'The Pit: Hell Frozen Over' - Arc 3, Chapter 3: 'The One Truth' (Closed, Started)

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Travis made his trek through the catwalks and hallways of the Pit. He was up to the mid levels now, where the riot was at its most violent. There was smoke every disrupting everyone's vision, bullets flying in every direction, people savagely beating each other to death. The Dragon would have loved to join in if he wasn't on a revenge mission.

He had the two gun straps wrapped around his body while he carried the club with both hands. He could hear footsteps in front of him. As they got faster Travis lifted the club and readied himself to meet whoever was speeding out of the smoke. A headbanger with a knife ran forwards, screaming violently and slashing randomly at the air as he went to meet Travis. He was easily disposed off as Travis waited until he got close and clubbed him in the head with his weapon. He went down like a sack of meat, dazed and confused. Travis was about to finish him off when pain shot through his left shoulder. He grunted and grabbed it in pain. Something was wrong, he must have injured it. He couldn't think of what was wrong with it, he could use his left arm but when he did it hurt like hell. He had to pull himself away from his thoughts though as the headbanger was about to get back up. Travis pulled his club up and slammed it down upon his opponents head. "Maybe I should sneak past these crazy fucks." Travis looked over a railing and saw an all out war breaking out between various gangs. Cutting, stabbing, shooting, biting, tearing, ripping, scratching, and a hell of a lot of screaming. He back up against a wall and looked around for a vent he could possibly sneak through.

As the gunships backed off, Acolyte watched them blankly. How interesting, that they seemed to be being allowed to leave. It was none of his concern, though, and he turned back to Lucia.

'What will the two of you do, then? Stay with these Free Men? Or do you have family?'

It was all breaking down. It seemed as if some of the doomsayers were right, but they could never predict the scope of what was happening. Bodies were dropped left and right and nobody was safe from harm. Eight of the girls were huddled together in Hannah's 'ol tube she called a home and listened to the death outside. They could only wait for the end to come and hope that when they come out the guns would hath stopped and the violence would have subsided. Ilene was standing next to the hatch, looking down at her friends and close family in the hell that was the pit. These were girls they all knew and fought with, strong and independent women who fought for themselves and others who couldn't fight on their own. Ilene was proud her close friends were safe in the pit when the gates of hell were opened, but something else was still bothering her. Outside nothing was safe and chaos ruled supreme. How can she call herself in that name if she left all of those women out to die while she saved only a few?

"I can hear them coming". One of the girls said anxiously. She was sitting on the bed along with three others who were all nervous of what was to come. The fighting had come to the area near the entrance to the tube, but Ilene was sure they couldn't find the entrance or breach the hatch. Still, she couldn't force herself to stay down below.

"Then I will get rid of them". She announced. The girls looked up at Iron-fist as she opened the hatch and climbed out. Nobody tried to stop her.


Weapons and ammunition were used all around the Pit. The bloodbath outside was beyond anything she could have imagined. All stops were pulled and everything the gangs had been saving for years was unleashed at once. The movement through the chaos was extremely dangerous, but Iron-fist continued to carry herself through the riots. Finding the one she was intending to kill the day before, she thanked her luck and set out to end her unfinished business.

"The dragon, how nice to see you here". Ilene was aiming a cheap excuse for an ak variant at him, holding the handle with her right hand and carrying the rest with her prosthetic hand. "Your crew dead and everything lost, it seems only reasonable to end you now. Pity I won't get to string you up for all to see".

"The dragon, how nice to see you here". Travis turned from his viewing of the carnage below to see Iron Fist aiming at him. "Your crew dead and everything lost, it seems only reasonable to end you now. Pity I won't get to string you up for all to see".

Travis bit his lip and chuckled. "Looks like you win then bitch. You got the drop on me, and it'd take me too long to get my gun ready. Before you kill me, how 'bout you tell me how you got that metal arm."

The 'dragon' turned back to face Ilene. "Looks like you win then bitch. You got the drop on me, and it'd take me too long to get my gun ready. Before you kill me, how 'bout you tell me how you got that metal arm."

