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

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Once Talon gave the signal Nikolai and his men sprung into action. The parameter of the compound quickly turned into hell-on-earth with blood, fire and bullets in all directions. Kusanagi had been in her fair share of battles before, but she had never fought a war. This was a whole new kind of experience. Her blood boiling, she whispered to herself before falling in behind Nikolai, "Tristan, keep me safe."

Bullets whizzing by them as they charged the line, Kusanagi was amazed to see her comrades' efficiency. She had stopped in her tracks a few times during their approach to lay down suppressing fire on Venture's men, but the Freemen and Talon's Songbirds need't slow their charge to take aim.

It wasn't hard aiming up and firing upon these men. Garbed in armor in the way that they were dehumanized them to a certain extent. All she needed to do was imagine them as the man that had ruined her life. The man who'd killed her father and sent his children to hell.

One confirmed kill among the short bursts she laid down on their defensive line. She watched as the man's neck snapped back, a burst of bullets piercing his helmet and shooting out the back of his skull. His life had ended in a fraction of a second. Thankfully there was no time to dwell as she spotted the Talon racing towards certain doom only to fell all those before her. Kusanagi glanced at Nikolai, the shock of her inhuman abilities drained all the color in his face. Was she stronger than Nikolai? Than Orphan?

Her train of thought was interrupted when a bullet flew straight by Nikolai. He'd let himself get distracted by the demon's prowess and almost lost his head. Kusanagi assisted in returning fire, catching one of the men jumping to cover in the chest. She backed-up, throwing her shoulder up against Nikolai, "Be careful, Nikolai! I don't want to be scooping your brains up by the end of this!" Though there was humor in her words, her tone was cold. She was brave, yes, but if Nikolai were to fall in battle her resolve would waiver. It was then she realized that she needed him for morale just as much as his Freemen did.

Richard fell back behind the Wardens but the gunshots left little imagination as to what happened in the room. When the brief firefight subsided, Richard peeked his head out to see Lee hunched over on a bleeding man who must have been responsible for the two other dead Wardens. Lee was crouched over his face so Richard couldn't really tell who he is but Selina said a name.

"Did you know that man?" Richard asked. "Was he responsible for this?!" Richard shouted, his calm demeanor finally giving way.

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Lewis squeezed into the elevator with Aggie, Ms.Nyte and a few others as they made their way to the shelters. A doctor was nice enough to give Aggie a wheelchair but he didn't know if she would be out for that long. Even from all the way inside, the faint explosions could still be heard and felt in the form of faint rumbles akin to miniature earthquakes. Lewis hoped the facility would hold. After all, Lee did build the facility to withstand an assault but it sounded like whoever was doing the assaulting had some pretty serious hardware.

"Ms. Nyte, where is the shelter?" Lewis asked.

For once, Selina could only gape, dumbfounded, as the subdued figure of Le Saux looked up, grimacing, at Lee. There was a zealous shine in those dull brown eyes, and bloody spit coated his gums and lips. Somewhere, Richard was yelling in her ear, but Selina took little notice. Her shock wasn't personal. Le Saux was hardly a friend, nor even a particularly well known colleague. She's only met him for the first time a month before this expedition started.

"He's been vetted." was all she could say, blankly. "We all were. Venture took weeks to clear us."

"Be quiet, the both of you." Lee ordered, barely raising his voice nor turning to face them. His gaze remained locked on the man before him. "I asked you a question."

Le Saux made a sound that was half a laugh, and half a hiss of pain.

"We are the Songbirds." he rasped. "The dawn is rising Colonel, but the world still sleeps. When you wake, our song shall fill the skies."

He had barely finished his sentence before he began to jerk. Small movements at first, but soon they were violent, and foam, stained pink with his own blood, was erupting from Le Saux's mouth. Lee cursed and reached down to clear his airway, but it was too late. Le Saux was dead in seconds, not minutes. With a look of disgust, Lee clambered off the body, and holstered his side-arm.

"Tell me you have something." he said to a Warden on one of the consoles.

"Still can't get accurate surveillance on hostile forces Sir," came the reply. "but I can counter whatever was scrambling our communications and targeting software. We can send an SOS to Hi-Comm."

"Negative on that." Lee answered "Not a word of this attack leaves here, is that understood?"

"Sir, in accordance with Emergency Protoc-"

"Did you hear me Sergeant? Not a word!" Lee snapped, striding towards the console. "Just find me a secure channel to 1st Battalion."

A few seconds later, Lee was talking to the front line.

"We're holding, but taking heavy casualties Sir." a voice of some Captain or other came from the console. The line was awash with static, but it held. "They were probing us to the North East, and when Echo company moved to suppress they hit us hard two clicks down the line. The bastards keep poking holes in us, but 3rd are handling the bleeders. There aren't enough of them at once to breach the Atrium or the airstrip."

"How much longer can you hold for?"

"Unless they start running out of men or ammo soon, I can give you fifteen more minutes tops!" Through the Captain's voice and the static, Selina could hear the exchanges of gunfire. They sounded close.

"That won't be necessary Captain." Lee responded. "Tell 1st battalion to fall back. If they want to charge, We'll give them a breach straight through to 3rd; and once they've committed themselves 2nd will swing round to flank them."

"Roger that." replied the Captain, before the line closed.

"We're going back to the War Room." Lee announced, before turning to Selina. "On the way, I want to hear everything you know that Venture knows about the Songbirds, and to hell with security clearance."

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"Be careful, Nikolai! I don't want to be scooping your brains up by the end of this!"

By way of answering, Nikolai turned and fired directly over Kusanagi's head, as an enemy squad attempted to rise out of a fox-hole. Those at the front died, and those behind them were forced back down. In his peripheral vision on his left, the door of one of the bunkers burst open. Nikolai let go of the M60's fore-grip, keeping the machine-gun steady with just his trigger arm, and with the other drew one of his handguns, firing over at the new threat. One of his rounds caught the man in front in the thigh, causing him to collapse and fumble a grenade. Panicked shouts from inside turned to screams a moment later as the device detonated.

"KEEP MOVING!" he yelled to Kusanagi above the noise, as he raced towards the shelter of the bunker.

"Ms. Nyte, where is the shelter?" Lewis asked as everyone who made it into the elevator squeezed in, Abigail was just able to reach the console and pushed a button that would take them down to the Mess Hall. As the gears turned and the elevator began it's descent, it gave Abigail the chance to breathe. Abigail turned her head to face Lewis, catching a glimpse of the mystery girl in the wheelchair.

"Like I told you Lewis, Lee has ordered me to get all non-combat personnel to the Mess Hall and to wait for further instruction. In the event that doesn't become an option, there is a panic room a few floors down, should be safe there as well." Abigail said in a clear and concise voice, not a commanding tone, but it helped her keep focus.

"I just hope our guys can hold back the horde that is bearing down our door long enough to find out what the hell is going on." She then added, showing a hint of concern for the soldiers up top, after all, many of them were good customers down at the Gates of Pandemonium.

"Anyway, how have you been Lewis? I haven't seen you in a little while. Keeping yourself busy?" Abigail then asked, wanting to take her mind off the chaos that was going on.

"Keeping yourself busy?"

Lewis' eyes darted to Ms. Nyte and particularly that question.

"You can say that..." Lewis mumbled, careful not to say anything too revealing about what Lee had told him to keep secret or at least to be discreet. Then he caught himself mumbling which Ms. Nyte might find rude. "Sorry, I've just had a lot on my mind recently. I've been incredibly busy these last few days. In fact, more than I've ever been my whole life really."

Lewis eyes drifted down to an unconscious Aggie, wondering when she would awake or even if she would. Lewis looked back up to Abigail.

"This... this is my sister." Lewis breathed deeply. "I guess you could say, I've been catching up."

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Richard bit his tongue as Lee barked at them. He remained silent but his mind was buzzing with thoughts and predictions. He had only heard of the Songbirds in news articles and reports but judging from what Lee was demanding from Selina, they were attacking the facility as they spoke. The gunfire and the explosions drew closer and worried Richard some more. Then he thought back to his conversation with Selina earlier. Now that he thought about it, her question and situation seemed foreboding especially given the circumstances now. Now Richard and Lee shared the same sentiment. What did Selina truly know?

"KEEP MOVING!"

Kusanagi nodded without another word and started for the bunker alongside Nikolai. Her heart pounded faster and faster as they made their approach; bullets streaming by in every direction. Having not become acclimated to his new appendage yet, Kusanagi passed by Nikolai with ease. Though she'd crossed the battlefield in seconds, the moment seemed to hang for much longer.

Kusanagi threw her back up against the wall and peaked around the corner, into the entrance of the bunker. A hail of bullets sent Kusanagi retreating back behind the wall. The remaining men in the bunker must have spotted their approach and had been waiting for their arrival. Without a moment's hesitation, Kusanagi reached for a grenade on her vest, pulled the pin and tossed it into the bunker.

A few panicked screams later and the blast went off, sending one of them staggering out of the entrance. Kusanagi shot him in the back as he crumpled to the ground in front of her just to be sure and peaked around the corner once more. Once the smoke cleared all that remained was a pile of bloodied corpses. A momentary pang of guilt quickly vanished by the time Nikolai caught up to her.

"Bunker's secure." She stated as she crouched down and took cover inside.

As Lee practically marched them out of the server room and back down the hall (Selina taking care to avert her eyes from the two Wardens still sprawled dead on the floor), for once it didn't occur to her to argue.

"Ms Hernandez. You're welcome to begin at any time."

"I... of course Colonel." Selina replied meekly. In this at least, Lee was right. To hell with clearance! Whoever was attempting this assault clearly had access to technology originating from Project Condor. Improved technology, if it could hoodwink RACDI-Alpha's improved counter-measures. That was technology no-one, not the Songbirds or anyone else was supposed to have; and Le Saux...

