Lucia nodded with an intense expression on her face. He may not have realized it yet, but he was her patient and he'd do what she said. If she told him to eat and drink he'd better damn well eat and drink.
Silly principles have no place in a life or death situation.
Lucia knew she was being dramatic, but she never had a proper patient in the Pit before. She felt like this was an important moment. One she wouldn't be able to repeat.
"Yes, when she dies or becomes to old, I will lead the Zulu. A hard man like you would be welcome to us." Unathi said, remembering the beastly inmate that had killed one of his men at the Dog-Fight.
The Crips were subtly exiting the scene, headed back to their own territory, but Unathi didn't care.
"The girl is right though. If your home is nearby, we should go there, before more Aryans show up."
Orphan let out more of his gruff old man laughter, "Inviting yourself into the home of the 'Most Feared Man in All the Pit'?" Orphan spent an extra moment sizing him up, "I like your spirit kid."
He turned to see Acolyte and Lucia getting ready to head out and then turned back to Unathi, "Sure, we'll head back, but we have to take care of the survivors first. The Aryans get uptight when you kill their men. No witnesses and all that."
Orphan walked over to Lucia and handed her his pistol, "It's nasty business for sure, but you need to do it if you have any hope of surviving. You finish off the man you failed to kill with this."
Lucia looked at the gun in her hand and panicked, "But..."
"No 'buts'. It's kill or be killed down here. An unconscious target is as good a first kill as any other," Orphan pulled out an enormous bowie knife. "I'll finish off the rest."
Lucia stared down at the gun for several moments and back up at Acolyte. She was looking for a way out, but she knew she wouldn't find one.
Acolyte sees the hope in Lucia's eyes as she looks at him. 'Orphan... are you sure the gun is a good idea? In a confined space like this, the noise is going to carry. Not bringing anymore Aryans down on us is a priority, and this seems a shade counter intuitive to that.'
"I'm sure you recall the older woman's shrill cries from earlier?" Orphan shrugged. "I don't think there's a gun in the world that's louder than that banshee"
The nights in the desert were so cold a part of him feared that if he stayed still for too long he would freeze solid, and the situation wasn't helped by the shortage of winter gear caused by them having been cut off from their supply lines for so long. He dare not move a muscle though. Crouching beside the open, first-floor window enemy troops passed by outside only a few feet below him, as they fanned out to secure the square. A single shiver, or a chattering of teeth, and they would hear him. He barely even exhaled.
They all waited... waited... waited, as the Iberian company below scanned the ground before them step by step, wary of any mines or traps that might have been laid to greet them. If only they knew how long ago his platoon had run out of mines, they wouldn't have been so cautious. It was the one advantage he knew he could use. After he'd been booby-trapping every corner of every street over the last few weeks to stall the enemy's advance, they were looking down, not up.
'This is insane!' he thought, but he knew he must purge himself of all doubt. He could not afford to hesitate when the fighting started. They were outnumbered, low on ammunition, and had gone without food and sleep for the better part of three days. Unless each and every one of them made every shot count, they were all dead. Had they been able to retreat further, find a decent bottleneck and perhaps fresh supplies, their situation would be much less desperate. Those had not been their orders however. Their armor and artillery needed time to pull out of the district and regroup, or risk falling into enemy hands. If that happened, the city really would be lost. Perhaps they had already done so, and his platoon were free to fall back; or perhaps they'd already been flaked and captured. They might just all be about to throw their lives away for nothing. They had their orders though, or at least the last orders they had received before they'd lost communication. 'Hold the line! Do not let the square fall at any cost! The Tigers do not not bow to greasy Spanish Rats!'
He wasn't a Tiger though. He'd thought so, once, what seemed like years ago already. It had been so easy to be brave and fierce, when they were winning.
All the Iberian troops had entered the square now. They had needed to wait until their were none behind to escape and call in an airstrike. If they could kill them all, and quickly, the Iberian command might think there were more Tigers holding the area than had been anticipated. Perhaps they would take time to rethink their strategy, which would give the Captain and his men some respite.
He gave the signal to the other men in the room, and primed his own flash-bang grenade, as all the others did the same with the one they'd been rationed. They threw all in unison, from all sides of the square, before ducking back down and covering their eyes and ears.
In the dark the effectiveness of the grenades was maximised, and the Iberian men screamed and stumbled.
"OPEN FIRE!" he yelled, shouldering his battle rifle and slotting a single shot through the head of a man below.
Col. Lee woke with a start, slumped over his desk. He clenched his fists, half to stop his hands shaking and half out of frustration with himself.
'You'd stopped having the dreams dammit! Why now? why must it be now after so long?'
He took a deep breath to calm himself. Times like this would be when he'd used to head straight for the whisky cabinet, to spend a few hours drowning the darkness, so that he might achieve at least some sleep in peace. Not now though. He'd brought none with him to RACDI-Alpha, not daring to tempt himself. Besides, there was too much at stake to go down that path now. He must find the strength to overcome within himself, just as he had before.
It was still the dead of night outside. By the morning, he would be composed as ever, ready to do his duty.
"There's actually a list of reasons I don't go for drugs, but we don't exactly have time for that right now. Your only concern should be finding which of the wardens is supplying meth. If you do that, I can probably even get you some vodka. Until next time my son."
With that, Fletcher rejoined the entourage and departed for the staff elevator. The Mohawk'd Jack peered over Travis's shoulder "No steds! Yo what the fuck man! Ever since that Nazi got killed by the crips I haven't been getting my shit!"
Travis turned to him with a look of disgust on his face "Don't you talk to me like that you punk bitch I'm the Dragon! The top dog, the gang is named after me. Now apologise you sted pumping faggot!" Jack slowly backed down and lowered his head.
"Sorry Dragon. But what are w-"
Jack was interrupted by Travis. "We ain't gonna do shit until we got this all sorted out for the priest, you heard what he said. He can get us all that, and vodka too. We could finally big ourselves up in this shithole, these fucking zipguns don't hack it anymore."
Travis was about to give some orders to his men when Clyde came running up. "Boss, boss, that fucking kid sold us out."
Fury spread across the faces of the three men, as Travis spoke with white hot anger "What? To who!"
"I dunno, one of my Aryan boys said he was going into their turf after some black."
"What the fuck? Did you not find him?" Travis replied.
"No I came straight here, figured you wanted to know." There was a long awkward pause as Travis began breathing heavily and making hand gestures like he wanted to speak, but was so overcome with rage he couldn't. Eventually he spoke up.
"So... what you're telling me... is that... instead of finding that little prick and figuring out who he gave our money to... you just ran back here to tell me, instead of taking ANY initiative?"
