, bladed spears blacker than moonless night. The red reflections of what would have once been inspiring texts and Wakandan traditional art curated specifically to a person's preference shimmer as the men move with purpose past. The lenticular projectors show errors and red security alerts instead.

The Mizizi center, a seamlessly integrated grounds of nature and technology, has become less of a wonderland and more of a labyrinth. There are still people here. Some need to be rescued. Anyone who doesn't…

In one hundred years of life, James Buchanan Barnes has seen much of the world. He's traveled through every continent, seen war in dozens of countries, killed in countless corners of the globe.

But he's never actually stepped foot in Wakanda. None of his masters thought the risk to one of their greatest assets was worth the reward, no matter how tantalizing the reward might be.

Ever since his first arrival in Wakanda for this Mizizi Confluence, spurred by the avid scientific desires of one Jane Foster, he's seen exactly why it is the Soviet Union and Hydra never took that chance. Without even speaking of the legendary warrior-king that heads and defends the State— the so-named Black Panther— everything from him on down is a perfect song of ironclad security protocols which wield a deadly-efficient lethality.

Bucky Barnes has noticed this. But he hasn't had time to do much more than notice. It's been a whirlwind of activity since the moment of their arrival, Jane rushing around in frenzied scientific excitement to see everything she possibly can in their brief window.

It began as most things do— with Bucky noticing someone acting a bit odd in his eyeshot. It was concern for Jane's safety that led him to investigate, more than any overarching altruistic desire to preserve the peace of the event (and therein lies the difference between him and Steve, Steve always seeing the big picture while Bucky always tended to focus in on the personal first)— and true to fashion, he quietly determined to evaluate this irregularity alone at first, confident in his own abilities to have a bit of a look without needing to alarm any of the very threatening-looking security. If it's a true threat, he'll alert the Wakandan personnel.

He shadowed the man. It ended with them both in a darkened corner of the Mizizi center, the man turning to him with a beatific smile. "As you turn your back on Hydra, so it shall turn its back upon you."

Moments later, the center erupted in smoke and flame… and James Buchanan Barnes, as always, at the center of it all.

He doesn't know what's been caught on cameras. He doesn't know what's been seen by onlookers. He doesn't know what Hydra's angle is here, though he can guess. He only knows that he has to get back to Jane and out of here, and that's what drives him onwards through the smoke and howling alarms, dodging Wakandan security as best he can as they move silently through the dark with their bladed spears.

All around Barnes, dark metal sliders and gates are in the process of slamming shut on open storefronts. Black and red-blazoned machines churn past the soldier on cushions of thin air. Each is the size of a small appliance, spraying a retardent foam on the virulently spreading flames.

It has been said that Wakanda's intelligence belies their isolation. Whatever evidence they have, they move quickly, and though the explosion occurred in one of the few serendiptiously lax areas left unsupervised by the Wakandan security teams, they already had a strong idea of where the fault lay, even if all guests were confined to their rooms as a matter of precaution. Language winds through the Kimoyo communications networks, non-binary systems transmitting signals through wireless means hardly interpretable by what most countries would consider modern decryption algorithms. Even so, foreign language carries some ways, and Buchanan can find words quickly as he slips past the teams, one by one.

"<The soldier,>" they remark, in their native tongue. "<Not sighted. Beginning perimeter sweeps.>" "<Area swept for target. None found.>"

Soundless boots are more felt on the tile than heard as men ascend the stairs flanking a huge waterfall fountain, sweeping with invisible scan fields emitting from their faceplates, grey fatigues making them appear like sleek ghosts of office. They look alien, nothing like soldiers, nothing like officers of the law. And, most disturbingly of all, it is very clear who is central to their interests in the firebombing. "<Target two found?>" "<Proceeding to point.>" "<Suspects not found. Prepare for engagement.>"

"<Release the anti-enhanced measures.>"

A group near the voluminous main entrance of the Mizizi, three in number, flip open units on their spears, casting red lines into the air. The red lines from their deadly tipped spears are sourced by projectors. Three together begin to trace out an open shape, already prowling the grounds. A panther projection, a deadly, translucent thing that stalks the ground. <Beginning sensor audit.> They are tracking down everyone in the area not yet accounted for. And quickly it is found that there are only a precious few that have not. Alerts begin to flood the systems.

