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

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The huge jerk that ran through the plane as the engine blew nearly sent Acolyte sprawling. He caught himself on the wall, and backpedaled over to Lucia and Tristan. Crouching by them, he grunted, 'safety positions, now!'

He'd been on enough international drug runs to know a thing or two about plane travel. He grabbed Travis roughly, and bent the boy forward so his head was against his knees. 'Relax. Don't tense up.' He didn't lay a hand on Lucia, trusting her to follow suit independently.

The force of the engine tearing itself asunder seemed to ripple through the skin of the aircraft, making the floor seemingly give way beneath Nikolai for a moment, bringing him to his knees in the cockpit.

"Engine 3 is non-functional." announced Dmitri as Nikolai got to his feet, his voice still calm and professional, but with a frayed edge to it that betrayed his level tone. "All remaining engines losing power."

"Altitude dropping, passing below 2000ft." added Vladimir.

"Keep this Bird level!" Nikolai ordered "If we must land, we will land on our feet. Look for any flat surface you can find."

He turned back to the main fuselage, where many of the Free Men were starting to panic. Nikolai's voice carried above all of them, as well, as the increasingly strangled whine of the engines, in English, Russian, German. all the languages he needed for every last one of them to heed him.

"The dark places below are missing us friends!" he bellowed "They want to pull us back from the sky, back to the ice and rock where we fight and toil. WE WILL NOT LET THEM! Remember what you are. Remember how you made it here. You were too strong for the iron and stone that ensnared you. You broke their chains, and you tore down their walls! STILL YOUR FEAR! If our foe would try and drag us into its embrace once more, then we will meet it with our teeth bared! BENEATH OUT FIST, THE EARTH WILL CRUMBLE INTO DUST!"

He was answered with roars of approval, and the cohesion of the Free Men was restored. Nikolai paced up and down the fuselage, forcing then into their seats where they would be safer, all the while leading their war-chant. The sound of howling voices and pounding chests rose to drown out the engines, and with it their fear. Nikolai stayed standing, where they could all see him, and all hear him leading their battle cry, as they rode down together.

Kusanagi inched over to the two men and grabbed hold of Tristan, mimicking his position, "Don't worry, we'll be okay... we'll be okay..."

Was it not enough that we suffered in the Pit? If there is a God out there...

Nikolai's speech boomed throughout the cabin, challenging the raw volume of the dying plane. His men were inspired and their fear was washed clean from their faces.

I suppose It's better to die facing your fears.

As their velocity increased Kusanagi's gut lurched into her chest and she clutched Tristan's hand, squeezing as tight as she could. Tristan looked up at her... he knew she was terrified, but it didn't show on her face, "I'm proud of you."

Kusanagi looked at him with a blank expression. He responded with a silent smile.

This isn't fair...

Acolyte threw himself into the recovery position after seeing that Lucia had followed his instructions. With his head between his knees and his hands on the stubbly back of his head, he called out to the others, 'stay relaxed. If you tense up you'll get hurt on landing! Stay slack!'

The howl of the engines and the chanting of the Free-Men rose together in a deafening creshendoin the final few seconds of the planes descent. When Nikolai moved back towards the cockpit he saw that both Dmitri and Vladimir were drenched in sweat, in their attempt to wrestle the crafts ungainly bulk into a safe landing. The plane, while highly distressed and dropping fast, was staying level. Landing gear was down, and they had found a plateau which looked like it might just serve as an airstrip.

Nikolai kept his eyes locked on the ground ahead of them. They were almost down, almost safe.

'Just a little longer. Five... Four... Three... Tw-'

In the split second before Nikolai was lifted clean off his feet, and suspended weightless in the air, he registered a bright flash of deep orange to his left, as the two engines on that side exploded into fireballs, ripping the entire wing asunder and painting the planes flank with fire. The aircraft dropped like a stone, listing heavily to its crippled side as it did so. The chants from the cargo bay turned to panicked screams. He was slammed back to the floor as the plane touched ground, except now it wasn't the same floor. Nikolai had just enough time to comprehend that the plane was on skidding on it's side, before the other wing sheered and they started rolling.

Nikolai was flung around like a helpless sack of meat, being tenderised as he slammed into one surface after another. Stars filled his eyes, blood filled his mouth, and a second later, fresh air filled his lungs upon the sound of shattering glass and sheering metal.

'So long since I have felt the touch of grass' he had just enough time to think, oddly serene, before the green carpet rushed up to meet him, and everything went black.

Tristan's weak smile was the last thing Kusanagi saw before waking to the worst headache in her life. She had remembered the screams booming through the cabin, the heat of the engine's flames warming her skin and the suffocating smoke filling her lungs. At first she thought herself dead, but the pain... had she lived. Kusanagi sat up and held her throbbing head.

Christ... I--

Kusanagi looked up to see what remained of the plane. The metal bird had hit the ground hard enough to nearly break in half. She found herself alone in an open field, intense pain shooting through her entire body. The flames of the plane's engines spread across the crash site with the bodies of Freemen littering the field around her. There wasn't any movement.

T-Tristan...TRISTAN!

Lucia struggled to get to her feet, banishing the pain that had laid claim to her crippled body and began limping for the plane's remains, "TRISTAN! TRIISTAAAAN!!!"

As she continued intense pain pierced her ribs forcing her to grab her side in response. They were likely bruised. Lucia barely paid it any mind however. Tristan was the priority.

And then she saw him.

She hobbled over to his motionless form as fast as her body would take her, "TRISTAN! TRISTAN, CAN YOU HEAR ME!?"

She quickly fell to her knees by his side and checked his vitals. They were weak. As she prepared to treat him he turned his head and their eyes met, "L-Lucia... are you... are you okay?"

"Don't talk Tristan, you're in rough shape! You need to rest and I'll take care of you!"

She noticed a large blood stain on his shirt and reached to check the wound. Tristan intercepted her , catching her hand and shook his head, "I'm f-finished..."

"NO! No, you are going to make it!" She announced as she pulled his shirt up to reveal a piece of metal from the plane's frame impaling him through the midsection. Her arms dropped her side. A look of absolute horror painted on her face.

"No..."

"It's okay, L-Lucia... you did all you could," He could tell she was about to argue his point and promptly stopped her. "Listen... I'm out of time Lucia..."

Lucia shook her head, tears streaming down her face, "N-no..."

Tristan smiled, "I'm glad you came for me... I-I... I'm honored to be your brother. But, please Lucia... please... don't become..." He began coughing violently and took a moment to get oriented once more before continuing. "D-don't let what happened in the Pit change who you are... p-please. Continue to be the Lucia I knew a-and... l-loved... be strong and l-live... live on..."

His final breath left him as he spoke. Lucia, kneeling before her brother's body, sobbed to herself in an open field full of corpses. Tristan's name sounded over and over in her head. She lost him... she'd truly lost him, the last thing she had in this world. Now, Lucia was alone. After several moments Kusanagi stood up, her now dried tears on her cheeks. She had to be strong. She would live through this and live a life her brother and Orphan couldn't have.

It was all she could do for them now.

Travis ran through various corridors and walkways, hallways and catwalks. He kept his gun close and was forced to use it many times on his way towards the surface. Travis wasn't a very good shot but thankfully many of his enemies had hand crafted weapons, and those who had guns had spent most of their ammo. As he got higher and higher he encountered fewer and fewer people. For a while he thought he was in the clear.
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"What are we gonna do man? Everyone's going apeshit down there and I can hear guns up top, I'm scared man-"

"Stay calm alright, you're just freaking out, the guns up top are just the wardens. If we stand down and don't look threatoning they have no reason to shoot us."

"You have a fucking knife man! You killed like six people, you have blood on your chest they're gonna ice you the second they see you!"

"No they wont I'll be fine, I'll even give them the knife-"

"Don't you dare! We need to knife to survive and I am not going to let them shoot you I can't lose you now. Lets just find somewhere to hide okay, like an airvent or something..."

"Stop. Look at me, hey hey, look at me. I will protect you okay. I love you. And I will not let anything happen to me or you, especially not you. C'mere."
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Stomping and panting throughout The Pit Travis was hearing less of the violence from the riot. Finally he could hear it from below him and not all around him. He must have been getting close to the top. Nothing would shake his focus now... apart from his sick pride disgusting ideas of what made a man.