Clyde stuttered and stepped back "Well I figured you'd want to know-"
"YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" Travis punctuated his sentence with a punch to the side of the head. "Why wouldn't you just keep chasing after him!" Clyde held his head in pain and was about to speak when Travis hit him again and shouted "Y'know what, it doesn't matter. Scar, Jack, Clyde, go find this dumb motherfucker and bring him back alive. Find out who he gave our money too cos I doubt he kept it for himself. And Clyde, don't fuck up this time." The men were on their way as The Dragon stormed his way back into his cell.
Acolyte shrugged and backed off. He could tell Orphan was deflecting him. He could see the improvised father/daughter relationship between these two, and it wasn't his place to get in the way of that. Lucia was probably the first truly innocent person he'd met in this place, but Orphan was right in that if she hoped to survive, that had to change. Even he had forsaken his vow of Pacifism to get by here.
He was relieved to notice his bleeding had slowed down some, and though he felt faint, he felt serviceable. As long as he didn't push it, he could wait until the wound was stitched.
Unathi observed the scene as the girl held the gun with shaking hands.
"Orphan is right girl. People with no killer instinct don't live long in the Pit. If you were my daughter, I would have you do it with a rock."
His voice was not taunting or cruel, but merely factual. He was speaking the triuth he had been learning since the literal day he was born.
Orphan had already finished off two of the others while Lucia continued to stand there, trembling. Her thoughts were vacant, or at least, she was trying to make it so. After several more moment of hesitation Orphan put a hand on her should and whispered in her ear, "You were never meant to be in this place, killing this man, but this is who you must become now. Lucia must die if you are to live."
Lucia's gaze slowly made it's way to Orphan's face, "But.... I.... I don't--"
"No 'buts'. I'm sorry Lucia. This is how it has to be," He positioned himself behind her and put both hands on her shoulders trying to comfort her as much as a de facto father could. "You need to bury Lucia. Bury her deep down and shield her eyes from this ugly reality. You must let your other self do this thing. You must awaken your other self."
Orphan didn't want to do it, but he didn't have any other choice. He was giving her the instructions he himself received when going through his training. He had to become "Orphan" to survive.
Lucia's trembling began to slow, "Who is... who is my other self?"
Orphan smiled, "Kusanagi," Orphan had a soft spot for mythology and figured the "God Slayer" would be an adequate title. "You are Kusanagi, and this is your prey. He would kill you given the chance, so you must kill him."
Lucia closed her eyes and exhaled sharply...
I will come back for you...
She squinted as hard as she could trying to keep back the tears as her finger slowly pulled the trigger until....
A few moments passed and she opened her eyes. There was blood everywhere.
Orphan patted her shoulders and walked towards the two other men, "Come on, girl. We need to get back before more of them show up."
She stood there for several moment, no longer trembling... just staring at the corpse at her feet. She looked up at the others and nodded, "Yeah... let's get out of here."
Nikolai rarely slept more than a handful of hours at a time. Sleeping was not where he was most at peace. When he fell, the darkness behind his eyes would ignite in swirling crimson, and through the roaring maw of the fire he would hear the screams. The screams of the woman he knew and yet didn't, and the screams of the boy who was him and yet wasn't. The only solace Nikolai found was through violence. Only the pounding beat of his fists on the punching bag could drown out the sounds of the screams, and the only water that could gutter out the flames came from the sweat of his own brow. Inside the skin tough as leather, insides his fortress of unfeeling rage, Nikolai could rest.
The sound of laughter gave him pause, and he looked out of his chamber to see three Pack Dogs, new, low ranking initiates, cackling at the dead body they were dragging. The laughter stopped abruptly, and they shrank back just like all the other creatures in The Pit did at Nikolai's approach. Their victim couldn't have been more than 15, a girl, a brand on her bare back to signify her status as a Pit Slave for the Arctic Wolves. Her throat had been slit. Nikolai guessed that part had come last, after the rest of it...
"Why?" The one word was sufficient.
What looked to be the boldest of them stepped forward, a leering grin returning to his face.
"She were always a feisty one. Would never just keep 'er trap shut an' work like most o' the rest, screamin' an' bitin' an' all sorts, like a wild-cat. So we let's 'er go see, to see if the Cat 'ud give us Dogs a good chase, an' she did. Hunt lasted 'arf the night."
"We've gotta savour each one that comes along though." followed another "Can't afford too many hunts, so we decided to make the most of it, and all have a go on her before we finished it. Well, all except Drooler here..." he pointed to the wide eye'd one who hadn't spoke up. "He likes to have his go afterwards, if you catch my meaning."
Nikolai had thirsted for blood many times, and killed so many creatures that he would long ago have forgotten their faces if he'd ever cared to remember. In these three though, he saw an appetite that he himself had never shared. The Boy on the farm had slaughtered creatures long before that, and that was all the killing was to him.
The first one who had spoken was the one who chose to break the silence. "S'not like a Cat's worth any to a Dog is it? I'll bet you've 'ad loads."
"You are a Dog." Nikolai confirmed, the corners of his mouth twitching into what might have looked like a smile. "You are the Alpha of this little Pack yes? The strongest and the fiercest? The others do just as you tell them, yes?"
"I dare say it's true!" the Dog replied.
Nikolai did not need to wait to hear any more. With one hand, he reached out and grabbed the other Dag by the neck, and tore out his throat effortlessly. The other two were too petrified to scream as their friend crumpled.
"You are Dogs." He told the other two "A Dog knows nothing of sport. A dog fights to live, or because Master tells him too. You are Dogs, sport is for Men."
The two Dog's whimpered and nodded.
"Your Pit Slaves will eat well tomorrow. You will butcher your friend and feed him to them. Then you will know what you are. You are meat. Everyone is meat. Death is meat. Does meat make you laugh? Does meat make you hard?"
They shook their heads.
With that, Nikolai retired back to his cell to resume his violent meditation, leaving them to clear away their own mess.
As they moved towards Orphan's cell, Acolyte brought up the rear. Walking had made the bleeding pick up slightly, and he didn't want Lucia to notice. He kept one hand pressed against the wound, and swept the other over his bald head. Stubble was beginning to raise itself. It would be time to shave his head again, soon. But finding a good razor around here was a nightmare.
Korovitch was dreaming, but his dream didn't dare muddle up the memory.
