Elijah's Mantle, Part 1

January 21, 2015:

Elijah's Mantle: Captain America puts together a strike team to investigate a brutal massacre at a church in Alexandria, Egypt.

St. Mark's Coptic Church, Alexandria Virginia

A big, old cathedral

Characters

NPCs: General Fury and Professor Ibrahim al-Monsoor

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqKcW8t0lLM "Over" -- Portishead]


Fade In…

SHIELD
10 HOURS AGO

"I can't believe you're going to send me out after everything this country's been through over the last few weeks." Steve looks up at Fury, giving him a look that could freeze a penguin. Fury, doesn't back down a bit, of course. "Captain, in case you didn't realize, this nation has more threats than Hayes or whoever Hayes is these days. And maybe you haven't checked, but HYDRA have been using the wounds of our nation to exploit their network internationally."

Cap looks at the dossier and then back up to Fury, "What does HYDRA have to do with a Coptic church in Egypt?"

"That's what I'm asking you to find out, Rogers." Fury exhales, looking stern. "You're going to have upwards of two teams. The command crew will go right away. The bravo team, when assembled, will meet you in Egypt. Decide who you want, and decide now, because you're leaving in two hours."

"Pezz" Cap begins, before being cut off by Fury. "I had a feeling you might say that."

"Give me Pezzini. For science I want the guy from that team…what was his name?" Cap asks, having poured over so many files recently he can't keep track.

"The mutant?"

"Yeah."

"That's Hank McCoy."

"What's wrong with Fitz?" Fury says with a raised eyebrow. "Nothing is wrong with Fitz. I like Fitz," Cap responds.

"Good, because you're taking him."

Cap shrugs and pulls the file into his lap.

"And you're taking Midnighter, too." Captain America looks up to one of the handful of suits; the one who recommended this Midnighter. Steve has no idea who the higher up is. "I beg your pardon?"

"Midnighter. You're taking him. That's an order."

Steve shrugs, "Well I guess that's it for the alpha team. I don't want to bring anyone else."

"Stark?" Fury says.

"Stark will be on the bravo team," Steve says with a chuckle. His voice gets far away as he looks at some of the pictures. "He's gonna want to fly in on his own."

SHIELD QUINJET
SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC

Steve puts the plane on autopilot and makes his way back towards the cabin where the rest of his crew sit. He begins to pass out envelopes for each of his team.

"Well everyone," Steve says with a quick flare of his eyebrows, "I suppose we should all get to know each other."

Sara arches a brow at Steve's opening, a faint smile touching one corner of her lips. She keeps the internal comment to herself, though, eyes on the envelope as she starts to open it. Basic black gear and kevlar are the order of the day, though they're pretty light duty, and her hair's been pulled back into a braid to keep it out of the way. She doesn't look like she intends to go first, glancing around the occupants with a measuring eye.

"Well, when I got cleared for field duty, I assumed I'd be spending a lot of time in a lab, on a sophisticated mobile aircraft operations center, not trouncing around the globe in a ballistic vest fighting apparitions and psychopaths."

Fitz is taking on a private two way radio tied into his cellular phone. "And I thought the agreement was we'd work together! As a team! One hundred percent of the bloody time. Now, I don't even know where they've — yes, of course, Simmons, I understand the need for — okay, you don't need to give me that — yes, but —" The young scientist looks up when Captain America enters the cabin and promptly sits up straight. "Gotta go!" The cellular phone is switched off and quickly stowed away. "Hello, Captain Rogers," he greets, staring at the man for a moment or two with a glint of wide eyed wonder, before darting eyes to his envelope and ripping it open.

NOT LONG AGO:
"You want me to go where?" Midnighter asks Waller, taking a sip from his tea cup. Since he's not out to annoy her this time, his feet aren't up on the desk. Egypt. "Been there. Okay." Pause. "You want me to go with who?" This time the tea cup gets set down. "SHIELD? I can deal with SHIELD but seriously? Captain America? He's going to have a stroke every time I do what needs to be done. Fine. It'll be you taking the calls from pissed off higher ups not me."

NOW.

Midnighter looks away from the window he's been gazing out of when Steve walks over and offers an envelope. He takes it and drops it onto his lap before removing the ear buds he has in that are attached to his MP3 player. Opening the envelope, he just grunts at the camp counselor's starting gambit to get people talking all friendly like to each other.

Thanks to a rather ill-timed temper-tantrum, SHIELD certainly does know that Dr. Hank McCoy is also Beast from the X-Men. It's not his proudest moment and he's actually tried apologizing…he didn't make it to everyone, but it doesn't come as a surprise that SHIELD can get in touch with him. It did come as a surprise, however, when they contacted him for a mission. The surprise continued when he saw just who would be leading said mission.

This was rather unexpected.

