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

 Pages PREV 1 . . . 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 . . . 38 NEXT
 

The pair moved down the prison at a careful pace. The guards were too few and their enemies too many and it didn't take too much effort from both siblings to slip through their lines. Both of them used their combined knowledge to go further and further down using tunnels and corridors that they hoped were unguarded. Still, their progress was somewhat stalled with Aggie's sickness so Lewis had to slow the pace down. The other prisoners usually backed off when both of them caught of their weapons. Even prisoners knew that a well-armed target was not well worth going after. Still, they glared mostly at their weapons as if they could teleport the guns into theirown hands if they stared at it long enough.

When they reached the mid-levels Aggie passed by her cell finding surprisingly untouched. She opened the cell and took as much as she could. The rations were good for another two years but she only carried four cans out of her stash of 10 cans of beans along with a few bottles of water. Then she told Lewis to carry her bottle of alcohol. In a time like this a little solace could go a long way and maybe perhaps a bargaining chip along the way. Aggie fashioned swiped a satchel from a dead warden lying in the next cell and put all they had there. Then they were off.

Somewhere in the mid-level, Aggie knew a way around a squad of guards to the entrance to the lower levels but it involved going across a catwalk above them. From there, a stair case should lead them down behind the guards. First they scaled a ladder to the catwalk but on the way up they heard the slight groan of metal and something swinging on a rope. Aggie slowed her ascent and carefully peeked her head to the side to see bodies hanging from a rope with a noose tied around their necks. To Aggie they were more casualties of this invasion and no doubt there would be more to see. But, curious as to why Aggie had slowed, also peeked out to see what remained of Shogun squad.

Oliva, Walker and Marino were hanging by their necks with their lives long gone. Lewis stopped his ascent for a moment, looking at the men he served with and the way they were killed. He stopped himself from looking any further and continued climbing up. He caught up with Aggie at the top of the ladder and on the narrow catwalk. She saw the shock in his face, wondering if Lewis had the capability to press onwards. Aggie knew suffering but she had to continue and fight on. It was the only way out and the only way through. They were within hands reach of the roof above them. Maintenance tools still lay abandoned from the crews that left them when the invaders came. What was now scattered among them was spent cartridges. The unmistakeable brass glimmered on the metal floor of the catwalk. The catwalk overlooked a large portion of the mid-levels and this was no doubt used as a sniper's nest or final stand. The other end of the catwalk was a door that led to a corridor which hopefully should lead them down.

"The thing is that my squad got disbanded once I left..." Lewis whispered, careful not to bring any unwanted attention to them. "Maybe they found each other during the mess of it all.... Saw that it was better to die with each other than alone in some cell..."

"That almost happened to me a few times." Aggie said. "Lunatics down here will get crafty just for one squeeze. They pick your locks when your asleep but I always caught them. It's easy to lose hope down and give yourself up to the nasty things along with the nasty people. Why fight when the next day the same thing is just gonna happen? Why resist it? Well, for us Lewis, fighting is the only thing we have. Living in this prison is no different than living life outside these walls. The world is a terrible place so you have to fight just to get through because it's the only way through, alright?"

"Yeah... Right." Lewis said. He took a glance over the railing where the bodies hung before continuing along the catwalk. They stepped over the tools laying on the floor but made no effort to avoid the spent bullets on the floor simply because there were too many. A few rolled off the catwalk or through its slits. The cartridges fell into the darkness below them. After a few minutes they reached the other side and opened the door to the corridor. The walls of the place was decorated with bullet holes and smears of blood on either side. The place reeked of death and gunpowder. The two made their way down the corridor to a staircase leading downwards. After descending down a few flight of stairs, Lewis found Albergo slumped against a wall with an empty shotgun in his hands. Bullets had perforated his midsection and his familiar face had made way for a slug. Lewis simply knew it was him because of his name-tape and the dog tags that hung loosely around his neck which was more of a souvenir now. Lewis placed the tags in his pocket and fought through.

After a bit of more maneuvering, the pair had reached the lower levels but it was as more of a war zone than the first day of fighting. Both of them found a quiet alleyway to take a break.

"So now what?" Lewis asked as he caught his breath. Aggie also breathed deeply but both of them were tired and they needed rest.

"We find a place to rest, then we go about finding other like minded individuals." Aggie said, checking her shotgun. She only had seven shells of buckshot loaded but one shell could be all the difference in the world. "We have to watch out, there's wardens around here with an itchy-trigger finger that would just love to return the favor of being driven out."

"Fair point but do you know of any place nearby?" Lewis asked, wondering if even Aggie knew the lower-levels.

"I have an idea." Aggie said before handing her shotgun to Lewis. "Stay here, I'll be back in a tick."

"Son of a.... Aggie where are you..."

Before Lewis could even stand, Aggie left the alleyway with nothing but a pistol. Then in a few moments she returned with an inmate with a pistol to his head. The man looked just as frightened as Lewis when they rounded the corner.

"Who the hell is-"

"Lewis this is Alberto, Alberto this is Lewis." Aggie calmly said with her pistol pressed into the back of the man's shaved head. "Alberto here knows a pleasant bed and breakfast nearby and he would love to take us to it, now would he?"

"Yes! Yes! Please don't shoot me!" The man cried out. He looked to both of them then to their guns and his eyes only widened a bit more. He quivered in his shoes and sweat began to bead on his tanned skin. There were tattoos here and there but his courage seemed to be sapped by Aggie's gun to his head. "There's a building nearby b-but nobody goes near it."

"Why is that Alberto? Aggie asked.

"B-because they think wardens are inside." The man said with a quiver in his voice. "Please let me go... I won't tell anybody that-"

"You won't tell anybody because you are coming with us, Alberto."

"What?!" Both Lewis and Alberto almost said at once.

"How are we supposed to get there if we don't know the way?" Aggie plainly asked.

After a bit of prodding, the three of them moved from the alleyway and towards the building Alberto talked about. It looked rather unassuming which was what Aggie had hoped for. She also saw the logic of the wardens as something unassuming would draw less attention and add that with the rumor of wardens an d nobody would approach the building without meeting a bit of "resistance". Alberto seemed extremely reluctant to move any closer but Aggie's gun did a bit of convincing. When the three of them got closer, Aggie swore she heard a whisper but Lewis heard a soft thud against the window sill. Then after a few moments of silence Aggie spoke.

"To whoever is inside, I'm giving my friend a few cans of food in a satchel to give to you exchange of letting us in." Aggie said, loud enough so that whoever inside would hear but not loud enough to draw attention. She gave the satchel to Alberto who gingerly walked up to the door with food in hand. She took the water though and if they would let her in then she would give them that as will. A little kindness goes a long way especially in here.

"The stakes are higher than ever, and we can no longer guarantee that you won't place personal loyalties, and grudges, over the importance of the mission. Should you make a judgement call based on those loyalties that could lead to you being captured, anything that you had been told could be passed to occupying forces, compromising us all. Until I conclude that your head is in the game, all you need to know is that Verner's life is now more important than any other soul down here. If we fail in protecting him, the consequences will be severe, and felt far beyond to confines of this facility."

"That's a load of bullshit--" started Fiona, but Korovitch put a hand on her shoulder, and she fell silent.

"I can't say that I agree," he replied, curtly. "And I do wonder who's making these decisions, because I doubt you're still getting orders from the Colonel. But I understand."

Looking towards the confessional cubicle, he asked, "so where does that lead?"

Neil had been tapping his finger on his thigh nervously during Chen and Luka's exchange. He wanted to trust this man. He really did.

However, Lee never mentioned him. He was never a part of the operation. In fact, it had been implied that no one else knew about his mission but he and Lee. Could this man be working for the enemy? Was this all just a ruse to have him give up the trigger?

"so where does that lead?"

As he and Luka's eyes were drawn once more to the cubicle, Neil drew his sidearm and aimed at Chen. His finger twitched on the trigger, "What do you know?!" Signalling to Fiona and Luka with his gun, he continued. "Leave us. If he really is under orders from the Colonel, you can't be hear for this discussion. If he's not," Neil pulled the hammer back on the pistol. "I'll find out, and he'll tell me who sent him and what they know about us."