The Iran/Iraq war. He, and the eight remaining men under his command are holed up in a single floor, single room sandstone building in the middle nowhere. Advancing on the building from all sides are roughly thirty Iraq troops. Some from what remained of their battered standing forces, but most are mercenaries, like himself. The men under his command have been trained by him personally, and they have become a well oiled machine. Even so, they are near breaking point, but he must continue to ride them into the dirt if they're to survive. Most of his men are at the windows, armed mainly with bolt action rifles, that might once have been used for hunting. A couple have AK-47s. Two of his men are at the door, waiting and armed with semi-automatic Beretta shotguns. He, himself is cradling an MP5 taken from the corpse of an enemy Captain the previous day. In the center of it all, he stands, barking orders. 'They draw near. You two, grenades!'
Pins pulled, grenades thrown. Several seconds later, an explosion, intermingled with screams. The men duck reflexively away from their windows as the men on the side that had been hit with grenades shower the building with assault rifle fire. Luka hears the futile thudding of rounds on the sandstone wall. He sees a few shots pass through the window, and the grit and flecks of sandstone that pepper his men. 'Fire.' The two men stand, side by side, and squeeze off a single shot each while the enemy reloads. 'Enemy wounded,' says one. The other, 'kill confirmed.'
On it goes like this, but in the last few seconds the enemy break into a sprint. His own men fire freely. Two go down with bullet wounds, and lie twitching. A third is wounded superficially, but in turn, they take around nine more of the enemy. Just before entry, the enemy throws in grenades, and his men toss them back out with trained calmness. One, at the less crowded end of the room, is killed by one that must have been cooked. The shrapnel scratches his men but there are no major injuries. The remaining twenty or so of the enemy crowd round the building. Some attempt to come through the door. The reports of the two shotguns going to work is deafening. Smarter ones crowd the windows and fire into it. A couple are brought down by rifle fire before two of Korovitch's own men are mowed down. The windows are their biggest threat, and could turn it into a slaughter house. But they had prepared for this. Without waiting for his command, two of his men seized the rather potent Molotov cocktails they had made the previous night. The men crowding the windows are caught in the wave of hungry flame. Some of the men begin to push through the door. Luka retaliates with bursts from his SMG, catching a couple of men in the throats. One of his men at the door goes down in the enemy's onslaught. His remaining two men are firing endlessly. There must be less than ten of the enemy left now, unable to all get in at once through the door. Suddenly, one is up in Luka's face. A Nepalese Gurkha soldier that might once have served the British. There is a hungry look in his eyes. Killing Luka, the mercenary Captain that had brought the Iran forces victory on numerous occasions and so aggravated the Iraq army would gain him glory. In his hands is one of their deadly blades, a Kukri. With the flames outside, it flashes through the air. The MP5 is empty and futile. There is hot and cold, screaming pain all down Luka's face. He throws himself backwards, landing hard on his back. The wound, vast and brutal though it is, is below his eyes and he can still see. Thrown back, he has time. As the Gurkha dives at him, he raises an arm and catches the wrist with the machete in it. The other draws his Makarov. At such close range, the Kevlar vest does nothing to prevent the bullet from perforating the man's gut. Kicking the body off him, Luka fires the Makarov from his position on the floor, as the remaining men poured in.
In the end, they won. Him and two of his men who survived. As he was carried out for medical attention, two things they could not pry from him: The gun that had saved his life, and the exotic blade that had scarred him.
Travis sat alone in his cell, checking out the other cards on the table from the game earlier so he could cheat. He thought to himself how he could figure out which warden would be dealing to the inmates, and just why would the priest want him to stop it. He didn't see any problem in dealing drugs, it was a consistent cashflow, it kept inmates docile and it kept control. His thoughts were interrupted by his men dragging in the boy from before, bloodied and bruised, not able to even stand on his own two feet. They threw him to the ground before Travis's feet.
"Good job boys" he said to his men before turning his attention to the kid. "Now, who do you think you are stealing from the almighty Dragons?" He spoke oddly calmly.
The boy tried to speak and some blood dribbled out of his mouth. "I d-didn't steal anyth-" he was cut off by the three dragons kicking him repeatedly.
"Don't lie to me you little pissant!" Travis grabbed the boy by the hair and made him look at him.
"I'm not lying I swear, I still have the money, take it" the boy pleaded. Travis nodded to Jack and he searched the kid's pockets. Indeed, he did have their winnings.
Travis sat there puzzled before Clyde asked "Well why the fuck were you out in Aryan turf chasing some black chick?"
Travis turned to Clyde "Wait you didn't question him before you beat him? None of you?" The men looked around awkwardly and didn't answer their leader. "Y'know Clyde you are really starting to piss me off lately, today you have been nothing but a disappointment." Clyde had fear written across his face. The Dragon was unpredictable, and had already killed one of his lieutenants already today. Travis looked down upon the broken and battered boy "You should answer his question though, why were you in Aryan turf?"
The boy spoke fast and stuttered his words, "I... I saw a black lady with a metal arm wander in, I wanted to know why a black lady would go into Nazi turf so I followed her, I saw the Orphan and some bald guy and some crips kill lots of Aryans, and and I think the top Zulu guy there too."
"Are you sure, that's exactly what you saw! The Orphan, Crips and Zulu kill the Aryans. How do you even know what The Ophan looked like?"
"It was him, definitely him, I was there when he saved some girl from the Arctic Wolves, she was there too."
Travis smiled and patted the boy roughly on the shoulders. He finally had some leverage over the other gangs, and his peace with the Aryans could become a full blown partnership, or he could blackmail the zulus, the possibilities ran through his mind. "Good work boy good work." Travis smiled and gave the boy some hope of life before slowly tightening his grip around his neck. He made sure to go excruciatingly slow to maximise the pain as the air left his lungs. Eventually the boy's body went limp and Travis dropped him like a rock.
"Boys, this little birdy has given us exactly what we need. Jack, get as many of the boys together as you can, we're going into Aryan turf."
Despite the absurd amount of detours necessary to avoid any detection, it didn't take more than thirty minutes to reach Orphan's cell. It was a larger space, likely meant to house four or five prisoners back in the days when the prison's layout was more structured. It wasn't the prettiest sight, but it was tidy if nothing else. Linen sheets were suspended on wires to form makeshift rooms. Orphan put these up once he had taken Lucia under his wing. A young girl needed her privacy.
Lucia seemed to have calmed down since they left Aryan territory and led Acolyte by the shoulder into her room. After sitting him down she went to grab a bucket, some clean water and some soap, "This is going to sting a bit," She said as she began cleaning his wound. "Once I have this stitched up we need to get you something to eat. If you aren't properly fed it will take longer to recover."