There was a lot going on here that had passed right beneath Selina's nose, and she was just as invested in learning how it had happened, and stopping it, as Lee was.

"A group known as the Songbirds have been claiming responsibility for terrorist activities around the globe for almost a decade now." she continued "Up until now, there was nothing to class them as a major threat. Guerilla activity in a few contested regions, a handful of bombings, and the odd minor political assassination. Nothing linked back to them ever went beyond a Category 3 hostile action. In fact, more then once Venture has exploited activity by the Songbirds against our rivals to expand our power base, so while they were attacking everyone equally the top brass never thought it a priority to stop them. From what intelligence Venture has gathered on the group, we've deduced that the structure of the Songbirds is likely nebulous rather than strictly hierarchical, with various cells acting independently from each-other across the continents, united only by their shared banner. Such a group should never have had the organisation to carry out an attack such as we're seeing, let alone the capability."

There was silence as Lee shot her a quizzical glance.

"That's as much of the truth as I know, I swear it!" Selina asserted, some of her self-assured fire returning. "Besides Colonel, the reinforcements that you have made to RACDI-Alpha appear to have been in anticipation of precisely this sort of action, if perhaps of a smaller magnitude. I would hazard a guess that you are a deal more in the loop than I am right now. We're under serious threat here, and yet you ordered your own men not to send an SOS. Why?"

For a moment, a look passed over Lee's features that might have been guilt, or something similar to it.

"Ms Hernandez, when the smoke clears from this, assuming that our defences hold, I believe it is high time you and I had a long and truthful discussion. I have kept intelligence from you and your superiors because I did not trust you with the responsibility of what I have learned. I'm still not entirely sure I do, but our common enemy is emerging from the shadows, and I for one am truly sick and tired of playing games. Right now, however, I have a battle to win."

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The Talon advances, steady and methodical with her forces at her back, as the Venture troops charged with holding the facility and its deadly cargo continued to fall away before them. The enemy was numerous, well armed and well trained, but neither were her own forces the rag-tag band of rebels that Ventures representatives in the region had grown to expect. She had snipers on over-watch encompassing the entire facility. As well as picking off their own targets, these snipers provided her with real time intel on any pockets of Venture troops that looked to be effectively rallying, so she knew where next to deploy her heaviest barrages. Now that the assault team was well inside the perimeter, the mortar crews had stopped firing. However, they did still have support from the rocketeers.

She, and the men she lead directly, made a short dash across open ground to where a trench lay waiting. As they approached, the opposing soldiers who had managed to make it to the safety of the dug-in position poked their heads up and opened fire. Fortunately, they possessed no mounted machine-guns. Still, in her peripheral vision The Talon saw at least two of her own men go down as the two sides exchanged fire. With her pistol she shot the man in front of her through the right eye as he levelled his battle rifle, and two strides later she was jumping down into the trench, before the man's body had even quite fallen. The rest was bloody slaughter as the rest came piling in behind her. As a Venture soldier two her left turned to engage in hand to hand combat with one of her own, The Talon grabbed him by the scruff fo the neck, with her right arm, before driving her artificial left into his back. There was a ripping sound as the advanced alloy punched though two layers of Kevlar armour, as well as the flesh and bone beneath, and before he quite knew what had happened, the soldier found himself staring down at his own still-beating heart, as it protruded from the empty, shattered cavity in his chest, clutched in long, razor sharp fingers.

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Nikolai nodded and followed Kusanagi inside. Striding over the smoking corpses to the other end of the bunker, Nikolai peered through a narrow slit in the concrete to survey the battlefield ahead of them. A machine gun nest was still active over the other side of the landing pad, in front of one of the hangars. Pointing the muzzle of his machine-gun through the firing slit, Nikolai squeezed the trigger and sent a volley of bullets over in that direction to suppress them.

A few seconds later, a hand came shooting up from outside of Nikolai's peripheral vision, and closed around the long barrel of the M60, wrenching it clean from his hands. Through a combination of surprise and strength, Nikolai was pulled forward against the front of the wall as the strap that secured the weapon over his shoulder stretched taut, before snapping. That was when two hands, wearing heavy black gauntlets of some lobstered metal, came through into the bunker to fasten around his throat. Instinctively, Nikolai brought up his own arms to try and prise away whoever was attempting to choke him. However, the surprise attack had pulled him off balance, and his field of vision was already beginning to narrow. He beat against the arms furiously to no effect, before thrusting his own hands through the gap to try and throttle his assailant in return. His nails scraped against something cold and hard, but Nikolai couldn't find any where with which to get a sure grip. The blackness was encroaching further and further into his vision, and stars were bursting in front of him. In one last, desperate attempt to wrench away from his attackers grip, Nikolai jumped, brining his knees up to his chest and curling all his body, before kicking forwards.

As if it had been struck by a tank shell. The concrete wall that had been dividing the two of them exploded outwards beneath the force of Nikolai's hydraulic leg, and suddenly Nikolai found him self toppling forwards in a shower of rubble and dust. The grip of the arms was gone, and Nikolai, sprawled on the ground, hurriedly gulped in lungfuls of filthy air. Raising his head to look around, Nikolai spotted his assailant, clad head to foot in Behemoth armour, sluggishly rising to his feet, either winded or just weighed down, chunks of concrete falling off him. The thick metal of his breast-plate was dented where the full force of Nikolai's kick had struck him, but otherwise he appeared unhurt.

Shaking his head rapidly from side to side to clear his vision, Nikolai bounded to his feet and ran at the Behemoth, getting the jump on him before he was spotted again and sending the both of them crashing to the ground, pummelling each-other with their fists as they rolled around in the dirt and debris.

Clementina stood at 3rd battalion, taking out any enemies who had managed to slip through the primary defences, along with her battalion. "Confirmed. Yes sir." Spoke the leader of 3rd battalion through a communicator before turning his attention toward the soldiers under his command. "1st battalion is falling back and giving the enemy a direct line to us, then 2nd are gonna swing round and flank them. Its gonna be a killing field out there so we just need to hold strong."

"Yes sir!" barked his subordinates at his command. Clementina herself was uneasy at the idea of being attacked with such force, the enemy had impressive equipment, she even could hear it from so far away. A defence against them didn't scare her, if anything it gave her a sense of excitement. Not of danger but of finally doing a worthwhile duty. Her worry came from her state of mind. Her head was certainly much clearer than it had been earlier but she still worried she wasn't completely sober, having missed a few shots she certainly would normally be able to hit. Perhaps one soldier not being at the top of their game wouldn't be a cause for failure but surely soldiers of the past have thought the same thing and caused defeat for their allies? No. That kind of thinking wasn't productive. Right now she needed to focus, breathe slow, don't rush but don't take too long. Aim, fire, simple as. This would be the largest battle Clementina had taken part in and she damn well wasn't going to be a screw up.

Then they appeared. Enough attackers to rival all three battalions and more and all charging on open ground. If they had time they could surround the entrenchment that the battalion was in, but the open area led way to a killing floor. The wardens fired upon them mercilessly with sniper rifles, pacing their shots and aiming true to take them out with the most efficiency. That said the enemy still had good shots upon them and if they were indeed the last line of defence they would be overwhelmed. But they could hold for now, at least until they are flanked. The enemy used their vehicles as cover and to slowly encroach and engage the wardens. While they fell at the hands of the guards the vehicles still served as decent cover for the rest.

As a second wave approached they deployed smoke to hide their movements as they took cover behind their vehicles. The wardens responded with frag grenades, taking out a few through the smoke but losing a few of their own as they peeked up to fire. Clementina, using her assault rifle aimed at the smoke, trying to take out vague moving figures. She couldn't tell if she was hearing war cries or death cries but nontheless she knew that her mind was NOT as clear as it should be. 'First time going to that damn bar, last time too.' She held up firing against the enemy, missing a few shots, hitting what she needed to but not enough for her own standards, as grenades were thrown down into their entrenchment.

"Frag!!!" yelled a warden as he threw back the grenade. Some threw grenades back while others ran for cover. The enemy were able to take down a few wardens as they scrambled at the grenades. In response to this prison guards pulled out grenade launchers, first shooting teargas over at their enemies. This evened it out somewhat as in their opponents dazed state they were allowed free shots off upon them. Their enemy was approaching fast and brining more and more units upon the defence.
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Travis ran away from the riot and fight that was ensuing between the wardens and prisoners. He needed to clean himself up, if the Reaper saw him like this he would be dead. Hell if anyone as dangerous as those in the lower levels saw him like this he could be dead. A warden would shoot him on site. How the hell would he be able to clean up in the state the pit was in now though? Although he... thoroughly enjoyed the stench, the smell, the feel of blood... and being covered in it even more so to an almost aroused state, now would not be the time to relax and take it in. 'That's a thought actually, where is that squirrelly masked bastard anyway?'

Kusanagi set up next to Nikolai and fired upon the machine gun nest with him. Nikolai's weapon was better suited for suppressing fire, so Kusanagi focused on controlled bursts, firing at anything that moved in or around the gun. Hearing movement to her right she glanced over to see two Freemen rushing in. The pair hunched up against the entrance of the bunker and started firing out, "They're pushing!" One of them shouted, taking a few blind shots around the corner with his rifle.

Just as Kusanagi moved to assist them she heard the muffled sound of Nikloai struggling behind her. Stopping in her tracks, she turned her head to see two gauntlets throttling Nikolai through the slit of the bunker. Before she could level her weapon however, explosive gunfire echoed inside the bunker followed by bloodcurdling screams. The two Freemen who had been guarding the entrance were gunned down at point-blank. Kusanagi spun around, took aim and caught one man in the chest sending him toppling backwards into his two comrades. As they fumbled with their friend's corpse Kusanagi flipped the rifle to automatic and emptied the clip into the trio before they could get a shot off.