Hours had past since the Commander left, and it was now early in the evening. Fortunately for Zachary, business had slowed down to a reasonable enough speed for him to handle on his own, which meant Abigail could leave to go on this walk. Speaking of Abigail, she had just finished serving a customer when she noticed the Commander entering the bar again, looking as though he'd been effect by the drop in temperature, but still had a friendly expression.

"It is very good to see you again, Miss Nyte. I am happy to wait here while you finish up, if that is alright with you?"

"Fine by me sir, let me just go get my coat and tell Zachary that I'm leaving now. Shan't be more than a couple of minutes." Abigail then untied her bartender's apron and hanged it on a nearby coat rack as she headed up to the staff room. Entering it, she saw that the place was empty.

"Zach, where are you?" She called out, and was met with a response from the bathroom which was situated down a small hallway.

"I'm in here Abby. You off on our little date with the Commander now?" Zachary asked in a teasing manner.

"It's not a date Zach, more of an excursion. Anyway, I leave you to man the Gates; looks as though most of the customers downstairs are besotted enough that they shouldn't cause much of a fuss. Whilst I would say that if you have any problems, contact me on the radio, but all radio communications are non-functional."

"Depending on how long it is that I'm gone, you'll have to shut up shop. Got the spare set of keys?"

"Yes mother." Said Zach sarcastically.

"Don't talk to me like that young man, I am your superior after all. Anyway, I'll be off now." Abigail then headed back down the stairs to the cloakroom and grabbed her coat. It was dark grey and reached down to her shins, it was a present from her parents several years back, and she'd had it with her ever since coming to RACDI-Alpha, so naturally it was a bit faded in places.

After putting it on and grabbing one of the spare radios, Abigail discreetly hid a hand tazer that was sort of standard issue for all staff members in her coat. For support staff like her, it was mostly an "For Emergency Use Only" item in case a prisoner managed to escape up to this level. But with recent events, she felt it necessary to carry in-case one of the new occupants tried anything. Checking herself over in a nearby mirror, Abigail went back out into the main bar area, where the Commander had just finished talking to someone.

"Well I'm ready if you are."

"Well I'm ready if you are."

The Commander smiled and offered up his arm. He was still technically on duty, inspecting the perimeter patrols tonight, and as such had his rifle slung over his shoulder, though he did his best to act like it wasn't there, as the pair of them climbed up out of the basement level, and stepped outside.

"Why don't you tell me a bit about yourself, Abigail?" he said, as their boots crunched against the frozen earth.

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

"he'll tell me who sent him and what they know about us."

Chen sighed a little, holding his hands up in a half-hearted expression of submission, suppressing a wince from his arm wound.

"That won't be necessary. The truth is I don't know all that much more than Captain Korovich. I can make a pretty good guess, but my mission is simply to keep you safe, and gather all the scattered contacts that I can in preparation for the next play. That was all I needed to know, so I didn't ask for any more. When all is said and done, I trust Colonel Jin-Oh. Following his leadership saved my life a dozen times, and the life of my brother a dozen more. So, when the man gives me an order, I follow it, and I don't stop following it even if the situation seems to change beyond measure. Here's something you should all keep in mind, no matter what happens from here... Colonel Jin-Oh will always be the man pulling the strings at RACDI-Alpha. It will take more than a new boss to change that. I may not know exactly what it is you were entrusted with, but for all intents and purposes I'm the Colonel's voice here, and that means no-one discloses anything to anyone without my permission."

Chen turned back to Luka, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to the cubicle.

"There are maintenance access tunnels, ventilation pipes, and secret smuggling routes honeycombed all over this place. Not even all the Inmates and hostile troops combined have enough men, let alone the intel and discipline, to close them all. They're are best bet to keep mobile down here; and we need to keep mobile. There's no one place any more that we can hide out indefinitely before someone unfriendly finds us."

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

"To whoever is inside, I'm giving my friend a few cans of food in a satchel to give to you exchange of letting us in."

Yu, slumped against the wall in his Warden disguise, an HK G36C propped up beside him, fished out from his satchel a piece of broken glass with black tape on one side, creating a makeshift mirror. holding it up to the window above him, he adjusted the angle so that he was looking down at the three newcomers on the floor below. When his eyes confirmed what he had recognised with his ears, he smiled a little to himself despite the gauze packed under his chin, before pushing himself to his feet and heading downstairs.

"Three Inmates, lightly armed." he told his rag-tag compatriots below. "They have food and one appears to be a hostage. I'm letting them through, cover me."

He kept his rifle shouldered with one hand, as he unlatched the door with the other. Once it was open, Yu wasted not time in pulling the three of them through roughly, before levelling his rifle at them again. If either of the Morre siblings recognised him, he wasn't going to give them the opportunity to say anything, not yet. Things were still too fragile.

"All of you, face the wall with your hands behind your head and your feet apart, now!" he ordered.

Lucia checked over her shoulder a few times to ensure Nikolai hadn't fallen behind. A pointless effort, it seemed, as he'd had no problem clearing a path for himself. The crowd seemed to part as he moved through it. Eventually, they arrived at a stall that caught her eye.

Several wooden animal figurines sat in a row across the vendor's table. Lucia went straight for the hand-carved wolf in the center, "Hey, look!" Lucia exclaimed, picking it up and showing Nikolai. "It's you!"

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

"... They're are best bet to keep mobile down here; and we need to keep mobile. There's no one place any more that we can hide out indefinitely before someone unfriendly finds us."

Neil clenched his jaw, "On that, we can agree." He lowered his weapon. "I don't trust you, but then, I don't trust anyone down here so don't think yourself special. I can't confirm or deny anything you just said, so for now, I'm willing to cooperate so long as you're content with not asking questions." Looking to Luka, he added. "I know the layout of the Pit better than any warden. I'll be on-point when we move, so there's no chance he'll lead us into a trap without me knowing before hand."

He laughed nervously and shook his head, "For what its worth, it's nice knowing there is someone on your side. Even if they could easily be lying to your face."

"All of you, face the wall with your hands behind your head and your feet apart, now!"

The Warden said as he aimed their gun at them but unlike Alberto, Lewis and Aggie were almost used to it by now.

"I never knew wardens had such a sense of humor." Aggie said as she dropped her shotgun when the Warden ordered to the wall. It was no use fighting, both of them knew that. Even if Aggie could get the drop on him, that wasn't her intention in the first place. Rather, it was getting out and preferably alive. If that meant bossed around a bit more, she didn't mind. She put her hands to her head and complied.

Lewis, on the other hand, was more dubious of their intentions. Lewis felt that something was wrong but moreover he was just annoyed at Aggie and her quips. He wondered grimly if her talk got her those scars or rather if they were going to cost him one.

Lastly, Alberto was nonetheless extremely rattled by these sudden turn of events and quaking in his shoes, waiting for the day to end.

"... They're are best bet to keep mobile down here; and we need to keep mobile. There's no one place any more that we can hide out indefinitely before someone unfriendly finds us."

"I know the layout of the Pit better than any warden. I'll be on-point when we move, so there's no chance he'll lead us into a trap without me knowing before hand."

Korovitch shrugged. "I've been making regular peacekeeping forays into this facility for nigh on seven years, Verner. I'm not exactly unfamiliar myself."

Getting up, he holstered his pistol and started pacing the length of the room. "We do need to keep moving," he said. "However, this location will serve for a place to rest at the moment. As our only current objective for the time being is apparently survival, tomorrow, I suppose we shall have to go about acquiring some food, unless Chen has a cache of supplies he hasn't mentioned."

His stomach grumbled as if on cue, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since before his deployment, a couple of days ago. He ignored it.

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

"Hey, look!"

Acolyte leaned over and looked at the carving with interest. "I might try making one of those," he said. "I suppose I do have a fairly handsome life model to work off, even if we're on tense terms with his master."

"I'm gonna fucking kill him, I'm gonna fucking kill him!" Whispered the warden to herself as she kept crawling through the vent.

"Mother fu-"

"Punk bit-"

None of the punks were able to finish their sentences as Felix got the jump on them. The rest were fleeing while he was finishing off the last couple. "Forgive me." He spoke as he incapacitated the last few men before running off, following the vent. He kept at a jogging pace to avoid suspicion, he assumed if he sprinted he would be attacked right away. He followed the woman's directions as he worried he had fallen behind, while she was massively frustrated at his idiocy to get involved in a fight as this time. He could have gotten them both killed the fool.

