Comrades and Competitors

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Omega Vision
There was something to be admired about the way Vorpal dispatched her foes. Even Kassok recognized the simple beauty with which she moved when in battle. Kassok was fast but Vorpal was pure poetry in motion. Kassok stood atop the corpse of one of Osborn's nameless thugs, his blades resting on the ends of the perfect incisions that had sliced the hapless man's heart into four neat pieces before he could even scream. He stood there for a moment and observed Vorpal running past a barrage of machinegun fire with her kusarigama's chain slicing in every direction, cutting down foe after foe.

'Clakkclakkclakk!' Kassok was shocked back to his senses when another low rent thug charged into the courtyard with his submachine gun blazing. Kassok felt something heavy slamming into his abdomen and felt a flash of pain in his gut, pain which he ignored. The mercenary's chokuto flashed out and the gun fell silent. In another moment the thug collapsed in a heap leaving Kassok and Vorpal alone in the courtyard. The compound was a large one, and in the small dusty courtyard alone there had been a dozen heavily armed guards waiting for the mercenaries to arrive. What they hadn't counted on was the flash-bomb that Vorpal used to destroy the gate and kill the first four guards. After that the rest was cake for the pair.

"So is that everyone?" Vorpal yelled out as she sheathed her weapon.

Kassok grunted in response. "Everyone on the outside." He cleaned his blades of blood with one of dozens of wet-naps he kept on his person while Vorpal sauntered up from behind. Kassok saw her in his blades, she had such a marvelous stride and her hips moved side to side like a pendulum. As she approached him her face was marked with bemusement.

"Someone got shot," she giggled, "I can count One, Two, Three, Four, Five Exit Wounds! Ah-ha-ha!" she said, imitating a certain arithmetically obsessed television vampire.

Kassok grunted again. "The wounds will heal. So much for bullet proof kevlar." Vorpal paused when she was a few feet behind Kassok and inspected him closely with her hands on her nice, full hips and her luscious lips curled thoughtfully. She stooped down to pick up one of the bullets, had Kassok been paying attention he might have gotten a wonderful view of her cleavage.

"It's not the kevlar's fault," Vorpal remarked, inspecting the bullet. Most bullets flattened on impact with a hard surface or at least deformed a bit. This one looked like it could be fit into another casing and fired again, "Looks like adamantium to me."

"Osborn's stepping up his game then," Kassok murmured, "Is it secondary or primary admantium?"

"Hold that thought," Vorpal reached for her waist and produced from her belt a small circular device that looked like a makeup mirror. Kassok groaned. Perhaps he'd never understand women.

"Is now really the best time for a touch up?"

Vorpal shot him a poisonous glare. "It's not a makeup mirror you ass." As she opened the device a small circular display lit up and the doughy face of Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin appeared. He was wearing a particularly wide grin.

"Ah Ms. Kwan you're looking well," the big man purred. Vorpal's lip curled, "And what of Kassok?" As if in response Kassok grunted loud enough for the communication device's receiver to hear him.

"He's also alive, unfortunately," Vorpal said tongue in cheek, "Not that Osborn's men haven't tried to correct that." She looked to his many exit wounds: big craters of flesh that had seemingly shrunk in the last minute since she had last inspected them. Kassok's healing factor at work.

"Did the flash-bomb work as planned?" Fisk asked, raising an eyebrow, "Did it obliterate the gate?"

"Oh yeah," Vorpal nodded, "Next time though you might want to ease the burden on your pyrotechnics budget and let Kassok throw you at the target like a bowling bowl. That weight has gotta be good for something." The Kingpin's smile faded and his nostrils flared up in indignation.

"I am not paying you to make jokes, Ms. Kwan," Kingpin growled.

"We'll get the job done, Fisk," Kassok said from the side. A small satisfied grin appeared on the Kingpin's face.

"That's what I like to hear, Kassok," Fisk said, "Do try to keep your comrade in line. This is an important mission."

"They always are," Kassok murmured.


Vorpal's kusarigama wasn't the best weapon for sneaking with a chain that rattled with each of her steps. Her sandals weren't helping either, compared to Kassok's muffled rubber soled boots they made quite a racket. As the pair moved through a narrow ill-lit corridor in the left wing of the compound's upper level Vorpal's noisy accouterments made a constant racket. Had it not been for the fact that a cacophonous alarm was blaring throughout the compound someone likely would have heard her. It was the only silver lining regarding the alarm.