Men nearest the shadowed path to the exit fall silent. Smoke curls in the air.
Slowly, spears turn after the trail of the Winter Soldier.

Hydra may never have risked the Winter Soldier in operations in Wakanda, but that doesn't mean they have never slithered their feelers into the country before, albeit with far more caution and care than in most other countries. Their operations are few and far between, because it is just so difficult to get past the security of the reclusive country in the first place. When they do happen, they are peerlessly well-executed.

They have to be.

Thus it is that their work here is discreet and, ultimately, limited to objectively only a very few actions. The separation of the Winter Soldier from populated areas, into locales where it is inevitable suspicion must fall on him when his absence from prescribed locations is discovered. The subtle replacement of some surveillance footage with a few seconds of doctored material. That is all, really. But it is sufficient to set the machine of the Wakandan state in motion.

A machine which starts to narrow down its cold, cruelly-efficient eye on the erstwhile Winter Soldier.

Bucky can feel that scrutiny narrowing down upon him, unseen eyes focusing in from every angle. The sensation of being watched, pursued, of being made triggers responses in him that are graven almost as deeply as instinct. He can sense the thick weight of suspicion on his shoulders, and pessimistic experience suggests to him that what just happened here was something orchestrated specifically to give him a real bad day.

That's what he gets for being concerned about things.

He goes ghost mode. Goes to ground. Strafes silently past the surveillance he can see, the surveillance he can guess at from long years of experience in dodging the glassy eyes of cameras. He is too cynical to imagine that just waiting here, in such a vulnerable position, can end well even if he shouts his lack of involvement in any of this until he is hoarse. His instinct is to slip the net, escape, regain a stronger position of some defensibility, and from there try to work out exactly what happened.

He skirts distantly past the main entrance area. He notices the projected panther. He turns away from it, searching for another exit, preferably one with fewer men guarding it he may have to incapicitate. He uses the smoke to his advantage for cover.

They are looking for him.

Most importantly, they already know where he has been. Where he is is very much a question still. The Mizizi center is, for all of its choices against security incursions just like this one, still a place of open air and winds, winding through both interior and exterior spaces both. The concern is that much of the Mizizi center is walled or fenced. Though only a few hours prior there were many exits and entrances for the purposes of safety, now almost every one has been sealed by thick defensive barriers and gates. There are few trees to leap from across gates, as they mostly have been kept to the interior sections of the center. This leaves only a dangerous leap from the pyramid-like structures that make up some of the major service fronts, or a direct confrontation with Wakandan guard at the entrance, where an anti-enhanced team and their seeker panther is currently searching for Barnes.

Falnking the entrance area, near where Barnes has moved away, are several other secured entry points. Most are locked, but one opens and shuts periodically, allowing the thrumming automatons attending absently to the fire passage. Two members of the security team have been stationed there, their blades at the ready. Outside the limits of the Mizizi, more automatons whirl past, destined to different locations to address portions of area where the fire may be spreading. Yet others travel in the opposite direction, ostensibly to the robotics facilities nearby for reloading, after having jettisoned their payloads onto the virulent flames.

"—Welcome!" A nearby hologram greets, an elderly man in bright colors and flanked by dancers, greeting the Winter Soldier and casting an eerie pale blue light on him. A name flickers underneath him, unrecognizable. He continues, placidly ignorant of the flames that burn just behind him. "Do not be alarmed. Our country's ways are part of a rich tapestry of culture woven for over ten thousand years," he says, in heavily accented English. "Please enjoy our accomodations."

Cloaked in one of the few-and-far-between pools of shadow that even exist in this open-air center— construction typical of a country with a climate like Wakanda's— James Barnes pauses briefly to consider his options. It's a well-designed area, he has to give it that. Trees are the usual obvious answer, but there are few of those close enough to the walls for even an enhanced individual to make the leap. The walls and fences are similarly just high enough to prevent egress over them, not even a single solitary stray handhold available.

He could possibly force an opening through the fences with his left arm, but he's not interested in leaving behind blinking neon 'the Winter Soldier was here' signs.