Smoke and dust blew past her as Nikolai and his assailant burst through the concrete wall. They were outside now, the two of them, both struggling to get to their feet. Kusanagi took aim at the clumsy, armored man and fired, but was greeted with little more than a clicking sound.

FUCK!

The two men rose and fell upon each other as she frantically groped around her tactical vest for another clip. She'd been taught how to efficiently reload in a firefight, but this was the first time she'd actually had to do it. Once grabbing hold of and prying a clip from her vest she took one deep, calming breath before carefully sliding it in. Unfortunately the two were now rolling around in the dirt with Nikolai on top, "I'M COMING!"

Kusanagi climbed through the rubble, glanced around for any nasty surprises and took aim, "ROLL HIM OVER!"

"You can say that..." Lewis said, mumbling as he spoke. Something felt off about that, but now wasn't the time to talk about it; perhaps later, when they weren't getting shot at. "Sorry, I've just had a lot on my mind recently. I've been incredibly busy these last few days. In fact, more than I've ever been my whole life really."

"Fair enough Lewis, we all need time to ourselves every now and then, even in a place like this. Your squad looked like they doing well the last time I saw them, before they got shuffled around that is." Abigail said in response, looking out of the elevator as she spoke. Her head causally turned towards Lewis again, he was looking at the girl in the wheelchair, and he soon looked at Abigail.

"This... this is my sister." Lewis said breathing deeply. "I guess you could say, I've been catching up."

"Haven't seen each other in a while I take it?" Abigail asked rhetorically, taking a moment to look at the woman's face.

"I can certainly see the resemblance Lewis. Can't say I've seen her around here before; granted for some of the time, with the way you Warden's come in and go out of the bar, the faces do tend to just blur into one. Presume she is a new arrival then?" Abigail asked, this time not speaking rhetorically.

The naive part of Abigail's mind figured that Lewis's sister was simply a new Warden who hadn't been given a tour of the place; whereas "Lilith" on the hand, with her slightly darker and more calculating nature, had an inkling that the sister was from "downstairs". Abigail took a moment to breathe deeply, and to banish such thoughts from her mind before speaking again, this time in a more positive tone.

"Tell you what, if we make it out of this mess in one piece, you and your sister are welcome to a round of drinks on the house back at the Gates. Think of it as a... welcoming gift from me. Should give you two plenty of time to catch up."

Enemies fell left and right as Korovitch's men advanced. His clip emptied, and through the smoke, he saw another assailant moving forward. Taking his hand off his rifle's trigger, he drew his Makarov, and squeezed off three shots into the soldier's face, then holstered the pistol and slotted a fresh clip into his rifle as another group of enemy soldiers came around the corner, only to be taken down by Iron Squad's suppressing fire. It'd been several minutes since he'd spoken to Lieutenant Clementia. They were getting near. Off in the distance, he heard a grenade. Giving the sign for a quiet advance, he continued moving. Finally, he turned to a short stretch of corridor. At the very end, impromptu crate cover had been thrown together facing outwards. It was being used by two soldiers who were definitely not Venture Horizon. Too focused on the firefight with Clementia's battalions, they hadn't heard Iron Squad's appearance. Halting his men silently, Korovitch slung his rifle, and drew his Makarov. Taking it in his left hand, he drew his kukri with his right and padded silently forward. Some way away, he spotted the woman he believed was Clementia, pinned down by a large group of advancing enemy soldiers from another direction. As he moved quietly forward, he signaled her with a curt wave, and then struck. First, he fired his Makarov, taking the left soldier in the back of his head. Before the one on the right had time to react, Korovitch's blade sent his head rolling.

Shifting the bodies, Korovitch kicked one of the crates partially out, changing the cover's angle and moved Iron Squad out to open fire on the advancing troops. "Hayes, Tanner, Dickson and Pines. I don't care how you do it, I want you to backtrack and find a way to get behind those advancing men. When you're in position, signal your coordinates, and the rest of us will join."

"What will you do now, sir?"

"Assist the Lieutenant."

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The best way to keep their cargo safe was to get it out of the base and away from the fighting via one of the side gates. What soldiers they did encounter were easy prey, taken by surprise having assumed the soldiers and scientists were allies.

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Where the fuck were these Songbirds coming from? Byron had orders to hold position, and that was what he was going to do. So far, the bulk of the fighting hadn't reached his position and that was fine by him. He and the two men with him turned at the sound of footsteps to see Behemoth troops and scientists come around the corner with a load of canisters that were worryingly familiar.

"I don't know what you're doing with that shit, but put it down and fucking help us!"

The scientist in charge, a lean bearded man, didn't seem to respond. Instead, he put a hand to his eyes as though blinded by the sun, and when he took it away, he blinked. Glancing at his group, he spoke in an English accent, "fuck, I'm glad to have those out."

Then he turned to Byron as two of his Behemoths opened fire, taking down Byron's men in the blink of an eye. "What the fuck--"

He was cut off by the scientist striding forward, and pinning him to the wall with a forearm. The man's eyes, which had seemed regular and dark before... oh god, those eyes! They were bright, burning yellow like a wolf's. Like some sort of demon.

"AAAGH, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU!?"

"I'm the repo guy, mate. You're behind on your bills, so we're taking this with us." He jerked a thumb at the cart of canisters, and then put the hand into his lab coat. Byron felt the gun barrel press against his gut. "No, no, no--" the gun went off. Byron went down, all his strength drained as he began bleeding out.

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Popping open the attache case, Riley took out his bow, quiver and machetes, shrugging off the coat and belting them on. Moving towards the south gate, they encountered a few Behemoths. Some went down under gunfire, and others went down with broad headed arrows in their throats. Coming to the South Gate, they were stopped by the man in the watchtower, who demanded to know what they were doing. Riley gave a brief, but informative and rather pointed answer in the form of an arrow that took the man under the chin. He fell limply, and one of Riley's cohort went up the ladder to open the gate. Once that was done, Riley had everyone besides himself not in Behemoth armour take the canisters through the gate into the woods. Then he knocked an arrow, and led those who remained onwards to regroup with Talon. Acolyte made to follow, but Riley stopped him.

"Get out of that clunky armour, mate. It doesn't suit you."

"I--"

You're good with a rifle, right? Get up there, close that gate, and get that dead guard's sniper. It'll look like the South side hasn't been breached and you can cover us." Then he added, "and your little lady friend." Then off he went. Time to check in with the boss.

Nikolai barely heard Kusanagi as he wrestled with his foe. Straddling the enormous bulk of the man's armour, Nikolai tried to get between the plates and fasten his hands around the throat of the man inside. His efforts were futile. The plates are too close together and angled in such a way that Nikolai couldn't get a decent grip, as the gauntlets came up again and beat against his face, setting his skull to ringing. Clapping his hands on either side of the Behemoth's helmet, Nikolai slammed the back of his head into the ground. Once, twice, three times, before drawing one of his pistols and firing into his visor at point blank range. The bullet barely chipped the glass, which Nikolai saw ran at least four layers deep, with metal wire criss-crossing each layer and heavy bolts securing each pane in place. Below all that, the eyes of the man inside the suit blazed with determination.

Dust kicked up furiously around them. The machine-gunners had obviously seen fit to poke their heads back up out of their holes, and now Nikolai and Kusanagi were caught in the open. For a moment Nikolai's fixation on the fight at hand wavered, and the next he noticed the pistol that had been in his hand was now spinning away across the dirt, and a colossal boot was slamming into his chest, forcing even Nikolai's bulk off the ground and back down onto the dirt a few feet away. As the two of them got to their feet, the Behemoth drew a Magnum side-arm almost the length of a grown man's forearm, and brought it up square to Nikolai's chest.

Thinking fast, Nikolai hit the deck and rolled, dogging both the shot from the Behemoth, and the next burst of machine-gun fire that was sent his way. Not allowing himself to be still for a moment, he leapt to his feet and urged himself forward towards his opponent, who was slow to turn, As he made up the couple of strides between them, Nikolai unsheathed his hammer and swung it with a roar. The Behemoth had once again taken aim just in time for the heavy iron head to slam into his fingers, curled around the grip, shattering the bones beneath. The gun went flying from his hands as his second shot went wide of Nikolai, who now danced around his massive, static form, and drove the hammer through the back of the Behemoth's knees, collapsing him. Next, whirling the hammer around his head, Nikolai brought the weapon down square on the chip he had made in his attacker's visor, which burst out into a web of cracks. Howling, Nikolai brought down the hammer again, but this time the Behemoth blocked with his arms and turned it away. Any brief moment of triumph the man felt however, was soon soured when he saw Nikolai's monstrous leg raised over his face, before it came crashing down through the already damaged visor. An eruption of blood and bone came from inside the man's helmet, and his arm fell limp.

"Kusanagi?" Nikolai called, panting from his excursion. He had lost sight of her. "Kusanagi?"

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Once they had returned to the command centre, Lee once again leaned over the table and asked for a report.

"As far as we can tell, we're winning." replied Major Mbutu. "1st Battalion has now reinforced 3rd, and enemy forces have spread themselves thin advancing across open ground."

"Our fighters have made three passes over the hot zones," Montoya picked up, and now 2nd Battalion have hot our enemy hard in both flanks. Their numbers are dwindling and their discipline is collapsing. If all continues well the day should be ours within the hour."

"Good. Very good." Selina replied. She was going to look forward to interrogating any enemies Lee's forces managed to capture alive. It was time to find out just who the hell these people were and what they had been hoping to accomplish.

Lee however, merely furrowed his brow even more. "We won't rest on our laurels yet, Commander. The order to fall back was a transparent feint if I ever made one. I refuse to believe these people would take the bait so easily."

"Then why did you..." Selina started, but Lee interrupted her.