Orphan watched as the two disappeared behind the curtain and signaled for the Zulu boy to sit down at a small wooden table in the center of the room, "Make yourself at home, kid," Orphan wandered to the far wall and started rummaging through a crate. "Want something to drink? I've got beer... just don't tell your friends. Shit's worth its weight in gold down here," Orphan couldn't help but chuckle.
As Lucia cleaned his wound, Acolyte looked up at Orphan from where he sat. 'Wow, beer. Can't remember the last time I sat down with a cold one. Before the temple took me in, for sure.'
The Zulu queen began to turn in her sleep as her dreams of home morphed, the way they always did. He memories of innocent childhood gave way to the sharp harsh truth of reality long past.
The battle was raging all around her. The new government had surrounded the Zulu's last part of the jungle and closed in with a tight circle formation, neutralizing the possibility of the Bull Horn strategy. The cover of the plants and trees gave the Zulu the advantage, but the corporate soldiers had more guns and people to use them.
War cries, death rattles, gunshots and explosions tore through the jungle. Bongani and her group were moving through the canopy of the trees, above the ground; jumping from branch to branch. They finally found the mortar team that they were hunting, desperately trying to repair the jammed tube. Bongani gave the signal and the Zulu dropped from the trees above, bringing their spears down into the bodies of the corporate soldiers.
With that done, Bongani set a trap. She tied the remaining mortar rockets together in a bundle, and suspended them from a tree branch, roughly eight feet above the ground. She tied the string to a vine and wrapped the vine taught around a rock on the opposite side of the path the mortar team came through. When reinforcements came to check on the team, they would drop the mortars on themselves.
The Zulu warriors fell back, toward the center of the jungle to reunite with the commander. As Bongani flew through the trees, she thought she saw a family of monkeys fleeing in the opposite direction. But in that moment, a burst of gunfire flew past her, causing her to miss her jump and fall to the jungle floor below.
They had been spotted by a squad of soldiers with automatic weapons. She scrambled under the roots of a large tree and waited for them to run past her. But they didn't do that. They began canvasing the area. She knew her warriors would be moving into position above them, so she prepared herself to strike.
It seemed like hours, lying in the hot mud, but she knew it could only have been a few minutes. She heard the signal, a bird call that no real bird made, and she crawled out from the tangled roots into the grass. The Zulu dropped onto thier prey with perfect aim, but they were outnumbered. Three soldiers remained when the attack was done. They fired wildly, panicking like cowards. Bongani sprang and shoved her spear so far into his back that it protruded from his chest. The other two managed to shoot three of her warriors before they were taken out with thrown spears. The first two that were shot had died instantly. The third was hit in the gut and bleeding. He would not be able to continue. Bongani nodded, letting him know he had done well, then she put him out of his pain, stabbing him in the heart.
There were no words or ceremony for those who died in the heat of battle because there was no time for it. Without wasting anymore time, the Zulu princes and her men scaled the trees and vanished into the jungle.
Unathi declined the beer.
"I don't drink. It dulls my reflexes and my judgment." he said with an ever so slight tone of disapproval.
As he eyed the merciless older man, he couldn't stop thinking of the stories he had heard, and the things he had seen. this man was one of the few in the whole Pit that Unathi was not sure he could kill in a one on one fight. But why?
"Tell me Orpahn. Why do you fight like you do? People say you are as good as the monster called 'Nikolai'. What do you fight for, how did you get your training? Men like you and I don't just "happen"."
The con man had been going through personnel files for the last hour. The number of Wardens who could be supplying drugs for one reason or another was somewhere around 94 by his count. Disgruntled employes, past affiliations, people in need of extra cash; this prison had them all, and it was giving them security passes and guns. For the first time, Fletcher was beginning to understand why Col. Lee Jin was such a grumpy bastard. He was supposedly guarding society from thousands of horrible criminals, and his fellow protectors were about as reliable as, well, Fletcher himself.
"Who are you..." he said to himself, as he browsed the files on his laptop in his personal quarters.
The drugs themselves weren't a problem to Fletcher, but whoever was supplying had to be supplying more than just the meth. That meant they were a competitor, and when it came to capitalism, Fletcher was in the major leagues. He knew that if the drugs continued, all of his customers that used them would turn all their business towards the dealer to feed their habit. Fletcher had done something similar when he was working with stocks in Chicago. He was relying on that dumb-fuck gang-banger to tell him where the dope was coming from. If that fell through, things would get personal.
Lucia sighed at Orphan and began threading a needle for Acolyte's stitches, "A bit of booze might actually help you calm your nerves. This is going to hurt."
Orphan chuckled at Unathi, "But this stuff'll also loosen you up," He wobbled his arms a bit for emphasis. "Doesn't hurt as much when you take a shot to the face." He grinned as he tossed the beer in Acolyte's direction.
"What the fu--- No throwing shit in here! I'm performing surgery!"
Orphan clapped his hands laughing and sat down at the table with Unathi, "I've seen Azrael's dog fight a few times. He's good. Maybe better than good. When I'm gone there's no doubt in my mind he'll take my place," Orphan said this without a hint of remorse. "There's only one reason why men like me fight like they do. Survival. In a place like this that's all you've got. I learned early on that in order to stay alive you've got to stay ahead," Orphan leaned in closer. "You've got to be willing to do anything. Anything in order to survive. Up until recently I excelled at that, but now that I've taken Lucia in people around these parts are starting to see me for who I am. A man."
Orphan leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, "There comes a time when you have to ask yourself, 'Is this worth it'? Is it worth living like this. Doing these things. Simply so you can continue your existence? There was a time that'd I'd have said, 'fuck yes'. But these days..." Orphan's lowered his voice so that it didn't leave the space between him and Unathi. "These days it's harder to distinguish between Orphan and the man that came before him. I had forgotten about the world above. Forgotten that innocence and good still exists somewhere out there. Lucia... Lucia came from that world. She belongs in that world."
Orphan paused for a good ten seconds scratching his beard and then tilted his head inquisitively, "What do you think your mother values most? You or your people?"
As Lucia readied to pierce Acolyte's skin she figured she'd break the ice, "So... if you don't mind me asking... what's your story?"
Sticks found it hard to distinguish his day dreams from his actual dreams. It's as if they existed in tangent. It's as if... he had complete control over his subconscious mind. This night's dream happened like all those that came before it. Sticks stood at the top of the Pit... looking down at all of the ants scurrying bellow. While the sight brought him great pleasure it was only the prize. What he valued more was the journey. The ingenuity and risks it took to get there. And the sorrow of those that he trampled to make it there.
This dream ended like all the others. Sticks turns from his subjects and walks down a twisted hall where he enters and office. Sitting behind his desk is Lee, who has a revolver to his temple, sobbing. As Stick's grin grows Lee's finger squeezes the trigger tighter... until...