It didn't take him long to agree to go…with or without Xavier's express permission. After all, he knows the rules — he helped write many of them — and surely he wouldn't be denied this opportunity. Dressed in his X-Men uniform, Beast has made himself as comfortable as can be with a couple of books but he looks up and peers at the Captain through his glasses as he is handed an envelope and introductions are to be made. Unsure as to whether or not they should be announcing who they were to each other, he hesitates a moment before looking over at Fitz, "Was that Jemma you were speaking with?" A clawed hand is offered, "You must be Fitz. I've heard many things about you and I've been looking for an opportunity to meet. I'm Beast." Although the other may very well know his real name.

TRISKELION
EARLIER

Steve and Fury are walking down the hallway together as the light filters into the windows of SHIELD's headquarters from above. They lean into each other, speaking in hushed tones.

"Why McCoy?" Fury asks.

"Why not?"

"He's an outsider," Fury seems genuinely surprised at Steve's choice.

"So is Midnighter," Cap retorts.

"Well Midnighter's apparently not an insider."

"Why McCoy?" Fury repeats.

"I like his stuff on genetic research. You and I both know that if this is HYDRA, chances are they'll be up to something with genetics," Cap reasons.

"I just figured he wasn't your type."

Steve looks at Fury, almost incredulously. "My type?"

"Well, it was 1945."

"Not everyone was a racist in 1945, Fury." Cap looks the Director up and down. "I take orders from you, don't I?"

"Your definition of 'taking orders' is an extremely liberal one," Nick fires back.

"And Midnighter?" Cap asks with a raised eyebrow.

"He's bein' pushed by someone else. Not by me."

ABOARD THE QUINJET
NOW

Captain America gets what Sara means and purses his lips in response. Midnighter is given a nod, but he doesn't speak until after Fitz and Hank begin talking.

"Well, the long and short of it guys is that I wanted a small command team to go and check out something. We think HYDRA was involved, but we can't be sure. In any event, the last member of our Alpha group will be Ibrahim al-Monsoor. He's a historian who has worked for SHIELD in the past and based out of Alexandria."

Inside the envelope are case files and gruesome pictures of a bloodbath.

"A strike team entered a Coptic church in Alexandria and began pumping people full of lead. Thankfully it was during confession and not during mass," Steve says. It's not a joke and it's not sarcasm. "Boots on the ground have dropped the idea that it is HYDRA. Clearly, SHIELD agrees enough to at least check it out."

Sara whistles low as she gets a look at the pictures, tilting her head and turning one and then the other to get a few different angles on them. "Haven't seen that many bullets in a scene since I left the gang unit," she muses, laying a few of the photos out on her lap to compare the angles. "Any sign anything was taken from the church?" she asks the Captain before looking up to the others, tipping her chin up in brief greeting. "Sara Pezzini, NYPD."

"Oh, you know Simmons?" Fitz looks over toward Beast, a smile brewing. "Oh, er, Doctor Simmons. She is quite brilliant in the fields of biochemistry and…" He's shaking Beast's hand when the dots seem to connect, and he's on the verge of blurting out something that probably involves the X-Man's real name. Fortunately, time spent around Agent May seems to have taught him a few things about tact, so his smile becomes a bit more conspiratorial in nature. "Beast. Yes, well, it's certainly an honor - I, I mean, a pleasure to meet you."

Only a few things about tact, it would seem.

While Rogers commences with the briefing, Fitz withdraws the contents of the envelope, only to lose most of the color in his face. He stares at the case files for a moment, before promptly turning them upside down. "Looks like HYDRA, all right," he mutters, Hesitantly, he turns the case files over again, trying his best to learn something from them, when out of nowhere, he tosses them onto the seat beside himself and goes bolting for the restroom.

A few moments later, he comes out, hair tousled just a bit. "I'm fine," he lies, while reclaiming his seat. "Just… a bit of… air sickness, is all."

"Why would HYDRA kill a random group of people inside a church?" Midnighter asks, studying the photos closely to make sure there's nothing significant in them. "Or was it random? Was this an assassination designed to look like a random massacre with religious motives?" He tosses the photos on an empty seat and looks amused as Fitz runs out. He remembers the techie from their one meeting.

Introductions are then paused as they're told more about what's in the envelope. Beast pulls out the images and frowns, removing his glasses for a moment before placing them back on his face. He hasn't had much experience with HYDRA besides their threats of genocide. Looking over at Fitz as he runs out, he silently offers his can of ginger ale when he returns. Then, to the others, "From what I've learned of HYDRA, which is very little, granted, is that even if it looks to appear random, it has an ulterior motive. How long ago did this happen?

"No," Cap responds to Sara's question first. "But, to be honest, we're really not sure. The only witness alive was a boy who works at a laundromat across the street." Cap watches Fitz get up to go to the restroom and looks empathetic to the young man's plight, never believing the scientist's excuse for a second.