"In a land of sand and heat far away from here, where I came from, pig fuckers like you were all we had. You would have loved it - women were chained to their husbands and were slaves with no rights. I lost my arm fighting for my freedom. I've been called a terrorist for three decades before they threw me in jail. They were too scared to kill me there, so they threw me in this shit-hole. The metal arm... its so I could stop rapists like you and tear their dick out in front of their eyes. You will never touch me like they did, and you will never touch another girl like that when I can stop you".

She pulled back the safety on the rifle and considered her options. Should she really wait for a response from that bastard?

"What will the two of you do, then? Stay with these Free Men? Or do you have family?"

"Tristan is all I have left," Lucia considered his words for a moment before elaborating. Her thoughts had been so preoccupied with Tristan's rescue over the past few months that she hardly considered what she'd do if she were to ever leave the Pit, "Well... I suppose we should return to Troy and clear my father's name. It's my duty to avenge--"

Tristan tugged at her arm and shook his head. Then... he actually spoke, "N-no Lucia."

Lucia responded with a surprised stare, "No, that's not what our father would want. After everything done to us against our will..." Tristan paused for a moment, likely recalling the pain he had endured since his arrival at the Pit. "F-father... father would have wanted us to be happy. He would want us to live peaceful lives."

Lucia stared blankly into her brother's eyes as his words sank in. He was right, after everything that had happened what would be the point of walking right into the enemy's hands once more. Their city had betrayed them. What purpose did vengeance serve now? And then there was also... Samuel. He had sacrificed everything so that she could live on.

"I want you to live for something you believe in."

Lucia looked down at the truck bed and squeezed Tristan's hand, "Your right. We're going to make it to safety and... start over," She lifted her head back up and smiled at the two of them.

Ilene gave a speech about her arm as Travis pretended to pay attention. He knew that she had the drop on him and was going to kill him. However, they were surrounded by maniacs with serious blood-lust. And he knew that all he had to do was wait and stall her.

"So your on some dumbass crusade to stop upstanding gentlemen like me? You know your kind loved to be ruled." He laughed at her, "Your kind especially. A whore and a nigger! Fuck me, seems like that place would have suited me fine." He leaned his arm on the railing. "If a bitch did what I said, cooked, cleaned, fucked me when I said, maybe I could have settled down. And this land of yours- I could have been some kind of general or King there." Travis stopped talking as he heard some men screaming in Japanese running down the walkway. "'Course... I could be a King here after your dead."

With that bullets started flying in their direction from what Travis assumed would be Yakuza as they ran up behind Ilene. In the confusion The Dragon vaulted over the railing and landed on top of a group of Mafia, trying to revive one of their fallen friends. He ran in between the chaos and fighting in order to find some cover and try to get a shot on Iron Fist.

'Fair enough. Me, I'll probably travel. Or maybe go back home to Holland. I might be able to help some people there. Lord knows, they need it.'

Acolyte shifted into a slightly more comfortable position, and ran a hand across his head, feeling the rub of the rough stubble that had replaced his baldness in the last couple of days. Maybe he'd grow it out.

Nikolai stood, poised on the skeletal frame that their truck had in place of a roof. As Gregor drove their truck side by side with the fuselage of the plane, he picked his moment, and jumped. He caught the release handle on the side door of the plane, which swung open under his weight. Climbing in, Nikolai quickly drew his shotgun and scanned the metal bird's hollow belly or enemies. When he found none, he moved to the back of the plane and hit the green button on a yellow control mounted on the wall.

Slowly, the loud hissing of hydraulics gave way to the sound of the wind outside, as the enormous cargo door ponderously opened, it's ramp extending onto the tarmac of the taxi-way. A few seconds later the vehicles in their convoy pulled up outside, and the Free Men piled out.

First in were Vladimir and Dmitri, who Nikolai beckoned towards the front of the plane immediately, so they could be moving as soon as possible. He did not know why the metal flies had left them alone before, but Nikolai wanted to be away quickly in case they came back.

Lucia watched as Nikolai's men started for the plane, "Looks like we should get moving."

She clutched Tristan's hand and led him off the truck and into the plane. Once inside she looked to Nikolai, "They do know how to fly this thing... right?"

Acolyte walked into the plane, looking around. 'Well, here we are. Let's hope they don't have an anti-aircraft installation.'

"'Course... I could be a King here after your dead."

