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

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Orphan proceeded to cross the arena floor, walking right past Nikolai and keeping his eyes on Kusanagi's, "Lucia."

Kusanagi gripped the fence tighter, "O-orphan."

He couldn't hear her feint call over the noise of the restless crowd, but he knew what she'd said, "No, that's not my name anymore Lucia. Orphan died the day I met you," Orphan had buried his hands in the pockets of his ragged jacket mere feet away from Nikolai. Was he so good that he could afford to turn his back on a foe so powerful?

Kusanagi's grip began to loosen as he continued and an overwhelming weakness overtook her, "I was another man once, before I came here," Orphan gestured around the Hive directing his speech to everyone there. "Like many others here. The Pit corrupted us, turned us into animals so that we could live to see the next day. Shallow, hollow existences. Lucia, I don't want you to go down that path. I don't want you to live for the sake of living. I want you to live for something you believe in."

Orphan looked down at the ground for a moment before continuing, "I want you to never loose sight of who you are," Tears began to stream down Lucia's face. "Can I tell you something Lucia?" She nodded frantically trying not to cry out with all of her power. Trying to stay strong, "You saved me."

Lucia cried out and fell to the ground, being held up by her quivering arms, "For 30 years I was the boogeyman of this hellhole. The man that came before was only a memory, but then you... you brought that man back," Orphan smiled as Lucia continued to cry. "One look at you and I saw my daughter. I saw my wife. I saw what the man that came before me used to have. Lucia, it is because of you that I get to die as that man."

Orphan looked down at the ground once more. It was too hard to look her in the eye, "I can die as Samuel."

Lucia cried out as Samuel, head bowed, turned and walked to a position opposite of Nikolai. There was so much Lucia had wanted to say to him, but she couldn't. It was too late for that. Samuel had a job to do.

Why?... Why did he have to die for her?

Samuel looked up at Nikolai, his hands still in his pockets, and smiled, "Now what do you say we give these people a show they'll never forget?"

The crowd went ballistic.

Korovitch was silent a few moments more, mulling over his response. Then, 'I understand, sir. The Spetsnaz were fearsome, and serving in their ranks were the most honourable days of my life. But it was cold and gruelling, often with little reward. Then I was a mercenary captain. Those years were lucrative, but... They were killing me.'

He gestured to his facial scar. 'This cinched it. I had to get out, and Venture seemed like a godsend. Years down the line though, I wonder if this is merely a place where men have the iron rusted out of them. So... how do you plan we change that?'

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Acolyte listened intently to Orphan's revelation. His respect for the man increased sharply. He was also surprised and amused to find they shared a first name. Had Orphan known that?

A roar did indeed go up from the ranks of the Arctic Wolves. It was however, a roar of laughter.

"Oh, that was precious!" concluded Azrael, applauding and wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. "Oh please, encore encore!"

The others all joined in his mockery of Orphan.

"I'd almost consider keeping you alive for speeches that funny Orphan, but unfortunately for you, all these people came to see a rather different kind of show." He looked to Nikolai and made a gesture with his hand "Kill him."

Nikolai nodded, and he began to circle Orphan. The Man just stood there, waiting.

He wants me to charge. He sees a big brute of a Dog and expects that I will come to him.

Nikolai would meet his expectations, in a sense. He ran right at Orphan, howling. Then, just before he cam into arms reach, Nikolai ducked and rolled, putting himself behind and below Orphan. He swept his arm round to take Orphan's legs from under him, but found only air. Then Nikolai had to almost double over backwards to avoid a savage kick aimed at his face, before leaping to his feet and out of range.

The first skirmish had come to nothing for either party, and the battle continued.

Samuel gave an amused grunt, "You imply you're a hulking brute, yet you fight with a keen mind," He began approaching Nikolai with his hands at his sides. "You lack formal training, so you made it up as you went. Commendable."

In truth Samuel was more thinking out loud rather than attempting a distraction. He could tell Nikolai was annoyed by his banter, but he wouldn't be so easily manipulated. However, the look in his eyes were quite telling. As Samuel approached Nikolai was... lost. Any time he had fought an opponent so dismissive and casual he was able to correct their error. With this enemy, however, he wasn't sure what to think.

Samuel smiled, "How fast are you?"

As soon as the final syllable rolled off his tongue Samuel had sprung into action delivering a torrent of quick blows with his fists. Nikolai weaved and blocked, but couldn't find an opening to counter. His recovery was too swift. As the two slowly made their way to the edge of the arena Nikolai knew he had to go on the offensive before getting cornered and, after watching the patterns of Samuel's attack, grabbed his right wrist mid-punch.

Nikolai's satisfaction was brief as no more than 1/4 of a second later he felt his toes getting crushed under the ball of Orphan's right foot followed by a sharp pain in his chest. Samuel had connected a rib cracking blow to Nikolai's ribs with the palm of his left hand sending Nikolai staggering a few steps back to catch his footing. He'd fallen for a false opening.

After a moment of recovery Nikolai retained his fighting posture. He'd never done battle with anyone like this before.

The Man was fast and focused, but in comparison to Nikolai's constitution, his blows were weak.

Their dance continued, each weaving and probing, searching for another opening, but both tentative to fully commit. Azrael was getting impatient.

"Don't just stand there, kill the bastard!"

Orphan lashed out with a roundhouse kick aimed at Nikolai's temple, as if he were expecting Azrael's cry to be a distraction. He was proved wrong. Nikolai caught his ankle, and before Samuel could counter him again Nikolai had lifted him upside down with just one arm. With his right, Nikolai brought in two crashing punches to Samuel's kidneys, so hard that every creature in The Hive could hear the thuds as they connected. Then, Nikolai let go of his ankle and drop-kicked Samuel across the ring.

