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This article, Gears of War: Snowblind, was written by Jonesybites. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.


Please note: This literature is rated M for language, adult themes and situations, sexual humor and contact, violent acts, and some gore.

Although Snowblind is complete, I am in the process of doing some major editing to improve the grammar context of the story, so any feedback (preferably constructive) that you may leave will be greatly appreciated to help improve the story for future readers, and my skills as a writer.


Background Synopsis Edit

Novel cover

Attempting to relocate Jacinto’s remnant from Port Farrall to the island of Vectus, the Frost starts to take a toll on an array of insurgent camps surrounding Port Farrall. Several “groups” or clans of Stranded begin to clash amongst themselves over food and supplies, pockets of Locust begin to pick at Port Farrell’s defenses, while amidst the chaos, a nomadic faction of mostly females, known as the “Feral,” come into conflict with their new neighbors.

Just within a few weeks, deployed squads begin to discover the brutal repercussions of the clashes between the Feral and the Stranded, however, as the hostilities between the factions start to spread to the outskirts of Farrall, dispatched squads that were investigating attacks on their outposts are being ambushed and decimated. This forces the COG to fight on several fronts while trying to protect what is left of Jacinto’s citizens and their own armories and supplies.

Fate, however, gives the COG the upper hand as they manage to somewhat find allies within the Feral faction. The Feral have taken some major blows in the past year as a result of Locust attacks, losing a quarter of their clans, although, remnants of those clans were later found by dispatched squads. They were given sanctuary in exchange for assistance of their insight into the terrain and location of the Stranded insurgencies. Though the Feral seldom ally with anyone, the renegade Feral agreed in hopes that this alliance will protect what is left of their clans by destroying the remaining Locust.

To quash the hostilities on land around Port Farall, the COG enlists the assistance from the renegade Feral to guide deployed Gears through Glacier Valley, since their extensive knowledge of the land is crucial to locating the insurgent camps and Locust outposts as well as avoid potential hostilities with the other Feral. With the Frost becoming more unforgiving, the COG must quickly relocate the rest of Jacinto’s last remnant to the Vectus Naval Base, before the other factions and the harsh winter obliterate them.

During this time frame, the COG outpost north of Port Farrall, known as Fort Block, becomes a central staging area for squad placement, drafting, conscription, and supplies. It is here where all the squads gather to receive reinforcements and intel. To get ahead on the offensive, Colonel Hoffmann makes the decision to send out ten squads into the mountain areas surrounding Port Farrall to eliminate Locust outposts, and locate the Stranded insurgents gathering in the area. With the squads mostly consisting of new recruits while the more “experienced” Gears are running thin, Hoffmann decides to reform Sigma One, employing veteran Gears Corporal Damon Baird and Private Augustus Cole.

With the winter conditions becoming more problematic for the infantry, the Gears must now rely on the navigational wits of the renegade Feral. The squads, including the newly reformed Sigma One are dispatched in King Ravens to be dropped several miles outside of Port Farrall. Among the members of Sigma squad are veteran Gears Augustus Cole and Damon Baird, the rookie, Sven Dunrich, Sergeant Barker Milane, and their Feral guide, Raven McNight, a.k.a. Feral.

Along the way, they encounter almost calamity after calamity of unseen events that force the group of to rely on each other to stay alive and keep to the mission at hand. This story entails their little venture through the thick and thin of the hostile environment around them and their clashing personalities as humility and hilarity ensue.

Conflicting Factions:Edit

The Stranded are the remnants of civilians left after the orbital beam attack in a last ditch

effort to destroy the Locust. Scattered throughout the land, the Stranded

have adapted to their new surroundings, while others formed organized

groups and factions. As a result of the attack, friction between the Gears

and the Stranded has been escalating, all the while, the Stranded have often

clashed amongst themselves and have come under hostilities with the Feral,

not to mention, the Locusts.


The Feral are a rouge faction, made up of mostly women in response to

the sad circumstances that are all too often, common with war. After so many

years of exploitation, starvation, rape, and murder, a group of women with

some military background formed the faction, later nicknamed as the

“Feral.” Little is know about the Feral since the faction typically keep to

themselves, with exception to breeding “seasons.” What is know is that

they are extremely organized and self-sufficient, amassing in numbers

recruiting survivors of destroyed settlements. With their strict

kata, and vigorous training, the Feral have developed techniques of guerilla

warfare that have enabled them to survive the COG, the UIR, and even the

Locust on E-Day. The Feral are nomadic and do not settle in a place for too

long to avoid being detected and hiding their numbers. This strategy has

worked for years, however, after the attack from the Hammer of Dawn and

the Lightmass offensive, the Feral began to run out places to hide and

started their offense against pockets of Stranded, Locust, and even Gears.

SnowBanner


Gears of War: Snowblind Edit

In a violent world where deceptions free
Things I can’t control taking over me
Did they try to take my identity
So what the hell have they done to me
I will take your thoughts away
And I’ll ignite your fear today
Well I can take you far away
With my mind.


Cold
With My Mind


PrologueEdit

The cold, thin air feels like breathing a sodden robe, as a Gear struggles to keep a steady pace, running through a dense conifer forrest as if he was a deer being followed by a pack of hungry wolves.

He is what is left of Theta Four, sent to investigate a disturbance at an outpost, located north on the outside of Port Ferrall. Since the incidents on the Vectus Naval Base a few weeks earlier, outposts all around Farrall have been attacked, struck down one at a time, testing their defenses. By whom, they didn’t know, until recently. Although the Locusts attacks have been few, the others were staged by the Stranded insurgencies, gathering on the outskirts of Port Farrall.

As he runs, he can feel the collection of moister in his helmet, beading and then sweating down the side of his face and his neck. He dodges the trees, kicking up snow on the ground with only a pistol still in his holster as his only means of defense. His shotgun was dropped a ways back, after he tripped falling forward down a slope, not looking back as the snow falling in the air, mixed with the fading afterglow of the setting sun is making visibility difficult. He wasn’t being pursued, he was being hunted.

They took out his squad, strategically one at a time, as they fired their weapons in vain, already trapped in the ambush. It was apparent that someone was expecting them, but before they realized what had just happened, it was too late.

As he attempts cautiously gallop down an incline when suddenly, a shot rings out in the dense forest, whistling through the trees as he senses a sharp pain burst into the back of his thigh. He comes crashing down, tumbling down the rest of the incline, bumping into trees and brush along the way down, until he comes to a stop, landing on his back. His body starts to shake from the sudden rush of adrenaline that has been pumping through his body while his heart rate beats even faster, forcing him to pant for more oxygen.

The area is silent as he looks around, trying to stable himself, but he couldn’t move. He then heard the footsteps of his pursuer, walking slowly with care as a dark figure proceeds to move around the trees on the incline, and then disappear. The Gear tries to reach for his pistol in his holster, trying to pull it out, but the pistol wouldn’t budge.

Slowly, the footsteps were coming closer as the sound of crushing snow under someone’s boots became even more clearer, and the dark figure came out of the shadows, right out in front of him. It stood there, as if it was glaring at him, although he couldn’t readily tell what it was, a Locust perhaps, but it’s demeanor suggested otherwise. It took a few steps closer to him and then it carefully kneeled down in front of him. Immediately, the Gear could tell it had a Lancer in hand, the metal teeth glistening in the dim light, as he watched it, noticing the warm air seeping from the dark, cloaked figure’s breathing. He was petrified as it started to speak with perfect clarity.

“So…tell me Gear…what has Chairman Prescott done for you?” the figure asked, in a low voice that almost resembles human. He could see the warm air coming from it as it spoke, slowly moving and seeping into the air as it quickly dissipated. The figure then cocked its head and then turned it to the side as more footsteps begin to become audible.

Oh, no.

Other dark figures began to emerge from the trees as they all stood in their place, watching for the one who is kneeling in front of him for it’s next move. It slowly turned its head back as it stood up and then roared out, revving the chainsaw mechanism on the Lancer as the phantom bellows out.

“I…have…responsibilities, to my fellow citizens…I…shall…be loyal to them…” reciting the words of the "Octus Canon."

“I…shall…remain…vigilant and unyielding, in my pursuit of the enemies of the Coalition….” the dark figure continues to recite the oath, an oath the Gear suddenly reckognizes.

“I…am…a…Gear!”

The crowd behind him shouts and rants as they raise their weapons in the air, while the figure slowly looks back at his menagerie. As the crowd begins to simmer, he slowly turns to the fallen Gear as he revs his Lancer again, shuttering the silence with it’s violent noise while the Gear can see it’s teeth, bristling in the smoke coming from the drum.

“Here is the message we will send to the enemy of the Coalition,” the figure rants as he grips the handle on the Lancer, raising it over the defenseless Gear as he let’s out a blood, curdling scream, echoing throughout the woods. The noise of the saw, cutting through armor, flesh and bone can be heard outside the thicket shortly after silencing the hideous shriek. Then the woods become silent as night and snow blankets the sky, gently falling, concealing the blood that drenched the ground beneath it.

Chapter 1: The Shit Starts Here Edit

Trying to forget, we're falling right through...Lying to forget, we're raising our truth.

Lacuna Coil [1]


FORT BLOCK, Recruitment Staging Area

…a sign frozen to the utility post, hangs high, scouting over makeshift buildings and garages, looming with fuel heaters and generators, as the scent of exhaust mixed with the winter aroma fills the air with bliss and promise of food, shelter, and possibly a warm shower for a group of grimy grunts just stepping out from their APC's from a long ride.

In the distance, King Ravens land in an open, snowy area just outside of the camp, their clamor heard all across the fort as the pilots do their routine maintenance before being deployed later in the afternoon. Fuel trucks camp along the makeshift roads as civilian volunteers shovel snow and ice to make way for gravel.

More APC's start to pull into the fort, carrying reinforcements, as they slowly drive over the grimy, icy roads. Coming to a halt, the gears exit the vehicles and march their way to the fort mess hall, where Colonel Hoffman awaits for everyone to enter the mass for debriefing.

As the Gears take their seats, the air in the vicinity takes a turn as several, unfamiliar women enter the mess hall, wearing familiar armor, attire that resembled what the Locust horde had, made of Reaver hide and other, unknown leather materials that were light, but hardy. Three of them are wearing what appears to be black war paint, possibly used to help them blend in with their environment; an alternative camouflage. The other two wore similar attire, but their faces were clean of cover, and appeared just as intimidating. As the five, wild women, lined up behind Hoffman, the Gears could sense the Colonel was awkward within the presence of the rogue faction, only known to the Gears as the Feral.

As the group stands at the front of the makeshift tented mess hall, Colonel Hoffman makes his way on top of a table that he intended to use as his podium. He looks around his fellow Gears as the crisp air around them sets the atmosphere of apprehension, as he can see the battle scarred demeanor of his mentally exhausted men, shrouding their self-assurance. The fact that they lost their place of refuge only made the men even more hardened to the bleak future that awaits them, but nevertheless, the fight for survival still runs deep in their blood, as if they were hardwired to wage war so they can exist. Colonel Hoffman has seen these faces before, more times than he will probably want to admit, though he himself is an old warhorse, still bucking against the odds as the barbwire drives him even closer to insolence. He still had some fight in him yet.

"Men…listen up," he begins as the air around him hung onto him like a wet napkin.

"…it has been confirmed that we have a new menace. Despite recent events at Vectus, we are still under threat, here on the apparent home front of some other Stranded insurgents that are rumored to be located in the mountains. We also have reports of Locust outposts, scattered all over the terrain outside of Ferrall, that are going to have to be dealt with if we are to protect the remaining citizens, here. Therefore, we have orders to deploy squads out into the uncharted territory to search for and eliminate the Locust outposts, and locate the Stranded settlements."

Hoffman takes a few seconds to collect his thoughts as he looks over his shoulder to glance at the five women standing behind him.

"To accomplish this objective, we have allied ourselves with the Feral clans. They have volunteered to help guide the squads through the terrain, since they have extensive knowledge of the territory. With the Frost coming down hard on our asses, we must rely on their insight if this mission is to be successful."

Hoffman takes a deep breath before he continues.

"Men, we are going to deploy the Ravens to the drop point in thirteen, hundred hours. Use this time wisely. Dismissed."

Hoffman slowly steps off of the "platform" as he glances at the five women standing before him. He finally breaks the ice as he reluctantly speaks to them.

"Ok…which one of you can understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"

They glare at him with startling eyes, peering through their warpaint, as they turn to each other and then they glanced over to the smallest of them.

"That…would be me, Colonel," the Feral on the far right speaks out as she steps forward to make her presence known, somewhat apprehensive as the crowd of Gears moves around them.

She was a little shorter than the others, although just as menacing.

"So what do I call you, Feral?" Hoffman turns his glance to her.

"My "birth" name is Raven McNight,"

"McNight, huh," Hoffman responds in astonishment as he recalls several officers that went by that name, wondering if there was a correlation between the two, but dismisses it for the sake of the purpose of his conversation at the present.

He sighs, "I'll keep it simple…how bout I just call you "Feral," says Hoffman.

"Whatever will make you comfortable, Colonel."

"It has nothing to do with comfort, ma'am."

"Did you…need me for some reason?" she asks in annoyance.

"As a matter of fact, yes I do…Control," Hoffman demands as he speaks on his com.

"Yes Colonel?" A female voice replies over the com.

"Have Sergeant Fenix report to me please…ASAP!"

"Affirmative Colonel, control out,"

Chapter 2: Splitting Up Edit

Raven sits by herself in a chair, waiting outside of Colonel Hoffman's makeshift, briefing room as she hand sharpens a pencil with her "bowie" knife, occasionally looking up while taking a glance at others walking by, and then goes back to her journal, ignoring the ogling Gears and recruits as they casually walk pass Hoffman's office.

It has been awhile since she has been within a crowd of people as she recants the days, almost weeks at a time, when she would survey along the territory surrounding Ferrall, unaccompanied, watching, waiting, and stealing. It was her vocation to sneak around outposts, even forts without being noticed, including this one. Taking another look at the facility, she recalls it's arrangement in vivid detail, only to look past the crowd, catching a glance at someone approaching directly to Hoffman's door, but then goes back to her journal as the bulky Gear proceeds to the entrance of Hoffman's office.

Sergeant Fenix knocks on the door, for the most part keeping to himself, but occasionally takes notice of Raven's attire that closely resembles a Theron elite. He suddenly turns his attention to the door as he looks through the window to see Colonel Hoffman motioning him to come in.

Fenix steps in and shuts the door behind him, not in the best of moods but not feeling for the worst either. He wasn't too crazy about their alliance with the Feral, but their other options were quickly thinning out as the winter conditions worsened within just a few weeks. The Feral knew the territory pretty religiously while the COG satellites had difficulties just pin pointing their own outposts. All this technology and resources the COG have at their disposal, and here we are, outfoxed by a bunch of primeval, eccentric women…what the hell were we thinking?

Hoffman takes a seat in his chair as he gestures Fenix to do the same.

"Have a seat, Sergeant…this may take several minutes." Hoffmann sighs as he removes his cap and sets it on the desk while he rubs his head.

"How are your men, Sergeant?'

"Cold, tired…but for the most part, cold."

Hoffman lets out a light chuckle.

"Are they coping?"

"Depends," Fenix replies matter-of-factly.

"On what, Sergeant?"

"On which one you wanna to hear about,"

"Well…I'll go ahead and just cut the shit, Sergeant."

Fenix looks up at Hoffman with anticipation,

"I'm going to reform Sigma One, so I'm putting Cole and Baird back to be deployed."

Fenix starts to slump in his chair, frowning after hearing the news.

"I need some experienced Gears on this one, Fenix, we have way too many recruits. Plus, I need you for another objective for the same exact reason."

"I take it we're short…"

"That's just scratching the surface, Sergeant…and on top of all this, I have to depend on those wild bitches to guide them out in uncompromising conditions."

"The Feral, sir?"

"Unfortunately. Don't get me wrong, I don't underestimate their capabilities, but these women have been amassing arms and intel from COG outposts for years, so needless to say, I don't trust their alliance…but circumstances have pitted me between these Locust outposts and the Stranded insurgency and we need to act on this now before the Frost hits us even harder in the next few weeks. We can't relocate the rest of the citizens to Vectus until some of this is resolved. It's going to get worse before it gets better."

"With all due respect sir, how can we be sure they know what their doing?"

"About six months ago, Gamma Ten came across a decimated Stranded settlement, south of here. During the investigation, Gamma was ambushed by some "mysterious guerillas." There was only one survivor, out of six! We lost five, able-bodied men by a pack of vindictive bitches! The Stranded apparently lost fifteen rebels, including their leader. Other squads later found those Stranded rebels of that same camp, mutilated Sergeant!"

"Mutilated, as in,"

"The leader was found, hung from a post, ass end up, disemboweled, with his genitalia removed and apparently, shoved in his mouth! Now, granted, that was an isolated case, but the fact remains those bitches were able to squash fifteen armed men, relocate them and gut them, and then turned around to take out five, highly trained soldiers. We still have yet to figure out which "clan" was responsible!"

"What was the motive for their attack?"

"Well, apparently, the settlement was using Stranded women for profiteering, and well to make a long story short, they rounded up some ladies against their will for their operation. Obviously, the Feral found it to be debasing, and decided to wipe them out and take the women to amass their own numbers. Since then, they have been rivals over territory. Now why they attacked our men was never known…not that it matters since it's been rumored that they may all be dead now, according to these renegades…they lost several clans since the Locusts have been spreading out recently, scavenging the territory."

"Sigh…permission to speak freely…"

"Be my guest, Sergeant."

"I believe this whole thing to be fubar sir…we ally ourselves with a faction that we don't even fucking understand, we're sending men out to quash the hostilities without any intel on the terrain except that from what we gather from these, Feral…and now you break up my team to spread out the numbers of experienced Gears along with recruits who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground, well sir, I see a list of bullshit directives that's going to put a lot of unnecessary amount of resources and lives to waste!"

"Dually noted, Sergeant…but keep this in mind…I have over three thousand and counting, civilians to relocate to Vectus island. Our primary objective is to move them and our armories safely to our new place of refuge at all cost…but how can I do that Sergeant if I have Locusts and the Stranded, picking at our defenses?"

The recent events that took place at their outposts just outside of the Block have nearly caused a widespread panic among Jacinto's remnant. Marcus, of all people, knew that the insurgencies where getting bolder and that it was not going to stop. He groaned, realizing that time was working against them. Shit, everything was working against us.

Although he was not happy about the situation, he knew that there really was no other option. It was going to be a long day for all of them. Marcus finally succumbed to Hoffman's orders.

"Sigh…understood. You want me to bring in Baird and Cole, or do you want me to tell them?"

"It may be best if you tell them Sergeant. I am going to have to sit and talk to their linguist to iron out some details. Only one of the five, out there, can speak fluent Tyran, the rest have some crazy dialect, I can't understand a word of it."

"Shit…understood. Was there anything else sir?"

"While we're on the subject, I am going to assign a Feral guide with Sigma, so if you would, you tell Corporal Baird to keep his sassy flak to himself before he pisses off our only means of keeping friendly relations with the Feral."

"Are you sure you want Baird to have that responsibility?"

"He's an admirable soldier and I believe he can pull his foot out of his ass when shit hits the fan, but he needs to be thrown in the fire every now and then to redeem himself. He's done it before, he can do it again…besides, I'm tired of them two, running rowdy with idle hands, dicking around like two little boys who just discovered daddy's firework and porn stash."

Fenix laughs to himself as he sits back up in his chair.

"Your dismissed," says Hoffman.

Sergeant Fenix stands up from his chair as he proceeds to exit the room, before Hoffman stops him.

"Oh, and by the way, you tell that little Feral girl in the front to come in here for me, please."

"Sigh, yes sir."

Fenix steps out, leaving the door open as he reluctantly turns to the Feral, Raven, still seated in the chair. She could tell right away that he decided he wasn't going to like her. Blatantly, she could sense same vibe from other Gears, not to mention, Hoffman. This whole idea was sour to begin with.

Marcus finally motions her.

"The Colonel wants to debrief you," he says in his low, rough voice.

"Right now?" she responds with sarcasm, not the least bit intimidated by his demeanor, or at least she attempted not to show it.

"Yea…now."

Chapter 3: Two Peas In A Pod Edit

Bairdsm

"This so, sucks balls, I can't even begin to tell how much sucking we are in for before someone finally realizes, oh hey, wait, this really does suck balls," Damon Baird rants to Augustus Cole as he fiddles with the motor on Cole's Lancer, trying to loosen up the chain on the saw bar while sitting on the floor with his tools placed in between his straddled legs.

The two sat in a makeshift locker room in their bottom fatigues and undershirts as their armor was laid spread on the floor, "airing" out. The scent in the vicinity was typical for a men's locker room, filled with aroma of stale air festering with the stench of soiled clothes that's been sitting in a locker for a week. The atmosphere was rather warm as the window unit pushed out the cold air, leaving the musty, humid air inside.

Cole sits on a bench while fiddling with his Cog tags, ignoring Baird's ranting as he watches him intensely removing the chain off of the drum to replace the worn teeth with newer one's. Baird suddenly breaks his concentration.

"Shit, Cole, this is the third time I had to replace this…the hell are you cutting with this thing anyway, fucking boulders?"

"Man, them Locusts feel like it…" Cole says as he turns to peck Baird on the shoulder,"…oh

hey, Marcus says he wanted to talk to you."

"What for…oh, fuck, what the hell did I do this time?"

"You think you're in trouble?"

"I'm always in trouble," Baird starts to rant, again.

"I swear, you and Dom can go run amuck, doing all sorts of shit while I'm minding my own business and some how, some way, Marcus finds some implausible reason to blame me for it!"

"Hehe, that's because if we mess up, we just say you did it."

Baird drops his wrench as he sits up and turns to Cole.

"So that's why I'm always in trouble…because of you fuckheads!"

"Nah, I think Marcus is still pissed for what you did to him on his birthday."

"For what…oh…wait, you mean when I tipped him in the portable potty? Oh, c'mon, that was hilarious, even Dom was laughing his ass off on that one, and you were laughing so hard you nearly wet yourself."

"No, I was laughin at the part when he came after you once he got out, heehee…I'd never seen two white boys run so fast! I'm just ticked that I missed yo ass beatin when he caught up to you"

"He didn't beat my ass because he never caught me! He's almost as slow as you are."

"Yea, whatever…" Cole mused while Baird completed the maintenance on Cole's Lancer.

"Sweet, I can't wait to try this out," Cole beams as he picks it up carefully, trying not to bump the bayonet on himself.

"You'll need to run it a few times to get the grease going or else it will stiffen up, especially in this weather…we can't be running around with a stiffy now, can we."

The two exchange laughter as they continue to maintenance the rest of their weapons, all the while, Sergeant Marcus Fenix walks into the room, after spending the past half hour looking for them, while carrying some of their laundry.

"So there you are," Marcus bellows out as Cole chuckles even more.

"Uh oh, you busted now!"

"Oh, hi Marcus, I mean, sir," Baird replies with a sarcastic grin.

"Dipshit," Marcus quietly scoffs as he approaches the two,

"Listen up, Hoffman is going to put you two back on Sigma to be deployed out this afternoon."

Baird starts to sulk. The idea was already starting to suck balls. Speaking of sucking…

"Sigh, with who else," Baird moans.