What followed after the smug reply from Travis was an unpredictable distraction. The cries of a Japanese man forced her to look away from her target and let him escape. She turned around, pulling her left arm under her rifle and pulling the trigger to let a long blade jump out of her mechanical arm. It was enough to stop the man who had gone berserk and decided to throw himself at Ilene. He soon found himself impaled on her blade, his belly sliced open and throat overflowing with blood.

She threw the body off her and rabidly searched for the dragon in her vicinity. Having found him one level below her she had to decide whether to pursue him or shoot him down. She wasn't that well known for her marksmanship skills, so she followed his lead with her right hand holding the stock of her rifle and her left ready to slice open that pig's neck. Ilene fell down to the level below and watched three mafia members give up on the revival attempts of their comrade. They only now noticed both Ilene and Travis and weren't sure how to respond to their presence.

"Running away like a coward, how can you call yourself a dragon, you limp dick rat?". Iron-fist taunted travis from behind his cover.

"Running away like a coward, how can you call yourself a dragon, you limp dick rat?" Travis gnarled behind cover as she insulted his manhood. Unfortunately Travis wasn't witty enough to think of a clever comeback, so he simply cooked a grenade for a few seconds before throwing it at Iron Fist from behind his coved. He quickly ducked his head back behind the wall as he heard it explode. He certainly killed someone, as he heard their screams and the unmistakable sound of body splatter.

"You still alive slut?"

"They do know how to fly this thing... right?"

Knowing that they were about to leave The Pit behind forever, Nikolai was feeling more than a little giddy by this point, perhaps in no small part due to the continued blood loss from his bullet wound. He threw back his head and laughed. A huge, booming laugh that even rode over the noise of the blizzard.

"Dmitri!" he bellowed "Kusanagi asks if you and Vladimir can fly these metal birds!"

Dmitri came back from the cockpit, while Vladimir continued with the flight preparations. He was older, leaner, and more softly spoken than Nikolai, and clearly had more experience of the outside world.

"You have nothing to fear." he told her, smiling. "Before we were put in here, Vladimir and I flew cargo planes just like this. We have flown to all kinds of places, in all kinds of weather. The blizzard will be difficult in an aircraft as bulky as this, but we can manage.

We need to be far enough away that Venture Horizon cannot chase us. There are places we know from our travels, places where we will all be safe. The best is in South America, but this plane could never take us all the way without refueling. There is an abandoned airbase, in a place that was once known as Georgia, where we will land. Beyond that, we need to find a way to the West Coast of Africa, where we can cross the ocean."

"You see?" interjected Nikolai. "We have been careful in our planning. Dmitri, everyone is on board. We must leave now."

Dmitri went back to the cockpit, as Nikolai closed the rear cargo door behind the last man. A few minutes later, the plane started to roll slowly towards the runway.

Kusanagi nodded in acknowledgement as Dmitri explained the situation to her. Sounded like a solid enough plan. As they turned to face each other Kusanagi wondered to herself if she was wise to trust these men. They had obviously been planning this for a long time, but for how long was she a part of the plan? Had Nikolai simply told them there would be a change of plans the night they met? All these questions would have to wait though... they weren't out of the woods yet.

As the plane began to taxi Kusanagi led Tristan to the seats lining the walls of the aircraft, "I guess we should start thinking about where we'll be going later on, huh?" Tristan smiled weakly and nodded. Lucia rubbed his back and returned the smile, "It's going to be okay Tristan... we've made it this far, right?"

Kusanagi looked to Nikolai. She hadn't seen him so giddy before. After all of this... how would he adjust to the outside world? Could he?

Acolyte shifted where he sat, uncomfortably as the plane taxi'd. His Kevlar was chafing against his bare chest. He loosened the straps, and began to tug it off, but then glanced at Lucia and thought better of it. Leaving the straps loose, he closed his eyes and exhaled, beginning meditation.

"You still alive slut?"

The grenade exploded while Ilene took a dive behind a block of broken concrete. The pellets teared through the three mafia soldiers while she was lying behind cover.

"Still alive, can't say the same about you in a few minutes!".

She got up and leaned against the slab of concrete, looking past the corner and watching Travis react. She then turned back to get her rifle and positioned herself to shoot. She saw his head peek out and she took a shot but missed.

"Stay still so I could murder you!".

