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

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They arrived one hour early, though not at the exact meeting point. Sticks had Aryans stationed at predetermined checkpoints to call out Nikolai's position as he got closer to the meeting point. Damn near half the 3rd-level was covered by Aryan eyes. Sticks was set up on top a cliff that sat high above and across from the main walkway. Unless you were moving around a lot up there you'd never be seen.

Sticks had six of his men and six Aryans with him. The Aryans carried crude melee weapons and were really only there for backup in case anything went wrong. Considering the shit the Aryans recently walked in it cam as no surprise that they wouldn't send their best. Sticks' men however, were well trained soldiers. In fact one of his most trusted men and the best marksman working the Pit, Conrad, was his eye-in-the-sky. If the Dog made a move it'd be his last.

Sticks laid prone at the edge of the cliff. He kept his eyes glued to the meeting spot through his binoculars.

When asked what he'd been doing, Acolyte nodded down at the meager bundle of food in his arms, which he set down on a collapsible table in the corner of Orphan's large cell. 'My apologies, child. I should have said where I was going. However, sleeping is something I'm done doing for now.'

Ducking under the blankets to where his mat is located, he moves it, propping it against the wall, and begins a long series of limbering stretches. The wound was keeping up a dull throb, but movement didn't exacerbate it, he was glad to see.

Lucia glared at him disapprovingly, "You don't have to keep up the 'tough guy' act you know," Her eyes wandered in Orphan's direction. "Orphan's the most feared man in this place and he acts like an ass-scratching, lazy old man all the time."

She looked back at Acolyte and crossed her arms, "You don't seem to be associated with any gangs that I can finger. How have you been surviving down here on your own?"

Acolyte laughs. A soft, lilting sound. 'the 'tough guy' act? That's new. I like to think I'm quite pleasant, but that might just be self indulgence on my part. Truth be told, I never sleep more than six hours at a time.'

He slowly gets into a handstand, which he maintains, staring fixedly at the ground. 'How I survive? Well, honestly, I don't like fighting. I don't like harming people, or even seeing them come to harm. I was a pacifist before I came here. But since coming here, I've had to accept that I am one of the most technically skilled fighters in this facility. However, I mostly get by quietly. I learn my surroundings, and the population's patterns of movement. That said, there are a remarkable number of people in this place unaffiliated with any of the gangs. A great many of them may not be as successful at remaining unscathed as me, but they're certainly there. I apologise if I seem blunt. Modesty is the one trait my order never managed to fully instill in me. In any case, my reason for coming to the lower levels was to avoid people.'

Lucia shrugged, "No need to apologize. I'm the same way. My... attitude has gotten me into far more trouble than I am comfortable with since coming here," She laid back down on her side and watched as he maintained his handstand longer than anyone she had ever seen. She'd usually tell him he could hurt himself, but she wanted to see how long he could hold it. "I'd love to never have to speak to a single soul down here, but that's unfortunately not an option for me. Orphan makes me work the mines. He says it's so I can pull my weight here and to toughen me up," She explained with an exasperated sigh. "I also... I also want to save my brother."

Still lying on her side Lucia closed her eyes, "Azrael has him."

Maintaining the handstand, Acolyte begins to feel strain building in his arms. 'It's not that I don't want to talk to people, it's... more for my health than anything. And I tend not to work the mines, either. There's no need, and I'd only be helping a corporation I despise. At least this way, I get to be something of a leech on them.'

Azrael... 'I know of him. I've seen him around a couple of times. Not that I've ever talked to him. I saw his Dog fight once or twice, too. I never thought I'd see someone fight so effectively with no actual technique. Anyway, is there nothing Orphan could do about your brother?'

Lucia rolled over to face the wall and clenched her arms, "No."

Orphan had risked enough to save her. Azrael was in good with the Wardens and Orphan didn't want to step on more toes than he already had.

"I... I told Orphan that I didn't want him to put his life on the line to save my brother. Saving me had already... complicated things for him," She rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling. "He promised he'd train me. Toughen me up. Make sure I could hold my own here in the Pit. He says he does it because he wants me to survive, but I do it so I can one day rescue Tristan."

"He's probably already dead. You need to focus on your own survival, Lucia."

She sat up in bed and noticed Acolyte was still holding his handstand, "I'd have no point in continuing on if I didn't have this... goal. What's the point of survival if all you're doing is simply surviving, right?"

Acolyte comes out of the handstand by easing his feet to the wall and walking them down it. Standing up, he goes over to where he deposited his food, and tears off some bread, which he eats. He follows that up with two sardines from the tin, and chases it down with water.

'Don't knock survival for survival's sake. It's what I've been doing for years now. In any case, have you given any thought to how you might save your brother? I doubt one person would have much of a chance of facing up to the Arctic Wolves and walking away.'

Lucia shook her head, "I honestly have no idea what I'd do, but I'm focusing more on acclimating to this place at the moment. If I don't understand the people, my environment and I don't have the physical strength and training necessary... it will be an impossible task," She explained with a pathetic chuckle.

Orphan's logic has rubbed off on me more than I thought.

"But... I think Orphan would prefer I abandon this crazy idea."

Nikolai made his way towards the meeting point flanked by two of his Pack. They appeared to be unarmed, but they both had concealed handguns and short iron blades bound to their knuckles, giving their paws a more deadly touch. The Aryans inclined their heads in his direction, before melting into the shadows like most did.

As he came to the edge of the walkway he paused for a second, his eyes raking his surroundings while his head stayed fixed ahead of him. The corners of his mouth twitched in their pseudo-smile, before he set out towards the centre to meet the three Wardens who'd come with their end of the bargain.

"Do you have it?" The more prominent of the three Men asked. While he was obviously the highest rank of the trio, his voice trembled slightly. He knew what was at risk here.

Nikolai inclined his head to the left, and his lieutenant held up and unzipped an old sports bag, showing the contents. The lead Warden was about to make a move towards it when Nikolai shook his head.

"Now you." he told them

The warden on the opposite side produced another bag, this one newer, full of packages taped up in brown paper. Nikolai nodded, and the two bags were exchanged at the same time. With the drugs in his possession, the danger had passed.

