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

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"A favors a favor, Mr. Connors."

Connors held out his hands in a calming manner, "Fine, fine. I got it." He pressed his fingers against his wrinkled forehead and shook his head in frustration. "I swear that son of a bitch... Anyway, he's been keeping his head low since the whole incident with the dead warden. I don't expect we'll be able to find him at any of his usual locals."

Connors scratched the side of his stubbly face in thought, "There's only one man in the Pit I can think of that might know where he is. As far as I know he's one of the only inmates left down here that has any semblance of power." He paused for a moment to drink in the anticipation painted on their faces. "Ricardo Gómez. Leader of the former Black Rock Company."

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The chilling sensation of metal on flesh sent shivers down his spine as the Reaper had hardly made it ten steps into the cellar before have a gun drawn on him. He stopped dead in his tracks as the the pistol pressed up against the back of his neck, "Who the fuck are you?"

The Reaper sighed and spoke in his normal voice, "Calm down Jose."

The man behind him gasped and lowered his weapon, "Verner, is that you? The fuck'er you doin' here, ese?"

"Just take me to Ricardo. It's important."

"Yeah, yeah. No problem." Jose holstered his pistol and led the Reaper down the dimly lit hallway. Once they reached the end Jose signaled the Reaper to stand back and opened the door into Ricardo's office. "Gómez! You're not gonna believe who just showed up!" As he spoke to someone out of the Reaper's view, Jose signaled for him to enter.

The office wasn't as lavished as he remembered, but it was certainly a few steps above anything any other inmate could hope for, "Ah, has the dreaded Grim Reaper come to claim my soul?" The South American man said with a cold grin.

The Reaper removed his mask and placed it on Ricardo's desk. This was it. This would be the end of the Reaper. The question was, would it be worth it, "It's been a long time, Ricardo." He returned a forced smile.

Leaning back in his leather chair, Ricardo threw his legs up and rested his feet on his desk, "Take a seat. Get comfortable, my friend."

Neil shook his head, "No, sorry I think I'll stand. Cornelius was usually the one to take a seat."

"Yes, yes he was. Bad memories?"

"Of those I can remember."

"You're off the crystal?"

Neil nodded, "Ever since the riots."

"Good. You always did work better when you were clean. Now what can I do you for? My boys tell me the 'Reaper's' been going around bashing skulls. Looking for the men that killed that poor warden girl."

"Would you know anything about that?"

Ricardo's fake smile disappeared and was replaced by a cold, expressionless stare, "Yes."

"Do you have names?"

"Yes."

"Will you give them to me?"

Ricardo shook his head, "No."

Neil winced, trying to keep his emotions in check, "Why not? What do you want?"

"There's nothing you can offer me, unfortunately. That woman died as a result of the good Colonel's tyranny. The men down here were being driven like slaves and locked up like animals for months. Men like the ones trapped in this hole need an outlet." He grimaced and continued. "She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was inevitable."

Ricardo was by no means an ethical or "clean" man, but he wasn't a savage. He didn't abdicate violence for the sake of violence. Neil knew that such a crime had not been condoned or even approved of by him, and that those guilty had likely been made an example of in some form. However, he wasn't going to damn his own people if it was just business as usual. Well, business as it once was anyway.

And it was his people, otherwise Neil would be leaving with a list in his pocket by now, "Listen, I get it. You can't be giving up your people to an outside authority. Especially now. But listen, someone has to answer for this. Do you want Lee to send his men down here and finish what he started three months ago?"

"You're walkn' a thin line Conrad---"

"I'm not trying to insult you, Ricardo. In case you didn't notice, I'm not the biggest fan of the current status quo either but let's face facts here... Someone will burn for this."

Ricardo smiled and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk, "And I assume, if I don't give you names, that person will be you?" Neil responded with silence. "I'm sorry Conrad, I really am, but I can't help you. Assuming you survive this I hope, in the future, that you hold our friendship to a higher esteem."

"What do you mean?"

"Come to me first next time. You may have swayed me to your side had you not accepted the aid of that... pig fucker." He said with a look of disgust.

Shit. He knows about Travis...

"Look, I forgot, I---"

Ricardo held his hand out to stop him, "Your words do not matter now. They will not bring back the nephew he stole from me. You've been cornered. I understand. Learn from this so that we may work together again some day." He waved his hand dismissively. "Now leave."

Neil squeezed his fists in defeat and picked the mask off the desk, "It was nice knowing you." Ricardo could taste the venom dripping from his words.

"Good bye, Sergeant."

Jose escorted Neil back out the way he came.

Now he was completely fucked.

"That would be perfect!" Selina said rather happily before turning to answer the male Executive. Whilst they were talking, Abigail set about with the various ingredients to make the cocktail. First went the ice cubes into the cocktail shaker, then it was the equal parts of gin and sherry, followed by the orange and lemon juice, and finally the two teaspoons of sugar. Abigail, like last time, then vigorously shook the cocktail shaker, and poured the contents into the appropriate glass, placing it on top of a coaster in front of Selina.

"Here you are Miss Hernandez, and I hope the two of you enjoy your drinks." Abigail said with a smile as she set about tidying up the bar counter.

As the trio left together, Yu and Chen exchanged a look, nodded, and then set off on a different path. Once they were outside the factory complex, they made their way up to the upper catwalks, taking care not to bump into any Warden patrols. Once there, they stripped off their work coveralls and vests, to reveal identical sets of elaborate Snakehead tattoos, whick wound their way round their torsos and upper arms. Yu began to tap the plaster along the edge of the alcove in which they dressed with his knuckle, while Chen kept watch. When he found the place he was looking for, Yu used his small shiv to cut a small circle away, taking care to make the cut clean, and revealing the hollow on the other side. They squeezed through the hole, one after the other, and found the bag waiting for them. It contained two 9mm pistols, black, compact and square-nosed. The twins each took one and checked them over, before carefully replacing the plaster and setting off through the walls on their shortcut.

They intercepted the trio on the Lower Levels, having by now wrapped their vests around their heads to conceal their faces. The trio were crossing a bridge that spanned the central shaft, connecting two tunnels. The twin's bridge went in the adjacent direction, and intersected the other at the central point where an elevator was situated.

Walking briskly, and with purpose, Yu and Chen waited for a moment where the crowd of workers would thin. When it surfaced, they both drew their weapons almost in unison, and fired diagonally across to the other bridge. They squeezed their triggers again and again and again, in rapid succession until the guns clicked empty. bullets pinged off metal railings, exploded clouds of dust out of chunks of rock and ice, and sent workers ducking for cover. None, however, so much as grazed the trio. If Yu and Chen had wanted them dead, it would have been so, but this was the way the Snakeheads had dealt with their enemies before the riots. Going for the hit straight away was an inefficient business model, when intimidation often solved the problem just as well. Mr. Connor's had been down here long enough to know that this was a warning. A last warning. Now, whether he believed Lewis' story or not, he had no choice to go to ground, and The Reaper was the man he needed to help him. His hand was now forced.

