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

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"Clem, Aggie, you're going upstairs with Chen."

Clementina did not like strangers calling her 'Clem' yet she knew it pointless and stupid to ask them not to. Plus feigned companionship in a shit situation wouldn't be too bad. Picking herself up she nodded to Yu, casting aside her warden cap as she did. The news of Lee's death hadn't done her morale any favours.
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What was this? Someone had the balls to step up to head bitch? Was she Hammond's property or was that just a guise she had picked up to protect herself from those like Travis? Either way he could do with some entertainment. The past few days were less exciting than he had anticipated apart from...

The cold. The freezing, bitter, unforgiving frozen hell above. Wearing just a bog standard prisoner outfit as fat snow flakes fell in fast clumps on his clothing. It was even colder than down in the pit. He could see his breath like he always could, but now the air faded away in the wind. The world felt different, it felt new yet reminded him of what he had been ripped from, torn from after he was disrespected by sluts who had the gall to defeat him. He felt weak, so so weak yet he didn't care, he didn't even notice. All he could think of was the sound of the wind whizzing by his ears. The sun burnt his eyes so bad he needed to look away, as if it would scorch his eyes if he stared too long. It was too much. It was too much he couldn't be here anymore, he needed to go. He needed to get away, he couldn't take this anymore.

The Dragon had hoped to a God he never prayed to that no one had seen him. Of course they did, he was escorted along with other prisoners turned militia. Surely some had reacted the same. Surely if others had seen him behave the way he did, he would have been insulted for it, the butt of everyone's jokes. No, he had been left alone. Yeah, no one knew, no one saw, fuck it would be embarrassing if anyone had, but it would have came up now otherwise. And now he was getting used to the wind, even preferring to stay outside as often as he could. The still of being stuck inside had gotten to him a lot more than he thought.

"I will hear them now."

Dietrich sank gently into a seat across from the Talon, content simper never wavering, head resting gently atop folding hands, pose and posture all indicative of a fellow ready to have a dear chat with an old friend. Another lie. Dietrich had worked hard to cultivate the myth of the 'all-seeing, all-hearing, all-knowing' whisperer in the goddess' ear, it made people, comrades and outsiders alike, highly selective in their speech whenever they thought Dietrich or one of his Threads nearby. It was amusing, and informative, after all, the blank spaces in man's speech, the things he left unsaid, often provided data more useful than any amount of knowing blather. The myth had grown steadily over the years, and born much fruit, easy to sustain because it was rooted so firmly in something true. Dietrich was listening more often than not, but even his systems had blind spots, some more glaring than others. As Dietrich spoke to his mistress, the cadence and flow of his words never really changed, but the perceptive listener could sense a sort of... distance in the man's speech, as though he spoke from some place far away, and the serpent's dead blue eyes seemed all the more lifeless.

"There have been seventeen minor altercations between Shao Long Conglomerate and Venture Horizon personnel within the past three days, locations and specifics recorded. The majority of these have been successfully cleaned, eight by Conglomerate operatives, nine by Venture's Security Corps. We've collected enough evidence for orange-level media exposure in ten instances, with some twenty-nine fabricated events prepped for white-level media exposure, enough to saturate the remaining independent Eurasian, South-East Asian, and Central American broadcasters and provide suitable fuel for the propagandists of each major corporate body participating in the coming summit. Dispatch is on stand-by, awaiting your orders."

"E.A.S.T movement has seeded five new cells in the British Isles, and two in North America. Venture suppression efforts were diverted due to recent events. We've aided their recent push to pass along news of Venture's current state of affairs to several mining facilities modeled after 'the Pit.' Signs of fermentation are already evident. Additionally, the Fedayeen based in the Arabian Peninusla have issued a 'fatwa' condemning Helios operations in the area. There have been three riots among Helios plant laborers. Two were successfully suppressed, the third and largest, however, has seen one such plant occupied by the Fedayeen. A response team is forthcoming, but their are concerns among the Helios board over moving troops into the region in these volatile times."

"All protocols carried out as per usual, no discrepancies to report," Something seemed to click over in Dietrich's mind, as though he now took a moment to look up from a bundle of papers he'd been reading, though his eyes had never left Talon's and no such bundle of papers existed. Dietrich's approach to information security was simple, but remarkably effective. Deal in no physical records save for those specific coordinates Talon required, and even then, only from himself to his mistress preferred recorder. Everything else? Everything else was so much ether between Dietrich's ears, five years worth of Songbird activity, not to mention nearly a decade under Eppenkampf and later Venture Horizon employ, all of it tucked away in Dietrich's library, miles upon miles of dusty tomes, each at his finger tips. At long last, the perfect den for the perfect serpent, wouldn't Papa be proud....

Dietrich leaned back in his chair and yawned," Did you have any lines of inquiry highlighted in the next report? So many pieces moving on the board all at once, it's making quite the ruckus...."

"Would you be jealous if I had?"

Nahla giggled and rolled her eyes.

"No, I imagine she'd have pulled a knife on me if I even stood near her. I seemed to get her hackles up for some reason."

"Think about where she came from," Nahla tilted her head. "A sexy, young thing trapped in a hole with a few thousand rapists and murderers? I think I'd be pretty fucking skiddish too. Besides," She gave Riley a knowing look. "She probably can't handle the bad boys, anyway."

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Neil listened patiently as orders were given out.

"You're our rear guard. Stay here with Neil and keep him safe."

He hated this.

"Roger that."

Neil continued sharpening his knife. He could feel Lewis' eyes on him.

"It looks like he can already keep himself safe."

"I won't argue that point," Neil agreed as he sheathed his blade and looked to Lewis. "But orders are orders." At least he hadn't been paired with Aggie. Having her around Neil would be a liability, though no one but Neil knew that. If it came down to it, he wasn't sure what kind of stupid risks he'd take to ensure her survival.

Guilt was a hell of a thing.

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Lucia was a ways behind Nikolai upon entering the saloon and had been lost in the shuffling before she made it to the bar. While the big man was paying for drinks, a dark skinned hand shot out through the crowd and grabbed hold of Lucia's wrist. Caught flatfooted, Lucia stumbled through the crowd and was forced into the lap of a wiry privateer. His breath wreaked of booze and he a deranged look about him, "Pull up a seat, lass!" The belligerent man 'suggested' as the others at the table laughed.

"The fuck!?" Lucia was too surprised to say much else.

"She's got a mouth on her!" One of the men joked.

"I wonder what else that mouth is good for!" Another added.

The man who had forced her onto his knee caressed her arm with his long, un-kept fingernails, "How about it, lass? You want to party with my boys?"

Though she was terrified at first, her lips curled into a small smirk as she was hit by a sudden realization. Turning her head, she looked the man right in the eye, "Are you kidding me with this, shit?" She laughed. "Fuckin' homos."

The man clutched her arm tightly and point a finger directly in her face with his free hand, "The fuck did you call us?!"

Lucia winced when he tightened his hand around her arm, but her grin only grew larger, "You heard me, faggot." They were fuming now. "You like cock." She clicked her tongue deliberately as she leaned in closer to her harasser.

"YOU FUCKIN' CUNT, I'LL---" He was violently cut off when Lucia suddenly grabbed the back of his head and slammed his face against the edge of the table.

"You'll pick your dentures off the floor is what you'll do, asshole." Lucia chuckled as she hopped backwards, out of the chair and onto her feet. As the man crumpled to the floor, cursing under his breath, his friends rose out of their seats.

"You bitch!" One of them shouted.