Nikolai didn't even need to give an order, as the exchange had already been the signal. There was a scream as Stick's sniper was thrown bodily over the edge of the platform that he'd been positioned on, and before he'd even hit the ground the Aryan's dropped their shivs and bats, drawing pistols and pointing them at Stick's other men. A split second later at least three times as many Wolves burst in. Nikolai's best men, armed with shotguns and assault rifles, that were also leveled against the now heavily outnumbered and outgunned Wardens.

The three on the walkway tried to level their weapons, but weren't nearly quick enough. Nikolai slammed the heel of his hand into the lead Man's jaw so hard the force of his head jerking back snapped his neck, while the two on the wings had their throats slit my the claws of Nikolai's dogs. When it was done, one of them handed him a radio. He looked up to where Sticks and his men now stood surrounded, and spoke into it.

"We only had orders concerning the men who brought us the package. For the rest, take their weapons, but then see that they are comfortable and unharmed. The Man who fell is injured, keep him with the rest. Bring the little Man who leads them to me, we have much to discuss."

Sticks, frustrated, rubbed his eyes nervously and grabbed the radio from is subordinate's hand, "I expected a backstab, but this is something else entirely," He knew he had to sell this. "The Aryans? Well fuck me, that was brilliant. I'd have never expected them to betray their main supplier."

He paused for a moment and looked around him. He was playing this way too close to the chest... but, that was okay. It only made it more exciting.

"I have a proposition to make. Your boss sent his message. It was quite clear. I had a great view," Sticks stood up with one arm in the air. "I'd like to speak with you, one-on-one. I'll let your men keep guns trained on mine. The Aryans were my ace and it seems they are now yours. That should be enough insurance for you... though, I suppose a man could always have two aces up his sleeve. In other words... you can't afford to turn down this proposition."

The corners of Nikolai's mouth twitched again. "If I didn't care about what you had to say, little Man, you'd already be dead. You were a fool to come here, but a lucky fool that Master doesn't want war with Surface Men... yet. Come down, and little Man can offer Dog all the bones he likes."

Sticks couldn't help but be humored by the Dog's nature, "Trust me Dog, I have plenty of them."

With that Sticks handed the radio to his subordinate and nodded in a comforting manner before climbing down the cliff side and making his way over to Nikolai. Upon arrival he winced at the corpses of his men, "Is it safe to assume your people will return these bodies to where they belong? They were good men."

In truth Sticks hadn't even known their names. Those dead men were merely recruits that had just started in the Pit no more than a month ago. Sticks had already written them off as collateral.

"So, you and me. Alone. None of your men. None of mine. No wires either. Your boss may want to record the conversation, but he has enemies he is not yet aware of that could easily obtain what will likely be incriminating evidence."

Nikolai looked down at the dead Sheep, dressed like Men.

"There was an accident. Some hungry Pit Slaves rushed them. Another Man was hurt in the struggle. The rest got them out, but it was too late. They will go back to surface with rest of you."

He gestured to the Dogs flanking him, who wasted no time in searching Sticks, thoroughly, for any equipment he hadn't already been relieved of by the others on the cliff. When they were done, he gestured again for them to leave, which they did, taking both bags and the bodies with them. After the others had done the same, leaving the two of them alone in the cavernous space, Nikolai spoke again.

"Now, what does little Man have for Dog?"

Luka stood before his new squad. 'You are some of the best soldiers the Wardens have to offer. Don't let that go to your head; you can die like any other man. Or woman.' He nodded in the French specialist's directon. 'The Chief Warden assembled this team.' Best not let on he wasn't entirely wise as to their purpose. 'We are Iron Squad. We will bring order to this Pit. The drugged up Nazis, the barbarian Zulus. Even the Wolves whose leader is a self styled king in the Pit. All will be brought to heel or will lie broken in the deepest shafts of this place. I chose you, because all of you have fought impossible numbers and lived. This we will do.'

'Yes, sir!' They responded in unison.

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Acolyte ran a hand over his head thoughtfully. 'How far along is your combat training? How long have you been here?'

Sticks crossed his arms and sized up Nikolai, "Let's get straight to the point. I'm not sure if Azrael has ever told you this, but the wardens employ an operative among the inmates we like to call 'O'. He takes care of problems for us," Sticks smirked. "Usually by way of murder. My boss intends to replace him since our man's identity has more or less been compromised. We're in the market for a replacement and that's why I've been sent down here to speak with you and extend an offer."

Sticks wasn't sure if anything he said could possibly phase this man-mountain, but that wasn't really the point. It was Azrael he was trying to trick anyway. This man was just the messenger.

"However, there's more to it than that. The only reason why I am about to tell you this is because I value the relationship I have with your boss and I want it to continue for a long time," Sticks leaned in close. "Lee intends to twist your loyalty to that of the the wardens. He's planning something big and it ends with Azrael's death."

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

Lucia shrugged, "I've only been here about three or four months, but I have been training for most of that time. Still, Orphan thinks I still have a long way to go."

Nikolai listened carefully, and after Sticks had finished their was a brief pause before his reply.

"Master knows his friends well. From now on, you deal only with The Pack, and the associates The Pack deems suitable. You disobey in this, and you die. You obey, and will want for nothing. I will tell him of all you have said. Now, little Man would best leave this place. Unwise for surface Men to be alone underground."

With that, Nikolai departed, on his way back to the Northern Quarter.

Laying the mat back down, Acolyte glances up at the girl. 'While it takes years to learn much of what I was taught, there are a few things I might be able to show you in a more realistic time frame. If Orphan allows.'

He straightens up. 'I don't wish to be rude, but may I have some privacy? With some semblance of peace, I'd like to take this opportunity to meditate.'

Orphan had been awake for awhile now and had listened to much of there conversation. He peaked his head through the curtain, "I'd appreciate the help. I'm pretty busy some days, so I am not always around to train her. Plus, she could always use a sparring partner she has a chance at actually beating," Orphan chuckled and then signaled towards Lucia. "Come on, it's time we cut that mop off."

Lucia felt the back of her head and frowned, "I'll remember this."