That leaves only a precarious scaling up one of the pyramid-shaped structures, a slippery way up culminating in the kind of leap that would be outright impossible for a normal human. Hell, even the way up the pyramid is barely possible to begin with. It's a route that will leave him exposed, and he knows if he's seen actually running his situation will get about a thousand times worse, but he just cannot be sure enough of what Hydra has done here to comfortably lay down, docile, and let Wakanda's merciless security find him when he's penned in with no easy routes of escape.

He makes his determination just about the time A GHOST starts talking to him.

He jumps and whirls a second before he realizes it's a hologram, not a ghost. His blue eyes dart back and forth, waiting to see if anyone has noticed its voice. Then they settle on another hologram projector, close to the entryway where the men— and their laser panther he wants absolutely nothing to do with— are slowly searching.

"Show on atrium projector," he whispers to the hologram. "I would like to hear about the architectural design of the main entry, please."

With any luck, it'll flicker to life on the projector in question, drawing eyes for the few seconds necessary for the Winter Soldier to slide out of his spot, skim silently over to the closest pyramid-structure, and swing himself up with preternatural noiseless agility. It's treacherous going, but he handles the poor footing with aplomb, building speed for the absurd leap he'll make to make to clear the closest wall.

The quality of the Soldier's training shows. Few invaders have successfully eluded Wakandan security for this long once made, especially in a territory carefully tended to preclude the possibility of survival by foreign agents. Certainly, the council will be overviewing security policy for even this much of a breach, even considering the unorthodox circumstances surrounding King T'Challa's ambitious conference. Alerts, even now, are filtering through the security host. News of Wakandans left unaccounted for..

The difference in Wakanda's culture is made quite clear by the hologram facing Buchanan. Though most commercial extorts would have seen the lithe gyrations of a skilled dancer an inviting ploy to entice the consumer to buy some overpriced product or another, the man and woman flanking the old man are unapproachable, their dance telling a story that cannot be discerned by outsiders. The display is not meant to entice, and even the man's words are meant to soothe even as it subtly warns Barnes of a country that will not abide minds meaning ill.

As far as Barnes' trajectory of current, he has two things going for him now. The first is that there is not a lot of air presence over the Mizizi. Part of this is purposeful: Aircraft overhead leaves something to attach to, something to hijack. The other part is that the firebombing-and everything that has followed-has not been deemed egregious enough yet to call in the airforce.

Somewhat sobering to think that a panther made of solid light is tracking you as a routine response.

The second element in Buchanan's favor is the fact that the vistor's systems are not on lockdown, and the interaction is noted by the old man with a simple bow of his head, before the hologram dissipates. No one has seen him yet, and when the old man flickers into being in the main entrance, announcing the main archway of the Mizizi center, how its vibranium enhanced gate is near impenetrable to exterior forces, and how the archetectural features blend strong tradition with visionary technology, he is almost killed on the spot. The old man could almost look perturbed as a blade pierces through his head, an energy discharge causing the projection to flicker.

The three's focus on the hologram is useful, as they track where the trigger originated from their positions at the top of the stairs on the second level of the atrium. The pyramid crawl is treacherous, but doable. It's the only place tall enough to make the jump over the walls from, as various drones and vehicles roll past. Miniscule seams in the pyramid form the only handholds, and the hot, balmy wind whistles across them when someone's fingers find purchase. At the tip of the pyramid, a light flashes across the grounds, illuminating choice areas of focus for the teams on the ground.

As the team working their way from the entrance move towards the station where Buchanan first triggered the hologram, the panther cut from a block of light prowls. It looks up, as if the open air above held some special value to its programming. It growls, ominously, on its leash of lasers.

It certainly takes a considerable exercise of the Winter Soldier's skill— a mastery decades in the cultivation and honing— to evade the security of Wakanda. He cannot remember the last time he was pressed this hard— and by, he's more than aware, a response that is in actuality still not… at the highest threat level that it could reach.

He doesn't want to stick around to see what the highest level of threat response Wakanda can reach is, but he's pretty sure it will involve the airspace getting considerably less friendly. He'd better move while the sky is still clear enough to move through without being immediately shot out of it.

He needs some kind of diversion before he makes any movement, however. The sudden hologram— which could have undone him on the spot if he were slightly less fortunate— he turns to his advantage, making a gamble that it will still work as he thinks, as he's seen people using it the entire time they've been at this conference—

—and it does.

