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

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"Moving on," Clementina stated as she moved the tour group through the cell blocks, prisoners fleeing and hiding at every turn. What made Clementina rather proud was one thing in particular. "One thing I want to say off the record, sometimes you see people slacking off, in any job, and when their employer comes along they rush back to their duties with a pathetic excuse. I haven't noticed a single prisoner do this, have any of you? The only sight any of you will see are those who have finished their shifts or those who are on their way to their shifts, to which upon seeing this armed escort will simply travel quicker." Clementina his a small one second smile. From just three months here RACDI Alpha seemed like the perfect place for her. A perfect fit. She kept this in mind as she escorted the worthless men and women of the executive world to the one place where they would be reminded of their homes, hell. They were all sadist bastards at heart, and the industrial part is the hottest place in the whole Pit.

The heat could be felt from ages away and yet when they had finally made their way into the industrial plant the fiery temperature still managed to hit them like the centre of a burning star. Many execs were pulling at their collars and wiping sweat from their brows. One even had the gall to remove his jacket and carry it as well as taking off his tie. Not even wearing proper uniform? Fucking amateur. Fucking amateurs. They could use some basic training like her and other Warden's. They wouldn't last three days.

The view was one of utter submission. More prisoners than the eye could see, all busy carrying equipment, operating the heavy machinery under guard watch, refining the ores, minerals and materials, everywhere the eye could see there was a different job and a different duty being performed by the prisoners. This was true production at work, nothing could be done to make this place more productive.

Nikolai sat their, frowning and silent, as the doctor outlined his diagnosis. He had just gained a brother in blood, but for how long? It rankled. Not right, not fair, none of it! The Free Men needed to be away from this place, and soon. They had had their wounds tended, and been fed and sheltered, but this place was no home to them. They would never have a home, or any measure of peace. All they had was the next day, and the next, and the one after that, clinging on to the edge of an abyss while their handholds were chipped away, one by one.

Nikolai had never believed that there was anything higher or more important than life itself. People who fought in the name of glory, honour, faith, or brotherhood were chattel, their beliefs manipulated as they were thrown to the slaughter to die in the name of cleverer Men. Nikolai had seen this, every day, for over half his life. He had survived, he thought, because he had fought in the name of survival itself. His stubborn refusal to have anything in his life that he was willing to die for, had been what had kept him going where others had given up, embracing death as if it was their reward, rather than the price they paid for failure. Underground, in the darkness, this philosophy had been enough. When his view had been constrained by those walls of ice and stone, it had been easy to simply focus on the next task ahead, with no thought to what lay beyond. Not for the first time, Nikolai wondered if listening to the Colonel Man had been a mistake. Perhaps he should have stayed in the darkness. A Dog can be content with so little, but a Man has questions, a Man has beliefs. Nikolai's beliefs were hollow, and his questions went unanswered. It was no longer sufficient to believe in survival for survival's sake, now that he was marching down this path without a destination. If peace and solace were lost to them, and death was the only journey's end, then what did it matter if that end came after one more day, or week, or month? What made those extra scant hours of consciousness worth fighting so hard for?

He wished he was wrong, that their was something he was yet to see, or that he had been seeing and simply never comprehended before. Perhaps before the end their would be some place along the road, where Nikolai could stop, look back, and know that he had chosen well. How could he though, when with every gain came a loss far greater? How could he believe that there was value in those dreams, when the world of the waking offered nothing of the sort?

"What will you tell her?" were his only words to Acolyte, after they had left the room to return to the rest.

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He had faded at last. It was perhaps her longest yet, appropriate considering what lay ahead, necessary even, but her companion had finally yielded, letting go of the delusions of the worth of his beating heart, and had embraced the One Truth in a final, glorious moment. The Talon drank in her victory, all the sweeter for the effort it had cost her. She was sustained, her faith more unshakable than ever. She would need that, and she had best savour it, for this may well have been the last time she would open another soul to the One Truth, before The Great Revolution moved into its final stage, and her with it.

Cleaning up had been a simple task, and the waste of the man's remains now lay rolled up neatly within the layers of plastic sheeting, no trace of him left anywhere else in the room, and her own person was now clean as well. Now, she would dine with their new guests, for The Talon had now decided how they would repay her kindness. Their help was required in this next test. She would speak with them, and begin to unravel the secrets of the One Truth to them. it was still too early for the full extent to be comprehended, but she would plant the first seeds nonetheless, and no word she spoke would be false. The innocent would no doubt try and deny her at first, erecting her flimsy shield against the undeniable. The reformer would attempt to sway her with his own blinkered reason, and he would fail. The lost boy was the key. He understood so much already, more than he knew. He would see the worth in her words, and the sway he held with the rest would drown out all dissent.

The Talon crossed to the door, leaving behind her solitude, and embracing her destiny once more.

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Lee sat alone at his desk, his mouth tight and his brow furrowed. He was tired, so damnably tired of watching and waiting, of raising his defenses against the enemy that would soon come out of the shadows, an enemy he still knew so little about. The words were on the page, but they were faint and the letters jumbled. Their finer meaning was not yet clear, and when the whole was revealed, he feared that it would be too late. He thought back to when he had accepted his current position, Warden in Chief of RACDI-Alpha. He had wanted to make a difference yes, to change the world in his own small way. However, small had been the operative term. Lee had thought his role as a soldier in titanic shifts of global power was done, and good riddance to it. Now, from this room at what sometimes seemed like the edge of the world, Lee stood, perhaps alone, against a threat that made all others he had faced shrivel in comparison. He felt so helpless, a speck of dust resting on just one of the pieces on his old chess board, being moved by hands he could not see. What way was there for him to stop this game before it reached its terminus? Perhaps none, but he would do something! He would not stand idly by and let all that had been built come to ruin.

The colonel had barely slept in 4 days. The old moods were truly on him now, and every time he closed his eyes, his mind took him back to the horrors of war, and each time he would be jerked awake by flashes of imagined horrors that were yet to come to pass. Whatever it took of him, whatever meager difference he could make, Lee would stand against them. He had one more appointment today, one more piece in his own game in which to move. He set out for the Gates of Pandemonium.

"What will you tell her?"

Acolyte rubbed his neck self-consciously. "Nothing's jumped to mind. I suppose... for now at least, it's not an issue and for the foreseeable future I'm fine. For a while now, I've felt like I ought to pick up where Orphan... left off. And you know how she is, she wants to save everyone and make their pain her own."

He nodded, now sure of himself. "If I tell her now, she won't focus on learning from me what she needs to look after herself and survive. I'll tell her when I'm sure that I could die and not have her follow me into the grave by her own ignorance."