By the time Felix had made it to the fabrics building she had been waiting for him in one of the backrooms. As he pushed open the front door she sprung to action with a gun at the back of his head. Stuck still his only reaction was, "Um, Miss Warden?"

"You fucking idiot." She huffed out as she holstered her weapon. "You could've gotten us both killed you jackass."

"I couldn't stand by and watch such violence." He replied calmly. His calmness only served to exasperate her further.

"The fuck is wrong with you?" She shouted into a loud whisper.

Felix stood into a military position. "I am a Knight of Iberia. I cannot stand for unprovoked violence, no matter the cost or circumstance."

She paused for a moment, puzzled by his behaviour before finally replying, "are you a fucking cult member?"

"I take offence at such an insult!" He spoke out louder than he should have, causing her to shush him.

"Be quiet!" She ordered.

"Respect me then." he ordered back.

"You are being fucking retarde-"

They were interrupted by gunshots, much too close for comfort. Felix peeked out of a nearby window and spotted some inmates running past their hiding spot, some of them the same as the ones he attacked earlier, though they didn't seem to be hunting them. Hunting was the apt term however, they were in a pack.
---------------------------------------
Clementina attempted to remain calm under pressure as she could hear the inmates enter the first floor. Her comrades were downstairs. Yes, yes they could take care of them. If they could save her, then they could silently eliminate these psychos. She was about to curse herself for sounding like a scared child when a single gunshot rang out. The woman beside her peeked out of the window before readying her weapon and firing.

"Jesus!" Clementina exclaimed before following suit with her pistol. No more hiding now.
======================================
Travis stood along with a large group of inmates who, for some reason, were being ordered to stand like soldiers. Many thought the idea was stupid, while Travis just thought it was hilarious. He stood with his legs in a wide birth, while his hands held each other behind his back, an almost goofy grin on his face as he awaited commands. He didn't know what was going to happen, but his blind ambition led him to believe that he would be able to climb the ranks of this fucking place, be a step above all these cunts in the room.

Last time he thought he was in a position of power he was perfectly okay to be a pawn for Sticks. Not now, now he wanted to be the king, the one true king of the icy hell.

The Commander smiled and offered up his arm after Abigail spoke, which she kindly accepted. He must have been getting ready to do some patrol work, as evidenced by the rifle that was slung over his right shoulder, though he seemed to act as if it wasn't there. They eventually got out of the basement level and began walking.

Just relax Abigail, and everything will be alright, no need to panic.

"Why don't you tell me a bit about yourself, Abigail?" Asked the Commander as sound of frozen earth or snow could be heard underfoot.

"Well, I guess the best place for me to start would be at the beginning. I was born in Toronto over in what remains of Canada. My father works as a SWAT Captain for the city's police department, so the streets are usually safe; whereas my mother works as an Art teacher at the Ontario College of Art & Design, she was always talented as a painter.

Given my father's profession, I got use to seeing fire arms that were field stripped so he could clean them from about my early teens, reason why he cleaned his at home, was that the people down at the precinct building didn't do a good enough job sometimes. It was a chance encounter with a robber one night that I used the M9 that my father used as a side-arm.

During my mid-to-late teenage years I was studying Set Design for Film & Theater, and given my mother's artistic talents, she helped me out when she could. You could say we're quite the happy family. Ever since I've worked here, we've tried keeping in regular contact whether it be through post or the occasional video call, weather permitting that is."

The Commander stayed silent throughout Abigail's explanation.

"That sounds... stable." he replied, once she had finished. "For what it's worth, I apologise for any part we have played in disrupting that lately. Although, perhaps we are not so different. You say you gunned a man down in self defence? I like to think what we are doing here is comparable. Venture Horizon, and those like them, want to steal everything that you and I rely on for survival out from under us. They want to own us, and they do this by making us afraid. By taking their largest and most profitable investment out from under them, so that all the world might see that they are nothing to fear, we are simply defending ourselves."

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

General Hammond barely moved an inch, as his vision swept the breadth of the room, taking in all the volunteers that had been gathered here. There was potential, that much could not be denied. These were strong, and vicious, they could be the perfect enforcers provided he could instil in them some modicum of discipline, perhaps even loyalty if he was fortunate.

"This facility is no longer under the control of Venture Horizon." He announced to them all. "Your former masters were sloppy, to let this place slip through their fingers. They are nothing, however, if not determined. They will try and take it back, soon. Do you want to know what happens to you when they do that?"

Hammond's gaze locked on to the grinning clown in the front row. Where others looked bored or frustrated, this one stood in ridiculous mockery of military discipline. Far worse. Should it prove possible, Hammond promised himself then and there that he would pay special attention to moulding this one. Clearly he thought himself important, and perhaps that meant he possessed a reputation the others would be inclined to take notice of. If the General could bring this one to heel, the others would fall in line soon after.

"When we attacked you rioted, taking the first opportunity to fracture their order of battle by killing Venture guards and each-other on a whim." he said, striding forwards until he and this particular specimen were standing face to face. "You're out of their control now, and that makes you no use to them at all. If they were to regain control over this place, they would not bother trying to get you back in your cells. The first thing they would do, is put you all down and start from scratch. They are never short of... donations. To them, you are all too easily replaced. So, it is in your best interests that they do not retake control, isn't it?

If you prove to be as useful in maintaining order for me, as you were at disrupting order for them, you will be rewarded. I intent to treat all those who submit to our rule peacefully with honour. I anticipate, however, that there will be many unruly elements within this place for some time to come. These elements, will require a firm hand. Does that sound like something that would fall into your area of expertise?"

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

'Shit.'

As the gunfire started, Yu pushed the three inmates onto their knees, giving him a chance to lean over, between the Moore's, and mutter.

"If you want to live, follow me out of here and do exactly as I say. I'll be back in a moment."

From there, he crossed the room, keeping his head down until he'd taken up position beside Clementina. The bullets were really starting to fly now. It would seem that they'd kicked a hornet's nest. Yu opened fire, taking down two Inmates trying to cross open ground, before ducking back down and pulling Clementina with him.

"Do not reply, just listen and comply." he said, inaudible to anyone else below the noise of gunfire. "We're getting out of here. Leave the others behind, we need them to cover our escape. The Colonel still needs you alive."

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

"Chen has a cache of supplies he hasn't mentioned."

Right on cue, Chen pulled a handful of Cereal bars out of the back pocket of his jumpsuit, and started tossing one to each person in the room.

"It's not much, but it will have to do for now. My brother and I have small caches spread out all over, but you're right. They won't last forever. He and I share this mission, and once he joins us here we'll be able to discuss things further."

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

"It's you!"

Nikolai stared at the figurine, his brow furrowed in contemplation. Was it really him? The signature of the wolf was something he had worn out of necessity, not choice, back when he had known what he was. Now he was out, facing down so many changes, Nikolai wasn't so sure it fit any more. Lucia wouldn't want to hear that though...

Suddenly, his eyes lit up, and the corners of his mouth twitched as an idea occurred to him, and he nodded.

"What do we give him?" Nikolai asked, jerking his thumb towards the vendor. He himself had nothing on him except his hammer.

As both sides began shooting, Clementina barely peaked out to shoot, blind firing as she heard a barrage of bullets rained on her position. The woman near her was an excellent shot, which unfortunately meant that she and anyone near her was the prime target. She stood up to fire upon her foes when two were suddenly gunned down and she was pulled by an unknown ally.

"Do not reply, just listen and comply. We're getting out of here. Leave the others behind, we need them to cover our escape. The Colonel still needs you alive."

Ignoring his command, Clementina replied with a mix of anger and confusion at this sudden important surprise. "Like hell I'll leave them to die I'm just a fucking lieutenant!" Her voice too was covered up by bullet trading, before she attempted to stand up again to fire.
==========================================
"You are not going out there you fucking idiot, you'll get killed!"

"Wasn't finding allies your sole purpose of coming down here?" Felix barked back. "Clearly they are in need of our assistance and we can help." He opened the door and set off towards the gunfire.