"We still don't know the full extent of our enemies capabilities." he answered "Beyond our own perimeter, we're blind, and whoever these people are they were smart enough to raise a small army on our doorstep without alerting us. Whoever's commanding these men, I believe he or she chose to throw them into the fire because they had the men to spare. We haven't seen the worst yet."

As if on cue, A radio message came in from Server Room C.

"This is Falchion Squad. Do you read?" The voice sounded anxious through the steely professionalism.

"This is the Colonel." Lee replied. "Do you have our feeds back up yet?"

"Affirmative Colonel. I..." The Warden's voice wavered.

Lee leaned in closer to the speaker and spoke slowly. "Tell me what's out there soldier."

"Everything sir, they have everything. There's got to be a whole division camped behind the northern hills. They've got heavy armour, gunships and long-range MLRS. There's six squadrons of fighters moving in from the East."

Selina looked across the table to where Commander Montoya stood. They look she got in reply spoke three very clear words, 'That's too many.' Looking over to Lee, she saw that his eyes and widened, and a bead of sweat was trickling down his temple. Without a word to his advisers, he switched the channel over to all frequencies.

"This is the Warden in Chief to all units. Fall back. I repeat, fall back. Everyone get to the Upper Levels of The Pit, defensive protocol Sierra."

"Sir!" the man from Falchion Squad yelled down the line. "We have incoming! The MLRS's and fighters have opened up! Our counter-measures can't intercept them all, impact in 10 seconds!"

"Everyone brace!" Lee ordered as the line clicked off; and a few moments later, the command centre collapsed around their heads.

3rd battalion was holding steady against the enemy troops as Clementina manned a grenade launcher, firing at the vehicles that was being used for makeshift cover. "Finally some fucking backup!" Yelled the Captain as the enemy forces were soon being cut down by 1st. Clementina smiled grimly as she watched her foes being murdered in the masses, flanked on both sides as they spread out. This was the most amount of people that she had ever killed. It felt invigorating. Mother fuckers like these attacking a prison? She didn't know if they were planning a mass breakout or if they were from a similar organisation to her own. She didn't think on it much however and focused on killing her opponents; whoever they were attacking a place that protected the public on such a large scale deserved to die and suffer in hell.

"This is the Warden in Chief to all units. Fall back. I repeat, fall back.

'O quê? Recuar?'

"Everyone get to the Upper Levels of The Pit, defensive protocol Sierra."

'Que porra é essa?!'

"Fighters we got fighters inbound!" yelled her captain as hellfire was released from the devils in the sky. "You heard the colonel retreat move MOVE MOVE!!!"

On cue Clementina along with 3rd fled back into the upper levels of the pit as man made meteors crashed upon the surface of the prison. Clementina and all of 3rd were in peak physical condition, but that didn't mean every one of them made it into the pit alive, none of them unscathed as the heat made itself known in the frozen hell. Thankfully most had made it inside however.

Filling the atrium in an orderly and professional manner they got into battle positions. Who knew if their opponents were soon to follow behind, and even then they needed to protect the upper levels at all cost. The gaping maw of hell wouldn't, couldn't open up to let more filthy souls in this day. "Colonel! Colonel! 3rd have entered the upper level and are ready to defend sir. Sir do you copy!" The captain yelled into his speaker in a desperate attempt to find the colonel.

"How the fuck did they get fighters in the air?" Asked Clementina angrily aloud. "The amount of fucking AA we have they should be fucking ash in the air!"

"They must have taken 'em out," replied a fellow lieutenant, "I've been here for years and I don't know who the hell could get this much equipment and that many troops here this fast."

"Any idea who it could be?" asked the Brazilian.

"Honest to God I have absolutely no clue." her fellow lieutenant responded.

"Well," she said flippantly, "that's encouraging as fuck."

Kusanagi watched as the two giants struggled in the dirt. Any shot she'd attempt to make now had a chance of hitting the wrong target. She gritted her teeth and shouted once more, "I SAID ROLL HIM OVER DAMMIT!"

Moments later, she found an opening. The armored man had kicked Nikolai off of him and onto his back a few feet away. Unfortunately for her, however, another interested party took notice. Just before she took the shot she spotted movement in her peripheral vision. The machine gunners they'd suppressed earlier were back in formation and ready to fire on them. On his back and with no cover, Nikolai was a sitting duck.

No.

Kusanagi cursed under her breath and fired a controlled burst at the machine gun nest, kicking up dust all around them as her shots collided with their protective sandbags, "OVER HERE YOU COCK SUCKERS!" Two of the three guns immediately shifted their focus onto her, firing through the plume of dust and dirt at her last known location.

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!

She flew across the battlefield as bullets whizzed by, some embedding themselves mere inches from her feet. Her heart pounded faster and faster as she scrambled for cover, knowing that at any moment it could have been all over. All it would take is one shot to reach its mark. One shot of hundreds.

The pair of guns followed her to a nearby foxhole, forcing her into a dive as the stream of hot lead closed in on her. She slid on her side across the dirt as small chunks of the concrete barrier pummeled her all over. The cover she'd found would only hold so long against sustained, high-caliber fire, so she knew she had to act fast.

Out of their line of sight, Kusanagi crawled behind the barrier and underneath the gunfire. The fire hadn't let up, but she could see now that they were focusing on the rough area she'd dived into. Her blood boiling hotter than ever, she swallowed her fears and took what was likely her only chance to make it out of this alive. Quicker than she thought herself possible, she lifted herself up onto one knee and fired into the machine gun nest, her rifle now set on automatic. The roar of machine gunfire ceased but for a moment as a cloud of pink mist exploded from inside the nest. One down. The second gunner adjusted his aim and returned fire.

A steady stream of bullets raced across the barrier to where Kusanagi knelt, finding their mark the moment she found hers. The back of the second gunner's head exploded, his limp corpse flopping over onto that of his comrade's. Kusanagi's triumph was brief, however, as an indescribable force sent her off her feet and reeling backwards onto the dirt. Her consciousness faded for a brief time, returning to her just as an excruciating pain set in. A bullet had caught her in the vest, right bellow the right breast.

As her senses returned to her she screamed out in pain. Though the vest had likely saved her life it didn't stop the bullet from breaking her ribs and possibly even puncturing her lung. Kusanagi clutched her wound, spitting blood and dirt from her mouth as she cursed under her breath and swallowed her pain. She reached out with one arm to drag herself back into the foxhole as the battle continued around her.

"Kusanagi? Kusanagi?"

"I-I'm, I'm here!" Kusanagi lifted herself over the crumbled concrete barrier, falling face first into the dirt on the other side. "I-I-I... I'm hit..." Would she die here? Had she come all this way just to die like this? What of Orphan and Tristan? Was she failing them now as she clung to life in the dirt? Would she die in a battle she had no real stake in?

Tears began to stream down her face. She couldn't let it end here, she just couldn't. She had a promise to keep and she had people who cared for her still... even if they were few. She cried out once more, "NIKOLAI!"

Bang. Bang. Bang. Acolyte went to work with the sniper rifle, popping off targets one by one, hitting them in the head or chest. With the exception of Behemoths, any armour they wore made no difference. The Behemoths needed shots to the throat, which was a difficult target. After a while, several soldiers figured out where he was and began peppering the top of the tower with assault rifle fire. He turned his attention from a behemoth whose rifle he'd just destroyed, and focused on picking off the soldiers. A task he soon completed.

It was strange, killing so many. Whether he liked to admit it or not, killing was something he was used to, but up to this point, he was always avoiding it. Why now? The second explanation that came to mind, the one he accepted, was that he was stopping people that would potentially hurt Lucia. That was reason enough. The first, that he rejected, was that misery loves company. He was dying, after all.

As the last man in the group's head exploded in a red mist, he was about to comb for more unsuspecting targets, perhaps try to find Lucia and Nikolai, when he felt a tight clamping grip on his shoulder, and a sense of vertigo. The Behemoth hefted him from where he stood and threw him hard enough to the floor that he bounced up onto his feet and fell against the wall.

The soldier was unarmed. Probably the man whose rifle he'd shot. But that suit was weapon enough, lending him strength, and the protection of a tank. Getting to his feet, Acolyte shook himself. As he drew his pistol, the Colt Python, the behemoth charged him in a dead run. He squeezed three shots that ricocheted uselessly off the man's chest plate, then tucked and rolled as the behemoth's fist hit the wall where his head had been, plowing into the stone, leaving a crater. The sudden movement brought on a wave of dizziness. Being slammed like that had left him dazed, and the revolver spun out of his hand. Getting back to his feet again, he focused. The soldier turned to face him, and he fell into a defensive stance. With that much strength behind his blows, this would be like fighting Nikolai all over again. Although he suspected Nikolai's affinity for violence was far greater than the behemoth's. This would be doable. Easy, by comparison. Ducking the first punches, he began reading his opponent's movements, and saw the kick coming. He stepped back and it sailed right past him. Then he lashed out with a kick of his own. The armour prevented it from doing anything, but the blow still unbalanced the man and he tumbled to the ground loudly. Taking his opportunity to strike, as the man came to rest on his back, Acolyte descended on him, his knee coming down on the man's throat like a spear. There was a crunch and a gurgling, and after a minute or so, he relieved the pressure and stood up.

His sniper rifle had gone over the edge of the lookout when the behemoth had attacked him. He saw it on the ground with its barrel bent. The only weapon the behemoth had was a huge combat knife, which he took and belted to his hip. Reloading his revolver with .44 rounds from his pocket, Acolyte sighed and headed down from the tower. He would search for Lucia on foot.