"You'll find out when you get to your Raven, but I do know that you will have a Feral guide in your group, so try not to piss her off, please."

"Now what makes you think I would do such a thing like that?"

"Don't even start to patronize me, Baird."

"Yea, yea, I get it…follow the objective without making the Feral chick mad."

"I mean it Baird…this is an opportunity to redress your sorry ass, so try not to fuck it up…and Cole, watch and make sure he doesn't fuck it up."

"You got it, Marcus," says Cole as he slaps his big hand on Baird's back while Marcus watches Baird cringe from the sting.

For the most part, Marcus could normally count on them for whatever calamity may come their way. Hell, the two have saved my ass on more than one occasion. They all have walked into hell and back, cheating death more times than they could shake a stick at. It was a sobering notion to suggest that they were "breaking" up, again.

"So I take it you and Dom are going," Baird grimaces, still flinching from the sting.

"We're to be deployed after you guys…you're going to be dropped off with nine other squads to spread out in pairs and comb the area."

"So who are we pairing with?"

"Gamma Four…and your assigned Feral is going to guide you through the region…they have scouted the area earlier this month, locating Locust camps and Stranded settlements."

Cole gets excited,

"Ah, sweet…we get to hang out with Gamma..."

"Whoopie…" Baird mutters sarcastically, while Cole tries to cheer him up.

"C'mon, Baird, it'll be fun! We'll get back out on the field, hang out with those Feral cuties, be back in time for supper…"

"Their not "cuties," Cole, their a pack of ornery wenches…" Baird groans, "…did you ever hear what they did to Omega Five, a few years back?"

"What could a handful of little chickies do to an entire squad?"

"Control lost contact with them, and they were MIA for a week."

"So where did they find em?"

"All over…a leg here, an arm there…it took the coroner a month to piece them together."

"Oh," Cole's excitement dwindled down. If Marcus ever agreed with Baird on anything, the fact that their mission is going to depend on the insight of the Feral was unsettling at best. They are just as reliable as they are malicious. Not exactly the best combination for a couple of guys who for the most part can't seem to keep their idle hands to themselves. Marcus attempts to prepare them as best as he can.

"I doubt you'll be back in time for supper Cole, so grab some food before you leave" says Marcus while Cole pouts, "…and here…" Marcus sneers as he hands Cole his freshly laundered undergarments. He then turns to Baird with his clean undergarments and throws them at him,

"…change your damn underwear before you leave."

Baird manages to dodge his undershirt, but gets face planted with his boxers, as Marcus shoots a satisfying grin.

"Hopefully…you should be back by dark. Now get your shit put together…they want you to report in an hour, " Marcus informs them as the two change their clothes and put on their chest plates.

"Oh, and guys…" the two looked back up as Marcus's expression turns solemn, "...be sure you come back alive…you hear me?"

"You know it," Cole blasts.

"Yea…we hear ya." Baird responds in a more serious tone.

"Good luck, fellas."


*Graphic provided by st00pher [2]

Chapter 4: We Are Sigma…Again Edit

Colesm

Cole throws his gear into the Raven before he grabs the hull and climbs up into it, while the pilot and copilot could be heard doing their routine, radio tests. He quickly realized that the cabin was a bit warmer than the outside as he lets out a shudder from the two air masses intertwining inside the cramped space. Two other Gears were already sitting inside while they anxiously waited for the rest of their squad mates to come on board. Cole finds a place to sit, opposite of the other two Gears in the cabin. One of them finally welcomes him,

"Welcome back to Sigma…you must be Private Augustus Cole."

"Yes sir, in the flesh," Cole responds with enthusiasm.

"I hear you were part of the Lightmass Offensive, with Delta squad…"

"Yea, that's right, baby…we blew those bitches sky high, hehe."

The other Gear started to beam with zeal.

"Holy shit, it's really you…the Cole Train," he bursts out.

"Yea, that's right,"

The first Gear turns to the other,

"Ok…give him a break…I'm sure he hears that all the time,"

"Nah…it's all good…everyone wants to see The Train, baby," Cole grins.

The first Gear introduces himself.

"My name is Lieutenant Milane…and this is Private Sven Dunrich,"

"…yea, but everyone calls me Vin, or Vinny…it's just easier," says Sven, trying to break the ice.

"You got it, Vinny," Cole recants while Milane continues,

"I understand that we have a technician with us,"

"Yea, Corporal Baird…he's loading up some equipment…he'll be here, sir."

"Great…we are also waiting for our Feral guide…her name is Raven McNight, but everyone just calls her Feral. She should be with us shortly."

"Sweet, can't wait," Cole gestures as he turns his head outside the chopper to see Baird making his way to the entrance. Trudging through the slushy snow, Baird runs lightly over to the Raven, carrying additional baggage.

"Hurry up Damon…time to get this show on the road," Cole yells out.

"Yea, yea…working on it," Baird responds as he tosses a medical box and his equipment into the cabin. He jumps in and picks up the med box to strap it down near the bottom of the hull, and then proceeds to take a seat next to Cole.

"Sorry I'm late, but somebody insisted that we take some additional medical supplies, and nobody else, but me, was apparently informed about it." Baird gripes as he tries to get comfortable, while Cole taps him on the shoulder.

"Oh…hey, this is Lieutenant Milane and Private Vinny Dunrich. They're on our team."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Corporal," says Milane as Baird extends the same courtesy, trying to be nice.

"Likewise," Baird gestures in return.

Lieutenant Milane was rather cordial than most officers Baird has dealt with over the years, not to mention younger. Despite his youthful appearance, for an officer, he was not near as young as the rookie, Sven.

Sven still had a "baby face," composure as his short, light brown hair, slicked up into a short faux-hawk, made him look even more "juvenile," while Milane appeared to be more professional as his dark hair was textbook shaved, close to his head, but dark enough to still visibly notice his hairline.

Milane turns his head, looking out of the cabin.

"Here she comes…"

Cole leans out to peer over Baird as he sees someone approaching the Raven to what, appears to be wearing Locust materials.

"What the…is that a Feral?" Cole blurts out while the other three turn to face the same direction, as Milane responds.

"Yep, that's our Feral."

Raven walked up to the chopper, meandering through the choppy, iced ground as she dismounts her equipment backpack and throws it in the cabin while standing on the tips of her boots, trying to push it in as far as her arms would allow her.

The three just sat and watched in curiosity as the petite woman jumps up into the cabin, using the frame of the threshold to climb in. With her feet slipping slightly from the snow that was caked on the bottom of her boots, she attempts to catch her footing when Lieutenant Milane extended his hand to catch her arm. In return, she quickly whirls around, retreating her arm back from him as if she was tenaciously avoiding contact. Milane shrinks back in response to her reaction as she proceeded to place her equipment bag next to everyone else's. Feral then scans the cabin, looking for a place to sit, but finds most of the area taken. Milane stands up to give her room, feeling the atmosphere around her to be antagonistic, but nevertheless motions her to have a seat anyway. She looks around with her wide, icy blue eyes and then takes up Milane's offer to sit down in his spot.

"Thank…you," she hesitantly says, realizing she may have made everyone uncomfortable with her demeanor, trying to be as polite as she understood to be. Feral was not used to being around men, much less Gears, and she didn't like flying, period. The others could tell that she was twitchy.

"Your, welcome," Milane says, attempting to make her more comfortable, although it probably didn't help. He tries to introduce her to the others to ease the awkward atmosphere that was cramping them,

"Just so you know, this is Private Cole, Corporal Baird…" Milane points as the two acknowledged his introduction," …and sitting next to you is Private Vinny Dunrich. We're all part of Sigma squad."

"Of…course," she says shyly as she looks at the three individually and nods while she slowly slumps into her seat, trying to be discreet. She did not like being the center of attention.

As the five get settled, the gunners took their positions while the engine on the bird began to roar.

"This is it," Milane yells out over the noise, while Sven sits up against the cabin, trying not to encroach on Feral's personal space.

Baird turns to Cole,

"Did you take that pill I gave you?"

"Yea…what you say it was suppose to do?"

"It's suppose to help your nausea, so I won't have to wipe your chuke off of my armor again."

"Oh, yea!"

Milane grabs onto the handle as the rotors start to spin faster and louder. Feral becomes tense as she closes her eyes and grabs the edge of her seat. Her pale face began to flush in the cold air, accented by her feathery short, black hair as she curled her lip in anxiety. Cole could tell she was nervous, which only made her look even "cuter."

Cole nudges Baird with his arm as he quietly chuckled,

"Heehee…she's pretty, isn't she."

Baird rolls his eyes as he subtly responds under the ascending clamor of the Raven turboshaft engine,

"We're not going there, Gus."

Cole starts to laugh out loud.

"Oh, and by the way, I'm supposed to remind you not to fuck this up!"

"Son of a bitch, am I going to have to listen to this crap during the entire mission?" Baird blurts out while Cole snickers,

"You bet your white ass!"

"Fuck," Baird growls under the loud noise of the spinning rotors.

In the cabin they can hear the pilot on the radio,

"Welcome ladies to KR Four-Three, and we will be taking off very shortly, if you have not already noticed but just so you know, my name is Cpt. Nigal Jonas and I will be your pilot today, along with my co-pilot, Lt. Samus Frank. Our gunners are Pvt. Devon Fargus and Cpl. Merl Jammacia, but we all just call him "Jimmie,"

Jimmie waves his hand as the Gears acknowledge back.

"…and just so you know, if you have not read the passenger manual for this flight, I am required to inform you that this is a non-smoking craft and that if you are caught smoking, it better be because your ass is on fire, which brings me to also inform you if in the event, the cabin, or your ass, is on fire, the extinguisher is located to the back of the cabin, next to the red label that says "in case of an emergency." Thank you for your audience and enjoy the flight."

"Yea, right," Baird grumbles while the bird suddenly jolts, and begins to slowly lift from the ground.

"Let's do this, Captain," Fargus yells at the cockpit while Jimmie gives the cockpit crew a thumbs up. The bird elevates farther from the ground as it follows in formation behind three other birds ahead of them. In ascension, four other Ravens begin to lift and follow after them. The crew in the cabin can see the ground turn, feeling the cold air rush around them as aircraft picks up speed and forms into position along with the other King Ravens.

Cole closes his eyes, trying not to look down as the G-forces takes its toll on his stomach.

"Ah, man…I hope this shit you gave me works."

"Getting airsick soldier?" Milane noticed, watching Cole place his head in between his legs. Baird starts to rub his hand on Cole's back,

"Motion sickness, sir. I gave him something before we arrived to take the edge off…that, and I'm tired of cleaning up his barf," Baird explained while Milane chuckled in response, looking over at Sven and Raven.

Sven looks out of the cabin in awe, savoring the moment of being in the sky, since he seldom got to fly in a chopper. Raven, on the other hand continues to cling to the edge of her seat, taking deep breaths while her brow sat heavily over her deep, set eyes. She was not enjoying herself at all.

"Feral, here, doesn't like to fly, either," Milane informs the others as he grinned, while Raven conveniently ignores him. Baird turns his gaze from the white landscape to the little woman sitting across from him, clinging relentlessly to her seat. He soon notices her loosely familiar attire that complimented her minuscule figure. She had oddly shaped shoulder and back armor, made of some dark hardy leather-like material, while a piece of cloth, similar to that of a Kantus robe, hung below her waist like a loincloth as it dangled between her legs.

Baird couldn't help to wonder how the Farel manage to get these dressings, much less custom them for their own personal use, but then again, he could recall the transcripts would customize their Gear armor to suit their needs. Perhaps the Feral did the same…cause there's no way she would be able to fit in a Gear's armor.

He quickly observes her side arms, both strapped to her thighs. She had a Boltok pistol in her left holster, with a Gorgon pistol on her right, both strapped on leg harnesses that were also buckled to her ammo belt. Although the rest of her leggings were made from some unfamiliar animal hide, her boots, however, were definitely Gear material, and were black instead of brown.

Cole carefully picks up his head as he slowly opens his eyes, taking a deep breath and then slowly exhaling.

"You alright, man?" Baird asks.

"I think so…I don't feel too shitty," Cole answered back.

Shortly after Cole's comment, the group feels a sudden bump, as the five jerk inside the cabin.

"Oh shit…I take that back!"

The craft shook violently as it suddenly, jolted again.

"Ok, now what the fuck was that?" Baird busted out, while Cole grabs his seat, holding on fast. Blast sounds become audible around the cabin as Sven looks out to find other birds taking evasive action.

"Ah crap…I hear gunfire," Sven yells as Feral clenches the seat even tighter, next to him.

Milane turns his head to the gunners as they ready their chain guns, and then looks towards the cockpit. The radio begins to sound off.

"Hang on ladies…we got turbulence."

"Aw, shit…turbulence my ass, we're being shot at," Cole groans as the Raven tilts to the right, forcing the crew to lean as the bird bumps a few more times, more violently than the one earlier. Cole's dark face begins to turn green as he places his hand over his mouth. Baird looks at him in horror, trying to hang on while shifting his body away from Cole.

"Cole…don't you do it, man…or I swear," Baird sneers as he leans away to avoid the possibility of Cole's "vomit comet."

Captain Jonas turns over to face the gunners from the cockpit.

"Jimmie, Fargus, fire at those bitches!"

The gunners fire their chain guns while Milane peers out of the cabin to see a Reaver passing by.

"We got Reavers…shit," Milane barked as he began to make his way to the middle of the cabin, hanging on to the handles as the bird starts to shift to the left. They catch glimpses of the flying, mounted Reavers, while their bird returned fire.

Looking down, they could see the fire blasts, coming from ground infantry as the other King Ravens attempt to dodge them. Suddenly, they see one of the birds get pummeled on the top of its hull as smoke seeps from the rotor. The Raven slowly starts to drop as the blades fall apart and then gravity finally clutches it, pulling it down fast, crashing it to the ground.

"Oh shit, oh shit," Sven panics while the others look out in shock. All of a sudden, they receive another strong jolt, but this time the warning light starts to sound off in the cabin,

"Ohhh…That doesn't sound good," Milane grumbles, as the others second the notion while they can hear the pilot cussing over the radio.

"Fuck…our fuel pressure is wavering guys…your going to have to get yourselves together because I'm dropping you, now!"

"Wait…were not at the drop zone yet," Milane protests facing the cockpit.

"We're not going to make it to the drop zone Lieutenant. Get your men ready!"

"Fuck…alright…men, grab your gear," Milane ordered.

The men attempt to collect their gear, all the while the aircraft starts to tremor. They could feel the bird starting to drop as the warning light flashed brightly.

Cole grabs on to the cabin wall, trying to brace himself as the bird drops in short bursts, getting closer to the ground, while Baird props his foot against the hull and pulls out his Lancer. Milane prostrates himself on the other wall as he too, pulls out his Lancer, carefully looking down, watching their Raven flying closer to the tops of the trees.

"Ok folks, this is it. When I tell you to jump, you jump! Don't hesitate, don't think…just do it! I am going to drop this thing as low as I can but it will not stay stable for long…good luck Gears," the pilot announced, trying to keep the Raven steady.

The bird hits the tops of couple of trees on the way down, trying to dodge ground fire at the same time. The forest finally clears into what used to be a small town surrounded by boulders and meadows, covered in snow.

As the Raven slows down, close to a hover over fifteen feet from the ground, the pilot tries to keep the rotor moving as they feel the craft starting to idle.

"Go, go, go! Move out!"

"Shit, that's a long fucking drop," Sven complains, bracing himself with one hand against the hull while clinging to his Longshot rifle, strapped to his back.

"Get out, soldier," Milane barks as he grabs Sven by his collar and pulls him towards the exit.

Baird goes over to the exit, grabs the side of the door and leaps out. Cole makes his way to the exit and looks down.

"Aw…shit," he bellows, watching Baird make landfall as he jumps and rolls in the snow. Cole then jumps out, feeling the crisp air sting his bare arms as he hits the ground, letting gravity pull him forward into a roll along the slushy snow.

The Raven continued to move forward, while Feral is the next to leap out of the craft, dropping down into a snow covered, grassy meadow.

"Shit, I'm not going to…" Sven panics while Milane cuts in,

"You're jumping, now get your ass out!"

Milane pushes Sven out of the door, watching him plummet into the hay bales below. The Raven begins to teeter as the pilot yells out from the cabin, in between sudden spurts jolts and shimmies,

"Get out Lieutenant, we're going down!"

He could feel the Raven idle even more as the bird starts to shift on its side. Milane finally leaps out, blinded by the upheavaled snow, stirred up from the churning blades above. Blinded by a bright white light, Milane slips out of consciousness, as he plummets to the ground below, losing his grip of reality.

*Graphic provided by st00pher [3]

Chapter 5: Trial By Fire Edit

Raveninksm

Baird runs over to Cole, helping him up from out of the snow.

"Shit, that's cold, WHOO," Cole blasts as he brushes off the snow from his armor.

"C'mon…get your ass moving, we need to find the others," Baird persists as he lifts his goggles to his forehead and starts running with Cole following behind.

"Hey Baird…slow down man," Cole complains, trying to keep up in the heavy snow, while he sees Baird prostrated up against a iced-up, shabby barn, and runs up over to his position, while still panting, trying to breathe in the thin, cold air.

"Well…what took you so long," Baird mused with a chuckle,

"Jackass," Cole mutters as he breathes heavily, supporting his weight with his hand up against the wood plank wall.

Baird looks around the corner to peer out into the snow covered meadow. He scans around, hoping to find the others, and then soon notices Feral standing on top of what appeared to be a snow blanketed hay bale, trying to pull out Sven whom was chest deep in the bale.

"Hey…Cole…I found them," Baird yells out.

He quickly looks to see if it was clear and then suddenly darts off into the meadow.

"Hey, HEY…wait…shit," Cole yells as he tries to follow Baird through the snow covered field.

Feral continued to pull Sven by the shoulders, barely making any progress,

"Shit, I'm stuck," Sven gripes, trying to wiggle out.

"Hold still, damnit," Feral torts, trying to pull him out by his shoulder guards, but ends up losing her grip as her hands slips from the snow caked on his armor, falling backwards into the snow covered ground, breaking her fall.

"DAMNIT," she yells in frustration, only to suddenly whip around with her pistol in hand at the sound of someone running towards them.

"NO…wait…it's just one of our guys," Sven blurts out as Baird makes his way towards them.

"Yea…friendlies…don't shoot me please," Baird scoffs. Feral groans as she puts her pistol down, and brushes the snow from her black hair while Baird puts up his Lancer and extends his hand to help her up. She hesitates at first, but then cautiously accepts Baird's civility as he lifts her up from the snow blanketed grass.

"I…can't…get him out," she says as Baird turns to Sven.

"Alright kid…give me a minute," he says to Sven as he hops up on the bale, gripping him underneath his armpits and pulls. Cole comes panting in as he leans over to catch his breath,

"Ok…I made it…so what's up?" he says in between pants.

Cole looks over as he sees Baird trying to pull Sven out of the bale.

"Shit…what the hell, Vin," Baird gripes as he struggles to pull Sven out. Feral climbs up on the hay bale and tries to push Sven from behind, but to no avail. Baird looks up at Feral,

"Ok…on my count, you push, I'll pull, got it?" he said.

"Yea, I got it," says Feral as she braces herself on Baird's count.

"Ready, one, two, three…"

The two manage to budge Sven at least a foot, but he suddenly comes to a halt as if he was caught on something.

"Aw, man…this sucks," Sven whimpers while Baird releases him and wipes the sweat from his brow before it freezes.

"Aha, you see Cole…I told you this whole mission was going to suck balls, and it's only been…what, fifteen minutes?"

"Let me try that," says Cole as he wraps his arms underneath Sven's and starts to pull. He manages to get part of the way but then something jerks Sven into a standstill.

"Aw…shit, he's got to be caught on something," Cole mutters while Baird grips one side of Sven's armor while Cole grabs the other side and the two men slowly pull Sven out of the hay while Feral jumps back to give them room. She peers around the men as she catches a glimpse of something wrapped around his boot.

"Wait…I see what's holding him down," Feral blurts out as she runs over to take a look while the two hold on. Wiggling through the two Gears, Raven slips in and into the hay bale to get a better look at Sven's feet.

"Geez, no wonder we can't get you out, Vin…you got a loading strap, wrapped around your boot…" Feral says as she pulls out her knife, "…give me a minute,"

"Aw, man…I hate knives," Sven whines as Cole and Baird, struggle to hold Sven out.

"Quit yer whining, boy," Cole winces while still holding on.

"Hurry…Feral," Baird moans, waiting for Feral to finish cutting the strap.

"I almost got it, Corporal," she says as she finally cuts through the last nylon thread. Just as soon as she cut it through, the three Gears suddenly go flying backwards as Sven plows right into Cole and Cole collapses onto Baird, forming one big pile of Gears.

"Oh…wow, that's much better," Sven relaxes while Cole grimaced,

"Vinny…your…crushing my jock, kid!"

"Oh…uh…sorry," Sven quickly dismounts while Cole clutches his groin and cringes. Cole then feels a jab in his back as Baird yells out.

"Will you get the hell off me…please?"

"Sorry Damon…hold on," Cole squirms as he rolls off of Baird.

Baird continues to lie in his spot, groaning as he takes a few deep breaths, watching the warm air seep from his mouth and nostrils. While the three slowly gather themselves up, Feral looks out from the top of the hay bale, scanning the field for a few minutes and then leaps back down to the ground.

"I believe Lieutenant Milane may be further down, towards the town," she says as she points in the town's direction.

"Groan…alright," Baird winces as he slowly gets up. Cole moves to help him on his feet while Sven pulls out his Gnasher shotgun, brushing the snow and hay off of it. Baird and Cole pull out their Lancers, brushing the grass and snow off the handles.

"Follow me," Feral persists as she started to roadie run while the three Gears meander behind her, moving to the other side of the white meadow. Running through the frozen grass, they could feel the snow, crushing beneath their boots, while Feral picks up her feet, moving from side to side, staying light on her toes, and keeping her trail faint. She suddenly halts at a iced over, rusty bailer, sitting just outside of a thicket. The others make it to her position as they too take cover behind the massive tractor, covered in snow and icicles.

"How do we even know that Milane got out of the Raven?" Cole begins to question.

"I saw someone jump out of our Raven while it was still sky bound," Feral replied.

"Regardless whether he made it our or not, we still have to locate our ride…there might be survivors," Baird informs him as they look around the bailer, scanning for Milane or Locusts. They could hear a fire fight in the distance as the sound of flying Raven's was still in earshot, but it soon dissipated over the forest and into the horizon.

"Man…I hope the others get there ok," Cole ponders.

"But what if they don't make it…" Sven says.

"There is nothing we can do for them now…the Corporal is right, we must help those in our immediate vicinity," Feral quietly responds.

"Do you even know where our bird went?" Baird asks.

"I know it went this direction, but I will have to get up high to tell you where it landed," she acknowledges while Baird replies with a nod, and then proceeds into the thicket, slowly.

"Let's go…keep an eye out, and keep it low," Baird advises as the others march behind him.

They walk around the tall, conifer trees, stepping over bundles of pine needles and cones, mixed in with the snow. Feral moves ahead of the group, quietly meandering around the trees, making faint noise with her feet on the snow covered ground.

The scent of pinesap tainted the dry, crisp air as flakes of snow fluttered around the forest, making visibility faint. Feral slows down her pace, taking larger steps over piles of forest foliage gathered in snow heaps on the ground.