Pacing down a metal alleyway he came across the one thing that shook his focus. One thing that he never allowed in his band of dragons through fear of torture and murder. He saw a man passionately kissing another man. "Faggots... Hey FAGGOTS!!!"

The two men turned their attention towards Travis as he aimed his sights down upon them. "Look man we don't want-"

His lover was then covered by his blood. His body fell to the floor quicker than he had time to react. The man fell to the floor and cradled his dead boyfriend in his arms, screaming his name and holding his face.

"What did you think would happen to you two. Eventually someone would do the right thing. Don't worry I'll let you join him." Travis gloated over his fresh kill, but in doing so he had lowered his gun. During which the grieving widow had time to rip the knife out of his true love's hand and throw it into the stomach of the Dragon. Travis grunted and lurched in pain as he quickly drew his gun back up and murdered the young man. Travis put his hand on the knife and pulled it out-bad idea.

Travis fell to one knee as he felt the blood leave his body, he yelled in pain as his wound stung him hard. He swiftly ran over and ripped some clothing off of one of the men he just killed and used it as a cloth to hold the bleeding. "God dammit fuck piece of shit cunt fuck!" he swore repeatedly, furious that someone he considered below him had hurt him so. "I'm not gonna die because of some ass fucker!" Travis pushed the cloth deep against his wound and pressed ahead, further and further into the upper levels.

A few people ran past him but not to fight, either into the arms of, or away from the pressing threat ahead. He was getting slightly woozy and wasn't able to focus. He wanted to rub his eyes but his hands were full with the cloth in one hand and gun in the other. As he past a cell he didn't even see the Warden exiting and rushing behind him, lining up his sights upon the Dragon.

"Freeze!" Travis was already quite slow in the mind, and usually would turn around and attempt to drop the man who would quite clearly win this firefight. However, with the blood dripping out of him perhaps feeling light-headed, and within an instant he dropped his strapped weapons to the ground as he turned to face the Warden.

"I just wanna get out of that place, its a fucking hell down there."

"I see that pistol in your pocket. Take it out, I'll shoot you down if you pull anything."

"Sure why not" Travis sighed and pulled out his pistol by the barrel laying it down on the floor. "Happy now?"

"Drop your ammo too, and the hammer and grenade you had in that back pocket." The Warden spoke with a commanding presence. Travis forgot about his grenade, and just a few hours earlier he would have threatened to pull the pin. But today, in this moment...

"As you want sir." Travis pulled out the hammer and dropped it to the floor and quickly dropping the grenade next to his own foot, the pin still in.

"Kick it over here" said the guard. Travis complied.

"Look sir, all I want is a safe cell and someone to sew up this wound, cos it cut deep."

The Warden spat at the Dragon's feet. "You'll be fine you little bitch. You wanna cell you got one, right here." he nodded towards the cell he just cleared and Travis wandered inside.

"What about this?" Travis motioned towards his wound. The guard laughed and threw a small first aid kit he had attached to his person at travis. The dragon caught the kit and sat down on a small uncomfortable bed. "Thank you sir". The Warden laughed before collecting Travis's old gear and taking it back up to his command.

Travis took a while to think about his predicament. It had taken him a full year to build up his gang, his reputation. It was small but it was something. Within the span of a few days it was all gone, and he was back to where he first was when he entered the Pit, worse, now he had a knife wound and he had to beg a Warden for mercy while he had to stitch himself up, and badly at that. After he had done his best with the first aid it he put his head down onto a hard pillow.

"I'll get it back... I'll get it back... i'll get it back..." he repeared those words for a while before succumbing to unconsciousness; whether it was because of exhaustion or blood loss he didn't know. He would in the morning. If he made it to morning.

Epilogue

'So this is what Men feel before they die.'

It was the first sentence Nikolai had been able to form in his head, when, or after he woke. It was hard to tell. His perception of time and space was unfocused. He could not tell when he had regained consciousness, was it several hours, or mere seconds ago? All he knew was, through the fog of the void that hung heavy over him, he had come to realise that he was aware. An indeterminate time after that, he concluded that being aware meant that he must be alive. After all, Nikolai had seen enough things die to know that the people who spoke of afterlife's and reincarnated spirits were telling lies. He had torn Men and Beasts alike inside out. If inside any of them there dwelled an immortal soul, surely he would have felt it as he ripped them limb from limb.

As he continued down this train of thought, he became aware of other things. The weight of his body pressing down on the earth as he lay on his back. Soil felt harsher than he has imagined. That was when he realised he could feel things, and what he felt was pain. From the top of his head to the tips of his toes, on his skin right down to his bones, his world was pain. Nikolai may have screamed upon this epiphany, or he may have laughed, he wasn't sure.

With great effort, he struggled to contextualize the pain. Catalogueing it, separating one injury from another, somehow it seemed to make the accumulative pain less overwhelming. It hurt to breathe, that meant broken ribs, probably. He could move his fingers and toes. That was good, but the real test would be when he tried to stand up, and that seemed like a long way off yet. When he tried he found that he could lift his right arm, but his left hung limp. A dislocated shoulder, it had happened before. With his good arm, Nikolai instinctively reached over, positioned his left, found the sweet spot, and popped it back in. That made it hurt more, but it was a good hurt. Now, at last, he opened his eyes, and wondered if it was night-time, or if it was just the smoke that made the sky so dark?

'Smoke... the crash!'

Too quickly, Nikolai tried to sit up, and was pushed back by a wave of agony. He tried again, more slowly, gritting his teeth. This time, he forced himself to remain upright. Next, standing. He pushed upward with his legs, but his right ankle gave way beneath him, sending him crashing back down again, hitting his head on a rock in the process. Back to square one, he rolled onto his front, which made his ribs spike in protest, and used his arms to help push himself to his feet, putting as little weight on his right as possible.

He thought back to when the Metal Bird hit the ground. He remembered... what did he remember? He had been at the front, inside the hollow skull, except he wasn't anymore. Where were Dmitri, and Vladimir? He tried to call for them, but the words wouldn't form. His face was so swollen and contorted by bruises and fractures it didn't feel like his own anymore. It was hard to tell how many teeth he had left, due to him apparently having bitten off a significant portion of his tongue.

He knew he must find the others, but his vision was still foggy and he wasn't sure in which direction he should walk. He moved towards the glowing to his left. Daylight. Except he remembered daylight from the time before Nikolai. The time when he was The Boy, and it had never been this hot.

Shrinking away Nikolai rubbed his eyes, ignoring the new pain in his eye-sockets and over the bridge of his nose as he forced his vision to focus. When at last he saw detail, a faint whimpering sound escaped his swollen lips, as Nikolai fell to his knees, drained of strength. As he knelt there, staring into the wall of fire, Nikolai didn't even notice as he soiled himself.

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The Widow sat across from him, with puffy eyes and red, blotchy nose. He knew her name. They had spoken several times before the war, but before the war may as well have been a dream now, the wistful musings of a youthful idealist. They had spoken, raised toasts together, laughed at the same jokes. She had been a friend, or the closest that anyone outside his family and comrades had came anyway. Now though, it was easier just to see her as The Widow.

"I..." she began "I w-was wondering if... you c-could tell me how... I'm sorry... I don't, forget I asked."

"It's ok." Lee replied, and after that the other lies came easier. "Chen was very brave, one of the best soldiers I have ever known. Without him by my side, helping to keep us strong, to keep us together, I don't know how any of us would have made it through Bahrain. He was a good man, a patriot, an example to all the Tigers, and I am so very sorry."

That last sentence was true at least, from certain angles. Although he knew it was false hope, as she was too blinded by grief, and he was not the man she had known from before, a part of him wished The Widow could look into his eyes and know the truth. He wished for her to hate him, to scream at him, to slap him and beat against his chest. He wanted her to make him pay for what he had done, for all of it.

Instead, she managed the weakest and most pathetic of smiles, and said "Thank you, Lee." before she drew a rattling gasp, and dissolved into sobs again.