For a split second, Nikolai thought it might have been over, but Samuel stumbled to his feet, hurt and dazed, but not beaten. He spat blood from his mouth, shook his head, and continued.

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"In a sense Lieutenant, I intend to do exactly what they told me to do." Lee replied. "My mandate when I was posted here was to stabilize the increasing chaos caused by gang violence in The Pit. I thought I'd be a leader again, commanding an army for a just cause. I was disappointed to say the least. The gangs were rampant, too large and too well organised to quell with the garrison we have here. Worse, their growth was being fueled by corruption in my own ranks. Any direct assault I made on the gangs would be sabotaged from within by those among us who had other interests; and even if that hadn't been a factor, all I would have achieved would have been to unite all the different warring factions against The Wardens. A war I would not win, not without more men, more men who's abilities and loyalties were above reproach.

I took up these concerns with my superiors at Venture, and they did nothing. I offered several possible solutions, all were turned down, dismissed as 'too high risk' and, 'a danger to Venture's investments'. I asked them to relieve full control of personnel to me, so that I could make the necessary decisions that the bureaucrats couldn't, and I was denied. It was then I understood that I wasn't a trusted colleague to them, and they never saw me as the commander of this place. I was a resource, put in place not to quell the gangs, but to maintain the status quo. People are thrown in here to die, and in their death rattles they spit out profits for Venture, and it was my job to make sure this process ran smoothly.

Not long after this revelation, I discovered an old, 'initiative' of sorts, from one of my predecessors. An Inmate, an inside man, who could go to places inside The Pit where The Wardens had no grip, and more importantly, do things that were beyond our authority. His little problem solver was unethical to say the least, but I knew that I had exhausted all other options. I made contact with this Inmate, and picked up where my predecessor had left off. Even at the time though, I knew it wouldn't be enough. One man, no matter how skilled, can't turn the tide in a place like this, so I expanded on the concept..."

'So instead of one man, you're having a squad,' Korovitch finished. 'If I understand this correctly, once my men and I enter the Pit, we don't come out. You deliver supplies, and we deliver solutions.'

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Acolyte followed the fight with a trained eye. This was an amazing feat of skill to watch, on both sides. But it didn't take a genius to know Orphan had taken an awful beating thus far. Acolyte's hand grazed his rifle. If he took a shot to help him, Azrael would likely have them both killed, as well as Lucia. And Orphan... Samuel would be pissed at him in any afterlife there may be.

No solution. All he could do was watch. His time would come later.

As Samuel walked across the arena towards Nikolai. He smiled a bloody red smile, "You're good, kid. I haven't taken a hit like that in years," His pace gradually picked up until he was sprinting at Nikolai full-tilt. "Allow me to return the favor," Samuel lunged forward with a lethal punch, clearly designed to shatter Nikolai's ribs and puncture his heart. Nikolai had seen this maneuver many times. It was the act of a desperate man. A last ditch effort.

Nikolai sidestepped allowing Samuel to pass harmlessly under his left arm and reached out to grab the back of his jacket. Nikolai realized the error of his ways when he attempted to pull Samuel to the ground, only to have him slip right out of the sleeves of his jacket. As it turns out, Nikolai had overestimated the damage he'd done to Samuel's moral.

Another false opening.

Samuel stopped his momentum with his left foot and spun his body in a way that almost certainly should have twisted his ankle. Nikolai had never seen anyone move so fast. Samuel planted his right foot down, bending his knee and grabbed hold of the jacket before Nikolai could discard it. As the jacket slipped from Nikolai's fingers and fell upon his face Nikolai did the only thing he thought he'd have time to do. Block.

But Samuel was too fast.

He began laying blow after blow onto Nikolai's face. Disoriented and flatfooted, Nikolai did his best to deflect the blows, but before he could space himself far enough away he heard a crack echo through his skull as Samuel buried a fist into the side of his nose, knocking the cartilage loose. Nikolai saw stars as the jacket finally fell off his face, but by the time he'd regained his focus Samuel had lunged forward with a sharp knee to the abdomen forcing him to double over just in time to receive a devastating elbow to the back of the head.

Any ordinary man would have likely been paralyzed, maybe even killed by the blow... but Nikolai was no mere man.

Samuel took a few steps back allowing Nikolai time to recover, "Has anyone ever told you your face his harder than concrete?" Samuel smiled. "Come on, get up. We're not done yet."

After witnessing the beginning of the fight Iron-fist opted to leave the spectacle and continue to scan the area. She was stunned when she caught sight of that dog the dragon and three other men, one of which she recognized to be the Crip leader. She saw them go their separate ways and decided to follow Zig-zag and confront him again.

Zig Zag was leaning over the railing watching the fight when one of his men tapped him on the shoulder, "That metal bitch is back."

Zig Zag didn't turn around. He wasn't about to miss this fight, "Let er' through."

Getting to his feet, the corners of Nikolai's mouth twitched in the way they did. The way where nobody could tell if he was smiling or snarling in rage. He corrected the new break in his nose with barely a flinch, wiped the blood away from his top lip, spat, and charged.

Fists rained down so hard and so fast at Samuel you could almost believe the air between them was about to catch fire. Samuel was still deadly quick, but on the defensive his injuries had made him a little slower than he'd been before. As a fist singed past less then an inch from Samuel's ear he attempted to grab Nikolai for a Judo throw. Nikolai's weight advantage was enough, however, to allow him to keep balance. With his free arm he grabbed Samuel's shoulder and pulled him close, following up with a headbutt right to the middle of his face. Now there were two broken noses in the ring, and Samuel staggered backwards. Taking his chance, Nikolai spun, his body coiled like a spring, and released his strength into an elbow strike that crashed into Samuel's jaw.