The final image of the dream is Sticks staring at himself in a mirror with the blood and brain matter of the once great Colonel splattered across it. If Sticks ever had wet dreams this would be one of them.
"My mother and I both value the Zulu as a whole above ourselves and each other. I lover her because she is my mother, and she loves me because I am her son, but if we had to choose between one -another and our people, it wouldn't even be a choice. We are strong because we fight for the survival of the Zulu. Which is why I don't believe you when you say you are slipping. Now that you have something to fight for other than yourself, you should be fighting even harder."
Unathi couldn't help but wonder what would happen to his people if both he and his mother died. What he had not told Orphan was that the survival of either him or his mother, was of great importance. If one were to die, it would be an accepted tragedy. But if they were both killed, the Zulu would, in all likely hood, die away into the pages of history. They would be reborn from the pit, just as Unathi himself was, or they would be nothing.
Orphan nodded slowly while listening to Unathi. He had conviction. A lot of it, "I appreciate the enthusiasm kid, I really do," Orphan's smile turned into a frown as he leaned in close enough to whisper into Unathi's ear. "There's a storm coming. A storm the likes of which this prison has never seen. A storm I don't think I'll see the end of," Orphan leaned back into a normal sitting position. "I've lived a long life. A longer life than I deserve. When I go down I'll do so in peace," Orphan paused. "That is assuming I know that girl is safe."
Orphan looked down and exhaled sharply. After a brief moment he looked Unathi in the eye, "You must know the story of your own birth. I'm sure you've heard it a thousand times. Everyone in the Pit knows the story. Your father gave his life. Your mother risked hers. Your mother might talk a big game about the spirit of the Zulu or whatever, and she's to be commended for it, but I know parents. Your mother would do anything for you. She would do anything for your survival... not her own. That's what makes her different from the rest of the lot and why you mustn't disappoint her."
Orphan stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and leaned on the back legs of his chair, "Do you plan to stay in this filthy hole in the ground for your entire life? Don't you want to know what it's like up there?" Orphan smiled, "If you're curious you could always ask me... or the girl."
Acolyte caught the beer, twisted the cap off. Taking a swig, he said, 'and what would this Dog be doing when he took your place? Honestly, I'd take your place if it didn't mean having to become a renowned killer of men by necessity. The whole peaceful monk thing, you understand.'
In response to Lucia's question, he said, 'well, I'm Dutch originally. But after a falling out with my family, I ended up in China. My life was saved by a member of an unorthodox Taoist order, and things went from there. I learned various philosophies from the Oriental side of the pond, and also became one of the most quantifiably dangerous men in the world. The idea being that although I can do these things, I will choose not to. Which is the simplified version, but we're not here for a theology lecture. So... yeah, I guess you could say I'm well traveled. It helps that I have an ear for languages. I can speak perfect Dutch, English and Mandarin Chinese. And I've even picked up a little Zulu in passing while I've been here.'
To highlight this, to Unathi, he said, '+long days and pleasant nights, brave warrior.+'
At Orphan's somewhat morbid speech, he said, 'if you do pass on, I'll do my best to help the girl here. I think I have the knack of getting by under the radar in this place.'
Just as Acolyte proudly showcased his Zulu Lucia made the first "incision", "That's quite a story. You almost sound like an epic hero or something," Lucia giggled. "I suppose I'd know about such things. I'm from New Troy after all... we have passages from The Iliad in our city's declaration. Have you ever been to that part of the world? It is... it... was... beautiful."
Lucia fell silent and temporarily stopped stitching Acolyte's wound.
'Oh yeah, it sounds very heroic until you get to the part that the whole reason I was in China and even needed saving--' he stops himself, and starts absent mindedly nursing his beer while Lucia stitches the wound. He'd almost come right out and said he'd been on the needle for most of his adolescence and a large part of his adult life. The heroin junkie to end all heroin junkies. That monk had found him spazzing out in an alleyway, foaming at the mouth. And he'd done some unpleasant things in his pursuit of the next big fix. He was just glad the girl wasn't insisting he have a booster shot or something. He hadn't even seen a hypodermic needle in years, and with good reason.
The question was, why had he just been on the verge of spilling his guts to people he'd only just met? He supposed that it was to be expected. These were the first people he'd bonded with since getting dumped in the pit. He'd almost developed relationships with various people he'd defended since his arrival, but the vast majority had been ambushed when he wasn't around.
Lucia snapped out of her daze, "Hey, don't worry about it. I have a bad habit of prying," She tied up the loose end of his stitch. "Good as new. Now lay down and rest. I'll get you something to eat."
Nursing soldiers back to health, now that's something she was used to. Something she was good at. But what about Kusanagi? What would she grow accustomed too? Saving lives... or taking them?
Lucia came back with a can of soup and metal mug of water, "Once you're done with this you need to get some sleep. At this point the only thing you can do to improve your condition is rest."
When Unathi was a child, his mother had told him about Africa, and how beautiful the world was. The stories of lions ruling the plains, and monkeys roaming the jungles had been his bedtime stories.
"Tell me...what does sunlight feel like?" Unathi asked.
His tone was different than his usual sternness. He sounded like a blind man asking what colors were.
Orphan looked down and raised his eyebrows for emphasis, "Warm," He glanced over at Lucia and Acolyte who looked to be all stitched up. After the day's excitement it would be best to get some rest. "Tell you what kid, I'll tell you all you want about the outside world tomorrow. Until then... this old man needs his beauty sleep."
Orphan pointed to an old futon Unathi could use and walked to the far wall where he slumped down in his kot, "Lucia."
"We're going to take care of that hair of yours in the mornin'. No 'buts'," Orphan proclaimed with a smile.
Nikolai stood at his Master's right hand, in what Azrael liked to call the Chamber of Judgement. It was one of the more cavernous spaces in the Northern Quarter, large enough for more than 50 Inmates to congregate comfortably. Along the walls ran grizzly tapestries, symbols and ceremonial weapons of other gangs the Wolves had exterminated since Azrael first rose up to glory, hung up from lines of human bones. The gangs that had been of the highest status were hung the closest to where Azrael sat, on his raised, crudely-cut throne of ice. Before now, Nikolai had taken no notice of such spectacle, but Azrael was trying to teach him differently.