The two of them walked into the "main room" of the cell to allow Acolyte the privacy he needed for his meditation. Orphan didn't say much as he cut Lucia's hair.

She could tell... there was something troubling him.

Chapter 2

Lee and The Director faced off against each-other on either side of the video conference. Lee stood ram-rod stiff, arms clasped behind his back and legs parted at shoulder width, his uniform immaculate as ever. The Director, in stark contrast, wore his expensive three-piece suit with an air of casual disdain, leaning back with his considerable weight on the revolving chair of black leather behind his desk, with a cigar hanging lazily from one hand.

"It would appear that you're presiding over quite the War Game over there Colonel." he drawled "What are the latest developments?"

"The Arctic Wolves have declared all out war against the Piranhas." Lee replied curtly "The Mafia have attempted to wipe out a smaller gang known as The Dragons for reasons as yet unknown, and The Aryan Brotherhood has now intensified it's racially motivated attacks, meaning that The Impi, allied with the Crips, will soon reach their limit of provocation, and retaliate in full force."

"I see..." said The Director, absent-minded, as if to give Lee the false impression that he didn't see at all. "and what response do you intend to make to these brazen challenges on your authority."

"There's nothing we can do about the Wolves and the Piranha's. Most of the fighting will occur out of our reach on the lower levels. All we can manage is damage control further up, keeping innocent parties out of the line of fire. Besides, in their day the Piranha's were just as bad as the Wolves, and subjugation has only made them meaner. In his own way Azrael will be doing us a favour, by further stabilizing the region under his control, provided he doesn't decide to make more of a show of it than the Piranha's are worth. I have been running leads on what might have caused the attack on The Dragons. While the investigation is still in the early stages, what we do know is that The Dragons made some kind of contact with The Aryan Brotherhood shortly beforehand, which leads us to believes that the events that followed may well be connected in some way with the Aryan's other conflicts. In the mean-time, we're trying to establish a dialogue with the Mafia in order to negotiate a ceasefire.

As for the Impi and the Aryans, both sides are notoriously aggressive towards our men, so no dialogue can be established directly. The Crips however, are traditionally more malleable. If we can persuade them that all out war doesn't serve their interests, even in light of the increased Aryan attacks, then we hope that they might act as a mediating party between us and the Impi. Beyond that though, the most I can do is increase patrols in the No Man's Land on the mid-levels between Aryan and Impi territory; and quite frankly Director, should war be unavoidable, I'm not having loyal men getting caught in a crossfire that they won't be able to hold back."

"There are too many 'ifs' there for my liking Colonel, to tell you the truth. The board is unsettled by the thought of your own miniature world war occurring in the middle of their most profitable investment."

Lee bit his lip. He couldn't care less what a bunch of bloated corporate fog-horns were 'unsettled' by, but the game must be played nonetheless.

"With all due respect Director, I'm charged with keeping the peace over a prison population of near ten-thousand, with a garrison of little over eight hundred. Granted, this wouldn't be a problem if I could vouch for both the abilities and the loyalty of those eight hundred, but that is not the case. Before I can make significant progress as a commander, I need to truly be in command. I need to have complete control of who works here and in what capacity."

"I've told you several times Colonel, Venture reserves the right to control of personnel decisions. We will speak no more on that matter."

'Your loss.' thought Lee 'That was your last chance, and if you knew what I intend, you'd be singing a very different tune indeed.'

"May I ask what else you would have me do Director? If Venture is truly concerned with recent devel-"

"Venture is concerned with profits Colonel!" The director retorted, leaning in closer to the screen, his voice salted with impatience. "I'll be blunt, I don't give a shit who's at war with who, so long as whoever wins is going to keep the goods flowing. If you are truly unable to keep the fighting at bay, then I suggest you make sure that the Wardens are backing the right horse, is that understood?"

There was a pause.

"Perfectly, Director. I assume that will be all."

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Nikolai and his men readied themselves. As the latest gesture to confirm his new-found status as Master's successor, he had been chosen to lead the main assault in the upcoming attack. It would be his Pack who struck right at the heart of Piranha territory, burning them out, and killing their leadership. They were the strongest in every respect. Nikolai's Pack was now the largest sub-command in the entire Arctic Wolves, and they were men that he had personally hand-picked. They were all strong, fast, and battle-hardened (although even among these men, Nikolai remained a giant), and their loyalty to him was beyond doubt. They had even taken to calling him 'Master', although Nikolai made it clear that they must never address him a such in the presence of his own Master.

row after row of weapons and ammunition were laid out on the floor before them, although Nikolai preferred fighting with his bare hands. Anyone could kill with a gun, bare fists were where the strongest beast was truly determined. However, such was not always an option. He chose for himself a pump-action shotgun, slinging two bandoleers full of shells over each shoulder, and around his waist he clipped a belt of Tear-Gas grenades. These were all that he would require.

He turned to speak to his men. Despite Master's encouragement he still had no love for speeches. Fortunately, his men were cut from the same cloth.

"Show no mercy to the Piranhas." he told them. "But spare as many Pit Slaves as you can. We will take them for our own when the fighting is done. THE FURY OF THE PACK IS UNMATCHED!"

"THE FURY OF THE PACK IS UNMATCHED!" they all responded in unison; and for the first time that he could remember, Nikolai swelled with pride.

The White Stars. Seven men of The White Stars made their way towards Dragon territory. They strode past the line of cells, most empty. The Dragons were still busy trying to dispose of their dead, along with the Mafia hit squad. The walls were painted with blood and brain matter. They eventually made it to the main cell, The head Dragon's cell, were Travis was leaning against a wall examining the SMG he stole from the dead Mafia men. His head snapped up as he saw The White Stars at his door and he aimed his gun.

"The fuck are you doing here!" He barked. Travis was in no mood for visitors, and certainly not in the form of intruders.

The leader of the small platoon held up his hand, his arms brazen with tattoos. "Chill bro, my boss just sent me here to find out what happened."

"Look around you," spat Travis, "you can fucking see what happened."