When the guns were empty, Yu and Chen tossed them over the side, and ran. They reached the central elevator before the nearest Warden's had the time to so much as call a halt. Rather than getting in the waiting cab, they instead skidded through the small gaps at the side of the metal walkway, that allowed the elevator to pass though. They dropped to the next level about thirty feet below, rolling upon landing, and were up and sprinting again straight away, vaulting over carts being pushed by startled workers. They went in opposite directions, and disappeared into the tunnels on either side.

Minutes later, they were lost in the crowd.

"Ah, you've made a friend." Richard said, smiling at the bartender. "Never took you for frequenting bars but then again there aren't a lot of things we don't know about each other besides what's in our dossiers. I think we ought to change that and the first round of business is that you don't have to call just "Lu". Richard is fine."

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Their military instincts kicked in for the siblings as they dashed for cover and got low to avoid the incoming hail of bullets. But halfway through the barrage, Lewis didn't know how they weren't already dead. Once the bullets stopped flying and the attackers had dispersed, they dusted themselves off.

"Looks like you've made quite an impression, Lewis." Aggie sarcastically remarked. "Is that enough proof for you, Connors?"

Even Aggie wasn't quite sure of Lewis' story at that point but once the bullets started to fly, all the speculation was thrown out the window. Whatever Lewis had done to deserve gunfire was good enough for her but she still wondered what exactly he was planning.

Connors hit the deck as soon as he heard the first gunshot. After taking a few seconds to collective himself it had become quite apparent their attackers weren't aiming to kill. Once the gunfire had ceased he peaked over the railing to see two men running through the crowd.

It was a warning.

"Is that enough proof for you, Connors?"

Connors scowled and adjusted his coat, "You folks are in some deep shit. Remind me never to owe you any more favors." While most the nearby inmates had scattered in a panic a few onlookers remained nearby. They had attracted a crowd it seemed. "Come'on, times'a waste'n."

Connors led them down a ramp overlooking the refineries, somewhere Aggie had grow accustomed to in her time here. Leaning against the railing he pointed to an old rundown building against the far wall, "If he's as far gone as I'm thinking he is he's likely paying a visit to an old friend in there. How do you want to play this? I'm not so sure I'd trust Ricardo."

"What do you mean, you never took me for frequenting bars?!" Selina teased. "Am I that old?"

She flashed her best smile at him, before thanking Abigail for her drink, and taking a long sip.

"Well, Richard, perhaps I might teach you a thing or two. The heat in Seville made the days sleepy, but when the Sun went down we could burn the midnight oil with the best of them. What about you?"

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The rise in Nikolai's chest that accompanied every intake of breath felt like a traitorous appeal to their enemy, as they huddled in the ditch, their camouflage mingling with the mud and scrub that lined each bank. The sweet smell of wet, rotting vegetation filled his nose as he pressed his face against the dirt. All across the bank, none dared move an inch more, but with the mud so saturated it was hard to say how long they could maintain a foothold before slipping as Natalia had done. No one had opened fire yet, or sounded an alarm, but Nikolai could hear the sounds of a sentry talking to some other guards patrolling below him, above the sound of passing trucks, and the still-spinning blades of the helicopter, waiting on its landing pad.

Then, Nikolai heard the crunch of undergrowth beneath heavy boots, as a patrol broke off from the road and passed through the treeline to investigate. It was hard to say how many their were just from the sound, but from the size of patrols that they had been observing, Nikolai guessed between four and six men. There was no Dog in attendance though, or else they would already be given away. Six men would be no match for the Free Men, even if they had the high ground while the Free Men huddled down the slope. However, if they were spotted, it would be the whole compound they'd be fighting. If the patrol made it to the river, Nikolai would be left with three options: Fight to the death; surrender and be captured; or flee, and hope to lose any pursuers in the trees. All of those options would likely sabotage the mission, if they were discovered. The camouflage of the Free Men was enough to shield them from the gaze of sentries stationed a hundred feet away, provided they made no sudden movements. If guards came right up to them and peered over the edge of the banks, however...

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The Talon had already begun to clamber down from her vantage point, and as a result didn't spot the danger for herself. Fortunately, one of her fellow sentries, Alexander, was still in position, and warned her. Quick as a flash, her metal claws stripping away chips of bark, she was back up, binoculars in hand. Near the main entrance, a patrol of guards were just making their way through the tree line t the side of the road, while two nearby sentry towers provided over watch. From the speed at which they moved, and the spread out formation they took, the guards clearly did not know what they were looking for, or even precisely where. However, the path they were on right now would put them right on top of Nikolai's team in a matter of seconds.

Without hesitation, The Talon took out a small, but bulky looking tablet computer from her satchel. It was military issue. She quickly tapped in commands with her left hand, while holding the device steady with her metal left.

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Nikolai's hand had been creeping towards one of his sidearms, nestled inside its holster under his arm, when the footsteps stopped. The guards were close enough that Nikolai could hear their voices as they spoke into their radios.

"Delta Actual receiving, what's your status? ... Do you have visual confirmation? ... Okay, roger that. We're on our way. Delta Actual out."

"Come on," their commander told the rest, after he had finished on the radio. "We've got an unidentified vehicle, just passed into Condor's detection zone to the South. Move out!"

"Yes sir!" Nikolai heard another say. "Probably just a stray dog anyway."

Nikolai did not often appreciate irony, but now he smiled, and retracted his hand away from his holster. When the footsteps had died away, he gave the silent hand signal for his team to move out.

"Hmph... Taiwan was mostly untouched by the wars, the famines, the fires, all the grizzly things. Now its the gem of Asia, if you don't mind me bragging." Richard said before taking sip of his drink. It tasted sweet in his mouth, almost hiding the sharpness that vodka was known to have. Just almost.

"Once this is all over, I'll glad to take you there. But for now, we have to make due with what we have and what we have right now is a hole in the ground with a large amount of minerals ripe for the taking. Wouldn't you agree, Selina?" Richard smiled his smile once more.

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Aggie and Lewis collectively gulped when Connors mentioned Black Rock Company. Lewis heard stories from Black Rock mainly through stories of their doings while Aggie had seen the aftermath of what they had done. To Lewis, they were another obstacle to overcome. Aggie shook her head.

"Excuse me, Connors. This'll just take a minute." Aggie took Lewis aside, grabbing his arm and taking him a few paces away from Connors although she guessed that he could hear just about everything. "Lewis, what is your plan? Most of the time, I'm the one looking after you." Aggie said, with her eyes staring into Lewis'.

"Don't you already trust me?" Lewis said.