Perhaps Lee was still a true Tiger too. After all, here he was helping to preserve the disgusting lie of it all. Piling one betrayal on top of another for the good of the cause. It made him sick, but after all was said and done, he still did his fucking duty. It was that thought that scared him more than any other. Not the ways he'd changed, but rather the ways he had not.

Lee thought back to the last few seconds of Corporal Chen Dum-Song's life. The hunger in his eyes, not for the gun that he had been pressing against the head of the Iberian boy, but rather the gun that Lee had been pointing at his own. The Corporal had been weeping tears of gratitude as he made his ultimatum, counting down from five. Lee had done what Chen had wanted, that count was never supposed to reach zero.

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"The report is finally in Colonel. All levels are now secure. Mission Accomplished."

"Thank you, Captain Montoya. That is welcome news. Now, I believe I've kept the Director waiting long enough."

Montoya saluted and left Lee alone in his office. Two years of plotting, of anxiety, desperation and determination had come to an end. Except they hadn't. Operation Borealis would never be over, not for Lee. RACDI-Alpha would be his now. Truly, undeniably his, and with it he must work to wash from his hands the blood that had been spilled to obtain it. It wasn't over, not yet.

Lee pointed the remote at the wooden panel at the far side of the room, which slid down to reveal the large video conference screen. Another click, and Lee's office was filled with the unwelcome sight and the Director's expensively dressed girth. He didn't look happy.

"Director." Lee greeted with a nod of his head "You will be pleased to hear that the unrest has now been completely quelled. The Pit is now secure again."

"Spare me the pleasantries Colonel!" The Director snapped. "I will decide what does and does not please me."

'Gladly' thought Lee, but he felt it was best to let the Director finish.

"The Board requires a swift and adequate explanation Colonel. You were given this position because we had confidence that you could keep things under control, and now this?! Hundreds of Wardens dead, thousands of Inmates, not to mention a successful escape! You have just presided over the biggest breach of security on RACDI-Alpha since it's construction, and made us all look like fools! What do you have to say for yourself?"

"May I speak plainly Director?"

"I should damn well hope so!"

"It took no contribution on my part to make you and the Board look like fools."

In his temper, the Director seemed to inflate further with rage "YOU DARE..."

"Yes, I dare!" Lee interrupted sternly "You said it yourself Director, I was put here because I had earned your confidence, because you knew I was the best man for the job. I am a hardened soldier, an experienced commander, and since day one you have been second-guessing every recommendation I have made. Time and again I have given you honest advice on how best to keep RACDI-Alpha under Venture Horizon's control, and time and again I have been rejected by those who lack the will to act when action is most necessary. You knew that something had to give at some point Director, as well as I, and now you see the consequences of your failure to admit it. Your failure Director, not mine!"

The Director looked as if he might burst. "One more word Colonel, and I swear..."

"That you will finish me?" Lee mocked "That you will see I never work again, that you will make me disappear perhaps? If that is your wish, then I wish you luck, but we both know it would be futile. We have only just managed to restore order, and our position is as precarious as it has ever been. Now is the last chance you will ever get to grant me the power I need to do what is necessary. In the time it would take to replace me, this place could slip though your fingers for good; and even if it doesn't, you will be forced to grant my successor the exact same powers.

First, I want complete control of personnel application in this facility. I decide who to hire and fire, and when, with no obligation to waste time clearing my decisions with you. Second, the Board will relinquish its unlimited veto on decisions I make regarding security at RACDI-Alpha. You get one, per year. Third, you will cease any covert surveillance you currently have on me and my staff. Yes, I know about that! You feel you need to keep an eye on me? I will gladly welcome a team of inspectors to follow me around and evaluate my progress, provided they have no official power to overrule any decision I make. Finally, I want a blank cheque on any and all equipment at Venture's disposal for use at RACDI-Alpha. You claim this place is the most valuable investment you have, the backbone of the corporation. Well, I intend to treat it as such. From now on, every Warden in this place will be trained as well as Special Operations, and equipped with the best weapons and gear you have, supported by heavy armor on the ground, and heavy air support, to ensure that we are adequately prepared for all threats from within and without. Agree to these demands, without question, and we just might be able to pull this place back from the brink."

The Director had taken to his cigars for comfort while Lee went through his list. After the Colonel had finished, he was silent for a long time. When he finally spoke, his face was almost completely obscured by smoke.

"You will have what you need Colonel, all of it. Don't disappoint us again. Whatever you intend to do, I suggest you get started."

"I've already begun, Director." Lee smiled, as he raised the remote and severed the connection, before turning back to face the window.

Arc 2, Chapter 1: Prologue

Three months after Operation Borealis...

She had never liked the cold, Selina lamented, as she gazed wistfully out of the window of their private jet, over the misty, desolate wastes they soared above. Her daydream was one of home, and of her childhood. Growing up in the most expensive district of Old Seville, it had never been hard for the young Selina to believe her father's rhetoric about the "Paradise" of Iberia, envy of all the world. Her's was a land where the cobbles on the streets sizzled with enthusiasm in the midday sun, and then bathed in it's warm red glow come evening; a land where oranges and olives grew fat and rich on every tree, and where delicate latticeworks of vines caressed every building with a lover's touch. Foreigner's mostly found the heat to be oppressive, their skin red and peeling as they squabbled for shade. However, no matter how intense the sun became, Selina's blood always ran hotter. Even at age 11, she took to those streets as if she were a Queen. No matter what else had changed since those days, she would never lust after a climate such as this.

She was yanked out of her daydream by the mean, pointed profile of a fighter jet appearing in her window, so close that if she wanted, Selina could have waved to the two men sitting tandem in the cockpit. The grey skin of the fighter bore the insignia of Venture Horizon's Private Air Force.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," their pilot announced over the jet's intercom "We are now approximately 30 minutes out from RACDI-Alpha. Warden in Chief Colonel Lee-Jin Oh has sent us an armed escort to ensure that we arrive safely."

'With all but our hands tied behind our backs!' Selina thought, eyeing the armed fighter irritably.'A frosty reception in more ways than one it would seem.'

Selina had, naturally, done her homework about the Colonel. To say his record was impressive would be an understatement. She had to cross-reference his service history several times, to be certain the stories weren't embellished by Tiger propaganda. The man was beyond doubt a tactical savant, as well as being tough as they come. During the Pan-Arabian War, when Lee was only a Captain, his company had been the tip of the spear in the Tiger Airborne's infamous advance across the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. In less than a week, Lee had crossed six time-zones, more than halved the territory of the Ottoman Empire, and taken the old city of Cairo, putting him on Iberia's proverbial doorstep and almost ending the war before it had even really begun. Later, when the tide turned against the Tigers, the young Captain had found himself the sole commander of all Tiger forces stranded on the western side of the Persian Gulf. He regrouped the scattered, battered, and demoralized Tiger forces almost single-handed, and had held Bahrain against an onslaught of fresh Iberian and Ignite troops that outnumbered his own eight to one for over a month, waiting for resupply or rescue. When neither came, Lee led his people out of Bahrain, breaking the siege, and marched them north around the Persian Gulf, past the naval blockade. 152 men made it back to Tiger territory alive, with over twice that number having perished along the way. Such a man was not to be underestimated in any circumstances, and Selina was sure that he was accepting her and her team's presence here grudgingly. Still, it was imperative that the Colonel remained Venture's man, as Selina was sure that he was just about the only commander in the world capable of undoing the chronic failures of RACDI-Alpha.

The fighters banked away as their jet made the final descent towards RACDI-Alpha's airstrip, but they were only the first course of the welcoming detail the Colonel had in mind for them. Out of her window Selina saw a small fleet of armored vehicles had arrived to greet them on the ground as they touched down. Justifiable for their protection still, but Selina was in no doubt that this was the Colonel raising his hackles as a show of strength. When the jet finally came to a halt, Selina stood up, donning her luxurious fur coat and bag (all other luggage she new would be waiting for her when she got to her new quarters, no doubt with trackers and listening devices concealed within, compliments of the host), and took her place at the front of the procession.