"We'll FUCK YOU UP!" Another added.

Ready for a fight, Lucia turned her head just on time to see Nikolai walk by. She relaxed her stance and pointed to him, "I'm with him."

As he walked by, Nikolai gave the pirates a knowing look before moving on, back towards the table with his drink. The men stood paralyzed, not willing to challenge Lucia's claim. The man she'd crippled remained slumped on the ground, probably too ashamed to face his men after being shown up by a woman, "You may want to get that jaw looked at." Lucia chuckled one last time before leaving their table and finding Nikolai's. Plopping down in the seat next to him, Lucia threw and arm around his broad shoulders. It was a chore. "I like this place already. The 'badasses' are total pussies."

"A sexy, young thing trapped in a hole with a few thousand rapists and murderers? I think I'd be pretty fucking skiddish too."

"I'm not so sure it's that," said Riley. "She was and is in the company of a group made up of primarily big, scary, hairy-arse men. Ah well. It was probably more to do with our lord and master. And she did seem a bit freaked out when she found out I'd been watching their group for months without them being any the wiser."

He smiled when he noticed a familiar speck of grey on the horizon. Odin would be with them in a few minutes.

"Well, the wait for news has been a nice vay-cay. But I bet now we have it, we'll be back on the grind real bloody soon."

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Acolyte was last into the bar and seemed to be the only one not to meet any hostility. People never seemed to bother him. It'd been rare, even in The Pit for whatever reason. Having acquired a bottle of beer from the bar, he found his way to Nikolai and Lucia's table and sat down.

"Could you two be anymore melodramatic?" he asked, grinning.

"Could you two be anymore melodramatic?"

Nikolai shrugged, taking another swig of his rum as The rest of the Free Men converged on the table, with refreshments of their own. He liked this drink. There was something... familiar, about the way the heat of it seemed to slither down his chest, and then creep across his arms to the tips of his fingers. He could have sworn he'd experienced this sensation, or something very similar, before. There were hazy recollections of a boy, spluttering as he gulped down his first hearty drink, and of another figure, unrecognisable, thumping him on the back and laughing. If Nikolai closed his eyes, he could almost see it...

In an instant, the warmth turned into a blaze of white-hot pain. Every nerve in Nikolai's body flared, and the scars that covered him were all aflame, for a single moment. In that moment, a face flashed in front of his vision, that same face again, but it was gone one more before Nikolai could discern any detail, or even if the face belonged to a man or a woman.

The pain receding as soon as it had arrived, Nikolai opened his eyes, letting go of his breath slowly as he relaxed. Looking down at his left hand, Nikolai saw he had left deep scours in the wood of the table where he had clenched his fist suddenly. Uncurling his fist, Nikolai's fingers were bloody from where splinters had pierced under the nails.

Nothing. Of this real injury, Nikolai felt no pain, or at least none that didn't pale into irrelevance compared to the imagined flash of a few second ago.

It was getting worse every day.

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The Talon saw still throughout all of Dietrich's report, tumbling the cork figure he had made for her through her fingers, as if absent-mindedly. She did not acknowledge him, continuing to stare at the television set. It was better that way, not to give the others the impression that she encouraged his stranger behaviours, while at the same time forcing him to work ever harder for her attention. However, she heard every word clearly, and after a pause, she replied.

"Discard all fabricated events." she told him. "We will have no need of them. As for the others, tell out operatives to stand by. They may be of use later, but for now I am content to allow escalation to occur at a natural pace. The One-Truth is assured. Let the people await the coming summit with hope in their hearts. When the dawn rises on that day, their fall will be all the more devastating for it. If we are too active in the coming days, we risk exposure. Tell our contacts in Helios to plant the suggestion of using freelance mercenaries to combat the Fedayeen. We must keep Helios' position strong, but they must also go into the summit holding clear moral authority over the rest.

As for your next report, developments at RACDI-Alpha are my primary concern. Without all of our objectives accomplished on that field, out position is more precarious that I would like. We would do well to know precisely what is causing Hammond to delay. However, tread lightly Dietrich. Venture already suspects our involvement, though they still remain ignorant of our true scope. We must not give them the opportunity to express such publicly. There is also a matter for which I would speak with you privately."

The last sentence was uttered without any change in volume or inclination. In fact, everything the Talon had just said had been in barely more than a whisper, her body eerily still; and yet, the moment the last word left her lips, every other operative of her inner circle that remained, stood up and left without a word.

"Well, the wait for news has been a nice vay-cay. But I bet now we have it, we'll be back on the grind real bloody soon."

"I don't doubt that," Nahla shrugged. "How was it, anyway? The operation, I mean. That phantom you guys hauled in, it... well, it's going to kill a lot of people before this is over. I'm not usually the type who gets cold feet, but you have to admit..." She bit the inside of her lip. "This is the true test if there ever was one."

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"Could you two be anymore melodramatic?"

Lucia scoffed, "Please, they were the drama queens. I just responded in the only tongue their thick skulls could comprehend." She chuckled as she took her mug in hand and downed her drink. It was weird drinking again. She'd done so little of it in the Pit and none at all for a long time afterwards. It was reassuring is what it was. It let her know that, despite all that had happened, they were truly free from the Pit. Free to set upon their own path.

She, Acolyte and Natalia had been joking around when Lucia noticed the blood on Nikolai's hand, "Shit, are you okay!?" She blurted out as she took his massive hand in her own. "What the hell happened?"

Subira hated the markets. She was averted to leaving the commune at all, but the markets were atrocious. The buzz of dangerous strangers and the stench of undesirables all around her. Still it would do good to get some exercise from her old bones, even if it was to consort with idiots. She'd be out eventually, but for now She'd have to manage. Manyara and Judah were with her at least, and Manyara was far better at dealing with the ignorants than Subira was. Even if she pulled the 'old woman' routine as an excuse for her reluctant attitude, at least their banter would keep her entertained.

She shook as she walked but her cane at least would support her. She looked as if she could tip over at any second yet she was adamant in walking on her own, the cane was but a tool. "Manyara? Have you got your eye on Judah?"

"Manyara? Have you got your eye on Judah?"

Manyara clicked her tongue in annoyance. She didn't have her eyes on Judah, they were on the various stalls, taking in the scenery... and the prices of the displayed merchandise. Manyara had never been good with kids, she was always unsure of what to do or say. For the most part, Manyara just settled on being nice. Everyone seemed to like that, anyway. A few smiles there and a laugh here and everyone got along nicely. Well, as long as nobody stepped out of line but who would want to do that? The Cult had created a safe haven for those who would accept it, nobody wanted to ruin that. Nobody. She sighed, only in situations like these did a person of some notoriety (or at least Manyara assumed she was one in the past) was running after a kid who had gotten lost in the crowd. After a quick survey of said crowd, the women turned to Subira.

"She's wandered off again, so no." Manyara said. Then she started getting to down to the business of finding that kid.

The cold air rushed past Yu's ears, the sound it made accompanied by the high-pitched, metallic whine of the rope being fed through his harness, as he plunged down into the gaping darkness that marked the central chamber of The Lower Levels. It was no longer safe to use the main thoroughfares and elevators, those that still worked.

Such equipment as Yu was using now was deceptively easy to come by around here. While any mining that had once taken place on the Upper and Mid-Levels stopped over a decade ago, all the space being given over to refining, processing, and housing the general population. However, the Lower-Levels had kept expanding all the way up until mere weeks ago, which sometimes required more acrobatic work from the Inmates. After the occupying forces had swarmed through The Pit and chaos had ensued, most of this equipment had been left where its last owners had abandoned them. An oversight by the occupiers, it would seem.