"Fucking..." she retorted before following him. So much for stealth.
==========================================
God this felt amazing, Travis felt like a bonafide soldier as he listened to this new commander. He was working them over, sure, most of the prisoners probably knew that. But just the way in which this man held himself and spoke to them was surely appreciated. Face to face from Travis, the man made no attempt to hide the contempt on his face for this lot. However, he also made no attempt to hide their usefulness, without looking like he needed them. 'This one's certainly a good actor, to pretend he doesn't need me, he just doesn't know better yet.'

If you prove to be as useful in maintaining order for me, as you were at disrupting order for them, you will be rewarded. I intent to treat all those who submit to our rule peacefully with honour."

'And cunt and booze too hopefully.'

"I anticipate, however, that there will be many unruly elements within this place for some time to come. These elements, will require a firm hand. Does that sound like something that would fall into your area of expertise?"

Travis simply grinned and spoke quietly, revealing his revolting teeth, "yes sir."

"That sounds... stable." Spoke the Commander after a moments silence when Abigail finished. "...They want to own us, and they do this by making us afraid. By taking their largest and most profitable investment out from under them, so that all the world might see that they are nothing to fear, we are simply defending ourselves."

"I guess, in some aspects sir, we share points of view. We were both protecting ourselves from something bigger than our-self. Though not everyone will believe in your ethos when you bring your actions to the global stage, and they'll act accordingly; there'll be the corporations that will demand retribution for what has happened here, the people of indifference who won't give a damn what happens, and then there will be those that are afraid of you, bringing chaos to an already battered world." Responded Abigail as they passed by a group of new guards that were conducting patrols, making way for her and the Commander when they saw the pair coming.

"There's an old proverb that I think is appropriate to that last sentence; a cornered rat will bite the cat. Do you know what it means?"

"If you want to live, follow me out of here and do exactly as I say. I'll be back in a moment."

The Warden said as he leaned between the pair but Aggie and Lewis knew better than to answer back. They took cover from what little cover they had. Rounds began to pepper their position with some rounds even piercing the walls. Lewis was half-tempted to grab his weapon on the floor but that would mean leaving his much needed cover. Alberto moved and reached for a weapon but as soon as he did that, the man was torn apart by gunfire. He died before he even met the ground. Aggie saw Alberto go at the corner of her eye but her most pressing concern was trying to survive the next few moments.

"I know its a bad time but let us use our weapons and we can increase your chance of getting out of here by a good 30 percent!" Aggie yelled to the Wardens. It was a long shot but if they were to get out, then they would need to at least trust them.

Clean, and renewed, The Talon entered the Central Hub. Standing alert behind the set-up of cameras and microphones were her elites, those Songbirds she counted as her Inner Circle, though no such official designation existed. Such ghosts of a hierarchy would only serve to undermine the forces that had brought all of them together. She was not a Warlord leading an army of grunts. No matter how large their movement grew, every last individual had their own stories to tell, there own sorrows and their own hatreds, and every last soul must believe that, when The Talon spoke, she spoke directly to them, and promised them their exact, personal desires. Every Songbird, from here to the other side of the world, must cherish the thought that they were her favourite. Awarding titles beyond the cold necessity of battlefield discipline would run counter to the one thing that made them unbeatable to the likes of Venture Horizon.

"Is everything in place?" she asked, calmly.

"All cells organised and at departure points." came the reply, "Phantom has been divided and loaded, all are awaiting on your word."

"What else?" She could sense his doubt.

"We do not have confirmation from Hammond's cell. If they have failed to capture RACDI-Alpha-"

"We would know if they had not." The Talon interjected, unperturbed. "Whatever minor setback they face will be dealt with in due course. The General is nothing if not relentless in accomplishing his duty. For now, it is enough to know that he is in control, and I do know."

"Of course."

"Very good, let us begin."

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

At all corners of the labyrinthine caverns, they waited. They were miles apart, in different numbers, different uniforms, and preparing to set off each in a different direction, but never before had they all been so close, when the speakers and television screens started to play, and their leader spoke to them.

"My Songbirds... You are named after the most noble of creatures on this Earth. They may be small, delicate even, scorned by the colossal devourers of this world, but they, like you, are the true survivors. I read once, that millions and millions of years ago, beasts more giant and terrible than they occupied all corners of the globe. They were fierce too, mighty almost beyond measure; and like all those who presume themselves to be at the apex, they were stuck down by the insatiable forces of time, and change. When these tyrants threatened to consume all in their path, the cosmos conjured something even bigger, and more destructive than them, to cleanse this planet in preparation for a new age. Where giants perished, too huge and heavy to escape the coming fire, it was their delicate cousins who survived, and their song endures to this day. It was that tale in my head when I named the first of us, and now I know for certain I was right. The giants of our time, for all their might, are ponderous, corrupted, and weak. Their era is coming to an end, with the rise of our song; and like our name-sakes, we will endure, to inherit a better world that has left them behind!

Words do scant justice to how proud I am, of each and every one of you. When I close my eyes, I still see with sharp clarity the meekness of our beginning. A small, frightened girl, wandering aimlessly a very long way from anywhere, cradling a bleeding stump. The chance of that girl even so much as making it to the nearest village alive was astronomical. Back then, we were helpless, we were weak, we were one, and though we come from many different places, we all at heart share that same story, overcoming despair in a cruel world. Now, the Dawn is about to crest the horizon, and when it's light is revealed, all will know how far we have come! I ask you, should we chalk up such a victory to an elaborate web of inhuman luck? Are we nothing more than a legion of the fortunate? No. Coincidence is an illusion. For such fragile beginnings to have become what I see before me now, that can only be providence. All who hear my words have been touched by the will of The One Truth. It is your destiny to change this world, to scour away the rot so that it may heal; just as it is the destiny of the one beside you, and the one behind you. Just as it is mine.

Our days of hiding, of small victories and smaller hopes, are waning. Go now, and move the final pieces into place. The Great Revolution is inevitable, and this new dawn will rise on your shoulders. Be the people that I know you can be, that you were born to be, and bear its weight with courage!"

The roar was unified, cacophonous, and deep in the bowels of the mountain, the Talon smiled as she felt the walls tremble.

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

"I'm just a fucking lieutenant!"

Yu roughly dragged Clementina back down before she got her head shot off.

"It wasn't a suggestion, lieutenant." he snarled. "The chain of command isn't done yet, no matter what it looks like down there, and you can consider these orders to be coming from the very top. Now move!"

"we can increase your chance of getting out of here by a good 30 percent!"

"Lock, load, and follow me." Yu told them as he and Clementina made their way, willingly or otherwise, towards and up the stairs to the top floor. Clouds of splinters licked at their heels as shots came in. When they got up there, Yu raced over to a vent low down on the wall, before unscrewing it with his knife.

"We'll have to crawl, single file." he told them. "Corporal Moore, you're on point. I've got your six. Go."

"It wasn't a suggestion, lieutenant." he snarled as a bullet flew right over her head as he pulled her down just in time. "The chain of command isn't done yet, no matter what it looks like down there, and you can consider these orders to be coming from the very top. Now move!"

Clementina looked over at the woman across from her. She had been so focused on taking out her assailants that she hadn't even seen Clementina's conversation. If they left would they survive? She didn't know how many there were but... yes, yes of course they could! They saved her when she was down to her last dregs. These three people managed to hold off hordes and even manage to save one of their own, her. Had she been in a clearer state of mind she would have resented and hated herself for needing to be saved, but right now, now all she needed was the knowledge that she had no choice in the matter.

"Lock, load, and follow me." Clementina huffed as she followed the man, her comrades still only focusing on their opponents as she began to make her escape. Clementina practically tap danced over the wood being kicked up by the hail of gunfire. She turned and watched the backs of her new squadmates as Moore began filing in. She heard about his unit being disbanded, but he wasn't dressed like a warden.

No wasn't the time to worry about idle trivia though, as their only escape route was a tiny hole for them to crawl through one by one.

"It's not much, but it will have to do for now. My brother and I have small caches spread out all over, but you're right. They won't last forever. He and I share this mission, and once he joins us here we'll be able to discuss things further."