James doesn't stick around to feel smug about his own success. He makes a silent dash as the hologram is instantly 'killed,' sliding around to the far side of the pyramid to scale up it from a less visible position. It's a difficult climb, forcing him to traverse long stretches of smooth, purchaseless glass without any of the usual gear he'd usually have on hand to make the entire process easier, but he manages.

In the end, his best tool is his own physically-extraordinary body. Extraordinary not just in strength and constitution, but in things people don't think of quite as often when they think of enhanced physiology. Balance, grace, sheer bodily kinesthetic awareness, a sensitive touch that finds those seams no matter how minute— all of these things carry him rapidly upwards towards the peak, where he might have a shot at making the jump.

He gains the top to find a light swinging around, providing illumination for ground teams. He skirts deftly around it as it turns back and forth, avoiding getting his silhouette caught in it, as he searches out a good spot to try to stick a landing.

Now or never, he supposes. Even with him staying out of the light, there's no way his silhouette and movement up here stay undetected for long, if he lingers. No choice. He gathers himself and takes the leap.

It is brutal, that high up. The winds of Wakanda are as humid as they are hot, owing to the sprawling Lake Nyanza and the many places the jungle is shot through with water, rendering the lands as fertile as its people are brutal. The winds batter at the soldier, threatening to knock him from his perch and drive him to the earth, much as the people do. But they are used to standing and fighting. To find those who are trying to work their way within, not without. Had Buchanan found himself in a ground fight with the security guard, he may have found himself overwhelmed, even killed. The seam he pries at when ascending the top of the spire—it is in many ways the only thread grasped at that doesn't end in the prison or the grave.
He takes his chances with the winds of Wakanda, and jumps.

In a nearby command center..

Men and women in white coats surround the seat which T'Challa has selected at the center of the group, with information flickering orange across the Kimoyo-driven system screens. Symbols indicate the numbers of foreigners registered for the confluence, with outlines indicating which ones have been accounted for, and how many of the on-site personnel are also accounted for. The security team at Mizizi's audio feed hums overhead, their words carried smoothly on the overhead, zero distortion marring their reports. Entrance cleared. Deploying far units. Securing entry for fire drones.

One man is making a report to T'Challa, reciting the number of people injured in the fireblast. Throughout it all, the king listens absently, his eyes faraway and distant, as if searching the horizon for answers.
The young man reports that men have died. That women are missing.

A slow breath rakes inward from the king.
"Thank you, that will be all, T'Challa answers coldly, rising from his seat.

That was fifteen minutes ago.

As Bucky passes over the heads of the distracted security, those punishing winds of Wakanda cut across him, yet still compliantly parting for his silent passage. Barnes sails overhead raising nary an alarm, his pure body strength alone committing him over the walls of the Mizizi in one long, beyond human leap. He sails through the air, vaulting the wall high overhead, with a view of a perfect landing spot across the street.

And then the darkness comes for him.

Something at the wall. It's as if the wall itself shot night at him as he passed over it, a blotch of dark flying up at him. It's hard to tell exactly what it is at first, in the second it takes to find him in the sky there. It's hard to tell what it is, at first. Until Barnes re-discovers one of the most salient points known to any ghost: The night has claws.

A creature of claws, attention and sinew snaps straight up into the air, to latch claws onto the Winter Soldier's thighs as he makes his silent leap. The thing's aim is unerring, inexorable, and vicious. It chases the winter down in the air. And through the winds of Wakanda, that black thing will drag Buchanan clear out of the sky if it latches on, bodies tumbling end over end, rotating slowly in a controlled dive that will loose Buchanan only when he is halfway into a master fire drone on its way back to facility. The impact will be colossal, crumpling the civilian metals of the drone. Even if Buchanan impacts it with full force, the drone will continue on its way.

The metals that make up the drone are not the same as the metals woven into the black, the ones that rise from its landing point at the drone's back. The darkness stands. This is what happens when Wakanda notices you.

The Black Panther of the country's darkest borders rises from his own impact point, two inch claws sliding ominously from his hands.