It was well over thirty seconds of near free fall, before Yu began to slow and his feet touched stone, in the very belly of The Pit. The two remainders of Iron Squad were not far behind him. Disentangling himself from all the ropes and harnesses, Yu beckoned silently for them to follow, heading towards the North Quarter, the slick, black stone walls giving way to pure ice, as they passed beneath the frozen, underground lake.

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Chen, and his two companions moved silently among the upper catwalks of the Industrial District. Moving unseen was easy enough, and before the fall of RACDI-Alpha, so much noise would be being made in this part of the facility, that remaining unheard was child's play. Those days were passed however, and the three had to be careful of the old guard or Inmate mulling about lazily beneath them.

Without a word, Chen held up his hand to halt the two behind him, as an unusual sight caught his eye. An Inmate, Iberian in descent, he looked like. He was at a work-station, alone. Chen couldn't quite place why, which was unusual to him, but something about this figure gave him pause.

What was he doing?

"You're in my light."

"Then you're in the wrong bar, love." Barrows said plainly, looking ponderously into his glass. The fuck had he even ordered? It had looked like a real drink far away. Turns out the moody cow was trying to drown herself in poofter potions. That was execs for you, Barrows shrugged, taking a resigned gulp. "Ugh tha' is, that is- is that's alright actually." His voice even got a little more high pitched an everything. Ah what was life without some pleasant surprises from time to time?

Arse numbing boredom cut up with dick shitting terror probably.

"How do you people even get your hands on this stuff out here?" Wonders would never cease.

Barrows scanned the bar. Travis was keeping to himself it seemed but there was no mistaking that he was looking their way. Maybe sizing Barrows himself, being a newcomer in a giant prison after all. Or maybe he was undressing two of the few unbattered women in this place.

"So!" Barrows leaned down closer to her, angling himself so he was leaning right down on the bar and getting a good view of Travis while he was at it. "What are you in for?" He leered at her.

Clementina followed behind Chen, taking every order as they were given. She had been dead silent up to this point, pausing as Chen did.

Felix meanwhile continued to work in silence on his design. He'd made so many of these before, even if he was no master blacksmith he certainly had a good hand at crafting. This particular design would be dangerous to lug around in this place, so perhaps if he just had the hilt he would be safe. He just wanted to be reminded of home, his brothers in arms, the warmth of the sun, Marisa and Ciro.

'I was so stupid to leave you Ciro. So so stupid.'

He had the shape now, he just needed it sturdy.
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Travis caught the man shooting a glance at him. Was he sizing him up? Travis wasn't hiding his leering at Selena, she was irritating the hell out of him for damn sure. This may prove for decent entertainment, at least until he could find a bitch of his own.

For an elderly woman Subria was pretty damn spry. Back at home she was slow, always taking her sweet fuckin' time. She would meander from one task to another and tell long winded abstract stories about morality. That's how she was, and that's how she had always been... until now. Here she was a different person entirely; whatever frailty she normally feigned vanished as soon as they entered the port town, replaced with an almost cold sense of purpose. Manyara and the old fool charged ahead like a crusaders, parting the crowd their ominous scowls and sour attitudes. Watching throngs of burly, probably evil, men step aside to let an aged hag and a lady pass was amusing, up until the point where they actually passed by. The tiny gaps the two women created filled in immediately. When they were out of the way the local thugs would fall in right behind them, continuing whatever business their passing had interrupted.

Judah struggled against the crowd of people, squirming and pushing her way forward, trying to keep the two women in her sights. She didn't know why they were walking so fast, forcing her to duck and weave her way through this brood of gangsters. A slight bump against one of these psychos could easily become a fight... or worse. One misstep and she could find herself beaten or trampled- so why the fuck were they being so careless? Why were they walking so goddamn fast? It was like they were trying to lose her.

She picked up her pace and began grumbling under her breath, "Yeah, 'cause I'm the one being careless and wandering off. Fuckin' bitch"

Judah never really cared for Manyara and this little outing wasn't helping things. She usually tried to keep the woman at arms length, but today she was forced to keep her company. The two-faced cunt had already scolded her once today and then she suggested that they hold hands, saying that would prevent Judah from getting lost again. Pft, and she said all that while wearing her shiny false smile. She was always like that... fake, and so damn demeaning.

The young girl became so focused on what was in front of her that failed to notice what was happening right beside her. Her small body was sent tumbling to the ground as she was crushed under some great weight. A white light flashed in front of her eyes as she hit the ground, and pain shot through her entire body. She couldn't breathe anymore- what the hell was going on? Judah began waving her limbs frantically, lashing out at whoever was squeezing the life out of her little chest.

"Awe, fuck man. You crushed some kid."

The weight was lifted as the large man rose to his feet, "Yeah, I crushed the little boy? You're the one who started all this bullshit"

Judah pushed body off the ground. She stayed on her hands and knees, sputtering and coughing as air filled her lungs. If she didn't get up soon she'd be trampled by the throng of people, but she couldn't see straight and every time she opened her eyes they began to sting.

The man that had crushed her was still standing above her, "Damn it! Where am I bleeding from? There's blood all over me and- Oh... fuck. Damnit! Russo! Go and get a few shots and a-a towel. I think ya cracked the fucking kid's head open."

"What, is the bartender just going to hand that shit over?"

"Tell him it's for a kid, and if he doesn't give ya the shit make him. Make a big deal outta it, make a fuckin' scene if you have to. Just get the shit. Well, don't just stand there. Go figure it out!"

Panic rose in Judah's throat as she blindly groped at her scalp and was greeted by a sticky lump of matted hair. She was bleeding, and- and it seemed like a lot of blood. Her surprised gasp became a surprised yelp, as she was scooped off the ground and carried through the crowd. She attempted to wriggle out of the man's grasp and was given a smart slap on the cheek, "Would ya cut it out? We're helpin'. Retard."

"What are you in for?"

Taking a moment to properly size up the man next to her, Selena saw that there was no sense in threats, implied or otherwise. That said, she wasn't going to back down either, and she met his leer with a sickly sweet smile of her own, the ghost of her lost sharpness sparking in her eyes.

"Corruption, larceny, perjury..." Selena counted the parodies of her real crimes on her fingers. "sabotage, and accessory to murder. My incarceration has turned out to be less... white collar, than I had always hoped, but I'll make do." She toasted Barrows with her own glass, before draining it.

"A friend of yours?" she asked him, noticing his eyes darting from her to the slime at the back of the room at precise, regular intervals.

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'Looks like trouble...'

Chen watched from the rafters, as a group of six of the General's new 'recruits' swaggered in to the production floor. Making a bee-line for Felix as the only other presence they could sense in the room. Was this guy important to them, or did he just look like someone they could bully, being on his own? Silently, Chen cursed his mistake. If he had just left the man well-enough alone, they could have moved on by now. Now, his party couldn't move without making noise that could give their position away, and they were outnumbered. Chen just hoped against hope that these thugs would move on without making too much of a fuss over the guy, so the rest of them could move out. He wasn't sure if her could trust the others, Clementina in particular, to just stay and watch if things got ugly.

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"What the hell happened?"

"Just a splinter." Nikolai growled "It is nothing."

He snatched his hand back from Lucia, a little too hard, and started plucking the needles of wood from beneath his nails with little grace. He looked at none of the others that were sat round the table, but he could tell they were all looking at him. Natalia in particular, he could feel her eyes.