Neil was about to mention his own hidden stashes, but decided against it. Chen seemed to want to bring in more "support", it seemed. If Neil needed to get the hell out of dodge later down the line he'd need his network of supplies in place. He'd expected to weather this storm alone and didn't doubt that he'd have to make it out on his own again eventually. Now, however, he could enjoy a small meal with some company, at the very least. Company that would rather see him dead, granted, but company all the same.

After taking a bite out of the bar, Neil cocked an eyebrow, "Is he coming to us or are we too look for him ourselves? Also," Looking at the two remaining members of Iron Squad (that he knew of), he added. "How is everyone on weapons? Ammunition? I'm okay at the moment, but I don't imagine either of you have much left. I don't doubt Chen and I can get us around unseen, but traveling in a group like this will eventually get us into trouble, no matter how careful we are."

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

"What do we give him?"

"Well," She put a speculative finger to her chin. "The soldiers gave us some of their contraband to trade. Spoils of war, I guess."

Don't kid yourself. They probably pried this stuff out of the cold, dead hands of those villagers in the mountains.

Lucia grit her teeth and she banished the thought as she approached the man behind the stall, "How much for the wolf?"

"<What?!>" Clearly, the man didn't speak English. From the sounds of it, he was speaking some strange slavic dialect. Perhaps it was Russian? She wasn't sure.

"<How much?>" She repeated in Greek, exaggerating her gestures as to hopefully get the message across through her body language. Still, the man wasn't sure what she was saying. "<The wolf!>" She said, this time in Italian, followed by an impromptu howl.

After having run the gauntlet of her linguistic breadth already, she was thankful that he finally seemed to understand. He said something she didn't understand and held out three fingers. Was he asking for three? Three of what?

Lucia looked back at Nikolai and blushed, "S-sorry about all this. There usually isn't such a severe language barrier."

"There usually isn't such a severe language barrier."

Nikolai considered for a moment, before the tightening at the corners of his mouth stretched in to something that could be called a genuine smile. Gesturing for the sack of their trade to be brought forward, Nikolai reached in and pullued out a plate made of some tarnished metal, which he slammed down on the counter in front of the merchant with some force, pointing first to it, then to the wolf. The man opened his mouth as if to contest, but when Nikolai narrowed his eyes and puffed up his chest, emphasising that his shoulders were almost as broad as the stall itself, the man behind it became more than happy to part with the wolf.

As the group were walking away, Nikolai bent down and spoke to Lucia.

"There are some languages that everyone understands."

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

"Do you know what it means?"

"I think I do." the commander said, smiling broadly. "But what we have here is more comparable to two cats, maybe even more, all fighting each-other to exhaustion over who gets to kill the rat, when the smoke clears, and the cats are all bloodied and beaten, they will see that the rat was in fact stuffed with wool, with nothing behind its glassy eyes. Perhaps then the cats will learn some humility."

Stopping in his tracks, the commander put his hand on Abigail's shoulder, and looked into her eyes.

"I mean what I say, when I say that those who give us no trouble shall be treated well, which is why I must ask you plainly. You wouldn't betray us, would you Abigail? You have been a great help, and I am more than grateful, but I know your former master by reputation. I know he's the sort who is never without a plan, even when facing down utter defeat. You wouldn't wish to help him, would you, after the kindness I've shown you?"

A klaxon began wailing.

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

By now, Lee was on the Lower Levels. Luckily, he had managed to avoid confrontation thus far. He knew that, in the state he was in, he didn't have to worry much about being recognised. That didn't mean he wasn't in danger though. He may be armed, and still a good shot, but he was alone, and far weaker and slower than he would have liked. All in all, best to prioritise stealth over speed.

The entrance to the tunnel had remained undiscovered, thankfully. This whole enterprise would be impossible without it. As Lee slipped inside, the alarm that told him his escape had been discovered screeched its way through the halls and burrows. The clock was now ticking down.

Lee had to make this count.

Acolyte had wandered off a little ways. The carvings were nice, but he had no enduring interest in buying something he liked to make himself. He was browsing some linguistics books when he heard a thud.

Old habits died hard, it seemed. Thanking the man for the books, he scooped them up and passed by the carving stall before jogging to catch up with Nikolai and Lucia.

<"Apologies for my friend,"> he said, dropping a wooden ring onto the tarnished plate without stopping.

"Got some new language books," he announced happily. Languages were one of the many hobbies he'd picked up in the Temple to pass the time. He could, of course, speak English and Dutch. He also knew just a little bit of Russian, and was competent in Mandarin Chinese. In the Pit, he had learned bits of Japanese and scraps of the Zulu language in The Pit by necessity, and the books here would allow him to learn German, Spanish and French, as well as expand his Russian. It would keep him busy for months even if absolutely nothing happened from this point on, and he was very happy.

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

"How is everyone on weapons? Ammunition? I'm okay at the moment, but I don't imagine either of you have much left. I don't doubt Chen and I can get us around unseen, but traveling in a group like this will eventually get us into trouble, no matter how careful we are."

"I have a full magazine in my rifle," replied Korovitch, "and two fifteen round clips for my pistol, including the one already in it."

"I've got one full clip, and about eight rounds in my sidearm," said Fiona.

Korovitch nodded. "Getting ammunition will be difficult, but not impossible. Let me worry about that. As for food, I see no reason the... new staff won't continue the supply drops the Wardens would make. In fact, if their motive is not just taking control of the prison for some rival organisation, they may deliver more regularly. Getting food will not be too hard."

The incoming fire was too much for Lewis to fetch his sub machine gun but in the scramble to the vent where the warden went, he picked up Aggie's shotgun much to her charging. But she let it to as Her dear brother took point. Lewis crouched into the vent, the gunfire ringing loudly inside the metal vent. He sped up as he got lower so he wouldn't linger and risk losing his life along with others. As Lewis disappeared into the darkness, Aggie took some potshots when she could with her pistol but she was more concerned where the vent to.

"Where does this vent lead to?" Aggie shouted at the Warden that took them hostage earlier. She couldn't get a good look at him with all the commotion but she was suspicious of him and his intentions despite him showing them a way out. A little wariness came a long way in the Pitt and all their lives were at stake.

"There are some languages that everyone understands."

Lucia couldn't help but laugh, "Nikolai!" She scolded. "You've got to be nicer to people! You almost made the poor guy shit himself!" Tears began to rolled down her cheeks as she doubled over, her laughter intensifying. "I-I-I shouldn't be laughing! I'm sorry!"

"Got some new language books,"

Lucia wiped the tears away as Acolyte came up from behind them, "Oh, cool! I imagine we'll have a lot of time on our hands in the coming weeks. Suppose it wouldn't hurt to become painfully bad at speaking another language. Though, I doubt I'll ever be as bad as some of the people I heard back in the Pit. I mean, talk about broken..." Lucia's words died in her throat as a thought occurred to her. A painful memory bubbled up to the surface of her thoughts, followed by another dozen. All of which she'd gained from her time in that hellhole.

Her expression grew softer as she furrowed her brow and forced a small smile, "Actually, can we make it a deal not to talk about that place anymore? At least, not for a long time. I, well, umm..." She shifted uncomfortably on her crutches. "There are still a few things I haven't quite reconciled yet, and well, now's not the time to dwell on those things. Let's look to the future, okay? Let's look to the better times ahead of us."

Her smile was no longer forced as she looked between the two men, "To better times."

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

"... In fact, if their motive is not just taking control of the prison for some rival organisation, they may deliver more regularly. Getting food will not be too hard."

"Their motive?" Neil muttered, staring off into the distance as his imagination ran wild. After a few moments of pondering the possibilities; based on what he'd seen in the Hive, during the riots and from what Lee told him, he was certain these invaders were no mere corporate rivals. It was likely everyone in the room had that same feeling.

Looking to Chen, he asked, "Do we know anything about our enemy? Truly? I'm not talking about numbers, or tactics. What do they want with this place?"

"What do they want with this place?"