Suddenly, Feral halted and then crawled behind a brush while the others stopped in their tracks. Baird could tell that something spooked her, and motioned the others to drop down with his hand. They waited a moment, watching Feral for a motion or a glance, but she remains still, keeping her hands on her pistols.

As they peer through the air ahead of them, they could softly hear footsteps moving on the snow-covered ground, closing in their direction. They quietly ready their weapons, waiting for the moving presence to reveal itself behind the frosty curtain.

As the dark figure moved closer, they suddenly recognize it to be Milane. He carefully, takes one step at a time, peering through the dense air.

"Friendlies," he spoke out, as Sven, Baird, and Cole stood up.

"Yea…friendlies," Baird responded while Milane carefully walks over to them.

"You guys made it…that's a comfort," Milane continued as he loaded up his Lancer.

"We didn't know if you made it sir," Sven stepped in as Milane addresses him.

"Barely…our bird managed to slither a few more kilometers, that away…" Milane turns around to point, "…but I lost sight of it before it went down."

"We was looking for our ride, hoping to find you first," says Cole.

"Well, thanks for looking for me, but I'm afraid you'll have to turn back around…the Locusts are moving this way."

"You've got to be kidding me," Baird gripes.

"I wish I was, Corporal…but we need to move, now."

Just as Lieutenant Milane finished speaking, an earsplitting thunderous voice, blasted through the woods.

"BOOM!"

"GET DOWN, NOW," Baird hollered, as the men scattered in all directions.

Suddenly, a loud explosion pierced through the trees, as the noise rang in their ears behind the falling debris of snow, pine needles, wood, and blood.

Oh God, someone got hit. Baird started to crawl on the ground, keeping his head down while trying to peer through the rain of debris, still falling in the air. He then looks up in front of him to see a massive figure, stepping around the brush up ahead as he hears that all familiar, thunderous roar again.

"BOOM!"

Baird darts behind a neighboring tree as the Boomshot rang out as pieces of branches and snow, scatter into the forest. Baird flanks to the left of the slow moving, massive creature as he crawls behind another tree, only to roll on top of a bloody, strewn corpse in the snow, dense thicket.

Ugh…damn. At first he couldn't tell who it was, but judging by the armor, he knew it was a Gear. He pushed the distorted corpse over to see if he could find the COG tags, but the corpse was so mangled he couldn't tell if the part was a torso or a leg; shit, what a fucking mess!

"BOOM!"

Baird looks over to his right to find the colossal Boomer Locust, standing not too far from him, as he could feel the ground tremor beneath him with each step the beast took. He remained concealed behind the tree while the Boomer scans the vicinity with his beady eyes, breathing heavily as his raspy breath gurgled in irritation.

"Landwalker gone…"

"Over hear, sucka," a voice rang out from a distance.

Cole…damnit, get down. The Boomer turned around in the direction of the noise, and bellows,

"BOOM!"

The beast roars as he fires his Boomshot towards Cole's voice, distracting it from Baird's position. Behind the thicket, Baird pulls out a Bolo grenade and proceeds to flank the Boomer from behind.

Baird could hear Cole taunting in the distance, as the Locust fixes his concentration in Cole's direction while reloading his Boomshot.

"Haha…you missed…you can't hit shit!"

The beast fires his Boomshot again.

"BOOM!"

Just after the Boomer launches his gun, Baird sneaks up behind the creature and plants the Bolo grenade onto the Boomers rump.

"FRAG OUT!" Baird yells as he leaps into a nearby ditch behind another tree.

"Get down," Cole busts out as the creature turns toward Baird's position.

"BOOM?"

Before the Locust could react, the grenade goes off, tearing up the brush around it while the Boomer let's out a chilling scream, flailing it's arms around the chaos. The Boomer's rump was in bloody shambles, trying to turn around on one functional leg.

As the infuriated beast turns around to fire another round at Baird, a shot rings out in the thicket as it echoes through the woods. The enormous brute let's out a gurgling growl, dropping it's Boomshot to the ground, and then its large body, slumps down to the floor, laying motionless with it's blood spurting into the white snow.

Baird carefully stands up, brushing the wood chips and debris off of his armor as he looks over the massive creature to find Feral stepping around it with Boltok pistol in hand, and smoke drifting from the barrel. Putting it back into her holster, she covers her nose and mouth with her hand, trying to block the stench seeping from the Boomer's fresh corpse.

"You alright, Corporal?" she asks with her hand still covering her nose.

"Yea…damn," Baird gestures, trying not to inhale the fresh stench in the air.

"…and by the way, you're welcome," Raven quickly adds.

While avoiding the foul odor, Baird gives her a bitter look at the same time.

Cole shouts out, over the recent commotion,

"Baird…you alright man?"

Baird could hear Cole from a distance as he shouts back, "Yea…is anyone with you?"

"I got Vinny with me!"

Oh no…Milane.

Baird turned around to locate the rest of the corpse. There were pieces scattered around the brush as he looks around, trying to make sense of the body parts…oh there's no way in hell we're going to piece this poor bastard together. Feral steps down towards Baird's position as she looks upon the bleak picture.

"Who is it?" she asks.

"I think it's Milane, but I need to find his tags, just to be sure."

"Are these it?" Raven lifts up her arm, holding a set of COG tags as Baird comes over to get a better look. She hands them over to Baird as she watches him analyze them. She could tell from his expression that it wasn't good.

"Sigh…it's Milane's…fuck," Baird mumbles, "…how well did you know him?"

"What do you mean, Corporal?" Feral glares at him in puzzlement.

"Well…it sounded as if he knew you so I figured you two…I don't know, got to know each other?"

"Yea…during the debriefing, along with the Sergeant Harley from Gamma, but that was only for twenty minutes…so, to answer your question, no I didn't really know him," she replied, vaguely.

"O…kay." Baird responds in astonishment.

Cole and Sven carefully walk towards the Boomer's blood trenched body, still pointing their guns at it cautiously.

"You can relax guys, it's dead," Feral yells out, and then turns to Baird as he looks up at her.

"We need to go back," Baird begins, "…Boomers normally come in pairs…the other one will be close by, so we need to leave, now!"

Feral nods as Baird looks around to see Cole and Sven coming towards their position. They slow down as they get a glance of the sprawled body parts in the white snow.

"Aw, man…we're fucked now," Sven panics as Cole starts to shake his head.

"You were right Damon…this is starting to suck," Cole groans looking at their bleak situation. They have only been on the ground for thirty minutes and they were misdropped, lost, and without their squad leader.

Suddenly, they hear Feral coming down the ground from above, panting.

"You were right Corporal…another one is coming this way, we need to go!"

"Groan, I hate it when I'm right…get back to the barn, hurry!"

Feral and Cole take off back the other direction while Baird grabs Sven by the collar, pulling him forward.

"Move, Vinny, go, go, go!"

"BOOM!"

"Shit…not again!"

Baird and Sven hit the ground as fragments of wood and snow scatter a few meters to their right.

"FUCK," Sven screams while Baird stands up and grabs Sven, pulling him up.

"Move your ass, Vinny," Baird yells as the two dash through the woods, running back to the meadow, trying to keep their heads down.

Cole and Feral were already at the barn, waiting for Baird and Sven to come out of the woods. As they peer through the falling snow, they see Baird and Sven hauling ass through the meadow, motioning to the others to get back,

"Move, move…get back!" Baird hollers as he runs towards them. Suddenly, from the outside of the thicket, the massive Boomer peers through the brush, growling,

"BOOM!"

The beast fires blindly in their direction as the rocket passes them up several meters ahead of them.

Cole and Feral duck back behind the barn as Sven and Baird hit the ground, rolling a few times, kicking up the snow as they try to move quickly to the barn between the dusty haze stirred up from the Boomshot.

"SHIT!" Sven yells as Cole runs up to grab and yank him behind the barn, while Baird is crawling over as fast as his legs and hands will take him. The four were hunkered down behind the barn out of the Boomer's sight.

"Now what the fuck do we do?" Cole rants as Baird crawls up the wall.

Feral turns to the others.

"I know a way out, but we'll have to run towards the boarding houses further down over there," Feral points behind them.

"How we going to get there without getting all blowed up?" Cole barks as they can hear the Boomer aimlessly looking for them.

"BOOM!"

"He's having trouble seeing through the snow…I can run out and draw his fire away from the barn," Feral again suggests.

"Hold on a minute…you mean, run back out into the meadow…you won't last long, Feral," Baird argues.

"I'm the faster runner…and I am also the smallest. He will have a harder time trying to see me than you guys. No offense, but you Gears stick out like a blinking, traffic cone…he'll definitely see you."

Baird was about to snap back but he caught himself as the beast roared out again.

"BOOM!"

Baird grimaced as the other Gears looked at him for direction, realizing he had nothing to at the moment to stand on but Feral's suggestion. So he bites his tongue as he rubs his eyes then peers around the corner, seeing the Boomer walking around aimlessly in the snow.

"Ugh…alright…but you haul your ass back to the boarding houses, we'll wait for you there."

"Got it," Feral acknowledges.

"I mean it Feral…you better be there within fifteen minutes!"

"OK…I heard you the first time!"

Before Baird could retort, Feral peers around the corner, then lightly darts off into the meadow while the Boomer continues to scan through the falling snow. Baird carefully watches the Boomer as she darts effortlessly through the meadow.

"What a bitch!" Baird quietly mumbles to himself.

"Damn…she can move fast," Cole notices while Baird snaps him into focus.

"Get ready, Gus…you too Vinny."

Feral slows down out into the middle of the field when she slowly stands up, pulls out her Gorgon pistol and fires it at the Boomer. The Boomer whips around to find Raven waving her arms as she braces herself for the massive Locust to take a shot at her,

"BOOM!"

Flanking to the left, the shot misses her by a few meters as she ducks down into the snow, trodden grass. As the Boomer turns and walks over to her direction, the Gears run out towards the boarding houses nearby.

"Man, I hope she knows what she's doing." Cole whispers.

"Yea…me too," Sven agrees.

"Hurry up guys, we need to get over there to provide some cover," Baird reminds them, trying to keep them focused to the buildings.

Raven continued to move across the meadow as the Boomer slowly scans the area, firing another blind shot at the evading Feral.

"…where are you, groundwalker?" the beast sneers, gnashing his teeth while trying to peer with his beady eyes and fires another blind shot,

"BOOM!"

The three can hear it roaring as they finally make their way to the first house in sight.

"C'mon…over here," Baird insists as they round up inside one of the houses facing the field. Strolling into the back room, Baird takes his Lancer and knocks out a window.

"What are you doing, man?" Cole protests as Baird kicks out the rest of the glass still clinging to the window seal.

"Vin, I need your Longshot…hand it here," Baird orders.

"Uh…sure," Sven obliges as he grabs his Longshot rifle from his back and hands it to Baird.

Baird quickly loads a round into the chamber as he sets it on the window seal, bringing his goggles over his eyes and starts to focus in on the large Boomer across the field.

"The snow is too thick Damon…you can't get an accurate shot," says Cole.

"Yes I can…just watch," Baird reassures him, peering through the scope.

As the Boomer continues to fire blindly, while standing in the middle of the field, growling, Baird zeroes in on his head and then takes a shot. The beast suddenly steps back as it shrieks hideously, banging its head with its Boomshot in irritation. Feral looks up see the colossal beast turn around, snarling in fury. Geez, they have a hard head.

"Aw, Baird…you just pissed it off," Cole gripes.

"One more," Baird says to himself as he loads in the next round. He aims again, carefully focusing on the beasts' head.

"Just…hold still…for a sec."

He could see the monster looking right at him as he peers into his scope, looking right in between it's eyes.

Baird fires the round, straight into the Boomer's forehead as the skull collapses and brain matter splatters onto the snow behind it. The rest of the body stands perfectly motionless as the rest of the pieces of its folded head rolls onto the shoulders. The corpse stands for a few more seconds before it slowly starts to lean and then topples onto the ground.

"Hehe, look at that," Baird muses to himself as he pulls the Longshot back into the house.

"Yea, it's cute how they fall," Cole snickers as Baird hands the rifle back to Sven.

"Wow…I didn't know you were a good shot, sir" Sven says in amazement while Baird pulls his goggles back onto his forehead.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, kid," Baird responds while Cole rolls his eyes.

"Uh huh, now you dunnit, Vin…now your giving him a big head," Cole gripes as Baird turns to Cole, while pulling out his Lancer, and then sticks out his tongue at him.

Feral got up from her cover as she notices the Boomer, lying motionless on the white ground. Peering over the snow heap as she gives the area a quick scan, she then moves over towards the houses, running through the snow covered grass until she got to the main road that meanders between the boarding houses. Slowing down her pace, she scans the ground, looking for the Gears' trail in the snow; they have feet the size of a bears, their trail should be here somewhere.

Finding some fresh footprints nearby, she follows them into a house and takes notice of the entry door that was already left wide open. She carefully walks inside, trying not to make too much noise with her footsteps, and then she peers into a vacant room nearby. Finding it empty, she sighs and turns around slowly until she was suddenly startled by the sound of a gun being cocked back. Jumping back against the wall, Feral whips around, only to find the three Gears with their weapons ready, pointing at her. She turns her head to her right to find Baird two feet from her as he lowers his Lancer and starts to gloat,

"Gotcha!"

Feral flashes him a acidic glare and steps back, glancing at the other three with the same sour expression as they relax their weapons. They could soon tell she was not the least, bit amused.

"What the hell, Corporal?" she hisses at Baird.

"Oh, and by the way…you're welcome," Baird scoffs in return.

"For what?"

"Oh, for taking out the Boomer and saving your ass…you see, Feral, we're not a bunch of clumsy, incompetent meatheads…" Baird scowls as he continues, "…we've been pulling our weight through all of this shit for the past fifteen years, so don't you think for a second that you got anything on us, that would deem inferior to the Feral, or anybody else for that matter."

The Gears could feel the weight in the atmosphere starting to get heavy, as Feral's expression turns spiteful. They waited for a moment to see if she would retaliate, but instead, she steps away irate and marches towards the door, nudging away anything that was in her path, while the other two step out of her way, putting up their weapons.

"Damn…she looked peeved," Cole quietly mumbles to Baird.

"She'll get over it," Baird mutters, "…I'm not putting up with that kind of crap!"

As the three exit the house, they could see Feral nearby, waiting impatiently for them to regroup. They could tell she was still miffed, but Baird continued to move on as if nothing happened.

"We need to make contact with command…where can we go to get a clear signal?" Baird asks Feral. Without saying a word, she points toward another array of trees, just ahead of them as she turns around and starts to hike there.

"Heehee…she's giving you the silent treatment," Cole quietly snickers at Baird.

"Whatever, I don't care," Baird shrugs as he continues to follow her, keeping the established distance she put between them. She then stops to turn around as she yells out,

"This way!"

The Gears follow her lead as they head out of the boarding community. Baird turns over to Cole,

"See…she won't keep a grudge for long…we'll all get along just fine."

"Yea, like cats and dogs," Cole snickers.

"Rowr…fft, fft," Baird gestures while Cole start to laugh.

Chapter 6: Lost With A Broken Horse Edit

"Gamma Four, can you hear me, come in…" Baird chats on his com, attempting to make contact with the other squads.

Deep in a widespread, snow buried forest, what is left of Sigma squad now sits in waiting, hoping another squad may be nearby, but as the static in Baird's com becomes more audible, so does inevitability.

"Epsilon Six, can you read me, over…"

Cole and Sven keep their gaze to Baird, hoping to get an answer while Feral climbs down a tree she crawled up earlier to get a better schematic of their position.

"This is Sigma One, anybody, respond…shit!"

Baird finally gives up as he lets out a sigh, looking around their location while Cole begins to gripe.

"Man, where the fuck we at?"

Sven rubs the back of his neck, shaking off the accumulating snow as he mutters to himself.

"Man, I miss my hot showers."

"Shea, I know what you mean," Cole couldn't help but to agree.

The Gears turn their attention to Feral jumping off a nearby ledge as she rejoins the group, brushing the snow and pine debris off her shoulders.

"We're at least six miles from our drop off point," she reports after spending the latter ten minutes, scouting from the top of a tree.

"Well that doesn't make any sense, we should be in contact range," Baird analyzes as he too brushes snow from his equipment that has been accumulating for the past fifteen minutes.

"Somebody should have made it to the drop off point, hell, there were eight Ravens, two Reavers couldn't have taken them all down," he adds.

"It may be the terrain," Feral responds.

"Or they could be in trouble," Cole adds in, getting antsy just thinking about it.

"Or maybe their just busy," Sven jumps in while the others turn to just glare at him, "...or…not…I'll… shut up now,"

Baird turns to the others as he continues,

"At any rate, we need to first find our ride, just in case somebody might be alive."

"I saw smoke nearby to the north, it's just a kilometer or two," Feral reports.

"Then that's our objective…let's go ladies," says Baird as the others gather up their equipment, and proceed to follow Feral through the woods.

They move carefully around the tall, conifer trees, stepping over heaps of snow gathered on the ground as the cool breeze entices the air with the scent of sap and pinecones. Snow starts to fall again, floating down in the dense air, somewhat obscuring visibility.

"Damn, does it ever stop snowing…I can't see shit in this, man…" Cole complains, "…how we suppose to make out Locusts in this?"

"I can see pretty good with these goggles," Sven beams as he takes them off to lend it to Cole, "…they even have night vision, pretty awesome, huh?"

"Well it's not night time Vinny. Besides, they may be hiding in the snow, setting up an ambush…what good will those goggles be then?"

"I doubt that," Feral remarks as she meanders through the crowding trees, keeping her movements subtle while the Gears brush up on everything, making a racket.

"If the Locust do find us, it'll be because you guys make way to much noise…also, their visibility is just as bad as yours, if not worse."

"You mean ours," Baird attempts to correct her.

"No, I did mean yours…I can see just fine,"

"Uh huh," Baird mumbles to himself, not wanting to get into an argument at the present. Feral returns a cold glare as she moves slightly ahead of them. Baird quietly grumbled as he turned to Cole,

"I can already tell this is going to be a long fucking day."

"Whatever you do, just don't fuck it up," Cole conveniently reminds him.

Baird scowls, making childish gestures as he starts to contemptuously, imitate Marcus,

"Whatever you do, don't piss her off…bullshit…fucking piss her off my ass…" Baird continues to inaudibly ramble while Cole handily ignores him.

The four continue to make their way through the thicket until they see a dark haze in the distance behind the gathering trees. They eventually approach a series of fallen tree trunks as a stream of black smoke, could be seen in the nearby.

"Wait…hey, do y'all smell that?" Sven blurts out as the scent of burning metal seeps into their nostrils.

"Shhh,…geez Sven…you're the worst of the three," Feral sneers from the top of a fallen tree nearby. Baird moves up to take a look as he could see the smoke smoldering in the woods just ahead of them.

"It may be our Raven…we're getting close, so let's pick up the pace," Baird persists as the other two follow suit, brushing up against the snow-layered branches.

Peering through the forest, they spot a collapsed Raven resting on its side over a fallen log, confined between some broken down trees while smoke rises from its chassis. The numbers on the side of the fallen bird could clearly seen; KR, forty-three.

"Shit, everyone is going to see this smoke if they haven't already…we need to hurry this up," says Baird as Cole begins to climb up on top of the Raven to get inside the cabin. Sven follows behind, attempting to pull himself up by the door frame, but his foot slips from the snow that was already caked on top of the metal. Cole quickly grabs Sven by his belt before he falls off completely.

"Easy kid, I gotcha!"

"Whoa, thanks," Sven says as he holds onto Cole's massive arm while Cole pulls him into the cabin.

"Don't mention it, kid…the "Train's" always got yo back!"

Baird starts to make his way to the front of the bird and climbs up to the windshield to get a better look inside, but the smoke mixed with the cold air, fogged up the window, not to mention blood splatter. That's not a good sign. He wipes the frost from the cracked, splotchy glass, and peers into the cockpit to scan the contents inside. He sees the pilot lying limp and partially impaled by the cockpit door, while the co-pilot was dangling motionless from his seat. Damn…we're too late.

"Cole, anyone alive in there," Baird yelled through the hull.

"Nah, Jimmie's gone…Fargus too," Cole yells out from the cabin.

"I think Jonas is gone too…damnit, he's got a door where his chest used to be...check Frank, just to be sure."

Looking past the disarray inside, Baird can see Cole trying to carefully climb into the cockpit. Stepping through the door frame, Cole takes a moment to look around and soon catches glimpse of Jonas' mutilated corpse. Cole quickly covers his nose from the nauseating stench.

"Ugh…damn, Damon, you guessed right…shit," Cole says as he moves over to check on the co-pilot. As he leans, Cole notices a scattered pile of freshly, loosened bowels, sprawled all over the cockpit controls.

"Oh, shit…is he dead?" Sven peers over Cole, trying to retain himself from vomiting while getting a look at Frank still strapped to his seat. Cole reaches over to check for a pulse while trying to avoid inhaling the stench reeking in the air. Cole's face turns sour as he looks at Baird through the window and shakes his head.

"Ah, damnit to hell…you alright Cole?"

"Yea…I just need to get some air."

"Alright, Gus, get out of there, man…" Baird yells through the windshield as he hung his head for a minute, rubbing his temples.

"This shit's getting old," he laments to himself as he starts to make his way down from the Raven.

After nearly countless years of fighting Locusts, any potential hopes of reaching normality was nearly exhausted when he can't seem to meet new comrades without finding them maimed shortly later on. Pictures of faces, people he knew, ran through his head, lost to one calamity or another. How much longer will Cole last? How much longer can he last, not to mention Sven, who's just a kid?

Cole and Sven start to make their way out of the cabin when they see Feral walking along the side.

"Any survivors?" she yells out.

"Natta, their all dead," Cole responds while Baird moves to join Feral. Fter giving the fallen aircraft another quick scan, she turns to Baird,

"We need to detonate this craft," she starts to insist.

"Wait…what…did I just hear that right?," Baird looks at her in protest.

"Take out what you might need and then detonate it," Feral presses on, noticing the look of disapproval in Baird's expression.

"Look Corporal, you said so yourself, that smoke is going to draw attention to itself. The Stranded are going to find it and their going to salvage it for their own ammunitions. We can't let them do that."

"So we just blow it with everybody in it, I don't think so!" Baird nags while Raven responds back,

"Listen, there is a rocky ledge not far from hear near that mountain. We can take the bodies there for cremation."

"Cremation?"

"We can't bury them, the ground is too frozen; their graves will be shallow and the animals will dig them up…and even if we could, we don't have the time."

Baird turns away for a moment and lets out a sigh of exasperation. Despite that he didn't like the idea, he knew that she was right, but he wasn't going to giver the satisfaction of admiting it. He glares at the chopper for another minute before he turns to Feral.

"How far is the ridge?"

"About a fifteen minute hike."

Baird looks up at Cole and Sven, whom were apparently eavesdropping on their conversation. Cole could always tell when Baird was frustrated, but at least this time, Cole can find reason to relate. He too didn't like Feral's request either. Baird turns to both of them,

"Get what you can, and get Jimmie, Fargus, and Frank out. We won't be able to move Jonas, so you'll have to get his cog tags. We're going to blow it up," says Baird.

"So what are we going to do about Jonas…we can't leave him," Cole protests.