Blood and teeth went everywhere, and Samuel's face was a mess. The crowd had had their show from him, now Nikolai went to finish it quickly.

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Lee might have smiled, but he didn't want to give the impression there was any kind of joke in this operation, especially Luka's part of it.

"No Lieutenant," he said "You and your team would not be suitable for suck a task. There are Inmates in The Pit that would recognise you for what you were. Besides, the scale of this operation stretches far further even than that.

My predecessors brainchild recognised a simple truth. The true danger in The Pit comes from a handful of individuals, not the gangs themselves viewed as an amorphous mass. The ringleaders, the tacticians, and the corrupt officials who provide for them, it is from these few that the evil in this place flows. You send an army against them, and they hide behind their legions of the brainwashed and disaffected. Even if you succeed, you will pay too high a price. You need to be more subtle. However, you're fighting a Hydra. Cut off just one head at a time, and you will never win.

What I needed was a way to wipe the slate clean in one fell swoop. A massive operation that no-one will expect and that no-one will have time to prepare for. So, for two years I have been probing, recruiting more Inmates just like the first. Exceptional people, who can rise the ranks of the most powerful forces in The Pit without ever becoming one of them or being found out. Now, finally, I have achieved absolute success. Every gang that has a role-call of over 70 Inmates, every last one has been infiltrated right at its heart. In tandem with this, I have meticulously arranged a certain environment within The Pit to serve as cover. You may have heard Lieutenant, that gang tensions underground have been running higher than ever. This is all as planned. In some cases I have directly intervened in certain events. With others, it was simply a matter of putting unaware participants in certain positions, and watching them act as the were expected to. Now, everything is ready.

Tomorrow, in the heart of The Pit, a riot will be started. With the current flammable environment, the violence will spread to all corners in an unbelievably short time. Everyone will be fighting each-other, and no-one will be entirely sure what is happening. In the midst of the confusion and bloodshed, my assassin's will strike. In all of the gangs that I have targeted, the leaders will die. The successors of the leaders will die, the successors after them will die, on and on for as long as is necessary until no clear chain of command remains. When the dust settles, no-one will be able to tell who killed who. The survivors will want blood from whoever they can get it from, and inside what's left of the gangs different factions will splinter, and fight for superiority. Before long no gang will be left with the strength to oppose the Wardens. Venture will panic at such sudden and catastrophic disruption to their operation here. They'll need to take drastic action, but they lack the ability to do so. To restore order they will have no choice but to give me absolute command and control over personnel. They will give me what I need to rapidly reform the Wardens into a single, able, cohesive unit, capable of taking on the gangs as one. Before any new players in The Pit will be able to rise from the ashes to become the next great gangs, we will move in, and secure absolute authority in all corners of the facility. Then, finally, the bloodshed will have passed, and together we will be able to turn this place into something better, something respectable. People will come here to truly pay their debt to society, and to be reformed, not just to die or be turned into something even worse than they were before."

Lee moved closer to Luka, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. It all hinged on him.

"There is just one final piece of the puzzle that remains unfinished, and this is where you come in. There are certain individuals inside the Wardens who are too powerful and insidious to simply fire once I have the power to do so on my own. I'm sure someone as savvy as you knows exactly who I am talking about. Lieutenant Joseph Cornelius, more informally known as 'Sticks'. The amount of suffering in this place that is funded by his corruption is simply staggering, and he needs to be stopped at all costs."

Lee handed Luka the receiver of a mobile tracking device.

"I was able to call in several favours both in Venture and in The Tigers to procure this technology. That red dot you see on the screen is a signal being sent out by nano-machines that were implanted in Lieutenant Cornelius's bloodstream during the last round of Warden inoculations. This will allow you and your team to find him through the chaos inside The Pit. When the fighting starts he has too many vested interests that need protecting for him to stay away. Besides, there's only so far he can be seen to disobey a direct order from me. Your official mission will be to go in with your team to extract Sticks and his men, and you are justified to use lethal force against anyone that prevents you from reaching him. However, after the mission is finished, the official records will state that we failed. Perhaps they will say you were too late, or that, in the confusion, a tragic case of friendly fire occurred. What matters is this... Sticks, and all those loyal to him, will not leave The Pit alive, Is that understood?

What you have just heard Lieutenant, is the entirety of Operation Borealis. An operation designed to cut out all the malignancies that are choking the life out of this place, and restore an order that we can be proud of. The Operation enters its closing phase in a matter of hours, and when it is over, you will have helped bring the Light back to this part of the world."

Korovitch raised an eyebrow, but otherwise seemed unperturbed. 'Interesting. So, we're entering the Pit tomorrow as the riot reaches its apex. Are my men to be aware of this ulterior motive, or are they to believe we are truly there to extract my fellow Lieutenant?'

Iron-fist went through the few elite guards that accompanied the Crip leader. She saw him watch the fight unfold down below and weighted her words carefully. There wasn't a need to do what she did with the low-ranking soldiers. He was the elite of the gang. Putting on a mask would only serve to offend him.

"I never thought Orphan was one man. Always quiet, always efficient, always looming over your head. I imagined a network of soldiers that live among us, but this...". She walked up behind Zig-zag and stopped as she stood on his left side.

"Will you be willing to spill your blood and the blood of your brothers and sisters for this war?". She asked cautiously.