"What we know is next to nothing." Chen said, wearily, the wound in his arm biting at him once again. "Semantics aside, there's a deal we can guess. These men do not belong the the Shao Long Conglomerate, that much is clear. Their operations protocols are all wrong. The uniforms are just a smokescreen. Though, they must have extensive connections inside Shao Long to get their hands on so many. Now, what would a third party have to gain staging a military takeover of Venture Horizon's most valuable facility by its most aggressive rival? Somebody is clearly trying to provoke retaliation. However, a few disguises aren't enough for that. It shouldn't be too hard for Shao Long to disprove it was them, unless there are rogue elements embedded on both sides manipulating the records. All it would take to find out on Venture's end that these guys aren't Shao Long would be to send a recon team to observe them. However, the planning of such a delicate operation takes days at least, and with their crown stolen right off their heads, waiting that long makes Venture look weak. tapping into outward communications from the facility, and hearing what they think is conformation, would be all the proof that Venture needs to launch a retaliatory strike against Shao Long's assets. However..." Chen looked knowingly at Neil. "I've overheard some of our new hosts complaining about problems with getting RACDI-Alpha's communications back online. It's quite the topic of conversation, and it appears they don't know how to fix it. Their plan hinges on Venture not wanting to wait to take a closer look, but with things as they are, Venture has no other choice.

What I still can't figure out, is the endgame. Yes, somebody's trying to start a spat between Venture and Shao Long, but things like this have a way of being settled diplomatically before anyone causes any real damage. For-profit organisations aren't interested in entering wars they could potentially lose, not if there's any other way. On it's own, I don't see who this benefits, which is making me think RACDI-Alpha is just the first move. The question is, what comes next, and can it still happen without Venture Horizon being willing to go to war.?"

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

"You've got to be nicer to people!"

Nikolai shrugged.

"I could have taken the wolf for free, and fed him the others. I am nice."

"To better times."

Nikolai didn't say anything. He simply smiled, and rested a huge hand on her shoulder. Was it too much to hope that he might be starting to get the hang of this 'normal life' business?

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

"Where does this vent lead to?"

"Somewhere were bullets don't follow!" Yu yelled. "Now get in before you get us both killed!"

Once they were all inside, Yu jammed the metal grate back in behind them, and started shuffling backwards, his rifle still pointing back the way they'd come, in case anyone else stuck their head in. Once the noise of gunfire had almost completely drained away, Yu spoke up.

"Moore." he said over his shoulder, not needing to be loud any more. Sound carried easily in the vent. "Just keep going until you reach a junction where we can all stand up. I'll take point from there."

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

Her address over and the equipment shutting down, The Talon walked past all the cameras, and spoke to her elites, Riley standing prominent amongst them. Odin was by his side, and The Talon could tell he was as eager to be back out in the open air as she was.

"We're going to the Eastern Depot." She announced to them. "We have a very long way to travel."

"I think I do." Said the Commander as he gave a Abigail a broad smile. "But what we have here is more comparable to two cats, maybe even more, all fighting each-other to exhaustion over who gets to kill the rat, when the smoke clears, and the cats are all bloodied and beaten, they will see that the rat was in fact stuffed with wool, with nothing behind its glassy eyes. Perhaps then the cats will learn some humility."

Suddenly, the pair stopped dead in their tracks, the Commander turned round to face Abigail and placed a hand on Abigail's shoulder and looked deep into her eyes.

"I mean what I say, when I say that those who give us no trouble shall be treated well, which is why I must ask you plainly. You wouldn't betray us, would you Abigail? You have been a great help, and I am more than grateful, but I know your former master by reputation. I know he's the sort who is never without a plan, even when facing down utter defeat. You wouldn't wish to help him, would you, after the kindness I've shown you?" He asked, but before Abigail could speak, a loud klaxon began to wail throughout the entirety of the complex. Whilst in her head, Abigail knew that she would help Lee, her mind had remembered what Lee had told her on the night he came to visit; that she was to remain unsuspecting and not draw suspicion towards herself or her actions.

"No, of course not; despite the behavior of some of your subordinates, you sir have shown me a great deal kindness over these last few days, and I would hate to lose the trust that we have built because of it. After all, trust is a hard thing to regain should it ever be lost with someone."

"Say, what is that klaxon all about, someone trying to escape?" Abigail then asked as she quickly changed the subject.

"To better times."

"Oh, definitely," said Acolyte. Then, after several minutes of walking, he said, "I wonder if there's somewhere around here I could post something, long distance."

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

Fiona had been mostly silent through most of the discussion, but when Chen had finished, she spoke up.

"Me and the others were hiding a while before we were caught," she said. "We noticed that these... new wardens were being different with the prisoners. Like they were being... not friendly, but diplomatic. Treating them like some independent nation kinda deal. Handing over Wardens that didn't die in the invasion. Like us. And I think they might have been giving them extra supplies, too. Why'd they be doing that, you think? It's almost like they're trying to help them."

"Just keep going until you reach a junction where we can all stand up. I'll take point from there."

"Roger that." Lewis said, shuffling forward and further into the dark vent. There was some light peering from behind them but it was scarce and often it was covered by a readjusting squadmate. After a few more minutes of crawling, the vent was near pitch black and he could scarcely see a few feet in front of him. He had heard stories of inmates crawling through vents to freedom only for them to fall down a hidden shaft right into a ventilation system, fans and all. The thought shuddered through Lewis like a glacial wind so he kept an eye out for any sudden dips in the vents. But besides and rats along with the smell of death, the voyage was as uneventful as it was silent. Lewis dared not speak up and he was sure Aggie felt the same.

But Aggie was thinking while she crawled through the vents. Once or twice she stifled a cough but other than that she was focused on getting through while another part of her mind made plans of what to do once they were out. Now they had found their wardens but they were few. Another woman was among them, that much she knew. Aggie stole a peak of their new companion as she was pushed into the cramped vent. Still, it was better than no wardens in her mind. And often wardens found each other in times like this. It was better to find a friend to die with rather than starve by yourself, Aggie thought as she moved on through.

The pitch blackness was only temporary as Lewis was soon guided by a literal light at the end of their tunnel. The sallow light seemed faint and flickered every two or three seconds but it was a beacon nonetheless. When he neared the mouth of the vent, Lewis motioned for them to halt while he checked the entrance. His ears listened closely, trying to pick up any trace of a breath, step, mutter or whisper but only the winds greeted his ears. Then his eyes probed the entrance. It seemed safe and there wasn't any booby traps at the exit. His eyes had grown accustomed to seeing the faint reflection of a taut wire thanks to the Baltic Alliance and their raiders.

He moved slowly but surely with shotgun in tow as he exited the mouth of the vent. He moved swiftly and scanned their little juncture. The walls were metal or rather seemed metal due to the reflection of a flickering light bulb above his head. The room was small and he couldn't make out any other exits in the strained darkness. But no doubt the Warden could find a way. Lewis wasn't accustomed to the Lower levels and perhaps the Warden earlier was. Still, with no immediate sign of danger he crouched by the vent.

"It's clear." Lewis said, reaching his hand to help his squadmates up. "Here."

Last out of the vent, Yu stood up and stretched his joints after the long, cramped escape, wincing a little as he moved his neck from side to side.

"I'm sorry about the rush before." he said, not sounding particularly sorry about it. "My name is Yu. We've met before." he continued, turning specifically to the Moore siblings when he said this. "I'm not actually a Warden, but I work for Colonel Lee, and he has instructed me to gather as many valuable individuals as I can, to keep them from becoming lost in the corpses that are piling up out there. I know how all this must look, but trust me, the fight's far from over yet."

Without another word, he strode over to another vent panel on an adjacent wall, and removing it.

"This way."

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

"It's almost like they're trying to help them."

"I'd wager that humanitarian concerns aren't a priority." Chen muttered darkly. "That said, with their main attention focussed outwards, a horde of hungry and bored Inmates running riot underground is an extra helping of trouble these people really don't need. So, they'll do what they can to keep the people down here placated, which will probably include feeding them every last Warden they can find. I've heard some Inmates talking about recruitment. If that's true, then whoever's leading these people is doing the smart thing, bolstering their ranks with a big, ready-made bowl of people who hate Venture's guts. Too ill-disciplined for the front lines, but the volunteers will make a handy militia, as well as a healthy supply of disposable cannon-fodder."

When the klaxon rang out, Chen's reactions were quick as a flash.

"Verner!" he said, pointing to the confessional booth. "Inside, now. Don't come out or make a single sound until I give the all-clear. You two," he turned to Luka and Fiona. "We're going upstairs to get a better look at what's happening out there."

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

"someone trying to escape?"