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

Riley and his men arrived at the trench where Talon's men had been. It was now occupied by enemy forces. Dispatching the first to get near him with his pistol, he soon holstered it and drew his machetes. The trench made close quarters fighting necessary, and he ducked and weaved, lashing out at any opening. One man lost an arm, and another was stabbed in the gut. The third opponent, a behemoth still foolishly trying to bring his rifle to bear in the cramped trench, lost his head. Around him, Riley's men had pulled combat knives and pistols, and were engaged in conflicts of their own. Taking out his M1911, he ended several of them then and there, taking the opponents unawares who had assumed two soldiers and a behemoth would be too much for the yellow eyed demon. As he and his men came out of the trench, Riley found blood on the ground. And a heart. Distinctly separate from the bodies. He was on the right track, and soon found the Talon's forces up ahead. Regrouping had been incredibly easy. They were winning so quickly it was almost ridiculous.

The Talon smiled at the sight of Riley and his forces rejoining with her own. As the rest of the Songbirds laid down suppressing fire, she made the short dash over to where his own team were taking cover. She need not even ask if his objective had been accomplished. One look into those strangely beautiful irises of his told her that her loyal man had not failed her.

"Our advance is slowing here, and Ventures forces are rallying to the west." she told him "We'll retreat now before we get caught in a stalemate."

The Talon tuned her radio in to all frequencies.

"They're bleeding us dry. We can't advance any further. Fall back." she transmitted. The Venture commanders listening in would take heart from that, for the few hours it would take them to realise that her men had got what they came here for.

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

"NIKOLAI!"

For the tiniest moment, Kusanagi's voice and the voice from his dreams, the one who also screamed, were one and the same. Nikolai whiled towards the sound, assessing the situation in a heartbeat. One machine-gun inside the nest was still active, and another small squad of troops was approaching the bunker to reinforce it. Kusanagi didn't stand a chance.

Nikolai drew and emptied his second handgun towards the nest. At such a range the side-arm was nowhere near accurate enough to score a hit, let alone kill anyone. It did, however. Get their attention, and Nikolai once again had to hit the deck, rolling sideways, as fingers of dust exploded around him. As he pushed himself back to his feet, Nikolai's hand caught the edge of the dead Behemoth's chest plate, where a lip rose up to protect the neck. Without pausing to give the machine-gunner any time to lose interest in him, Nikolai hauled the immense weight of the suit, and the body inside it, to its feet along with him. High velocity rounds clattered into the heavy armour, ricocheting in all directions, but Nikolai stood safe behind his human shield, holding it upright by the scruff of its neck. With his other arm Nikolai dug a charge of plastic explosive out of his satchel, and stuffed it down the back of the Behemoth's belt, before priming the detonator. With nothing else left for it, Nikolai let out a deafening bellow, and charged headlong towards the hail of bullets, the Behemoth lolling in front of him, gore still dripping from his shattered visor.

If the Venture soldiers were shocked to see a man run at full pelt straight towards them, with almost one tonne of metal, flesh and bone thrust out in front of him and roaring a manic battle cry that could be heard even above the noise of all the gunfire and explosions, it didn't stop them shooting. The reverberation of machine-gun fire slamming into the front of his human shield grew only more intense as Nikolai drew nearer and nearer to the nest, the shock of the impacts jerking all the way up his own arms. Mercifully though, the armour did not give way. A stray bullet Came through the Behemoth's limp legs, and ricocheted off Nikolai's metal one with a ping. Another grazed the side of his face just above his eyebrow, but Nikolai barely noticed. As his roar reached a crescendo, Nikolai waited until he was almost on top of them, until he could hear the men behind the concrete and sandbags cursing and panicking. At the last moment, Nikolai hurled the body of the Behemoth over the low wall of sandbags, directly on to the two men who had been manning the last gun, toppling them backwards. Before any one of them could take advantage of his now exposed state, Nikolai threw himself one more to the side. Rolling over and over and over until eventually he reached Kusanagi, Crouching over her to protect her body as his thumb pressed down on the detonator.

Sand, rubble and body parts flew everywhere as the charge detonated. The shock wave rattled Nikolai's bones while the heat seared his back, but still he held his ground. When it was over, Nikolai glanced back at the ruin he had just made. There was no-one left. Next, he looked down at Kusanagi, she was still alive, but struggling to breathe with a round having penetrated her chest. The battle still raged around them, and Nikolai had neither medical supplies to treat her wounds (not that he was even sure how), nor any weapons left to protect her with save for his hammer and his bare hands.

"Fall back."

The order came in through his headset, and Nikolai didn't need telling twice.

"Hold on." he told Kusanagi, before grabbing her by the collar and dragging her away towards the woods, yelling "FALL BACK!" to anyone that might here.

The mood went quiet after Abigail made the offer, guess everyone had more important things to worry about than free drinks, what with the base being attacked from all sides and the uncertainty of whether or not they would survive this day. Eventually the elevator came to a slow stop as they reached the floor where the Mess Hall would be; unlike the floors above, this wasn't as heavily defended, but it looked as though the people who were here would put up a fight if needs be.

Abigail went to open the doors with the release button, but found it wasn't working, or if it was, not enough power was getting to the motors that operated the mechanism. She looked around and saw a container on the wall to her left that held a crowbar, with the glass panel reading in bold red letters; FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY.

"Can someone break the panel on that emergency box, and pass me that crowbar please?" Abigail asked, with one of the workers from the storage wing handed her the tool a moment later.

"And someone keep pressing that release button, might need to get the doors going with this to get it working." She added, before sticking one of the flattened ends of the crowbar into the small gap between the two doors, and began pulling on it to slowly cause the door to come unstuck. It took a minute or two, but eventually the doors suddenly opened the remainder of the way by themselves.

"About time two I say. Now then, let's head for the Mess Hall." Abigail remarked, taking a moment to breathe before stepping out the doors, keeping the crowbar with her in case she found it useful; either as a tool, or a means to defending herself. Everyone else soon disembarked the elevator, with Lewis and his wheelchair bound sister being last. After checking everyone was alright, they proceeded down towards their destination.

Kusanagi watched through murky, strained eyes as Nikolai charged the machine gun nest. She couldn't tell exactly what had transpired, the pain was too blinding, but she certainly remembered the part when Nikolai threw himself on top of her to shield her from an explosion. Limp and half-conscious, Kusanagi allowed herself to be dragged along by the Dog, whimpering and muttering senselessly to herself as they disappeared into the forest.

Though her senses were muted she could make out some of what was going on. They were retreating. Had they lost? Nikolai was was carrying her to safety. She could tell for sure it was Nikolai because, despite his power and the haste in his actions, he was still remarkably gentle. It wasn't unlike that one time in Orphan's cell, though this time he was actually saving her. Life wasn't without its little ironies.

Once they were a fair distance outside of the battleground, Nikolai's pace slowed. Kusanagi grumbled, "Wh-where are we going? N-Nikolai, I don't know if I can take much more of this. I-I-I, need to get this vest off." It was getting increasingly hard to breath and the threat of unconsciousness was creeping nearer.

The boom became louder as the attack intensified. Sadly, Aggie was still unconscious in her wheelchair the time the group made it downstairs. Lewis waited patiently as everyone got off the elevator but the group hurried out as more explosions could be felt up above.

I hope the Wardens are holding out... Lewis thought as he hurried out. Part of him was glad that he wasn't fighting up above but another part wished he was up there and making a difference. He didn't exactly miss the thrill of combat but he felt that he could at least everyone one else a few more moments. Then he looked down at Aggie and shook that thought right out of his head. The he looked up and followed the woman through the abandoned hallways. Hopefully they were abandoned.

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

The sound was deafening. It was as if a thousand explosions went off at once right above their heads. Richard was pushed outside but it was probably the tide of people clamoring for the exit or the force of the explosions. It was hard to tell. People screamed as some of the concrete began to fall on top of them and strike the staff inside. Soldiers and executives alike were being buried alive beneath the rubble. But Richard was lucky to not get hit by the falling debris. The only thing was that he could barely hear a thing. It all sounded deafened to him. He could feel blood bleeding out of his ear but he couldn't reach out. His body was still in shock.

Then someone grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out into a clearer space. He could only look down at his tarnished suit and bloodied pants. Bloodied. Someone had died on him and he didn't feel a thing. Whoever it was finally stopped dragging and he saw it was a Warden and a very distraught Warden at that. Then a few more Wardens ran from around a corner and went into the smoky hallways probably to rescue the others. Someone had died on him and he didn't feel a thing and he couldn't hear a thing either.

It was only the work of a few minutes to recall the rest of Iron Squad and begin falling back. Still, enemy soldiers were pouring in amid the falling debris and explosions. But Korovitch was able to make his way over to the Lieutenant. All around him, his enemies fell, as he worked like a machine, dropping enemy soldiers with bursts of assault rifle fire. His rifle clicked empty as a soldier brought a rifle up against him. Without thinking, Korovitch drew his pistol, but his squad mates dispatched the man with ruthless efficiency. More soldiers were pouring in, though. Emptying the Makarov into the crowd, he holstered it and slotted his last clip into the rifle.

Gradually, they drew back to the stairs, moving up towards the upper levels, and Korovitch tossed his now empty rifle aside, taking a FAMAS rifle from the corpse of a man he'd killed, searching him for additional clips with haste as the enemy advanced. Then he continued with his men up the stairs. In that firefight, he saw one of his soldiers, a woman called McMillan, go down, her throat slashed by machine gun fire. No saving her. It was time to dig in, if only for a moment.

"Lieutenant," he called to Clementia, "get your men to the upper levels. Iron Squad will cover your movement before leaving ourselves."