As they approached the hangar, he said very softly, "and I suppose I'll tell her my name. I don't know whether she'll laugh or cry when she hears it, but I'll tell her." Before they pushed open the door, Acolyte thrust out an arm, stopping Nikolai. "Look, if anything happens, and I get worse, and my condition slows the group down, don't let me put anyone in danger. Not even for her sake."

At least there'll be no more blackouts, he thought wryly.

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Back in his quarters, with Tanner down in the Pit standing guard at the outpost, Luka threw himself down on his bed. It'd been an emotionally trying day, and as he pulled the blanket over himself and turned onto his side, his mind was buzzing. He knew he'd get little sleep tonight.

The walk back to the cathedral was a quite one. Neil had confronted the one man on Earth who wanted him dead more than any other and survived. Though, it was likely that mistake would be rectified by the week's end. He was completely drained, to say the least.

He climbed up the stairs leading up to the bell tower and dropped his gear in the corner of the room. After stripping down to nothing but pants and socks, he lit a cigarette and leaned up against outer wall of the tower; his bare chest exposed to the bitter, dry air of the Pit. He took a deep, long drag and held it in his lungs for awhile.

For every moment he spent in this hell his death grew nearer. The Pit was not unlike the chemicals he had trapped within his lungs. The longer they lingered, the more damage was done. Neil smiled as he exhaled, as if amused by the idea of facilitating his own demise. In truth, he was scared. Terrified. Strangely however, that terror gave him comfort.

The fear of his own demise and the guilt he felt these past few months reminded him that he was still a man. That he still had a soul. No matter how worthless it was, it was still his own. He looked up at the stone ceiling and sighed before taking another drag.

If there was any one thing he'd love to see again before his death it would be the night sky.

All men are allowed a dream.

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Lucia woke up in an unfamiliar place. A thick fog encompassed the space around her, shrouding the true nature of her surroundings. All she could do was walk. Move forward.

As she continued forward shapes began to form around her. Mirrors pierced through the fog, materializing in random locations in every direction. As if compelled by some ethereal force, Lucia approached the closest mirror and gazed into it. An image of a small girl in a sundress appeared. She was kneeling over a flower, holding her finger against a petal as to allow a caterpillar to cross. There was innocence there.

There was serenity.

The girl was Lucia and she couldn't have been more than eight years old. It was a fond memory of a time long passed. A smile broke out across her face as she was drawn closer to the mirror. The girl's head turned to face Lucia as she placed her hand on the mirror. The girl smiled back. Her smile was radiant and pure.

Then it faded. The girl noticed it before Lucia. A shadow had been cast upon the little girl, but before she could turn to see what had been towering over her she was silenced. She only managed a feint yelp before a bullet entered her skull. Lucia screamed in horror, though no sound escaped her mouth. The little girl's eyes remained open, staring into Lucia's as she dropped to the ground, dead. In shock, Lucia could do nothing but stare at the caterpillar as it crawled off of her finger.

She snapped out of it when it was suddenly squished under the boot of the towering figure. Lucia closed her eyes and covered her ears. She wanted to cry but no tears would form and her screams were silent. The deafening silence unnerved her enough to open her eyes once more. What stood before her inside the mirror was a reflection of herself. Her face was bruised and bloodied, as it had been when she laid down to rest. She had not realized how bad it was until now.

"Oh, don't fret so much. Those bruises are nothing compared to what you did to the others."

Shivers ran up her spine as she felt two cold hands caress her shoulders. It was then that she noticed a doppelganger standing behind her in the reflection. A mischievous smile was painted on her face, "You have turned into quite the little beast, haven't you?"

Paralyzed in fear, Lucia did not answer, "It's okay little lamb, it is only natural." Placing her cold hand gently under Lucia's jaw, the duplicate turned her attention towards another mirror. A vivid image of herself, naked atop Nikolai appeared within. "If you are to lay with the beast you must become one yourself."

Tears refused to form, but Lucia still managed to shake her head in refusal. The other woman smiled, "Oh, so you'd prefer to be with the monk?" Again, she turned Lucia's attention to another mirror. Within it appeared an image of a naked Acolyte planting kisses upon Lucia's inner thigh. "He would certainly have more experience as a true lover than the brute, wouldn't you say?"

Again, Lucia shook her head. This woman was wrong. This woman was evil.

The doppelganger appeared in front of her; her hands resting upon Lucia's shoulders, "Why continue to deny who you are? Why postpone the inevitable? Embrace your true face. Embrace your true nature. Unleash the beast inside you so that it may feed, lest it eat its way out."

Lucia was trembling now. While she hadn't been able to cry, she managed to speak her first words since entering this strange place, "W-wh-who are you?"

The woman before her smiled an insidious smile, "Why, sweet little lamb, I am you of course. I am Kusanagi."

She closed her eyes, squeezing them shut as hard as she could as if to banish the woman. When she opened them once more she saw a smoking pistol in her hands and a little girl at her feet. Her brains, oozing from an exit wound in her skull.

Lucia screamed as she woke.

"The only sight any of you will see are those who have finished their shifts or those who are on their way to their shifts, to which upon seeing this armed escort will simply travel quicker."

Richard definitely felt the heat form the massive refineries and saw the workers scurry about like ants. But another source of heat he could feel came from the woman leading them around the place. Her demeanor, her wording, and especially disdain for his fellow executives varied from the reception the others gave them. Hers was more open and loud while still keeping it slightly subtle. He wondered why. Well in a way he knew why the Wardens were certainly livid with the executives here. Having someone place scrutiny on those ones that were doing the scrutinizing would certainly step on some toes.

"I can see why you like this career path." Richard said. Despite all the noise, Richard made sure his voice was still heard. "It feels good to keep order doesn't it? It feels good putting people who deserves all this heat and toil in this place, I understand that."

"I can see why you like this career path. It feels good to keep order doesn't it? It feels good putting people who deserves all this heat and toil in this place, I understand that."

"And why would you understand that? What experience do you have punishing people who deserve it. What was your position again? Communications was it?"

"12.3%, give or take." Said Olivander, trying not to look to uncomfortable, "Lee's done a good job, but I don't understand why you feel proud of it. You had nothing to do with it."

"12.3%, give or take." Said Olivander, trying not to look to uncomfortable, "Lee's done a good job, but I don't understand why you feel proud of it. You had nothing to do with it."

Clementina took her attention away from the Lu and turned to Olivander, who had been quiet up until now. "Yes I did have nothing to do with it but I am proud to work here and proud to be under the employment of someone who is willing to do whatever's necessary for the sake of what is right. Tell me has anyone here ever been to another RACDI Alpha facility? Anyone?" She refocused her attention on the rest of the silent executives, hiding behind their notepads and desperately avoiding contact with Lt. Abreu. The woman was far shorter than the rest of them and yet their whole bodies seemed to shrivel at her presence. "Tell me," she continued, "have you ever seen one as productive as this? Don't hide behind your pen and paper I expect an answer."