"Damnit Gus, we don't have a lot time to try and yank him out of that door…at least not on one piece."

Cole turns to look towards the cockpit and then drops his gaze to the ground as he shakes his head and mutters, "...your right man,"

"Look Gus, I don't like this either…you may be right, the other squads might be in trouble, but we won't know for sure until we find them, if we can. Use the tarp to cover him."

"You got it," Cole replies as he slaps Sven on the shoulder,

"…c'mon kid, let's get this over with."

Chapter 7: Funeral Pyre Edit

The fire blazed brightly in the winter air as the smell of burning pine needles accent the cremation’s aroma. The three Gears watch the last remnant of their fallen comrades, burning into the funeral pyre made of rocks and tree branches that they were able to scrounge up within an hour.

Raven watches from a nearby ledge and then turns away, looking out for anyone, or anything, that might interrupt their eulogy. She can see the smoke coming from the fallen aircraft they detonated with explosives earlier that afternoon, rising beyond the tree line into the dense, cold sky.

The fire picks up the pace as the smoke begins to lift further in the air, giving the fallen a final closure. The living, however, was going to have to move before the smoke draws any Locust attention, if it hasn't already. They started to pick up their equipment as they turn to see Feral making her way towards them.

“We got a problem,” she announces.

“A problem, imagine that,” says Baird with a hint of sarcasm, but suddenly turns serious when Feral gives him a foul look,

Rolling his eyes, he responds, “Alright Feral, what is it?”

“We have a snowstorm heading this direction,” she reports.

“Your shitting me,”

“Go see for yourself, Corporal,”

Baird steps around Raven, hiking towards up the ledge where Raven was looking out from earlier, and sure enough, a dark horizon in the distance moving closer to the valley ahead of them.

“Fuck!” he blurts out as the others pick up on the alarm in the tone of his voice.

“What is it Baird,” Cole blurts out as Baird quickly jumps down from the ledge.

“We need to find shelter, and fast,” Baird says as he turns to Raven, “…I don’t suppose you have anything in mind that is preferably nearby?”

“We follow the river to the Hurl Dam…”

“…but that takes us away from the drop point, Feral, and away from our objective…”

“There is no shelter near the drop point, and even if there was, we wouldn’t make it there before the blizzard does. You said preferably nearby, and besides, there is a major Stranded settlement on the other side of mountain near the glacier lake…”

Baird lifts an eyebrow, giving Raven a glare as she begins to pick up on his subtle hint of suspicion. Raven continues after a large sigh,

“The dam also has a long range radio…you may be able to contact command with it.”

Baird’s turns his eyes to Cole and Sven as if he was looking for any other suggestions, but the two had nothing else to add that may aid the conversation further so Baird looked back at Raven,

“Well…I’m sold…how about you two?”

“Sounds cool to me,” Sven replies with a slight shrug, while Cole’s face, beams with enthusiasm as he too replies,

“To the dam, baby.”

Raven quickly turns around as she starts to hike, yelling out while moving forward,

“Hurry…this way,”

The others start to follow as they climb up through the rocky ridge into another part of the thicket, while a light wind startles the stagnant air, a precursor of things to come as the storm slowly moves closer, and closer.

Chapter 8: Head Deep Edit

Is it bright where you are,

And have the people changed?

Does it make you happy you're so strange?

And in your darkest hour,

I hold secrets flame,

We can watch the world devoured in it's pain.


Smashing Pumpkins
The Beginning is The End is The Beginning


Sigma squad continued to follow the winding frozen river in the woods nearby as they trek through the densely sparse conifer trees, keeping their whereabouts invisible to whomever may be lingering close by.

Behind the cover of the snow blanketed needles and limbs, Feral moves around the terrain like a meandering cougar. Lightly planting her feet, she tactically conceals her path while the husky Gears, in contrast, plow right through the snow and foliage, leaving tracks that would resemble a migration of sasquatches. Needless to say, they were not as conscientious about suppressing their trail like she was.

The wind picks up slightly as a cold breeze ventilates the atmosphere with its ozone aroma, pushing the scent of pinesap to the wayside. To pass the time, as well as to take they're mind off of the obnoxious cold, random conversation became inevitable.

"Shit, it's getting cold," Cole began to openly complain.

"It's been cold, what are you talking about," Baird muses as he looks over his shoulder, getting a glimpse of Cole rubbing his massive arms. Although Cole was wearing a fleece fatigue under his armor that extended past his elbows, the cold wind was still bleeding through the additional layering.

"That wind is chillin' my ass off, man," Cole mutters in between shivers.

"I'll say, it's like a meat locker with a giant fan in it," Sven adds as he strategically attempts to avoid the wind by using the trees for cover. Although the strategy seemed feasible, it really wasn't all that effective.

"C'mon wusses, a little cold won't hurt ya," Baird began to mock as he moved through the breeze without strain.

"Yea, easy for someone who dives bare ass in glacier lakes," Cole grumbles back.

"You better believe it. I made a lot of money doing that."

"Ah, for real? How'd you do that, sir?" Sven perks up in interest.

"Damn, Damon, you jumped in icy water on a bet…Marcus was right, you are bat-shit crazy!" Cole teases.

"I needed the money, besides, it's not that bad…well, at least the first five minutes of it," Baird admits as he looks ahead, peering through the trees before something began to fester in the back of his mind. He finally stops to take a moment to peer around the trees, noticing that Feral was nowhere in sight. Not quite sure what to make of it, he began to mutter out loud,

"Alright…where in the hell did she go?"

"Right here Corporal."

Baird suddenly whips around, only to find a serene Feral perched on a fallen log, just beside them as the other two also turn to the sound of her subtle voice.

"Shit, Feral, don't do that," Baird gripes, subconsciously taking his hand off the butt of his pistol that was nesting snuggly in his holster, strapped to his thigh.

"Do what, Corporal?" Raven responds as she leaps from the log and summersaults onto the snow covered ground to ease the impact of the shock absorption. Using her momentum to stand back up, she turns around to face them again while brushing the foliage and snow off of her arms; all the while, Baird stands nearby with his hands on his hips.

"Calling me Corporal. Don't do that!"

"Well then, what would you like me to call you?" Feral responds with some sincerity in her expression as she adjusts the holsters strapped on her thighs.

"It's Damon Baird. You can call me Baird…"

"...or Dickhead, or Jackass, oh, and Asshole," Cole snorts in return, finding amusement at Baird's expense. Instead of rebuking back, Baird just turns around to raise his arm and extend his middle finger. All the while, Sven does his best to refrain himself from laughing.

"What did Marcus call you that one time…oh yea…dipshit! That was a good one," Cole snickers between chuckles, as Sven gave up trying to save face and starts to laugh.

"Ha ha ha. Yea, laugh it up, smartass," Baird sneers back at the two.

Feral finally cuts in to break the ice.

"Sigh, alright, so…Damon Baird it is. I don't know if I should even attempt to use the other suggestions…"

"Give it time, baby…before you know it, you'll be calling him a jackass too," Cole replies.

"Uh huh," Feral grunts as she turns her gaze to Baird, watching him roll his eyes.

"Anyway…" she continues to redirect their attention, "…the area ahead appears to be clear up to the edge of the forest, but I wouldn't let your guard down just yet."

"Sure…whatever," Baird mutters as she gives him a nod and continues to move through the woods. The three pick up the pace as they resume their trek, trying keep up this time as they close the gap between them and Feral.

"Damn, are we getting any closer to this place?" Sven complains while picking up the pace. Baird intentionally starts to drag his feet as he bellows like a defiant child,

"Yea, are we there yet?"

"Almost," Feral remarks, still keeping her gaze focused on the trail ahead of them while ignoring Baird's sarcasm. Sven moves up to the front next to Feral, hoping to pass the time by making random conversation,

"So…Raven, is it…or, do you like to be called Feral?"

Feral abruptly turns her head and looks at him with astonishment. It never occurred to her that a Gear would ever ask her anything, much less her real name… but I suppose that it would be only natural for someone to ask for one's name.

"You call me whatever makes you comfortable, Vinny," she responds in monotone as the other two divert their ears forward, eavesdropping on the conversation. Baird mumbles softly to Cole,

"Yea, like psycho bitch."

Cole was quick to place his hand over his mouth, trying his hardest not to bust out laughing. Normally he would rebuke Damon for being rhetorically blunt, but this one time, Cole couldn't help but to understand where Baird was coming from.

"You know, these ears do work," Raven snorts back while still keeping her gaze forward.

"Otay…" Baird could only retort while staggering his pace, imitating an insinuated retard, "…at least we know she's not broke!"

Cole began to chuckle.

"Man, you really do need to mature," Cole suggests while Baird turns over his shoulder to give him a sarcastic glare,

"Then you need to stop laughing at me when I act immature."

Trying to save face, Cole moves up closer to the front so he could be closer to Raven. Maybe she's just a little misunderstood; Cole could only hope as he makes an attempt to keep the conversation going.

"So, why did your folks name you after a chopper, anyway?" asks Cole.

Sven butts in from behind, trying to stay into the conversation,

"Yea, I heard of people naming their vehicles after chicks, but I never heard of people naming their chicks after vehicles."

Raven turns to glance at the both of them with a burrowed look under her deep-set eyes. Reminiscing as if she didn't think the question had any relevance to her or the mission at hand, she began to subliminally recall the words of her clan leader, an aged woman of insight and wisdom. Although Raven could remember being told that her solitude was merely a temporary walk of life that will one-day end, she never took it seriously and therefore has since then repressed it out of memory. Only now, when she most certainly least expected it, the words resurface to her forethought once again…damnit, I hate these déjà vu moments.

She long knew that if she was ever to enter the right of passage for procreation, she must learn to understand man's plight…yea, the epitome of idiocy…but if she is ever going to maybe one day, reintegrate back into society, she grudgingly knew that she would have to be a lot more hospitable, including entertaining irrelevant questions.

Reorganizing her thoughts, Raven replies with the most honest answer she could muster,

"My…foster parents didn't name me after the craft, they named me after the color of my hair…like a raven, the bird," she explains; that should be enough shouldn't it?

"So…wait, foster parents? So…you we're adopted? I thought you we're a Feral?" Cole buzzed at the statement, trying to make sense of it all.

"I am…I became a part of their ethos later on."

"But you're not a natural born Feral?"

"As I understood it, my biological mother was a Feral,"

"And yo real daddy,"

"I, don't know…she didn't get much of a look at him, I guess,"

Ok why did I just say that, Raven began to question herself.

Cole's expression turns perplexed as he tries to make sense of what Raven just told him.

"You guess?"

"She was raped, Private," Raven reveals coldly and without conceit. Cole's eyes widen at the revelation, not so much at the shock of such a means as much as the frigidity in Raven's demeanor concerning the topic…and she's ok with that?

Raven continues objectively, "...which…consequently, led to my conception. All that I was ever told was that my father was a COG soldier, so it would probably be safe to assume that he is most likely dead by now. I never met him…"

"Oh…sooo…"

"…and my real mother abandoned me shortly after birth, so I was adopted shortly later by a COG officer."

"So your foster parents were citizens of Tyrus. That explains why you can speak our language so fluently," Baird butts in, subconsciously putting the picture together while displaying his empirical skills.

"Yes…you would be correct," Raven responds, lacking impression with Baird's insight. Baird pushes forward anyway,

"…which means you probably grew up in a COG school, went to a COG church..."

"…you got it."

"So when did you become an official Feral?"

"When did you become a COG soldier?" Raven turns the question back to Baird as she peers over her shoulder, watching Baird exchange glances with Cole as he flashes a grin for the sake of banter. Baird let's out a sigh and decides to entertain Raven with an answer,

"I was nineteen…when I "volunteered," he says while signing quotation marks with his hands.

"Isn't the recruitment age for a Gear seventeen? Why so late?" Raven asks as she turns around to face him, walking backwards while waiting for his response, but instead, he just smiles, lifting his chin up to look down at her. Realizing she wasn't going to get an answer out of him, she turns back around and continues to move forward. Baird takes it upon himself to press the topic even further,

"Ok, so when and why did you join the Feral?"

Raven was silent for a few moments while still hiking forward, wondering if she should even amuse him with an answer; but for whatever the reason, she decided to entertain Baird's curiosity,

"I ran away from home when I was fourteen."

"So why did you run away?" Baird persists, hoping to get into her head.

Raven suddenly came to a halt as she stood still, glancing at the ground while resting her hands on her holsters. The others also stopped, wondering what it was she was thinking. She then broke the awkward silence as she turns around to face them,

"Because Corporal, I refused to be treated like some mare whom was to be bred to some stallion, under the false pretense for the sake of rebuilding humanity," she sneers rather callously, "…I ran away so the COG couldn't take me to some "breeding farm" where young girls we're being exploited, molested, and raped."

The atmosphere suddenly went from friendly to rigid as the accusations fill their heads of what they truly discovered at a "breeding camp," not too long ago. Although the details of those incidents were still blurred since most of the medical records have been skewed, they knew that Raven's accusation wasn't too far from the truth. It was just how she came to know about it at the age of fourteen was also unclear. Raven continues on,

"I hiked into mountains outside of Ephyra where a Feral clan was just passing through…and then I was taken in from there. I was given a choice to either be a Stranded, or a Feral."

Raven turns back around and continues to hike again, putting distance between her and the Gears, consequently ending the conversation.

"Damn…that was an earful," Cole mumbles quietly as he turns to glance at Baird.

Baird shrugged his shoulders in response and continued forward, while Sven was still dumbstruck by the info overload, following the other two as best he could.

So much for our "friendly" chat.

They eventually catch up to Raven as they find her perched up on a boulder, looking out from the wilderness. Moving closer near the edge of the woods, the wind brushes through the branches, causing them to flap. Peering out onto the frozen river ahead, the Gears look out from the sparse woods, only to find their destination, at last. Hurl Dam.

Chapter 9: Incident at Hurl Dam Edit

Roadie running through a rough landscape, in the cold, filled with rocks, big rocks, in three feet of snow and ice, while dodging bullets at the same time was not listed anywhere in the fucking recruitment handbook…

…Sven gripes to himself as he runs close behind Cole and Baird, trying to make sense of the commotion going on around him. He didn't have the slightest idea where he was, or where he was going, all that he did know is that he is being shot at, right on the brink of an oncoming blizzard while trying not to slip and fall on his already frozen ass.

The three Gears find cover behind a bed of rocks where Raven was already, impatiently waiting for them while readying her pistols.

"Damnit, you guys need to keep up!" she barks over the noise of the endless ricochet glancing off the boulders.

"It's kinda hard to keep up, Feral when we're carrying several pounds of armor and equipment, running in knee-deep snow, ON AN INCLINE!" Baird busts out while trying to keep his head down with his Lancer in hand.

"DAMN, where did this shit come from?" Cole howls, checking his Lancer to make sure there was a full clip loaded in it. Sven frantically loads his Longshot rifle, trying to push the round into the chamber with his trembling hands, pulsing from the sudden adrenaline rush.

"I thought you were suppose to know where all the Locust outposts are, Feral," Baird nags.

"This was not here the last time I checked, Baird!" Raven snaps back.

"Oh, and how long ago was that…last year?"

"Well, ever since you eggheads dropped Jacinto into the abyss, the Locusts have scattered all over this area. They don't stay in one spot for too long…and just so you know, it was two weeks ago!"

Suddenly they hear a shrilling growl echoing from a distance.

"Aww, crap!" Baird groans at the sound of a howling that was all too familiar.

"Yea, we've heard that noise before," Cole recaps as he moves closer to Baird's position. Raven peers around the snow-covered boulder, catching a brief glimpse of the enemy,

"Grinders!"

"Oh, shit…what do we do now?" Sven panics.

Raven quickly turns around to face the three Gears.

"There's a trench over there…on the left. That may be your better destination for cover."

Baird moves over to Raven as she points towards the location of the trench, huddled behind a short slope, adjacent from their position.

"…and that place over there?" Baird points towards a fallen tree next to a boulder incline, "…can you make that?"

"There's a lot of crossfire between here and there. My armor is too light to take that much contact…I'm not a bullet sponge," Raven quickly analyses, and she was right. Her armor was not as resilient as the Gears and was not intended for direct contact, much less blunt force trauma. Baird looks up to analyze their position and then drops back down and turns to Raven,

"Alright, look…we can make it to the trench, if we haul ass. I'll get Cole and Vin to provide cover fire…but once we get there, Cole and I can draw their fire over there, and then Vin can draw their fire from here so you can make it to the log."

"Yea…whoa, wait…I'm staying here, by myself?" Sven gripes in horror.

"Look, Vin, we need your sniper cover here, do you understand?" Baird looks Sven in the eye. He could see that the kid was scared; he knew exactly what is being asked of him.

"Look kid, I know you haven't had a lot of encounters like this, but it's time to grow up, Vinny…this is what Gears do."

As Baird continues to glare at him, Sven starts to calm down and nods his head.

"Now, get your skinny ass up there, look through your scope and tell us what do you see?"

"Y, yes sir."

Sven moves up, carefully climbing on top of the side of the rock. Kicking the snow off as he plants his rifle down, he peers towards the Locust horde through his scope.

"Shit…ok…I see two Grinders…uh…some Bolters, Grenadiers…there's another, a Cyclops maybe, I can't tell, the Grinders are stirring up too much snow."

"Get back here, Vin," Baird calls out.

"On it," Sven yells back as he climbs back down to their position.

"So, you got a plan Damon?" Cole asks over the noise of the bullets still drumming against the boulders.

"Let's just say I have a general idea, but we need to spread out…Grinders get confused with multiple targets. Feral, your coming with me," Baird gestures to Raven.

She turns her head around to respond,

"Wait, what?"

"You're coming with me…"

"…now wait a damn minute," Raven began to protest before Baird interrupted her,

"For crying out loud, I know for a fact you can haul your tiny ass across a field, dodging a Boomshot…this is no different…"

"There's a big difference between dodging one Boomshot, verses six Hammerburst rifles, Baird!"

"…oh, cry me a river, you can do it…besides, I'll cover you along the way. Does that satisfy you?"

Raven growls to herself as gives him a scowl, but she knew that this was their only option, and they couldn't waste any more time debating over it, so she nods stingily while Baird turns to the others,

"Cole, stay here with Vin and give him cover…see if you can take out some of those Bolters…"

"You got it, baby!" Cole says with zeal.

Baird proceeds to Raven's position.

"Are you ready?"

"Wait…"

Raven, pulls out her Gorgon pistol with her left hand and her Boltok on her right. She puts in some fresh clips and nods,

"Ok, ready!"

"Ready Cole?"

"I gotcha back!"

"Let's go!" Baird yells as Cole stand up and fires his Lancer towards the Locusts nearby. Baird and Raven quickly dart off towards the trench, with Raven moving ahead of Baird as he directs his Lancer towards the Locusts, firing while running sideways. Raven quickly leaps into the trench with Baird not too far behind, quickly rolling in and moving up right next to Raven. Prostrating himself against the trench wall, Baird shakes the snow off of his head and goggles while Feral rubs the snow out of her hair.

Cole and Sven continue to exchange gunfire, pitting the Locusts close to the edge of the frozen river while the Grinders continue to open fire from a distance behind the frontline. Sven moves his scope and takes a shot at a Bolter close by, literally lobotomizing his head completely off the rest of its' standing body. The headless, upright corpse starts to slowly slump down as blood from the main artery on what used to be it's neck, continued to seep, spouting all over the white snow.

"Oh yea, eat it!" Sven blurts out with more confidence than he had earlier in the confrontation.

"Good shot, kid!" Cole complements Sven as he loads in a new clip and returns fire, taking out a Grenadier nearby in the process as he bellows, "…WHOO, yea, I got enough for all of y'all!"

Sven continues to take out the Locusts on the frontline, one at time,

"Damn, its like shooting ducks at the carnival," Sven muses.

"Yea, them Grubs ain't too bright," Cole recalls as he fires off his Lancer.

At the trench, Baird quickly reloads while Raven pulls out a couple of "Nape" grenades and hangs them on a strap, clung to her left hip.

"You alright?" he inquires as Raven prostrates herself against the trench wall next to him.

"Yes, I'm fine…just...trying to get myself together here."

"Ok, it's Gus's turn!"

Baird turns his attention back to the pile of boulders where Cole and Sven are waiting.

"You ready, Cole?"

"You know me, the Cole Train is always ready, WHOO!"

Baird rolls his eyes, "Yea, whatever, ready…GO!"

As Baird exchanges fire with the Locusts, Cole darts toward Baird and Raven's location while Sven continues to take out retreating Locusts.

Baird takes out another Grenadier before dropping back down to reload his Lancer while Raven, in his place, fires her Gorgon pistol in short, abrupt bursts. Cole finally rolls into them with his back slammed to the wall next to Baird.

"WHOO, yea, that's what I'm talking about…so now what?" Cole persists, impatiently waiting to get back into the game. Baird turns to Raven as she hands him her Nape grenades.

"These are napalm based, grenades…they have about a five to eight foot radius, and they'll burn up to fifteen minutes," she says to Baird as he nods and replies,

"Got it…just wait for my signal. Cole we need to provide cover fire for Feral so she can move, you got it?"

"Yea I hear ya baby…just gimme a go,"

"Ready Feral,…go!"

Raven dashes through the snow on all fours, darting towards the broken down log nearby. She leaps and summersaults under the log, brushing right up against the boulder that was wedged into the timber. Looking back over the slope, she gives Cole and Baird a nod.

"That a girl," Baird mutters in a low voice, "…she made it."

As most of the Locusts on the front line we're picked off, the Grinders began to move in as the growling voice of the Grenadier before them, yells at them to attack.

"Grind…" the Grinders taunt, hideously laughing as they slowly march forward, firing their Mulcher's toward Cole and Baird's position.

"Shit, they just keep firing…don't those things ever run out of bullets?" Baird gripes as he looks over to Sven, waiting for Baird to give him the signal.

"Ok Cole, you got it?" Baird hands him one of Raven's grenades.

"You mean towards the Grinders?" Cole asks.

"Yes…on my signal,"

"But…these things aren't going take em' Grinders out, are they?"

"We're going to find out, Cole."

"Wait…these aren't frags!"

"I know that Gus…just throw it…and don't miss please!"

Baird nods to Sven as he points his Longshot towards the two Grinders moving towards the trench. Without second guessing, he shoots one directly into the head as the overwhelming beast growls in fury from the bullet, ricocheting against its' helmet, toppling it off it's thick head. The Grinder turns his attention to Sven's position, peering towards the bed of rocks with its beady eyes.

"Grind…" the monstrous sized Locust bellows out, firing his Mulcher towards the bed of rocks while Sven quickly takes cover behind the boulder, feeling rock fragments raining on his head.

"Holy crap…" Sven yells as he covers his head with arms, shielding himself from the oncoming debris.

On the other side of the two Grinders, Raven peers over the log as she points her Boltok pistol towards the other Grinder and shoots it in the head, popping off his helmet, and then fires a burst of shots from her Gorgon pistol that glances off of his heavy armor. The brute Locust fixates his attention towards the log as he turns his body in her direction,

"Grind…"

"Here it comes," she mutters to herself, quickly dislodging from the log and rolls down to the ground to wrap her arms around her head as the wood chips scatter in all directions.

With the two Grinders shooting in opposite directions, Baird and Cole get ready for the final assault.