The traditional focus of Wakanda upon keeping people out, rather than trying to hold people in, works in the Winter Soldier's advantage now. Their forces are marginally less experienced with this kind of threat— a sneaking threat seeking to leave rather than to infiltrate— and certainly less equipped to handle men who do not stand and fight.

The Wakandan people are exemplary at standing and fighting.

The Soldier knows that much about them. It's probably why he avoids direct confrontation, when presented with a choice. He slips around and up the precarious side of the pyramid, finding purchase where others would have only found smooth unforgiving glass, soon enough gaining an uncertain footing at the structure's very peak.

A mere human wouldn't be able to make the jump, even with a perfectly flat stable place to stand, and a running start. But Bucky Barnes makes it from a dead standstill from atop the pointed peak of a pyramid. He just skims the top of the wall, vaulting it with no more than the muted whir of his left arm as he uses it to push off the wall's top, arcing over with an intended landing spot clearly marked out by his searching eyes—

—and something hits him from below, a clawed shadow ripping free from the night to latch onto him midflight.

There is no shout, no cry of alarm, no reaction save a brief and fierce close-quarters struggle. The Winter Soldier is not easy prey to keep hold of. His left arm spins up with a much louder whir as he slams it towards the center mass of whatever piece of the darkness has assaulted him. It might or might not contribute to the thing letting him go halfway to the ground, propelling him as it departs into the unyielding body of a drone.

A normal man would break in half on impact. This one breaks the drone— or most of it, anyway. He hits hard and rolls, flipping adroitly over back into a crouch on the drone's faltering body.

The first thing he sees is, of course, the last thing he wants to see.

"I don't suppose," the Soldier rasps as he straightens slowly to a stand, "you wanna hear how this is all a misunderstanding—"

The drone's engineering is much more robust than could be expected. The crush zones of the drone crumple to the point where Buchanan can smell the solvents from the remaining foam concentrate in the ruptured tanks, but the drone continues slowly lurching on its way, determined to continue on a predestined path, even as its warning light shorts, causing the industrial looking thing to flash amber sporadically.

Only a moment prior, silver tangled inextricably with black. The night-made creature's claws were horrendous to get free of, and struggling only seems to make it worse. In a moment, a real fighter can get a sense of things, no matter how incredible the situation unspooled. The very, very clear aim of the thing was to grip onto the soldier in the air, and then climb him, rotating his body until he was on top. Truthfully, that may have been the end of most. But then, there is something to be said for the ingenuity of the Soviets, and the Winter Soldier is a throat not so easily taken.

The thing hears the whirring of tension guides in one spinning, vertiginous second. He counts the number of motors involved, memorizes the song of each suspension. By the time the panther meets the fist, he has insinuated over 70 distinct notable articulations into the strength of the hammer that plows into his midst.
Still, hitting him is not the same as striking flesh. Buchanan does not encounter metal-or at least, it does not feel like metal. It feels just a touch like a hand slapping into the surface of water. The ripples spread, breaking free the hunter that drags him down. The soldier's body hits like a meteor, hard and unyielding. The panther hits with not even a whisper, rolling through the sky and striking metal, absorbing the shock into a boneless form that suspends his weight until the force bleeds off into the open air. The only indication that the thing behind that mask may have felt anything at all is the time he takes for the force unloaded into him to bleed away. The predator rises. Other drones speed past the flattened conveyance, testament to the damage sustained.

The panther is faceless and silent, waiting.
The shorted lights from the drone pass, illuminating black with amber.
The Hydra agent begins to talk.
Then the panther tries to fold his throat in half underneath his boot.

The blow comes like a crossbow bolt in the dark. At least, it seems so-the panther rotates easily on his leg, his hip joint flexing out through a side kick as he moves to stifle Buchanan's words. At least, such is the eventual intent. The panther moves like lightning, and one attack is folded into another, and another. The side blow, originating from the knee, is actually intended to hit Barnes in the temple. Then the boneless thing rolls his hip, his heel dropping in a blow for the soldier's jaw. Only when he's satisfied does he send all of the force in his leg, dropping his weight and rotating his trunk away to counterbalance into the blow, a one inch dagger kick aimed square at the throat, or at the wrist.

He expects Buchanan to defend, lest the panther drum him senseless in the time it takes for the soldier to utter his last syllable. If he makes the mistake of guarding with his organic arm-the side being attacked-the panther will seek to come very close to kicking in the young man's wrist.