"That depends on you Lieutenant." Lee told him "Do you trust your team completely? Do you think that if you tell them their objective they will see the bigger picture behind the moral implications? Even if you choose to keep it from them, there will come a point where they must engage Sticks and his men. When that time comes, do you trust that they will shoot whoever you tell them to shoot without hesitation, no matter what uniform they're wearing?"

Zig Zag smiled, "Yo goddamn right I am," His eyes were glued to the fight below. "I look down there and I see one man fightn' with all his powa against another nigga he knows he can't beat. He knows he's gonna die whether he takes out that big ugly motha fucka or not. It's fuckn' inspiring, ya get me?"

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Nikolai charged him head-on in an attempt to catch him before he could recover. If Samuel couldn't turn this offensive around he'd be done for. With but a moment to spare Samuel banished the pain in his face and regained his footing. As Nikolai closed in ready to pound him into the dirt, Samuel dropped into a low stance. Just before he could bring his fists down on his head Samuel tossed a fistful of dirt in his eyes that he'd picked up while stumbling away from Nikolai's assault.

While momentarily blinded, Samuel swept his right leg under Nikolai's. He hit the dirt hard. Before Nikolai knew it Samuel had one knee pinning his right arm, his left arm trapped under the weight of his own massive body and Samuel's arms wrapped firmly around his neck. He fought with all his might to break free, but it was for naught. Where Samuel lacked in raw strength he made up for in leverage. With enough force Samuel could snap his neck in this position.

The crowd went berserk.

Was this the end? Was Samuel willing to throw everything away for one last victory? To insult Azrael one last time?

Samuel leaned in close and whispered in Nikolai's ear, "Remember this moment. Remember that I beat you because I am my own man," The two men continued to struggle, but did not make a sound. The crowd was getting louder. "Keep her safe."

Samuel loosened his grip.

'I think I can trust them. Though, honestly sir, if I were you, I'd have brought me into this sooner. So I could have had more time.'

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Acolyte looked at the fight with awe. This other Samuel was a master of combat. He watched as Nikolai was spared. Now to see what Azrael would do...

Ilene watched as the fight came to a close. Samuel seemed to have won it.

"In this prison with no chance of escape, we do our best to survive. We follow the rules, we conform to the system. That would be the case had this been a system dictated by order. But not here. Where I come from, they brand the women as property. Put them under rags and force them to be someone's little whore because they can't refuse. I refused. I fought tooth and nail... and I failed. This is why I'm here. This is why I am who I am."

Ilene looked behind her back and saw two guardsmen standing nearby. She knew they couldn't hear her whisper to Zig-Zag.

"I had a name before. Now I have a title. You're no different. Zig-Zag". She said that name with disgust. "This fight is not inspiring to me. A place where blood flows like a river is no prison, but a slaughterhouse. There is no honor in death because we're no real people. Not me, not you, not those on the ring. We're chattle".

Ilene took in a deep breath before continuing. She knew the other will hear her next.

"If you remember the stories, then you know of the history of our color. Sons and daughters of slaves, we are... and here we are today, slaves again, to this system. Instead of fighting against our bonds, we fight against each other. We spill blood for naught, for we are no men or women. We're property. and property can be replaced.

Divide and conquer, this is what they call it. When we focus on killing each other, we have no time to see the boot that is crushing us from above. But we can't dilute ourselves. We're not all brothers and sisters.

So is that it? Are we going to end this fucking excuse of a life in this shithole, fighting for scraps and making kingdoms in the gutter? Tell me, are you proud?

Can you truly call yourself a free man?".

"I had hoped to postpone this stage of the operation longer than this," Lee told him "but the situation was threatening to go out of control. My plans worked too well it seems, and it was now or never. Captain, give Korovich the equipment roster."

Lee continued as Luka looked through the checklist that he was handed.

"I told you that you would have a blank check, and I meant it. On here is a list of the best weapons and equipment I am able to procure for you and your team. Anything you want on that list is yours. You will be far better armed than Sticks' team or any gang recruits that may get in your way. One last thing Lieutenant, what Sticks lacks in stature he makes up for in cunning. His men are good, and more numerous than your own; and while I'm sure he's not prepared for the full extent of what's coming, I'd be surprised if he does not expect betrayal at some point or in some form. I would not give you this task if I did not have the utmost confidence in you, but I give you fair warning. Do not underestimate your enemy."

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Samuel's movements were too small, his speech too quiet, for the crowd to see what had just transpired. Nikolai could feel the expectation in the crowd. He could hear Azrael becoming increasingly panicked.

'Now!'

Nikolai forced Samuel's arms aside, curled his body, and lashed out with a kick to the chest which sent Samuel flying off him and sprawling in the dirt. Getting to his feet, he walked over to his winded and incapacitated opponent, and dragged him onto the centre of the ring. Securing him in a headlock, it was now Nikolai's turn to whisper, in a voice so low only Samuel could hear.

"If the Colonel Man doesn't keep his promise, I will."

His grip tightened, twisted, and Samuel died.

There was uproar, but one voice that could be heard above all the others was Azrael's

"HE'S DEAD!" he cried, it rapturous delight "THE ORPHAN IS DEAD, AND VICTORY IS OURS! DO YOU SEE IT NOW? ALL OF YOU, DO YOU SEE? WE ARE THE STRONGEST! WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED WHAT NO OTHERS COULD, AND ONLY BY STANDING WITH US CAN YOU OVERTHROW ALL WHO OPPOSE YOU! STEP FORWARD ALL WHO WOULD SERVE, ALL WHO WOULD PLEDGE THEMSELVES TO THE PACK, AND SHARE IN OUR GLORY! NO OPPOSITION TO OUR CLAIM SHALL BE TOLERATED FROM THIS DAY! ANY WHO WOULD DEFY US, GO NOW IN PEACE AND PREPARE, FOR THE NEXT TIME WE MEET YOU WILL BE CONSUMED! THE FURY OF THE PACK IS UNMATCHED!"