"I've never been to another facility, so I can't really answer that..." Said Olivander, lodging his foot even deeper in his mouth.

"But I have..." Richard said, stepping forth to meet the woman. "I have seen Bravo through Sierra of which I have seen nothing like this facility I assure you." Richard didn't need to hide from this woman. If she even laid a hand on him then she would facing worse punishment.

Nikolai nodded, as his only reply. They'd left over 20 dead behind them already so far on this journey. Brother or no, it went without saying that Nikolai would leave Acolyte behind if he could not keep up under his own steam. He was less happy with Acolyte's judgement over Lucia. The logic of it was understandable, but Nikolai knew that when she found out eventually, the deception would rub salt in the wound, and Acolyte would not be the one left behind to face the repercussions on that score.

The hangar doors parted sluggishly before them, and the duo stepped back inside without another word.

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'You have a job to do... You have a job to do... You have a job to do...'

Lee repeated these words to himself inside his head, the rhythm setting a pace to his stride, all the way down from his office to the threshold of RACDI-Alpha's on-site bar. He couldn't even remember the last time he had been to an establishment such as this, as he often remembered little of those sort of nights. Many times over the last 2 years he had been tempted to close down The Gates of Pandemonium, to find some pretext for turning over every table and smashing every bottle, for every day that it stood open, Lee was endangered. However, it had its uses, and the men needed what few entertainments they could enjoy in a place as desolate as this, to prevent them by and large from taking out their frustrations on the Inmates. Besides, back when Lee's command had been in name only, when to say he held the loyalty of only a fraction of the Wardens would have been a far too generous estimate, such a move could have been just as dangerous for him as letting the business continue. So, Lee had resolved to settle for keeping a cold and stony distance from the place at all times, and making sure that any Wardens caught drunk on duty suffered the full extent of his wrath. For so many years now the Colonel had stood resolute against the one shame that he had ever been able to reverse, having not touched a drop since Venture Horizon had first contracted him. However, some temptations do not fade so easily with time, and Lee was aware of how weary he had become. It would be so easy, once greeted by that alter of coloured glass and amber fluids, to lose himself in that old, familiar haze.

But he would not, he must not! Tonight, his senses would remain clear, as would the night after, and the night after that, for however long it took him to see this through. While he still had a single man to command, or a single inch of ground to hold, Lee would remain worthy of his post.

"Good evening." he opened stiffly to Warden Nyte, as he crossed over into the bar.

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Yu had received the message a few hours ago, carried only by whispers, their meaning concealed beneath the disguise of the usual passing mutters. His orders had been to make contact as soon as possible, only circumstances had forced him to delay until this late hour. One of the presentations for The Pit's new visitors in the Mid-Levels had arrived later than scheduled, meaning Yu had to double back, and wait until he was sure he would go unmolested on his way. His mission may have come down from the highest authority, but the Wardens that patrolled here would never know how many of the prisoners they watched over shared their master. Even so, to be interfered with by the Executives was an even worse prospect than being set upon by former gang enforcers, still out for revenge in what small and petty ways they could snatch at it.

His twin, Chen, would be taking care of the boy, meeting up with him the moment he was out of processing tomorrow morning, and escorting him to the meeting point. Before then, however, it fell to Yu to make contact with the girl, formerly a plaything for The Piranha's, and to prep her role in the next faze.

She was sleeping when Yu arrived at her cell. Checking that the coast was clear, Yu deftly picked the heavy lock with the tools he kept concealed within his waistband, before slithering in to her cell without so much as a sound. People in The Pit, the live ones anyway, were on their guard at that best of times, and this one would be even more likely to spring straight into action at most. Defending himself wouldn't be a problem for Yu. However, it was imperative the girl remained unharmed. Even so, he kept a shiv concealed behind his back, for insurance purposes, as he nudged the girl awake.

As they passed through the doors, Acolyte heard the scream. Gliding swiftly past the other Free Men, he was quickly at Lucia's side, knelt by her cot. When he spoke, his voice was calm and friendly. "What happened? Are you alright?"

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Riley sat on the floor of his quarters, slumped lazily against his bed with Odin's head in his lap. As he tugged absentmindedly on the wolf's ears, he sighed introspectively. Hearing Milgram's grim prognosis of Acolyte had deflated him. Random suffering like this, that could not be fought against and resulted only from chaotic chance was something he usually found depressing, even though he barely knew the man.

He had pressed the medical officer for details after the two guests had left. Milgram had replied that optimistically, Acolyte could keep on as he had, and have years before the tumor brought him down. Certainly, at the very least, he had likely had months before any severe symptoms set in. But then there was always the small, but not nonexistent chance that the tumor could mutate randomly. It was possible, if improbable, that Acolyte could be crippled or killed over the course of a few days at any time.

Riley sighed again and ruffled Odin's thick fur. He wondered if there were something he could do. He glanced out of his window. Behind a disused hangar next to the one occupied by the Free Men was a rectangle of sheet metal fencing. Inside this fencing was a small, glass greenhouse he'd used a large portion of his early songbird pay to build after his initial transfer here, years ago. Inside were a variety of plants it was difficult to acquire in their natural habitats, or things that didn't ordinarily grow in this climate. He knew there was no cure in there, but he still might be able to help. He also knew Talon had her own private and very secretive selection of medical implements, drugs and other such things used during surgeries and her 'recreational' activities. He thought he might ask about that.

Lu spoke to her with a smug attitude. He was smart enough to know she couldn't hurt him, and her intimidation tactics weren't working. "Bravo through Sierra yes? And how were they nothing like this facility?"

Throughout the rest day, business had been going at its usual pace, but what surprised her was the lack Walker, or even any of Shogun Squad for that matter. She'd asked around, and discovered that the squad had been broken apart and reassigned to various other teams; after an incident down in The Pit itself involving the injury of an inmate. Abigail didn't even think that the group could act like that, they seemed so nice, almost like family to one another; then again as she heard, working down there did strange things to people.

Abigail had lost track of time when a voice spoke to her.

"Good evening." A man said, looking up Abigail was surprised to see none other than the head Warden himself. Those Wardens that were nearby immediately stood up to attention as Lee passed, though they quickly carried on with their conversations once he passed.

"Evening Sir." Abigail said as she gave the man a quick salute before continuing to clean up some drinking glasses.