The panther has faced soldiers before.
Let us see if this one is like those who fell at Wakanda's borders.

The sharp smell of solvents assaults Bucky's preternatural senses. He ignores the burn of the astringent chemicals, instead concentrating on regaining his balance and assessing the threat that has smashed into him so suddenly. Sharp, wary blue eyes appraise the sleek creature before him. A few slashes on his left leg, torn by the grasping claws of the Panther, slowly drip, though his enhanced constitution means the bleeding stops much sooner than might be expected.

There is another cut that concerns him more. Not because it is more damaging than the rest— it is in fact much shallower and smaller— but because of its location. The Winter Soldier wipes a smear of blood from his throat, knowing intimately that the Black Panther is not here to merely incapacitate.

He starts to speak. Perhaps there is still some chance for negotiation—

The Blank Panther negotiates with his snapped-out foot.

Silence descends instantly. Silence save for the left arm of the Winter Soldier. He turns slightly so he can utilize it despite being attacked on the right, snapping it up with a shriek of its internals, blocking off the brunt of that kick: an outward shove attempting to force the Panther to overspin on the follow-through. That arm moves fluidly in the expected defense, attempting to further disrupt the momentum of the Panther's flowing attacks by redirecting rather than stopping hits, deflecting each impact off the hard steel-titanium.

The material takes the blows, but wearily, with groans that suggest the metal is not appreciating the abuse. Bucky's mind races. He can't afford for his arm to be damaged…

He felt the result of his earlier strike. It was like hitting Steve's shield— there wasn't any of the expected give, any of the conservation of momentum he would expect from something that obeyed the regular laws of physics. The impact was solid, but the force of it seemed to simply ripple off while leaving the Panther unaffected, none of the anticipated blowback happening at all.

Bucky knows what he's dealing with now. And it's gonna be way more annoying than Steve's shield, because the Panther is covered in vibranium—

He changes tactic. He steps forward and then slides aside of the Panther's final dagger kick, his left hand snapping forward to try to clamp shut about that extended ankle. If he can get a grip, he's yanking with sudden and obscene force, his prosthetic howling as he puts all his strength into a slingshot FLING of the Panther straight off the drone and to the ground.

Not that the Soldier himself wants to stay on the drone. It's heading back into the compound. HIS aim is to turn and leap off it himself in the opposite direction.

He feels everything.

The length and number of his blows drum off of the advanced mechanics of that arm. A spear thrown from the jungles of the afterlife, the force behind those blows cause even metal alloys to groan with repressed hypertension, the singing of drive cables clear as a bell to the panther as his strength opposes them, the product of the most advanced technologies and metallurgy available under the red star. But the panther responds with nothing but ferocity and brutality. It would be easy to read derision into his reactions. To him, it may in fact all be the same.

Wakanda has been dealing with Soviet garbage in the wrong hands for generations.

Buchanan is attempting to overextend the panther's attacks, his parries forcing the panther inch by inch off-balance. The spear never has a chance to hit the shield dead on, as each blow is forced to the side. Skill, rather than strength, is what keeps the soldier free from tasting blood. However, turning the panther aside seems almost a pipe dream. Momentum is controlled and shifted, the black-swathed killer carefully metering out strength—raising slightly into the air to compensate for the deflection with a push of his bracing leg, thigh tucking underneath him in degrees as he delivers the final dagger kick. It's like trying to fight something with no bones. The panther is a great wave from Yemaya and Set, crashing through and flooding the defenses. Every deflection does not drive the panther off balance.

It brings him closer.

There is the sudden and pressing sense that as Buchanan latches onto his ankle that grave mistakes may have been made. The panther coils his body, as he is already in the air from further deflections. One hand snaps open, the blades of his claws the only thing about him shining in that chaotic amber light. In an instant, a combat genius like Barnes will understand. The panther wanted him to grab on. He flexes his spine, his thigh and his calf, forcing his weight onto the soldier and at once halving the distance between them. The tradeoff is simple for one who reacts instinctively. One squeeze, and maybe the panther's ankle would be shattered… if he has one to break.