"Well yeah but-" the White Star leader stopped in his tracks as they were soon surrounded by the remaining Dragons. Most with guns, some with just shivs. He spoke cautiously, "I can see what happened, I just wanna know why."

"Look mother fucker!" Travis ran up the the White Star and pressed his gun against his chin. "You ain't in any position to be asking questions, and you can see what we did to the Mafia so I suggest you back the fuck off and get out of my turf!"

The White star looked at the gun and smirked. "Yeah, but I can see what they did to you as well. And if you kill us your gonna have two gangs wanting you dead."

Fury flashed in The Dragon's eyes, and his trigger finger twitched, eagerly wanting to blow his brains out. He relented however and put his gun down. "We dunno what we did to piss off the Mafia, all we know is that we went out and when we came back there was this little Mafia kid here. Looked about ten, twelve, I don't fucking know. Anyway we get back and they're all waiting for us. Those bastards killed twenty five of my men and that kid was caught in the crossfire so its their own damn fault he's dead." Travis paced in his cell, a vein popping out of his forehead he was that angry. "We got their guns though, so if those guinea cunts come back we can have a fair fight."

The White Star leader nodded. "'Kay, but why were you all out. Why wouldn't you leave at least some of your men in your turf, I mean anyone could have moved in and taken it for themselves, and no one was here to catch the hit squad."

"DON'T YOU THINK I FUCKING KNOW THAT!" Travis roared at the insolent man. "We roll out in full force because no one would fuck with 40 rock hard Dragons, and say what you want we still won."

"Fair enough but you didn't answer my question: why were you out in the first place?"

"Mother fucker I don't need to answer you!" Travis raised his gun again. "You aren't in charge of me, fuck off!"

"Listen!" Barked the White star, causing the Dragons to to get closer and press the guns right up against the skulls of the White Stars. "You've already got the Mafia on your asses, and we're not the only people who've taken notice, and if you tell us we can prevent some serious bloodshed."

Travis laughed at the man. Smirking he said "You really think you scare me? You really think the Mafia even scare me anymore? Fine, I'll tell you. We were making an alliance with the Aryan brotherhood. And I doubt they'll appreciate their new partners being attacked by the mafia, so I think their days are numbered, along with you if you don't get the fuck out of my cell."

The White Star man bit his lip and nodded, and with that he and his men left. Travis sighed, irritated by the bastard White Stars. He spoke up to his men "Boys listen! This shit all started with the Zulu and Crips killing the Aryans. And it's pretty obvious I was lying to those White Star bitches. So what we need to do is make ourselves useful to the Aryans. We gotta kill some niggers and kill 'em soon. But I remember the bitch I had tell me that it wasn't just the Crips and Zulus, there was some bald dude who we don't know, as well as the Orphan and the slut he's protecting. So I say, after we've made ourselves useful to the Nazi's, we get our revenge on that Orphan cunt. We shoot him, and then I take his bitch my own... now get the fuck out of here." With that the rest of the Dragons dispersed.

'Its been far too long since I've felt a woman beneath my body.'

Acolyte and Lucia stood across from each other in the wide open space. Most of the blanket "walls" had been taken down for this sparring exercise. Orphan was sat on the stacked sheets, watching with his usual smile.

The stubble was gone from Acolyte's head. Orphan had given him a disposable razor, which sat next to his screwdriver to one side. He crouched imperceptibly, balancing on the balls of his feet, and swaying. Lucia was watching him like a wolf stalking a deer. They began pacing around each other, drawing slightly closer with each revolution. When they were around twelve feet apart, she darted forwards, whirling into a kick. Acolyte tipped onto his heels, swaying back, and Lucia's foot passed harmlessly in front of his face. She followed up with a flurry of jabbing punches, which he fended off with sweeps of his forearms. He was surprised. She hit harder than he'd expected. Must be the mining work. And Orphan's training, no doubt.

He backpedaled, giving more ground. She became more daring in response, swinging a kick at his ribs. He caught hold of her leg and moved to the side. The blow still hurt, but the impact was softened, and now he had her. Acolyte swept his leg behind Lucia's other, never bringing it from the floor, thus rooting it firmly and stumbled her. With exertion, he pulled and threw her to the ground by the leg he held. Not as elegant as some of the forms the Order had taught him, but it worked. She fell sprawled, but didn't appear hurt.

He took two striding backwards steps, as she got to her feet. This was the third match they'd had, with roughly the same results. 'Again', he said, politely, but firmly. He expected Orphan wouldn't be keen if he was too soft with her.

For a while there Sticks almost forgot that he had been dealing with psychopaths, junkies and imbeciles. Trusting the Aryans was poor judgement. Plain and simple. He foresaw treachery, but that was a bigger play than he had anticipated. However, rather than cut his losses Sticks figured he'd up the ante. The Aryans were his and his alone. He controlled the meth in the Pit and if the Aryans wanted it they'd have to listen to him. Their leader, Hans von Strucker (unlikely his real name), was a bit of a maverick and had this hilariously naive notion that the Wolf Pack would protect him. Sticks may be a little man, but he doesn't get outplayed for long.

Vengeance was in today's forecast.

Sticks had two goals: remind the Aryans who they answer to and to get them pissed off. Really pissed off.

Sticks' plan was risky, but he was confident in it. You see, Hans' younger brother Harris had at one time a relationship with a fine, young pit slave. You could call it love. One day, when the Aryans had made themselves the enemy of the great Wolves, this pit slave was taken from him in the spoils of war. Azrael himself had violated her in front of his eyes and then displayed her corpse in Aryan territory as a warning. As you can imagine, Harris does not like the Wolves.

Sticks' list of trusted men grew much smaller after the drug deal, but he knew he could trust Harris in this. He, Conrad and two other men under his command had secretly found their way into Aryan territory. Harris had ensured that they would meet no resistance on their way down as he had dispersed most of the Aryans across the Pit for "reconnaissance". Harris met them in front of the Commander's office.

"Did anyone see you?"

Sticks smirked, "Conrad would have spotted them first. Trust me, no one saw us."

Harris nodded, "Good. He's inside with two of his men."

"How disappointing."

"How so?"

"I thought there'd be more," Sticks' grin grew more insidious.