"Its hard to believe in getting out of this place, alive. Belief in escape is something everyone has the first moments their here once the shock goes away. I just hope you know what you're doing." Aggie sighed. After all the years that Aggie had spent in, not once did she truly believe that an opportunity like this would come up. It seemed too good to be true.

"Its my turn to look after you, Aggie and I am going to get you out." Lewis said, steadfast in his beliefs. He stepped away from Aggie and went to Connors. "I don't trust Black Rock as much as you but what if we're direct with them. Tell them that I need to see the Reaper. Does truth still count for anything here?"

Riley leaned against the tree with the knife in it. While he looked serene, if anything he was completely the opposite. It was imperative that the plan go off like clockwork. When finally Nikolai and his men, battered and muddied, came through into the clearing, it set a stir of muttering through Riley's own men. Silencing them with a meaningful wave of his hand, he wrenched the knife out and stepped forward. "We move out. No time to waste." Wordlessly, everyone in the clearing hoisted their equipment. Riley waited until Nikolai was passing him by before moving himself, to fall in next to the big man. "What happened?" There was no anger or irritation in his voice, nor his usual good humour. Just efficiency that bordered on mechanical.

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Acolyte shouldered his rifle as he followed after the group with Lucia on his heels. He hadn't been fibbing when he reassured her that they could handle those heavily armoured soldiers. But it made him consider one thing. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to get a knife, after all. Cutting throats and stabbing armpits would be the road to safety here, he thought.

"... Tell them that I need to see the Reaper. Does truth still count for anything here?"

"No, but 'friends' do. If anyone down here's got any remaining pull with these guys it's me. However, when you work alone you can't always pick when you get your favors repaid." Connors bit the tip of his thumb and looked to the refineries below. "You two stay here. It'll be a lot easier if I just say I am looking for him. Ricardo knows about our history. He'll buy it."

Connors reached into his coat and produced a two-way radio, "Take this, just in case."

With that Connors nodded to the duo and headed down the ramp and into the crowded walkways of the refineries below.

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Kusanagi followed closely behind Acolyte, weaving in and out of the brush in the same manner that he had. They were some distance behind the rest of the squad, so she was confident they were out of earshot. Kusanagi took a few quick strides forward to close the gap between them, "W-what if the mission goes south? What happens if we retreat and get separated? Do we try to regroup or should... should we just run?"

Some part of her was disgusted in suggesting such a thing. Abandon her allies? What would Nikolai think?

Just as soon as that thought crossed her mind she corrected herself: why would his opinion matter? She'd become a being of two minds. One part of her cared little for what anyone else thought. If she saw a way out she'd take it. What was the point of escaping the Pit if she were going to live like this, anyway? The other part was something... newer. Something more alien, more dangerous... more exciting. Part of her enjoyed the hunt, as it were, and wanted to gain acceptance from the pack just as Acolyte had.

An image of Talon appeared in her mind's eye. If she were to pursue a life like this: a life of violence, revolution and vengeance, would she turn out like her?

The very thought of it made her sick.

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After sliding the septic tank back in place Neil sat down against the alleyway wall and sighed deeply. What was he going to do? If he didn't figure out who killed her... well, in any case it looked as if she wouldn't be alone for long. Perhaps this was a blessing. Perhaps death was the reprieve he'd been looking for.

Before he let himself get lost in his own self-destructive thoughts he got himself to his feet and headed out into the walkway. Before he'd completely left the alley he heard a familiar voice call out to him, "Neil."

Neil couldn't help but smirk as he turned to see Connors walking down the alley towards him. Had he come around? Did he have information to give him? He approached Connors to meet him halfway, "H-hey, you visiting the old club house too?"

The two men stopped a few feet in front of each other. Connors crossed his arms and greeted him with a nod and an empty smile, "Something like that." A split-second later Neil was laying flat on the ground with Connors on top of him. It had happened so fast he couldn't even remember seeing Connor's fist at all.

Caught completely off-guard, Connors' job was an easy one. After laying him out he threw himself on top of Neil with a rag sitting in his open palm. After a brief, albeit vicious struggle, Neil went limp and Connors withdrew the rag from his friend's face.

Too trusting, Conrad.

He pocked the rag, sat down against the alleyway wall and spoke into his radio, "Hey kids, I gotta package waiting for ya's down here. You could say I need another hand carrying something heavy."

Acolyte shrugged. Lucia had introspective moments at the oddest of times.

"We'll play it by ear. Probably find other Free Men, and if the whole op goes to hell, there's nothing to stop us cutting cords with this freaky militia and carrying on like we have been. You saw that town. We could find civilization soon, I think. Then it's just a matter of a trip abroad."

So soon he was thinking about the aftermath of whatever happened. He supposed if he lived through all this, he could turn his attention to where he wanted to die. Probably in Holland's countryside away from the crime, watching the windmills. He could rent a cottage, and spend nights reading and whittling, with a couple of beers on the porch. Keep a gun in the drawer for when the tumours got too debilitating.

He liked the sound of that. It sounded a bit more like an old person than perhaps he would have been comfortable with just a few years ago, but after the Pit, not to mention the lifetime of drugs and gang warfare, he was tired of excitement.

"One of hours fell in the stream." Nikolai grunted. He'd never felt the need to cover up for his, or anyone else's failings before, and he didn't intend to start now. "Alerted some guards, but they never saw us."

Nikolai knew he should just be grateful for his stroke of luck, and he was, but there was something about the way those guards had been called off at the last minute that was just far too convenient. He made a mental note to keep on the lookout for similar occurrences.

"How far?" he asked Riley.

After a few moments waiting, the pair heard the radio crackle with a response.

"Hey kids, I gotta package waiting for ya's down here. You could say I need another hand carrying something heavy."

Aggie guessed it was something more than a measly package. She motioned for Lewis to follow him as they made their way to Connors' location. The walkway was empty except for Connors sitting next to something fallen but as soon they approached him, Aggie's guess was correct.

"Jesus Christ, I said I wanted to talk to him." Lewis exclaimed albeit quietly so they didn't draw any attention to them. He examined the body and from the information given to him, this seemed to be the feared "Reaper". Now there he was, unconscious and unknowing. Lewis had a bad feeling in his stomach. "Where are we going to bring him?"

"If need be, we can put him in either one of our cells. Connors, this isn't a favor don't worry, but do you know anywhere quiet around these parts?" Aggie asked, also wondering what they were going to do with the Reaper.