"Could be. Or it could be a riot, or hostile on the perimeter." The Commander said, unslinging his rifle. "In any case, I need to investigate. Stay close."

Without another word, he started jogging back towards the Ops Centre.

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

As if the long walk up the winding tunnel wasn't enough, the effort of climbing the ladder at the end one-handed left Lee wheezing and dizzy. Still, he shook it off. He had to keep moving. The klaxon sounds had faded while he was in the tunnel, but now they were back again, and blaring in his ears. He had to put considerable distance between himself and the tunnel, so it's location could not be deduced.

As Lee was exiting one of the aisles of stock that filled the back rooms of the Gates of Pandemonium, he heard a sound to his right. The gun snapped up, and Lee found himself looking down his sights at a man wearing an auxiliary Warden uniform, frozen solid, his hands full with a keg of beer. The moment of utter silence that passed between them seemed to last a age, as they searched each-others eyes.

"Your name is Zach." Lee said quietly, to which the other man simply nodded.

"If you tell the guards I was in here, they'd be sure to reward you." Lee continued, his tone set and deadpan. "If they were to find out later that you had lied, they would torture you, and throw you underground to get torn apart."

No answer again, the only response being a bead of sweat creeping down from Zach's temple, his pupils fixed on the barrel of Lee's gun.

"You didn't see anything, Zach."

"No si-"

"I need you to say the words." Lee interrupted.

Zach swallowed, before straightening up and looking Lee right in the eyes.

"I saw nothing."

"Good man." Lee replied "Take care of Warden Nyte. She's to be without anyone else to watch her back for a long time."

"I will... sir."

Smiling weakly, Lee lowered his gun, before pushing his way out of the emergency exit without another word.

"We're going upstairs to get a better look at what's happening out there."

Korovitch hefted his rifle from where it lay propped, and unbarred the door to the clock tower. As he tramped up the stairs, Chen followed him with Fiona bringing up the rear.

"I hope one of you borrowed Verner's rifle," he said as he came to the second door at the top of the steps.. "We might need it."

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

"We have a very long way to travel."

"True," replied Riley. "But I've always liked traveling." Adjusting the quiver on his back so it hung a little more comfortably, he turned and headed out through the door, with Odin on his heels.

"This way."

With his identity revealed, a smirk escaped Aggie's permanent smile.

"Out of curiosity, what is our dear head Warden?" Aggie said, curiosity mixing with sarcasm as Aggie followed the man in. Given this small respite, it didn't hurt to know where the main players were and Yu definitely knew more about this matter than anyone else in the moment if he was given such a directive.

Lewis silently followed Yu but choose to stay careful until his main intentions were revealed. Even if the man worked for Lee and even if they did recognize him, Lee was far from straightforward and so would be this man's objectives as well.

Reluctantly, Clementina jumped into the vent after the scar faced woman, hating every second of it. She had wanted out, she wanted to escape from those sick bastards, but was this the price? To abandon those who had protected her? They weren't rookies, they were tough and had managed to take out over two dozen psychos just to keep her sorry ass alive, but they were running low on ammo and fatigued. Maybe they could survive just a bit longer, how many could there have really been?

Then as the echo of bullets stopped, her naivety cut down any hope they could have survived. Why kid yourself into thinking they survived? She thought, why assume the best when the worst was most likely. She let them die, she had allowed them to... No fuck that she was forced. Forced! Yeah that's right, this asshole warden had told her Lee needed her. Yeah she hadn't let them die, she had to leave. No even more, they were sacrificed for a noble cause! That was the truth of the matter. Her hands were clean.

Clementina had a bit more of a drop than the others, her height only causing her a slight issue. "I'm not actually a Warden, but I work for Colonel Lee, and he has instructed me to gather as many valuable individuals as I can, to keep them from becoming lost in the corpses that are piling up out there."

'What?'

"I know how all this must look, but trust me, the fight's far from over yet."

Clementina wasn't subtle, yet she tried her best to be as she stared down this fucking prisoner. Her saviours had been left to the wolves because she allowed this fucking fake to deceive her?!

No wasn't the time to question him, whether she liked it or not she needed to follow this bastard. Clearly he had a plan, and if the Colonel needed them then she knew she had to do her duty, but like any good partnership, she didn't need to like the lying son of a bitch.
=======================================================
Felix at a light jog towards the location while the Warden was a little far behind. She didn't want to be seen this low down, yet why abandon her comrades when the whole point of coming down here was to find allies? Yet, even then, her nose flared in frustration when Felix began charging off like a wannabe hero.

"Fucking," she whispered to herself as she began chasing after the man. He was now at full pelt as he wanted so desperately to get to the location of the fighting, when the bullets finally stopped. Felix stopped for a second before running even faster than before, thankfully however the warden had caught up to him. "Don't be such a dumbass! They're gone."

"How do you know that!" Felix barked far too loud. "Maybe they won?"

"Shut up and listen." she said sharply, holding a finger up to the air. They waited for a few seconds before hearing the shrill roar of the ravenous inmates. "That means the bad guys won."

Felix's face drooped as he acknowledged that any former allies had been killed. "But we can enact just-"

"Against that many! You'll only get yourself, no both of us killed." She spoke hard but not as harsh as she had been earlier in the night, or day, she didn't know the time. Her voice softened but remained authoritative as she continued, "let it go man. Some you can't win, hell staying alive is winning. C'mon, we best get back and hide." She began walking back to the small fabrics building before, not looking to see if he was following. Eventually he did, much, much quieter than before.

"Out of curiosity, what is our dear head Warden?"

"Captured, defending the Mid-Levels." Yu replied stiffly "Beyond that I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I have his orders, and I see no reason to stop following them. Whoever it is on the other side of this battle, has a lot to learn if they think they've won. A place like this, it takes a lot more than just sitting in the Boss' chair to be the one who's really calling the shots."

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

The Talon stroked and scratched Odin with her flesh arm, while they made their journey back through the tunnels, on their way to the Eastern Depot. Animals had always been warm to her, for as long as she could remember. It was just one of many marks of fatal arrogance, that so many could not tap into the wild intelligence that his behind the silent tongues of beasts. The Talon knew better. The wild had been her harshest, and best, teacher. Humanities increasingly severed connection to it, was just one more thing that this Great Revolution would fix.

Preparations were mostly complete by the time she arrived. The division of Phantom that had gone east had already left, and those Songbirds who had stayed behind to escort her to her own destination were loading the final pieces of equipment, and performing the last minute vehicle checks.

"If I may..." A Songbird was brave enough to ask, as she mounted up at the head of the convoy. "Do... do you know for certain, how long it will be until the Dawn rises? For how much longer will we wait for our salvation?"

The Talon turned around and smiled at him, broadly.

"Oh, short days now." she said. "You are tense, because you feel it just as I do, you just don't recognise the cause of your feelings. The One Truth has stayed silent for too long, but now it draws its breath, the cords in its throat tightening. When providence speaks, all the world shall hear it, I promise you."

With that, the trucks began, one by one, to speed away down the tunnel, chasing the sunlight once more.

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

"We might need it."

"I don't think so." Chen replied gravely. "We can't be too careful, but I don't think this is for us." He paused before muttering. "Things just got a little more real."

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

When they got back to the farmhouse, the group split off to their own devices. Nikolai spied Natalia out on the front lawn.

"Get some rest while you can." A Songbird called out. "We move again at first light. With any luck we should make the coast in three days.

When Natalia saw Nikolai approaching, she straightened up quickly and turned to face him, smiling.

"I got this for you." He said, holding out the wood carving.

"I, oh..." Natalia blushed bright red as she took it from him, turning it over in her hands.

"I'm not sure in understand its purpose." Nikolai grunted awkwardly. "What is the point of wood you will not build with, or a wolf that cannot hunt?" There was a long, expectant pause, before Nikolai added "But, I thought it looked nice, and that made me think of you. Do you like it?"

"It's... beautiful. Thank you." Natalia replied, her eyes wide, before she tentatively reached up, and kissed him on the cheek. Then, blushing even harder, she wasted no time in scooting off inside. Nikolai turned to see Lucia approaching from behind him.

"Am I doing it right?"

"A place like this, it takes a lot more than just sitting in the Boss' chair to be the one who's really calling the shots."