"Surprised to see a man like yourself here, I thought you usually sent one of your subordinates down here; to see if I wasn't becoming a problem. It must be important if you yourself have decided to visit. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

" She then asked with a inquisitive look on her face, curious to find out.

"It is important." Lee told her, keeping his eyes unnervingly fixed on Warden Nyte, not allowing them to be drawn to the shelves of spirits behind her. "I require a tonic water, and some privacy."

Lee may have been Warden in Chief, but this was Nyte's establishment. So, as a mark of respect, he left it up to her to clear the room.

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No man who had nothing to hide would by rights spend so much time with nothing but his desk for company. However, it seemed that, finally, Lee had decided to leave his office for the evening, much to Selina's fortune. If their was any evidence of treachery, or whatever it was he had been up to, it was sure to be hidden in that room. Lee was far too guarded to reveal anything about his activities in further conversation unless Selina could bring something concrete to the table with which to force his hand. Flattery was wasted on him, and further gestures of good will would have a limited shelf-life with a man as sharp as he, as well as putting Selina at risk of revealing to much on her end. No, the only way to the truth at the heart of the matter lay behind that plain, unassuming door, currently guarded by two stony-faced Wardens.

Even if she could acquire to truth, would the Director want to hear it. The man had taken Lee's outmaneuvering of him so personally, as men who have grown so comfortable with the idea of their own importance often do. He wanted a head on a spike, and only just metaphorically! The Director would not thank her for clarity, if that clarity didn't allow allow him to have Lee escorted off Venture Horizon property in handcuffs, where everyone could see his disgrace. A spiteful man the Director may be, but if it came to that, Selina was clear on where her loyalties lay. Impressive commander or not, decorated hero or not, if Lee was conspiring to further betray Venture Horizon, to upset the delicate balance of power on which the new world was being constructed, a world that Selina had so toiled to help build, then he deserved everything that the Director's venom could throw at him. Yet still, Selina could not believe it. She was under no illusions that the Colonel shared her loyalty to Venture Horizon, and knew that relations between Lee and his superiors must have been ever more icy of late. However, the question still remained of what Lee could possibly have to gain from further treachery. It wasn't as if the man held any other loyalties any dearer to his heart. The Tigers may have championed him in public, but behind the facade they had taken his valour and thrown it back in his face, leaving him on the scrapheap. Else-wise, he would never have come into the employ of Venture Horizon, and Lee had never exactly been private in his vitriol towards them, then or now. Could one of Venture's rivals have come to him with an offer, in exchange for helping them acquire RACDI-Alpha for themselves? It was possible. While the energy giants of the modern age liked to build armies far greater in size and technological prowess than the governments that they had once relied on to protect their interests, they still approached war as a messy, inefficient approach to business. They preferred to conduct coups bloodlessly if at all possible, or at the very least fight through proxies before putting their own forces on the line. Their were many competitors who would love to steal the jewel in Venture's crown, but not at the risk of open war. Those competitor's might see Lee as a potentially valuable ally. However, Selina still thought this unlikely. What would be in it for the Colonel. He owed no more to the competitor's than he did to Venture himself, and he was not the sort of man who could be easily bribed.

Still, it was more likely to ring close to the truth than the Director's paranoia about Lee possibly trying to seize control all for himself. What would the Colonel possibly gain through that? The Pit offered him nothing he wanted; and, as well armed and disciplined as these Wardens had become, they couldn't hope to withstand an assault from Venture Horizon's main armed forces for long, which is exactly what the Colonel would provoke by taking such an action. It would be madness...

Could it be that madness had finally got to him then? It was no secret that Lee had been put under enormous stress during his tour in the Tiger campaign of the Pan-Arabian War, stress that even a finely-honed commander such as he would find difficult to bear. Behind the stories of his heroism, there were whispers that the siege of Bahrain, and the subsequent Tiger exodus, had broken Lee mentally, and it was noted in Venture's file on him that since the war ended, there had been a history of alcohol abuse and erratic behaviour. Was he drinking again? Selina doubted it. The pace at which the improvements at RACDI-Alpha had accelerated required a driven commander, not a drunken one. However, "driven" did not necessarily guarantee soundness of mind. What he had said at the end of her first day at the facility, of things he could entrust to no-one else... Had he finally snapped, and decided to go down fighting when the time came? Was he jumping at shadows, paranoid that the Director would set about undoing the Colonel's work, rooting out anyone that might maintain a level of loyalty to the man, as soon as the man himself was out of the way.

Whatever the answers were, they would be in Selina's hands soon.

"It is important." Lee said without emotion as his eyes were focused solely on Abigail. "I require a tonic water, and some privacy."

"I see sir, one moment please." Abigail said as she moved to an end of the bar which had a bell; it was simple in design, no fancy patterns or details; Abigail had used this whenever she needed to make an important announcement or to say that it was last orders, and she considered this to be important. After clearing her throat, she rang the bell three times, which caused all eyes to turn her way and even wake up some of the Wardens who had fallen asleep.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Wardens. My apologies for interrupting what looks to be a rather sociable night of drinking; like it is most nights, but I am afraid that we will be having an early closing this evening, as some urgent business acquires my attention, and will be unable to provide beverages for the rest of the evening. So would you all kindly please vacate the premises. Once again, I apologize for this interruption." Abigail said in a calm and sympathetic voice, she hated to close the Gates of Pandemonium on such short notice, but orders were orders.

The reaction was mixed, some Wardens grumbled in abated breath, whilst others hurried to finish the remainder of the drinks before shuffling out of the bar. It took a few minutes for everyone to clear out, at that moment, Abigail come out from behind the counter to shut the door and put up the sign that read 'CLOSED', which was in big, bold red letters. She then returned to behind the counter, and got out a glass bottle of tonic water from the fridge, popping the cap and pouring the clear coloured contents into a glass, and then put rubbish away before placing the glass on a coaster in front of Lee. Abigail then laid her hands on the counter.

"So then sir, you were saying?"

"And how were they nothing like this facility?"

"None of them had a Chief-Warden like Lee." Richard said. "Also none of them functioned like the way this facility is functioning but like I said before. None of them had a Chief-Warden like Lee."

Richard let out a friendly chuckle and broke away from Clementia's furious gaze to instead look at the prisoners and the Wardens that looked after them. Then he wondered who really was affected by the prison, the prisoners or the Wardens themselves.

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"Heh... she's not squirming around like she used to." One of the Piranhas spoke out. She could barely see their faces. She could only see the sweat reflect the light from the slit of door cracked open. Their sweaty silhouettes moved in the dankness of the room.