Travis went from cell to cell interrogating and beating down prisoners until he had ran out of cells. By then he was going down the mineshaft where some prisoners who weren't strong enough to claim a cell for their own had lived. Many freezing to death in the night, fear keeping them imprisoned in the mine. Travis gave a vicious beatdown to the defenceless souls, stopping just short of murder. However, they all had the same story. Someone gloating about the murder, but no names and barely even descriptions. Some had made up descriptions but the fact that the story was never consistent just pissed Travis off enough to thrash whoever did give him a new description. Some were quite tough, though the intimidation of the knife was enough for them to give up any information. Tired of what had happened and getting nowhere he left the mine. Stopping at the mouth of the mine he took a long sigh. Despite not getting anywhere being able to cause so much pain so quickly on so many people? Ohhh it felt so good to Travis. The Dragon may not have been able to kill, but pain was a great bronze medal, with silver obviously being the oh so lovely and intimate dance of lovers known as rape. Travis chuckled as he wondered how he was going to grab his silver medal, before eventually getting to the gold. Murder
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Clementina was about to enter the bar when she saw two executives enjoying themselves, the smartass from the previous day, and the bitch who led him. She turned around and stood outside for a while. Overlooking the ice wasteland that surrouned her. She was there for quite a while before realising how childish she was behaving. She turned back and entered the bar, sitting at a table just behind the executives. This wasn't about confronting them, that would be equally childish. But she would not hide from them. She didn't know if the barmaid would come and serve her or if she had to go up to the bar. Either way she would try and limit conversation with the suited devils as much as she could.
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Felix searched his way throughout the middle levels of the Pit, once again not making much progress. However his hunger was soon getting the better of him. He needed to eat soon. His body was not used for going more than a day without food. He headed back towards Oliver Penn's cell to see if he had any food. However upon finding his cell he found it abandoned. Where was Oliver. Was he still here? The place looked okay, so maybe he was just out? Either way it would be rude to intrude so Felix turned back and continued scouting out the mid levels, hopefully making more progress than yesterday and finding some food along the way.

"How far?"

"About three quarters of a mile. Let's move," Riley replied, moving to the front of the group. He'd left Odin behind, using a trick developed via hunting. During particularly long hunts that needed several animals bringing down, he'd taught Odin to stay hidden and watch the herd or pack of whatever they hunted, while Riley tended to other matters. He had done so with the men in the compound. If they moved, Odin would come back to Riley, and help him track their movements. It would be useful in this case if the compound did find signs of any of Talon's men, or Nikolai's Free Men and came after them.

As Abigail let the conversation between the two Executives carry on, another person soon entered the bar. Unlike the two that came before her, this woman didn't have the same feel to her, it looked as though she must have seen a lot of conflict, and down here in The Pit, that meant one thing, she must be a Warden.

The woman in particular had super short dark brown hair which was barely noticeable under the standard issue hat Warden's were given; it was also worth mentioning that she rather deep set cheeks, and was a clear foot shorter than Abigail. Sensing that she wasn't needed for the moment, Abigail went over to see what the new arrival would like to drink.

"Hello there, and welcome to the Gates of Pandemonium. My name is Abigail Nyte. What would you like to drink?"

"Hello there, and welcome to the Gates of Pandemonium. My name is Abigail Nyte. What would you like to drink?"

Clementina was thankful that the barmaid had came to her table rather than go up to the bar, not that she was afraid to be seen by the suits she just couldn't be bothered with confrontation. That, and she wouldn't even know what to say.

"I'll have a scotch, neat thanks." she said in a low tone, hoping not to draw attention.

"I'll have a scotch, neat thanks." The female Warden said in a low tone, which caused Abigail to raise an eyebrow, but wrote it off as a side effect of the job as an official Warden, unlike Abigail, who in many ways, was a Warden in name, but not in duty. She then showed a small smile.

"Of course, it shall be with you momentarily." Abigail said, returning to the bar briefly to pull out a slightly dusty bottle of Speyside Single Malt Scotch. Both Scotch and Whisky were uncommon drinks that people ordered here. Most guards would often order one of the various beers that were provided, whilst some of the more managerial types would go for something a little more fruity. She then poured the amber coloured liquid into the glass, and carried it over with a coaster in hand, and set it on the table in front of the lady.

"Here you go, is there anything else you'd want?"

"Once this is all over, I'll glad to take you there. But for now, we have to make due with what we have and what we have right now is a hole in the ground with a large amount of minerals ripe for the taking. Wouldn't you agree, Selina?"

Selina tittered. "You make a bold offer, Richard." 'and I can't decide if that makes you an idiot, or just possessive of twice the weight of stones I had thought. It could be that I underestimated you, but I'm not holding my breath.'

In any case, it was time to start steering the discussion in the direction of The Point.

"Perhaps it's the drink," she began, more timid than before. "but I find myself feeling more willing to share than usual. You see, I've found myself in the most awful dilemma... concerning my mother. I-I'm not sure if I should go on. It should be be a private matter I know but I just don't know what I should do..."

Selina waited, with big, sorrowful eyes, for Richard to take the bait.

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"You are certain?" Lee asked his second in command, his expression fixed and tone measured, as usual.

"Yu and Chen were watching, as you instructed." Montoya replied. If he was nervous about delivering the news, he did an excellent job of hiding it. Montoya was one of the very few besides Lee who new of the existence of the operation, and the only other who was fully aware of how much depended on it. "They both confirm that upon their meeting, Connors rendered the Reaper unconscious. The Moore siblings were distressed, but they still helped to move him. At this point, it is unclear whether they still follow Connors willingly, or have been taken by force themselves.

Lee had feared that this might happen. He'd known of the risk he was taking plunging into this opportunity without the time for preparation that he would have liked. However, he always had contingencies.

"We're still tracking them?" he asked

"Affirmative."

"We have Sabre and Falchion on stripes duty today in that quarter. Alert them. They're already on standby. Once the target location is established, they are to surround the area, but they are to keep their distance and at no point break cover. Discretion is the key to this operation. Even if we must resort to taking The Reaper and the Moore's by force, it will be done silently and seamlessly. No word of what transpires must reach the surface."

Montoya nodded in confirmation, before following up "Colonel, what do you think Connors' play is here?"

"His play is what it's always been," Lee answered "to live another day. I don't know how much precisely he knows, or will know by the time we reach him, but it's clear that he smells deception. He'll try to get the whole truth before figuring out his next move. When he gets as much of it as he can hope for, he may attempt to bargain with us, three Wardens for the sake of his own skin. It's a deal I wouldn't normally begrudge, especially considering the stakes at play, but we can't risk drawing that kind of attention. I intend to make his path forward a lot clearer for him, before we get to that stage."

"... We could find civilization soon, I think. Then it's just a matter of a trip abroad."

Kusanagi nodded, "Yeah, I think getting as far away from this place as possible would be the best move."

The remainder of their journey was a quiet one as they'd grouped up closer to the rest of their squad. The group continued trudging through the thick brush, eventually leading down into a shallow creek. After rounding a small bend Nikolai's squad came into view several meters away. Picking up the pace ever so slightly, their group rendezvoused with Nikolai's as they moved forward.