He was being honest, insofar as the physical injury was not bothering him in the slightest. He'd been pulling sharp objects out from his skin and flesh since he was a boy, and often they had been put there with ill intent. There was truly no pain. But something else was wrong, he felt wrong. The noises of the saloon seemed to be growing louder, and blurring together in an unbearable cacophony. Nikolai's heart raced in his chest, and he struggled to keep control of his breathing as a flush crept over him. He felt so angry, the primal rush of a fight coursing through his veins, but with no direction for his violence. It felt like there was a fire storm inside him, spreading from some long-forgotten place, engulfing him. If he opened his mouth, surely he would breathe red hot flame all over the saloon, burning all to ash around him. Shutting his eyes tight, Nikolai tried to recall the face again. He wasn't sure why, but the face was key to everything. He needed to remember the face! What flashed surfaced behind his eyelids stung him like a shock of static, and were gone before he could make any sense of them, enraging him further with each flash; and now the screaming was starting again, playing on the edges of the noise being made all around him, scratching the inside of his skull. The woman, and his name, over and over again, nothing else. Why was it still tormenting him?!

Nikolai needed to hit something, to kill something? Most of all he needed air.

The chair tumbled and clattered behind him, as Nikolai practically bolted to his feet and stormed outside, barging his way through the throng of people, not stopping for their protests or curses, his mental leg thudding along louder than ever. Outside, he sped down the alley between the saloon and whatever the ramshackle hut that had been raised next to it was, doubled over, and retched. Panting, Nikolai's wild eyes searched all around him, settling on a discarded and rusted oil drum. In his fit of madness, Nikolai seized the drum, and pounded on it with his other fist with all his might. The metal clanged furiously, and the dents he left were deep. Finishing up his onslaught, Nikolai booted the barrel with all his might into the long grass behind the saloon, before sinking down against the wall next to him, his heart rate finally beginning to slow.

This wasn't him. He had always fought with poise and control. Those who looked at him and saw a berserker had always learned better. The madness of this violence had taken over him, and he couldn't explain why.

"Would ya cut it out? We're helpin'. Retard."

Nikolai's head rose as he picked the worried tones out from the general noise of the crowd on the street. Two men were carrying a young girl (or at least, he thought it was a girl) towards the saloon. Even at a distance, Nikolai saw the blood, and was quick to rise to his feet.

"Put her down." he ordered the two men. "Go and get what you need inside, I will watch her. She needs stillness and solid ground." Growing up in a prison mine, head injuries were no stranger to Nikolai.

The two men, did not look like they took orders from complete strangers lightly, yet they caught the tone in Nikolai's voice, and weren't inclined to argue once they got a good look at him. Once he had the girl in his arms, Nikolai swung round a chair from one of the tables outside, and sat her down on it with surprising gentleness. He held her shoulders, not hurting her, but hard enough that she could feel the enormous strength he possessed.

"Look at me." He commanded, and when she did, Nikolai emphasised slow, deep breaths, channelling his calm through his arms to her, so that her ragged, panicked breathing slowed to match his.

"You are going to be alright." he said, looking deep into her eyes.

As they went about the catwalks of the Industrial district, they spotted a man up ahead as he worked alone at a station. Aggie had met enough loonies in her lifetime so she was quite partial when she saw this one just crafting something. She had half a thought to blow the man away before he try something but stealth was key and she needed the rounds. She looked to the others but specifically Chen who observed the man. She understood that sometimes waiting would yield better results but they had to go on and Aggie had an idea. She went towards head of the squad and to Chen. She gave him his shotgun before she whispered a some words.

"Hide but if he comes at me, shoot him. I've got an idea." Aggie said. She approached the man with a slight hunch in her posture trying to look as sick as possible. She gave the two of them a few moments to hide before she moved in.

"Excuse me..." Aggie feebly called to the man with a sickly voice which given her condition wasn't that hard to do. "Do you have any medicine?" For good measure she let out a cough but whether or not was fake was only known to her.

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As the groups departed, Lewis remained here with Neil. He had contemplated napping but if either group needed their help, he didn't want to be caught snoozing when they needed them the most. Lewis would not want to fail anyone anytime soon when manpower was so low as it was. He wondered if there were other Wardens out there surviving by the skin of their teeth but the thought of them being the only ones left crossed his mind. In a way, Lewis and Aggie were blessed with being in a group such as this but they were only a few people in a sea of hostility. Either side hated them for numerous reasons and safety was as rare as a drink around here which reminded Lewis of something.

He went to the bag Aggie and him had stored all their stuff in. The foodstuffs and water were long consumed but inside Lewis found it. He brought out the amber bottle and sloshed its contents around. It looked to be rum but it was hard to tell since any markings were removed. Lewis wondered how Aggie had come to get such a thing down here. At that moment, he looked up to Neil.

"Want some?" Lewis awkwardly spoke asked the man. He showed him the amber bottle with its unbroken seal. "Aggie had this tucked away. Its a wonder how she got it..."

Why the hell were they stopping? Because some guy looked like he was in trouble? Fuck this guy he was an inmate, they shouldn't have stopped. "What the fuck are we doing?" Clementina whispered to Chen before Aggie suddenly moved on ahead. "The fuck are you..." Her words trailed off as she moved ahead, she couldn't pull the woman away otherwise she'd cause a scene. Hiding out of view with Chen she gripped her almost spent pistol tightly, this was such a dumb idea.
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Felix was busy working on his personal project when he noticed a group of men approaching him. '1,2,3,4,5,6... okay, okay I can deal with this... take out one or two, distract the rest and run'

"Excuse me..."

Felix looked up from under his protective mask as he placed the metal safely to the side.

"Do you have any medicine?"

'Oh no no no this is the worst timing.'

"No, not on me, but I know where I can find some." He replied as the men were coming up behind him. Did they know who he was? Were they friends of the men he had fought so far? Or just mindless thugs? Or maybe he was just over reacting, maybe they would leave him alone, as unrealistic as that sounded.
=============================================
"She's wandered off again, so no."

"Oh for-Judah!" Subira shouted looking around. "Judah where are you?" She then turned to Manyara worried. "We haven't... left her behind have we?"

Neil had been doing his own work while the others prepared and departed for their assignments. He sat in the corner of the room, an enormous "map" laid out in front of him. There were no official blueprints for the lower levels of the Pit considering its dynamic nature, so he'd taken it upon himself to map it all out from memory. After over three months of work, it had gone through all manner of changes and corrections. In fact, it was such a contrived mess that he doubted anyone else would be able to decipher it without his aid. Thankfully he was working with some of Lee's sharpest soldiers who took to his methodology rather naturally.

Lewis had been left to watch over him while the others were gone. Neil thought it was unnecessary, but he wouldn't argue. Things were a lot easier for him to swallow when he wasn't the one calling the shots.

Neil had been deep in thought when Lewis decided to break the silence.

And there was a cave-in down in the south-west---

"Want some?"

Neil looked up from his work to see the bottle of liquor.

"Aggie had this tucked away. Its a wonder how she got it..."

Neil shook his head, "No thanks," He sighed and looked back down at the map. "Trying to stay sober." An awkward silence followed. Neil grew increasingly uncomfortable until he finally spoke. "It may be hard to believe, but... I am going to do everything in my power to ensure you and your sister make it out of here alive." he didn't look at Lewis as he spoke. He continued to work.

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

"It is nothing."

"But--" Lucia's words evaporated when Nikolai suddenly snatched his hand away. Taken aback, she held her hand close to her chest and studied the man. What was going on with him? A moment ago everyone was happy and relieved...