As Sticks and his men headed for the door Harris put a hand on his shoulder, "Wait," He looked down for a moment as if showing remorse before his expression intensified. He was excited, "I want to be there when you pull the trigger."

"When you hear the first two bodies drop. That's your cue."

Hans was standing over a large table looking down at a blueprint of the Pit when Sticks entered. The Commander's men stood motionless as they already had automatic rifles trained on them. If they twitched they'd be dead in an instant, "What... what is the meaning of this?! GUARDS!"

Sticks chuckled, "Oh cut it out. What kind of feared Aryan leader cries to his guards when a little man like me walks into their office?"

Hans sneered, "Is this about the Wolves? Look, my men like their meth and the Wolves were going to keep it from them if we didn't comply. A man such as yourself should understand... we need this alliance."

"Oh yes, our original deal worked out just fine. You know, until you changed it without telling me," Sticks pulled out a pistol with a silencer on it and walked closer to the Commander. "I value the Wolves as an ally. That won't change, at least not for the time being. I need allies right now. I need pawns," Sticks stopped in front of the table with his pistol held at hip-level. "The Aryans can easily be controlled, so logically, it's a perfect fit. However, you as their leader.... that is... problematic."

Sticks held his gun up at Hans' head. The two guards were about to make a move when Conrad gunned them both down. Hans' situation went from hopeless to doomed in an instant, "There's another here that is more open to... collaboration. Someone who's willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure the Aryans remain a feared name in the Pit."

Harris walked in the room and stared directly into his brother's eyes, "FUCK YOU, YOU PIECE OF SHIT COCK SUC---"

Sticks stuck the barrel of the silencer in his mouth, "No. You no longer get to speak. You tried to fuck me, but now, I'm going to fuck you," Hans' eyes bulged in terror as Sticks' grin grew. "Blam-o!"

The former Commander of the Aryans' brain matter was splattered all over the far wall. Sticks holstered his gun and turned to Harris, "Who is the new Commander of the Aryan Brotherhood?"

"I am."

"Who's to thank for that?"

"The Zulu."

"Good. I want this war in full-tilt by the end of the week."

As Sticks left the office Harris walked over to his brother's corpse and spat on it.

When Sticks got back to the upper level a familiar face in the form of Mr. Conners appeared, "Is the stuff ready?"

Conners nodded, "It's all laced and ready to go," Conners paused for a moment. "If you don't mind me asking... why steroids? It'll make those meth-heads down there more violent than ever."

Sticks smiled and started for the surface, "I'd stay out of the lower levels in the coming weeks if I were you."

Orphan kept his arms crossed as he watched them. He wiped a hand down his face in frustration when she hit the ground a third time, "What did I say Lucia? Combat's no place to be a hothead."

Lucia ignored him as she got to her feet and crouched down into a lower stance. They began circling each other again.

Fine, have it your way.

The two of them continued to circle each other, their eyes locked, for another fifteen seconds. Acolyte's expression hadn't changed at all, but surely he must have been getting impatient.

You're not a robot. Come on, what game are you playing?

As her mind was preoccupied Acolyte saw his opening. It happened so fast and before she knew it she was on the ground again. This time she landed directly on her tailbone. The pain was painted all over her face.

Orphan sighed, "That's enough for now. Go get yourself cleaned up," Orphan ordered as he pointed to the crude sink in the back of the cell. Lucia glared at him as Acolyte helped her to her feet.

As she left for the sink Orphan shook his head, "She over-analyzes too much. I never had a problem with that myself, so I don't know," Orphan scratched his beard in thought. "You think you could teach her a thing or two about meditation, or whatever?"

Lucia cupped her hands under the sink and splashed her face with the sulfur-contaminated water. Plumbing was a rare thing on this level, but Orphan had obviously pulled some strings. It was shit water, but it was better than nothing. She looked at herself in the mirror, examining some small bruises and cuts on her face as well as her recently cut hair. This is definitely not an appearance befitting the daughter of a noble. Though, somehow that thought was oddly comforting.

Acolyte shrugged. 'In my experience, anyone can be taught anything. Because of... reasons, when I was first being educated by my order, I couldn't sit still for even a couple of minutes at first. Now? Last time I really tested myself, I clocked at about eight hours without moving. Not even scratching an itch. I'm sure I could calm her down a bit.' His expression breaks into a joking grin. 'Or maybe you could pull some strings and get her some beta blockers, eh?'

Orphan chuckled, "I bet you'd know a thing or two about that."

Whoops... that sounded more offensive than I intended...

Orphan leaned in close in an attempt to follow his comment up before the moment grew too awkward, "Listen, I don't know how long you've been clean, but if you're going to survive long enough to protect her when I am gone you're going to have to stay that way. Once you go back to the needle down here you become someone's lapdog. No question," Orphan didn't have to explain how he knew. Acolyte was a smart guy. Despite his demeanor, any wise man could tell Orphan was in a class of his own down in the Pit.

Orphan sighed a little, obviously unsatisfied in how he expressed himself, "Sorry kid, you're your own man. I shouldn't be lecturing you," Orphan looked him in the eye and patted Acolyte's shoulder. "And I definitely have no right to place my burden on you."

The sink was loud and the men were speaking softly, but Lucia made out bits and pieces of their conversation. She didn't want to have to be protected. She didn't want to have to rely on anyone but herself. Her nature fought against that logic, but for now, she'd comply. She didn't really have any other choice.

She had to become stronger.

Orphan's initial remark hit Acolyte like a slap. A fist of ice clenched around his heart, and for the first time in a long time, real anger started to well up inside of him. Some of this must have shown on his face, because Orphan immediately started trying to say more to soften the blow.

Acolyte got to his feet, and walked to the door of the cell. Before he left, he glanced back, and spoke, very softly, but loudly enough for Orphan to hear, 'eight years.' Then he was gone around the corner. He wanted to be alone for a while.

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

Korovitch was drilling his new squad, appraising basic skills. They practiced at the rifle range, where they outshone the rest of the Wardens Korovitch had used in his time here, and then it was five miles' forced march. All the while, Korovitch would call out different numbers and combinations of names, and then state hypothetical scenarios. If the people he'd called hadn't come up with a satisfactory solution in fifteen seconds, he snapped, 'dead!'