As she made her way down the mobile steps onto the tarmac, Selina couldn't help but be impressed by the condition of the Wardens in the welcoming detail. They were utterly disciplined, able, and well-equipped. In fact, the term 'Wardens' now seemed inadequate for them. Selina had visited other RACDI's around the world, and she had without fail encountered mostly idle, second rate mercs who thought nothing of malpractice. These Warden's were nothing of the sort. They were an army.

The man of the hour came forth to greet Selina and her 12 compatriots in person, with his second in command, the newly promoted Lt Com. Montoya at his side, flanked by four other guards. The Colonel was immaculate, the only black mark being the courteous smile he was wearing that didn't quite fit with the rest of his stern face.

"Ms. Hernandez I presume." Lee greeted, shaking Selina's hand. "Welcome to RACDI-Alpha. While I'm sure you must be eager for rest after such a long journey, I have arranged a comprehensive tour of the facility, so that you may see for yourself straight away the progress we have made in the last few months. Forgive me, but as this visit is for the purpose of assessing our efficiency, I thought that we had best start as we mean to go on."

"It is a pleasure to meet you Colonel." Selina replied, smiling. She couldn't help but be a little impressed, and intimidated, but she was careful to show neither to Lee. "Yes, I would prefer that we get straight down to business. I'm sure we have much to discuss."

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The climb was treacherous, with loose rocks and dirt fine as sand that could send Nikolai plunging onto jagged boulders below if he made one wrong handhold or foothold. He knew he must climb. He must reach the high ground and find shelter before nightfall. They were not the only wolves in these mountains.

One move at a time. One hand, one foot. One hand, one foot. It went on and on as he scaled the cliff. He mustn't look down, and he must keep moving. Most importantly, he must continue to ignore the protests of his broken body. Shelter, survival, these were the only things that mattered, and he could only afford to think from one day to the next.

At last he reached the top, and today, his fortune was good. Caves ahead! They would reached them soon, kill any wolves or bears that may already call them home, make a fire, and at the very least most of them would live until morning. Nikolai tried his best to smile, but he still had trouble making his face do as he wanted.

The way back down the cliff face seemed quicker and easier than the way up. Until, that is, right at the end when a foothold gave way beneath his weight, sending him sliding down the last fifteen feet, ending in a crumpled heap at the feet of the Free Men. Nikolai wasted no time getting back to his feet, gritting what was left of his teeth through the pain. He had no choice. He was the leader because he was the strongest. He couldn't struggle, he must not cry. If he lost his will to stay on his feet, then the Free Men must find a new leader. Nikolai was too big to be carried. He must hold himself up, or be left behind.

'They follow me because I am strong. Strong, not weak! Weak is dead!'

"Caves." Nikolai told them, pointing with his arm to show the way. Words were still not as easy to form as they used to be, but he was getting better. "We keep moving."

Over forty Free Men had howled and cheered as the Metal Bird had left The Pit behind, twenty had limped and stumbled away from its burning wreckage. Most had thankfully been killed on impact, like Dmitri and Vladimir. However, some had survived but been unable to move under their own steam. Nikolai had known that they must leave the site of the crash as quickly as possible. Nobody could afford to be aided. He hadn't just left them though, he had put them out of their misery himself. Some had thanked him, others had tried to protest. It didn't matter, they all deserved that much from him.

Since then, they had lost two more of their number. Vyacheslav had fallen and broken his neck, while Natalia had succumbed to fever in her sleep one night. The rest all bore some degree of injury, but none as numerous or as serious as Nikolai. There had been medical supplies on the plane, but nowhere near enough for everyone to be full treated. Only the most serious injuries had seen attention, and while Nikolai's mobility had improved significantly the more he had pressed on, he had many open cuts that now refused to heal properly, and he was becoming more aware that he was not well.

No time to dwell. He must move, or die. He gripped his shotgun and took point.

Lewis gripped his gun tightly. It was an L22A2, decked out to suit his need but that still didn't keep the lingering threat of death away from the place. The arrival and introduction of the entire facility was both awed and sickened him because of all the atrocities that he heard were committed before they purged the place a few months ago. The chaotic Pit is now replaced with murmurs and the occasional shout but nonetheless, everything about the place seemed hostile. His fellow Wardens welcomed him, gave him a few tips even but they also seemed new to the facility as well. Only a few of the Wardens really seemed experienced with the place to him. Maybe the purge reached beyond the confines of the Pit.

Lewis tightened his Kevlar, tugging on his shoulder strap as he stopped. The Warden next to him stopped as well, Jeremy Walker, Lewis remembered, was his name.

"You good, Moore?" Lewis looked up, as he finished.

"Yeah, I'm good. Not used to actual Kevlar plating, y'know? All her majesty gave me was a belt, BDU's, and a gun." Lewis joked. Jeremy chuckled as they continued walking down their designated patrol area. Lewis managed to conceal his anxiety once more with humor, his constant fall back. While they walked, Lewis looked around for his big sister. He hadn't heard a lot about her here and she was the sole reason why he was here. All those years of providing and protecting, Lewis felt like it was his time to pay her back whether she liked it or not. But he still doesn't know what she even looks like now.

A pristine image still lay in his mind of her and it was the day she left for Germany. Lewis stared through a wet chain-link fence of a short-haired Aggie, catching the final plane out of England. They had just gotten into one of those arguments again. The kind that Aggie always gave him whenever he followed her a little bit too much. But he can't help it, he argues because she's everything to him. Aggie would roll her eyes and walk away but he would still follow her because he doesn't know what else to do. Now she was going away to a place where she could die and he couldn't do a thing about it. The last time he ever saw her was on a wind-swept day, where the rain lazily fell in little droplets and the air nipped at their exposed skin. Aggie was boarding a plane in full uniform with a full ruck, and a gun. She turned and saw Lewis watching. A look of regret washed on her face.

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Aggie awoke to a smile on her face every day ever since her run in with him. It's been 98 days since she's last seen him and its been great. She heard he died when the Wolves attacked or maybe it was a corrupt Warden that gunned him down. Either way she was glad to be rid of him although Aggie wouldn't have learned her lessons without him so she owed part of her survival to him, she guesses. Her cell-door still loomed over her like it always had but now there were Wardens more frequently patrolling the place than it used to be which might be a good thing. Even on the bottom level of the Pit the patrols were a sight long forgotten.

Aggie got up and got dressed as always. If she had hair, she would have washed it. Aggie sighed and walked out the protection of her cell for some food. The halls were a lot less crowded now that a large majority of prisoners had either fallen in the riots or were licking their wounds which made it easier for her to walk in plain sight. No longer would she have to contend with walking in crowds to avoid being singled out. She would be singled out anyways because of her scars but nobody would touch tainted goods and that was all she was to them. Now they were either dead or gone. She remembered a saying from the bible about the meek inheriting the earth and that's how it felt around here to her ever since the riots. Not that there was anything wrong with that.

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Their arrival to the snow-covered RACDI-Alpha. He heard much of the place mostly from the Director and Selina. Richie vaguely remembers going through the files and learning the name through its fairly updated information department but something else needed attention. He grabbed his luggage after putting on a warm coat just as the cold air met his skin. He wasn't used to the cold and it dawned on him how cold it really was but he had to put on a good show. He stepped onto the runway to see the famous Colonel and his staff of which he's heard a lot about over the past few days. He shook hands with Selina and emphasized a tour of the facility as soon as they could. Richie didn't mind it one bit.

"Whatever keeps my legs awake, Colonel." Richie said as he wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck. He wheeled his luggage close behind.

Simon hoped his shivering would be blamed on the cold. In truth, he was mearly nervous. To him,the Pit was a home for murderers and terrorists, often guarded by other murderers and terrorists.
He was being paranoid, he told himself. The Wardens were just normal people, not psychopaths. Well, mostly not psychopaths, there were bound to be some outliers.
Somehow, this thought failed to comfort him when surrounded by said mostly-well-adjusted ladies and gentlemen.

In an attempt to distract himself, he decided to try and strike up conversation with anyone nearby..
"So... Heh, how are you, uh, handling the cold?"