"Nikolai..."

Suddenly, Nikolai rose to his feet and bolted out of the building, "Nikolai!" Lucia shouted as she raced after him. The path he had cut into the crowd diminished as Lucia pursued him, forcing her to squeeze and duck through the crowd. If he hadn't been so monstrously tall she'd have never been able to spot him in the sea of people.

What the hell's gotten into you?

After stumbling over a homeless person and passing two roughed up, frantic looking thugs, she had caught up to the man-mountain. And he was... caring for an injured child? Standing over the pair, Lucia scratched her head, "Wha---what happened?" Then she noticed the blood. "Oh, shit!"

Kneeling down next to Nikolai, she checked the injury. Thankfully, the child was conscious, "Hey, it's okay. Just stay calm and we'll get you fixed up." Grabbing the brim of her own shirt, she tore a long piece of fabric off with relative ease and handed it to Nikolai. "We need to stop the bleeding, but I need to make sure you haven't fractured your skull before I do that." Gently, she probed the back of the girl's skull. In order to make her feel a bit more comfortable, Lucia decided to make small talk. "I'm Lucia. What's your name?"

"Look at me."

Judah looked up, allowing herself to meet his gaze. Even in her panicked state his powerful voice was difficult to ignore.

"You are going to be alright."

She kept he eyes fixed on his. He had cold blue eyes that were fierce, but honest. The man was a complete stranger, yet she somehow found herself trusting him. He had no reason to tell the truth, but he had no reason to lie either. She placed her hand on his and nodded. She believed him, she'd be alright.

"Hey, it's okay. Just stay calm and we'll get you fixed up."

The woman's voice was warm, and so full of energy that it almost made the young girl jump out of her seat. The lady knelt beside her and pressed gently on the back of her head. She spoke quickly, attempting to distract girl from her injuries.

"I'm Lucia. What's your name?"

She felt a twinge of embarrassment as she wiped the tears off her cheeks. True, she was injured, lost, alone, and pretty scared... but that still wasn't a good enough reason to cry. She spoke up, looking Lucia in the eye in an attempt to seem slightly less helpless,"You can call me Judah."

"No, not on me, but I know where I can find some."

The Iberian man said before he eyed a group of thugs making their way to him or most likely to her once they get closer. Aggie was about to burst out laughing at her luck but she didn't want to break her facade of the broken but innocent girl. Instead he stood closer to the Iberian man. When she saw what he was making, her eyes widened.

"Please, I need help." Aggie whimpered the best she could clutching at the man's sleeve with one and signalling Chen and Clem with the other. She assumed that Clem had seen military action or at least would understand military hand signals. Aggie signaled the coming of at least six thugs. Six to two was bad but six to four was odds she didn't mind. Hopefully the man didn't notice the shank poking out of her belt.

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

"It may be hard to believe, but... I am going to do everything in my power to ensure you and your sister make it out of here alive."

Lewis was taken a back by that statement. He wondered why this man of all people would want them to help them escape. Lewis tried to recount any favors that they might hold but that was a second of wasted thought. They had, after all, helped imprison the man after all and brought him to Lee but why would that warrant an escape?

Did Lee order that as well? Was the question Lewis wanted to ask but he didnt' have the gall to ask such. Lewis respected and adored Lee as much as the next Warden but that man was an enigma within an enigma.

"T-thank you." Lewis muttered instead. "Is it Aggie? As strong as she makes herself out to be, she's still sick. I'd do the same if I were you."

"You can call me Judah."

Acolyte hung back slightly. Best not to crowd the girl. Nonetheless, he caught the girl's name. "That's a nice name," he said, smiling. "Judah, could you tell us what happened to you?"

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

"This is the true test if there ever was one."

"Guess so," said Riley. "It was easier just to ignore what it was connected to and pay attention to the one step on the road. But yeah, it's a bit weird, knowing I played an essential role in a fuck ton of deaths." He shrugged. "Still, you know Talon. If the Phantom hadn't existed, or we couldn't have gotten it, she'd have found another way to do what we're doing."

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

Korovitch and Fiona landed in quick succession and began unstrapping themselves. The descent reminded Korovitch of the last time he'd used such equipment: An extraction mission in Berlin of a dignitary taken hostage during his mercenary days.

When both soldiers were free of their harnesses, they followed wordlessly after Yu. The time for talking was over.

Dietrich absorbed is lady's orders from a place of serene repose. He'd never been a very religious fellow, religion a rather transparent ploy to control and redirect the sexual energies of any mass population, but in these moments, where the Talon's sparse utterances would guide and shape the next few weeks of his life and tax his abilities so sweetly, Dietrich could imagine the ecstasy of the prophet hanging on the words of his God. Or some good, fucking narcotics. There was no mountain moving implied in the Talon's latest request, though Dietrich suspected that the peculiar brand of psychopathy the passed off as faith was more than up for the challenge. Taking orders wasn't particularly difficult, so long as those orders were sensible, and the Talon's order were always sensible, even if they seemed rather obscure at the outset. There was a trust there that Dietrich afforded to no other person save her, and only because she possessed in abundance the one thing Dietrich could not acquire, ambition. Not the petty sort of would be tyrants and demagogues, and not some trifling hunger to be preyed upon and manipulated. No, the ambition that burned in the Talon's breast seemed a primal, atavistic thing, the drive of the demiurge, the drive to destroy. Dietrich was more than content enough to bask in its presence and more than willing to forgive a myriad other shortcomings.

"Venture dispatched several response teams when communications with RADCI-Alpha went dark. Most have no doubt been pulled back in preparation for the summit but there must be a few still en route... plenty to distance between their nearest likely insertion site and the Pit itself, I suspect a few things can be arranged at short notice...," Dietrich nearly had to choke down a sort purr, his mind already ticking away, weaving new threads. His lady's requests were never boring, that was sure enough. What artist could ask for a better patroness? Dietrich's eyes seemed to brighten ever so slightly as the last of the Talon's words left her lips, though the rest of his features remained perfectly still, even as the last of the Songbird inner circle filtered out of the door. Mmmm... so today would be even more interesting than expected, excellent," And what private matter might this be, meine Dame?"

"... My incarceration has turned out to be less... white collar, than I had always hoped, but I'll make do."

"Waheeey." Barrows half cheered, clinking his glass right back at Selena. "What a time to be alive."

"A friend of yours?"

"Huh?" Barrows was quickly brought back from his checking on Travis. How rude of him. The bloke was giving him a fair bit of the stink eye though, looked like he was taking note.

"Nah, he jus' wants me for my body." He smirked. "'Ere do us a favour, love. Giv'us a splash of your juice would you? Or a nice slap, somethin' tasty for the boys, whatever feels right." he gave a little wink, just to egg her on.

"You can call me Judah."

Lucia pried her eyes away from Judah's head long enough to look her in the eye and grin. The last thing she wanted was for this girl to be frightened.

"That's a nice name, Judah, could you tell us what happened to you?"

She had been so busy tending to the girl that she'd failed to notice Acolyte's arrival. He must have been right behind her as she cut through the crowd. After lightly probing the back of Judah's head, she concluded that it was a simple cut. She was going to be okay. Finding the girl's eyes once more, Lucia smiled gently, "You're going to be just fine, Judah. It's only a scratch. We're going to dress the wound really quick and you'll be as good as new."

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

"Is it Aggie? As strong as she makes herself out to be, she's still sick. I'd do the same if I were you."