"Still alive, can't say the same about you in a few minutes!". Travis swore to himself and peeked out for just a second to see the damage but nearly got his head blown off by Iron Fist. He quickly ducked his head back. "Stay still so I could murder you!".

"You rude bitch. Niggers should learn their manners-oh fuck!" As he spoke some bullets peppered his cover. He looked ahead to see a woman with a sub machine gun spraying bullets in his direction.

"I want that Kevlar!" she yelled as she sprinted towards Travis. He was forced to run out of his cover and risk being shot on both sides by the Iron Fist and this random stranger. He kept his head low and swung the club at the new woman chasing him, hitting her in the knees. He swiftly pulled his Assault Rifle around and shot her a few times before running into a large crowd of fighting. From what he could tell it was race related, white on black. Hopefully he would lose Ilene in the crowd, at least if he didn't the tons of people would act as cover.

Travis fought off a rampaging woman before running off to the crowd of people fighting each other to the death. It was only now that Ilene realized the scope of this disaster. She set off after him and tried to run through the battlefield. On her way she met with an overenthusiastic drugged up white aryan who seemed seperated from his pack. He lunged himself at Ilene when she tried to raise her rifle and shoot him. Too slow to fire at at assailant, Ilene threw the rifle aside and merely gutted the axe-wielding maniac.

She frantically searched the crowd for the Dragon and shouted out, "Where the fuck are you, god damned pig fucker?".

She spotted him running in a different direction and started a pursuit through the many different scuffles in her way.

Travis ran through the crowd of fighting psychopaths, avoiding various fists and knives as the brawl spiralled out of control. There must have been hundreds here, killing for stupid reasons. He butted random people with his assault rifle as he tried to escape the woman with the metal arm.

"Where the fuck are you, god damned pig fucker?".

Travis ignored her statement and kept on running, checking around his shoulder to see if she was around. And sure enough she was quick on his heels. He grabbed a grenade from his belt and bit the pin off, throwing it behind himself. 'only one of these left.' Travis ducked his head low and tried to swiftly make it through the mob.

With a deafening boom the grenade went off, throwing many a mad men into the air as organs and bones flew all over the place. Travis was far away enough so that the grenade didn't kill him, and he certainly had cover in between the gangsters warring amongst each other, but the blast was so strong it knocked him and at least half a dozen other men onto the floor. Scared that the woman would stab him while he was down, The Dragon rolled over and started firing in the direction he came from; bullets tearing through people as he hoped at least one would get Iron Fist.

After a few minutes of slow ambling around the taxiway, of which Nikolai made his impatience loudly known, the plane was in position. They stopped, and it seemed to Nikolai as if they were all part of some giant beast, poised on its haunches, coiled and ready to loose into the endless wild. Then, just as the moment was about to pass, the beast howled. The engines surged, and roared their cry of freedom to the skies. With surprising speed, the hulking brute lurched forward, a canter that progressed quickly into a sprint, before the beast unleashed the power of it's wings, and savagery turned to grace. The snow and death of The Pit could not contain them any longer, and they soared away.

The Free-Men were jubilant, throwing back their heads and howling from the depths of their lungs. For once, Nikolai led the chorus, the power and pitch of his voice threatening to make the metal that enclose them reverberate, and hum to their tune. He shed his vest, no longer having any use for it, to reveal the angry red stain that the hole in his hip had left on the band and crotch of his trousers. The bleeding had largely stopped, but the wound remained open. Not that Nikolai cared all that much. Only The Boy felt pain, and most of the boy had been burned away long ago, by the red sticks of the Men with no faces. When Nikolai had been born, he had been born into a body with skin of boiled leather and flesh of stone. Any aches, stings or dull throbs that danced on the edge of Nikolai's senses were not things worth feeling. The Boy had known pain enough to kill a thousand Men. That much Nikolai remembered. Now, only fire could wake him.