"THE FURY OF THE PACK IS UNMATCHED!" his words were echo'd round The Hive, and Nikolai could see many Inmates stepping forward to join with The Arctic Wolves, perhaps two thirds of the independent Inmates who did not already belong to a gang were staying to sign up. Emissaries from smaller gangs were kneeling before The Pack, and of those that didn't he could see members openly defecting to go over to Azrael.

"As for you..." said Azrael, turning on Kusanagi. "A good King keeps his promises. Sharptooth! Take her, brand her, and give her a place in the mines beside her brother. I promised they would be together, if only she had specified on a location."

His grin was utterly wicked, his eyes alive with madness.

"It is important that they both be kept alive and able, as that was also promised." he said "However, beyond that, they are both your slaves now, to do with as you please. Have fun!"

As Lucia was to be dragged off, Acolyte began wrestling and shoving his way to the fore of the crowd. When he was close enough to stand out, he whistled. A high, sharp sound that cut through the babble. Azrael and his underlings seemed to ignore him for the most part, but Lucia's head jerked instinctively towards the sound, and their eyes locked. He was able to nod to her before she was dragged out of sight.

That done, it was time to go and find Harris.

Lucia had clung to the fence during the entirety of the fight. Why does he have to die for her? Why?! What the fuck kind of place is this that he'd have to die for such a petty reason?!

While she tried to rationalize it in her head she couldn't help but be mesmerized by the fight itself. Both men were a true sight to behold. It was unlikely that anyone watching had ever seen anything quite like it.

A glimmer of hope reached Lucia when it looked as if he'd won.

It didn't matter what would happen to her and Tristan.

Orphan would live.

But then... reality set in.

When Samuel went limp Lucia could see his face. He was looking up at her. Smiling as he always had. Lucia cried out louder than she'd ever cried in her entire life. Louder than she had when her real father was taken away from her half a year ago. She continued to stare into his lifeless eyes and tears stained her face.

It's not fair... why? Fucking... no... please come back....

Azrael's excited speech went through one ear and out the other. Then... she noticed Nikolai was standing over Samuel's corpse, looking at her. He had been watching her mourn. After locking eyes he shook his head slowly.

Y-yes... that's... the time for mourning would come. I need to be strong...

Kusanagi wiped her face with her sleeves and began to regain her composure.

"A good King keeps his promises. Sharptooth! Take her, brand her, and give her a place in the mines beside her brother. I promised they would be together, if only she had specified on a location."

Kusanagi didn't turn around to face him. If she had... he wouldn't like what he saw.

"It is important that they both be kept alive and able, as that was also promised." he said "However, beyond that, they are both your slaves now, to do with as you please. Have fun!"

Kusanagi smiled as a thought occurred to her.

I'm going to rip his fucking heart out.

As they began dragging her out of the arena she heard a sharp whistle and turned her head to see Acolyte. He had nodded to her. Kusanagi turned her head back in the direction she was being pulled and smirked. She had more allies than Azrael realized.

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Before Zig Zag could answer her Samuel's neck snapped, "OH SHIEEEEEEEEEEEEEET! FUCCCCCCCCCCK! Niggas! NIGGAS DID YOU SEE DAT SHIT!? FUCK!"

After he and his men shared some excited shouts Zig Zag turned to Ilene, "To tell you da truth gurl, the only time I eva feel like a free man is in a fight. At least I know I've got my own life in my hands when I'm goin' toe to toe with some sucka," He signaled to his men to begin heading for the exit. "So none of us really know what tha fuck's really goin' down in this place, but ya know what we can do? We can make the fuckn' best of it. And my boys here wanna cap that batshit crazy cracka rantn' up there because he's in league with the suckas who've been playn' us all this time. Trying to take our freedom away from us! I don't really give a fuck what you do, but if I were you I'd make the best of this situation cause there ain't no way none of us are making it out of this in one piece."

He took a few steps, falling in behind his crew and looked back at her, "You want in on the raid, you know where ta find me."

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Harris signaled his men to make a quick escape. The Hive was about to get far harrier than he was comfortable with. He saw Acolyte coming towards him through the crowd and waved him over, but continued forward.

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Sticks wiped a tear from his eye, "Touching, don't you think?"

Conrad grunted, "The martyr thing never really did much for me."

Watching the excited crowd move in towards the Wolves painted a concerned expression on his face, "The outcome was predetermined, but this is still no good. Azrael may end up with more men than we had anticipated."

Conrad acknowledged his observation, but said nothing.

"Come on, let's meet up with the rest of the team. I'm curious to hear what's happening on the surface. Lee will undoubtedly make his move soon."

Nikolai watched Lucia being dragged away, Sharptooth looking like his birthday had come early. When they were gone, he looked down again at the meat that had once been Samuel, who had once been Orphan.

'I will finish what you started. The Dog has just one more task from his Masters, and then my life is my own. I will place it in her hands, as my choice, for what I did to you. If she wants revenge, she can kill me. If not, I will help her.'

He he crouched down, and with his hand he closed Samuel's eyes, thinking that he should have done the same for all the others. The Piranha, the Zulu, and all the rest he had killed. If only he could recall all their faces.

It was time to go.