A few of the Freemen traded nods after falling inline. Hesitant to address Nikolai directly, Kusanagi bit her lip before falling in behind him and speaking, "Anything to report on your end?" Her eyes wandered to the archer ahead of the group. He moved with confidence and purpose, but she still didn't like the man. Anyone who placed their trust in Talon such as he had couldn't be trusted.

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"Jesus Christ, I said I wanted to talk to him."

Connors sighed and shrugged, "And you still can." He was already tired of this amateur.

"If need be, we can put him in either one of our cells. Connors, this isn't a favor don't worry, but do you know anywhere quiet around these parts?"

Connors got to his feet and dusted off his pants before flashing her a sarcastic smile, "I know just the place."

***

After putting the finishing touches to the knot he tied, Connors took a few step backs to examine his work. Neil's head laid limp to one side as the rest of his body was sitting prostrate, tied to a chair. The very same chair he'd tied Travis to a several days prior. Same warehouse too.

Connors appreciated the subtle ironies in life, but he was in no mood to point them out. He'd been shot at earlier. That shit was no laughing matter. Aggie and her brother stood in the darkness watching him as he worked, not saying a word. Once he was satisfied Connors walked over to the pair, greeting them with a jovial attitude, "He shouldn't be out fer all that much longer."

Just as soon as he had begun speaking his smile sank into a frown. His eyes were fixed on the young warden's. He stared at him for a few moments. Just long enough for the boy to be intimidated, "You mind if I talk to the girl for a minute? In private?"

Acolyte approached Nikolai wordlessly as the two groups melded, and the two clasped forearms briefly, then carried on walking, listening to Lucia start asking questions.

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

Riley felt as much as saw the girl glaring at him. She didn't trust him. That would be a wise decision in her position, such as it was and he respected it. He wasn't out to get her by any means, but he supposed if Talon gave orders the girl disliked, he would follow them easily enough. His allegiance to the Talon wasn't quite the same as his comrades, who looked upon her with the gaze of a fanatic. He followed the woman because it was all that was left to him, having lost anything that mattered. Except Odin, of course. So he would keep on with it, because it gave him a purpose that was probably the only reason he even got up in the morning, even if he wasn't particularly obsessed by it like the others. C'est la vie.

"It should be be a private matter I know but I just don't know what I should do..."

Richard took a sip of his drink, hearing Selina's plea. Something like this was nearly unheard of with such a person like Selina which made Richard dubious at first. Either this place was getting to her or she planning something that Richard was needed for. Still, Richard decided to find out what exactly it was.

"If its a private matter then perhaps that calls for a private place." Richard said lightly motioning to the Warden that sat herself near them. Richard leaned in for a whisper. "Don't be wrong, I'm all ears but I wouldn't want someone else to overhear your plight." He leaned back and placed his hand on hers while smiling his trademark smile.

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

"You mind if I talk to the girl for a minute? In private?"

Lewis met Connors' gaze. Even with his old age, Connors was not a man to be trifled with and Lewis could see it in the man's eyes. He was willing to do whatever it took just to survive and he's had enough experience to do what he needed to do. For a second he shot a glance at the unconscious Reaper. He was anxiously wondering when the man would awake and what would happen once he found out he was bound. But Connors's gaze bore into him.

"J-just be quick alright." Lewis said. Aggie heard this and looked to Lewis.

"Don't worry, it won't take long." Aggie said trying to reassure Lewis. Although even she wasn't sure whether it was a good idea to leave him alone with the Reaper. She stepped aside with Connors into a place where Lewis couldn't hear.

"I don't want Lewis around with the Reaper for too long. Let's make this quick, please." Aggie said curtly to Connors."

"Anything to report on your end?"

Nikolai shrugged "They've got the perimeter well guarded, and the men are alert. We heard them talk about some kind of..." Nikolai wasn't sure of the right words. "'Condor', that was the name they used. They could tell a truck was coming up the road before they could see it." He decided to leave the part where they had almost been caught out. Nikolai didn't want to make her any more nervous than she already was. If Nikolai had been a humorous man, he might have found the looks she gave the Songbirds when she though no-one could see her funny. Nikolai didn't want to give her a window for more nagging or dramatics. With the join between flesh and metal on his leg beginning to throb, as it did when he had gone a long period without resting it, he didn't have the patience for it.

It wasn't that Nikolai didn't share any of her concerns. He had made common cause with the Songbirds, but it would take a lot more than that to make them comrades. However, Lucia's commitment to mistrusting everyone only displayed a different sort of naivety. It wasn't a matter of choosing to fight. The war existed, and enveloped everyone whether they liked it or not. The only choice was between picking a side, or being one of the corpses strewn out in the no-man's land between them. In that much at least, The Talon had it right. There was much of the outside world that Nikolai had never learned while growing up in The Pit, but there was also much he had without even realising it. So many different colours, creeds and tongues had been thrown in that hole to toil and die side by side. Voices and faces from all corners of the world, and that was only one fraction of Venture Horizon's empire. Lucia still imagined that there would be some sanctuary, where none of it could touch her, over the next hill; or perhaps the next, if only she could run far enough. Nikolai had dreamed those same dreams once, when the Free Men still wore their wolf furs. They were kinder dreams than the ones full of fire and screams, but they were dreams all the same. It had been foolish to imagine it would be as easy as soaring away to some safe haven in the belly of a metal bird. Only a man who had spent so long in darkness that they had forgotten all else, could believe is such false lights. Venture Horizon's influence, or else the influence of their competitors, who shared their sins, was felt everywhere. The dead villagers had learned that to their peril. They had been small, and remote, no threat or bother to anyone, and yet they had perished all the same. That was what came from foolish notions of turning their backs on this fight. Slaughter. There would be no sanctuary for the Free Men, no fresh start, until the fingers that tightened around their throat had been cut away, one by one. If the Songbirds were the blade that fit best for that, then Nikolai knew where he stood.

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

The Talon and here entourage were already at the Rally Point when the other teams emerged as one. She smiled at them all, to let them know that they had won a victory in itself today.

"We are all present? Good." she said. "Venture have made all the moves we anticipated, and thus made our plan of action even easier than it would have been otherwise. It is time you were all brought up to speed. Are there any questions before we begin?"

"Here you go, is there anything else you'd want?"

"No thank you," said Clementina sharply as she began sipping her drink. It certainly did a good job at cooling her nerves if only slightly. A good few more of these and she figured that she could relax though the Colonel's words still stayed upon her mind. "Actually? Could you bring the bottle?"

"No thank you." The female Warden said sharply to Abigail as the lady began sipping her drink. A few moments later however, she spoke again. "Actually? Could you bring the bottle?"

"Uhh... sure, just one moment please Miss." Abigail said with a slightly nervous tone in her voice as she went back behind the counter to dig out the bottle, and soon returned, placing it on the able in front of the Warden.