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A distant, more youthful part of Lee's mind couldn't help but feel a certain sense of triumphant pride. He was reminded of those early years as a boy back in Seoul, and all the games of chess that he would play. The family wouldn't have their firstborn son wasting his time with the imagined guns and swords of the other children, playing on the streets and in the green spaces. They were the foot soldiers, and for him they would have something better. Even then, being groomed for command. He was to be their sculpture, of the ultimate tactician, a model of leadership and strategy. In truth they failed, for a work of art can never become better than its creator, and in Lee's case it wasn't long before their own work in Lee was surpassing them; beating them at every game, and devising strategies of his own making they they did not know. At 13, he could play three games at once. He could play his father, mother, and sister (all of them masters to any common novice) across three boards and beat them all. They never let him get complacent though, absolute victory always had a sweet reward, but any less was met with nothing. Any victory where even one of your enemies lives to fight another day is in its own way even worse than a defeat. That was the lesson. Never wound what you can't kill.

These past two years had felt like far more than just three games at once, and Lee had taken care to mind each sacrifice carefully, but one by one the kings were falling, and those who would merely wobble and remain standing, would find themselves powerless, delaying the inevitable. It was not victory, not yet, but the writing was on the wall.

Before his musings could cloud his focus, he dismissed them.

"I will have to speak with the Director in a few hours." he told the Captain "Before then, I need to debrief Korovich."

"Yes sir. I'll keep you posted on the progress of Black Protocol." replied Montoya.

"Thank you, Captain." 'You are a good man Montoya. I hope my warning did not escape you, about what happens to good men in times of war.'

Lucia clutched Tristan's hand as the plane lifted off the ground. As the g-force pushed them down into their seats she could feel her heart rising with the plane, fighting against the oppressive force of gravity. And then, once the plane had leveled out and the force was alleviated it felt as if her heart had burst free of her chest. Her eyes welled up and an involuntary smile grew across her face. The shouts and cheers of the Free Men boomed throughout the hollow shell, inspiring her to grab hold of Tristan and hug him, "W-we made it!"

Tears streamed down her face as she buried her face into his shoulder. As the cheering died down Lucia looked up to see Nikolai's bullet wound, "That's right, we need to take care of that as soon as we land," She got up and began looking around the cabin. "We should at least apply first aid for now. You don't want to get an infection. Any idea where the first aid kit on this thing is?"

Korovitch strode into Lee's office when called. The bed sheet sack, nearly half red from its cargo, slung over his shoulder. He was stripped of body armour, donning an officer's formal wear. His combat uniform was heavily blood stained and shredded from a hundred minor wounds, and had been binned. Despite his attire, the Makarov pistol and kukri hung on each hip, glinting cleanly. Underneath his crisp collar, the ball-bearing chain of his Spetsnaz tags glinted against the skin of his neck.

Lee was silent, seeming to see he had something to say. Korovitch unceremoniously dumped the sack onto the desk. Having completed his grizzly delivery, he then spoke. 'The blood tracker misled us. The Lieutenant knew we were coming. I lost two good men and had worse happen to the woman. We were led into the meat grinder, and paid the price to complete our orders.'

His voice was as deadpan and emotionless as ever, and no trace of anger made itself known, but there was a biting sharpness to Korovitch's otherwise polite tone that said only the best explanation would keep hell from breaking loose. He was silent, then. His ice blue eyes deadlocked on the most senior officer in the Pit.

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Despite the depth of his self induced trance, the faintest glimmer of a smile tugged at Acolyte's lips as the Free Men cheered raucously. He had nowhere to go, now. At least not where he had already been. The Monks had disowned him when he had been found guilty and imprisoned; and... his old life in Holland, the less said about that, the better. But it was done. He had fulfilled Orphan's last request and done something that could honestly be called good. For the first time in five years, Samuel Van Der Linde was content in a way that went beyond the assumed calm of a Taoist.

'Careful, Lieutenant...'

Lee met Luka's gaze without difficulty. If he hadn't been able to look the man in the eye afterwards, Lee would have had no business sending him on that mission in the first place.

"I will personally make sure that these remains are disposed off, thoroughly and discreetly." He began, his voice as deadpan as Luka's, with a faint lilt of distaste in his eyes as they darted towards the sack. "Remember Lieutenant, the official records will show that the deaths of Joseph Cornelius and his men were a tragic accident. I trust that you and your team will offer no reason for others to question the official version of events."

'I've killed friends for less.'

Despite Lee's cold and guarded demeanor, his words were genuine. "I am truly sorry for the loss of Specialist Gibbs and Sergeant Akua. Their deaths, as well as all the other losses of today, will not have been for nothing. Of that, there is no doubt. How is Specialist Beaumont doing, considering the circumstances of course? Please, give me regular updates on her condition. In the mean time, while I'll have many things that will require my urgent attention over the next few days, I will make her well-being, along with helping to restore Iron Squad to full strength, a top priority. That is my word.