"Kind of ruins the fun, don't it?" One of them grumbled. She barely heard him through the soft cries of the other girls like her. The other ones unlucky enough to be tied down and affixed in grotesque positions just of their sick pleasure. Aggie learned to be quiet and when the Piranhas weren't around she'd tell them to do the same thing but sometimes it would be too much. Sometimes they'd do terrible things that deserved tears and cries. Even Aggie cried sometimes when the more vicious ones even just entered the room. Aggie would try her best and just shut it out. She'd think of being at home with her mother, father, and Lewis. She'd hope he'd never come and see this hellhole. She'd hope that he was safe. If Aggie was religious then she'd believe that she was in hell for reasons that eluded her. She'd accepted death before but this was an existence beyond death. This was a perpetual cycle of pain both lasting and ephemeral. Aggie felt the degradation all around her and not just in herself. All of them were sickly and dying even though might just as well be dead. This was a place worse than death.

"Hey... you hear that?" At first Aggie ignored the man but then she began to hear it too. First it was the soft thuds but then it transformed into the familiar booms of gunfire. The cacophony added on as screams began to fill the air. Everyone in the room fell silent, listening to the sounds of combat.

"Oh shit! We're being attacked!" The Piranhas piled out of the room. The one on top of Aggie rushed out but left an important thing behind. It glimmered as it hit the floor. Aggie reached out with her feet and grabbed the knife with her toes. A few moments later she was free. Her adrenaline didn't allow her enough time to register the word as she helped the others free as well. The ones too injured to leave she made them silent promises to come back for them but she never did. As she stepped outside the door, she was greeted by a blow to the head. Aggie hit the ground hard. In her last moments of consciousness, Aggie saw a wolf above her. He reached down to touch her.

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

Aggie resisted the urge to jump out of her skin as she was awoken from the same dream she's had for weeks. At first she wondered why someone would go out of their way to sneak their way into her cell just to wake her up. She rose from her bed to see the perpetrator. To her surprise it wasn't the man from before but rather and entirely different person.

"Why are you here?" Aggie asked.

"What happened? Are you alright?"

Lucia sat up in her cot, one hand clutching her chest while the other held her head. What the fuck was that?

Today wasn't a good day.

She remained there, stunned, until Acolyte grabbed her shoulder and lightly shook her, "O-oh, I... I had a nightmare. I-it's nothing," She was still shivering. "How about you? Are you okay?"

Acolyte stood up. "I'm fine. A bit startled by the screaming, but otherwise I'm great. The medical officer thinks I've seen the last of those blackouts."

When he was sure Lucia was fine, Acolyte left her, making his way to the back of the hangar and sat against the wall. From his pockets he drew two items. One was a rough edged stone, taken from the ground and the other was a piece of wood about four inches long, plucked from the fire they'd passed by on their way out. He began grinding the stone against one end of the stick. It was hard going; the flames had hardened the wood immensely, but that was all to the good as the finished product would be all the better for it. After quite some time, he'd filed the wood to a sharp point. Then he tore a a strip from the hem of his ruined trouser leg and wrapped the the blunt end of the shiv to make a crude handle.

Walking back towards the cots, he passed by Nikolai, who silently noted the weapon he'd made, though he kept it hidden from the other Free Men. Drawing Lucia away from the crowd, he pressed the shiv into her hands.

"For now, we're safe, so I don't expect you to use this. That woman might set your teeth on edge, but for now at least, she means us no harm. But should the worst happen, you've got this. Understand?"

Clementina was about to lose her nerve and throw the man over the railing into the animals below and let them have at him. But she realised that up until this point she had been acting completely unprofessionally, and thus had been making Lee look bad. She didn't want to make her fellow Warden's look bad especially not the Colonel. She made a slight silent sigh and stepped up behind Lu. "I apologise for my behaviour," her words were clearly being forced up her throat but she continued, "it was unprofessional. Let us move on, the tour is nearly complete."

Clementina began leading her group down a large flight of stairs and right in front of the biggest refinery in the pit. "Here is where the most precious minerals and materials are refined and sent out to your biggest buyers. These materials are used to make Tanks, Guns, Missiles, as well as items used in every day life such as coal for your fires at night. Here is where the power is provided to you, and despite my manner earlier it is nonetheless the absolute truth that no RACDI Alpha facility provides as much as this one. I'd wager in less than a few years this facility will become your most profitable asset."
-----------------
Travis had been sweating hard, continuing his work as he saw a group of men and women in suits, as well as a large platoon of Warden's escorting them. Travis scoffed and continued his work, totally uncaring about whatever they were doing. He wondered what the man in the mask was doing. Once they were gone and he was able to leave he would seek him out, find out what he is doing. If the man had the gall to castrate him he should at least tell The Dragon... he should at least tell Travis his name.
-----------------
Felix had left Penn's cell, the man was rather annoying. He considered scouting out the areas of the Pit. If he is to spend what he assumed would be the rest of his life here he should at least know his way around.

Lucia stared at the shiv in his hand. She didn't want to take it. She didn't even want to look at it. Killing was all this tool was good for.

Killing was the last thing Lucia wanted to think about right now. What she wanted was irrelevant, however. Gritting her teeth, Lucia reached out and clutched the knife, "I-I... I understand." She slowly placed it in her pocket. Lucia was unsure of what to say next. The adrenaline from her fight hadn't quite left her system, nor had the terror from her dream, "Acolyte... what am I supposed to do?" She asked as she stared deep into his eyes. Her bottom lip was quivering.

It was clear the question wasn't regarding the knife and was a broad, open-ended question. Lucia was so lost that she didn't even know what questions to ask. She just hoped Acolyte would have an answer for her.

Acolyte ran a hand through his short hair. Nobody could mistake him for bald now, as it was a little more than a crew cut, with a fringe gradually emerging.

"Set yourself a goal," he answered. "Figure out what you want and survive for it. You're going to have to make hard choices and do things that you hate. All you can do is ride it out, I'm afraid. And for that, you need to know what you want out of it."

He wished he had a better answer for her.

"...And for that, you need to know what you want out of it."

Lucia sighed and broke eye-contact, "What if what I want is... well, it seems impossible to obtain. I want to get away from here. Get as far from the Pit as I possibly can. Forget everything that happened there and start a new life."

Biting her knuckle, she continued, "I want to forget about this world of evil and live out the rest of my life in peace," She looked back at him. "I know it's an unrealistic goal... but what else can I do? If that future isn't possible I may as well end it here and now."

"I'd wager in less than a few years this facility will become your most profitable asset."

Richard nodded as the same speech about RACDI being or was the best was put forth to him once more but it was expected. What surprised him was the woman apologizing to him but even then, it felt forced rather anything actually genuine. Nonetheless, Richard accepted it and let bygones be bygones for the most part. Richard saw the raw materials being passed and refined with clockwork precision. It was quite a sight but he wasn't interested in operations.