Fortunately, this only happened twice. Once with Specialist Beaumont, and Sergeant Hayes. Hayes having somewhat old fashioned views and was against scenarios that put their female squad member in danger. The second time, it was Wickers and Akua. They had both been on opposite sides during the three year Nigerian turf wars in which British special forces had been sent in to keep peace. The tension between the two ran high.

Since the first was Hayes' fault, Luka had him double time a lap around the three mile diameter of the surface compound, while the rest kept up their march. To Wickers and Akua, he said, 'if you two start shit flinging again, I'll stick you in a solitary confinement cell together for a week. Is that understood?'

It was. 'Gibbs. Lisa. Your jeep's engine has blown and there is a scouting detachment of enemy forces armed with AKs bearing down on you. What do you do?'

'Do we have any grenades?' asked Lisa. 'Yes,' Luka replied, 'one each, standard military frag grenades.'

'I could rig the engine to blow', pitched in Gibbs.
'Okay, I take both grenades, and we both use the jeep's chassis as cover while he works on the engine,' continued Lisa. I use the grenades, and my rifle to provide cover. When the jeep is ready, we engage the enemy from the jeep's cover until they are close enough. Then we set the jeep and retreat. If timed right, after a few seconds, the jeep will blow, at which point they will be swarming round it. The dented and hole filled chassis makes nice shrapnel.'

Korovitch nodded in approval, and they continued on.

Orphan nodded to himself as he watched Acolyte leave and walked back to his cot. He sat down and leaned up against the wall, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable verbal assault, "What the hell did you say to him?"

Lucia was steaming.

"He'll be fine, he just needs some time," Orphan suggested with a shrug.

Lucia wasn't happy with that answer and started for the entrance. She looked around the corner just in time to see him walking down the stairs. Lucia bit her lip and turned to face Orphan, "Seriously, what the fuck!? Just when I was starting to make an actual connection with someone in this godforsaken place you have to go and screw it all up!"

Orphan sighed, "Look, you're been melodramatic, I--"

Lucia stormed out of the cell in the opposite direction Acolyte had gone before Orphan could finish. Lucia wasn't sure if she was just angry that Orphan may have scared Acolyte off, more afraid that she might never see Acolyte again or just disappointed with herself that she let this hurt her as much as it did. She knew she wasn't hard enough to survive here on her own. Not yet. She gripped the railing of the walkway to take a breather and clear her mind.

The mine. She could go do some mining. That could help. She needed to get her mind straight.

And of course, she needed to get stronger.

Jack entered Travis's cell. "Hey Boss, I was thinking of going down to the mine by myself I'm sick of being in these cells. I'll stay here if you want though." He knew he had to be extra careful with his words, Travis was not to be fucked with today.

"No way I need you here-" a thought popped into The Dragon's mind, "actually, yeah go down. Hell I'll even join you."

"Boss?" questioned Jack.

"Yeah, best we get down there and show everyone we're strapped. Bring a gun, and make sure to flaunt that shit." Jack nodded and swung his gun around in front of him, all the guns they had collected were on a strap.

"Should we get anyone else?" asked Jack.

"Nah, we should be good. Lets make sure to kill a pit slave or something, don't waste any bullets but we gotta show people we're still a threat, lets go."

It had only taken about an hour to reach the section of the mine she'd been working the past few months. It wasn't by any means the deepest mine in the pit, but there were plenty of hardy folks you wouldn't want to fuck with working it. A few of the miners glanced at her as she walked by, pickax in hand, but none of them howled or whistled. A few had early on, but they learned their lesson. Not only had she proven her worth to this group by pulling her wait and tending to the wounded, but they also came to knew who she was... and who she was associated with.

The particular group that ran this section of the mine called themselves the "Blackrock Company". A few of the more intellectual inmates had sorted out a deal with the wardens and some of the larger gangs in the Pit. The gangs would offer the service of warm bodies and strong arms for extra food, water and other luxuries that were hard to come by in the Pit. Many of the miners Lucia had worked alongside were from different gangs, but there was rarely any violence or confrontation. Every man just kept his mouth shut and his eyes focused on his work. If someone got out of hand abusing a pit slave and causing a commotion their gang would be penalized or fined... though the person responsible would likely get a more severe punishment.

Orphan picked this mine for her to work. It was probably the safest there was.

Lucia rolled up her sleeves, put on her gloves and started swinging away at the rock-wall. She was cold at the start, but as her blood began to pump faster her body warmed up. She'd take a 30 second break every five minutes or so as to not wear herself out as was common practice among her fellow miners.

Swing. Breathe. Swing. Breathe.

She kept her mind blank. She banished all her doubts. She focused on the job at hand. She focused on her form. The way in which she swung the pickax and the feeling of her arms recoiling as the ax hit the wall. Just as she had gotten into a steady rhythm she felt the ground below her shake.

In the distance she heard a crash and a scream. She dropped her pickax immediately and ran in the direction of the commotion. A small cave-in had trapped a man's legs underneath some loose rock. She knelt down next to the man, "FUCK! SHIT IT HURTS---"

He looked to be a Crip, "Stay calm. It'll be fine if you just stay calm."

"IT'S FUCKIN' HARD TAH STAY CALM RIGHT NOW! FUCK!"

Lucia began trying to lift the rubble off of the man as he moaned in agony. Ever muscle in her body screamed as she attempted to move the heavy boulders. Just when her shoulders were about to give in she suddenly felt much of the weight lifted. An enormous, bald, mustached man had come up beside her to help lift the boulder. Together they lifted it and dropped it to the side. The rest of the rubble was easy enough to clear.

The man helped Lucia drag the Crip to a safer area of the mine where she started applying first aid to his legs. His moaning had subsided somewhat, "You have multiple fractures in your ankles and shins, but with some splints you should be able to make a full recovery," Lucia sighed as she finished wrapping his ankle. "You're not going to be able to work the mine for awhile."

The Crip went pale, "Oh fuck. Fer' real?"