Everywhere armed guards hustled to and fro in search of the pair while scientific lemmings struggled to keep working on whatever sinister research Osborn had tasked them with. When Kassok and Vorpal came to the end of the narrow corridor Kassok's arm shot out and barred the way. Vorpal had good reflexes and managed to stop herself before getting closelined by Kassok's outstretched arm.

She was about to hiss something curt when Kassok put a gloved finger to his lips and narrowed his icy blue eyes. Vorpal understood immediately: they were dangerously close to compound personnel. She tried to get on her tiptoes and peer over Kassok's shoulder and around the corner but Kassok was too tall for that to work. Instead she asked Kassok.

Her voice was a mousy whisper. "What is it?"

Kassok glanced over the corner for a brief instant and his mouth twisted from a flat line to a frown. "Scientists," Kassok said, "And a lot of them."

Vorpal nodded and arched her brow. "Any guards?"

Kassok nodded his head. "Just a few. Armed with Glocks and Uzis."

"Can you tell what the whitecoats are working on?"

"Not sure," Kassok grimaced, "But I think we can rule out a cancer cure or the solution to the energy crisis."

Vorpal grinned. "So we don't need to feel bad about killing them." She tried to proceed but Kassok's arm held firm, pushing her body back with a degree of ease that served as a potent reminder of his inhuman strength.

"We're not going to just run in and start loping heads off," Kassok growled with a low, dangerous voice.

Vorpal frowned and put her hands to her fine hips. "Why not?"

"Unnecessary waste of energy and life." Kassok's expression was unequivocal. Vorpal knew there was no use arguing.

She sighed. "What do you suggest?"

In response Kassok produced a tiny black disks from a small compartment on his belt. "A little something I stole from the Baxter building a few months back."

Vorpal's eyes widened a bit and her lips pursed as she looked at Kassok: an expression of mild astonishment. "I had no idea anyone raided the Baxter building recently."

Kassok's mouth twisted into the slightest of grins and his eyes glinted triumphantly. "Victor Von Doom is a man of discretion, and Reed Richards likes to pretend his home and headquarters is impregnable."

Vorpal flashed a smile. "Nice. So what does this thing do?"

"Cloaking device."

"So why not use it the entire time?" Vorpal raised a brow.

"Limited battery. Most likely Richards wasn't finished tinkering with it when I swiped it."

"Aww that poor little nerd. Did you shove him into a locker before leaving?"

"No. I was a little busy avoiding getting turned to paste by the Thing or burnt to a crisp by the Human Torch."

"Neat," Vorpal tapped the little disk with a sharp painted fingernail, "So how limited a battery are we talking here?"

Kassok scowled. "A few minutes if you're lucky. Then it shuts down while it recharges. That can take a few hours."

"Not Reed Richards' best work," Vorpal muttered.

"There's another catch," Kassok said, "It only projects a small field."

"Meaning?" Vorpal tilted her head.

"We're going to have to stick together." Kassok frowned.

Vorpal smiled and pulled up close to Kassok, pressing her soft body against his well muscled chest and abdomen. A lithe hand hooked around the assassin's shoulder while another slid around his waist. From her orange lips emerged a soft purr. "Interesting. If you were anyone else I'd think you were lying and just looking for an excuse to get close to me."

Kassok's expression was stern. "Just stay close and try to be quiet." He pressed a small button on the disk and it made a little beeping noise, "Alright we're invisible."

Vorpal cocked a brow. For an invisible man Kassok had a lot of color and depth. "No we're not, I can still see you and I can see my hand."

"You're in the field," Kassok growled back, "But to anything outside of the field we're as invisible as the air you breathe. Now are you ready?"

Vorpal nodded. "Lead the way, Oh Captain My Captain."

Omega Vision
The narrow corridor led out into an even narrower railed catwalk that overlooked a spacious laboratory large enough to park several semi-trucks with room to spare. Peering out from behind the cover of the cloaking field Kassok could see over a dozen men and women of varying builds, ages, and ethnicities united by their common disregard for fashion.

They wore those creepy white coats over plain clothes, mostly grays, blues, and blacks. They were all silent as they worked, their eyes and hands fixed on their work stations. All the while the trio of armed thugs watched them like guard dogs with their hands near the triggers of their guns.