"Here you go, I'd be careful though, Speyside Single Malt Scotch can be quite potent when drunk in large quantities. Enjoy your drink." Abigail said with a small smile as she returned to the counter and went about her duties, occasionally listening to the conversation between Selina and Richard.

"'Condor', that was the name they used. They could tell a truck was coming up the road before they could see it."

Kusanagi shuttered, "You got close enough to hear their conversation?" She glanced down at his new leg. "You're more sneaky than you look." The conversation ended there. Despite the professional nature of the discussion the pair still didn't quit know what to say to each other. The rest of the trip was made in silence.

The group continued on until eventually arriving at the rendezvous. Talon had been waiting for them.

"Venture have made all the moves we anticipated, and thus made our plan of action even easier than it would have been otherwise. It is time you were all brought up to speed. Are there any questions before we begin?"

Kusanagi stepped forward. When Talon's eyes came upon her it was clear Talon had anticipated resistance from her, "You implied this mission would go without a hitch. Those soldiers are heavily armored. Far more so than anyone I saw in my time in the Pit, including the wardens. I don't believe any of us have any experience fighting such a foe."

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

"I don't want Lewis around with the Reaper for too long. Let's make this quick, please."

Connors rubbed his temples in frustration before glancing over at the pair around the corner.

That kid had better not try anything.

Speaking in a hushed tone he said, "Look, your brother's brought a lot of heat along with him. If I could I'd fuck off, but that's no longer an option. I'm deep in the shit now. If you want my help..." Connors paused for a moment and corrected himself, "... the Reaper's cooperation then that warden needs to tell me what the fuck's going on."

He checked the pair again in his periphery. Neither had moved, "We can do this one of two ways. You can talk to him. Get him to spill the beans, or... I can beat the truth out of him. Your call."

"Far more so than anyone I saw in my time in the Pit, including the wardens. I don't believe any of us have any experience fighting such a foe."

"That is true," said Acolyte, conversationally. "While I don't think it's impossible to deal with and I do have a few ideas myself, I do hope you have something to make it easier. Equipment, or just knowledge. But I have to ask, did you know about those heavies beforehand? Because if you did, you just decided to keep us in the dark, and if you didn't, that's... kind of an oversight on your part."

"I did not know, but I thought it likely." The Talon answered. "How Venture chose to handle this transition could have decided me on any one of dozens of pre-planned strategies. There was no use distracting you will intelligence that may have turned out to be irrelevant. However, now that they've made their move, it is time you were included fully."

Next, she turned to face the girl, stepping forward so that she stood in the centre, ringed by fighters.

"The men you saw are shock troopers, graduated from one of Venture Horizon's many pet projects. This one was codenamed 'Behemoth'; and you're right, they are certainly formidable. That was, after all, Venture Horizon's intention. They may not know who we are exactly, or where we are, what motivates us or how we are organised, but they know that they've been fighting an insurgency here for months. They suspected that we would be watching this transition closely, and the Behemoths were meant as a show of strength, making us think twice about any planned raid."

The Talon smiled an amused smile, and shook her head the way an older sister might do after their younger sibling had just embarrassed itself.

"How telling, that those at the top think that any threat can be quelled through might alone." 'Was there ever a clearer sign of the One Truth's certainty?' "Regardless, the are big, strong, well-armed and clad head to foot in armour plating that could even stop a concussion rifle in its tracks. That, however, is where their strengths end. They are slow, sluggish, and, in case you hadn't noticed, it's barely possibly to tell man from woman under all the plating and full-face helmets, let alone friend and foe. Using tech stolen and improved from other Venture Horizon prototypes, this cell has spent the better part of the last 3 months hacking into the facility's security mainframe. We have their codes, we know their routines, and in their attempt to scare us off, Venture Horizon has just handed us our way in on a plate."

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

'If I did not need your perspective, Richard, then the slap you'd get for presuming to touch me would be stinging you all the way home.' Selina thought acidly, though she let none of it show on her face. Either The drink was getting to the young doctor, or Selina's charms were working even quicker than she remembered. Although, it could be that Lu suspected he was being used, and was trying to turn the tables. Selina had chosen him because she believed him the least dim-witted of her companions after all. If that was the case, he would be sorely disappointed. As if she would just go meekly back to his quarters, to have this parley with him alone and on his own ground?!

"Oh, not to worry. It's nothing so dramatic." She said, making herself loom a little embarrassed at having given him the notion. "In a way I almost wish it was. No, it's the personal nature that makes it so complicated. Nothing dangerous that we need concern ourselves with who might overhear."

'Let them crane their necks and prick their ears. Give the guard dogs a juicy bone to chew on, so they'll keep their eyes on the ground.

Even so, Selina lowered her voice and leaned in closer, so as to maintain the illusion of privacy.

"You see..." she began, furtive and unsure. "Along with the news about my, my mother, I've also come into possession of some... private correspondence of hers. It would appear she had an affair for several years with another man, one of my father's major political rivals no less. If anyone deserves the truth from me, it's father; but on the other hand, he is already hurting, and I don't know if I have it in me to salt his wounds like that. He would me so heart-broken, not to mention the damage of being undermined so personally by one of his enemies. Also I... it sounds terrible I know, but I'm not sure if I can even find it in me to blame her. My father is a strong man. Once he sets his sights on something, he will not rest until it has been achieved. All he ever did, he did for us... but it would often seem like he never had much time for family. My mother never shared his strength, is it really so terrible that she wanted more warmth than she could ever find in him?"

The best lies were always seasoned with truth. Selina had found out about her mother's extra-marital exploits years ago, and had already made her choice in that dilemma.

"... We have their codes, we know their routines, and in their attempt to scare us off, Venture Horizon has just handed us our way in on a plate."

Talon talked a lot of shit, but when explaining strategy... Kusanagi was sold. She was still skeptical as to their ability to deal with such a threat, however. Kusanagi looked to Acolyte and nodded before turning her attention back to the woman before her, "That explanation's good enough for me. Just remember... we're not part of your cause and we're not expendable. We sighed on as a favor, so don't expect anything more from us than you would a mercenary. That said..."

She glanced around at the rest of the soldiers in their group and mentally cringed as she continued, "I can see why they follow you. If nothing else, you're quite clever." Kusanagi allowed herself a quick smirk in her direction. Such a compliment was a sign of goodwill. If they were to work together they needed some common ground.

Despite a possible camaraderie, however, nothing would change between them in the end. Kusanagi would not put her faith in such a woman for long. She could sense the black soul within Talon. The knowledge that she could easily fall prey to the same fate ensured that she'd stay as far away from her as possible. Talon's rhetoric had already poisoned an entire insurgency and as Kusanagi had grown more honest with herself over these past few months she learned how vulnerable her sense of identity had become.