Lucia nodded, "Yeah... I can vouch to your boss for you if you need me to. You shouldn't be punished for doing your job."

The Crip nodded to her before two of his friends came by to help him out of the mine. Lucia got to her feet and dusted herself off before turning to go back to work.

When she got back to her original spot she noticed the mustached man close by. He simply looked over to her and nodded deliberately before turning his gaze back to the rock wall in front of him. Lucia hefted her pickax and glanced at him one last time. She noticed a swastika tattoo on his shoulder.

The Pit was a strange place.

Korovitch's group got to the barracks around lunch time after another round of rifle practice. He had stopped drilling them with scenarios. They could use a bit more work, which they would receive, but he was satisfied they would shape up in time. For now, it was best to let them form their own bonds. They all sat around a table, with tin trays. On the menu today was spam sandwiches, a pot of peas, half an apple, and a tin of faintly sulfuric water. They all ate and drank ravenously.

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

Acolyte lay in another vent, with his eyes closed. Here, he would ride out his anger harmlessly. Here, he could trust himself not to let his anger manifest physically. If someone heard him, the refuge of the vents would be compromised, and who knew how badly that could affect his routines.

That fucking Orphan. It'd been a long time since he'd even thought of his former addiction. That was one thing life in the Pit did for you. It set you in the here and now. But the wounds were still fresh, his addiction born from an abusive childhood. Bottom rung underneath his mother and older brother in one of the Holland slums. Unlike a lot of places, Holland hadn't had 'new' tacked on during the rebuilding, but at what cost?

As a child, his mother had worked him ragged. His brother Mort, too, but he was freer than Acolyte- Samuel. Samuel he'd been, then- had been, because he was bigger. Getting firmly into his teen years, and probably could have overpowered their mother if he'd decided to. So he came and went as he pleased. And his mother allowed this. Did not call the Bailiff to remove him, because you needed someone strong around in a place like that. So Samuel had been worked like a dog; except when he followed Mort out the door. That in of itself was risky, because Mort liked to mess with him. There was a degree of protection being his kid brother, unless Mort himself was in a particularly foul mood, as he often was. And there were the people Mort interacted with.

He'd been eleven, running around the streets with Mort, when they bumped into some of his gang banger friends, who'd been nursing Mort's cocaine addiction. So little Sammy was sat on the curb, watching Mort do lines off the lid of a broken mailbox. Mort the Snort, they called him. So, hopped up on coke, the sixteen year old started knocking around his little brother. After about half an hour, he was coming down off his high, but the gang bangers were getting bored and didn't give him anymore. So he stormed off while Samuel lay there with a bloody nose, a black eye, two broken fingers and bruised ribs. He vaguely remembered being hauled to his feet. When everything clarified again, he was in an empty garage. One of the gang banger's favorite meeting places. They cajoled him with jokes and compliments, and remarks about his shit head brother. One of them, incrementally cleaner than the rest, said he was a doctor, and that Sammy needed something for the pain. He picked up what he said was a sterilized needle. In fact, the 'sterilization' was one of the healthier druggies pissing on it and then pouring a little cheap bourbon on it. He was injected, and he felt the clouds lift him up. Samuel felt all the pain disappear, as though some divine angel had healed him. Hell, he felt like he could stomp Mort's stupid fucking head in. They gave him a couple more hits over the next week or so. Mort wasn't brave enough to stop them taking him to one side. Then they said he needed to earn his keep. The way he did this was buy ferrying packages of heroin, his cargo, and later payment, around the city of Utrecht. If he got lost, he was smacked around for being late or not getting there at all. So after a couple of weeks, he was starting to develop some nice navigational skills. Not quite addicted yet, but a little jonesing, they gave him his fix. This arrangement lasted about four years, and then he started moving up a little.

Travis and Jack made their way down to their regular spot. They usually just sent Pit slaves to do this but since they were all killed in the attack it seemed they had to do it themselves. They grabbed some pickaxes, they hadn't used them in a while, a couple months at least. This was going to suck.

They spent a few hours toiling away in the mine. The sweat of their brow built up fast, though hardly anyone was their to see them look in bad shape. They may have forgotten the technique to mining, but they had claimed this mine a while ago from one of their rivals, another small time gang by the name of The Tigers. The rivalry wasn't anything serious and the two gangs usually just stuck to their own devices, the victory of this certain mine marked a moment of victory for the Dragons.

However, as if by chance, or some stroke of bad luck, who else but a wandering group of Tigers would come across the mine.
"Well fuck me," yelled one "if it isn't The top dog Dragon and his lil bitch working the mines. What happened to your little Pit slaves? Oh yeah that's right, they all got wiped out by the mafia!" He laughed with an irritating squeal to his voice along with the other few bangers. Travis stood tall and smirked, holding his pickaxe firmly.

"Jack, I take back what I said, but only use a few." Travis spoke with cold intensity, and without hesitation Jack turned and shot 3 of the Tigers in the stomach. The leader panicked and began to run, but Travis was hot on his tail and he severed his spine with a hard thrust of his pickaxe. The man moaned in agony, and it wasn't helped as Travis dragged him out unto the open before raising his pickaxe into the air and shouting to all who could hear, "You see this! You see this mother fuckers! This is what happens when you fuck with a Dragon. This is what happens when you fuck with The Dragon!" Travis proceeded to smash the smash the pickaxe into the Tiger's head repeatedly, scrambling his brains all over the floor. Travis wasn't aware how many people were watching, but he was sure this next stunt would get their attention as Jack dragged the still live bodies of the other Tigers. One by one Travis pulled out his gun and shot each and every one in the head. He declared at the top of his lungs "You never fuck a Dragon!"

It had begun.