From the looks of things these scientists weren't there entirely on their own free will. Kassok wasn't there to rescue them, so he shifted his attention to more pressing matters: namely the noise Vorpal made with her sandals. It wasn't a particularly blaring sound, but if someone were listening for it they'd hear it. At this point he and Vorpal were moving slowly down the catwalk with a measured march. The way their bodies were pressed together and the way Vorpal's feet moved to match Kassok's almost made it seem like they were dancing.

They were three quarters of the way down the catwalk when disaster struck. It wasn't the cloaking field's fault. It was the fault of the clasp on Vorpal's belt that secured her kusarigama. At the worst possible time the damn thing came undone. For Kassok the next 0.2 seconds seemed to last an eternity.

He couldn't move fast enough to catch the cumbersome weapon and before Vorpal herself even knew what was going on the silence of the laboratory was broken by the sound of a three pound lead weight and a six foot length of steel chain clattering down on the steel walkway. Vorpal immediately seized the handle of the weapon before the wooden shaft and blade could join the chain and weight but it was too late to preserve their stealth.

Down below the mousy scientists flashed terrified expressions and reflexively ducked their heads while the guards drew their weapons and stared up at the source of the sound. Kassok and Vorpal were still invisible, but the trailing end of the kursarigama's chain with the heavy weight was not. One of the guards started barking out orders to the scientists while a second guard frantically radioed his fellow guards to alert them to the location of the intruders.

The third guard simply opened fire with his Uzi at the catwalk, raking the area and firing in a straight line across the length of it. When his stream of bullets reached the end of the walkway a sudden spurt of red appeared seemingly out of thin air and a subdued howl of pain and rage emenated from above.

Immediately afterward, while the man was beginning to reload and his comrades were still busy taking control of the situation a disembodied hand flashed out from thin air. It was a woman's hand: delicate but strong with finely manicured orange nails. The hand moved gracefully in a twisting motion and released a trio of sharp steel darts, one for each of the guards.

They never even saw them coming. The guard with the Uzi took a hit between his eyes and never felt a thing. The guard watching the scientists was similarly put down quickly. The guard on the radio wasn't so fortunate. The dart took him in his jugular and he bled out slowly. It didn't take long for the scientists to bolt off now that they had a chance at escaping.


One of the nice things about secret paramilitary compounds was how many hiding spots there were. While Osborn's thugs buzzed through the halls and corridors like ants in a collapsed nest Kassok and Vorpal found a nice, dark, empty room on the far end of a long passageway far removed from anything of importance. The complex had once been a factory, back when products stamped with 'Made in America' outnumbered those with 'Made in China'. The little dingy room the mercenaries now occupied had probably been an office or a closet of some kind though the rank smell was enough for Vorpal to conclude it had been a bathroom at one point.

Kassok sat in the corner of the little room with his back to the wall, his legs sprawled out, and his right hand cupped to his left shoulder. Dark red blood stained his black gloves and made them a deep crimson and little trickles of sanguine formed into tiny pools on the bare gray floor. Kassok's face was inhumanly still and calm, almost as if the pain didn't register.

Vorpal stood over him with her kusarigama handy. Every few seconds she'd glance over her shoulder at the dark hallway. "What's the problem?"

Kassok glared at Vorpal. "I've been shot."

"So?" Vorpal had only recently seen Kassok take five shots to his stomach without so much as flinching so to see him impaired by a solitary hit to his shoulder was rather jarring.

"The bullet was stronger than most but not as strong as the ones the guards in the courtyard were using. It pierced my bodysuit but didn't come out the other end," Kassok explained, "If I don't remove it I risk infection."

"So remove it."

"I can't," Kassok said with a frown, "My fingers are too large. I'd end up tearing apart my shoulder trying to excavate the damned thing Maybe even cripple my left arm."

"But you'd heal right?"

The assassin shook his head. "In about six hours maybe. I need to be in fighting shape in the next ten minutes."

Vorpal sighed. "And you need me to remove the bullet?"

Kassok nodded. "You have those nice thin digits, combined with your powers they're like scalpels."