Luka watched the pleasantries, silently and professionally. A matte black AK-47 was cradled in his arms, and his uniform had been replaced. On each hip, his Makarov and Kukri glinted, freshly polished. A matte Sykes knife was strapped under his arm, and he wore a black beret with the Venture Horizon insignia pinned on. On either side of him, his two remaining squad members were dressed identically, but armed more conventionally. They too were the picture of cold stillness as they watched the proceedings.

=======================================================================================================================

Acolyte followed after Nikolai with the others. Aside from some harsh bruising, he was unscathed aside from where broken hull had clipped him on the mouth. The gash, crossing vertically down his lips had stopped bleeding after a few hours, and had since left a thin white scar. That was what you could say for correct crash landing procedure. This new scar was only noticeable because made a gap in the thickening dark blonde stubble that enclosed most of his head. The bowie knife stuck out of his waistband, and the aspirin and screwdriver were in his pocket, but the barrel of his rifle had been bent, so he'd left it. Instead, also sticking out of his waistband was a .44 Python revolver belonging to one of those who hadn't survived the crash. He wasn't sure how many bullets he'd picked up. A little over a dozen at the most, plus what was in the cylinder. Those clinked loosely in his pockets. Behind him, Lucia hobbled along, downcast. He hadn't tried to speak to her yet, aside from the necessities and smalltalk; give her some space, he thought.

Life for both Abigail and her bar, the Gates of Pandemonium, had been hectic over the last few months since the end of The Pit wide riots. A large section of the bar had to be given over to be used as a makeshift extension for the medical wing, since there were a lot of injuries sustained during the fighting that had been going on in the deeper levels of The Pit. Now you'd think that the troubles would mean that more people would be coming to the bar to both relax and forget the in-fighting, not true, in fact the opposite had occurred; perhaps the site of injured, possibly even dead bodies put people off.

Eventually though, in the last couple of weeks, things started to settle down, large sections of The Pit had been reclaimed, and everything went back to some kind of peace. In fact, when the operation was declared officially over, business at the Gates surged back to higher levels than usual; which made Abigail smile. Last of the large medical supplies had been removed a couple of days ago, but Abigail managed to get some medical kits off of them before they left, after all, even a place like her bar would need some basic supplies.

Abigail Nyte - Gates of Pandemonium Bar - 8:30 PM

Abigail was busy behind the bar counter, making sure that it was all neat and tidy, looking out across the room, the place was relatively full; which made sense given that it was the end of a long day shift for some of these people, but for the others, it was the beginning of a long night shift, and they want one last bit of comfort before the long night shift began. She noticed that all the Wardens were in their new uniforms and equipped with the latest gear that Venture could afford; which meant something was going to happen, and soon. Even Abigail got supplied with a new uniform along with everyone else, it looked more professional and business like than her old outfit. Soon enough, one of Abigail's regulars came up to the counter.

"Evening Abigail. Trust all is well here?" The Warden asked as he took a seat. Abigail looked in his direction, and saw that it was Warden Harrison. He was a nice enough guy, started around the same time as Abigail, though was a year or two younger than she was.

"And an evening to you to Harrison. Yeah, everything is pretty much all calm here. Take it you'll have your usual?"

"Of course." Without needing to respond, Abigail got out a fresh beer from behind the counter, and opened it before handing it over to Harrison. He took a sip before leaning back briefly in his chair. "So, you hear the news?"

"What news?" Abigail asked, sounding a bit confused.

"Just heard from one of the boys up top; looks like some new Executives have just touched down, Lee will probably give them the tour before they going about their duty."

"And I should know this because?"

"I figured you ought to know, plus they might stop by for a drink once the tour is over. Well, see you Abigail, I spot the rest of my squad over in the corner; no doubt they'll complain if I don't join them soon." Harrison soon left the counter with his drink in hand.

"I highly doubt they'll stop by, but it pays to be prepared. Thanks for the heads up though."

Clementina stood firm with the line of warden's. She was of the lowest ranked officer of those who stood with Colonel Lee's welcoming committee, and also the shortest. Anyone else would have questioned why someone of low rank and low height would be with a colonel when welcoming such important guests, but 2nd Lieutenant Abreu didn't. She knew how good she was, and how it was only a matter of time until she had risen through the ranks and was the right hand to the colonel, perhaps even above him; but she knew such thoughts were narcissistic and cast them out of her mind.

==========================================================================================
A long plane ride. A long drive. A long walk. No vision. All black. Blindfolded. Sounds of footsteps and soldiers barking forwards. I think they're soldiers. Are they? No. Must be guards. Warden's I hear them say. Basically guards. Planes, cars, all sorts of engines. Freezing cold. Snow on my face. I'm not used to it. I miss my home. I miss my friends. Forget them, I'm here now. It gets warmer but only a bit. No more wind, I'm inside. I must be in the Pit now. They take off my blindfold and I can finally see. I'm walked down into a lower area and they give me a cell number. Tell me where to work: a mine along with many other new inmates. They say they will give us care packages with food and medicine and that our tools will be in the mines. I'm done now. I have free reign and they leave us. I button up my jumpsuit and head off towards the mine. Can I make a difference here by myself? With my comrades there was a chance to make a dent. Now I'm not too sure. I grab a pickaxe and start working.

"Might as well make the best of it".

Kusangi said nothing as she watched Nikolai push his body far beyond its limits. After months of fighting to survive in the wilderness Nikolai had grown rather impatient with her protests in regards to his health. Most men would've died by this point, but Nikolai had obviously mastered the concept of "mind over matter". Tristan's death had made her more inclined to protect her fellow survivors, but it was obvious Nikolai didn't want any aid. He didn't want to appear weak in front of his men.

Pride... Honor... These things means nothing out here... Why must men be so petty?

Most of her wounds from the crash had since healed up, though she still had a slight limp. She'd also managed to get a few new cuts and bruises since they started the expedition through the mountains. As Nikolai reached the top she looked down at the bag in front of her. They'd had to best similar circumstances since the crash and have learned to travel light. After the crash Kusanagi had salvaged some gear from the remains of the plane's stores. No longer in the rags given to her by the late Azrael, Kusanagi was now wearing a slapped-together assortment of tactical clothing previously used as back-up gear by wardens. Though a large fur cloak covered most of her body, she wore a black tanktop, tactical vest and pants with boots that didn't quiet fit right.

She ditched her old pistol (too many bad memories) and had taken an M9 Beretta from Vladimir's corpse. They'd used damn near half of their ammo hunting up to that point, but she still had around 50 rounds and 3 magazines on her as well as her trusty old bowie knife. Her hair had grown a good bit since they left the Pit and she'd considered cutting it, but without any way to see herself she'd decided not to worry about it for now.

As her mind wandered Nikolai had fallen down. As he got to his feet Kusanagi noticed a few of his men glance over at her... awaiting her reaction. One of them was even smirking. Kusanagi swallowed her concern for his new injuries and watched with the rest of them as Nikolai shook off the pain.

She crossed her arms and looked to Acolyte, "To think we've escaped a hole only to spend our remaining days sleeping in caves." She forced a a smile as she spoke.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

Neil watched from a small outcrop in the stone wall as a small group of wardens made their way to the upper levels. There were far fewer wardens patrolling than usual... well, the new usual anyway. He'd managed to avoid any direct contact with the wardens since he'd become a prisoner in this hellhole and he intended to keep it that way. Some had heard of the persona he'd assumed... the "Reaper", but no one had a name to put to the face.

Once they were out of sight Neil climbed down to find the supplies they'd left behind. Supply drops were usually done at designated locations and times, but many of the wardens were lazy assholes who had no concern for the prisoners' well-being. This particular group obviously had a more pressing engagement to attend to. That was fine with Neil, he was hungry after all.

Acolyte gave Lucia a bright smile. She was coming out of her shell, at least a little bit, even if she was clearly putting on a brave face. 'Ah, it's not so bad. I spent a fortnight caving and camping in the wild in China, years ago. It's nostalgic, I guess.'

That wasn't strictly true. A rival drug gang had hunted him out of the city, gunning down two of his... well, not friends. One of them must have known a thing or two about tracking, because they'd chased him far from civilization, and he had had to camp and cave to get by.