"To prove your strength through fighting is only half the battle." he had been told "To lead a Pack as vast as ours you must have a certain theatricality, only through this can you become a true legend. Your enemies must believe that there is no level of cruelty you will shy from if they cross you, and even then you must continue to exceed their darkest imaginings. As well as this, the more bloodthirsty of your subjects must be kept satisfied, or they will abandon you for others who might fulfill their urges."
and so Nikolai attended his master, dressed in his Wolf Skins, the snarling visage of it's head covering his own. Azrael was dressed almost identically, except for Nikolai's furs being a dull grey, and Azrael's a pure, luminous white.
The victim's were varied. Some were Wolves themselves who had in some way defied or embarrassed the Pack. Some where members of other gangs caught on their turf. Some were Pit Slaves who'd tried to escape or harm their Overseers. None were particularly important though. That is, until they came to the main event...
The woman was as attractive as a denizen of The Pit could hope to be, blonde and fair skinned. She had to be dragged forward, and when she was let go her legs buckled under her. Clearly, she had been beaten extensively, but whoever had done so had been commanded to leave her face alone. Azrael required that those he passed judgement on remained expressive enough so they could be seen to show fear. With this woman however, her eyes narrowed in a steely defiance.
"The condemned will state her crimes to the court." proclaimed Azrael, his voice seeming to carry without effort.
The woman responded by spitting at his feet. Which was met by howls of fury from all present. The two guards who'd brought her proceeded to kick her savagely on the legs and abdomen, until she was curled up on the floor shaking, her breathing ragged with pain.
"You will address the court." Azrael continued calmly "Your defiance has no purpose. You are already dead, and we have the time and inclination to cause you as much pain as necessary until you speak."
The woman mumbled something, directed down at the floor.
"You will speak louder." said Azrael, now with a hint of impatience. He signaled Nikolai, who without hesitation moved towards her. Yanking her hair back she faced Azrael on his throne, he stamped down hard on the back of her leg, feeling her shin bone snap in two as if it were nothing.
"That's better!" exclaimed Azrael, as her scream echoed around the chamber. "Now, tell us why you have been brought here." Azrael already knew the answer, everyone present did, but Nikolai knew his Master needed to hear them confess, to prove that no-one could defy him in his presence.
Her confession came, at last. She'd been a proxy for the Piranha's, an old and prestigious gang who'd had been the largest presence in The Pit before the rise of the Arctic Wolves. They were one of Azrael's oldest enemies, and although the war between them had long since burned down to embers, the Piranha's were far too proud to admit defeat, and were always trying to find ways to undermine Azrael's rule.
The girl's mission had been to screw her way into the inner circle of one branch of the Wolves who currently held a once key and coveted piece of Piranha territory on the mid-levels, whereupon she was supposed to kill the Pack-Leader, destabilizing the territory as his underlings battled among themselves to take up the mantle, giving the Piranha's a chance to take it back.
The congregation jeered and spat at her. Azrael waited patiently, before holding up his hand, upon which silence fell at once.
"For many years now I have tolerated the Piranha's delusions of grandeur. Their continued defiance has amused me, and served as a reminder to more relevant threats as to just who the Pack vanquished to win our glory. Now, my patience is at an end. They will be exterminated, and the Piranha banner will be laid at my feet the next time we convene here, weighed down by the skulls of their leaders. As for you..." he addressed the girl directly now "You must serve as a message of what awaits those who try fool a Wolf..." he turned to Sharptooth on his left. "Sharptooth! She tried to win the favour of our men with her body. Well, if she's willing to lie with one Wolf, why not another? Use her in whatever way you she fit, for as long as she lingers. When you're done with her, see that her remains are hanged, naked, from the northern end of The Hive."
Sharptooth didn't waste any time in having his men drag the woman away, insults flung at her all the way out of the chamber.
"This session is over." Azrael informed the crowd, standing now and holding him arms out wide as if to gather in their cheers and applause "The Fury of the Pack is Unmatched!"
They left through the other end of the pipe and said goodbye to Hanna on their way out. The old woman cursed her very existence before she closed the hatch to the other side and lay in her bed. She had more work to do - more weapons to repair and prepare and more insolent little girls running around to face. All she ever wanted was her own life, but that could never happen to a woman like herself.
Iron-Fist saw the gang affiliated women leave and run off to their respective areas. They all moved through different vents and streets to avoid being spotted together.
"Mafia is one level down.". Iron-fist told the two women. "I trust you can pull it off youself?". She asked Delilah and Jenna.
"Yes Ma'am". They both answered in unison.
"Good. I'll be waiting for you".
It was less than an hour later when Jenna walked a blindfolded, tied up twelve year old through some alleys to the Dragon's lair. Delilah confirmed that they all left their base, and so it was easy to make the switch now. Jenna pushed the boy forward when they got through the front entrance. She found a small pipe protruding from the nearby concrete wall and sat the boy next to it. She handcuffed one of his hands to the pipe and left him there. Delilah hoped he will leave this situation unharmed, and said a prayer before departing.
Iron-fist slowly walked into the main entrance and proclaimed her destination, claiming that she saw men taking away one of their boys.
"I couldn't stand by and watch. The boy was so young... I had to tell you". Iron-fist explained herself before the guards. They lowered their handguns and let her in.
Esperanta was happy to hear Ilene's voice again. She explained herself to her and the boy's mother, claiming that it was the dragons who stole away the boy to use him as an errand boy... or worse.
The response would be fierce, but the family had to compose a hit-unit before setting off. Iron-fist greeted them farewell, and said she hoped they could cooperate in the future more.
Acolyte woke very early in the morning. He walked down the tunnel at a relaxed pace. He never slept more than six hours a night. His mind wouldn't let him. It plagued him with nightmares. From his childhood, mostly. Some were memories of his addiction, too. He was retracing back to the vent where his remaining food was. He intended to restock as soon as possible, so it couldn't hurt to share what was left with Orphan and Lucia. He'd spent the night in their cell, on a thinly padded mat. Lucia had been embarrassed that they couldn't give him anything more comfortable, but he'd just smiled and explained that for a long time, he'd slept on such mats during his time with the monks. If anything, it was nostalgic. He'd neglected to mention that he'd grown comfortable sleeping in vents, because occasionally his blackouts (which neither of them knew about) attacked him in the night, yanking him from his nightmares in a strange and terrible sleep paralysis. The sensation of wakefulness but being unable to move was horrific beyond words, and the vents offered privacy in which to have this vulnerability if it so happened to pop up.
As he walked, he began to sing quietly, a pre-collapse song that often rang in his head during his more melancholy moods.
'Under the bridge, downtown... is where I drew some blood.
Under the bridge, downtown... I could not get enough.
Under the bridge, downtown... forgot about my love.
Under the bridge, downtown... I gave my life away.'