"I really don't know, Midnighter," Steve says scratching at the back of his head as he leans forward towards him. "That's one of the things I'm hoping to find out.

"Just a few hours ago. Someone from Interpol got to the kid before the locals did. Called in SHIELD immediately," Steve explains. All of these sorts of things go directly to SHIELD now.

ALEXANDRIA
EGYPT

While half of SHIELD seems to be in the paradise of Hawaii, this particular group also finds themselves someplace nice this winter. Palm trees line the sidewalks of residential neighborhoods which lead out to bright beaches where yachts bob out in the magnificent blue of the Mediterranean. If Sara and Steve ever wanted to plan a trip, it's ironic that the beauty would be ruined by a dozen religious men and parishioners all dead.

The Quinjet is safely stowed in a warehouse outside of town and al-Monsoor picks them up in a mini-van. He doesn't say much, other than he's a Professor at the University, knows a lot about the Church, and is worried that his friends are among the dead.

By the time the crew gets there, the sun is setting, bathing the city in magnificent oranges and pinks that bounce off the white walls of the architecture.

Inside, it's a freak show. Maimed bodies and blood everywhere.
Steve leans down to one of the bodies, inspecting it, making mental notes about where the gunfire started and the angle at which it pierced the man. A look of disgust is plain to see on his face. He's dressed in a plain, tight white t-shirt and jeans. His equipment is in the car.

"Well, for what it's worth, I know two things they didn't get from it," Sara offers in regard to something that might've been taken from a church. "Don't have a number for the people who might keep track of other things, though," she grimaces. In the van, she takes another look at the pictures before turning her attention to the scenery. NYPD doesn't get a lot of scenic missions around the world, after all.

A trio of D.W.A.R.F. drones are already on the move, buzzing about the bodies, inspecting them first, before moving off to collect data from the damage done to the sanctuary. These quad-copter robotic drones, designed by Fitz and Simmons, are controlled by and feeding data back to a tablet held in Leo's hands. The SHIELD engineer is dressed in a plain white shirt and tie, though the tie has been loosened, and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers, low top design, find themselves oddly juxtapositioned with his nice slacks. For now, he's waiting to find what his sophisticated, forensic analysis program will make of the drones' incoming data.

And he's not saying a damned thing.

Midnighter is, as usual, in his uniform. He's content to stay quiet and study the passing scenery as well as their driver. Once they get to the church, he wanders around seemingly idly. In fact, he's looking to see if anything catches his attention. A missing item noticeable by an unusual gap or hole in a sequence of items or lack of symmetry. Or an extra item that makes things look a bit too crowded or out of place. Or perhaps one of the bodies looks like it was disturbed instead of having been untouched from where it fell. "No police or paramedics have been here to disturb anything?"

Beast definitely admires the scenery as they land and make their way to the church. He's never been to Egypt and it's definitely on his bucket list. There won't be time for sightseeing just yet, however, and with a chuff of a sigh, he turns his attention to the church as they arrive. If he could whistle through sharp teeth, he probably would at the outside. Inside…well, his expression grows serious.

He carefully pads his way inside, dressed still in his uniform, his nostrils flaring and his ears perked up.

"I smell aftershave."

Steve watches Sara enjoy the sights of the wonderful city of Alexandria. The last time he was here it wasn't under good circumstances either. That day they came to the fabled city as victors. Who'd have thought that all these years later he'd still be fighting at least part of this war.

Fitz' scanners detect many similarities to HYDRA's M.O. Same sorts of ammunition. Same sorts of gunpowder residue. Same execution style deaths for some of the men of the cloth. There's a reason that SHIELD thinks it's HYDRA, and from the looks of it, well, it has all of the hallmarks.

"No," Cap says in response to Midnighter's question as he walks around inspecting things. "With all of the political upheaval in this country, the current administration has a tenuous relationship with the UN. Once they heard that it might be HYDRA they were eager to let the authorities handle it and told the locals to stay out. In fact, for the first couple hours, it was protected by Egyptian military. They want us to find out if it is HYDRA. And to rid them of it."

"Aftershave?" Cap asks, but by the time he regards Hank, Beast is already on the move. The smell of fine european cologne leads him back to the church near the altar, and to a crack between where the communion is held and the rest of the facade.

It's a secret passage way and whatever Hank is smelling—it went in there.

Sara moves through the church like it's a crime scene. To be fair, it is. Just…a few levels up. And as a detective, she's seen her share of them. She's crouching next to one of the bodies, getting a closer look at the bullet patterns, when Steve and Beast locate the doorway. "Cute," she murmurs, straightening and taking one more look at the grandeur of the church itself before starting after the pair.