"Alright Cole, NOW!" Baird yells out as the two swing the napalm grenades towards the Grinders. The grenades bounce across the slushy ground, rolling right under the Grinders feet. The two cease-fire as they turn their focus back to Cole and Baird, and then glance at each other.

"Grind?"

Suddenly, the grenades burst into flames, splashing napalm in the air underneath the Grinders feet, scorching their legs. The burly beasts squeal like a pack of wild boars, flailing their enormous arms, which only made matters worse for them as it just feeds more oxygen to the flames.

"Yea, it's just like jock itch, only hotter," Baird hollers while Cole stands up to taunt some more,

"Haha, burn bitches, burn!"

Suddenly, a foul stench scents the air as it spreads across the trench, coming from the inferno in front of them.

"Aw DAMN…that's NASTY," Cole whines as he quickly covers his nose.

The shrieking sobers down as the two beasts topple to the ground, their flesh still searing in the flames.

"Fuck that stinks…VINNY, you alright?" Baird yells out towards the rock bed.

Sven tries to pull himself out of a heap of snow, mixed with rock chips as he steps up into view.

"Yea...holy cow…what the fuck is that smell?"

Cole turns to Baird, still covering his mouth,

"Shit, Damon, the fire is still going…where did she get those things? They're not standard Gear equipment!"

"The Feral apparently can make their own arms…those were definitely home-made," Baird replies as he tries to keep a straight face despite the overwhelming odor of the napalm still burning on the Locust carcasses. Baird turns his attention to the log as he covers his mouth, trying to filter out the stench of the burning Locust flesh,

"Feral, you alright?" he yells out. No response.

Cole and Baird start to walk around the blazing meat pile, making their way to the log.

"Feral…hey Raven, you there?" Baird calls out again, but no response. Cole picks up the pace while keeping his hand over his mouth, trying to peer though the thick smoke, coming from the burning carcasses.

"Feral, you alright…say somethin baby," Cole starts to worry as he presses on, peering through the black dense smoke.

Despite that Feral was a cold, defiant hermit, he took a liking to Raven, but then again, he liked all "chicks." Maybe she'll eventually come out of her shell, but he wouldn't leave it up to Damon to help him with that…he's just as solitary as she is.

Cole steps out of the smoke and makes his way towards the log when suddenly, a gurgling voice could be heard as he whips around to find a bleeding Grenadier, just about ready to come at him. But before Cole could even raise his Lancer, a loud shot rings out as the Grenadier's head blasts off his body and tumbles into the snow. Cole steps back in awe as he looks around, only to find Raven standing from behind from where the Grenadier stood. She quickly swung the Boltok pistol back into her holster after apparently shooting the Grenadier's head off.

"I'm fine...thanks for asking," she responds matter-of-factly as Cole just stands there, flabbergasted. Baird comes running through the smoke, coughing nonstop with shotgun in hand.

"Hey…damnit Feral, don't scare us like that again. You just shaved two years off of Cole's life expectancy…" says Baird in between coughs as he turns to Cole,

"Gus…hey, man…you alright?" trying to snap Cole out of the moment.

"I thought I just saw an angel, man…I thought it was coming for me," Cole admits, sobering up from what just happened. Baird slaps him on the shoulder and then turns around to see Sven, staggering his way to them.

"You ok Vinny?"

Sven makes his way through the mess, covering his mouth while his goggles were still over his eyes.

"Yea…geez, this place reeks! Can we get out of here?" Sven whines.

"Yea man, let's get out of here…damn, that shit is still burnin," Cole couldn't agree less. Baird nods his head and then turns his gaze to Raven as she gives him a signal,

"C'mon, these way…hurry! The wind is getting worse."

As the three Gears load up their gear, they quickly make way to the place where the Locusts were camping out.

"Wait, Feral, we need to check the bodies…look for ammo!" Baird shouts as he begins to rummage one of the dead Bolters for paraphernalia. Raven halts as she waits for the Gears, whom were searching the area for ammunition. She turns to look up at the sky as the clouds thicken as air takes a nasty turn. C'mon guys, you need to move it!

Suddenly, gusts of wind thrust into the vicinity, nearly knocking Raven off her feet while the snow flutters through the air. She quickly braces herself against a boulder while Sven runs up next to her, also bracing himself against the boulder and placing his hand over his face to protect himself from the flying snow, stinging his red cheeks.

"Hurry Baird, we need to move, now," Raven shouts over the gusts of wind.

"Alright, I'm coming," Baird yells over his shoulder as he takes a piece from a Grenadiers' nap pack and shoves it under his breastplate. He gets up and runs towards the others as they make their way up to the dam entrance, trying to stay afoot against the sudden bursts of the chilling wind.

They hike to the side of a cliff where they find a metal door, lodged into the rock. Raven runs toward it and latches the handle to try and open it, but it wouldn't budge. The wind was too strong for her to keep her footing against the iced over entryway while trying to open the door at the same time. Baird runs up towards her as he steps in to turn the handle himself, but it still wouldn't move.

"Oh fuck this!" Baird growls as he moves Raven away from the door and pulls out his Lancer. He revs up the chainsaw a couple times before plowing it into the door's mechanism, severing it off and then pulls back. He then lifts up his leg and kicks the door open.

"Get inside," Baird yells over the whistling wind as Cole and Sven follow Raven into the complex.

Bracing against the current of the freezing air and snow, Baird is the last to go in as he grabs the door by its' mangled handle and slams it shut behind them.

Chapter 10: Warm Winter Night Edit

Growing up it all seems so one-sided

Opinions all provided

The future pre-decided

Detached and subdivided

In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone


Subdivisions
Rush


The stale, musty air unsettles as noise of clambering echoes down a hallway from inside a room that apparently was at one time a kitchen.

Cole was rummaging in the pantry, pulling out cans while checking for expiration dates and the contents in them. Sven was on the other side of the kitchen, pulling out pots and pans from the cabinet and placing them on the counter as he stacks them one on top of the other.

"No…no…no…shit," Cole grumbles to himself as he looks through the cans one at a time, tossing each one to the wayside, "…man, all they got here is spam and some funky looking beans."

"Let me know what ya find, I got a few decent size pots to cook them in," says Sven as he continues to stack them on the counter.

Cole sighs as he glares at their bleak menu. Spam and beans…damn. Cole moves away from the door to open up another pantry and rummages through some bags of flour. As he shoves them aside, he accidentally pushes one off the shelf. Plopping onto the concrete floor, the bag busts open and little roaches suddenly scatter from inside the bag. Cole suddenly lets out a shriek, and jumps up onto the stainless steel, countertop,

"SHIT…" he blurts out, trying to keep his balance on the counter.

The yelp startles Sven, as he too quickly jumps up from the bottom cupboard, consequently bumping his head on the cabinet door above him and accidentally knocks the stack of pots onto the floor, causing a long loud, sequence of clattering.

From clear across the hallway, Baird is lying on the floor in the communication control room trying to salvage the wiring from the radio console to an outlet that has long been corroded. He pulls out a clump of tangled wires, half of them looked as if rats have been having a field day, chewing on them. He starts to cuss under his breath while trying to untangle the mess, when he hears a scream, followed with a clamoring of falling kitchen utensils coming from the kitchen just down the hall.

"Ok, now what the hell was that?" he growls as he looks up, trying to quickly untangle himself from the mess as he pushed both, the chair and console platform with his feet so he could get up and run to the commotion. He darts outside the room, hitting the wall as he braces himself from slipping on the tile floor, running towards the kitchen. He barges into the room with shotgun in hand, yelling,

"What is it?"

Quickly, he scans the room, only to find Cole standing on the counter, hugging the pantry shelves with one hand as he waves a broom with the other, while Sven was fumbling on the floor with the pans.

"SHOO…little bastards…those things are nasty," Cole yelps while Sven tries to stabilize his equilibrium, clutching his head with his hand.

"Aw…man, does anybody have any ice…I think I have a knot on my head," Sven whines.

Baird stood there, dropping his shotgun to his side and starts to bark,

"I come running all the way down the fucking hallway, thinking something bad just happened, and you two are screaming like a bunch of school girls over some fucking cockroaches?"

"BEHIND YOU," Cole shouts, as Baird whips around to find an eight, inch, grotesque cockroach, prostrated on the wall behind him.

"SHIT," Baird blurts out as he lifts up the shotgun and fires a round at it.

"Shit yea, shoot it Baird," Cole hollers, watching Baird jump back from the ugly thing, before realizing he missed the giant bug. Without warning, it suddenly leaps from the wall to the center island of the kitchen that just so happens to be right next to Baird.

"Fuck, get away from me," he yells, and then takes another shot at it. Sven runs over to the corner next to Cole as he puts his hands over his ears, cringing from the shotgun blast.

Baird misses it again as the menacing bug jumps and flies over to where Cole and Sven are cowering.

"Damnit, Baird…you missed it, again," Cole yells out while Baird was swinging his gun at the thing in last-ditch effort to kill it. Suddenly, all hell brakes loose when it jumps away from the center island and lands on Cole's leg.

"SHIT…GET IT OFF, GET IT OFF," Cole screams while vigorously shaking his leg, nearly falling off the edge of the counter as a squealing Sven runs over to Baird and braces himself on the Corporal's shoulder.

"Will you get the fuck off of me…" Baird yells at Sven, whom was still clinging onto his armor while Baird tries to push him off. Cole finally loses his footing as he grabs the top shelf to keep from falling, but he was just too heavy for the shelf to brace his weight, so it snaps in two as Cole comes crashing down, taking the other shelves below it, with him.

As Baird tries to push Sven off of him, he steps on one of the pots that was lying on the floor from earlier and loses his footing as it slides right out from under him, sending his legs flying up in the air, taking Sven down with him as they both go crashing on the floor.

Meanwhile, further down into the basement of the facility where the bathrooms are located, Raven sits on the toilet, reading from a pile of magazines next to the sink that was left there some ten years earlier. She puts the magazine down while finishing business and proceeds to pull up her pants when she suddenly heard what she thought sounded like gunshots. She quickly grabs one of her holsters to pull out her Boltok pistol and then races to the stairs, still holding her pants up with her other hand as she tries to make her way to the commotion. Dashing into hallway while trying to button up her fatigues at the same time, she could hear the uproar coming from the kitchen nearby.

She runs into the kitchen with gun ready, only to find Sven sprawled on top of Baird, lying on the floor in an unflattering position while Cole was buried underneath a large pile of boxes, shelving, and food cans. She stood back in puzzlement as she lowers her pistol and places it on the counter next to the door.

"What happened?" she demands, listening to Baird's moaning from below.

"Sven…will you please…get your ass out of my face and get the fuck off of me…your crushing my balls."

"Oh…ok…on it," Sven cringes as he tries to prop himself on his hands and feet, lifting his weight off of Baird. Suddenly, Baird folds like a piece of paper into the fetal position on his side as he groans, clutching his groin.

"Ugh…sir, my head is spinning…" Sven whines as he shakes his head, trying to lift himself up by using the countertop.

"Shut up, Vin…my whole body is aching…no thanks to you, groan," Baird moans as

Cole begins to move slowly, lifting some of the debris from his head and back while glancing around at the rest of the mess the three just made.

"Damn…did we get it?"

"Get WHAT…what the hell were you shooting at?" Raven demands before placing her hands on her hips, trying to make sense of the disarray.

"Grrr…I think I…got it," Baird cringes while still curled up on the floor, clutching his balls.

"What…did…you…get?" Raven impatiently starts to articulate.

"It was the motherfucker of all cockroaches," Sven begins to explain while Raven just glares at him with a bland expression, wondering if he was still loopy from falling on his head.

"I swear…it to be about this big!" he lifts his hands while trying to justify the means. Raven rolls her eyes and throws her hands in the air in exasperation,

"You guys we're shooting the damn cockroaches…what's the matter with you people, somebody could have gotten hurt!"

Still curled on the floor, Baird slowly looks up at her,

"Are you still here?" he gripes, still squinting from the throbbing pain in his loins.

Raven scoffs at him as she reaches over to pick up her pistol and storms out of the kitchen. She marches out into the hallway, cussing under her breath as she walks back to the staircase that leads back down to the basement bathroom.

Cole looks up from the floor and just so happens to see some cans of chili that were shoved underneath the counter. His face beams as he yells,

"Hey, guys…looks like we got some grub, and it's the good stuff too."

"Great…you get it started…I'm going back to the control room," Baird grunts as he finally stands up, grabbing his shotgun before limping back down the hallway.

Raven was back in the basement, picking up the rest of her gear where she had left it in the bathroom. Putting her belt and holsters back on, she leaves the bathroom and walks back up into the hallway. Moving through the functioning part of the dam complex, she walks past the control room to find Baird fiddling with the wiring to the radio. Although she had never used the radio before, she figured it was in some working order; everything else here is working OK…perhaps there was more damage to the facility than I remembered from the last time I stayed here. She steps in to see Baird's progress.

"Is it working?" she asks, after she simmered down for fifteen minutes from her spat earlier.

"Just about…but only one of the generators is working right," he responds in between grunts, reaching over to grab his needle-nose pliers, lying not to far from him on the floor.

Baird was lying on his back under the main console in the com room, meandering through an array of wiring he spent the latter hour rummaging through, trying to reassess the damage done from the usual wear and tear from long-term erosion. He shifts his position to get more situated, cringing from the pain in his groin that Sven fell on earlier. Raven moves to the side of the console to get a better look at what Baird was trying to fix.

"Yea, I know…when the Locust came, I believe they shut off the other generators, leaving the emergency one on. Over time, they started to corrode, with the exception of that one. But it has its limits…it will only switch on for no longer than about two hours," Raven tries to recall as she bends down to where Baird is working.

"Well that's no surprise. The filters haven't been properly maintained in who knows how long…when did you say this place was deserted?" Baird asks while turning his glance from the fuse switch he was working on, to Raven.

"At least five years…maybe a little longer, according to the daily technical logs in the other room over there…" Raven turns over her shoulder as she gestures toward a storage room on the side of the control room. She continues,

"…but to put plainly, I don't think they did alot of maintenance before they abandoned the facility. I think they just made up entries in the log to make it look like they were doing their job. Ever since the discovery of Immulsion, this place has become obsolete. It's a shame really…at one time, this place used to power the entire valley, including parts of Farrall…"

"…well that's a nice history lesson Feral, but the wiring here is a big fucking rats nest…I just spent almost thirty minutes trying to find the damn cable to the radio, and don't even get me started with the modem cable…and it's supposed to be wireless!"

"…yea, well, what I was trying to get at before you interrupted me, a lot of the radio equipment here was hardly updated…so yea, naturally, the condition of the radio may be questionable," Raven mentions as she moves in to kneel over and watch Baird, whom was still groaning under the mass of wires.

"Pfft, questionable is putting it pretty lightly there, Feral…and for the record I can fix it, I, just gotta sort out this mess…shit, it's like untangling a hundred feet of stringed lights!"

Leaning over under the console, Raven peers under the mass of wires, watching Baird trying to untangle the primary comm. cord. She originally believed the radio to be in decent, working order, but I guess I was wrong…my bad. Raven finally had to ask,

"…sigh, do you need help?"

"What, no…I mean…shit, uh, is there spare equipment in storage room?"

"Yes, why?"

"I just need a few wires to router these ones. They've been chewed up."

"I'll see what I can find," she says as she gets up and walks over to the room to look around for a spare computer console. Slowly opening the door, she reaches around the door-frame to turn on the light switch. Gradually, the florescent lights above flicker on and off before finally coming on, somewhat illuminating the storage room filled with boxes, old computers, and tube monitors. Quickly scanning the room, Raven peers into a corner and notices several, intact consoles sitting on a metal shelf. Moving around an array storage boxes scattered throughout the room, she manages to squeeze by to pick one up. She holds it in both arms as she carefully moves towards the doorway and into the control room, lifting her knees over the boxes on the floor. As she comes out of the storage room, it suddenly dawns on her that Cole or Sven were nowhere to be seen or heard.

Carefully stepping out of the storage room, Raven cautiously carries the bulky console over to Baird's workstation.

"Hey, where are Cole and Vin?"

"Why do you wanna know?"

"Just in case they start shooting at the damn rats!"

Baird could be heard letting out a slight chuckle as he answers her question,

"Cole found cans of chili underneath the counter, so their cooking it in the laboratory."

"The laboratory?"

"Yea."

Raven kneels down and hands Baird the spare console as he proceeds to take it apart. She then moves over to sit in a chair nearby and starts to rub her temples.

"Should I even ask as to why they're fixing chili on bunsen burners, when they could be using the stovetop?"

"No, you shouldn't."

"Ok, really, what were you guys doing in the kitchen?"

"Don't ask that either…"

"Well what the hell can I ask you, Damon?"

Baird was silent for a moment while he continues to disassemble the console, pulling out the motherboard to access the wires. Realizing that Baird didn't respond, Raven takes it upon herself to break the silence,

"Ok, now are you going to start shooting at the sugar ants in the bathroom, because if you are, please let me know ahead of time so I won't have to go in there!"

Baird groans to himself for a moment, she's not going to let this one down.

"Yea yea, just keep rubbing more salt in the wound," he grumbles as Raven continues,

"Damn right I am…you guys nearly scared the crap out of me…literally!"

"For real?"

"I was in the bathroom when I heard you guys…doing whatever it was you were doing."

"You'll get over it," says Baird as he pauses for a moment before continuing, "…is there anything else you want to ask?"

"Ok, so why did you volunteer to join the COG at the age of nineteen instead of seventeen?"

Baird was kind of surprised that Raven remembered their conversation from earlier when he declined to answer it. But instead of rebuffing her, he went ahead to satisfy her curiosity.

"I was an intern for technical engineering, but when I needed additional funds to work on my degree, I was given the option to either volunteer or I would have to pay for school on my own, and it just kinda went down hill from there."

"So you actually went to a college?"

"More like a tech institute."

"You interned for two years?"

"One and a half years."

"One…wait, when did you graduate high school?"

"Sixteen."

"How…did you accomplish that? I thought you had to have at least, fifty-four hours of course requirements before you can graduate?"

"I finished my junior and senior requirements early. Then I went to work for a year as an apprentice for auto mechanics and engineering, so I got a head start."

Baird looks up at Raven as he could see the perplexed expression in her burrowed, blue eyes. He couldn't tell if she was amazed or envious, or maybe both.

"…I was dedicated, what else can I say…that, and it kept me busy," he shrugs and then goes back to work, "…besides, how do you know about high school, you never completed it," he conveniently mentions.

"Are you calling me a stupid dropout?" Raven sneers.

"Did I say that you were?"

"It sounded like you insinuated it."

For someone who didn't finish school, she's pretty sharp. This only tempted Baird to pick at her brain even more. Hell, she's doing it to me.

"It sounds like you have a superiority complex."

Raven instantly changes the subject,

"Do you even like being a COG soldier?"

"Do you like being a Feral?"

"I became a Feral as a means to an end."

"Well then, there you go."

"So you do believe in the COG cause."

"I believe in the cause, working together for the sake of humanity, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I blindly agree with all of their decisions."

"For the sake of humanity…and this is coming from a guy who doesn't like being around people…I find that amusing."

Baird pauses in annoyance, and then replies with his usual, complimentary sarcasm,

"Oh, so I amuse you…well, I guess I should be glad that I'm useful for something…seriously, do you actually believe that I concur with everything the COG does?"

"Do you really believe that I agree with everything the Feral does?"

"Sigh, so you don't like being a Feral, do you."

"I didn't say that."

"Then what are you saying, Raven? You don't like the COG and you don't like the Feral, what the hell do you like?"

"It doesn't matter what I like, because this world will never let me be what I am."

"And what is that?"

It was Raven's turn to pause for a brief moment as Baird takes notice of the silence and peers over his workstation. He could sense that she either didn't have an answer to the question, or she did, she just didn't want to answer it.

He can only guess that she was wedged into two worlds that wouldn't let her fit in, and therefore defiance is her only means of self-expression, while her true identity was suspended somewhere in limbo…is it any wonder she's so pessimistic. He decided to change the subject,

"Is there anything else you would like to ask?"

"Like what?"

"Well, you can ask me if the radio is working."

"Oh really…wait, you got it to work?"

Raven gets out of the chair and moves over to the radio console while Baird lifts himself up from off the floor.

"Yea…I just need to get the tower online," he says.

"You can do that by turning on the main breaker," Raven mentions as she glances over the control panel.

"So where's the breaker?" Baird asks.

Raven replies, "In the basement…I can get it while you get the signal started in the meantime. You should be able to access the transmission frequency from here"

"Got it."

Raven steps out of the room, towards the basement entrance as she makes her way down the stairs and towards the breaker box.

For a recluse, she's too resourceful, Baird began ponder, which only made him even more leery. A nagging subliminal nick was tugging at his subconscious, telling him that she knows more than what she's letting on, and therefore something compels him to find out what.

In the basement, Raven opens up the door to find six, color coded handles, labeled for each of the stations in the compound. As she pulls down the one marked "com tower," the lights flicker throughout the complex in short bursts. Cole and Sven were still cooking in the laboratory when suddenly they look up towards the commotion of electrical impulses fluttering through the florescent light bulbs above.

"What the hell was that all about?" says Cole while Sven tries to keep the burners lit.

In the control room, Baird finally makes progress in opening contact to the outside world. Raven walks back in the room. The frequency could be heard through the static coming from the speakers.

"Can you call command?" she asks.

"Working on that now…Come in control, do you read…this is Sigma one, do you read?"

The audio from the speakers continues to put out static as Baird attempts to change the frequency to get a better signal. He attempts to make contact again,

"Control, this is Sigma one, please respond…anybody, respond…"

As the static begins to pulsate, a faint voice seeps through the transmission,

"Please repeat, your signal is weak."

"…Hello Sigma one, please respond…"

"It's Anya," Baird murmurs to Raven as she anticipates commands' response.

"Control, this is Sigma one, can you read us?"

"We can now…Corporal Baird, is that you?"

"Affirmative."

"We've been trying to find you since your bird went down. Other squads were deployed after we lost all but four Ravens. Alpha One has been attempting to locate the missing squads…who is with you?"

"Private Augustus Cole, Private Sven Dunrich, and Raven McNight. Our Lieutenant, Milane, is KIA."

"…Understood…what is your present location?"

"We are at Hurl Dam. It is the only way we can make contact at this time. A snowstorm is in our vicinity and I do not know how long we can stay here. Over."

"Understood Baird. Right now, we only know of three squads that are proceeding to their objective, so for now, Colonel Hoffman orders you to take charge of Sigma, and that you are to proceed from the dam when weather permits. What is your present destination?"

"We will wait until the storm passes to proceed to go through an electrical conduit that runs through the mountain. It is rumored that there may be a major Stranded settlement somewhere on the other side, but we need to go investigate it to be sure."

"Understood. Have you made contact with other squads?"

"Negative…for whatever reason, we cannot make contact. Does command have a green light? Over."

"Hold on Sigma…yes, proceed to your objective. The other squads are scattered and they're having the same problem you're having. Try and reestablish contact when you can. Good Luck, Corporal."

"Sure thing…thanks Anya."

"…and Damon…be careful."

"Affirmative to that…also, have you heard from Sergeant Fenix or Epsilon one?"

"Hold on Corporal…"

Without warning, the speakers go static, as Baird desperately tries to keep the connection.

"C'mon, c'mon, don't do this to me now…control, can you read me, over."