Abigail had occasionally been listening into the conversation that was going on between the two Executives; and whilst she wouldn't call herself an eavesdropper, sometimes it helped to keep an ear to the ground and listen out for things every once and a while, you never know what secrets you might learn, what juicy tidbit of information you might come across that you could use to your advantage, or for someone else. Waiting for a moment to enter, Abigail went for it.

"Apologies for interrupting sir, madam, but if either of you are worried that someone might be listening in, you are welcome to use the staff room that the bar has upstairs. I'd be there right now if it weren't for my assistant barkeep Zachary coming down with a cold last week."

Sipping her drink ever so slowly to savour the taste, Clementina couldn't help but overhear, actually to phrase it better, she couldn't resist to eavesdrop on the two executives at the bar. At first she intended on ignoring them as paying them any attention may warrant them to notice her and strike up a conversation. Thankfully however it was just about the woman's mother and an affair she had. Stuff like that didn't surprise Clementina, rich people get easily bored when they can buy anything and a bed seems the only place they can keep their lives exciting. However apparently spicing things up aren't enough, it appears that every single time they must abuse the trust of their partners. The lieutenant had seen enough murders by rich, jealous victims of adultery to see at least one side of the rich and powerful and the lengths they would go to scratch their itches.

Choosing not to listen any further she continued to sip her alcohol, slowly. Perhaps she wouldn't finish off the bottle but she decided that one glass wasn't enough. Still, a clear head must be required to make sense of the Colonel's words, and she didn't want to become so inebriated that she would misconstrue his advice as an attack on her, that was always a bad idea.
================================================================================

Felix's scouting was beginning to become hard. As good as the man was at sneaking the patrols of the mid levels were intense and impressive. Squads and patrols watched every prisoner that wasn't on duty with an eyeful watch. One such patrol caught his eye as he saw a guard nodding in his direction with a look of suspicion. Quickly he darted down into the lower levels and into the entrance of a nearby mine entrance. Quickly he paced down the mine as the guards slowly paced behind him, intentionally keeping their distance. He threw on a hard hat with a torch on it and kept moving down. A miner ahead was holding up a drill against rock and Felix swiftly ran up to assist him.

"Take a breather I have it from here," said the Scottish Spaniard. The other prisoner didn't question for a moment as he headed down the entrance to the mine as Felix held up the drill. His inexperience was evident and as the guards came up to him they tapped his helmet with their batons and yelled over the sound of the drill to turn it off. "Yes sirs?"

"You're holding the drill wrong." Said the one who tapped his helmet. "You're not putting enough force into it."

A little worried Felix replied "I've only been here a couple days sir."

"A couple days... yet you didn't look like you were heading straight for the mine when you got here. Looked like you were having a little wander."

'I can't lie. But maybe the whole truth doesn't need to be told.'

"I was confused as to which mine I was supposed to go to." This was true, it just so happened to be in a completely different area of the mid levels.

"Uh huh. You got anything to hide. Look at me boy." Another guard roughly span him around on his feet. 'Please don't be like the other ruffians. I'm not sure I can defend myself against all of them, and I'd rather not hurt them.'

"I have nothing to hide. Search me if you want, I simply wanted to get my bearings on my new surroundings," he pleaded hoping they would be reasonable.

The first one who spoke sighed. "Okay, you don't seem like a trouble maker but shut your damn mouth, keep where you're told to keep and don't worry about "getting your bearings", just focus on work and sleep."

"Right sir," responded Felix. The two guards looked at each other with suspicion of the prisoner as they turned to go on their way. They were nearing the exit when they suddenly heard a rumble above and behind them. "Shit."

Felix could barely hear the rumble over the noise of the drill which he soon started up again. However it soon made its presence known as he felt tiny rocks drop onto his shoulder. He turned off the drill and turned around as he soon saw prisoners piling out of the mine. Felix swiftly followed them and began running off but it was too late. Rocks and jagged ice collapsed in the dead centre of the mine with support structures bending and twisting. A few prisoners were caught under it along with a one or two wardens as well. The prisoners stopped dead in the tracks as they saw it fall. Confusion was set amongst them as to how the centre of the mine had fallen yet the rest was still intact.

"How are... why hasn't the rest fallen?" asked a bewildered Felix.

"The... the scaffolt-" someone was heard saying before following it up with coughing. A warden who had been positioned at the end of the mine had his legs trapped underneath rubble, along with a portion of his waist. Felix rushed to his side. "We d-d-donnnn't have long... we have a few mmminutes to g-get out."

The prisoners trapped on the wrong side quickly rushed for pickaxes and anything that could go through the rubble. "Wouldn't we just make it fall quicker?"

The guard spluttering up some blood before saying "it doesn't matter i-i-iiiiittt'll fall in minnutes anyway..."

Realising he needed to act quick to both survive and save the guard he picked up a pickaxe and began chipping away at the rock that was crushing the guard. They didn't have much time.

"We can do this one of two ways. You can talk to him. Get him to spill the beans, or... I can beat the truth out of him. Your call."

Aggie didn't like Connors' proposal but neither didn't she like Lewis' vagueness. She trusted him that he did have a plan but he hasn't revealed anything yet which bothered her. Sometimes, sibling promises can't just cut it. But she also thought of how Lewis would react if she let a hound like Connors on him. Would he still promise to let her out? There are only a few things she had in this prison and one of them was hope. If Connors were to beat the truth out of Lewis would that quash such a hope? Aggie was racked with thought before finally deciding.

"I'll talk to him one more time..." Aggie sighed, rubbing the back of her neck anxiously. "If he doesn't say anything... then yeah.. you can get the truth out."

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

"My mother never shared his strength, is it really so terrible that she wanted more warmth than she could ever find in him?"

Richard listened to Selina's "situation" as she dodged his proposal which he really didn't expect to be followed through. Her dodge proved a few things to Richard and one of which was that Selina was still her cold self. He read her statements carefully but it seemed to be the truth for the most part which concerned Richard even more. Apparently her mother had an affair but telling the father would make him grieve already more. A sticky situation nonetheless.

"Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. The truth can hurt more than intended and if your father is already "hurting" then perhaps what he doesn't know, won't hurt him. Truth can drive people to do crazy things and sometimes the truth can be blurred with lies making one indistinguishable with the other. This is a tricky situation you are caught in, just make sure your father doesn't know you know."

"I'd be there right now if it weren't for my assistant barkeep Zachary coming down with a cold last week."

"It's quite alright." Selina rebutted politely. "I've said quite enough already."