Vorpal stroked her chin while weighing the pros and cons of assisting Kassok with his bullet problem. The pro was that if she did the job right Kassok would be in fighting shape. And that would be quite handy in completing the mission. The cons were that she might hurt Kassok's shoulder more than help it and even worse that she might break a nail in the process. While she considered Kassok's request she felt her lips turn up at their corners. Kassok remarking on the precise nature of her fingers was the closest he had ever come to complimenting her looks. That alone was enough to make her agree to his request.

Omega Vision
"Alright," she said, setting aside her weapon and kneeling down in front of Kassok, "Let's see it." Kassok removed his hand and revealed the wound: a little crater of moist red scar tissue the size of a quarter. Vorpal grimaced mildly but wasn't too repulsed by the sight, carnage was a major part of her line of work and she was accustomed to it by now.

Vorpal touched a nail to her bottom lip and made a little noise with her throat. "I'll need a light." Kassok handed her a mini LED flashlight from a compartment on his belt and waited while Vorpal inspected the wound.

"Can you see the bullet?" Kassok asked.

Vorpal nodded. "Yeah, I can see what's left of it."

"Can you remove it?" Kassok asked.

"Yes and no."

Kassok squinted. "Excuse me?"

Vorpal shrugged. "I can remove it, but not without causing a shit-ton of pain. And that's a metric shit-ton by the way, which I'm fairly certain is a bit heavier than an Imperial shit-ton."

"Do it." Kassok didn't hesitate. For a moment Kassok caught something behind Vorpal's orange sunglasses: a brief flash of emotion in her dark eyes. Hesitation. But for what? For getting her fingers dirty or for causing Kassok pain. Kassok was a bit too cynical to give the latter explanation any real consideration. But hesitant or not Vorpal started digging into the wound with her long nails. Sharpened by her mutant ability the nails dug through scar tissue like if it were butter. Kassok's eyes and the corners of his mouth twitched but otherwise he seemed utterly indifferent to the pain.

"So do you have any idea what we're looking for?" Vorpal asked as she began to slide her index finger into the wound, "The Kingpin was pretty vague about our objective. I figure he must have told you something I don't know."

Kassok winced and a heavy shuddering breath rose up from his throat as his teeth grated together. "The Kingpin always keeps a few things hidden from his hired guns. It's harder to betray your employer when you don't know where he is or what he wants from you. He doesn't really trust anyone."

"You have to admire his belief in the inherent goodness of human nature," Vorpal said with a impish smile, "But how can you send a pair of mercs on a mission without telling them their objective and expect them to succeed?"

"Is this your first time you've worked for him?" Kassok asked. Though his face was still and his voice steady Vorpal could see the pain in his eyes as she dug through his shoulder. Vorpal nodded in response.

"I've worked three jobs for Fisk in the last four years," Kassok said through grated teeth, "The lesson I've taken from those jobs is that the thing that's the most difficult to attain is what Fisk wants."

Vorpal gave a thoughful look and shrugged her head. "So I should keep my eyes peeled for a diamond suspended over a shark tank surrounded by a lava moat."

"It is also entirely possible that Fisk doesn't want anything in particular from this compound and simply wants to hurt Osborn."

"It must be so difficult to be a criminal mastermind," Vorpal remarked, "Where does Fisk find the time to take a shower in between plotting and scheming?"

"You know what I can't figure out?" Kassok asked.

"What's that?"

"Why you're doing this."

Vorpal stopped digging through his shoulder and stared at Kassok blankly. "Because you asked me to."

Kassok flashed a faint, strained grin for a tiny instant. "No, I mean why help me? You don't really need me for this job. I'd make things easier, but it's not like you couldn't handle a truckload of rent-a-thugs without me. And if I died on this mission you'd get my paycheck as well as yours from the Kingpin."

Vorpal smirked as she dug her nail deep into his shoulder to budge the bullet loose. "All true."

Kassok's entire body jumped when the pain lanced through his shoulder. "Then why help me?"

"I'm greedy but I'm not stupid," Vorpal purred, "Just because I could probably do this job on my lonesome doesn't mean it's smart to attempt it. You're more asset than hindrance. For now." Moments later Kassok felt needles of pain run down his arm and saw Vorpal extracting a blood-soaked bullet from the wound, "Got it!" she exclaimed. Then her mouth closed into a little circle and her brows arched. She felt something closing around the finger still inside of the shoulder wound.


