We descended into a dust-choked bronze-plated corridor illuminated by glass bulbs that looked like they might have been over a century old. Pipes hissed around us; the floor was covered with two inches of water. On occasion, there would be a dull explosion somewhere above us--pieces of debris would shake out from the ceiling and tumble down on our heads.
"Last parts of the bunker going up in smoke," Sumerset said. "Controlled explosion, so don't worry. Designed to take out the important stuff but leave the facility and house above mostly intact."
"All that stuff," I said. "Everything--the suits, the gear, even the Skull Formula--"
"Don't worry about it," Sumerset said. His limp had gotten worse; he had to lean against me for support. "Happens a lot in this business."
I shook my head. "What the hell do we do now, Sumerset? He knows who I am."
"We have friends," Sumerset said. "People we can turn to. Epoch, for starters--"
There was the sound of ringing from somewhere in his coat. We stopped while he fished the phone out of his pocket. When he snapped it open, he peered critically at the number on the screen.
When he brought it to his ear, he was scowling.
"This better be helpful, Inessa."
A few moments of silence passed. The scowl evaporated into something more like shock.
"Who the hell is this?"
"Sumerset?" I asked, my voice soft.
"Wait." He pressed something on the phone and put it on a ledge in the corridor; I could hear the voice on the other line, now. It was heavily modulated, rendering it unrecognizable.
"Inessa is dead," the voice said.
Sumerset spat out a series of curses. "You've got to be fucking me. Who the fuck is this?"
"A friend," the voice said. And then: "Primrose Storage Facilities. Locker 342--passcode is 9-8-1. There's something there to help you."
"Don't need the help of some deep-throat wannabe--" Sumerset began, but the voice cut him off.
"Percival Murdoch has been activated. Project King-Slayer is green lit. You've got forty eight hours."
The phone went dead. Sumerset stared at it for quite some time before he finally reached out to pick it up and delicately close it; the whole while, I was left staring at him.
"What the hell was that about?" I asked. "Who's 'Percival'? Project King-Slayer?"
"We're in too deep," Sumerset said. "Call Epoch. And Red. And Wytch." His voice was calm and measured--controlled. I could tell he was afraid. And that scared me even more.
"What is going on?" I asked.
"Percival Murdoch is a government agent," Sumerset said. "An 'Administrator'. When they're activated, they're given a single task and absolute authority to do whatever it takes to complete that task."
"What do you mean, 'absolute authority'?"
"Alpha clearance," Sumerset said. "He can do anything. Access anything. Beholden to no one. Until the task is complete, he's more powerful than the President of the United States."
"What task was he given?"
"Project King-Slayer," Sumerset said, and then he shook his head. "Dreamt up by the Pentagon a few decades ago, back when they first realized the potential danger that certain capes posed. It's a contingency plan--in case shit ever met fan."
"What sort of contingency plan?"
Sumerset centered his eyes on me. "A plan to kill Sovereign."
We emerged somewhere in the sewers; there was a hiss of pneumatics followed by the clatter of stone and brick as ancient drills burrowed their way up and through the masonry.
Once we emerged, it was easy enough to climb our way back to the streets. It was night, but even then, we had to stay discreet. I was still in the Skull uniform--but without the helmet and with Sumerset's coat, I just looked like a bulky weirdo. And Sumerset... he was just an old man. An old man that was looking sicker by the minute.
"Are you okay?" I asked him for what must have been the sixtieth time.
"Fine," he said, and then he grunted. "Still can't get in contact with Epoch?"
"No," I said. "They're not answering the number. Must be busy with something. This Percival guy--do you think--do you think that he's--"
"Working with Scourge? Yes," Sumerset said.
I grew quiet for a while as we navigated the streets. "So that means--"
"We're up against the entire US government. Yeah," Sumerset said. "Good news is that Percival probably won't pay any attention to us. He's got bigger fish to fry. You were probably just a consolation prize, a pay-off for Scourge."
"Could Scourge really do it? Could he take down Sovereign?"
"He almost managed, once," Sumerset said. "He's a dangerous bastard. People forget where he came from."
"Where did he come from?"
Sumerset shook his head, then looked down at me. He grinned, though it was half-hearted. "Yeah, I forgot. You don't know any of it--the whole 1984 thing."
"I've heard a bunch of people mention that date--"
"It ain't important right now. Let's just say--Scourge's got a history with the Skulls. A very long, very weird history," Sumerset said.
We'd reached the storage facility by now; some of the security guards gave us a look, but they didn't pester us. There were security cameras all throughout the halls; each 'locker' was actually a large room locked behind a door accessible only via a key-pad.
We found the bunker that the voice had directed us to. Sumerset punched the code in; the door unlocked with a click.
We stepped inside as the lights flipped on.
"Goddamn," Sumerset whispered.
The room was full of equipment--monitoring devices, circuit boards, soldering irons, and dozens of machines I had no way of identifying. At its center sat what looked like an immense, menacing robot--an eight foot tall suit of armor. It was colored a dark gray, and the sight of it tugged at the back of my memory.
The suit was built from interlocking pieces of armor connected via sleek gray musculature; mounted on its shoulders were two immense looking cannons--with a third cannon mounted on its left arm. Its shoulders swelled up over its 'head', which was an egg-shaped plate of glass with a cushioned interior. The thing looked like some sort of steel-clad juggernaut.
Sumerset shifted his weight off of me and moved toward the suit, approaching it with careful, slow steps. When he reached it, his fingers spread out across its chest with reverence.
"What is it?" I asked.
"It's the Arsenal suit," Sumerset said. "The government issue one. The one that could level several city blocks. The one they fire out of a goddamn orbital cannon straight down to earth into the middle of a war-zone. The one that--" And here, he sucked in a slow breath. "--the one that could, theoretically, take a hit from Sovereign and still work."
"Can you operate it?"
"Yeah. I think so. I mean, I built the original," Sumerset said. "Alright. Make yourself comfortable. We're going to make some modifications to your suit. And then we're going to try and call some more friends." He turned to me, pressing his back to the armor. "Time to save the Sovereign, kid."