Still humming the song's tune, he crouched in front of the grate and unscrewed it. Worming in, he retrieved the bread, sardines and water, then closed up hurriedly.
Korovitch splashed cold water on his face before a spartan breakfast. He holstered the Makarov at his side, and prepared to leave. He stopped at the door of his quarters. He'd had that dream again last night. A new squad, a new beginning...
Turning back, he crouched at his bed and dragged out a smooth teak box a little under two feet in length. He popped the lid, and the brass fittings of the weapon's hilt glinted at him in his room's dim light. The weapon that had scarred him. That he'd clutched as field medics had stitched his face. He'd gone back for the sheath, and in a stroke of luck found the body of the Gurkha untouched. He'd slotted the blade back in and found two sub-sheaths inside. One contained a tiny knife, for odd jobs. The other contained a knife shaped sharpening implement.
He gazed down at the Kukri for a few moments before taking it up and strapping it to his left hip. Then he turned smartly and walked from his room. Time to size up his new men.
Lucia slept poorly that night... well, by Pit standards anyway. She spent most of the night staring at the concrete wall lost in her thoughts. She thought about her childhood and her brother. How they used to spend carefree afternoons in the street of their city. It was troubled city--like any other of this era--but it was her city. It was her home. Despite what she wanted: her brother's rescue, to return to her city and the vengeance upon the man who betrayed her family, she wasn't sure if any of it was feasible. The harshness of the Pit was wearing on her on she felt her grip slipping more and more as each day passed.
She killed a man today.
Was she going to have to kill more?
The answer she knew, was yes.
It was that night she decided that she would heed Orphan's advice. She would become Kusanagi. She would find a way to save Tristan... even if it meant she had to kill every person in this God forsaken hellhole.
The Zulu rpeince had woken up as soon as Acolyte got out of bed. He had trained himself to be a very light sleeper, a necessity in his position.
He decided it would be best not to touch Orphan in his sleep, so he called to him gently.
"Orphan," he said in a quiet voice. "Wake up. I'm going to leave now before the Arryans wake up and begin patrolling. Thank you for your help. I will not forget this."
Then he turned to the girl.
"You too girl. Listen to this man, and you will survive this place."
And with that, he left the cell, and began walking quickly towards Impi territory.
The queen awoke and saw her son's bunk empty. Knowing him, it was obvious he had gone out in the night to work off his frustration.
She exited her cell and saw that the higher warriors and more ambitious trainees had also woken up and were preparing to start the day's training and drills.
This was the true strength of the Impi. Most of the other gangs just relied on numbers and weapons. The Impi however, were diciplined and trained like a true army. Even their most inexperienced warriors were generally worth at least two of most mother gangs'. The Aryans were un-diciplined, and belligerent, but they got away with it because of their numbers. The thing most people didn't realize was that even their numbers weren't reliable. A majority of their members didn't actually hate jews or blacks, they simply joined because it meant they would have people to protect them in this hell. Once those people realize that the Aryans can't protect them, they will defect; it is inevitable.
After waking up and having his morning shower and coffee, the priest put on his kevlar vest, then his black shirt and white collar over it, followed by his thick coat, and lastly, his rosary. He remembered thinking how funny it was that his ordained status was the only thing that wasn't a lie on the resume he sent to Venture Horizon. It's surprisingly easy to become a holy man when the whole world has gone to shit.
He made his second weekly meeting with the small group that "acquire goods" for him from the facility storage and then went to the Warden common area.
"Good morning Father." A few wardens said as he entered. He waved in reply and kept walking until he got to his office.
Once inside, he closed the door and got to work. He checked on his stocks that he kept from his days in Chicago, then he checked his church's account to see if Venture Horizon's "donation" had been made on time, which it was as always. After that he checked his email; a few spam (deleted), some from his contacts in America (skimmed over), several offers to buy his stocks (ignored), and of course the usual two or three reporters looking for a story fro the pit, hoping to get honest answers out of a priest (they got none).
He decided he wouldn't go into the pit today. He would send some of his missionaries while he caught up on some of his dealings with the "civilized" people.
Orphan didn't respond for he was fat asleep. In his old age he slept like a baby, even in the Pit where the conditions were shit and someone could slit your throat at any moment... though, most were wise enough not to test his reflexes.
Lucia sat up and watched Unathi's silhouette pass by and out of the cell. She never had the chance to speak to him during his visit, but even so... she hoped he'd stay safe.
The last thing this place needs is more death.
It was at that time that she noticed Acolyte had left.
Who does he think he is?! Is he crazy?!
Lucia was... not happy. Her patient had blatantly ignored her instructions.
Though she was pissed, there really wasn't anything she could do about it. Wandering around to look for him at this hour would be suicide and she had no idea where he could be. The Pit was a big place. If he returned... when he returned there would be hell to pay.
Acolyte walked around the corner with the food in his arms, singing again, in a mournful tenor.
'Well if I die before I get it done, will you decide?
To take my words and turn them into signs they will survive
Because a long time ago, I knew not to deprive.
It's safe out there, and now you're everywhere, just like the sky.
And you are love, you are the lucid dream, you...' he stops as he turns the corner, seeing Lucia staring daggers at him.
'Good morning, child'.
Travis waited at the edge of his small territory, essentially just two dozen cells filled with psychopaths, assholes and prison bitches. He slumped against a wall as his top three men, Scar, Jack and Clyde brought the rest of the crew to him. Altogether they were 40 men strong, clearly not the biggest gang; but that was why they always went out with everyone so at least if there was a big fight the numbers would be in their favour, plus who would mess with 40 men.
Travis led his men out of their "territory", leading an expedition deep into Aryan turf. They ran across their few Aryan allies but soon it was obvious that they needed a good god damn reason to lead so many men into another gang's camp. Travis raised his fist for the crew to stop and he and his three best men walked forward to meet some guards.
"The fuck are you doing here you old piece of shit?" Barked an Aryan guard holding a busted up shotgun.
"We're here to make parley, and with some information your boss will want to know" replied Travis.
"I'll be the judge of that, whatever you gotta say you say it to me" demanded the twitchy guard.
"Okay" smiled Travis. "The Crips have declared war and are killing your boys in the streets."
"What!" The guard yelled back to some other Nazi's to bring one of their highest rankers. "You stay right there old man!"
"You call me Dragon boy." Travis spoke with a strong sense of smugness. After a few minutes an ageing man strode down, not as twitchy as the rest but quite clearly an addict as well.
"I believe you have some information about the Crips?" he said, sounding tired and worn out.
"Yeah I do," spoke The Dragon, "But it'll cost you. I wanna know who's supplying you with meth."