It was over. The fight was awesome to watch, but in the end Nikolai overcame Orphan. The snap of his neck echoed like music as Travis took in the sound. He grinned. Surely they could have used Orphan, but Travis still wanted him dead on principal. He had to hold in the laughter as Azreal dragged the girl to be his slave. 'Motherfucker, I wanted that pussy. Fuck it, I'll get it once I'm in charge.' As everyone headed out, some more in a panic than others, Travis made a rush towards Acolyte. He grabbed his shoulder roughly and whispered in his ear.

"I saw that shit, I remember who you are now, and I bet you were tapping that every night. Let me make you a deal, you help me take over the Arctic Wolves, and before you say anything I have enough contacts to guarantee that will happen, but you help me above anyone else, and you and your little bitch get a promise, straight from the Dragon himself, that you'll be safe. Fuck, I can even make your lives pretty god damn cushiony." He patted his shoulder. "Do the right thing." And with that he left, leaving Acolyte to his own devices.

Acolyte mulled over Travis' words. He supposed that it was certainly a possibility Travis could help him. Though privately, he suspected Travis' chances of actually being given control of the Wolves were pretty damn slim. He sighed and went on his way. To Harris, he asked, 'so, when do we mobilize? It needs to be soon.'

Harris nodded in agreement, "We're going to regroup at HQ and wait for word from our contact. Judging by the mood here in the Hive I suspect we'll be mobilizing soon." Harris looked Acolyte in the eye. His expression was... intense, "Was that girl with Azrael the one you want to save?"

Acolyte nodded. 'Yes. It looks like I'll be going mining very soon. I suppose it's a gift he's putting her there and not keeping her under his gaze.'

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

Iron Team stood before Korovitch in a formal line in the room that he had thoroughly swept for bugs. They had roused themselves quickly, and an uninformed observer wouldn't have known that mere minutes before, they had been sound asleep and out of their gear.

'I have recently been informed of our true purpose. I have made the decision to trust you with this information. As you have no doubt realized, there is corruption within the Wardens. Corruption that must be ousted. Officially, our task is to push deep into the Pit to retrieve the Lieutenant and prevent him being killed in the ensuing violence. In actual fact, our real mission is to assure that he will be. This man is responsible for possibly a majority share of the dealings that provides inmates with military grade hardware, drugs and dangerous information. He must not leave there alive.'

Harris sneered. Acolyte could sense true rage welling up inside him, "Azrael's had everything he's wanted for far too long. We'll get her back, and then I'm going to flay that fucker alive," As he spoke he pointed firmly at Azrael from across the Hive.

This was a vendetta he'd die before he forgot.

Chapter 3

There was a storm coming.

The three big transport jets, as well as the myriad of smaller helicopters, that carried assets to and from RACDI-Alpha, were all grounded on the tarmac of the airstrip. This time of the day would normally be the peak of activity above ground in the facility, the noise constant and almost ear-splitting this close to the runway. Today, their was silence, as nearly a thousand souls waited in anticipation, but for what?

Captain Montoya's arrival was a welcome interruption to Lee's train of thought.

"Everything is in place Colonel. All units wait on your command."

"Any last minute doubts, Captain?"

The Captain's tone faltered a little. "I... your motives are sound. We've come this far."

Lee smiled sadly, with his back turned Montoya was unable to see.

"Then give the order. The time has come."

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

Nikolai entered The Hive for the first time since the fight the day before. Samuel's body had gone, although who had taken him Nikolai did not know. He hoped it hadn't bee the Cannibals. The bloodstains remained however, and their was a certain eeriness to the place today. Normally, thousands of Inmates would pass through this place on whatever business they had without a second thought. Today, people moved slow and silent, almost as if they were inside a tomb.

"To dance with The Light..." said a small voice.

Nikolai's eyes flitted to his left to see the small, bald Man in rags who had just walked past him. Their gaze mat for the briefest second.

"...we must tread upon The Darkness, brother." Nikolai replied.

The two nodded to each-other, and then went their separate ways. Nikolai when out the North passage, turned left, the right, then left again, to come upon an elevator that would take him down to the lower levels. As the gates closed and the cabled churned into life, Nikolai heard screams coming from where he had just been, accompanied by the unmistakable, staccato cracks of gunfire.

Travis decided to stay in the Aryan camp. With all the enemies he had gained in the past couple days he thought it would be a good idea to surround himself with allies rather than stay on his own in his cell. He kept his guns on him at all times as he slept. He dreamt about Azreal, choking him slowly. Travis laughed at the man crumbling beneath him, his arms and legs cut off, slowly bleeding to death. He begged for mercy and proclaimed The Dragon as the new leader of the Pit. The new King. The new God. "I am the Pit!" Said Travis as he squeezed the last bit of air out of his lungs. He stood to find himself surrounded by wolves, literal wolves, slowly transforming into Dragons. Travis looked over his new dominion to find all bowing to him: the Aryans, the Crips, Zulu, Headbangers, Yakuza, all who called the Pit home. Even the Wardens were on their knees. All who had wronged him were disembowelled, intestines dangling from their open stomachs, with no arms or legs and hanging from their necks in the centre of the Pit. The black bitch with one arm, every member of the Mafia, all the Aryans who denied him taking Lucia for his own, all of Blackrock company and at last all the deceased members of the Dragons, the failures that they were. Lucia was holding onto his ankle and begging to be his slave while Dragons flew around him in a magnificent display of power and ferocity, breathing fire and ice and causing a tornado from the air of the flapping of their wings. "I AM THE DRAGON! STRONGER THAN AZREAL! STRONGER THAN THE DOG! STRONGER THAN ORPHAN! I AM GOD OF THE PIT AND YOU SHALL WORSHIP ME!" His maniacal laughter was cut short as a fist was driven through his chest from behind. In horrific pain he turned to see the Dog, Nikolai, fire in his eyes as he pulled out Travis's heart.