Neil nodded, "Yeah, I suppose she's why." The words kind of just spilled out of him before he could really consider them. As secretive and introverted as he'd been, Neil hadn't been able to truly confide in anyone for a long, long time. In fact, he really didn't have a single person in the world that he could consider 'close'. For as long as he served under Sticks, the drugs and the paycheck were enough. Any wardens he had befriended had long since died or turned their backs on him.

With good reason, in most cases.

Why not let this man in? Just a little bit. What difference would it make?

Don't get too comfortable... you may need to throw them to the wolves in the end.

"Aggie," He croaked. He cleared his throat before he continued. "She reminds me of a lot of others down here. Many other... 'innocents' that I have come across over the years. Back when I was working under Sticks... well, I never paid them any mind. I mean, I felt bad for them, but orders were orders. They were easy prey for other inmates and wardens alike. All I had to do was get high and look the other way." He sighed. "As simple as that."

Leaning his back against the wall, he pulled his knee up to his chest and stared at the ceiling, "I let terrible things happen to the people down here. Sure, we're all guilty to some extent, but I know I was a bigger monster than most. I guess you could say I'm... guilty. It's the only reason I accepted this assignment in the first place, really."

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

"Still, you know Talon. If the Phantom hadn't existed, or we couldn't have gotten it, she'd have found another way to do what we're doing."

"Yeah," Nahla muttered, "I just hope this is all worth it. When the dust settles, I want to know the new world we're stepping into is objectively better. It would be an unforgivable sin to leave it worse off than it was before we started." She closed her eyes and smiled. "I'm confident she can do it. Or rather... I know she can. We have to believe in her, Riley. For just a little longer."

"Giv'us a splash of your juice would you? Or a nice slap, somethin' tasty for the boys, whatever feels right."

Selena raised her eyebrow at first. Then, she smiled.

"Whatever feel right..." she muttered quietly, something of a genuine smile creeping onto the edges of her lips, which had been absent for the past few days. "Well, I suppose if you insist."

With an agility and precision no intoxicated person should rightly possess, Selena struck out, jamming two fingers into the pressure point where Barrows' massive shoulder met the base of his neck. Next, she dug her fingers into his wrist, the glass Hammond's man had been holding shattering as his hand spasmed. Selena got to her feet as she twisted his arm behind him, grabbed the back of his head with her free hand, and slammed it forward into a bar tap.

"How's the flavour, a little salty?" she asked, as she sat back down next to Barrows like she'd done nothing. Her grin now stretched from ear to ear. She's pay for that, she knew, be it in her immediate future, or from someone else later on, but damn if it hadn't been the most fun she'd had in days.

"Enough!"

If Barrows had been planning any immediate reprisal, Selena was saved by the interruption of The Commander, who stood in the doorway. From the expression on his face, it seemed as if he was trying to figure out who's presence he disapproved of more. If Barrows was Hammond's attack dog, The Commander was his Poodle, or perhaps his faithful Retriever.

"Did my comrade give you any pretext to add another broken nose to his collection, Ms Hernandez?" The Commander inquired, the courtesy he was showing her clearly sticking in his craw.

"In this case, quite literally." Selena answered, smiling at him like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

"Barrows, on your feet. The same goes for the rest of you!" The Commander called out, raising his voice. "We're going to investigate a possible situation in the Mid-Levels. Let's hope the pre-existing knowledge of our newest recruits finally proves useful."

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

"And what private matter might this be, meine Dame?"

The Talon smiled.

"I have an... off the record, assignment for you Dietrich. Slightly less conventional than your usual work, but one I feel I could not entrust to anyone else." she let those words hang there for the briefest of moments before continuing. "I'm certain you are already aware of the nature of relations between our operatives Mr. Creed and Miss. Khalid. For some time, I have allowed, and even encouraged their fraternisation. Neither were ever suitable candidates for becoming enamoured with me on a personal level, so I judged they would each be more reliable if they had emotional ties beyond myself, but still within our organisation. I stand by my decisions, as always, and for as long as I needed them to, they have produced the desired outcome. However, things are beginning to change rapidly as we move towards out ultimate alignment with the One Truth. Nahla is an idealist, while Riley is without any strong convictions of his own. Both may be vulnerable to a change of heart as my actions grow more extreme, especially as their relationship is likely to grow less casual, as the gravity of the stakes become ever clearer to them. Whether it would be Riley who would rediscover his conscience at the eleventh hour, or Nahla who would lack the nerve to pay the toll for what was promised, the result would be the same. I need them both still, but I cannot have them at my side unless their loyalties are re-aligned exclusively with me.

That is what you will do for me Dietrich. You will separate their paths before they become any more tangled in each-other, leaving each with only one road left to follow, no matter where that road may end. It may seem trivial, to get involved in such domestic affairs, when compared to your other work, yet I cannot overstate how much damage could be done to us by divided loyalties at the culmination of all our efforts. The Great Revolution, The Dawn, is as inevitable as that for which it is named, of course; but if we are not it's heralds, we are all of us made worthless. We would be nothing more than discarded by-products of the calculations of cosmic eventuality. We may as well have never been born, do you understand? That is why you must exercise the greatest caution in this assignment. Riley and Nahla have even less faith in you than they do in me, and if you appear to take a too active hand, if you give the merest hint that we are playing games with them, it will only serve to drive them further towards each-other, and away from us."

For the first time since she had started speaking, The Talon looked directly into Dietrich's eyes, and gave him a fleeting glimpse of the thing he hungered for.

"Beyond ensuring you are aware of the risks, however, I will not tell you how to do your job. I would not have selected you if I doubted your chances of success for even a moment. You know that."

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

"Aggie, get the fuck back here!" Chen hissed, but it was too late, the girl was already off, and even Chen was straight up struck dumb when she approached the other Inmate, easy as you like, and started making up a story. What was she playing at? Had she seen the other guys? Did she even remember what they'd come up here to do? Had she forgotten for a moment there that they were all on the run for their lives?

A large part of Chen was sorely tempted to just slink away and let Aggie deal with the consequences. Screw babysitting these amateurs if they couldn't understand the concept of not blindly going off on their own without instruction from a superior! He clamped down hard on that compulsion though. Chen wasn't the hero type, but he had his own loyalties, and Lee had made it very clear that each of these people were, for whatever reason, worth pretending. Besides, he couldn't allow his number of reliable allies to fall any further than had happened already; especially in this case, as Aggie's continued well-being was the only thing keeping Lewis solid.

"I'm going to swing round and flank them." He told Clem, doing his best not to sound too furious. "You're on overwatch. Pick your targets, but do not open fire until you see me give the order."

Hoping he'd made himself clear enough this time, Chen vaulted the railing, and like a cat, slinked his way down and around the edges of the work floor, sticking to the shadows.

Judah had seen that smile before. It was the same smile that was plastered on the faces of all elders back at the commune. A smile that was meant to be reassure her, but only proved to infuriate her. It was meant to make her feel safe 'cause an adult was here and in control of whatever mess she had made. She was just suppose to suddenly be happy 'cause a grown-up was here, everyone and everything was gonna be a' okay. Fuckin' bitch.

Although... Judah couldn't really blame the young woman for treating her like a kid. She had been crying a lot, was probably in a good amount of danger, and was acting pretty fuckin' helpless. If that burned guy hadn't helped her when he did, who knows where she'd be right now. She wasn't really angry with Lucia, she just mad at herself.