Raven goes out of the room to peer out a small window as she sees the storm picking up the pace, listening to the wind bellow around the outside of the complex.

"Control, this is Corporal Baird, can you here me?"

Nothing but static can be heard through the speakers. Raven comes back into the room as she reports to Baird,

"The storm is probably interfering with the transmission…we need to get moving into the conduit before the power goes out too."

"Shit…alright. Go get Cole and Sven, and let them know what's up."

"Alright."

Raven steps out into the hall and walks over to the laboratory as she sees Cole and Sven stuffing their faces with a bowl of chili and some rolls they found in the freezer nearby.

"Hey, Feral, look what we got," Cole blurts as he holds out a bowl filled with rolls.

"We got to pack up and go guys…the facility is going to lose power soon," she says.

"But we just got here, and we have all of this food," Sven whines as he tries to stuff it all in his mouth before they have to leave.

"Well…take the burners with you, they run on propane…and take the pot, there should be a lid for it…but we need to go, now!" Raven insists as the two start to gather up their equipment and food, heading down to the basement and into the electrical corridor that leads to the conduit.

On the way, Raven stops next to a storage room in the corridor and props it open as she goes in and rummages through the ammunition and supplies stored in it. Cole turns his head around the corner to see what is inside.

"Ah, damn…where did all of this shit come from?"

"Grab some ammo and flares...here," says Raven as she frantically hands Cole a couple of flares and puts them in his pack. Cole steps in to pick up some rounds for his Lancer, while Raven gathers up a couple of Nape grenades. Sven also steps in to take a look around.

"Wow, it must be my birthday…look at all this stuff, man,"

"Yea, I wonder how it got here," Cole ponders out loud as Sven helps himself to some rifle rounds.

After Baird finishes up in the communication room, he gathers up his stuff and makes his way to the basement and into the corridor where he finds the rest of his squad rummaging the supply room as if it was a yard sale.

"What…who…where did all this shit come from?"

Raven ignores Baird's suspicion as she hands him some Lancer rounds and a handful of flares.

"We'll need these to make our way through the conduit," she says as Baird takes them and puts them in his pack. He quickly notices a pile of geobots stashed in a corner, along with some other spare technical equipment, and enough chemicals to make several widespread bombs that could take out an entire block. Where did she get all of this? The COG doesn't hand this stuff out just to anyone, much less a pack of guerrilla bitches.

The lights begin to flicker as Raven grabs some flashlights and hands them to Baird and Sven.

"Alright, we need to move…I don't know how much more output this generator can muster in a snowstorm," says Baird before he steps out of the room and makes way towards the conduit entrance. The others follow as they light up a couple of flares.

They step down to the ground as they peer into a large, dark corridor, noticing the electrical channels running along the ceiling. The air suddenly begins to chill,

"Ah, what the hell is this? Why is it getting colder in here?" Cole complains.

"The corridor leads out to the other side of this mountain. There is no facility on the other side so it would only be natural that the temperature will eventually conform with whatever the temperature is outside," Raven explains as she moves forward with a flashlight in hand.

"Which means it's going to drop below freezing in here, real soon," Baird adds as he turns to Raven, hoping she had an alternative to walking through a freezing corridor with no power or light, "…I hope there is place we can hang out before we freeze our balls off, Feral."

"...what would be the downside to that little mishap?" Raven mutters to herself,

"What did you say?" Baird inquires,

"I said, there's a utility room ahead, Corporal. It's not completely insulated but it's better than nothing. We can stay in there," Raven acknowledges Baird's concern.

"Yea, you see Baird? Feral takes care of us…we got grub, we got some light…hey, what else do they have at the room?" Cole muses.

"There is one bathroom with a sink and toilet…and plenty of blankets and pillows," Raven reassures Cole as they continue to walk in almost complete darkness, if it weren't for the flares.

"Hehe, sounds like heaven to me," Cole relishes, slapping Baird on the back while Baird returns a punch in the arm. Sven picks up the pace next to Baird,

"So what do we do when we get there…I mean…how long are we going to wait out this storm?" Sven asks.

"How the hell should I know… eat your food, take a shit, go beat off if you need to, I don't care," Baird scoffs, still rubbing his shoulder from where Cole slapped it.

Raven noticed that the group was getting pretty weary and tired, but most of all, especially Baird. He seemed already pretty battle hardened to begin with, but then again, he spent the first part of this day jumping out of a falling helicopter and running around in the cold weather, getting shot at. How would anyone feel after all that?

Cole on the other hand, always seemed full of optimism, ready to take on anything as if he literally ate adrenaline for breakfast. Raven found the pair rather amusing since one seems to compliment the other.

"There it is, up ahead," Raven points out as they raise the flare to reveal a metal door.

"Let's get this bad boy open…WHOO, it's getting cold out here," says Cole as he began to turn the lever to activate the bolt mechanism. The door cranks open as stale air quickly surges out through the opening.

"Wow, this thing must have been closed for awhile," Sven notices as Cole and Baird pull the heavy door to open it further.

"Get in, Vin," Baird orders while Sven goes through the door first, followed by Raven, who turns on the switch in the room to activate the lights. Baird goes in, followed by Cole, and then shuts the door, locking it behind them.

"Alright Sven, get the burners out man, lets eat some grub," Cole suggests as Sven puts down the pot and pulls out the burners on a table and turns them on.

"Hey, hand me some rolls willya," says Baird as Cole pulls out two rolls and hands them to him. Stuffing one of the rolls in his mouth, Baird takes a seat next to Cole.

"Not bad, huh," Cole grins as he watches Baird nodding his head while trying to chow it down. Feral steps over and around the space, hogging Gears as she helps herself to the chili and scoops it up out of the pot with a coffee cup.

"That's it, baby, take what you need…you look like you could use a meal," says Cole, watching Raven take a roll from the pot and then takes a seat on the floor, propping herself against the wall.

"Are you saying I'm too skinny, Private?" Raven responds, before she sips her cup.

"I'm just sayin, you been working all day hiking and saving our hides, you could use a good meal…oh, and you can just call me Cole, or Gus, or the Cole Train…"

"…or shitbag, or numbnuts," Baird adds before Cole returns the insult by quickly kicking him in the leg.

"Cole Train…I don't get it," says Raven, trying to make sense of the innuendo.

"You never heard of the Cole Train?" Sven blurts out as he glares at her in shock, along with everyone else in the room, especially Cole.

"Should I have?" Raven admits, finding little ground, if any, to be even remotely put any of it together. She actually doesn't know who Cole is. This was absurd, everyone knows who the Cole Train is, right?

Baird starts to chuckle while trying not to spit his food out at the same time,

"You mean to tell us…that…you didn't watch thrashball, so…you don't know who the Cole Train is…oh, this is priceless," Baird continues to laugh, looking at Cole who is absolutely dumbfounded by Raven's ignorance. Raven rolls her eyes as she breaks the ice.

"Actually, I did watch thrashball with my dad…when I was seven…but whatever the circumstances may be, Cole it is…and speaking of meals, you eat like a damn horse!"

"Yea, that's me, baby…my momma always used to tell me that she would go broke just fixin my breakfast."

Raven could tell this guy didn't miss a meal. The man was built like the native snowbison bull, stout and resilient. She could see how some Feral would find him to be potential for good breeding.

Raven could recall that many Feral breeders would pick men of impressive "genetics" when they had the choice. Although she could see how he would be a potential, he wouldn't have been her first choice. But he is sweet, I'll give him that.

"Yep, I could eat all day if I wanted to."

"Idn't that the truth, " Baird mumbles before stuffing the last bit of his meal in his mouth. He stands up and starts to strap off his chest plate.

"Hey Cole, gimme a hand, willya?" Baird attempts to talk with food still in his mouth,

"Sure thing," Cole answers as he gets up to help Baird take off the straps.

Observing the two while Cole was helping Baird remove his armor, Feral couldn't help but to wonder what hormones the COG were feeding these guys. Although Baird was not quite as massive as Cole, his physique was not lacking either. She knew that Gears were men of such quality and had to be in terrific shape, and although her impression of Damon, as far as genetics was concerned, was prospective, the Feral would have most likely removed his tongue to silence his flak. They've done it before.

Sven, on the other hand, was slightly smaller than Damon, maybe a few of inches shorter, but still just as potential as any other competent soldier, if only he wasn't such a dits. Then again, his youth was the most practical from a breeding perspective, since some breeder's preferred younger males, especially the juvenile females. The Feral seem to frown upon senior males mating with their younger stock.

Shutting down her gaze from the men, Raven got up to go to another room to pull out some pillows and a blanket, and brings them back, tosssing them on the icy floor. Though the air was not near as cold as the corridor, it was still a bit chilly inside the utility room.

As Cole gets up to walk to the bathroom, the other two try to settle down for the night, gathering the pillows and propping them on the floor while attempting to get comfortable. Raven walks over Baird's sprawled legs as she finds a spot against the wall while dismounting her holsters that were strapped to her thighs. Shortly after taking off her chest gear while leaving on the rest of her combat fatigues, she sits down, rubbing her arms to stay warm, despite for the most part, being fully clothed.

"Cold?" Baird teases, watching her trying to find some coziness by huddling against the mason wall…yea, I bet that's comfortable.

"No Baird…I'm just hugging myself," Raven responds sarcastically.

"Smartass…"

"Yea, well it takes one to know one, doesn't it…"

Baird rolls his eyes at her, watching her recline on the wall while leaning her back against a pillow. Sven also huddles down against the wall after he dislodges his breastplate and lays it down next to his Longshot rifle.

"Geez, can it get any colder in here?" Sven complains shortly after taking the breastplate off, feeling the cold nip air graze his bare fatigues.

"Well, Vin, since it's below freezing outside, I would say, yea…it's going to get colder," Baird scoffs in return as he removes his goggles from his head and shuffles his straggly blond hair. Turning his weary gaze to a distant Raven, he was quick to notice her minuscule figure. Cole's right, she is kind of petite. Although it was difficult to tell underneath her leather fatigues, despite not having her shoulder harness, he could only guess that there wasn't a lot of sugar coating on her. However, after their long hike from earlier in the day, he did distinctively remember occasionally getting a classic view of her derriere, and that sure as hell isn't lacking.

Nevertheless, he figured that she ate sparingly when wandering out in the wilderness…for someone of her stature, she probably didn't need much to survive, but how she managed to get ammunitions and store them away in an abandoned facility was an entirely different affair. They had to have been stolen…even the most cunning of Stranded, (and that's an exaggeration), can't get there hands on that stuff!

The lights inside the room began to flicker while the three look up, wondering how long they had before the power went out completely. Baird sets up a flashlight just in case, as the three try to get comfortable on the cold, concrete floor. Sven tries to prop himself with three pillows as he strategically places them around his core to keep him warm, but it didn't seem to be working for him.

"Ugh, this sucks…can't we use the burners for heat?" Sven moans.

"No Vin, we don't want to die from carbon monoxide poisoning." Raven responds, slightly shivering as she pulls up her legs and wraps them with her arms, curling up on the floor under a blanket. Ok, this is just pitiful, Baird says to himself as he gets fed up looking at the two, trying in vain to find warmth on the rigid, concrete floor. He couldn't take it anymore,

"Sigh, alright…Feral, come over here."

"What do you want, now?" she turns over to glare at him.

"Your not going to stay warm sitting up against the wall, Vinny's not going to stay warm humping the pillow…and I'm sure as hell not going to be getting much sleep trying to keep my balls from shriveling into peanuts, so come over here…you too Vinny."

"Oh…uh…ok sir," Sven obeys as he crawls over with pillows in hand and sits next to Baird.

"C'mon Feral, you too…we're going to have to huddle."

"Uh, I don't like that idea, so…no," she mutters before giving Baird a bitter expression.

"Look…just…sandwich yourself between Vinny and I, so we can keep each other warm…it's the only way we may find some rest tonight, and I seriously doubt this storm is going to pass over before morning."

Raven continues to give him a blank stare. Baird rolls his eyes as he continues,

"Look, I'm not asking you to marry me or anything like that…just…cooperate with us for a change instead of isolating yourself all the time. We're supposed to work as a team, so why don't you start acting like it!"

Even though she found the idea to be appalling, she new that he was right. Reluctantly, she began to make her way to the two Gears as she carefully sits down between Sven and Baird. Baird opens up some blankets and placed them on the floor underneath them.

"Ok, put your back to me, and Vinny, you put your back to Feral,"

"Ok sir…"

"…and stop that sir crap, there's no formalities here, kid."

"Oh…sorry sir…I mean, shit…I think I'll go to sleep now."

"Good…that means you can shut up now," Baird grips as Raven attempts to make herself comfortable between the two men. Nestling her backside closer to Baird, Sven would cuddle closer to Raven, with the back of his head resting against her chest while Baird rested his chin right above her head. After they all finally got comfortable, the plan seemed to work as they started to thaw out from the crisp, cold air. This wasn't so bad after all.

Despite the awkward resonance that was mingling between the three, exhaustion takes over as Sven is the first to conk out, leaving Baird and Raven still trying to succumb to sleep. Baird let's out a sigh as he props his head on his pillow, feeling Raven's soft hair nestle under his chin and her back brushed up against his torso. For a petite thing, she's kinda cozy, but he didn't dare to think any more of it beyond just that. But he couldn't help to wonder if she thought of the same thing, which may be the reason why she was so reluctant before he swayed her to the idea. He decided to break the awkward silence,

"…this doesn't mean we're engaged or anything like that," he says rhetorically. Raven lets out a slight chuckle before Baird could feel her body finally relax, nestled against his.

"Was that a laugh?" Baird softly muses.

Raven takes in a deep breath and slowly exhales as she warms up next to him.

"Yes, Damon…it was a laugh."

"And I was beginning to think you hated me,"

"For what?"

"Oh, I don't know…for being a dick, I guess."

"You can only be what you are, Damon."

"Yea, a dick, right?"

"No…just being Damon,"

Closing her eyes, Raven was able to find some solace as the day comes to close, finally surrendering to her exhaustion. Baird continues to lie still, drifting into thought as he savors the floral scent of her hair, mingling with the musty aroma coming from the blanket that has sat in storage for too long. Her response had rather caught him by surprise, not expecting anyone, much less a Feral, to accept him at face value. Baird finally shuts his mind for the night and proceeds to close his eyes when suddenly, he could feel a pair of feet stomping on the floor. Oh no!

"Ooo, oo, I want to cuddle too, move over, baby," says Cole as he drops his pillow next to Baird and proceeds to cuddle up next to him.

"Hey, hey, hey, easy Gus…shit!" Baird protests as Cole wraps his big arm around both Baird and Raven, pulling them closer to him. Raven could feel the squeeze from Cole's massive brace, meshing her tight into Baird's sternum.

"Ok, knock it off, man," Baird barks.

"But you're so nice and warm, baby," Cole nuzzles in closer.

"Hey, don't you call me baby when you got your arm around me…the matter with you?" Baird sneers as he jabs his elbow into Cole's ribs, pushing him back.

"Seriously…Cole…could you loosen up a bit…please?" Raven cringes, trying get past Cole's hand, around her waist. He knew he kind of overdid it, but hey, at least I got to cop a feel, so he loosens up his grip. Sven wearily shuffles back up to Raven as he puts a couple of pillows underneath his arm and curls into the fetal position. Nuzzling between the pillows and Raven's body heat, Sven drifts back to sleep.

Cole throws a blanket over himself and Baird, while Raven shifts herself under Baird's arm and Sven's backside. Despite the awkward arrangement, all four finally huddle together for the night, feeding off each other's warmth as they try to get some sleep.

"Hey, Damon," Cole whispers.

"What is it, Gus?" Baird wearily acknowledges.

"I love you man."

"Keep this up and I'll shove my foot up your ass."

"…Oooo, that sounds kinda kinky, heehee."

"Oh, shut up…"

Amused with Damon's homophobia, Raven smiles slightly before she too drifts back to sleep. The lights flicker again until the power finally went out, leaving nothing but the flashlight as their only source of illumination. As the four "cuddle" for the cold evening, Baird let's out a sigh and starts to rant,

"…and just so you're wondering…Cole, and you too Vinny," Baird begins to inform them, regardless if they were listening or not, "…this…does not, get out…ever."

Chapter 11: A Cold Day in Hades Edit

Back and forth you wander through your mind, winter's passing over but it won't find you.

Take what you can, change the seasons.

Isolate yourself and you will find there's no rhyme or reason that it won't find you.

And I will find you, although I wonder if I will climb through this rock I'm under.

I'm turning the page for something new, I'm finding my way through life in bloom.

Seasons
Veer Union

A aura of warmth cradles Damon as he moans, succumbing to the temperate bliss of mingled body heat like an infant in utero. Stirring while half asleep, he peers with groggy eyes into the partial lit room they took refuge for the night away from the bitter cold that inevitably festered into the corridor. The strategy he compromised actually worked out a lot better than he anticipated, in spite of himself. After giving his intellect another pat on the back for his ingenuity, he was finally able to get some decent sleep despite being on a concrete floor.

Suddenly, an abrupt noise splits between the sounds of the buzzing coming from the breaker box in the other room, and Sven's obnoxious snoring. Damon twitches from the audible bang, coming from somewhere inside the conduit.

Still woozy, Baird rubs his eyes before letting out a massive yawn, and then takes a look around, stirring between the masses of bodies still nuzzled against his. As he moves slightly, he turns his blurry gaze down next to his torso as he soon realizes Sven, instead of Raven, was snuggled up against his chest. Repulsed as he lets out an abrupt shudder, he pushes Cole's massive arm off of him and shoves Sven away, not fazing Sven at the least.

Ugh, he gripes as he got up to brush the male cooties off.

On top of the male "bonding," along with the chilly, nip air, and the sudden noise coming from conduit, it was not a bright morning. Or was it morning? Baird pulls out his watch from his pack as he looks at the time. Crap…it's morning…that means we have to go out in this shitty weather.

Carefully getting up on his feet, he staggers around the two Gears before he walks over to casually kick Cole. He wasn't going make any effort to bend over and shake him to wake him up.

"Cole…Cole, c'mon man, get up."

Cole begins to stir before opening up his eyes, and let's out an enormous yawn as he moans at the same time.

"Shit…what time is it?"

"It's eight."

"Already…damn," Cole snorts as he slowly gets up. Baird walks over to Sven, whom was still snoring, and starts to kick him too.

"C'mon…get up shitbag,"

Baird kicks him a few more times, but Sven continues to lie there, still fast asleep.

"Damn, that boy is a heavy sleeper," Cole lets out a chuckle. Baird walks over to the table, grabs a cup and proceeds to the bathroom sink. He fills the cup with water and then steps back into the room as he makes his way over to Sven and dumps the water on his head. Sven abruptly lets out a shriek as he fidgets on the ground.

"Fuck, that's cold…" he yells.

Cole starts to laugh.

"Good morning, sleepyhead."

"Geez, warn me next time," Sven groans, slowly crawling over to a chair and lifts himself wearily into it, using the blanket to wipe off the excess water on his head.

"We need to get going. I heard something from the outside…wait…where in the hell is Feral?" Baird soon notices as the other two just look at each other and shrug.

"Alright…just, grab your gear…and take a blanket or two."

"You got it," says Cole.

"Sure," Sven yawns, gradually picking up his rifle.

The three Gears assemble back into their armor and then load up their weapons, along with a couple of unused flares and flashlights. As they gather up their supplies, Baird notices that one of the flashlights is missing.

"Ok, I'm going to take a wild guess that Feral went out of the utility room." Baird casually mentions as he loads up his gear.

"Maybe…whoa, wait…do you think she left us?" Cole ponders.

"Sigh, how the hell should I know, Gus, I just work here."

"Well, we need to go find her…"

"Whoa…who's this we stuff?"

Cole gives a Baird a conspicuous glare.

"Whaaat?" Baird gripes at Cole's retained demeanor. Without so much as even coming back with a sarcastic remark, Baird finally gives in.

"Ugh…fine, we'll go out and find her…shit," Baird groans as Cole starts to beam.

"Oh c'mon man, you can't tell me you wouldn't want a piece of that."

Baird rubs his sinuses between his eyes in annoyance,

"I'm trying not to think about it, now damnit, Cole…fuck, now I've got that in my head, thanks a lot, asshole!"

"Heehee…I was right!"

"Does that mean we're going outside?" says Sven in between yawns. Baird turns around to give Sven a look of pure cynicism.

"No Vinny, we're just going to sit here and sing campfire songs all day long until our balls freeze up and fall off,"

"Ew, that's not cool,"

Baird began to gesture his irritation.

"YES VIN…WE ARE GOING OUTSIDE!"

Baird stomps over to the door as he yanks it open and storms out into the corridor without so much as waiting for the others.

"Uh, I guess he isn't a morning person," Sven mutters.

"Nah, he's like that all the time…twenty-four, seven," Cole reiterates.

"Great."

Sven and Cole follow out into the corridor with their lit up flares and flashlights. Moving forward, they look around the access strip of the corridor within the lit up area circumference, which was otherwise, pitch black and quiet.

"Maybe she went back to the dam." Sven mumbles, waiting for another scathing from Baird.

"Sigh, that may be a possibility…shit, I really don't want to have to go back there," Baird groans.

"Shit, me neither," Cole adds while shifting his chest plate into place.

Suddenly, a faint noise severs the silence as the three Gears turn their heads towards the direction of the noise origin. Baird carefully lifts up the flare as he takes a few steps ahead of the others, trying to extend their visibility. He yells out towards the black void,

"Feral…is that you?"

There was no response. Baird calls out again.

"Ok Feral, if this is a joke it's getting old…"

Again, no response, but a similar noise startles them again as it was much closer than the first time they heard it. Baird slowly moves his hand onto his pistol that was strapped into his holster as he slowly takes a few more steps forward, while the other two linger behind him, getting their weapons ready. The three try to peer in the dark as far as the light would allow them, but nothing came into site.

"Maybe it's the wind," Sven blurts out loud before thinking.

"No, it's not the fucking wind, Vinny," Baird quietly scoffs at him.

"Wait…did you here that," Cole whispers.

"Yea…it's getting closer," said Baird as he slowly pulls out his pistol. He turns his head over his shoulder to see the other two taking a few steps backwards.

"Ok, what the fuck guys…get your asses up here!"

But before they could respond, a low crawling, snarling beast suddenly jumps out of the dark, advancing towards Baird.

"WRETCH," Cole blurts out before Damon whips his head around to see the Wretch coming at him. while Damon tries to melee the beast away from him.

"SHIT," Baird hollers, dropping the stock of his pistol on the creature's head, "…get off of me!"

He melees the beast again and again, consequently shoving back, and then unloads his pistol into it until it lay motionless. He carefully walks over and kicks it a few times to see if it was dead. The Wretch didn't stir.

"Son of bitch, that was close! There's bound to be more where he came from…we need to move in," Baird commands.

"You mean we have to go after them?" Sven gripes.

"If we don't, they'll just keep coming at us in the dark…ah damnit."

"You think…they got Feral." Cole begins to worry.

"Sigh, we're going to find out, Cole."

Baird takes out his Lancer and then throws his flare down the corridor, expanding their visibility. Just as the flare rolls to a stop, more Wretches start to climb out from the darkness and suddenly leapt towards the Gears.

"Oh, shit," Sven squeals with shotgun in hand.