"It looks like it to me. Anything else?" Richard asked curtly.

Acolyte sat on the end of Lucia's cot companionably.

If that future isn't possible I may as well end it here and now."

"Fuck that," he replied, bluntly. In a kinder voice, he continued, "I won't lie to you, everything that's happened so far, and things that might still happen will be with you until the day you die. But you will make it out of here, and when you do die, it'll be as an old lady, in your own bed, possibly with grand kids to leave all your stuff to. I promise you that."

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

Korovitch's alarm went off. He'd been asleep for three hours, and it was time to get to work. Ten minutes later, he was standing in the courtyard, ten men standing before him. Two were Hayes and Wickers, while the other eight were the men he'e requisitioned from Lee to assist in the trials he was to put the seven recruits through. They knew they were undergoing evaluation for Iron Squad, but they did not know it was about to start. Those twenty eight men were in for a literal rude awakening.

Singling out two of his men, Korovitch ordered them to clear out the motor pool, and sent Hayes and Wickers to retrieve the equipment he needed. Then he led the other six men quietly into the barracks that the men had been allotted. They had been divided into rooms of seven for exactly this purpose. Each man moved to a bunk, standing over the man who slept there. Their meals had been laced with just enough Tylenol to ensure they would sleep deeply, but not so much they couldn't be woken. He motioned to the others. It was too dark to make out specific gestures, but they understood. Each man produced a rag and a small canister, applying one to the other. When their rags were soaked in chloroform, they moved quickly, pinning the head of each man and jamming the cloth over his face. When every man was unconscious after the predicted struggle, they were lifted over the shoulder and carried out single file.

The line moved slowly across the courtyard, and by the time they got to the motor pool, all its vehicles had been moved out. A line of chairs now sat. Each unconscious man was dumped onto a chair and handcuffed to it. Korovitch and the others then made return trips and by the time they had all the men on chairs, Hayes and Wickers were standing to one side. Then Korovitch nodded to several of the men under his charge who retrieved buckets of ice water. These were thrown on the men cuffed to the chairs, who awoke gasping and swearing.

Korovitch strode down the line, hands clasped behind his back. "Each of you is a potential candidate for Iron Squad. But there are only seven slots available, and twenty eight of you. Only a quarter of you will make the cut. You men represent potentially the best RACDI-Alpha has to offer. But don't let that go to your heads, it's not much of a compliment."

The testing lasted through the night. First, each man was carried in his chair into a small room. Each man separated with his own room. Each room contained two large speakers, and the chair was placed between them. This test was disorientation torture. At random intervals, the speakers blasted speed metal at high volume, made worse by the confined space, stopping for random lengths of time. Sometimes, it was mere seconds, but it could be minutes before the next burst, the time of which was also random. The men cuffed to the chairs had no chance to learn to anticipate, and no chance to adapt. The men under Korovitch's command, armed with noise cancelling earmuffs, graded each man's level of resistance to the torture, and their constitution at its end. After that, the men were uncuffed, and when they had had a few minutes to recuperate were herded together into a room, which was then clouded with bear mace. Their resistance to this was also measured as they were herded onto a shooting range. Each man was given a Glock handgun with one clip and tested for accuracy under the conditions. They were then made to field strip their weapons, and reassemble them, tested for time.

After this, they were finally allowed to wash away the pepper spray, and were then made to run a lap around the complex at full speed, a mile and a half over all. The sun had begun to rise during the firing test, after hours of disorientation torture, and was in full morning by the end of the final test: A tier based hand to hand combat competition. All through this, Korovitch was analyzing each man's file, looking at training, experience and specialization. Battered, hurting, bleeding, exhausted and bruised, the twenty eight men and women were finally dismissed.

He had made his choices.

"Orders." Yu replied blankly. He was not one for unnecessary embellishment.

"Tomorrow morning, your brother Lewis will enter The Pit, proceed through processing, and be assigned to the cell next to yours. No, you are not dreaming;" he continued, checking off the most likely responses to such news being broken in such a manner. "and no, this is not some kind of trick. When you have made contact, you will make contact with the man you know as Mr. Connors. You will tell him that you and your brother are in danger from former members of the Snakeheads, and that you are asking for The Reaper's to shelter you and help you to disappear. Offer whatever you need to offer to secure his services."

Yu's tone was not one that brokered debate. Still, he stayed to make certain the girl was clear on what she had to do.

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

Lee waited patiently until he and Warden Nyte were alone. He would have preferred just to get right to the heart of the matter. However, some small talk first would be necessary. Lee needed to gauge where he stood with this one, and whether or not she could be trusted with the information that Lee hoped she could become privy to.

"Military or otherwise, I always appreciate those who can carry their authority with confidence." he opened, sipping his tonic water, savouring its bite. Right down to his taste in drinks, it would seem, Lee was a man kin to a certain sharpness. "You've done well with this place, Ms. Nyte. The Wardens have a hard job, and are under extreme stress for hours on end. When people in those sort of situations get the chance for a little down time, they can have a tendency to go overboard. I've seen it many times. It takes a certain sort to keep those people under control, and you're a natural...

You're also not half as cowed by my presence as most tend to be on a first meet." he added, allowing himself a half-smile in her direction. "You know my background, I trust, or the different versions people tell at least. I know full well my career history is one of the most well-worn roads when it comes to idle gossip around here."

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

The Talon entered the hangar flanked by two of her Songbirds. Behind her, more wheeled in trolleys festooned with trays full of the finest food they could spare. The guards already inside the space, watching over the refugees from the gantries above, snapped off immediate, identical salutes in response to her presence, that familiar glint of reverence in their eyes even from this distance. The presentation might be modest, and the manner informal, but this feast would likely be the best her new guests had eaten.

"I thought perhaps we could all dine together, and get to know each-other a little better." she announced kindly.

Riley was still slumped on the floor, nearly about to doze off when Odin put his head up alertly. A few seconds later, there was a knock.

"Come in," Riley called out. The door was pushed open by one of the Song-Bird guards. "Sir, the Lady Talon wishes you to join her at the feast."

"Does she, now?"

The idea that Riley might ignore the summons seemed to set the messenger sweating. "Sir, I... you..."

He got to his feet, adjusting his weapons belt. "Yes, yes. What feast?"

"In the hangar with our guests, sir."

Interesting... he pushed wordlessly past the guard and headed off towards the hangar, motioning for Odin to leave him. The hangar door was ajar so he just squeezed through it. Several of the Free Men turned to look at him, but he ignored them, looking to Talon. "M'lady."