But in that same moment, the panther will latch onto the soldier's metal arm with his outstretched claws, and with one catastrophic blow to the chest from both legs, use his claws to rip his arm right out of the socket. If Barnes even pauses for a moment to entertain the idea, it will be over, and Wakanda's Black Panther will tear him in half.

But Barnes was not seeking to harm him.
The same mindset that drove the security guards to overlook Buchanan's escape is the mind that eludes the panther's threat. It expects him to murder, to seek to cripple and kill when cornered, like the others. It expects him to act in tune with the icily even heartbeat that it can hear beating in the soldier's chest. It offers the Soldier a chance to hurt him, with the expectation that he will take opportunity, and have his blood sprayed across the ground for the effort. The black panther's timing is off.

The world turns upside down.

The strength of the Winter Soldier brought to full bear, the Black Panther spins through the air end over end, the world flipping even for the preternatural senses levelled by that creature. The scent of air, earth, brick, fire and grass fills him, moreso than the scent of lubricant, solvent, sweat and cheap metal. In an instant, the panther rights himself in the air, his body slamming against basalt, claws sinking into the stone as he cuts deep furrows into it, grinding to the ground. He whirls, soulless eyes tracking after the Soldier. A scent is caught on the wind-it is all that is needed. The panther moves quickly, setting both hands and feet to the task of starting. The run he sketches is low, feet churning the dust beneath him as he drives forward, claws spreading-

…just as a group of drones cut into his path, the firefighting machines rolling past, forcing him to skid to a stop, his glutes slamming into the ground as he reverses direction to stop, just before being run into. The drones take a handful of moments to cross his path. Moments the king is not so blind that he wishes to tear through his own machines and jeopardize his cities. Moments enough for the Winter Soldier to disappear.

The panther straightens slowly as his blood cools, a violent sigh raking free.

His arm is at once his strongest defense and one of his most glaring weaknesses. It is his primary weapon, his primary shield, his tool in so much beyond mere applications of the vast strength it can bring to bear… but at the same time, because of that, it is also something he must carefully and jealously guard against damage.

Not much can damage it. But he suspects those savage claws can. He suspects that the staggering force behind those kicks can.

So he deflects rather than meet those strikes head on. He redirects, temporarily falling back on an open-handed, fluid defensive fighting style more characteristic of Steve than himself. He leverages skill rather than strength, his counters meant to unbalance the Panther by repeated forced overextensions. But it is hard— no, impossible— to fully put a cat off-balance, and the Black Panther adjusts his own weight rapidly mid-attack to compensate, dancing the razor's edge between perfect poise and a stumbling fall with enviable ease.

The blue eyes of the Winter Soldier study and analyze this with the acumen of decades of combat experience. He reads the sequence of the Panther's attacks, predicts that final stabbing dagger-kick as the final step in the dance of his lead-up blows. It lashes out and he flows to one side, his left arm firing out to clamp a steel hand down on that extended ankle.

This is where it becomes clear even the vaunted Winter Soldier, once the bloodiest blade of the Soviet Union, can gravely miscalculate.

Most men hate being grappled. Having any one of their limbs restrained immediately flusters them, especially when said limb is being compressed savagely in a literal metal vise. But not the Black Panther. He, Bucky realizes a second too late, wanted to be seized, and now he's a tiger caught by the tail.

The Panther coils with impossible flexibility and strength, using that steel grip on his ankle as an anchor point to fold in half and bring his savage claws to bear. He attacks, leaving a wide-open invitation for the Soldier to hurt him, in full anticipation of punishing Barnes' assumed capitalization on that opening.

A capitalization that never comes, because he is simply no longer the Winter Soldier, and all he wishes is bloodless retreat.

Instead of an attempted killing blow, there is only the sickening centrifugal force of being hurled by the full brunt of a supersoldier's jacked-up prosthetic arm. James Barnes twists and flings T'Challa from him, before turning and launching into another of those staggering leaps from the stuttering drone in the very opposite direction. He hits the ground, rolls, pops back to his feet at a dead run.

He cuts ahead of a line of rolling drones, slipping just past them, vanishing into the night like the ghost his legend makes him out to be.

This, he thinks sourly, is going to have to be cleared up later when fewer things are on fire and everyone is more amenable to conversation. And once he figures out what Hydra did, exactly…

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License