How did he miss this? How did he let himself get in this position? He knew Lee had been moving against him, but he'd have never anticipated such a bold play, "Are you sure of this?"

The soldier nodded, "Sir."

Sticks cursed on his breath and looked to Conrad, "We can't go back to the surface until we can turn the tide. Have your boys been setting up the 'foxhole'?"

Conrad nodded, "The old church's seen better days, but it's one of the best defensive positions one can hold against an assault team in the Pit. And that clock tower," Conrad smirked and continued on. "They've spent the last few days setting up traps."

Several decades ago a Catholic movement swept through the Pit ushering in a short period of order that didn't last long... the inmates got a bit fanatical. All that remains of that time is a church build from the very stone found in the mines of the Pit. It was the only remotely "artistic" structure in the whole of the Pit.

Sticks nodded all the while and looked to two of his other men, "You two, report to our interested parties. Tell them they need to be ready to mobilize as soon as I give the order," Sticks and Conrad headed for the lower levels. "War's upon us boys. Don't let me down."

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

Harris woke up early the next morning, "Assemble everyone."

A smaller man scratched his head, "Uh... everyone, sir?"

Harris mad-dogged him, "Did I fucking stutter? EVERYONE!"

He thought they'd have more time to plan, but according to Sticks the timetable had been moved up. Harris licked his lips and started for the main courtyard in the middle of the Aryan's compound. He'd have his revenge soon.

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

It was cold. Colder than the previous night, but this time Kusanagi was ready for it and... this time she had Tristan. After the fight Sharptooth had tossed her in a dark, cold chamber with the rest of his slaves. He had groped her on their way there, but it didn't faze her. It would take more than that to break her resolve.

Though... Kusanagi knew what was coming next. He had told her that he'd heat up some iron for her later. He was going to permanently burn his mark on her body. Kusanagi welled-up with anger just thinking about it. She tightened her fists and began shaking in barely contained rage until...

Tristan rubbed her arm in an attempt to calm and comfort her. She calmed herself immediately and smiled, placing a hand on Tristan's. They had spent the night spooning under a small rag, trying to stay warm. He hadn't said a word to her the entire time, but his weak smile told her all she needed to know.

He had been there to comfort Lucia as she wept for Orphan that night.

He was a good brother.

She had to save him.

Acolyte walked in with a number of Aryans, some of the first to arrive. As he sat down, he adjusted the Kevlar vest that was all he wore on his upper body. He hadn't taken it off since acquiring it, the better to pretend the hideous mark on his chest didn't exist. As he sat down, he dry swallowed some Aspirin. Today was the time. He would get Lucia back. He had to. He nodded professionally to Harris as more people filled the room.

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

Korovitch walked slightly ahead of his squad as they walked down to storage. Each was carrying at least one heavy attache case, and Gibbs was wearing a huge pack that wouldn't look out of place on an Everest expedition.

As they walked, Korovitch talked. 'Today, we enter the Pit. The way we will do this is by taking the place of the guards on today's supply drop. Once we have left the supplies, instead of returning to the surface level, we will double back, and plunge deep. I will trace the Lieutenant, so he can be safely found. Remember, we must be prepared for every eventuality if we are to accomplish our objective.'

He remained purposefully vague. Who knew where there could be bugs or eavesdroppers. His men knew their true objective.

Travis woke up from his dream and felt his chest. "Ugh... fucking Dog..." he groaned. Why was he dreaming of the Dog killing him?

Travis shook himself awake just before an Aryan came in and said "The Boss wants everyone." He turned and left before Travis could respond.

"Cunt." Sighed Travis. He got up and walked out into the main Aryan courtyard.

Harris stood up on a platform as his men gathered in the courtyard. They were... extremely restless. Several fights had broken out within their ranks over the course of the last week and it had been especially bad in last two days. Some tried to turn tail and join the Wolves, but met swift ends at the hands of their former brothers. Even worse, many were killing each other for no clear reason. Harris had never seen a group of men so hungry for blood in his entire life, "BROTHERS!"

The crowd jeered in response, "Today we stand on the edge of oblivion. Hell is upon us, but we shall not falter. When we stare into the abyss, the abyss WINCES!" His men cheered in response. "Soon we will march upon the wolves and avenge our fallen brethren! Think back to when they had initially struck us down! Those dogs thought us defeated. But, THEY DO NOT KNOW OUR STRENGTH! SO, BROTHERS! I ASK! DO YOU WANT THEM TO KNOW OUR STRENGTH!?"

In unison they shouted back, "YES!"

"WHAT ARE YOU!?"

"MEN!"

"That's goddamn right! And as men, we will show those DOGS WE ARE THE ONE'S IN CHARGE!" Harris paused for a moment and then continued. "Eat, fuck, talk. Rest up, as our operation will commence before the day is done."

His men cheered as he stepped down from the platform. Harris honestly didn't care if any one of them made it out of this alive. He didn't even really care if he did either, so long as he was the one that got to squeeze the life out of Azrael.

"Status?" Lee asked.

"At least four gangs are now engaged in the violence in The Hive." Montoya replied "It's a bloodbath down there, and it's starting to spread out across much of the mid-levels. When the Aryans and the Wolves hear of it both will think that the other's attack has started, and in retaliation they'll send much of their forces marching right into the crossfire, leaving their command structure vulnerable."

"Good. Sticks has moved to the Chapel I assume."

"Yes."

"Tactically sound," Lee said, smiling "but also predictable. Before long they'll be under siege by a hundred Inmates thirsty for Warden blood. They'll waste most of their ammunition keeping them at bay, making Iron Squad's job all that much easier. That said, inform Korovich to expect traps. He needs to move carefully, and keep out of any line of sight from the clock tower."