"No, nothing else, unless any of you have any questions... no? Alright then it appears our tour is finished. We will now escort you back up to the surface." Clementina pretty much pushed her way through the executives as she made her way up the various stairs and flights, with platoon and escorts close behind. The way back up was accompanied by total silence of all parties involved. Everyone could sense that Abreu just wanted to leave and her fellow wardens were slightly embarrassed by her behaviour; and she was too. She messed up her job and her duty. This wasn't the behaviour of a trained Warden or even a police officer but rather that of an unhappy employee venting their frustrations at the very people who could end her. She knew she had fucked up.

It was a long and extremely awkward ride back up to the surface. "That concludes our tour, you are free of leave." With that she turned and made her way towards... anywhere away from everywhere else. However she was followed close behind by another warden in her group. She didn't know his name, something African she thought? She didn't really know, but he possessed an extremely thick South African accent.

"Um, Lt. Abreu?-" he was cut off by her as she continued on.

"Save it, I know I fucked up, I made us all look bad and I deserve to be reprimanded for it." She paused and sighed before slowing down and adding, "I should report to the Colonel. I will take full responsibility for whatever bullshit the suits say. They'll have at least a little bit of truth about what they say, even if they exaggerate it to burn me." She left towards the Colonol's office as the other Warden left to his own devices.

"...But you will make it out of here, and when you do die, it'll be as an old lady, in your own bed, possibly with grand kids to leave all your stuff to. I promise you that."

Lucia managed a weak smirk. It was forced, but his effort didn't go unnoticed, "Thanks, Acolyte. It can't be ease dragging me around all the time. I--"

Lucia went silent when she noticed Talon enter the room.

"I thought perhaps we could all dine together, and get to know each-other a little better."

Lucia looked to Acolyte briefly and back at Talon. What would she think of her... injuries?

Fuck what she thinks...

Why was she suddenly concerned for how this woman saw her? She didn't even known her and she certainly didn't trust her. She was warm and welcoming, but there was also something fundamentally twisted about her demeanor. Something that terrified her.

Lucia didn't speak nor get up from where she sat. She had hoped Nikolai or Acolyte would be the first to make a move.

Nikolai eyed the trays of food with a mixture of suspicion and longing. He was very, very hungry. Unlike the others, he hadn't had a chance to eat anything yet since they were brought here, due to having been unconscious most of the time. However, he had long since learned that little in life was given without a price, and none of them had any notion as of yet what this woman would want in regards to repayment.

He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a sound his stomach gave a long, low rumble, betraying his desire.

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

The Talon smiled warmly in response.

"Wolf Brother. Please sit. I believe it's high time we had a full conversation with out honoured guests."

The lost child's belly rumbled loudly, which raised a light chuckle from her.

"I think we can take that as a yes." she said, before gesturing for the food to be laid out. They all sat on the floor arranging themselves into a natural circle, as platter after platter was laid out in the middle. The Talon wasted no time in taring of a leg of roast chicken and tucking in, eating with her fingers as she tore meat off the bone. If she must sample every dish to persuade the rest that she wasn't about to poison them, she would.

"There's no need to stand on ceremony as if we are strangers." she told them. "For as long as you remain here, you are family. Besides, I believe we share a common background, and I hope more than that. However, I understand you are wary. So, whatever it is you would ask of me, ask it."

"Military or otherwise, I always appreciate those who can carry their authority with confidence." Lee said as he took a long, slow sip of his tonic water.

"You've done well with this place, Ms. Nyte. The Wardens have a hard job, and are under extreme stress for hours on end... I've seen it many times. It takes a certain sort to keep those people under control, and you're a natural... You're also not half as cowed by my presence as most tend to be on a first meet." Lee then added, showing a brief half-smile in her direction. Abigail was surprised at this, but didn't show it visibly. From what she had known, Lee wasn't one to smile all that often.

"You know my background, I trust, or the different versions people tell at least. I know full well my career history is one of the most well-worn roads when it comes to idle gossip around here."

"First, can I say thank you for the... compliment sir, certainly shows that being raised by a man of the law and working in bars for a few years have had their benefits. My father taught me to be respectful of others, but to not let them push you around. Over time, I also learned of the ethic of reciprocity; in short, one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Though there have been times were I have had to be a little stricter, fortunately those have been few and far between.

As for the bar tending, at first it was a means to make some money for myself; but I gradually learned to enjoy it, and the joy it would bring to others. And with regards to your history, it's one that is discussed a fair bit, especially after people get one or two drinks down them; though I have managed to nail down a basic outline. I must say sir, I'm impressed by the way you've kept yourself sane after everything that happened in the Pan-Arabian War."

Acolyte sat down in front of a tray, idly, but did not yet touch the food. "By 'common background', do you mean you served in the Pit, or somewhere like it?"

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

Riley took seat next to Talon, and began to carve slices off of the haunch roast boar with his machete, passing them out before piling two on his plate. Then he filled the larger of the two with bacon, potatoes and gravy, then wrapped up the whole thing and took a bite out of it. To the bemused looks he got from some of the others, he replied, "because fuck bread; that's why."

In spite of this, he also began dabbing at gravy with a small piece of crusty bread. "By the way, m'lady, there is something I'd like to discuss with you, but it will wait until after the meal." The implication was clear enough. It was important enough for immediate attention, and not something he would discuss in front of their guests.

A gravelly voiced Free Man piped up, "so where's that beast run off to?" Without missing a beat, Riley replied, "your mother? Not sure. When I left her, she could barely stand."

Their moods loosened by the good food, the Free Men responded with raucous laughter. Riley then shrugged, "I thought Odin might be an unnerving presence, so I sent him away for now."

"Not the one that you know." The Talon answered politely, as Riley set about assimilating with the others. "I was born in one of RACDI-Alpha's sister facilities, this one hidden deep in the African jungle, on a rich diamond deposit. I'm not sure exactly how old I am, for no-one was keeping track, but I do know that I was almost a grown woman the first time I saw sunlight. In terms of scale, it was a tiny operation in comparison to The Pit, but size isn't everything..."

She had spoken matter-of-factly so far, but the light behind her eyes darkened as she diverted from his gaze, and her tone of voice took on a distinctly sour note as she continued.

"RACDI-Alpha is by far the largest, and most infamous, of Venture Horizon's backbone operations, and that in itself attracts it's own brand of cruelty. However, anonymity carries other advantages. When Venture Horizon wants to get experimental, when they wish to partake in activities that they would rather the world did not see, even by the standards of an organisation such as themselves, who boast of injustices such as The Pit as if they were their crowning glory, then installations such as the one that was my unwitting home are always on hand to provide the captive audience they require."