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

The soldier's head exploded as the .44 round took him right in the eye. Acolyte was just about competent with pistols at best, but the lack of distance had made it an easy enough shot. He didn't pause to fire, and continued to sprint at the men aiming at him. The corpse was still falling to the ground when he closed the distance, spinning on his foot to catch the next man with a roundhouse kick to the head. There was a wet crunch as his jaw dislocated at both sides, and he went careening into another of his group. The next had a pistol in his hand, but Acolyte ducked past him, grabbing his wrist, bringing it over and down, popping it out of its socket in one quick motion. As the man fell to his knees, Acolyte pistol whipped the back of his head three times, knocking him out. Finally, the last man, the one who'd been knocked over, was getting to his feet. Acolyte fired his revolver twice. At such close range, the kevlar didn't save him from heavy caliber rounds to the chest, and he fell twitching.

Pausing only to pick up an assault rifle, he continued on at full pelt. Then he saw them, Nikolai hefting Lucia. Other soldiers were appearing. Enemy soldiers. These he emptied a clip at as he sprinted towards his friends. "Nikolai!"

Was Lucia hurt? If she was, he could do little for her now besides get her to safety. "Nikolai, the south gate is cleared. We can get her out through there. Riley's songbirds are past that gate, as well."

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

"They're bleeding us dry. We can't advance any further. Fall back."

Riley gave her a crude salute with a fist that still clutched a bloody machete. "I had it taken out through the south gate. I just came from there, so there's no way they've had time to get more men to it. And my men are there, too. Best place to leave through, if you ask me."

The Talon rested her metal arm, still slick with gore on Riley's shoulder, and nodded.

"Very well, lead the way."

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

"I don't know if I can take much more of this. I-I-I, need to get this vest off."

Nikolai tore off the vest easily enough. The straps that fastened the armour in place underneath the arm not withstanding the strength of his arms for more than a second. Inspecting the damage, he saw that while the bullet had managed to punch all the way through the Kevlar, it hadn't gone much deeper than that. The bullet wound itself was cosmetic. He'd seen men survive a dozen wounds like this all at once. However, he also knew enough to know that the bullet wasn't the end of the danger. A broken rib, of which Kusanagi likely had at least a couple, could collapse a lung or worse lacerate an artery if handled without care, and the shock of the impact itself would be enough to set off internal bleeding.

Kusanagi did not need to know any of this though, so instead of mentioning it Nikolai grabbed her face, and forced her to look directly into his eyes.

"You will be fine." he told her firmly. "This is a flesh wound, nothing more. Now we just have to get you safe..."

"Nikolai!"

Nikolai had rarely been so glad to see Acolyte's face.

"We can get her out through there. Riley's songbirds are past that gate, as well."

"Keep them off me." Nikolai ordered above the noise of encroaching gunfire. The Venture garrison had well and truly rallied in such a short space of time. They couldn't have picked a better moment to retreat, Nikolai thought, as he scooped up Kusanagi in his arms, and jogged as carefully as he could in the direction of the fall back point.

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

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"Daddy! I dreamed monsters were coming to get me!"

"Hush now little one. No monsters will ever hurt my Princess. Not while her Daddy has anything to say about it."

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

Selina woke to devastation. Or at least she thought that's what it must have looked like, in truth it was hard to tell through the thick soup of dust that hung in the air. Retching, as the stuff coated her lungs, she pushed herself unsteadily to her feet, upon discovering that she could feel both her legs. She was aware of silhouettes moving through the gloom, but for a time Selina could neither make out features, or hear though the ringing in her ears.

"Report?" she heard Lee say eventually. At some point he had also found his feet, and kept them much more easily than Selina. His ear was bleeding, and his uniform torn, soot-stained and smoking all down one side, and yet despite what injuries might be lurking underneath, the man still mad his steely composure.

"Nine dead, Major Mbutu among them." Montoya wheezed, somewhat less composed. "Fifteen more wounded, as far as I can tell."

"Round up any personnel still inside and still on their own two feet, and rally them back here."

"Colonel!" Montoya exclaimed desperately "Enemy infantry will be crawling all over us in minutes, and this building is too badly damaged to be def-"

"I have no intention of staying here, Commander!" Lee snapped, harried, "However, if we're going to move out we need to do so in force. Now go!"

As Montoya pulled a shaky salute, Selina heard Lee mutter aloud "If nothing else, I'm not leaving them to die alone if I can help it."

"Colonel..." Selina began, her wits returning to her slowly. "We have to sound as SOS if we still can. If not, then it's time to evacuate."

"No and no." Lee replied firmly before she could extend her argument any further. "If I call for help, I start World War God Knows What Number, and if I flee I lose any hope of containing the situation."

'World War... what is he talking about?!'

"We're hopelessly out-gunned!" she pleaded.

"Above ground, we are." he replied.

It took a few moments still for the cogs in Selina's head to turn. She was still fighting shock, and Lee's ideas weren't helping.

"Are you telling me you mean to take us down into The Pit?" she asked, hoarse.

"Their air support cannot touch us that far down, even just on the Upper-Levels." Lee replied steadfastly "What's more, The Pit is a hundred thousand bottlenecks. Ten good men can hold fifty at every corner. Their numbers will mean nothing to them."

"And what happens if we find ourselves caught in another riot?" Selina retorted.

"We do whatever we have to to keep control." Lee said bluntly, plainly not happy with his own answer. "Either way, we can't make a stand here, and I'm not falling on my sword just yet."

Breaking off the discussion, Lee strode over to the shattered doorway and pulled up another battered figure into a standing position.

"On your feet, Dr. Lu. You're not done yet."

Kusanagi hissed through her teeth, pain wracking her body as Nikolai ripped the vest off and inspected the damage. She refused to cry out, she didn't want to appear any weaker than she already had. She shivered violently as Nikolai grabbed her face, forcing her eyes onto his.

"You will be fine.

I will be fine...

"This is a flesh wound, nothing more. Now we just have to get you safe..."

Kusanagi's eyes followed Nikolai's gaze. It was Acolyte! She quietly listened to their brief exchange. Before Nikolai took her away she whispered, "S-s-stay with us. P-please, Acolyte." Her arm outstretched, she weakly groped at his shoulder as Nikolai lifted her up. As she bounced up and down in his arms she squirmed in pain. Nikolai's stoic expression eclipsed the light shining through the forest canopy. Her vision was hazy, but she could tell he was concerned. Who knew how many Freemen had lost their lives in this battle... and the thought of losing her as well?

She felt guilty for what she had done back at the songbirds base. She had hurt him in a way he likely wasn't used to and now, like he had so many times, he was risking his life to save her own. How long until he had had enough? How long would his debt to Orphan last? Wasn't he still looking after her for that?

Studying his expression further set all her doubts at ease. Whatever his reason, he was concerned for her safety. She wasn't sure if he had known the reason for her injury. She could have left him out in the open to die. She could have easily sunk away. There was a time she'd have done it too. There was a time she'd have been happy to see him cut down by machine gun fire. Not anymore, however.

She'd seen his pain down in the darkest depths of the Pit that night. She wanted to help him. She wanted to save him. He still carried that innocent boy who died deep inside. She saw glimpses of him. She knew he was still there.

As she gentle rocked in his arms she fought to stay awake. Fading now was the worst thing she could do. In order to keep conscious she decided to speak, "Thank you, Nikolai." She grasped a tuft of his shirt. "I-I'm sorry I failed you..."

"S-s-stay with us. P-please, Acolyte."

"I'll try," he said. In the long run, it was the truth. The long run kept him from saying 'I will'. He jogged with Nikolai, casting around with his rifle. Occasionally, enemy soldiers popped into view. He didn't stop and aim, but just sprayed to ward them off. They were nearly halfway back to the gate when a group of four appeared. "Don't stop, I've got this," Acolyte shouted. Reaching at his belt, he plucked a grenade he'd taken when he'd borrowed the suit of Behemoth armour. Pulling the pin with his teeth, he threw it, hard and true. It hit one of the soldiers between the eyes, and he went down, dazed. His squad mates were still trying to drag him clear when the explosion dismembered them. Suppressing a wince, Acolyte kept going. "The gate's up this slope!"

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

"Very well, lead the way."

"By your command, so I obey, O Taloned One," replied Riley theatrically. Whether it was jest, even he wasn't sure. Turning to his men, he shouted, "alright lads, let's do one!"

With most of the soldiers behind them, the return trip was relatively uneventful. When they got to the gate, Riley glanced at the broken rifle on the ground, and up at the empty guard's post.

"I thought the Monk might go looking for his friends. He'll be back, though."

As if to prove his point, Acolyte's voice was heard: "The gate's up this slope!"

"Well, that's everything in a nice, neat bow, isn't it? Our lovely new friends will be here in a tick, and my boys are looking after every canister this base had stored." With that, he clambered up the ladder to the lookout so he could open the gate. When it was open, he ran ahead of the main group for some way. Then he came to a stop, and put his hands to his mouth and howled. It didn't sound like a man imitating beast. It was the sound of a bona fide wolf. Deafening up close, it carried. There was a brief pause, and then a return howl. Odin was on his way.

Clementina kept her guard up as she was lead down into the pit, no longer safe in the atrium. The enemy were soon to be swarming them, they were not far behind. Some we beginning to rappel down, being covered by their allies and preventing 3rd from shooting them as they lowered themselves. These men were far better trained than those who had thrown away their lives earlier; and the scary part was that this was only a small portion of the force that was soon to come. Running down in as orderly a fashion as they could 3rd battalion attempted to hold off enemy troops as they came, but clearly this was no an easy task.

The Captain was getting restless. The choke points of the pit were not enough to hold the onslaught that was soon to approach them, even if they could hold it for now they wouldn't hold forever. "Men, watch the corners, everybody get in view of all possible entrances. Eyes on targets. They have one way in and no way out. We hold them as long as we can and retreat, hold and retreat, hold and retreat. We can do this and you all know we can!" His battalion made a resounding roar of approval, despite not everyone truly believing in it. Would they receive re-enforcements? Would their fellow battalions assist them? Would they come from below to help hold the line or from above to flank-as unlikely as it seemed.