The old Nazi responded furiously "What the fuck is it to you?"
The Dragon spoke sharply. "Well, I figure you'd wanna know who was helping the Crips plan on taking you all out."
The old addict remained silent as his face flushed red with anger before finally speaking. "You tell us first what you know."
"Okay, I've got enough info to get what I want out of you. The crips and other collaborators are attacking Aryans in the street." Travis knew that if he twisted his words the meth heads were so out of it they would believe him.
The man sniffed and twitched, clenching his fists. "Who else?" he barked.
"Not so fast. I want to know who is supplying you with meth, and I want a collaboration between our groups. The Dragons want to expand."
The Nazi scoffed and spat at the floor, "You really think we'd lower ourselves to-"
"I think you already have!" shouted Travis, alerting some of the Nazi guards to prepare for a fight. "You need to know what I know, and we could be invaluable in protecting you. Think about it, they don't know we would be working together, and we are... somewhat small time." It pained Travis to admit his gangs status. "You give us what we want, and we can all make it out of this alive."
There was a long pause before the old man spoke back. "I'll tell my bosses, you'll get what you want. Know tell us who is killing our boys."
Travis smiled. He had won this war of words. Addicts are so easy to manipulate, he thought. "The Crips, Zulus, and even the Orphan and his bitch. As well as some bald dude, my intelligence tells me, but your main problem is the niggers."
The faces of the various Aryans turned to one of fear, they were large but not large enough to take on two gangs, and the rumours of what Orphan could do was something fierce. "Alright" replied the Nazi leader. "We get our drugs from Azrael, but we don't know were he gets them from, and you'll get your protection."
The Dragon smiled and extended his hand to the Nazi. "Pleasure doing business with you." With that The Dragons turned back and returned to their territory.
The Dragons got back at the early hours of the morning. By the time they were back they were shouting and celebrating, all returning to their cells. Travis and his three lieutenants were smiling like children on Christmas, finally having a good insurance plan in this place. However, there was something unexpected greeting them. A young boy, looked like a teenager, sobbing and handcuffed to a pipe.
"What the fuck is this!" Travis explained, taking off the boys blindfold. "Who the fuck are you and what are you doing here?"
That question would never be answered as before the boy could respond gunfire was heard in the other cells. Various Dragons were running out of their cells, shouting and fighting, as some men came running up on Travis and with a sub machine gun in hand, firing rapidly. Travis, Jack, Scar and Clyde scattered, trying to escape to parade of bullets. Travis had run into a cell were one of the hit squad was being beaten, having been disarmed by a Dragon. Travis hid in the cell waiting for his pursuer to enter. He rushed in and Travis tackled him, ripping the gun out of his hand before pounding his skull against the ground with the hilt. "C'mon!" Travis roared to all of his Dragons, his voice piercing the walls of all two dozen cells. The hit squad ran out into the open and began indiscriminately firing upon the Dragons, killing many, many men. However, the sheer numbers of the Dragons was more than the attackers could take, and by the time they had to reload they were being mauled to death by the remaining men. Travis rushed from cell to cell, finding his three lieutenants, all in bad shape. He searched for the rest of his men, and to his horror 40 had been reduced to a mere 15. They searched all the dead bodies, the only upside to this battle was that now at least they had guns, real guns none of that zipgun shit. But given the amount of ammo spent, and how many Dragons were lost it was not worth it.
Travis found the tied up boy and saw him riddled with bullets, his knees destroyed and his stomach was losing an intense amount of blood, but somehow he was still alive. Travis raised the boy's chin and screamed "Who did this! Who the fuck are you!"
The boy stuttered his words before eventually saying "M-M-Mafia... I... I..." he bled out. Travis took out his frustrations by beating his body, crushing his dead bones and organs. The powerful Dragon had no idea what to do. What had he done to anger the Mafia? What would he do with such a small force, even smaller than before? Could the Aryans protect him from this? He was lost, and for once maybe even scared.
Lucia's expression grew more intense, "Where were you going at this hour?" Lucia crossed her arms and looked away. "Actually, it doesn't matter. Just get back to bed. I don't want to see you move a muscle for the next 24-hours!"
Lucia knew she was being hard on him, but there was something about their relationship that was... comforting. Since coming to the Pit everything had felt like it was out of her control. But this... she had a say in this. She was the authority in this relationship. The patient must listen to the doctor if he is to recover. Despite it only being a flesh-wound, she felt as if she had his health and well-being in her hands. She was in control and if he challenged that she'd have to put her foot down.
Sticks read over the debrief as he buttoned his shirt.
So... someone's making a move on the Aryans? This may complicate things.
According to the brief the Aryans were still supplying men for the drug deal and his moles in Azrael's crew confirmed the Dog was still going. Dealing with gangs was always messy, but Sticks knew how to make the best of the hand he was dealt. He'd worry about the plight of the Aryans once Azrael was moved into position.
After gearing up Sticks met with his men and headed for the Pit. it was time to meet the Dog.
Even though Azrael's tone of voice rarely changed from it's usual steely calm, Nikolai had served his Master long enough to tell when he was furious, even when no-one else could.
"That's not enough, I need details." he told the Pack Leader who had come to his chamber to make the report.
"All we know is this..." the Pack Leader replied humbly "A few hours ago The Dragons marched right into the heart of Aryan territory. What they wanted is still a mystery, but almost as soon as they returned to their own turf they were attacked by an elite hit-squad, believed to be Mafia based on their tactics. The Dragons eventually overpowered their attackers, but have sustained heavy losses."
"If that is all, then leave us." Azrael told him curtly, to which the Pack Leader bowed and exited the chamber.
After a few moments Azrael started handing out orders in quick succession.
"Matthias, make contact with your informants in the Mafia camp. I want to be certain that they were responsible for this attack, and if so, I want to know exactly why when we've seen no signs of prior provocation from The Dragons. I trust you'll be discrete. As far as anyone on the outside knows we have no affiliation with any of gangs involved in this, so why should we care? Yuri, send men to both the Aryan and Dragon camps, I want both sides of whatever conversation took place. What did Travis want, and how much was he told? Use the White Stars rather than our own men, so that we don't appear to be involved. Skullbane, Order the Aryans to accelerate their attacks on the Zulu, if it turns out someone's trying to interfere with this operation then I want to build up momentum before they have the chance to stop us. All of you, go, now!"
After they had all left, Azrael turned to Nikolai.
"Your mission remains unchanged, but I trust you've made the necessary adjustments in light of the new information we've recieved?"
"Then go." Azrael ordered "Remind our good friend of the dangers of his position."