First impressions are everything and Judah had already ruined her chances of creating a good one, or the one she would have liked to make. This woman and her friend would never consider her anything more than a child. Sure, she could try and act extra adulty in an attempt to prove her worth, but it would be an uphill battle and would probably prove frivolous. People don't like having their preconceived notions challenged, much less changing them altogether... especially at the behest of some dumb kid. It was pointless to dwell on her losses, she would just have to make up the best of it and live up to their expectations by acting the part.

Judah reciprocated. She faked what appeared to be a completely genuine smile, letting her cute little grin spread from ear to ear. This was so goddamn demeaning.

"That's a nice name, Judah, could you tell us what happened to you?"

God, what a fake compliment! Either this place was full of the kindest murdering/rapist pirates, or someone was trying to pull one over on her. This guy, who thinks he can just waltz up and gain her trust with a few honeyed words. He was probably one of the assholes that crushed her and started this whole mess. Trying to shirk off the blame, Could you tell us what happened to you? ??? Fuck you.

Judah shot daggers in the direction of the speaker and quickly realized that it wasn't the guy that knocked her over. Not even close. This man was tall, with a lean muscular build and bright green eyes. He wasn't what you'd call 'well dressed' but he was clean cut and clean shaven. Being clean really made a man stand out around here- most the men in the port were eternally filthy, with ratty spittle encrusted beards and missing teeth... but the only unkempt part about this fella was his hair; which seemed perpetually tousled, and that could be considered more of a plus than a minus.

Blushing furiously she averted her gaze, keeping her eyes fixed on her lap. She couldn't respond to him, not now, not when she was so flustered.

"You're going to be just fine, Judah. It's only a scratch. We're going to dress the wound really quick and you'll be as good as new."

Lucia was unwittingly providing her with an out; now ignoring the man's question wouldn't seem so awkward. She smiled sheepishly at Lucia, "Thank you for doing all this.I feel a lot better now." She turned her attention to the large man that had carried over, timidly offering her thanks, "And thank you too, uh..mister..."

She drew out the mister, waiting for the giant to finish her thought.

...

...

Travis watched the cunt attack the man next to her. He didn't know whether to laugh as his punk ass or show her she had no right to do that to a man, even if he was being a bitch little boy.

Travis shot up to his feet, playing soldier as the commander entered. "We're going to investigate a possible situation in the Mid-Levels. Let's hope the pre-existing knowledge of our newest recruits finally proves useful."

'Fuckin' A.' Thought the Dragon, it had been too long since he had killed someone, more than a week. Jesus.
==================================================
"I'm going to swing round and flank them. You're on overwatch. Pick your targets, but do not open fire until you see me give the order."

Clementina nodded in compliance, readying her pistol. Six guys, two bullets, hell of a lot of good that would do. She'd need to get two headshots and she wasn't that good of a shot to get two in a row. One maybe if she got the drop on them.
==================================================
"Please, I need help."

Felix had to help this woman, but first he needed to find an escape from these thugs. Felix slotted his protective mask down on his face before saying, "I will just, move away for a moment or two."

The men were gathered behind Felix now. "Show me your face." One of them demanded. Felix kept facing towards Aggie who hadn't moved. Great, now he had to protect her. It was his duty but surely she could have retreated to safety. There was no point thinking about that now. Felix turned around to face the man. "Take off the mask dickweed."

Felix sighed and did as the man asked, would it be too much of a coincidence to think these men would be mistaken. The man grabbed his chin and examined his face. "What's your name cocksucker?"

Of course it was too much of a coincidence. "Forgive me."

"Answer me fuck face!"

Felix sighed before smacking the man in the jaw with his new project. He went down quick as the hot metal broke his jaw. Felix pulled down his iron mask and headbutted another man, before forcing another's face onto his workstation, breaking his nose against the corner of it. He was screwed and already the first two were back up while the others grabbed him.
=================================================
Subira wandered though the street, half panicked, half frustrated as she shouted out for Judah. "Judah! JUDAH!"

"I will just, move away for a moment or two."

Aggie stepped back at first but only so she could retreat to the man's station and take a hammer while he engaged the two. Like dogs to a bone, the thugs already swarmed the Iberian man which meant gave Aggie had to act fast. She hastily side-stepped the group and gave the hammer to the back of the head of the first man to the rear. The hammer swing was hard and lodged itself in the thug's head with a sickening crunch. By the time the group noticed, Aggie was already on the second thug as she sliced one of the thugs behind the leg. He cried out in pain before Aggie pushed him forward into the group of thugs.

"You bitch!" The second one said as he went down, clutching his leg as blood from his cut hamstring ran down his calf. Aggie backed away, trying to separate the group so that Chen and Clementia would have a clearer shot. She stayed silent the whole time, saving her breath. As expected, a third thug rushed at Aggie and tackled her to the ground. He pinned her to the ground and wrapped his hands around her throat. She drove her shank into the man's ribs but that only angered him. He backhanded Aggie before resuming his attempt to choke her. She reached up and dug her nails into the man's face but it was a bitter struggle. A struggle that she hoped the others would intervene soon.

Sorry Lewis...

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

"It's the only reason I accepted this assignment in the first place, really."

"The only reason I wanted to come to this hellhole was because of Aggie." Lewis admitted. It seemed ages ago that Lewis requested a transfer to the RACDI. He was fresh off his promotion with a medal hanging off of him. A medal that he got because he killed the right people at the right time.

"Aggie always looked after me since the day I was born. She took care of me and I've always wanted to repay that kindness. This world has turned to hell but while Aggie was around, it didn't matter. But now..." Lewis let out a sigh thinking of all the promises that he made to Aggie. "I don't blame you. If... it ever came to it, I want you to save her first. She's everything to me even the way she is now."

The woman who Felix thought he needed to save turned out to be his salvation in this adversity. She had given him the opening he needed. Slipping out of the grasp of his attackers he ran over to the woman who had come to his aid, punting her assailant in the side of the head before turning his attention to another coming at him. He grabbed his oncoming fist, raising it into the air and punching him hard in the armpit, then pulling his arm and landing a powerful fist in the back of his head. He'd be down for a few moments for him to get his bearings. Felix readied himself for the next man and quicker than the thug could react, Felix kicked his thigh so hard the man's whole leg swung back, before getting in close and jabbing him in the nose and pushing him back.

One was on the floor from her hammer blow. One was clutching a leg wound but still standing. One was on the floor with a shank in him but still conscious, while the rest made their advance on Felix and the woman. It had become an awkward scramble and Clementina didn't have enough time to mark her targets, and even if she had she wasn't going to disobey a direct order to save a stupid woman and a dumbass with a hero complex.

Abigail watched from one of the tables as she was busy clearing up the exchange between Selina and Barrows, who knew she had such skill, and strength for that matter, given that Barrows looked at least twice her size. And of course, she'd have to do clean up on both the broken glass that lay in shards on the floor and take a look at the beer tap to see if it needed mending, or worse, replaced.

"Enough!" Shouted the Commander as he entered the bar, which made the room go almost completely silent.

"Did my comrade give you any pretext to add another broken nose to his collection, Ms Hernandez?"

"In this case, quite literally." Selena replied with a with a very broad grin, almost like the Cheshire Cat.

"Barrows, on your feet. The same goes for the rest of you!" The Commander called out with a raised voice. "We're going to investigate a possible situation in the Mid-Levels. Let's hope the pre-existing knowledge of our newest recruits finally proves useful."

"Sir. I know it's not my place to advise, but perhaps Mr. Barrows should get himself looked at first before going about his duties; I doubt a broken nose and possibly a bloodied hand would be beneficial to him at the moment." Spoke Abigail as she returned to the counter.