Then it became apparent to the lieutenant that these were in fact her thoughts, her concerns, and her fears. Fears. Fear was an emotion that Clementina was not comfortable feeling and did not want any further association with this particular emotion. Yet, as sweat slipped down her back in the ice cold prison she could not deny the power of the fear that was slowly beginning to grip her.

It took them a couple of minutes, but they managed to reach the Mess Hall unharmed. Despite being quite a few floors down from the fighting above, the sounds of explosions could still be heard; the odd tremor managing to unsettle some dust here and there. Inside the Mess Hall, the group had come across a few others who had made their way down here.

'Looks like these guys had the same bright idea we had. With any luck, given our location, if the attackers do get down this far; they might pass us by, emphasis on the might.' Abigail said to herself with a slight nervousness in her head.

"Alright, final stop for now guys; all we can do now is wait, hope, and pray that we make it through this." She announced to everyone in the room. Looking around at everyone present, Abigail could see looks of despair in a few faces, she just hoped what she said was true. People started to sit down at the tables and began to talk amongst themselves.

Whilst they occupied themselves, Abigail was busy looking for the door to the Panic Room that Lee mentioned earlier; he said that the room was below the Mess Hall, so the door should be nearby, if not in the same room. Eventually, she came across a black metal door which looked out of place amongst the white façade of the Mess Hall. It was roughly as tall as Abigail was, and it had a simple sign in block capitals that read; "EMERGENCY!"

'Huh, wonder if this is it then.' Abigail mused to herself as she took a hold of the door handle, and gave it a firm pull. The other side was very dark, but not pitch black, dark enough that Abigail needed to use a flashlight to see what lurked there. She made out a small set of steps that lead into a corridor.

"Lewis, come and have a look at this; think I might have found the entrance to the Panic Room."

They made their way down corridors of blasted plaster and and flickering lights in single file. They numbered 15, Executives and Wardens, officers and otherwise. Weapons drawn and watching all angles, they crept through dust and rubble and corpses.

"Colonel." Selina whispered "We're not going in the direction of the exit."

"Indeed we aren't." he whispered back "We wouldn't stand a chance moving across open ground. Fortunately, there is another option."

The basement floor had resisted the worst of the bombardment, although the power was completely out, and their hastily formed platoon had to use flashlights to find their way around. Thanks to the tremors of the earlier impacts, the sign above the bar now read '-he Ga--s of P-nde--nium'. As the Warden on point pushed open the double doors, slowly, another blast came from above, followed by several trampling footsteps.

"Oh God, they're inside!" one of Selina's colleagues stated the obvious, panicking.

"Quiet!" hissed Lee, before turning back to his own man on point. "Move out, quickly."

They continued through the now empty, silent space, into the storage room at the back of the bar. Selina followed, and watched in astonishment as Lee punched in a code on a keypad by a door, to instead open a trapdoor under one of the concrete slabs. This place was full of secrets indeed. Now however, was not the time to question them. Selina could hear the footsteps of a splinter group of the invaders making their way downstairs.

"Down the shaft, now." Lee ordered, and no-one needed telling twice.

Once they were in, and the trapdoor sealed back up, Lee escorted them down the tunnel. They had made it by a whisker. Right now, Selina knew, the enemy soldiers would be combing over where they had been standing not 20 seconds ago. It remained to be seen, however, whether they hadn't traded one grisly fate for another. It didn't take a genius to deduce where this tunnel led. What remained to be seen, was exactly where inside The Pit they would re-emerge.

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

When they reach the fall back point, Nikolai set Kusanagi down, and bellowed for someone to come to their aid. Two Songbird medics took charge of her immediately, sticking a needle in her thigh and sprinkling some kind of white powder over the wound, before setting to work extracting the bullet and bandaging her up. Within a minute, Natalia emerged from the trees where she had been sniping, and the rest of the Free Men followed soon after. Looking round the familiar faces, Nikolai noted 6 absences, and the expressions all around him told him clearly that there was no-one left to wait for.

Almost 50 men had boarded that plane in that frozen waste forever ago. 12 now remained.

The Talon, with the lion's share of her forces, was the last to arrive. Nikolai saw a reverent hunger pass across her eyes for the briefest moment as she gazed upon the stockpile of Phantom that was laid out before her. It didn't look like too impressive a cache, if truth be told. There was barely enough there to fill two trucks. Between them, the men congregated in this clearing could have carried all the cases between them on foot if necessary. However, Nikolai recalled a conversation he had overheard discussing the potency of the finished product. There was enough here to arm over 30 warheads, each one with an effective lethal radius the size of a small town. Enough to, if used for maximum casualties, kill over 10 million people around the world in the space of an hour.

"You all fought valiantly today..." The Talon told them, beaming. "but our work is not yet done. Everyone, mount up, we must keep moving."

Travis had finally made it clear from the rioting, taking a breather between to buildings. He took out his knife and twirled it in his hands, sniffing it, stopping himself from licking it. That feeling, that wonderful feeling of ripping out someone's life was something he hadn't felt in so long. His mind was telling him that he had to wait, wait for the reaper as he would 'punish' him...

But The Dragon just couldn't hold it anymore. He needed to find another victim, and down here he was sure there would be someone who'd put up a fight. He preferred it when they didn't but damn he couldn't deny the entertainment value of someone thinking they could match his strength. First though he needed some new clothes as his were stained with blood. 'Maybe I can use it, nah that wouldn't work. Plus this low no one would buy it, maybe some of the higher ups but down here fuckers would laugh if I pretended to be stabbed, or try and jump me... wait thats it! This could work!'

Thus Travis made his way out of his hiding spot, wandering along holding his gut where the majority of blood had been. He could hide his knife well beneath his clothes despite its size, and he put his hands over it as well pretending it was a wound. "Help, god fuck someone help." he pleaded to know one in particular, hoping some sick bastard would come along to take advantage, not knowing just how sick of a bastard their pray would turn out to be.

Lu was pulled up and by Lee himself but he could barely hear what the man had said although he could tell by the sentiment that now was a good time to leave. He followed the detail all the down to the basement of the base, passing by the ruins of the upper levels followed by the eerie calmness of the basement. The basement level was barely touched and Lu's hearing gradually came to him. He could now hear the calm thuds of the explosions above coupled with the tense breathing of the group. Whoever had survived, survived. Lee made it clear that helping the wounded was beyond the question for his rush downstairs. Whoever attacked the base was now apparently inside of it as well so the group had to be quiet. Then they descended into a door leading into total darkness. Lu's guess was as good as anyone as to where they would end up next but as they sealed the door behind them, Lu only wished they had some sort of light.

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

Lewis tore himself away from Aggie and her unconscious state. He was reassured by the doctor that she was fine and that he would look after her as Abigail called for him. He still could hear the thuds of the explosions outside but what concerned him was that the multitude of booms was dying. There were less and less explosions meaning either one side was winning or one side was losing.

Lewis followed her voice and ended found Abigail pointing down a dark corridor.

"Lewis, come and have a look at this; think I might have found the entrance to the Panic Room."

"Well how do we open it?"

"Well how do we open it?" Lewis asked as he arrived, taking a moment to look down at the corridor.

"I have no idea Lewis, Lee never did specify on how to open it, just that it was here. Let me go down there and have a look, I shan't be a minute." Abigail remarked with a retort as she started to walk down the stairs, using the flashlight to help guide her and examine her surroundings for any clues. She literally walked into the door as she reached the end and dropped her flashlight.

Whilst fumbling about in the dark, Abigail's left arm caught hold of something, pulling on it, she was almost blinded by the sudden burst of light as several lights along the ceiling all come on at once. Reclaiming her flashlight, Abigail turned it off, and placed it back in her trouser pocket.

"Well, at least I found the light switch." Abigail said, sounding a little bit triumphant. She was then met with the sight of the large metal door that served as the entrance to the Panic Room. It looked to be made of quiet thick metal, a couple of inches if she had to guess; kind of like the door to a bank vault, albeit smaller to accommodate the size of the area of the room it was in. Either side of the door were two wheels.

"Lewis, can you come and give me a hand please; think I may have figured out how to open the door. There is two wheel shaped handles down here, think we might have to turn them both at the same time."

Lewis approached the door and went to one of the handles just like Abigail instructed.

"Alright... ready?" Lewis asked. Then both of them began to turn the door handles. He could barely turn it all at first. It took a few moments before he heard something finally move.

"I think we got something!" Lewis said before giving one last push in order to get the door open.

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

"Get in! Get in!"

Aggie rushed in with the snowflakes chasing her into the burned down building. The concrete walls were dark with ash and soot but it was the only shelter around for miles. They closed the metal door behind them as the winds began to roar and whip at them. The roof was collapsed causing the wind's sharp whistling to be heard inside the abandoned bunker.

"Everyone here?" Someone asked, rubbing his hands as he looked to the three other people inside who began to shake off the snow that had stuck to them. Aggie patted down her clothes before cupping her hands together and breathing into them. Her breath only yielded temporary solace. She shot a quick glance out of a firing port to see nothing but whites and grays outside.

"Lynch?"

"Yeah..."

"Holly?"

"Frozen but here."

"Standler?"

"Here."

"Rook?" No one said a word as they glance around each other, looking for the missing man. Then they realized the sad reality that someone didn't make their exodus from their convoy.

"Rook?!" Aggie shouted as she looked around in the small bunker but Standler took her by the shoulder.

"There's nothing you could have done..." He said but she just shoved his hand out of the way. She made her way back to the firing port, hoping that their missing man was only just a few minutes behind them. The storm had let up some distance but there was only wreckage of their failed invasion. Vehicles were strewn for miles on end. A reminder of their ill-fated attack.

"What are we going to do now?" A voice asked, finally cutting the silence. "Does anyone have a radio?"