I knew what the price of this mission could be for Iron Squad, I don't deny it. For two years I have been trying to isolate Cornelius as much as I possibly could without giving myself away. Still, whatever else the man may have been, he had a talent for making friends in the right places. As with all of my preparations, only the bare minimum of people knew about the tampering with the inoculations. The truth of who among them gave away the information will not stay hidden from me for long, and when I find out who it was, you and your comrades will have justice."

Lee's expression softened, just a little.

"I don't forget my allies Luka. I understand that now the losses are raw, but before long I promise you will see that the future of this place will be something we can all be proud of. If there's anything else, feel free to speak your mind. Otherwise, pass on my thanks and condolences to your men, and then get some well-earned rest."

'... Very well. I'll be waiting for my orders.'

Luka turned and left the office. For now, all he could do was rest. Then he would gather what remained of his squad and they could overcome their losses.

Lee was under no delusions that Luka was entirely satisfied by the response he had got. No words, diplomatic or otherwise, would wash on the career soldier right now. Still, he should consider himself lucky that Lee was in a mood to be the peacemaker.

Lee turned his gaze again to the bloodstained bag, which now smelled quite appalling. Honestly, what had Luka been thinking making the kill so messy?! Lee had expected more efficiency, and a cooler head, from someone with Luka's experience. When he'd been presented with the little gift, Lee had been in half a mind to give it back and tell Luka to clean up his own mess, but right now he wasn't sure he could trust him with even that much. When he had been at war, Lee had seen just about every way that it was possible to destroy a human being, physically and otherwise; and thanks to his photographic memory, Lee could still recall every last spatter of blood, every last scream, and every last agonized expression. Even by the standards of global conflict, the Pan-Arabian War had been an ugly affair, and by the time it had ended all sides had long since stopped playing by the rules. Lee was not made of stone, not back then at least. He understood all too well the rage and revulsion of seeing friends and comrades have the horrors of war inflicted on them, but through all of it, Lee had never been so sloppy. and he had been as certain as he could be that Luka was cut from the same cloth. Perhaps he should reconsider...

Luka's blunder would need rectifying at once. Fortunately, thanks to the Black Protocol the entire complex was near deserted. Before Luka arrived, Montoya had informed Lee that the upper levels of The Pit were now secure. Lee still had plenty of time.

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Kusanagi was lucky that Nikolai was in such a good mood. If not, he would be less inclined to put up with the fuss she was making as she treated his wound. He did not see why she insisted on bothering with it. Better to just let it alone. Nikolai had endured far worse, the evidence of which was written all across his body. It would heal on its own, and Nikolai would become stronger for it still, just like all the other wounds from before now.

But no... 'Nikolai must sit down!', 'Nikolai must stay still!', 'Nikolai must not laugh in case he makes the bleeding start again!', 'Nikolai must not stick his finger in the hole just to prove it doesn't hurt!' That really had made the bleeding start again, and Kusanagi had not laughed along with the others.

It did not do for the other Free Men to see him being scolded. They were all fiercely loyal to Nikolai, many of them having been pit slaves, or worse, lone Inmates who were under no-ones protection, before he had found them and raised them higher. He had taken care to choose people that had suffered like he had, and had emerged stronger for it. As such, they all seemed to share an understanding that required no words. However, despite their brotherhood, Nikolai always kept in mind that his Free Men were dangerous. Forged, like him, from pain and madness. They may be grateful to him for his charity. However, their loyalty was ultimately based on one thing...

'They follow me because I am strong. In their company, I must never look weak.'

"Why so quiet, Sneaky Man?" he said, mockingly, to Acolylte, who had barely spoken or even moved while they'd been in the air. "Does the flying make you dizzy? Must I carry you to bed again?"

He still didn't trust Acolyte, no matter what Kusanagi said. In his time in The Pit, Nikolai had known many who claimed to follow a more peaceful, enlightened path. That sort went one of two ways. They either died quickly, or they killed whenever it suited them, which showed their true colours. Not only was this 'Acolyte' one of the latter, but he had allied himself with the Aryans, and the Squeal Pig, who Nikolai could tell for what kind of monster he was with one look. Kusanagi should have let him die, and any Man who joined forces with such, for whatever reason, was not to be trusted at all.