As he walked, he idly scratched a fleck of dried blood from the blade of his knife. They'd all pitched in with hunting, and skinning in the last three months. Nikolai had seemed too preoccupied with survival to try and aggravate Acolyte, and the other Free Men had taken that lead, after it had become apparent Acolyte could hold his end of hunting and chores up.

He smiled again. 'So I'm thinking, when my hair grows out more, I might keep the beard. What do you think?'

"So... Heh, how are you, uh, handling the cold?" Olivander said aloud.

"Like a fish out of water, my friend." Richard answered back. The cold air blew through again making Richard he had a full head of hair to warm his scalp. Instead, he shivered in his shoes while being led into a glorified prison. Dr.Olivander was an excellent finance executive and one of the only other executives who was actually friendly. "By the way how do you think our annuals are going to look this year? Ignite Solutions got us in a bind with their fuel acquisitions in Alaska." Richard said, small-talking on the way to actual tour.

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Aggie made her way to the designated drop zone where the Wardens would almost always leave a care package for the inmates to eat. Before the riots, the gangs would take control of these places and sell the goods at an inflated price which didn't exactly made it easy for anyone who wasn't in a gang to obtain some food. Most recently, there's been no such thing. The major gangs have crawled back into their own hole in the wall.

She arrived at the spot relatively quickly before most of the other inmates could arrive but she did spot one inmate rummaging through the boxes already. The man hunched over the spot, with a black jacket, short hair, and sporting sunglasses. He looked like one of the loner types kind of like her. Ever since she was cast off, Aggie's been living by herself and separating herself from anyone. Her tainted reputation would be enough to drive anyone away.

Aggie waited for the man to be finished with his rummaging, not wanting to agitate this loner.

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"Our shift's almost done. Want to go to the bar once this is over?" Walker proposed. Lewis looked at his watch and he was indeed correct. Their patrols on the mid-levels only covered from afternoon to night which was fast approaching. Lewis didn't mind a drink especially since his memories in the highlands still remained fresh.

"Yeah sure." Lewis had only been to the bar a few times with his squad mates but he doesn't see a reason not to but it was once again chalked up another day that he hadn't seen Aggie. He had to see her even if he couldn't recognize her by her looks.

Soon enough, the time came and Lewis met with Walker and his friends who all seemed to come from the same unit. Walker was an American soldier, tall and blonde-haired unlike Lewis who seemed scrawny compared to Walker. They all got a table, not far from the bar where Ms. Nyte worked. She was a barracks favorite mostly because of her hair and friendly demeanor towards just about everybody. He's heard stories of her bending the will of weak-minded men but he mostly kept those tales out of his head.

"Hey Lewis, live a little!" Jeremy patted him on the back to shake him out of his day dream. He place a drink in his hand and he took a swig. The drink wasn't bad but wasn't exactly to his taste. The table cheered as he did so. He winced at the taste.

"Whatever keeps my legs awake, Colonel."

Lee acknowledged the man with an incline of his head, keeping his annoyance private. It had been his superior that Lee had addressed, not him, and this visitor's attempts at friendly small talk were lost on Lee.

'Civilians! As if I didn't have enough to wrestle with already?'

There were few things that Lee desired more than to be able to send this gaggle of interfering bureaucrats packing. However, there were certain levels of compliance that were still expected of him; and Lee knew that it was either this, or continue having any important conversations on the roof of the ATC tower where no-one undesirable could hear. Considering that Lee was fortunate to still be alive, let alone still in his position, he supposed that he could tolerate this intrusion into his affairs. The Iberian Lioness that stood before him had best keep her mewling cubs out from under his feet though.

"Before we can begin there are certain parameters that I must make clear." Lee announced to the arrivals. "Your safety is our first priority, which is why I cannot stress enough the dangers of this facility. RACDI-Alpha is as secure and ordered as it has ever been, but we are still talking about an environment filled with highly dangerous individuals, and there is much work still to be done.

For obvious reasons you must not attempt to approach or communicate with any of the Inmates, and this also applies to any Warden's we meet who are not part of your security detail. They all have their jobs to do, and must not be kept from them. This rule applies to any time you leave your quarters during your time here.

Secondly, you must at all times be accompanied by a security detail whenever you leave your quarters during your stay here, and when in the company of said detail you must obey any commands they issue you with, understanding that all such orders will be made in the name of your own safety.

Third, when inside the facility, be mindful of the observational capacity of your role. All trips inside the facility will be led by a commanding officer. If you wish to ask any questions while on a tour, direct them always to said officer. You will have time to discuss your findings with each-other when you are safely back in your quarters. We will not have time for debates and open discussions whilst inside the facility.

Finally, if any of these directives, or any further directives I see fit to issue you with over the course of this visit are broken, any individuals involved in breaking them will be confined to their quarters until arrangements can be made for them to depart the facility. Do we all understand each-other?"

If any one of these Executives wished to take one step further into RACDI-Alpha, the answer was clear.

============================================================================================================================

As they began their way down into the forested valley below, that spanned their current position and the shelter that lay in wait on the other side, Nikolai listened to the conversation between the Sneaky Man and Kusanagi a few paces behind him. So far, the Sneaky Man had proven himself useful, and made no challenge to Nikolai's authority in the group. In exchange, Nikolai had refrained from killing him and leaving his body for the wolves, that is if the Free Men themselves weren't hungry enough yet to partake.

Kusanagi had helped patch up the worst of Nikolai's wounds, just like with all the others, but beyond that the two hadn't had much direct communication. Nikolai may not have been an expert in feelings of loss, it was The Boy that had lost his family, his home, and his pride, not Nikolai. Nikolai had been born in a cell, brought into this world screaming and bloody, baptised by the glowing sticks that cut black, smoking scars into his skin. However, he knew enough to know that he was not the person Kusanagi required for comfort. Nikolai could neither feel nor feign empathy. To him, Kusanagi's brother had been just another sheep, who's voiced had always disappeared and gaze shied away whenever Nikolai was near, like so many others always had done. Nikolai was too used to death to feel the loss of one boy who had never so much as spoken to him. Even if he could, Nikolai's arms were made for killing, not for putting around shoulders. Nobody would ever wish for their tears to be dried by his massive, calloused hands. He could be her guide, her protector when she required it, but never truly her friend.

'So I'm thinking, when my hair grows out more, I might keep the beard. What do you think?'

Lucia laughed and nodded, "I think it's quite fitting, honestly. After all this time you've become a regular 'mountain man'."

The two of them did all they could to bring some levity to their situation. The remaining Freemen were a gloomy bunch, so Lucia figured she'd have to make up the difference. Thankfully Acolyte was easy to talk to and never failed to reciprocate her humor. Of everyone in the group he was the closest thing she had to a friend.

After a few minutes of walking through the woods Lucia picked up where their conversation left off, "You know, I kind of envy you. While nature provides your face protection from the elements I'm stuck burying my face in stale-smelling bear fur."

**************************************************************************************************************************************
Neil sensed a presence behind him as he filled his bag up with preservatives. He shot a quick glance over his shoulder to see a woman hiding in the shadows. She was likely waiting for him to leave. After his bag was full he stood up straight and started for her direction. Though he wasn't looking at her specifically, she wouldn't have been able to tell due to his glasses. As he passed by her he tossed a can of food her way, and without a word, continued onward.

Ever since his... weak moment during the riot, he'd been extra sensitive in regards to the opposite sex. Guilt was a hell of a motivator.

Pull back strike down. Pull back strike down. Pull back strike down. Felix kept hacking away with his pickaxe. He did have a plan once he entered the pit but he couldn't remember what it was. Now that he was on his own he would have to alter it anyway. This was a good time synch, and from what he could tell it was mandatory- but what confused him was that he wasn't being monitored. He stopped for a moment and looked around, turning to another inmate and asking with his odd accent-

"Why aren't we being watched? Aren't those Warden's meant to make sure we're working?"

The man he spoke to closed himself off and said in a hushed voice "Don't speak to me, just keep working."

Felix looked puzzled. "Will you get in trouble if I stop?"

The man responded "I don't know but just keep going."

Felix picked up his pickaxe and continued working, thinking it best to just keep going. He didn't know the protocol of the Pit yet and didn't want to upset the Status Quo quite just yet. But in time... in time.