So, Richard counselled silence. Selina wasn't sure if she would make peace with that. After everything she had achieved for Venture Horizon, after all she'd walked away from in their name, to look the other way upon discovery of the largest breach of trust perhaps in the entire history of the company was almost unthinkable. The secrets Lee had gathered together were enough to destroy Venture, and that was only counting the secrets she herself knew. If Selina still believed in what She was trying to accomplish; if she still believed in a vision of a world brought back from the brink, with stability and true prosperity at its heart, and if she still believed that Venture Horizon was the organisation that above all had the power and ambition to make such a world a reality, then she had to protect the company.

Yet, a part of her was relieved by his answer. There was still so much of this she didn't know, and would never know if she went to the Director with this information immediately. Selina still couldn't understand what Lee would stand to gain by leaking what he had learned, and he certainly wasn't the sort of man to do such things on a whim. Her gut instinct told her that there was more to this. While Lee might not truly be on the team, he had poured as much of himself into RACDI-Alpha as Selina had Venture Horizon itself. He wouldn't risk throwing all of that away without good reason; but if he was not willing to share his reasons with her, then how could Selina protect him.

Perhaps Richard's answer would have been different, had she told him the truth, but Selina had found that personality traits were rarely circumstantial. Irritatingly, it would seem that she had been left with more new questions than answers.

"Thank you for the advice, and, well, the company." she said to him. "Now, I hope you'll forgive me, but it's late and I really have to be going. I have a lot of reports to file."

Selina paid for both their drinks, before leaving for her quarters.

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

Nikolai gave a swift nod of approval at the plan. It wasn't much to go on so far, but he was sure that more details were incoming. He would reserve further judgement until he heard what precise roles he and his would take in the plan.

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

"I can see why they follow you. If nothing else, you're quite clever."

The Talon returned her smile. Compliments would always be appreciated, even if they were only half-sincere, and even that half more than a little condescending.

"Thank you," She replied. "and do not worry. I have not forgotten the nature of our arrangement."

From there, the Talon turned to address the whole group.

"What we witnessed on this mission was the first of two arrivals. This first science team arrived by air, and would leave the same way with their consignment of the Phantom formula. The second will come and leave by land. We will intercept this second convoy before it reaches the base, all the while feeding them false intelligence to cover our tracks. We neutralise the science team and the Behemoth troops that are escorting them. From their, our mission splits in two. One team will take the place of the Science team and Behemoths and proceed on to the base. The second team will take up positions close to the perimeter, as well as over-watch. When the first team has successfully penetrated the most secure levels of the facility, where Phantom is being stored, then Team Two will stage a massive attack on the compound. We will hit the base fast and hard for maximum impact, again feeding them false intelligence to make our numbers seem greater than they are, whilst also sabotaging their ability to deploy defenders effectively. The Venture forces will commit all their attention to securing the perimeter in their panic, leaving the way open for Team One to extract Phantom from right under them. The Venture forces will even be glad to see the convoys leaving, thinking that they held us off long enough for the transaction to be completed, and Phantom moved to safety. Once Team One is clear, Team Two will stage a fall back; and when the convoys divert to our rendez-vous sites, we will, for a third time, feed Venture false intel to cover our tracks. With any luck, Venture will not even realise anything is amiss until the Phantom caches fail to arrive at their planned destinations, days away, by which point we will be long gone."

Acolyte sat, listening to the plan. When it was done, he asked, "have you decided how you're going to divide the groups?"

Lewis was standing in the corner, far away from the Reaper when Aggie and Mr. Connors came back in. He wondered what they discussed and guessed it had something to do with his plan. Lewis wanted to keep the truth hidden away as much as he could. Like Lee said, the less the people knew the better. Lewis got off his lean as Aggie approached him.

"Lewis, remember when Mum told me to look out for you... Remember when she told me to do everything it took to keep you safe?" Aggie asked and Lewis sheepishly nodded. He knew where this was going. "Lewis I need to know what your plan is if I'm going to keep you safe. You can still watch out for your big old sister but I need to really know what you have in plan for getting out. The one thing I still have here is hope and I don't want you voiding that."

"And I'm not going to void anything, Aggie. I... I'm doing this because I'm the one that's protecting you now. That's why I transferred here and that's why I got incarcerated. I'm doing this to give back all the years you've protected me from the thugs, the violence, everything. I'm because of you."

"I did that because Pa wasn't around for you Lewis and I'm not going to trust you any further unless you tell me what you are planning. Lewis, you need to tell me. How many times do I have to say that for you?! You want my trust then you can have it for the truth... that's a good deal down here."

"The less people know, the better!" Lewis shouted. Aggie was slightly taken aback by Lewis raising his voice at her. Lewis' eyes showed surprise in himself as well.

"You sod!" Aggie raised her hand at him but she lowered back to her mouth as a coughing fit struck her. It sent her to the her knees as the coughs sent her wheezing and gagging. Lewis rushed to her but she pushed him away with a sudden surge of strength. It sent Lewis to his back as she coughed some more. When the coughing subsided, blood trickled out of the side of her mouth. She wiped it away but Lewis could see even more blood from the hand she covered her mouth with. She looked at Lewis and cracked a smile.

"I didn't want to tell you now but I guess now is better than never." Lewis didn't catch was Aggie was implying by the look of his worried face.

"Are you sick?" Lewis asked. He went to her once more like a beaten pup clinging to its dying master.

"I've been sick but now I think I'm dying... I don't know what I have but its been getting worse and worse. Don't touch my blood. It's been tainted... like me."

"I-I can fix this..." Lewis said, sullenly. Aggie laughed at him.

"I'm running out of time, Lewis. Either tell me what you're planning or I'm walking out this door and never coming back." She briefly looked to Connors, slightly nodding her head. Aggie knew she had Lewis.

"Lee wants to talk to the Reaper..." Lewis mumbled. He knew he was defeated. "The arrest was a scam... it was to give me cover so he could talk to the Reaper. He was gonna let me leave with you once everything is set in place."

"Once what was set in place?"

"When I had the Reaper in a room, alone." Then a realization dawned on him. The twins. He got up. "You two need to go now! Leave!"

"You two need to go now! Leave!"

"As do you." Commander Montoya announced, stepping through the threshold, six members of Falchion squad following behind him. The Wardens were disguised in the orange jump-suits of inmates, and yet they all carried side-arms.

"The mission didn't exactly go according to plan," he continued "but it some ways that has made things easier for us." His eyes darted between the two twins. "Once the Moore's have been escorted above ground, see that they are taken to the medical wing." he told one of his underlings. "The staff there will do everything they can."

Now, Montoya turned his gaze towards Mr. Connors, and the still-unconscious Reaper.

"Wake him up, if you please Mr Connors..." he requested. "and then you will be free to leave us. You've fulfilled your role in this operation too. If you're thinking of trying anything stupid, know that you are quite surrounded. Considering the Colonel would be well within his rights to have you shot for harbouring this fugitive, I suggest you accept this offer of your freedom. It will only be made once."

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