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

Nikolai had arrived at his Pack's territory.

The maze of bare, harshly cut ice was full of Dogs, soon to become Men. While there was nobody in The Pit quite like Nikolai, everyone he'd chosen was cut from his cloth. Others saw them as brutish, unfeeling simpletons, but Nikolai saw the pain behind their silence, and with many of them he seemed to speak a language that required no words.

He nodded, and in an instant they all scrambled to arm themselves. Putting on Kevlar vests, picking up rifles, sub-machine guns and shotguns, and pocketing grenades. Nikolai went to his own cell to do the same. He put on the Kevlar and selected his weapons. The pump-action shotgun with as many shells as he could carry. A heavy magnum sidearm on his hip, explosive and gas grenades on his belt. Finally, Nikolai picked up a heavy iron sledgehammer, which an average man would certainly need two hands to wield, but which Nikolai could flip end over end easily with just the one. He slung that across his back.

It was time to move out.

Conrad swung his trusty dragunov onto his back and climbed down the tower. A bottle of scotch sat on the table in front of Sticks. He held a glass up in the air as Conrad approached, "Come, celebrate."

Conrad raised an eyebrow in response and sat down at the table, "They're just about done setting up the traps. We'll have plenty left over to replace those detonated by rioters. Though, I'll try to take them out before they make it that far."

Sticks nodded, "How about ammunition."

"You made the proper precautions," Conrad placed his rifle on the table. "This gun alone has over 1,000 rounds dedicated to it."

"Good it's better to have an excess and not need them than to resort to throwing rocks. This is a good place to hold up, but it's not Stalingrad," Sticks took a swig of his scotch. "You should drink a bit. Loosen up. Might be our last chance."

Conrad shook his head.

"Your loss."

"What's the endgame here, sir? It seems to me that Lee has outmaneuvered you. Soon, everyone will be at each others' throats. What was the point of consolidating power among the gangs?"

Sticks smiled, "The idea was to have them damage the Wolves enough so that Azrael would understand the power and influence I wield and join me when this whole mess started. The Wolves are the only force strong enough to hit Lee's operation where it hurts and I was going to place all my bets on them, but now..." Sticks poured himself some more scotch. "Now they're no longer a factor, or rather they won't be for long. We don't even need to give the order anymore. When Lee's operation is felt by the Aryans and the Crips they'll march straight to the Wolves and likely throw themselves on what's left of their forces. In one fell swoop all of our allies will be dead."

Conrad sat in silence and analyzed Sticks' face as he spoke. He didn't seem all that upset, "So, we failed."

"Not quite," He leaned back in his seat and looked to the ceiling. "The only reason Lee resorted to this is because of me. I was too big an obstacle to simply maneuver around or move. Because of me, thousands of inmates are going to die before this is over. Even worse, at least a hundred or so wardens will meet their end as well. But, Sergeant, you must understand... I didn't condemn these men. It was Lee," Sticks' smile grew more nefarious as he let Conrad ponder his point. "Don't you see? Because of me, Lee's essentially doomed this entire place. This is the nuclear solution. By doing this he's sacrificed the moral high-ground and became no better than me. He's on my level now. Even if I die here before this is over... I've still won."

Conrad stood up and started for the clocktower as Sticks laughed to himself.

Psycho.

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

So much had happened in such a short time. If she wasn't careful her thoughts could easily be consumed by grief. It was difficult, but she felt like it was the right thing to do at a time like this. Following Acolyte's example, Kusanagi sat up straight, cross legged, breathing in and out slowly. She was trying to clear her mind. Find her center.

Tristan lied on the ground watching with a smile. Though there was a rather severe lack of light in the room, he admired her toned muscles that she'd built while working the mines. Was she still the sister he remembered? Then he noticed it. A crude shiv sat on her lap. She must have stolen it off of one of the guards before being thrown in here.

Tristan's eyes widened and he reached for it. Without opening her eyes Kusanagi shot her hand out and grabbed Tristan's wrist, "Don't worry, brother... I will be fine," Despite how broken and defeated he was, she could see the worry behind his dead eyes. Kusanagi opened her eyes and offered a warm smile. "We'll make it out of here together. I promise."

Acolyte checked the load in the three enfield clips he carried in the deep pockets of his pants, and the fourth in the rifle itself. Then he tipped a box of ammunition into a small satchel at his hip.

He was as ready as he'd ever be. He stood up, and went off in search of Travis. When he found him, he asked, 'are you ready, then?'

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

Korovitch's men walked down a deserted, dilapidated passage. 'This is going to be difficult. There will be traps, and they're well defended. But it isn't Stalingrad, and someone will get in there. Be it us or them.'

Travis listened to Harris's speech. T'was impressive, funny yet commanding. Believe it or not Travis was actually inspired by the speech- in particular the part about eating and fucking. But for Travis was more excited about the killing, and unfortunately the Aryans were another one of those gangs that were predominantly men.

Travis found a stockpile of weaponry, to which the Aryan guards let him have a look through. He replaced his Kevlar with a new one in better condition and equipped a belt which he strapped some grenades to as well as a pistol. He grabbed some rounds for the pistol as well but his pockets were filled with SMG and Assault rifle ammo.

"You wanna grab a knife man?" asked one of the guards.

Travis laughed in his face. "I prefer to kill with my hands." Travis walked out and the guard flipped him off as he left.

As he walked about the compound the bald man came to him and asked "are you ready, then?"

Travis smirked, "Are you? Are you ready to make me the boss of this shithole?"

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