So victory hadn't fallen in their lap, that was good. Great, fantastic, unless it was in close grasp.

"So, what's the plan for retaliation?" Asked Clementina to the liar in Warden's garb.

"Inside, now. Don't come out or make a single sound until I give the all-clear..."

Without a second thought, Neil did as he was told. Following orders had come natural to him all his life, why would that change now?

Once inside, he checked the ammo in his sidearm. Full. He'd considered just leaving right now; using the tunnels under the church to escape and make it out on his own like he'd originally planned.

Too risky right now.

He didn't like it, but sticking with these three was his best option at the moment.

Putting his ear up to the thick walls of the booth, Neil couldn't quite make out what was being said outside. Oddly enough, however, their tones weren't as frantic as he'd expected.

What was going on?

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

"Am I doing it right?"

Lucia giggled and patted him on his massive back, "You're a natural, Nikolai! I mean, damn, you understand this stuff a lot better than you think!" Reaching into her pocket, Lucia produced a beaded necklace. Dangling from it was an old pagan symbol she didn't recognize. Taking hold of Nikolai's wrist, she placed it into his palm. "I got this for you." She blushed. "Symbols only have meaning if you give them one. This one here, well, I certainly don't know what it means, but for some reason... it reminds me of you." She studied Nikolai's face before continuing.

"You look at the world around you, wide-eyed and naive, and yet you march upon it with your head held high. You're brave, Nikolai. You give meaning to those things you don't understand. When someone isn't there to explain something to you, you figure it out yourself. This symbol here," Her eyes fell upon it. "It can mean whatever you want it to be. But for me... I think of it as a symbol of our triumph. Together, besting all the sorrow and despair the world could throw at us. A symbol of our friendship, Nikolai." She giggled, nervously. "You comforted me in that dark chamber when I had no one left. You showed me a light I thought I had lost forever. Thank you." That said, Lucia wrapped her arms around his tremendous frame and hugged him.

"Could be. Or it could be a riot, or hostile on the perimeter." The Commander said, unholstering his rifle. "In any case, I need to investigate. Stay close." He then added before heading off back in the direction they came from. Abigail done up her coat so it wouldn't get caught on anything, after which she caught up with the Commander.

"Where are we going then? The Ops Centre? Or wherever it was that triggered the alarm?"

"So, what's the plan for retaliation?"

"Retaliation?" Yu was too exhausted to laugh. "Do we look like we're in any kind of position to retaliate? We're still alive, and right now it's all we can do to keep things that way. Our moment will come. Until then, we've just got to keep our heads down, and keep as many loyal individuals as we can safe." He paused for a moment before saying "My brother will explain the rest."

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

"Thank you."

Nikolai stood, dumbstruck, for a moment, as Lucia threw her arms around him, before he leaned in close, sinking to his knees, and hugged her back. He coul not have said how long they stayed there, in silence, but it was good.

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

The cold air stung at Lee, the frost burning as he inhaled up his nose and down his throat, as he trudged across open ground in the direction of the motor pool. The alarm had disrupted the patrols, and there were nowhere near enough searchlights to sweep every inch of open ground, so he was able to proceed unmolested by anything other than the cold and howling wind. Still, it was slow, tortuous going.

'Almost there. Just a little further.'

His injured arm hung limply by his side, while the other trembled just with the burden of keeping the gun raised in front of him.

'You can make it. We're almost home.'

The wind buffeted at his side, almost making him trip over his own feet. Darkness stretched in front of him.

'They'll welcome us back like heroes, for what we did. They'll be so proud.'

Lee's head was pounding as his legs buckled under him.

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

Lee's father stood over him, his moustache and much of his hair grey opposing Lee's black, but otherwise their features were practically identical. Their crisp, ramrod stiff posture would have been alike as well, had the young Lee not currently been slumped in the garden chair, his hair an overgrown mess, an empty Whiskey bottle hanging loosely in his fingers.

"Lee," his father began, sternly. "This behaviour of yours has to stop. It hurts you mother to see you like this, not to mention how it shames me."

"I apologise father." Lee tone dripped with bitter sarcasm, despite the slight slurring of his words, and the bleariness of his gaze. "I guess I can't help but be an embarrassment to my country, but I suppose I should try not to embarrass you."

"The melodrama is unhelpful." his father snapped, snatching the bottle away from him. Lee made some formless noise of protest, glaring daggers at his father, before quickly losing interest in the absence of a bottle that was already empty.

"The Tiger Airborne has awarded you with every honour."

"The only honour they've done me was kicking me out. Remind me to thank them before the next war."

"Listen!" his father cut him off, looking awkward in his efforts to display some humanity. "I have been talking to some of the enlisted men from your unit. They told me what happened with Corporal Chen..."

"They had no right." Lee spat. "No right to tell you about th-"

"They don't blame you Lee... and neither do I."

"Blame?" Lee was genuinely indignant now. "You think I'm scared that you'll blame me?! You should be congratulating me, all of you. I saved that kid's life!"

"'That kid', was a soldier for the enem-"

"He was just a boy!" Lee yelled, distraught "A conscript, had barely even started shaving, and Chen was going to blast his brains all over the sand for no reason! No. That kid did me more kindness than any of your friends at Hi-Comm. When I looked into his eyes, I stopped being a coward, and a fool!"

Lee's father stiffened against the attack.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."

Vicious laughter exploded from Lee's lips.

"You still don't get it, do you?" he taunted. "You still can't comprehend what really happened over there. We held that city for weeks, as the Iberians shelled seven shades of shit out of us, while the Army retreated across the Gulf; and when we'd finished being heroes..."

"Ignite Solutions navel forces closed off the cr-"

"NO!" Lee screeched, vaulting up onto his feet and getting right in his father's face. "That crossing was still open for three fucking days before then! I got up and looked out across the water every morning, I know! No ships came back for us, and even after we sabotaged their jamming tech, Hi-Comm stayed silent. Do you get it now, father? YOUR FRIENDS LEFT YOUR SON TO DIE!"

"Be quiet!" his father shouted. "I refuse to believe that. They wouldn't-"

"Of course they fucking would! We were the best, but we were broken. They had no more use for us, so we were left behind. That way, they could make martyrs of us, so more stupid boys could salute our names on marble, still remembering us like we were on the posters. When I brought what was left of us back through the desert, the people got to see their poster boys all dirty, starving, and with nice thousand-yard stares. Not exactly the best recruitment ads any more were we? So, they pinned the fucking medals on us so we wouldn't make trouble, and then they dumped us a second time!

They left me to die Dad, after all I'd done for them. What was I supposed to do?!"

His father was quiet for a long time, his face a carving of stone.

"You should have done your duty." He said, coldly. "You should have died."

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

Lee was torn out of his nightmare by the thud a thrum of searchlights igniting, and the howl of approaching engines. They were all on him, the light blinding his eyes. He struggled to his feet, trying to raise his gun as the trucks screeched to a halt, soldiers piling out and levelling rifles at him, shouting at him, their voices blurring into each-other and making no sense. Surrounded, and helpless, Lee dropped the gun and raised his shivering hands.

To shapes moved towards him out of the glare. General Hammond, fury etched into every line of his face; and beside him, looking only slightly the worse for where after her assault, Selina stood unshackled, her features cold and distant.

"Just what were you hoping to achieve with this fantasy, Colonel." Hammond seethed.

"My duty." Lee replied, hoarse and quiet. He lacked the strength to say anything else.

"Things just got a little more real."

The three of them looked out into the chapel's surroundings for several minutes. "Whatever it is is likely taking place nearer the surface," said Korovitch. "Probably none of our concern unless it's some manner of counter attack by Venture Horizon. I very much doubt that, though. Even if it is, and if it somehow succeeded, it would take hours for them to reach us. We'd best go back down and get some rest."

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

Acolyte paced the garden they were in thoughtfully. He had eventually found a courier service at the docks that claimed to include Holland in its sweep. For a pewter statuette and a jar of what appeared to be woad extract, they had agreed to take Acolyte's letter and promised to deliver it into the hands of one who could take it inland to its destination. It felt good to get his affairs in order.

 Pages PREV 1 . . . 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 . . . 38 NEXT

Reply to Thread

This thread is locked