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"32, 33, 34, 35, 36-" Footsteps from outside the cell. Quickly Travis ended his push-ups and rolled under his bed. He waited for a few minutes, lying on the cold hard ground before deciding it was safe to show his face in his cell again. He slowly and carefully peeked out on both sides of his cell. No one was there. He sighed and went back to his push-ups. Ever since the riot he had been paranoid that Iron Fist or someone else who wanted vengeance on him would strike him down. He'd never admit it, but he was scared. The Dragons gave him security, and when they were all dead he still had the Aryans, but even after that all fell apart he had guns. But in a moment of weakness, stupidity and bloodloss he gave it all up. 'I could have taken that bitch Warden', he told himself repeatedly over the past 3 months. He truly had nothing left.

In the past whenever he went to get food he would send his dragons and fight for it. Now he would run in grab as much as he could and run out again before someone shanked him. He was starting to understand fear and he didn't enjoy it. The wolves had scared him in the past when they knocked on his doorstep, but now it was consistent and daily. He had heard there was a supply drop but he was too scared to go for it. "I'll get the next one." He told himself. "Yeah... the next one..."

News that the new Executives had arrived had kept people on edge, especially Abigail; she'd have to make sure everything was running smoothly and efficiently during the welcome tour, granted that is basically what she had been doing for the past five years, but given the nature of the people that were arriving at this very moment, Abigail would have to be extra vigilant in her duties, and keep a close eye on any troublemakers.

She watched as another squad rolled into the bar, and took a table that happened to be near the counter. By all appearances, it looked like they had just come off their shift, judging from the way they were laughing and joking with one another. This was the sort of atmosphere she liked having at the Gates of Pandemonium, as it reminded her of working in the bar back home. She wondered how her parents were faring back home.

Last bit of mail she received was about a fortnight ago, and in it was that her father had being made a Captain in the SWAT Department of the New Toronto Police Force. This meant he was in charging of organizing the deployment of squads and going over and analyzing the action plans for the various operations. It wasn't as much field work as he was used to, but he had the commanding presence to prove he could take charge. The news of the promotion had brought a smile to Abigail's face.

Thinking that there would be some time before anyone important showed up, Abigail decided to make some small talk with the group that just rolled in.

"Evening gentlemen, take it you've just come in from a long hard shift, I hope your all enjoying your drinks."

Selina would give credit where it was due, for an old battle-axe Lee wasn't half bad at feigning courtesy. Still, for someone intuitive enough (which was more than she could say for most of this wet bunch the Director had saddled her with), the hostility emanated off the veteran Colonel with an oppressive force.

The man was careful too, she observed, as he outlined the conditions of their visit. Every measure was weighed out, every precaution taken having a reasonable justification. "In the name of your own safety." as he had put it, but Selina doubted that Lee had a strictly singular motive. He was creating a controlled environment. No wiggle-room. If Lee had his way, then Selina and her team would leave RACDI-Alpha with an impression of the facility filtered through a lens that Lee had adjusted for his own purposes. She sincerely hoped that she would not be the only one to notice this, or perhaps she didn't. If one of her esteemed colleagues took offense at the restrictive nature of proceedings and spoke out of turn, then one loose-tongued idiot could be buying them all a ticket home before they had even started.

Selina didn't like this one bit, but at this juncture she had no leverage, and Lee was clearly not going to suffer having to argue the point.

"Your command, your rules Colonel." she replied with an appropriately deferent tone. "We will do everything we can to make this inspection as co-operative as possible."

"I'm glad to here it." Lee responded "So we can cover more ground quickly, I have arranged for you to divide into three separate teams. One will be accompanying me, the second will be joining Lt Com Montoya, and the third will be under the charge of Captain Korovich. You may choose how to divide yourselves."

'You really are that paranoid aren't you Colonel?' Selina inwardly balked. Again, there was nothing about this that wasn't logical and couldn't be justified. However, it all too conveniently also meant that Selina had to divide her already meager contingent of inept desk-jockeys, taking them out of her reach and placing them in the welcoming arms of Lee's heavily armed cronies. Later, she'd have to rely on their reports to her to draw her own conclusions rather than seeing for herself, and she could be fairly certain that half of her team were barely capable of tying their own shoelaces without her around, relatively speaking, let alone asking the right questions in the right manner. Furthermore, Lee was making her look weak by stripping her of a portion of her command. If came down to a contest between them of who could be more intimidating to the pawns, he was giving himself the high-ground early on.

"Very well Colonel." Selina conceded "I will accompany you along with Chung, Wilson, Myers and Sweeney. Ollivander, you take Smith, Jimenez, and Le Saux and go with Lt Com. Montoya. Lu, take Adams, Hunt, and Schneider to accompany Captain Korovich."

Ollivander and Lu were, give her strength, the best candidates for team leaders after her. Ollivander was of the two the more likely to find something to complain about, and she had sent him with Montoya because he would be the least intimidating of the three, not that that was saying much. Lu was perhaps not as reliable, but he had the confidence to handle a man like the grizzled Korovich that Ollivander lacked.

"It's settled then." said Lee "Lt. Abreu, you and Husky Squad are with me and Viper. Let's get to work."

They all moved to the waiting convoy of armored transports, Selina for one hoping that things would start looking up soon.

Clementina saluted with a resounding "Yes sir!" as she was given her orders and marched with Husky Squad to the waiting convoys. She didn't like the execs, but she knew that they were in charge of all the behind the scenes business. Still, she preferred that they leave sooner rather than later and that total autocratic control was handed back over to Lee, where it belonged.

"Evening gentlemen, take it you've just come in from a long hard shift, I hope your all enjoying your drinks."

"Besides my English friend here, everything is dandy." Jeremy spoke. Lewis nearly spit out his drink all over the table as he heard what Jeremy said. He gulped and finished his drink before speaking.

"Contrary to what my land-grabbing Americans here think, I liked the drink." Lewis said to the friendly bartender. The group laughed and scoffed at the remark.

"I bet it tasted like tea. That's why he liked it." Someone said. Lewis waved him off as he took another sip although He enjoyed their company more than he'd like to admit. He could feel his cheeks getting rosy so he decided to slow himself down despite feeling obligated to drink more.

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The last thing Aggie was expecting was receiving a can of food from a complete stranger. A "thank you" escaped her lips but she wasn't sure if he heard her. Regardless she had to act fast. She went to the food and grabbed all that she could, placing the cans of foods in her pockets. Soon she heard the other prisoners start to gather around the drop zone. Aggie got up and made her way back to her cell, shoving past the prisoners. They all looked at her with contempt and pity, recognizing the scars faster than they recognized the fact that her pockets were spilling with food.

"Hey it's that Piranha chick."

"No, I thought Aryan."

"Both." She heard as she slipped past her fellow prisoners. She was already used to the gossiping but the reminder of her past was not an easy pill to swallow.
----------------------------------------------------------------

Richard listened closely to what Lee had to say about the rules and what they were supposed to do. He recognized the risks with taking certain steps so he decided to ease off for a tad bit or at least while the Wardens were around. His job here was to see if the facility was running up to par and nothing else, he reminded himself. When Lee was done, Selina spoke up and arranged them into groups according to what Lee had wanted.

What is Lee hiding? Richard thought to himself.

"Lu, take Adams, Hunt, and Schneider to accompany Captain Korovich."

Richard nodded and motioned toward the convoy of armored vehicles. "Come on, there's not time like the present." He made his way there, keeping an eye out for both the Wardens and the facility.

"Besides my English friend here, everything is dandy." One of the group said, speaking with a definite American accent. The British man in question, looked like he was going to spit out his drink after hearing the remark. "Contrary to what my land-grabbing Americans here think, I liked the drink." The group as a whole let out a laugh after that. Abigail couldn't quite tell what part of the country the man came from. "I bet it tasted like tea. That's why he liked it."

"I sure hope it doesn't taste like tea; though I have heard of some high end liqueurs that have a unique taste that could be described as either tea or coffee in nature. Unfortunately I have no such item currently in stock, and if I did, it would probably be reserved for the higher ups and the like." Abigail said, showing off a bit of the knowledge she had gained from working in a bar for roughly ten years.