"I'm confident she can do it. Or rather... I know she can. We have to believe in her, Riley. For just a little longer."

"Mmmhmm," Riley replied. "Lately I've just had this feeling, though, ever since we lifted the Phantom... survival instinct, maybe. The feeling that something really fucked up is about to come our way." He shuddered slightly. "We can believe in her all we like, but I've never been completely convinced the feeling was mutual."

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

Acolyte watched Judah's expression contort in response to his question. First there was complete outrage. Then she actually looked at him, and immediately went scarlet. That was unexpected. In most other situations, he'd probably have found it at least a little funny.

"You're going to be just fine, Judah. It's only a scratch. We're going to dress the wound really quick and you'll be as good as new."

"You have everything you need on you, Lucia?" he asked. If there was anything he could do to be helpful, he wanted to know.

Chen watched the build up to the fight from the shadows. There was definitely something off about this guy. He didn't back down, despite clearly being outnumbered and out-gunned, but neither did he take the initiative and attack first. It was as if he were waiting for a pretext, like their intentions weren't already clear enough from the way they had moved to surround him, worrying at him like a pack of hyenas. When the violence eventually started, he was fast and strong, but even with Aggie's help, there were two many. Breaking from cover, Chen closed quickly on the man nearest to him, his feet seeming to brush along the floor like silk, silent. From behind, Chen grabbed the goon's wrist and delivered a savage strike to his elbow. There was a spray of blood, and suddenly the guy's elbow join was bending the wrong way, a jagged inch of bone sticking out from under the flesh. Before the thug had time to scream, Chen snapped his neck.

The second came at him with a shank, his face twisted in rage, having been spattered with the blood of his friend. Chen was ready for him, his stance solid. He blocked two wild slashes, before the man lunged inside his reach. A two-fingered jab to the wrist made his drop the blade, his hand now useless, followed by the three-fingered one the the throat that sent him reeling. Chen pressed the attack, delivering a sharp flurry of strikes to the man's torso, before clapping his hands to either side of the man's head, and vaulting upwards, using every muscle in his body to drive all the strength he could muster through his knee, and straight into the middle of the man's face. The second attacker was dead before he hit the floor, most of his facial structure having been pushed back and upwards into his brain.

He now had a clear path to where Aggie wrestled with her assailant, and Chen wasted no time. Leaping forwards, he stamped on the man's ankle, shattering it. As he howled in pain, Chen grabbed him through his underarms, his hands interlocking at the back of the man's neck, and hauled him upwards. Kicking his one good leg out from under him, Chen twisted and through the man back over to the work station, where he landed hard, bouncing off the bench with a thud, and landing with his head inside the heat-treating furnace, it's heavy metal door hanging wide open. Before the man could pull himself out, if he was even still conscious. Chen spun again and delivered a roundhouse kick against the door, slamming it shut. There was a sickening crunch, and the third man shuddered, before lying still.

After noticing what had happened to his three friends, the fourth man was smart enough not to engage Chen in hand to hand combat, Grabbing the MAC-10 that was slung round his back, Chen was forced to grab Aggie, and throw the pair of them behind the workstation, before the room was filled with the noise of rapid gunfire.

"Now would be good Clem!" he yelled.

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

"Five guards." Yu whispered. "Two fixed on the cache, the other three patrolling. There's a twenty second blind spot in their patrol routes, we can take the two static guys out silently, and then move as much as we can while the third person keeps lookout. Don't bother with the explosives, we don't need anything fancy and they'll just slow us down, just get as many boxes of 5.56 and 9mm as we can and then bug out. Copy?"

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

"And thank you too, uh..mister..."

"I am Nikolai." Nikolai replied gruffly. "Are you here alone, Judah?"

While Nikolai had taken responsibility for the girl the moment he'd picked her up, his motivations for his continuing questions were not entirely selfless. He didn't want to talk to the others about what had just happened, and was seeking to put it off. He supposed that would be too much to ask though, and wondered who would be the first to approach him about it.

Felix engaged two men at the same time as an unseen ally suddenly approached. Whatever his intentions were, Felix would need to rely on this man for now, his skill in battle extremely impressive, despite him feeling the need to kill on seemingly reflex; but Felix knew his way was not everyone's way and focused on the men in front of him.

He blocked a swing, punching the man with bone crushing strength in the shoulder, kicking his other opponent who approached from the side in his chest. Felix quickly ducked under the first man's arm, hooking it with his own, and knocking his fist into the back of the man's head and neck, slipping out of the way and letting the man fall to the floor as the second approached.

This one wielding a massive wrench and swung for Felix's head. Felix played dangerously and swooped in close, narrowly avoiding the wrench and striking the man in the forehead with his palm. His brain rocked in his skull and Felix jabbed with all his strength in his solar plexus. The air was pushed out of him and Felix followed up with a knife edge chop under the chin and in the throat, and finishing him off with a precise strike from his elbow into his forehead. He quickly slipped into unconsciousness, which would have allowed Felix to relax if not for the sudden gunfire forcing him to duck for cover.
=========================================
"Now would be good Clem!"

Clementina vaulted over a conveyor belt and followed the man, she began sneaking up behind him as he fired upon her allies. Thankfully he was too focused on the other two men to focus on her aiming down her sights at him. She wanted to take her time on this shot but the man was ragged in his movements. She tried her best to iron up her shot, she'd just have to take her chances with one quick pull of the trigger.

For all the shit that had been thrown at her since she took on this job it seemed God had to throw her one bone at least, the thug moving his head right into the path of her bullet. He fell like a sack of meat as the back of his head exploded and his brains were spilled all over the machinery. Clem breathed a sigh of relief before rushing over to Chen and Aggie. She still had one bullet at least.

"Fucking plan something next time." Clem spat.

Aggie rubbed her throat as both Chen and Clem took cover behind the machine. While her plan didn't exactly go as she planned, she was able to see one thing that potentially worth it: an ally.

"I have to admit. That was a pretty shitty idea." Aggie gasped. "But we need men like that bloke over there. The more we get the to help us, the easier things are going to be. Hearts and minds, isn't that what Lee would have wanted, Chen?"

Aggie remarked as she took a peek at their handiwork. The gunfire would have attracted men to their position which meant they had to hurry but Aggie knew that she had stepped on the wrong toes already. She then peeked over to the man they encountered earlier. All Aggie could hope for is that man would help them in exchange for saving his life.

"Psst!" Aggie called out to Iberian man. "You alright?"

Lucia nodded at the small girl after being thanked and looked to Acolyte.

"You have everything you need on you, Lucia?"

She shrugged, "This makeshift bandage will do for now. Once we're off the street we can give her something a bit more appropriate." She helped the girl sit up right.

"Are you here alone, Judah?"

Lucia looked at the girl and patiently awaited her answer with a comforting grin.

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

"I don't blame you. If... it ever came to it, I want you to save her first. She's everything to me even the way she is now."

Neil frowned, "Are you sure about that? How do you think she'd handle it if she lost her brother?" He was genuinely curious.

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

"We can believe in her all we like, but I've never been completely convinced the feeling was mutual."

"Well," Nahla shrugged, "She's right not to trust anyone, honestly. With what she's doing... she'd be a fool to have blind faith in any of us. What faith she does have for me, however, has been well earned. I think that she at least recognizes my loyalty. She's made good use of it so far and I don't see her stopping any time soon." She searched Riley's eyes as he gazed off in the distance. "One day this will all be over, Riley. Let's keep fighting until that time comes."

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