"Ooookay, guys, we can definitely say this HYDRA." Now that he's got gear in hand, Fitz seems far less perturbed by the corpses. Easily distracted, he is. "Rounds and gunpowder residue is a match, as are the, ah, execution style bullet trajectories. All of the little details picked up by the D.W.A.R.F.s? It's a match up with most of the intel we've got." He lowers the tablet. "That, or it's someone who really wants to make this look like a 'you didn't hail HYDRA' after… party."

His words trail off when Beast seems to have caught on to something. With a few quickly entered commands, the drones fly back to their berthing place, inside a case upon the floor. Fitz locks them up and takes the case before following.

"It would not be difficult to frame them." Midnighter agrees. "Their standard techniques and equipment are available to every intelligence agency, whether they're on our side or not." At the mention of cologne and the general trend toward the altar, he heads in that direction himself.

"I didn't realize there were catacombs beneath the churches here. I suppose it makes sense though, considering that it was most likely the Crusaders who built the churches here…" and surely everyone here has seen 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. Catacombs. They were de rigeur in the 11th Century. "I don't suppose we know where this might lead," Beast asks of anyone who might be nearby. "I can't imagine something like this would be new…" although he's certainly going to glance about and see if it appears to be a new creation or if it's indeed ancient.

"Al-Monsoor?" Steve says as he looks over at his shoulder.

The middle aged Egyptian pushes his wire rim glasses farther up his nose and pats down his graying, fading hair. In a heavy accent he explains, "Many of these churches bear similar hallmarks. When these were built, it was common to not only promote relics, but hide other relics. Either for uh…how to say…transportation? Or for secrecy."

"Well," Steve says taking a breath, "If someone's still in there, they could still be alive. I'm going in."

He reaches to the crack that Beast noticed and gives it a little yank. Downward a set of ancient steps descends down into the darkness.

Beast will immediately smell the fragrance of freshly burned wood.

"Great. More relics," Sara mutters as she steps into the catacombs with the others, Witchblade sending a few tendrils along her fingers in preparation. Though she watches where she's walking, she's also probing the part of her mind where here own artifact tends to rest, seeking memories of Egypt. They're there, somewhere. The 'blade has known this continent too. Whether at the right time to be of use…that may be a different story.

"Normally," offers Fitz, "I'd say this is a task for my seekers. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to repair them after that… stuff happened at R&D station EN-23." He glances from Beast to Sara, who was also present on the freakish operation just days ago, where his seeker drones were inexplicably fried. "Guess we have to do this the old fashioned way."

Out comes a handheld scanner, a small, retro-looking affair that fits easily into the palm of his hand. It bears much of the same technology as his seeker drones, but it's range for detecting biological and chemical signatures is limited to a ten meter radius of its bearer. Of course, it will also map the way he's gone, in case the catacombs prove to be particularly complex to remember an escape route on memory alone.

"Let's hope there aren't rats," he mutters while Steve plows the way ahead.

Midnighter takes out the three parts of his staff and snaps them together before following the others. If it's dark, he pulls out a small but powerful LED flashlight. "I'd suggest being quiet but it's probably too late for that."

"If there are, let's not set them afire," Beast starts in after the others, his eyes squinting at the light. "Mind moving behind me? The light sort of messes up my vision…" at least when he's trying to see things in darkened areas. His nostrils flare as he catches the scent of burned wood, "Something's down there…or was, very recently." His voice lowers some as he moves to follow the scent.

The way down the steps is pretty uneventful. Once they reach the bottom, however, there's still enough light to see a torch. Steve takes a lighter from his pocket (an old habit of when he used to go to the bars and light a lady's cigarette) and sets the torch aflame once more.

Sara's blade does not seem to have any distinct memories of this place or any of the relics herein, except for the skull of St. Mark, but that's a different story for a different day. Did I mention it's been missing for 250 years?

Between the torch and the LED light, there is more than enough glow for everyone to see. And speaking of seeing, that's when al-Monsoor sees it.

A large archway stands in front of them them over which a thin trail takes them deeper underground. The Egyptian professor seems fascinated.

"This is remarkable," he says, shaking his head in shock.

"It reads: Here lies the Mantle of Elijah, who passed it down to his …" al-Monsoor looks as if he's struggling to find a synonym. "passed it down to his good friend…that is not what it says, but that is what it means." The man rambles a bit, and starts over. "Here lies the Mantle of Elijah, he who was taken to heaven on a flying chariot of fire, who passed it down to his protege—Elisha. All who wear it shall be closer and like unto God."

al-Monsoor looks to Steve who looks back with a serious face.

Then Steve's eyes drift down to the floor and over to poor Fitz and those low-top Chuckie's he wears. And the stones beneath his feet.

"Fitz," Steve says calmly. "Don't move."

"You're standing on top of a booby trap."

TO BE CONTINUED.

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