The Free Men didn't like him either, and they were enjoying Nikolai's teasing of him.

"We should call you the Sleepy Man, not the Sneaky Man." Nikolai continued "Niklaus! Bring warm milk for Sleepy Man!" he bellowed, his taunt met by a gale of laughter from the rest.

Though frustrated with his difficult nature, Lucia laughed along with Nikolai's men as she dressed his wound. However, after the finger incident and the subsequent taunting of Acolyte her patience began to wear thin. She scoffed at the Free Men's laughter and gave the knot of Nikolai's bandages an overtly firm squeeze before sitting back down next to Tristan and Acolyte. Tristan had been silent the entire time. It was distinctly possible that he was incapable of laughter... at least for now.

As the taunts continued Lucia looked to Nikolai with a smug smirk on her face, "I don't think you know this 'Sleepy Man' very well if you think such a sorry excuse for an insult would stir him. He knows a thing or two about staying calm under pressure."

"Then maybe we throw him out into sky instead?" replied Nikolai, getting back to his feet and stretching, his muscles writhing and fighting for precedence beneath his skin. "See if he will wake up before he..." Nikolai blew a loud raspberry, and slammed his fist into his palm to simulate the impact with the ground. This was met with further cries of mirth from the rest of the Free Men. Taunting Acolyte would provide them with all the entertainment they needed on the long journey.

Acolyte shrugged off the Dog's taunts. It would take more than that to get a reaction out of him.

"I don't think you know this 'Sleepy Man' very well if you think such a sorry excuse for an insult would stir him. He knows a thing or two about staying calm under pressure."

At least someone had a high opinion of him.

After some time, Acolyte stood, placing his screwdriver, aspirin, bowie knife and remaining ammunition to one side in a neat pile. Then he took up his familiar handstand stance, compensating easily enough for the faint turbulence of flight. He maintained the stance for several minutes, before lifting his left hand from the ground and tucking it against his chest. He was still and utterly steady on that one hand, like a stone pillar. Minutes ticked on. Quietly, he began a familiar Mandarin chant he'd learned at the temple as sweat beaded on his forehead. Still steady as a rock.

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Luka and his two surviving and present squad members sat in an empty mess hall at a table in the corner. A bottle of scotch sat on the table, with three glasses. The room was silent aside from the sounds of the glasses being picked up and set down again, and the pouring of liquor. Hayes shuffled a deck of cards, and dealt three hands of poker. As he did this, he said, 'so boss... what was with the gift you gave him?'

Luka doubted the room was bugged, but even so, they would make no specific references. He knocked back his next drink before replying. 'I don't know. How I was... yesterday; it was nothing like I'd ever been in all of my service, in all my life. It was a lapse.'

'How'd he take it?'

'Not well. He covered it well, but I could tell.' He allowed himself a small smile at that, but then it was gone. 'I'm not going to lapse like that again.'

Lucia squeezed the bridge of her nose and squinted in frustration. These Free Men were... a handful. Despite how annoying their obnoxious laughter could be there was something strangely comforting about it. Something familiar.

She leaned her head back against the seat, closed her eyes and thought back to her youth. Several years ago she had been helping give aid to the wounded during an assault on New Troy. She can recall the countless nights she was kept awake by the laughter of wounded soldiers trying to pass the time and forget their troubles. Many of them were saved by her hands and though their lives would never be the same... they were content with the idea that their futures were once again their own.

It was a bitter time yes, but the laughter, no matter how forced it was... it was comforting. There was a mutual understanding among the soldiers that they were all scared shitless, but they were there for each other. The nervous laughter was made not to simply fool themselves but to comfort each other. Their laughter didn't change much once the conflict was over. While the war was finished they still had their own personal trials to face. Many of them would suffer from PTSD and permanently broken bodies. The nervous laughter they used to bring levity to their situation would be a part of them for the rest of their lives.

She had almost dozed off when she felt Tristan's head plant itself on her shoulder. He had fallen asleep. She looked down at him for a few moments and managed a weak smile. He may not be able to laugh now, but that would change. They would run far from the Pit and eventually its memory would fade and they would be able to move on. It would take some time, but Tristan would be able to return to his old self. He had to.