"The wound is closing up," Vorpal climbed closer to Kassok and rested her knees on his as she scanned the other wounds on his abdomen. Through little tears in the black fabric of Kassok's bodysuit Vorpal could see lightly tanned skin totally free of blemish. As if the wounds had never been there, "Wow I've never actually seen it happen."

"Trust me it gets old fast," Kassok said with a frown. It took him a moment to notice that Vorpal's bloody right hand was hovering over his chest, rolling over his pectoral muscles. Vorpal actually blushed for a tiny moment when she felt Kassok's gaze on her.

"Sorry," she said with a uncharacteristically nervous smile, "I don't have anything else to wipe the blood on."

Without smiling or scowling Kassok handed her a little white cloth which was soon turned red from the stains on Vorpal's hand. In return Vorpal handed Kassok his flashlight back. He didn't bring up the fact that this was the first time he had ever heard her apologize for anything.

"We should get moving," Kassok said after a moment of silence, "It's only a matter of time before a patrol checks here." Vorpal brushed herself off and picked up her weapon from the floor, nodding at Kassok's advice.

"Yeah. Smells like shit here anyway."


The way behind Vorpal and Kassok was littered with the corpses of dozens of Osborn's thugs. Most of them died before they could even fire a shot. Some of them were barely recognizable piles of red meat with hewn limbs and sliced up torsos while others were dispatched with cleaner strokes. Still more had succumbed to having their necks snapped cleanly. They hadn't put up much of a struggle.

By the time Kassok and Vorpal climbed down the long ladder that dropped down into the lowest chamber of the compound it seemed that Osborn had run out of men for the pair was alone on arrival. The bottom chamber was built like a bomb shelter, clearly a recent addition to the original factory complex. The walls and ceiling were bereft of any kind of paint or decoration: just bare concrete with steel girders and pillars for reinforcement.

The chamber was a spacious one with a five meter high ceiling and a floorspace large enough to accommodate a dozen shipping containers comfortably. At the end of the bland chamber was a unadorned steel blast door.

Immediately Vorpal grinned when she spotted it. "That's got to be it," she started toward the door only to be stopped by Kassok who seized her by the shoulder and held her fast.

"Wait," he growled, "This is too easy." No sooner did Kassok say that than did an arrow streak past his nose, only barely missing him due to his quick reflexes. Kassok and Vorpal wheeled around fast and looked back at the ladder that led to the upper level. Standing halfway down the shaft of the ladder was a man dressed in a garish purple costume, wielding a purple bow. The man had a fiendish smile on his face and a modest amount of dark stubble on his chin.

"I've heard about you," the man said, looking to Kassok, "You're Cossack aren't you?"

"Kassok." Kassok muttered.

The man either didn't hear him or chose to ignore him in favor of looking Vorpal over. "My my, but you are a thing of beauty. I've wanted to meet you for quite some time, Vorpal."

Vorpal smirked at the ego stroking she was receiving. "You look familiar. What's your name?"

"You can call me Hawkeye," the man purred.

"I'll call you Bullseye," Kassok growled back. He was prepared to draw his chokuto at any moment.

'Hawkeye' smiled, pleased to be recognized. "How the Hell did you know that?"

"I've got my sources," Kassok replied.

"Of course you do," Bullseye said with his smile wider than ever.

"So is there a particular reason you're talking rather than shooting at us with arrows or throwing playing cards or some other asinine trick?"

"Oh there's a reason," Kassok and Vorpal both jerked their heads back and spotted a male figure walking casually out of the open blast door at the other end of the room. The door swiftly shut firm as soon as he cleared the threshold. The man was tall and well built, with muscles like a professional wrestler to contrast to Kassok who was built like a pro swimmer. The man wore a white hooded cloak which when combined with his skull mask gave him a spectral, almost demonic appearance.

Vorpal tensed up the moment she recognized the man. Kassok glanced at her and detected the tiniest flickers of fear and apprehension in her fierce dark eyes. If Kassok shared her apprehension then he did an excellent job of hiding it behind his stoic, imperturbable expression. The big man stopped when he was just ten feet away from the pair of mercenaries and made sure they got a good look of his shield and sword.

"Vorpal, Cossack," Bullseye gestured to the big man, "Meet the Taskmaster."

"Pleasure," Taskmaster said. From the sound of the man's voice Kassok got the distinct impression that there was a big smile smile beneath the skeletal mask.

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