"I had to drop it once they saw us. Not only that but I don't even think that we'd get much with the snow storm."

"Jesus...think anyone else survived?"

"It doesn't matter." Lynch cut in. "We have to survive now. We gotta make it back to the FOB."

"If that hasn't froze over either." Aggie said. She looked over at the little group. Four soldiers out of an entire company. "Let's start a fire or something..."

Before they could do that the noise of a tracked could be heard outside. Aggie looked back out to see tracked vehicles chugging through the snow and whipping winds. On the vehicle was the markings of the Baltic Alliance. Aggie cursed beneath her breath and crouched. She made a motion to the others and they followed suit. The vehicles lurched in the snow banks before stopping. Its door opened and two squads of soldiers climbed out. They fanned out and began to investigate the wrecks of the vehicles.

The group checked their ammunition but the look on their faces shared the same realization.

"This is it..." Holly said regardless of whether or not the soldiers would hear her. "We have to give up."

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

Give up..

"No!" Aggie shouted, frightening the doctor and the other members of the group that awaited Abigail and Lewis. She looked around to see the group and one of the doctors that had helped her before she went unconscious.

"Where am I?" Aggie asked, still groggy from the morphine and being asleep for some time. The doctor recovered from his recoil from a screaming Aggie.

"We're in the Mess Hall... very far down from the surface. The facility came under siege and we had to be evacuated. Anyone who couldn't fight, like us, was evacuated. Are you okay? I swore you were nearly dead."

"I'm fine... for now. Where's Lewis?" She asked, trying to stand up but the doctor urged her down.

"Take it easy, Aggie." The doctor said in a calm voice. "Your brother went with Abigail to some door, I think its to some sort of panic room." Regardless of the doctor's caution, Aggie got up from her wheelchair.

"Why would anyone want this hellhole?"

Korovitch's men finally arrived in the Atrium. They had had no more casualties, but Hayes was walking with a limp, and Bjorn's left eye was just a bloody socket. Korovitch didn't need his radio to hear the Captain encouraging his men. Turning his head, he spat a globule of bloody saliva. Even having fallen back, the battalions were spread across a wide surface area. Iron Squad were all the reinforcements these people would be getting.

They were upon them. Vicious and quick like vindictive wolves pouncing down from their elevated positions. However the choke point had the advantage of allowing the defenders to hold the attackers despite five to one numbers. However, it was not five to one, it was much much more than that, no one just wanted to admit it. Clementina was up on an elevated position, deciding that she was sober (whether it was 100% true or not) and that she would be more effective with a sniper rifle. Even in her just under tipsy condition she was able to pop off gunshots to the faces and chests of her enemies. 'Focus on the blood. Watch them bleed, watch them be scared.'

But they showed no fear. In the few seconds in which she saw their faces they showed conviction, victory printed on their faces like a sports team. They were streaming down a stairwell which led into a somewhat enclosed area, although they did have decent cover. Clementina spent a good amount of time holding them down with bullets from above, managing to both draw the fire of, and take advantage of the position the enemy was shooting from. The wardens had made plans to slowly retreat into the pit, plotting out checkpoints in order slow down their opponents as much as possible. The truth of this fight however was one no one could avoid. From the order that came from Lee to retreat along with the bombing run and the seemingly endless amount of troops, each and every Warden had doubt in their mind of victory. Some were feeling it worse than others. Despite this, these men and women were trained to be elite for the Colonel, to enforce his will and be a damn near personal army to protect the facility. "Fuck this was what he meant... the higher game at hand." Clementina spoke aloud, remembering what Lee had said to her.

And suddenly her mood became rather immature. 'The fuck didn't he tell me? The fuck didn't he tell us? Filho da puta poderia ter nos dado algum deus aviso mínima para isso!' The young lieutenant was losing her cool temper. Fire fights in the Favela was one thing. A war? Fuck that!

She had to stop herself from yelling 'Pop pop pop watch mother fuckers drop', as a bloodlust she was always in total control of was finally let loose as she laid off shot after shot after shot on her enemies; who's corpses were by this point mounting at the foot of the stairwell.
================================================
Felix could hear an echo coming down from all sides, the rumble of angry prisoners surrounding him. The guards were starting to panic.

"They must have gone apeshit cos of the lockdown. Fuck Fuck Fuck its gonna be like three months ago all over again!" A guard was freaking out as he spoke, Felix was just beginning to bring himself to his feet.

"Where the fuck are you?!" Came a voice from one of the warden's handheld speakers. "They're killing each other over here and we don't have enough men. Fucking get here now or we'll be next!"

"God dammnit," the guard who was taking care of Felix spat. "Are you gonna be okay alone?"

"Okay seriously?" Spoke another warden, "he's in here for a reason forget about him we need to go!"

"He's not like the oth-" began Felix's defender, but Felix cut him off.

"I will be fine sir, go and do your duty I will find somewhere I can hide." Felix weakly stood up as the guard looked him over before grunting and realising it was finally time to leave. Felix slowly began walking in no particular direction, holding onto the wall for support. His vision was clear but his head was still in a lot of pain. 'Why did I agree to come here? This was the worst idea I could have had. Oh I miss you Marisa. I'd give anything to be with you in our warm home rather than this cold sickening hell. This was all a mistake, if we had all our men we could have accomplished something!'

As his thoughts became more angry and frustrated, Felix dropped to his knees and vomited out his frustration, suddenly feeling much better though a lot colder. He looked up into the air as he panted as he noticed an air vent on the ceiling. It looked weak, off its hinges, probably used before. He would need to be careful in case someone else was hiding in there, if he had to defend himself he was in no position to fight.

Bringing up all the strength in his body he grabbed a pipe in order to balance himself. Standing up he wondered how the hell he would be able to reach the vent. He leaned against the icy wall and took off his shoe, throwing it repeatedly at the grate, feeling sick every time he had to bend over to pick it up. Eventually the blasted thing had come lose. Now was the hard part. Putting his shoe back on he crouched down, mustering all of the strength in his body, and jumping up to grasp the vent!

Only to immediately fall back down and land on his back as his fingers failed to grasp. He nearly fainted from the pain of falling multiple times until finally, with one last valiant effort, and the fear of angry prisoners soon approaching, he leapt up and grabbed the edges of the vent, pulling himself up before he could fall. He panted in victory as he was finally somewhere safe, though perhaps others had the same idea. He remained cautious as he slowly and weakly crawled through the vent.

Kusanagi fought with everything she had to keep from screaming as the medics went to work on her wound. She didn't want to appear weak, but it was simply too much. She wasn't used to pain. Not like this, anyway. Her eyes welled up, but she refused to cry anymore.

Blood tickled down her lip as she bit down between screams. Eventually, one of the medics took notice and rubbed her shoulder, "It's okay, let it out. Tensing up will only create more stress. That's the last thing your body needs right now." Kusanagi nodded and her panicked breathing slowed. She was all too familiar with this pep-talk, though until now, she'd never been on the receiving end of it. Just as she thought she was calming down an indescribable pain wracked her body causing her to contort her back and shriek in agony.

"We're clear. Patch her up." A dull pain persisted, but she managed to focus her eyes just long enough to see what he'd been referring to. A small, bloody hunk of metal lay in the man's hand. She locked eyes with the medic but for a moment as pain shot through her ribs once more, forcing her eyes shut. The man took her hand and placed the bullet in her palm, closing her fingers over it. She peered at him in the corner of her blurred vision. "Everyone remembers there first time. Consider yourself lucky you lived to see it done."

One medic stayed behind to comfort her and stave off shock while the others gathered around the Talon.

"You all fought valiantly today... but our work is not yet done. Everyone, mount up, we must keep moving."

Kusanagi glanced over at Nikolai, a pained expression painted on his face. He had been concerned for Kusanagi, sure, but the danger seemed to have passed. No, he was gathered around his men... or what remained of them.

I told you this was a mistake, Nikolai...

Though Talon was currently holding his attention she looked over at him with a glum frown. The pain from her injury now in the back of her mind, she thought only of Nikolai's.

"Alright... ready?" Lewis asked as he approached the other door handle. Abigail simply nodded before the pair of them begin to turn the wheels. It looked as though this place hadn't been used in a while, as the wheels were hard to turn at first, only moving in small increments. A minute or two had past before they were making any headway in the matter.

"I think we got something!" Lewis said triumphantly as he began pulling at the wheel with gusto.

"Your right in that respect Lewis. I don't think we've got long to go before this door opens up." Abigail said in agreement as they gave it one final push before the wheels suddenly stopped turning. That was followed by a series of hisses sounded off, as the smaller wheel on the front of the door began turning by itself, which led to the door being pulled back.

"Well hot damn! I think we did it. Nice job Lewis, couldn't of done it without you." Abigail remarked with delight, as she suddenly gave Lewis a quick hug. Realizing what she'd just done, she stepped back a bit.

"Sorry about that, just got a little over excited. I guess with all the mayhem above, I got carried away by the prospect of a success." Abigail said with a hint of embarrassment in her voice, her right cheek blushing a little bit.

Acolyte heard Talon's congratulations to the group, but didn't respond. He was entirely too focused on Lucia, being borne away by medics. If he had been there, he could have protected her. If they hadn't been split up...

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

Riley saluted Talon. "Yes, ma'am. I suppose all that remains is to regroup with our vehicles."

He wasn't sure if he heard anything or not, but he certainly sensed something to make him turn around. Odin was stood before him, watching him. The wolf's muzzle was caked in blood. Riley had set him to the task of running down as many retreating Venture soldiers as he could. A task at which he'd succeeded. Odin stood and tolerated Riley as he cleaned the wolf's muzzle with a rag from his pocket. Odin then closed his eyes and nuzzled in affection as Riley knelt and buried his face in the wolf's scruff for a moment before standing.

"Alright, you heard the lady. Let's move out!"

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