Lucia reached around his shoulders and pulled him in closer before leaning her own head onto his. It wasn't until now that she finally understood how those soldiers felt back then. Her time in the Pit was done, but she would carry the scars she received there for the rest of her life. She knew she could do it though, because she had someone who would never let her down. They would weather the storm together, of this Lucia was certain.

After giving a firm squeeze Lucia dozed off. A subtle smile painted on her face.

Travis emptied his clip onto a crowd of people as he lay on top of a few other prisoners knocked back by his grenade. He stood up and trampled over their bodies, walking backwards and keeping his gun trained in the direction of where he was positive she was coming from. But he couldn't see her. He reloaded his assault rifle and peeked his head past some heads in the crowd. He wasn't sure if she was dead or alive, but he wasn't going to stick around long enough to find out. He pushed his way threw the crowds, firing off shots when necessary.

"Where the fuck can I go?" The majority of his opponents were dead, the wolves had been torn apart from the inside, the mafia had no doubt taken serious hit, the only person he could think of that actively wanted him dead was Iron Fist, and Dog and his men- "The Dog!" Travis had suddenly remembered the course he set out on, travelling up to the higher levels to find that bastard, kill him and his men and rape Lucia until she begged for mercy.

With this goal in mind Travis held his gun firm and ran up as many stairwells as he could, ducking and weaving past scuffles and fights, as he made his way up the Pitt, hoping to catch up to those who did him wrong.

"Nikolai! Can I speak with you"

Dmitri's voice, calm as always, but with a hint of urgency, broke the tedious silence of the last few hours. Swiftly, Nikolai made his way to the cockpit.

"What is it, are we followed?"

"No, not that we can tell." Replied Dmitri, speaking low so those back in the cargo bay would not be able to hear. "We have other problems though."

"We hoped that the blizzard would ease off the further south we flew..." Vladimir interjected "but it is not. It is hard to maintain a bearing on our navigation, and now engines 1 and 3 are starting to lose power."

"How close are we to the airstrip?"

"As far as we can tell, close. Even so, it may be too far. We need a safe place to land."

"Take us lower. See if you can find anywhere closer to set us down."

Nikolai's grip on the back of Vladimir's headrest squeezed just slightly. They's come this far, they were going to make it.

With its technical difficulties, the plane gave a harsh judder, tipping Acolyte's balance. He began to fall, but turned it into a rough cartwheel, coming up on his feet. Some of the freemen watching idly smiled in amusement. One even gave a small clap. Acolyte ignored them, and headed towards the cockpit. Nikolai's bulk obscured most of the view, but he thought from the dappling effect of the light creeping around the man that they were changing altitude. He felt the pressure in his body, too. They were going down.

'What's going on, then? Are we arriving?'

"Soon. Go rest your head, Sleepy Man." came Nikolai's terse, grunted reply.

The giddy elation that Nikolai had felt in the moments immediately after their escape had long since evaporated for Nikolai. He was still glad to be have left The Pit, and all that came with it, behind. However, The Surface was a stranger to him now. He felt awkward, small, out of place. It would not do. He needed to lead, to be strong and decisive, but what could he do up here in this Metal Bird that was starting to tire? In front of him was the most cluttered array of dials, switches and levels that Nikolai had ever seen, and none of it made any sense to him. Only Dmitri and Vladimir knew what they were doing here, and even they seemed helpless to cure whatever it was that ailed their steed.

That was when an engine exploded.

The deafening blast shook the plane violently causing Lucia to spring to consciousness. She shot her gaze all across the cabin in panicked desperation. What was happening?

Evidenced by their expressions it appeared the Free Men were equally confused and frightened. She grabbed Tristan and brought him in close before shouting towards the cockpit, "What was that?! What's going on!?" She looked down at Tristan. He stared back at her, terror in his eyes. Before she lost herself in his gaze... before her heart melted and she succumbed to hopelessness, she summoned Kusanagi. "Don't worry Tristan. I am here with you. We will make it out of this. I promise you."

She clutched him tightly as the plane continued to shake violently. They had come this far. It couldn't end like this... Kusanagi would not allow it.

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