Although the Piranha's territory was small compared to the rest of the big gangs, what they held they held tight, and the fighting grew ever more ferocious as Nikolai and his Pack sank their jaws further and further in. Booby traps were everywhere, and every bottleneck was bristling with armed Piranha's. Only the higher ranks, loyal and smart, remained. The foolish and cowardly had since broken and tried to flee, some even attempting to join the Wolves in hope of buying their lives. Their hopes had been in vain, and any who yielded were slaughtered before they had time to plead. Nikolai's orders had been clear, and besides, any man who ran or turned could run or turn again in the next fight. Nikolai would tolerate no such Pigs under his command. The Men who remained of the Piranha's knew they were all going to die this day. They may have been the best, but the Wolves had sent their best as well, making them outmatched as well as desperately outnumbered. They were clever enough to know that they'd find no mercy in their enemy, and stubborn enough to think that their deaths would have some merit should they take a few Wolves with them. A small part of Nikolai could respect that, even after they'd killed seven of his own men so far.

Only a few winding passages remained between Nikolai and the Sanctuary Chamber were what was left of the Piranha leadership had taken shelter, awaiting the death that now stood only yards away from them. As Nikolai and two other Dogs turned a corner they were met by a barrage of sub-machine gun fire that cut one of them down, and made the grey plaster surrounding them explode into dust. As Nikolai and the other took cover either side of the opening they primed their tear gas in unison and rolled the grenades down the hall. In the cramped, poorly ventilated space they were very effective. The other Dog had applied a gas mask, but Nikolai didn't bother. Nikolai was so numbed to pain that the gas barely bothered him, and what discomfort he did feel in his eyes and throat only served to make him fight harder. Harder to see, harder to breathe, it was all just another challenge he would best, and when he emerged victorious he will have only grown stronger still.

Between the dust and the gas visibility in the hallway was so poor even things a few paces in front of Nikolai were a murky blur. As he walked Nikolai fired from the hip at anything that moved in front of him. In contrast, the Piranha's were afraid to fire in their blindness in case they only succeeded in gunning down their comrades. One, two, three Men went down as buckshot tore through them at such close range. A fourth was almost on him. Nikolai met the downswing of his weapon above his head, took his legs from beneath him, and finished him on the ground by driving the butt of his shotgun into his skull. A fifth tried to put a snub-nosed revolver point-blank in Nikolai's face, but Nikolai forced the Man's raised arm aside with his own, sending the shot wide past his ear. A ferocious knee to the stomach doubled up his opponent, allowing Nikolai to skirt round behind him, grab his head, and twist his neck so hard the whole body went spinning through the air before it hit the ground, limp. After him, no more came, the passage was clear.

Nikolai and his remaining ally emerged from the other side, only one room now between them and victory, to find one more challenger step out to block their path. Nikolai recognized him as one of the Piranha's most prominent psychopaths, in many ways their equivalent of Nikolai himself. This man was big and strong too, wielding a pickaxe in each hand that he spun and juggled as his eyes sparked with deranged blood lust. As was the custom of the Piranha's best fighters, he had both filed his teeth into lethal points, and had his lips cut off to better show them. To a lesser animal than Nikolai, such a scarred and leering visage would have been terrifying, especially considering his mouth dripped blood from some fresh kill or another. The other Dog moved to raise his gun but Nikolai held up a hand in warning. This was a worthy challenger, to be his to kill alone.

Nikolai handed off his shotgun, inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring and eyes and chest bulging. Then, he let out a roar of battle that echoed off the walls and clashed into itself with the fury of a thousand men storming into a breach. Then, he charged.

Lucia could hear gun shots echoing down through the mine shafts followed by the howls of miners from all over the mines. Noise of that intensity would likely find its way all the way to the deepest caverns of the Pit. It wasn't necessarily a rare phenomenon unfortunately as there were literally hundreds if not thousands of inmates mining in the pit at any given time. At least she didn't see anyone living thrown down the mine shaft... that was never a comforting sight.

A man in kevlar and a nicely maintained assault rifle had been patrolling right behind Lucia when the shots were fired. He was one of the guards in service to the Blackrock Company. They were some of the most well trained soldiers among the inmates and followed military-like discipline on a daily basis. He ran over to another of his brethren and they spoke silently before breaking into laughter.

Lucia turned an ear in their direction as she resumed her task, "The Dragons?! Get real, man! I thought those pigfuckers died out like, fuckn' years ago."

One of the guards looked down the mineshaft and pointed, "Yeah bro, look! I'd recognize that piece of shit anywhere. He says he's the Dragon! What a fuckn' joke."

Their laughter was interrupted when their radios crackled to life, "Romeo, we need you to cover Point Theta. Vasquez is helping out with another goddamn cave-in farther down and they've got no supervision."

"Roger that," Romeo shrugged and stepped back from the railing. "Hey man, don't provoke that pigfucker while I'm gone, okay? He may be a dumb fuck, but I hear he's loco."

"No problem, amigo," The other guard patted him on the back before Romeo jogged off.

Lucia had only really heard bits and pieces of the conversation. Their banter had made it a bit difficult to focus on the task at hand.

After a few minutes of silence the guard began yelling across the mineshaft, "Hey yo, Dragon-bitch!" The guard grabbed his crotch. "You eva' suck on a real man's cojones?" He burst into laughter as he yanked at his own crotch.

Lucia stopped long enough to shake her head in disgust.

These people are so tragically inane. Fucking children.

Acolyte walked down the passage way he'd come up. When he came to Orphan's cell, he kept going. A few minutes later, he was turning a corner when he heard the distant popping. Gunfire. He put on a swift jog, electing one of the smaller, less developed passages to go unnoticed, pausing at a tiny clearing to grab a pickax off the pile. More to blend in while he saw what was happening, than anything. He had a sneaking suspicion the will of Tao was going to stick Lucia in the middle of whatever was happening. Orphan might have touched a nerve, but Lucia had never been anything than a young girl thrust into a murderer's world and he felt partially responsible for her since he'd saved her life in that corridor with the Aryans.

He ducked out of the narrow cleft, and found her, hard at work. When he tapped her on the shoulder, she jumped, but lowered her ax when she recognized him. He took up position working next to her, peering over his shoulder. He could see the guard making obscene gestures at the man known as the Dragon. At this point, he was graphically miming the insertion of something very large into a tight orifice.

As he watched Travis react, he whispered to Lucia, 'doesn't seem like more than a step above those Aryans to me. In terms of how hinged he is, at least.'

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