"Get em," Baird roars out. The three discharge their weapons at the incoming fray.

"WHOO, yea, bring it," Cole busts out before firing several shots of his Gnasher shotgun, and then begins to swing the stock of his gun on top of them.

"Oh, you want some more if this?" Cole sneers, firing his Gnasher while Sven melees with his.

"Yea, suck it down," Sven bellows as more charge in. He takes out two more with his shotgun.

Baird quickly pulls out the melee handle on his Lancer to rev up the chainsaw bayonet. As a Wretch darts in his direction, he plummets the mechanism into the snarling beast. Blood and entrails scatter all around, blinding the other Wretches nearby. Pulling the Lancer back after he saws it in half, he kicks another with his boot, and bludgeons another with the Lancer, using the teeth of the saw to hack it.

Nearby, Cole decimates several others with his shotgun, leaving a mangled mess on the ground while some more keep coming.

"Damn…we got some more closing in," Cole yells out as Sven and Baird brace themselves for another assault.

Making their way into the light, Cole and Sven step behind while Baird fires his Lancer, taking out a few before they move in closer. Baird revs up the bayonet and starts to cut into the crowd, while Sven melees with his Gnasher, swinging his shotgun and knocking off a few heads. Cole stomps on a few as he swings his Gnasher, sending one flying across the floor of mangled masses.

After Damon finishes cutting through a few more, the assault comes to a halt as they look around, trying to find any more live one's.

"WOOT…that was awesome," hails Sven.

"Hehe, you know it," Cole adds, kicking a few corpses out of his way.

Baird steps around the garbled cadavers to pick up the burning flare he threw out in front of them. As the three try to make their way out of the pile of Wretch carcasses, they suddenly here a faint voice coming from a distance. They turn to see someone moving in, holding a light as it started to come closer.

"Guys, is that you?"

They instantly recognize it to be Raven, moving towards them out of the darkness, panting as if she had been running a marathon.

"Damn, baby…you can't just be walkin out on us like dat," Cole gripes. Baird joins in,

"Cole's right, damnit Feral, we were thinking the worst."

"Wait a sec…we were thinking the worst...or was it you that was thinking the worst," Raven responds to an irritated Baird, while still trying to catch her breath. He instantly changes the subject,

"You can't just keep leaving us in the dark, Rav. How the hell are we suppose to follow you if you're always a mile ahead of us?"

"Well, first off, I thought you would still be asleep…and second, I had to check and clear out the corridor. Everybody else was looking for shelter from the storm last night, and this corridor was a perfect candidate."

"Yea, well you missed a few."

"These must have been the ones who took off. There was quite a handful of them earlier; we'll be passing them up here shortly."

"What do you mean, a handful?"

"Sigh, you'll see Baird…this way, I'll escort you to the exit."

Raven turns around and continues down the corridor while the others proceed to follow her, keeping their weapons ready. Turning over her shoulder, Raven adds,

"Oh, by the way, the storm has passed."

"It's still pretty fucking cold in here," Baird grumbles, observing the warm air bursting from his mouth as he exhales. Cole pulls out a blanket he took from a supply room, and wraps it around his arms while Sven places his sniper goggles back into his pack to keep the frost off the lenses. Baird takes out a torn bed sheet and wraps it around his neck, using it for a scarf.

The three notices that Raven had some additional attire as well, including a velvet scarf wrapped around her head and neck, with the long fringes hanging down her back. She also had some pieces of cloth tied around her upper thighs, above her holsters, and around her chest. Sven thought she somewhat resembled the town "bag lady," layered in leftover rags and scarves to stay warm from the bitter Frost.

As they continue to move forward, they soon notice a fowl stench mixed with the familiar odor of wretches as they pass by their burnt corpses, apparently slaughtered by Raven, earlier that morning.

"Geez, that reeks," Sven groans, covering his nose.

"Yea…those Wretches are pretty nasty, but this smells a hell of a lot worse" Cole gripes as they carefully walk around the corpses, trying not to get any smelly bowls on their boots.

"Ah, crap, Feral…you used your napalm grenades, didn't you," Baird complains with his hand over his mouth and nose, "…so that's what that noise was this morning, shit!"

"You heard that?" Raven had to ask.

"Uh, yea…those nades make loud noises, especially in a conduit. It's the perfect conductor…shit, it fucking stinks! Did you have to use them?"

"Well, I couldn't have well killed them all with just two pistols, now could I…so yes, I had to use the nades. They have a lot more splash damage for the job, but it did scare some away and apparently made their way back to you guys. I was trying to find them earlier but I couldn't see too well in here."

"Ah, baby, it idn't nuttin we couldn't handle, right Baird?" Cole muses, nudging Baird with his elbow at the same time.

"Yea, whatever…" Baird groans as he continues, "…ah, damn…this shit's never coming out of my fatigues…look at this!"

Baird tries to brush off the entrails from the back of his legs and buttocks.

"Hey, Feral…come over here and help me get this off since your primarily responsible for this," Baird conveniently suggests as he makes a gesture.

"What...I'm not going to touch your ass…get one of your men to help you," Raven scoffs in return with an "as if," expression.

"I'll do it," Sven openly volunteers.

"Touch me Vinny, and I'll shoot you," Baird warns, still attempting to brush his back while walking at the same time.

"Don't worry, baby…I'll come and clean yo white ass," Cole joins in as he side steps to Baird and brushes off the back of his pants.

"Hey…quit that!"

Baird shoos him away, while Cole backs off, laughing.

"Yea, laugh at this, asshole," Baird sneers, giving Cole the middle finger.

"Oh, you know you love me, don't deny it…you shoulda heard what he whispered in my ear last night," Cole chuckles while nudging Raven with his elbow.

"Ok…that's it," Baird begins to fume as he turns around, but before he could do anything, Sven yells out,

"Hey, is that light up ahead?"

All four turn their attention towards what appeared to be the conduit exit.

"What…wait…I think the kid's right," Cole admits while Baird turns right around peering out towards a bright light straight ahead.

"Holy shit…we are actually coming to the light at the end of the fucking tunnel! Imagine that!" Baird rants. He quickly moves up to the front while Raven races behind him.

"Wait, Damon…not so fast."

Baird slows down.

"What the hell for?" he nags.

"We don't know what's at the exit…"

"You just said you came from up there, and it was clear!"

"That was over two hours ago, Damon. Besides, what's the hurry?"

"I'm tired of this conduit. It's dark and fucking cold in here…"

"…well, it's lit and fucking cold, out there."

"At least it's not dark!"

"So you're scared of the dark?"

"No I'm not scared of the dark, and that's not the fucking point…"

"…oh, so what is the point…that you're just so, damn cranky in the morning, right?"

"I'm cranky all the time, haven't you figured that out by now, der!"

"…so I guess this is just all part of your charm,"

"Damn right, so quit jinxing it!"

As the two bicker back and forth, Cole and Sven watch in awe, wondering how the two have not yet managed to strangle one another. Cole begins to share his thoughts out loud,

"Heehee, if you didn't know any better, you would thinks they was married," he snickers as he nudges Sven, who is trying not to laugh, but starts to snicker anyway.

"I heard that, Cole!" Baird blasts, looking over his shoulder.

"Heard, what…what did he say," Feral demands while Cole and Baird respond in unison,

"Nothing!"

"Agh," Raven miffs as she quickly storms off, separating herself from the Gears as far as her short legs could take her.

"Thank God…she's going away," Baird snorts. He slows down his pace, trying to keep the distance Raven had already established well between them.

As they get closer to the end of the corridor, their eyes begin to flinch from the bright, winter light, reflecting on the ice and snow. They were walking on snow that was blown in from the storm the night before.

"Damn…look at all this white shit," Cole scans the area in amazement.

"Geez, how strong did the wind have to be to blow all this in here?" Sven ponders as they trudge through the snow, getting deeper the closer they move towards the exit.

"It's clear…come on out," Raven announces from the top of the snow hill just outside the exit.

"Shit, it's getting deeper," Baird gripes, rotating his pelvis to pull his legs through the mess, bringing his knees up and over the hip, deep snow. Cole and Sven struggle to do the same, slowing their pace as they pull themselves through the white mess and finally out into the open, outside of the conduit on the other side of the mountain.

"Wow, look at that lake," Sven points out while the others turn to look at the frozen massive body of water as he continues, "…after what blew in last night, I bet it's frozen solid."

"It'll have to if we intend to cross it," says Baird while he notices Raven slowly coming towards them. She trudges through the snow, trying to regroup with them while talking at the same time.

"We'll have to go around the lake," she informs them.

"Now why did I have a feeling you were going to say that?" Baird moans as he rubs his eyes, shielding them from the bright light. He then brings his goggles over his eyes.

"The Stranded settlement is somewhere on the other side, but it is too far into the day to go investigate without being seen."

"So we going to check them out at night?" Cole asks.

"Early morning, actually," she says to Cole.

"But why so late?"

"Well, the alcohol usually hits them about one in the morning…"

"And they will probably sleep in until hangover time, later that afternoon," Baird jumps in while Raven reiterates,

"Correct…they will most likely be coherent for the rest of the day until after nightfall,"

"Do they have outposts nearby?" Baird asks, trying to map the area in his head while Raven responds,

"On the other side of the lake they do, the last time I checked. Therefore, if we go around, we can flank them undetected, unless they send out their scouts, but there's a lot of cover in the woods that we can use to our advantage if we take the route I'm suggesting."

Damon narrows his brow in suspicion as he gives Raven a frumpy glare. She finally gives in.

"Sigh…there's also a secret supply stash between here and our destination, but again, we have to go around the lake."

"Uh huh…just as I suspected," Baird mutters. He takes a moment to adjust his Lancer, and then starts to make his way towards the snow covered countryside ahead.

"Ok kiddies…through the mountain, around the lake, to grandmother's house, we go…"

Intermission I Edit

Fort Block, nineteen hours after King Raven deployment…

APC's carrying additional recruits make their way into the Block to be stationed and reformed while officers make arrangements to keep them occupied, assigning them with a multitude of petty projects.

Anya watches from the com station, noticing all of the fresh faces overshadowing the veteran one's that are now dwindling next to nothing. She looks out while waiting to hear from Delta, whom was dropped a few hours after the first deployment of the Farrall Offensive, and later picked up before the snowstorm came through. They were deployed the following morning to scan for the whereabouts of their last remaining squads. With six squads unaccounted for, and one that is lost off the mark, only four made it to the drop zone, but even then, only three made it back to Fort Block. Out of five of the Feral that were assigned to the squads, only three returned.

Like so many missions before, the race to salvage what is left of Jacinto has left them with little to go by as their outposts were under constant harassment; strategically picking at their defenses by either the Locusts or the Stranded. They were not entirely sure who it was as of yet.

Although they found the alleged Stranded settlements, by the time they got to them, they were already abandoned as if they knew they were coming. Their Feral allies were able to regroup and guide the rest of the squads safely back to be picked up, but they lost one bird out of three in the process. They took out a handful of Locust outposts along the way, but there were many still unaccounted for. It didn't take long to realize the mission was a near failure.

As the Lieutenant peers over her consol, she tries to enhance the satellite picture of the valley that was taken a month earlier, but to no avail, she couldn't get an accurate reading of the schematics. What is wrong with the radar on this thing?

Compiling a rough diagram of Sigma's last contact, the only contact she has received from any of the lost squads as the others remained mute, she rests her head on her hand. Waiting in anticipation, hoping to hear something from someone, the radio suddenly began to sound off in between static transmissions. Anya reaches over the console,

"Hello, this is control, do you read?"

She alters the frequency to get a better signal as the static slowly began to fade and she could hear voices again.

"This is control, do you read?"

"Roger that, control. This is Delta, over…"

"Oh, thank God…affirmative Delta, I read you loud and clear, over."

"We have searched through the wooded area just south of town and we found a down Raven along the way…it has been completely destroyed but we were able to salvage part of a serial number."

"Go ahead, Delta…"

"The partial number is XY78469…there's more but it is not readable, can you get record on it?"

"Affirmative, Sergeant, I am searching the KR inventory now…"

Anya waits as she watches her terminal search through a laundry list of countless sequences of serial numbers of every single King Raven that was ever manufactured, even though only a few remain active. The computer finally isolates a class of King Raven's, assigned by their assembly codes from their key manufacturing plant, revently desecrated from the Locust war machine.

The list dwindles further into a handful of possible serial numbers, many of which were already destroyed prior before Operation Hollow. The computer screen comes to a halt as it lists four possibilities of presently active Raven's.

"Ok, Delta, I have four possibilities, but it may take a few minutes to narrow it down."

"Understood, control."

Anya starts with the first, looking at it's combat history and the pilots, co-pilots assigned to the bird and it's career. She moves onto the next as she again, reviews its records, searching for anything that may have any relation to Operation Farrall, and sure enough, KR-four, three.

"Ok Delta, I have found the King Raven in question…KR-43, and…oh God, Marcus…according to this data, that's Sigma's bird…"

"…Affirmative control…when was their last contact?"

"Their last contact was shortly before the snowstorm, yesterday evening from Hurl Dam."

"Hurl Dam? But that's off of the route to the drop zone, what the hell are they doing over at the dam?"

"They probably had to find cover from the storm, and according to Corporal Baird, they have reason to suspect that there was a Stranded settlement near the glacier lake, up north."

"So it's possible that we deployed our men the wrong way."

"It is the pending theory, Sergeant."

"Shit…understood…have you received any contact from Sigma since then?"

"Negative Sergeant…Corporal Baird mentioned that he couldn't contact the other squads…there have been reports that the radios are not functioning properly; they may still be having communication problems."

"Understood control, so where do we go from here?"

"Report back to Fort Block. We may have some updates on the schematics, according to the Feral scout team."

"The Feral?"

"Affirmative Sergeant…we have accumulated some more Feral that have been displaced recently, and three of them speak fluent Tyran. They claim to have some updates on the locations of the insurgencies."

"Roger that control…we're in route now, over."

Chapter 12: Just Another Day in Paradise Edit

Snowscape banner

We all have something that digs at us, but at least we dig each other.

So when weakness turns my ego up, I know you'll count on the me from yesterday.

If I turn into another, dig me up from under what is covering, the better part of me.

Sing this song, and remind me that we'll always have each other...

...when everything else is gone.


Dig [4]
Incubus


The storm left behind a winter wonderland as the terrain glistened from the midday sun. It was as if the storm cleansed the sky, filling the air with its sweet, frosty aroma, pushing away the stale air further towards the oceanfront, near Farrall.

Moving along a wide-open area while hiking through knee-deep snow, Sigma continued to trek through the freezing terrain, relying on old sheets, pillows cases, and other layers of makeshift clothing they took from the conduit station to stay warm. Cole, Sven, and Raven walked together while Baird lingered back, going over his mental notes.

Baird's pupils had finally contracted, adjusting to the bright light as he lifted his goggles from his eyes to get a better look at the terrain. Ahead of him, he could see Cole and Sven making friendly conversation with their Feral guide, Raven, as they pull up their knees over the deep snow, hiking around a large glacier lake east of the rolling valley.

He scratched his head with a leaflet in hand, the one he managed to pocket in his armor when they we're searching the Locusts back at Hurl Dam for ammunition. Reading the lettering, some of which he was able to decipher, the paper apparently was a "psalm" of sorts, chanting about "seducing," or "charming" the beasts of the Hollow with song. Beyond that, Baird could only guess that it was some religious documentation, but why it was in the possession of a peon Bolter baffled him. The meaning evaded him for the time being as he stopped for a moment to put it back in his leg pack and continued to chew on his thoughts, while following the others from behind.

Up until now, this was the most at peace he had ever been in awhile, to have a moment to appreciate the splendor in nature without just catching small glances while running for his life. Although he did not drop his guard completely, he continued to look around, finally having the opportunity to breathe at ease for the moment to ponder their present situation. For the most part, Cole was right. Feral had been taking care of them, which came to a surprise since she had long insinuated that she preferred isolation, rather than "hanging" out with anybody, much less a handful of male twats.

Why hasn't she left us? She could have abandoned us easily, leaving us to rot in this shit. Although Baird had his theories, the answer continued to elude him. Shaking the thoughts from of his head, he began to eavesdrop on the others' conversation, listening to Sven ramble on about his experiences in highschool…an all too common initiation most young males usually had to go through to enter the ultimate right of passage, otherwise better known as puberty.

"Anyway…I knew this one girl, back in highschool," Sven begins his story before Cole interrupted.

"Hehe, you knew girls in highschool?"

Baird snickered to himself while keeping his usual musings restrained…Oh geez, they're talking about girls.

Sven continued as if he didn't catch on to Cole's gag. Actually, it probably really did go over his head, but nevertheless, Baird could tell Raven was attempting to be polite by allowing Sven to ramble on.

"Yea, and this chick was hot too! I mean, she was skimpin' in this one outfit…I could tell she wasn't wearing much underneath…"

Raven interrupted,

"Uh, ok, you're going to have to define "hot," for me," Raven suggests as her remark catches Sven somewhat off guard.

"Well…uh…gee, I guess I would have to say…ah, crap…what was I going to say?"

Good one Vinny, that was smooth, Baird mused to himself, rolling his eyes. Cole started to laugh.

"Here…let me help you out, Vin," Cole cutted in. Baird moaned to himself, oh God, here it goes...

"What he means is the kinda chick that can make a man stand up straight by just walking by, ya know,"

Raven just glared at him with an inkling in her gaze, somewhat trying to figure out where Cole was going with this. Baird could tell she wasn't the least bit impressed, but she gave it a chance by letting Cole continue,

"Don't get me wrong, most chicks are not bad looking, and then there are others that are "hot," the kind that made you sweat from just looking at em!"

"Uh huh," Raven acknowledged, not making any attempt to see it from his point of view. How could she? She's not a guy, so how does she know what the hell makes a guy "sweat" in the presence of a "hot" girl?

"I mean the one's that have, nice, juicy, taataa's, those sour, pout lips, and the kind of ass that you just want to go, uh!"

Cole tried to imitate his gesture by holding his massive hands in front of him as if he was going to grab something. Raven rolled her eyes when she came to realize that the topic was going nowhere.

"You know…ok, I take it back…we need stop and move onto something else," she said bluntly.

Baird jumped into the conversation from behind.

"Yea, Cole's getting a hard on just talking about it," he chuckled while Cole turned around to the sardonic tone of his close friend,

"Hey, since when did you decide to contribute to the conversation?"

The other two were surprised by Baird's entrance since he was pretty much to himself for almost an hour.

"The minute somebody brought up the topic about "chicks."

"Shit, Damon, what do you know about chicks…in fact, when was the last time you had a G.F.?"

"Well gee, Cole, since I spend most of my time, getting shot at, running around in Locust fortresses, crawling around inside giant worms…oh, and almost the entire time, I'm spending doing all this, saving your ass! So needless to say, it's been awhile!"

"Yea, whatever. You haven't had any boon since…damn…it has been awhile!"

"Shut up Cole, you haven't been getting any either!"

Cole was about to respond before he realized that Baird was right. Neither one of them had any romantic, social dealings with the female type in probably longer than either would really care to admit. It was, for the most part, against policy to fraternize with female officers, not to mention most all other females were relocated to "breeding camps," which made such social interaction limited.

This brought Baird to question as to how the Feral reproduced. He had heard of stories, rumors about Gears coming across Feral camps, but they usually ended in a catastrophe. He since then had only heard of one incident where a soldier was coerced to impregnate a "breeder," and live to tell about it.

"So…what about you Feral," said Cole, trying to keep the conversation going in a last ditch attempt to pass the time,

"About…what?" she replied.

"Ya know…got a man somewhere that we don't know about?"

"Hey yea, you go out and get some?" Sven tinkered with the thought. Perv!

Raven chuckled in amusement.

"Are you kidding, please, the Feral are very strict about keeping our animal drives in check and breeding outside of the matriarch's counsel…besides, you Gears are pretty clueless concerning the female psyche…no offense."

"Wait…counsel…is that what you chicks "call" it?" Baird's interest peaked up in curiosity.

"Every Feral has a set of guidelines that she is required to follow concerning her advances. To deviate from those guidelines would end up in excommunication, or sometimes termination," Raven explained.

"Gee Feral…you run away to avoid being "bred" like a horse, only to end up with a faction that dictates your sex life, or else! I'm having a hard time seeing the difference here…and you're calling us clueless?"

Baird continued to pick at her brain, gathering mental notes on how the Feral functioned as a culture, since most of the COG's intel on the Feral was modest at best, but doing it without offending her at the same time was not something he did very well. Raven continued,

"The "breeding camps" were exploiting the women for purposes other than just "breeding," Baird. The COG new damn well that some of the facilities was being run by pedophiles, and yet they didn't do anything about until it was too late. We knew about it because some of those girls managed to run away, and the Feral picked them up."

The conversation took a turn that only Baird could entertain, trying to get the last word in,

"Look, I'm not saying that nothing unethical was going on, but your accusing the COG of running people's lives without merit, while the Feral are practically doing the same exact thing. You're being kinda hypocritical, Raven!"

"There's a difference in deciding something for the better welfare of the community, and then there is just plain, Jane, dictatorship."

"Oh, and how's that?"

"Do you really think Chairman Prescott is in all of this for the sake of "saving humanity?"

"What do you think he's doing it for?"

"Well what do men of power always want…more power…and how can he help it? He was born into power, his family, the Prescott "dynasty." What else can he be…he pretends to participate as a soldier to boost up his ranks and then wiggled his way into politics effortlessly, all the while, using the policies of his predecessors during the Pendulum Wars to wipe out settlements, confiscate weapons of mass destruction and obliterate almost all of what was left of Sera's resources. I mean seriously, do I need to go on?"

"It's amazing what people have to do when their back is up against the wall, Feral, especially when we got a race of "beings," whose only intent is to wipe us clean off the planet! Like any other leader, he had to make difficult decisions…it's not like he had a lot of other convenient choices."

"Do you really believe that, Damon? I find it hard to believe that you, a frequent delinquent, accept things at face value…especially someone with a countless history of insubordination!"

Well that caught Baird off guard. Even Cole and Sven turn to her in shock. She continued while still perching on her high horse.

"Yes, gentlemen…I know about your personnel profiles. I reviewed them before we left Fort Block. Don't think I was going to jump into something without doing my homework. And as far as the COG is concerned, I was raised, reciting the "Octus Canon," every damn morning before school started. My "dad" would take me to his base to show me how the Gears work, like taking your kids to work day and would attempt to orient me into the regime. So to answer the question that I know has been lingering in the back of your head, Baird, no, I'm not just some dumb cunt who so happens to have some "beef" with the COG."

"Well shit, Feral, excuse me for being clueless that you didn't have any personal issues regarding the COG."

"I don't!"

"Uh huh…so seriously, who are you banging?"

"What the hell kind of question is that?"

"I don't know, ask Cole, he's the one who wanted to know," Baird grins while Cole gives him a bemused look.

"Oh, sorry Gus, we're talking about sex now" Baird snickered before Cole gave him a dirty glare.

"Yea, very funny, jackass!"

"C'mon, I'm just sticking out for ya…so anyway, Feral, what is your "present" breeding status?"

"What breeding status?"

"Are you single, or do you have someone you see regularly, are you still a virgin…"

"Are we seriously having this discussion right now?"

"Uh…yea!"

Cole and Sven just glared in interest, waiting to see what she would say next.