"So, from what corners of the world do you folks hail from? I could tell that you two had a American and a British accent respectively, but wasn't exactly sure as to where you were from specifically." Abigail asked, a little curious to learn more about them.

Korovitch took the wheel of one of the transport vehicles as the executives clambered in delicately beside his men. Executives. Almost as bad as politicians in his book, and all they were likely to do was get under everybody's skin. Still, he was silent as he brought the vehicle around to set off back to the RACDI-Alpha facility.

===========================================================================================================================

Acolyte grinned humorously. "Bitch, you just jealous of my sexy beard growing capabilities!"

He glanced briefly at Nikolai up ahead. The big man had looked back at them once or twice. Probably to check on Lucia, but Acolyte knew the Dog disliked him. It was a shame, as he had no wish to get under Nikolai's feet. He harbored no delusions the two would ever be friends, but he did hope Nikolai could form some semblance of trust towards him in the future. As he walked, he suddenly stooped to pick up a displaced chunk of wood, a little bigger than his fist. It wouldn't fit in his pocket, so he just held onto it. It would make good whittling; a craft he hadn't had chance to practice since being put into the Pit.

Lucia gave him a peeved look of disappointment before looking ahead. Woods. Cold, dark woods. It felt as if they'd been walking in circles for months. Had they really escaped hell just to find themselves in another one? Lucia noticed Acolyte pick up the hunk of wood and cocked an eyebrow, "You planning to knock somebody upside the head with that?"

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

Neil thought he'd heard her whimper something but chose to ignore it. He didn't have the luxury to get pulled into any kind of lengthy exchange. He continued up the walkway, making his way back to the Hive where he was stashing his gear.

All these women... they have no hope. But she wasn't like them. She should have been safe...

Neil didn't even realize he'd stopped walking until someone bumped into him. He shook his head and snapped out of it.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I want it... I need...

He'd been clean for nearly three months now. Meth was the only thing keeping his head clear of uncertainty and doubt all this time and the withdrawal was weighing far heavier on his consciousness than it was his body. He wanted to get fucked up. He wanted to forget. Forget everything.

He stood up against a wall, in the shadows as inmates began pouring into the walkway to get their share of the supplies. He noticed the girl again and over heard others talking about her.

Without thinking, he began to follow her.

"So, from what corners of the world do you folks hail from? I could tell that you two had a American and a British accent respectively, but wasn't exactly sure as to where you were from specifically."

"Wait... let me do this." Lewis spoke out. "I've been with these blokes for a while now and they'd gut me if I didn't do this. "Walker is from New York... Oliva is from Florida... Albergo is from Amsterdam... and Marino is from.. uh Europe?"

Marino chucked a paper ball at Lewis. "Italy, you figlio di yroia!" The table laughed once more, enjoying the spectacle.

"4 out of 5... not bad." Albergo said, patting Lewis on the back.

"I'm from London by the way." Lewis told Abigail. "In case you wanted to find specifically out where I'm from.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Aggie's commute back to her cell was relatively lonely since most of the prisoners went to the drop off for the much needed food. Although she had a sneaking that someone was following her but every time she turned her head, Aggie saw nothing but the shadows. She arrived at her cell a little short of breath but then she began coughing. For a brief moment, she coughed violently. To Aggie, it felt like her lungs were trying to forcibly leave her body through her throat and today was a good day. She dropped one of her cans, it rolled into the darkness as she tried to recovered. Aggie raised a rag to her mouth and when she pulled it back there was splotches of blood. It didn't affect one bit. She knew she was going to make it through this, somehow.

The Colonel's speech had made Olivander somewhat more relaxed, an authoritative tone could go a long way. Nevertheless, he was still shaking a bit as he made his way to the shorter warden. She looked as gruff and stern as all the other guards, but on a woman her height, it looked almost comical. This was a sentiment he dare not share out of thhe sheer terror of what the short woman would do to him should he insult her.
"H-hello," He stuttered,extending a hand, "Doctor Simon Olivander, at your service. Before you ask, it's economics, not medicine."

---------------------------------

Penn muttered under his breath. He muttered quite frequently around the more dangerous parts of the pit, finding that people tended to leave those who wonder around muttering to themselves mostly alone.

Judging by guard movements and the noise of a landing helicopter not too long ago, the facility was hosting some rather important visitors today. He would have to ask around about that later. Round a corner, still muttering, he noticed a woman in her cell, slumped over and coughing violently. After a brief moment of indecision, his worn and faded compassion won out and he wandered over to the cell. "You a'right, lass?" He asked the scarred woman.

Acolyte glanced at the wood in his hand. 'I thought I might do a bit of carving. My dad taught me about it, before he died...' there was a pause, as he was lost in memory, then he shook himself. 'Anyway, yeah, it's been a while. No time like the present to pick it up again!'

He wondered what he might make of it. The hunk of wood was a little smaller than his head, and he could probably make some decent sized animal out of it. A deer, maybe.

Neil leaned against the wall of an alley not far from the woman's cell. What the hell was he doing? If he stuck around too long people would start asking questions. The last thing he needed to do was draw attention to himself. She'd been coughing violently for awhile before he heard a man speak to her.

"You a'right, lass?"

Leave, leave, leave.... Okay, alright... I'm leaving now...

Neil took a few steps towards the walkway before stopping and throwing himself against the wall once more.

Fuck me.

He reached in his jacket and gripped his knife. He hadn't gotten to see the guy, but he was going to assume the worst. If he was looking to cause some trouble... Neil would refrain from using a gun if possible. Too loud.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************

"Just... make anything but a wolf," Lucia sighed. "Anyway, it seems like a pretty decent way to pass the time. You know, get your mind off of things..."

Lucia trailed off as her eyes scanned the area around them. She noticed a thick stick on the ground nearby and broke off from the group to retrieve it. Upon returning she held it up for Acolyte to see, "Mind giving me some pointers? Looks like there's enough here to make like... a gladius or something cool like that."

Acolyte chuckled. "A gladius? A sword... I don't think that would work unless you wanted to club people with it. You want a weapon, make a spear, and harden the tip in tonight's campfire. Aside from 'don't actually burn the wood', there aren't any pointers I can give you on that score. If you want to take it up as a hobby I can try and teach you'd if you like."

He adjusted the now stained Kevlar vest he wore. He hadn't taken it off, so as to conceal the swastika brand on his chest, but it was starting to itch frequently. "Of course, another option would be to find a longer stick. harden the length of it and make a quarterstaff. I learned to fight with those, in the temple, actually. They can be as lethal as a blade in the right hands. Or you could cut that stick in half, I could help you braid some rope and you could make a pair of nunchucks."

Lucia laughed, "I wasn't actually going to use it as a weapon. You think I'm that stupid?" She looked over the stick some more and tossed it aside. She began looking around for another as they continued walking. "Though... I hadn't considered making a legitimate weapon out of it until you mentioned it. I'm actually pretty good with a bow. I took archery lessons as a kid... could be useful for hunting."

She scratched her chin in thought for a moment and looked to Acolyte, "I don't suppose you know how to make one?"

"No, I don't think so. I could probably make arrows, but I'm not sure how to prepare the stave, and I don't know what to use as string. I can braid grass rope, but that would be way too fragile to make a bowstring."

As they walked, he glanced down at her. "The best I could do is make some throwing spears. I bet you could get good at javelin throwing."

Binnsyboy:
"No, I don't think so. I could probably make arrows, but I'm not sure how to prepare the stave, and I don't know what to use as string. I can braid grass rope, but that would be way too fragile to make a bowstring."

As they walked, he glanced down at her. "The best I could do is make some throwing spears. I bet you could get good at javelin throwing."

Lucia put a hand on her shoulder and began rotating her arm, "I've never tried, but you need to be pretty flexible for that right?" She pulled back her arm with her other hand, bending it backwards in an unnatural way. "I've got that down pat and I'm pretty damn strong for my size."

It would be pretty damn cool to catch an animal in the head with one of those...

The Freemen would likely enjoy the sight of a woman catching them dinner with such primitive tools as well.

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