The Talon lifted her augmented left hand, and stared at it. Under the harsh white glare of the floodlights, the long metal fingers with their curved blades shone bright from the grease where she had torn at the meat from the chicken. Her expression was dreamy, unfocused, while her voice was muted, calm and mildly curious, as if she was imagining the memories like they had happened to someone else. In a way, she supposed they had.

"I had always been intuitive, always aware that there was a whole world outside, where I might find salvation from the pain. Determined but cautious, I bided my time. Months at least, perhaps even whole years passed in the planning, before I finally made my move to escape, and up until the final hurdle everything had gone perfectly. When I found myself being slowly crushed under several tonnes of rock and concrete, I was faced with an ultimatum. I could remain where I was, and either die or be recaptured; or, I could saw off my own arm with nothing but a jagged stone and a length of string, and hope that I could still escape, and find some sort of refuge before I bled out or succumbed to infection... It was not a particularly difficult decision to make, if truth be told."

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

"Thank you for saying so, Warden." Lee replied sincerely. "Although personally, I think that there was room for improvement on that score..." He continued to be careful not to let the drinks display dominate his gaze as they spoke.

Miss Nyte's talk of her family set Lee thinking. Her father had been a man of justice. That could mean loyalty, courage, and a resolute constitution. Provided her father was one of the good ones, and that the best of him had rubbed off on her. He hoped that it didn't also mean rigidity. That could be a problem. What had Lee's father passed down? What lessons had the young chess savant been taught at his father's knee, growing up in Seoul?

'Greatness.' a voice inside him answered. A lesson I wish I had never learned. added another.

"Pan-Arabia," He eventually continued. "or Bahrain, to be more specific. That's all anyone ever remembers. Myself included, top be brutally honest. It may seem silly, but sometimes I find myself regretting that I can feel the same intensity of regret for all my other campaigns. Who will lament for the slain in the Japanese Assimilation, the Tibetan Subjugation, or the Oceanic Crisis, if not me? I was there for all three. On the front line, in the thick of it, and yet sometimes even I struggle to recall which memory was from which battle, or even which war."

It hit him then. The heavy, suffocating sadness. It had been such a long time since Lee had cried, and even now he couldn't succumb to the weakness. Impervious he must remain, for his battles weren't done yet. Still, from beneath his well-rehearsed facade of stone, some sign of his anguish must have shone through.

"Someone should know. I owe the dead that much. What say you, Miss Nyte? Do you think you could stand listening to an old man's war stories?"

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

Selina strode towards them, bold and full of purpose. When she got close enough that the guards could tell of her intent, the one who looked to be the higher rank held up his hand in a gesture to halt her. He was tall, powerfully built, and resolute in his duty. Still, something in the way he hesitated slightly, and gave her a polite smile rather than a blank expression, suggested that he wasn't quite at ease denying her access. It wasn't much, but for Selina, a woman well practiced in persuading others to bend to her will, it was an opening. She obliged his gesture, and returned his smile with the most radiant of hers.

"Good evening... Sergeant."

"To you too, Ma'am. How can we help."

"I don't suppose you could let me in to your Colonel's office just for a moment."

"I'm sorry Ma'am, but no can do. Colonel Lee is currently away from his office, and our orders are to permit no-one entry without his leave. You're welcome to wait until he gets back."

"Darn! In other circumstances I'd be more than happy to wait. However, I only have to be present for an important video call in 10 minutes, and I fear may may have left some figures essential for said call on the Colonel's desk during our last meeting. So, unless you can assure me that he will be expedient in his return, that leaves me in rather a desperate situation, and I'd really appreciate your help."

"I'd love to help you Ma'am," the Warden replied, grimacing uncomfortably. "but orders are orders, and it's more than my job's worth to disobey them." He paused for a moment, thinking. "Listen, perhaps you could describe these documents to me, and I could go in and fetch them for you while you wait outside. Will that serve?"

"It's good of you to offer, truly," Selina replied sweetly, returning a sympathetic grimace of her own, her eyes imploring. "but I'm afraid there's a problem. The contents of those documents are classified Venture Horizon property. As you put it, it would by more than my job's worth to let anyone below a Category 4 level of clearance see them... even if you promised not to peek." she added playfully.

"I apologize Ma'am, I wish I could be of more help, but..."

"I assure you, Sergeant. I have no interest in snooping though your superior's personal business. I would be in and out in less than a minute with no harm done."

"I don't doubt it Ma'am, but I still can't authorize th-"

"Fine! Fine..." Selina exclaimed, putting on an air of exasperation. She ran her fingers through her thick, black hair, her brow furrowed. "I apologise, Sergeant, far be it from me to chastise you for doing your duty. I won't waste your time any longer."

She turned on her heel to leave, the guard's expression conflicted.

"Ma'am wait!" he called out after a pause. "How important are these documents?"

Selina turned back, her expression deflated. "The whole conference is a waste of time without them, I'm afraid, and the Board doesn't like to have its time wasted."

It had the desired effect. The Warden ground his teeth, cogs turning in his head. "Ok. How about a compromise? We both go in together. You can get the documents, while I supervise you to ensure that nothing is amiss. I can watch from a distance, so I need not be close enough to read anything written on the documents themselves even if I wanted to. How does that sound?"

"Oh truly?!" Selina beamed. "That would be perfect!"

"Offer whatever you need to offer to secure his services."

Aggie started coughing, choking on the news that her brother was here and that he was going to be in the cell right next to hers. Yu reached out but she swatted his hand away as she eventually calmed down. Aggie took a deep breath as she calmed down but it did nothing to help the fact that Lewis was here. She had so many questions but she knew they weren't to be answered by this man. This man was merely a courier. What a hell of a way to wake someone up.

"And how do I know you are telling the truth?" Aggie asked, dubious of what the man was saying because it truly sounded far-fetched to her.

Lucia sat in silence and ate her meal slowly. She let the others speak for now. Her doubts and fears for her own condition slowly faded as something more menacing took precedence. There was something wrong here... something very wrong.

"...It was not a particularly difficult decision to make, if truth be told."

Okay, now things were getting weird. This was far too convenient. All of it. Coincidences like this didn't exist in real-life. The Freemen had escaped a Venture Horizon prison and subsequently found themselves in the wilderness not too far from it. Far from anything you'd call civilization, however. They happen upon a militant group in the region that was planning something big, whose leader also survived a Venture prison.

At this juncture Lucia was convinced they meant to move against the Pit, however that fact wasn't what disturbed her the most. Lucia needed to know why they had tracked down and rescued the Freemen. She felt she already knew the answer... and it made her sick.

"Talon, if I may," Their eyes met. For some reason Lucia found it hard to meet her gaze, but she endured. "Give us a straight answer. Why did you rescue us? In what way do you intend to put us to use?"

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