"Alright, Damon, I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of answering that question for the sake of your own personal amusement."

"So you are a virgin."

"Does it really matter if I am or not?"

"Not really, I'm just trying to get a rise out of ya."

"Cole's right, you are a jackass!"

"Hehe, told ya, baby! Hey, Vinny…you owe me ten bucks!" said Cole. Baird sneered back.

"Oh, so you can hack into our computer network and somehow access our personnel files, which is classified, by the way, and now suddenly you take offense when we ask you about your love life, bullshit!"

Raven snickered at Damon's defiance.

"Well, that sounds more like a personal problem, Baird."

"Damn right, especially when I'm taking some flak from someone who's never had any cock!"

Well that did it.

"Alright, that's it! This conversation's over," Raven storms off, putting distance between them as fast as she can, moving diligently through the knee-deep snow. The three watch as she huffs away, cussing under her breath.

"Damnit Baird, I thought Marcus told you not to piss her off," Cole started to rant at Baird, reminding him of their objective, again.

But it's too much fun!

"We seriously need to work on your "talking to girls," skills," Cole continued to gripe, realizing Baird just ruined their chance to maybe somewhat bond with their Feral guide.

"Geez yea…we were trying to get her to open up, ya know," Sven butted in.

"We're not here to pick up chicks, guys," Baird handily reminded them without little, if any, regret.

Sven let out a whimpering groan, thinking back when he had some interactions with girls, wondering if he will ever have the opportunity to do it again.

"This bites…will we ever get back to normal…ya know, when we could pick up chicks?"

"Sigh…maybe one day kid, we just got to keep our head in the game for now," Cole muttered, thinking back in the day when he had women, jumping through fire hoops, just to say "hi" to him. But it's been fifteen years since they have been fighting the Locusts…how much more longer will it be before they can even say things will be back to normal?

Damon kept to himself as he trudged on, trying not to let Raven get too far ahead, or she'll abandon them for sure. Memories of his past begin to subconsciously surface as he halfheartedly revisited his own "social" experience with women. Needless to say, those brief moments of some remote companionship was very few in between. When he did, it was anything but positive which may have contributed to his "cynical" attitude, especially when it concerned girls. Although he is most likely capable of producing offspring, he avoided settling down as if it was the plague. To say the least, he was content living the rest of his existence as a "childless" bachelor.

As he watched ahead, Raven continued to storm through the snow, wondering how long she was going to hold a grudge now. Considering he's been harassing her consciousness since touchdown, she seemed to be tolerating Baird, especially since most people, women especially, would normally take an instant disliking to him. But then again, maybe it's because she's stuck with him and she has no choice but to tolerate him. Or maybe she's just saving her "rants," and all of her frustrations to shove down his throat all at once, for later…oh that's going to be fun!

He then realized something Dom told him once, which was very seldom, about how he dealt with Maria when she got mad at him for whatever reason and she wouldn't talk to him for days. Although Damon was never one to take any advice from Dom, however he did agree that no man knows no wrath, more loathing than a woman scorned. So something was going to have to give, before wrath bit Sigma squad in the ass…or worse.

Shit. I'm going to have to kiss her ass, or kiss and make up, hmm…what would be the lesser of the two evils? In any case, he knew if he didn't somehow reconcile, he would never hear the end of it from Marcus, or Hoffmann for that matter, and then Dom would rub it in his face. Fucktard.

"Sigh…wait back here guys…I'm going to have to go and patch this," Baird loathed as he picked up the pace, with Cole yelling out from behind,

"Hey…if you kiss and make up, I want details…remember…bros before hos!" Cole and Sven start to snicker as Baird waved his hand with his back still facing them.

"You think he's really going to do it?" Sven pondered.

"Shit, knowing Baird…I bet you another ten bucks she'll punch him in the face before he even thinks of laying a smooch on her," Cole snickered.

"You're on!"

The two clamped fists, knuckle to knuckle as they turn to look ahead, watching Baird climb up through the deep snow. He attempted to catch up as Raven kept her pace consistent, not realizing that he was trying to close in their distance. Shit, does this chick ever get tired of hiking?

He managed to get into audio range as he called out,

"Feral…hey…wait!"

"What for? I thought I told you…"

"Yea, yea, yea, I heard you the first time."

Feral stopped in her tracks, giving Baird a moment to catch up, noticing the other two were still lingering behind.

"Oh, I see you left your "motley crew" in the ditch…were they boring you with useless, "guy stuff?"

Baird flashed a sarcastic grin before slumping back into his usual, face-melting scowl.

"No, that's not why I sprinted all the way up here."

"I'll say, you sure keep up better than Cole. He really needs to do more steady cardio and less weights…"

"I know…I think his thrashball training has him brainwashed."

Feral let out a slight chuckle as she started to move forward again, making a more conscience effort to stay along side with Baird.

"Ok, so are you still pissed at me?" he finally had to ask.

"Maybe."

"I suppose that's an honest answer…look, ok, I know I said something…"

Here it goes,

"…that was insensitive…"

"Wait, are you actually apologizing…do I need to record this?"

"C'mon, gimme a break!"

"You, don't apologize to anyone, much less a bitchy Feral…ok, what are you really trying to do?"

"Seriously, are you going to let me finish?"

"Relax, Baird…I'm not going to abandon the team, or drop y'all like a hat and leave y'all to fend for yourselves…"

"And why wouldn't you?"

"What do mean, why wouldn't I?"

"Well, all we ever seem to do is to slow you down and piss you off."

"Cole doesn't piss me off, Vinny normally doesn't piss me off,"

"All right, all right, I get it, it's all me!"

"No, that's not it either…"

"Then what is it…why do you stick around?"

"The same reason I agreed to come to the COG in the first place."

"And what's that?"

"It doesn't matter right now, what does matter is that I take you guys safely around the terrain to the Stranded rebel camps until the mission is complete."

"Well, as you noticed, we strayed off that course a long time ago," said Baird, making a point for another excuse to groan, trying to make sense of things that he really couldn't confirm, but that only annoyed him even more…but at least I live to still bitch about it.

"So, you're really not going to abandon us, huh?"

"Just you."

"Oh…alright…at least we cleared that up."

Raven gave him a sarcastic look and then started to laugh.

"Oh c'mon, I was just joking, at you're expense of course, but still…you do really need to lighten up, Damon."

"Yea…I get that a lot on my psych evaluation that I am required to attend, once a year…that and piss in a cup."

Raven laughed at Baird making awkward gestures.

"I know they did health check ups, but psych evaluations…that must be new," she said.

"They started it almost ten years ago."

"Well then I guess you must be ok…they haven't declared you insane."

"Nah…at least not yet…knock on wood."

Baird gently tapped the buckle on his utility belt, while Raven covered her mouth with her hand to quash any potential laughter that would expose her delight in his innuendo. Finding composure, Raven resumed the conversation,

"So what else do they violate you with?"

"The usual…put a swab tip up the shaft to check for urinal infections, STD's, anal probes,"

"Geez, Damon, seriously?"

"Well, when the time is right, I guess, they want to make sure our plumbing is working properly, and safely. There's no point in the use if we're shooting, infected blanks."

"They check your sperm count, too? I mean…what for if you guys don't find the time to…well…procreate, especially when they have regulations on fraternization?"

"Well that's funny because I was going to ask you the same."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't understand why your…superiors…have to dictate your sex life to produce offspring. I mean, why not just go out, find some sucker, woo him to get you knocked up and then leave his sorry ass, return to your "camp" and live happily ever after with your little brat?"

"Ok, I'm not exactly sure what they taught you back in sex ed, or, what your personal experience is, concerning the concept, but there is both a philosophy and science to human reproduction."

"Uh…are…are you for real…because I never would have put sex in the same bracket as quantum physics."

Raven gave him a sour look while Baird caught on to her insinuated expression.

"Sigh…go on…" he let her continue.

"Look…and this is assuming you have performed coitus before,"

"Yes, I have, moving along…"

"Every woman has a season where she is more "fertile," than others, during the cycle."

"Cycle…as in every twenty eight days?"

"Well, that, and once every year…out of four seasons, or quarters."

"And you either fall into one of those four categories, during the year and month,"

"Precisely…depending on the time of her birth, will dictate her biological clock, in reference to the seasonal terrestrial clock, Bloom, Brume, Thaw, or Frost."

"I thought women could get pregnant all year round?"

"Most normally can, it's just that during their estrus is when they are, I guess, much more susceptible to conception."

"Ok…so, what terms do you use for the monthly cycle?"

"We use Sera's elements…water, fire, soil, and air, to label the phase of the month"

"Have you ever, "witnessed," the results of this so called rhythm method?"

"As a matter of fact, I have. The Feral have successfully managed to assist women, who have been labeled barren, to producing, healthy offspring."

"Really?"

"I know what you're thinking, but as I have mentioned to you before,"

"Yea, yea, not one girl is going to be the same as another,"

"And on top of all this, some females are much more sensitive to their timing, while others are not. For some reason, they do not have the ability to breed all year round…therefore, if they do not mate within that brief time frame, any other attempt will be unsuccessful. I have reason to believe that the "breeding farms" dismissed some women as infertile, when, in fact, they have a capable system, its just finicky. Now, why that is, I am not entirely sure…that information was not oriented to me at the time of my own evaluation."

"Wait, you've been briefed on your "custom" fertility rate?"

"All of us have. We have all been cultured, and trained to be productive. It's just that the "breeders," have been conditioned extensively to seduce and mate, while say, my training, has been basic. They have found me to be…of more value elsewhere."

"Should I even ask, as to how, they…demonstrate, or…um…"

"Do you really want to hear this?"

"Sigh, not really,"

"Besides, I told Cole and Sven about it…I'm sure you'll hear it from them."

"You what? Shit, Feral, now I'm never going to hear the end of this!"

"Your welcome!"

"I can't believe you've been telling them how to…"

"Give it a rest, Damon…besides, the only things I told them are probably stuff they already had some knowledge on from reading the graffiti material, scribbled on the bathroom walls."

"Uh huh…so scouting and hacking is more up your ally than…uh…ah, hell, I'll just say it, fucking."

"I …don't know…"

"And you're…ok with that?"

"…Not really…"

Raven redirected her gaze to the terrain as she, subconsciously meditated to herself before the mood turned awkward for the both of them. Baird was carefully assembling the pieces together from what Raven has since revealed to him and the puzzle quickly became a riddle, begging to be solved. His boredom turned into fascination as he decided to press on at plucking at the layers surrounding her psyche, trying to gather as much information about the Feral that she was willing to reveal. Something productive better come out of this since I had to be the one to fucking apologize!

"Um…so…which season are you?"

Raven looked up in astonishment but her expression subsided once she realized he wasn't being derisive. Believing he may have hit a sore spot, Baird tried to salvage the mood.

"Look, you don't have to answer if you don't feel comfortable…"

"Frost…and…fire," she blurted out without missing a beat, catching him in mid sentence. He paused for a moment as he glared at her with a perplexed expression, on the brink of having to ask the question that was smoldering in the back of his mind.

"You mean to tell me…that you are presently, in your more fertile time of your clock?"

"In the year…the Frost is my fertile season…but not in month."

"Should I even ask when that is going to hit?"

"No, you probably shouldn't."

"Ah, crap…ok, I'm going to ask this anyway, for the sake of everyone's sanity…I mean just in case you…go off your rocker,"

"Oh, for peat sake, Baird, I'm not going to go on a rampage."

"Like hell you're not…you're going to be "in heat" Raven! That's enough to drive any guy nuts, much less three."

"Then, maybe, it would be best that you don't know!"

Baird groaned before reverting to silence, a discepline he normally didn't perform well but in this case, he shut his trap before it got him into trouble again, and then it finally dawned on him as he looked up toward the edge of a sparse forest nearby.

"Hey, are we there yet?"

"Almost."

"Define almost."

"Well, you see that forest over there, between the lake and that mountain?"

Raven pointed in the direction as Baird turned to get a look.

"Yea…is that…where the settlement is?"

"No…I told you, there's a place where we keep armaments and supplies, not terribly far from the settlement location."

"Sigh…how far from our destination?"

"About three miles."

"Ugh…that means we have to hike some more."

"There is a place we can go to for shelter…and food."

"Where's that?"

"In the woods…it's concealed."

"For real?"

Baird beamed in interest. The idea of warmth and food sounded even more sweeter to his ears.

"Don't get ahead of yourself Baird…we still need to investigate the area over there," Raven points to a section of the forest, lingering out in the valley not too far ahead.

"Alright , now why do we…wait a minute," Baird suddenly halted as he looked back to see past Cole and Sven, whom were still somewhat behind, but gradually catching up. He peered further down, evaluating their trail in the snow as a frosty breeze slipped past them, brushing along their heads. His internal instincts began to creep into his conscience that only familiar soldiers can comprehend.

"We're being tracked, aren't we," he said.

"Inevitably...yes," Raven quickly responded as the cool air continued to brush along the landscape, nipping the bare skin on their faces.

"Fuck…and we left them a nice trail for them to follow…"

"…which is why I suggested going the other direction."

Baird raised his arms, yelling out to Cole and Sven still lingering behind.

"Guys…get up here, hurry!"

Cole and Sven pick up the pace, pushing through the snow,

"Agh…it's like walking in that pool of plastic balls they had at Wonderworld," Sven recanted, rummaging through his childhood memories when his older sister would throw him into the pool of balls, and then she would jump in to help him stabilize in the awkward environment.

"Oh, yea…I remember that place," Cole recollected as well, going back down memory lane when his mom would take him there for his sixth birthday. He was so excited, due to the fact that he was actually tall enough to ride the bigger rides.

"Will ya hurry up?" Baird yelled out, impatiently.

"We're moving as fast we can, Baird," Cole blasted back, trying to pick his feet up over the snow, "…damn, it's not like running in a grassy field, man!"

"Quit whining and get your butts up here!"

The two finally catch up, panting as they finally come to a stop, taking a breather. The wind began to pick up, lifting snow from the top layer, brushing it against their legs.

"Ah, c'mon…another storm?" Sven griped as Raven steps down from a hill to rejoin them.

"We need to go into the forest. I saw something in there as I was scanning it," she exclaimed.

Cole turned to Raven, still panting.

"Like…what?"

"I'm not sure, but either way, the wind is getting stronger and the forest may be our only means of protection right now," she said, pointing towards a patchy conifer forest.

"And how's that?"

Baird turned to Cole and Sven,

"We may have someone tracking us."

"Oh…oh, you got to be shittin me!" Cole blurted out.

"The wind can cover some of our trail that we left out here, and those woods will conceal us from here on out, but we got to move, now!" Baird settled it before turning to make his way toward the forest.

"C'mon Cole…Sven," Raven groaned as she helped Sven on his feet, moving him forward while Cole followed close behind the two.

As the four move, the overcast sky began to take a turn as snow started to fall, sprinkling the air while the breeze brush the flakes across the valley floor, concealing their tracks.

Chapter 13: The Hunters Edit

Banner Morose copy

The air thickens with snow as the wind pushes through the terrain, over the lake and through the mountains. The woods acts as a shield from the freezing breeze as Sigma One meanders around the trees into an open area in the forest.

Raven perches on a fallen log as she points at an area that looked as if it was recently demolished, with trees knocked down and brush tattered. It was obvious that something came through it fairly recently.

"Look…see it?" Raven gestures.

The others peer through the snow-covered trees to get a glimpse of what appeared to be, bare corpses, lying in the snow out in the open area.

"Sigh…we're going to have to check this out," Baird laments, wondering if the bodies may be that of other displaced squads. The three move carefully into the area as the snowflakes begin to accumulate on their armor.

"Damn Feral, how did you know this was here?" Cole asks.

"I noticed some of the trees from the distance were broken down…" Raven explains, "…and they weren't like that a few weeks ago, so something had to have happened here as of late…I originally thought it may have been another fallen Raven."

"Well, the direction of the fallen trees doesn't suggest a crash site..." Baird observes, "…more like a major firefight."

Raven hops down to join them while Cole and Baird move forward to get a closer look at the bodies. They were strewn about, half of them facing down as their skin was almost as pale as the snow around them, making the blue veins even more noticeable. Raven took another sweep of the area and then proceeded to join them, with Sven not too far behind.

Baird kneels down to brush the falling snow from one of the corpses, almost naked, facing down and nearly pallid. He presses his hand against the bare back, searching for contusions, and then grabs the stiff arm.

"Ugh…it's hard to know how long he's been in rigor, the cold accelerates the process," Baird groans, realizing that the weather was going to make it harder for them to calculate how long they have been deceased.

"Then that means we don't know how long they been dead," Cole mutters as he looks around at the others, scattered around the vicinity.

"Well, they couldn't have been here no longer than early this morning, otherwise they would have been buried by the storm last night," Raven points out as she begins to investigate the torn shrubs on the outskirts of the area.

"Hey Cole…help me lift this one, willya," Baird asks.

"You got it, baby!"

Cole helps Baird gently lift the solid corpse as they turn it over, finally realizing who he was.

"Ah, damn…" Cole groans while Baird drops his head in dismay.

"Who is it?" Raven asks as she reunites with them.

"He's one of ours," Baird grumbles while Raven steps around the two to get a closer look. The body for the most part was intact with the exception of a bullet entrance to the skull, fracturing the bones at the exit wound on the other side. Almost all of his attire, with the exception of his underwear, was gone.

"He's been stripped…they all have, which means the Stranded probably got here before we did," says Raven.

"Say, what," Cole slightly bellows in resentment.

"They have been accumulating armor and weapons for some time now. I have seen them out on patrol, riding horseback and stripping armaments, but I can't tell you if they were responsible for their deaths," she says.

Baird lifts his head to brush the snow out of his ruffled, blonde hair before he joins in.

"Maybe so, but I doubt the Locusts did this either."

"How can you tell?" Raven curiously asks.

"Because they're, for the most part, intact...that, and they don't take COG armor…weapons maybe, but not armor."

Sven walks around, getting an eyeful of a bizarre situation, one he has never seen before. The climate around him felt psychologically cold, as if the place itself had a mind of it's own. If only the trees could talk.

"So which squad are they?" Sven asks.

"It's Gamma Four…I recognize the name on these tags," Baird responds.

"Ah, shit...man…that means Harley's with em," Cole mutters as he steps around to take a look at the other corpses.

"Who's Harley?" asks Sven.

"Sergeant Brell Harley, is Gamma's squad leader," Baird answers as he gets up to help Cole look for the Sergeant's body. Sven joins in, helping Baird brush the oncoming snow on another corpse nearby.

"Guys, try not to move them too much. If we disturb the bodies, someone will know for sure that we came through here," Raven reminds them.

"…and don't remove the tags," Baird adds.

"Then how are we suppose to report them back to headquarters?" Cole starts to protest.

"I'll write their names down…but Raven's right. If we're being tracked, they'll know for sure that we came through here if we tamper with them too much."

"Do you think the Stranded are the one's tracking us?" Sven wonders.

"I'm not sure, but Stranded scouts have been known to come near this area, especially at this time of day," Raven responds as she looks up to peer outside the forest.

The three Gears continue to look and take names, but could not find Gamma's squad leader among them. The snow began to lightly collect on the corpses, while Sven brushes off the snow accumulating on his shoulder plates.

Silent and surreal it all was, as if the place they were standing on was subtly screaming at them to look deeper into the forest primeval, and listen to the ghostly voices. Everything about the place was off. Raven turns back onto the edge of the wooded area to get a better look out in the empty, white valley.

"Did Sergeant Harley survive, maybe?" asks Sven.

"With his squad all strewn out like this and leaving the tags, not likely…man, this makes no sense," Cole stands up to brush the snow off of his armor.

"Geez, if they were shot down here, then where did their attackers go…I don't see any trails," Sven notices, looking around on the glistening white ground.

Baird sits still, kneeling down as he drifts into thought, while the other two turn to look at him. They could tell he was in deep thought, deciphering the code written all over the area.

"Uh oh, Baird's thinking…that can't be good," Cole blurts out.

Baird suddenly stands back up as he writes down the last name in his journal, and then puts his journal back into his pack.

"I bet you ten bucks these guys were dumped here…they must have been killed elsewhere, and for whatever reason, they were relocated and dumped here,"

"How'd you figure that?" Cole looks in curiosity.

"Look around, Gus…there's no blood on the ground, they have been stripped, and as Vinny pointed out, there's no tracks suggesting a firefight, much less someone stripping them down of all their armor. It would be logical to assume that they were shot down and disrobed elsewhere, then carefully dumped here while the snow must have covered their tracks…which means they had to have been here at least, since sometime early this morning, to give time for the snow to accumulate…"

Before Baird could finish his sentence, Raven moves back into the area as she cuts in,

"…and this area was demolished by some heavy artillery, I suspect by grinders, maybe a troika. If they we're killed here, they would not have been intact, as Baird mentioned earlier. Besides, their bullet wounds suggest smaller rounds." Raven reiterated as she drops some twisted, marred twigs, she found hanging from the brush. The bark on the surrounding trees was also stripped, all on one side. Raven then climbs back out into the wooded area to look outside.

"Smaller rounds, as in…" Sven says while Baird continues,

"Pistol, Lancer rounds…maybe Hammerburst, but she's right. The wounds indicate rapid fire but not the size from a Troika or Mulcher."

"So you think this was set up?" Cole starts to put the pieces together as he sees Baird nod.

"It's a possibility, and I believe the Stranded may be involved," says Baird.

"So what's up with the fallen trees if they were taken out elsewhere?" Cole asks, trying to make sense of the scene.

"I'm guessing that they intentionally shot all this down to make it look like a fire fight…and then dumped the corpses here."

"Well then we need to go over there and take them out before they ambush any more squads."

"That's not our directive, Cole…and on top of that, who knows what arms they have amassed in the past few months. Shit, we know now they have at least four Lancers, some Gnashers, maybe a Longshot," Baird groans.

Cole thought for a moment and then he responds,

"The Stranded are not that strategic…and even if it was the Stranded, why would they go through all this trouble just to set this up?"

"Maybe their hunting down the other squads for more ammunitions, I don't know for sure Gus, I'm just speculating…"

"We can't let this go, man. Command needs to know about this, if what you say is right."

"We're not going to let this go, Gus…but we need to get to the side of that mountain and wait until early morning."

Raven moves back to their position.

"And we need to do it real soon guys. I just saw some Stranded on horseback in the distance, and I think they're coming this way," Raven announces as she joins them from looking out the woods.

"Well shit…that sure raises some red flags now, don't it," Baird gripes.

"No kiddin," Cole couldn't agree less.

"We got to take them out…if they did this, they'll kill us for sure and take our stuff," says Sven.

"No…if we take them out, they can't report back to the settlement, and then they'll definitely know your position," says Raven, as she turns to point in another direction.

"Go this way…the thicket is too thick for the horses to follow effectively, and it will cover your trail. It will lead to the side of the mountain."

"But what about the mess we made here, Feral? They're going to figure out for sure that these bodies were tampered," Baird mentions, trying to watch his step.

"I can take care of it, I've done this countless times before. You just take Sven, Cole and go…hurry!"

"Feral, are you sure? "

"Look, Baird, you're just going to have to trust me on this, have I let you down yet?"

"For all I know, you could be just buying your time,"

"Sigh…well then Corporal, I guess you're just going to have to make a difficult decision now, aren't you."

Baird gave Raven a suspicious look, realizing that she just turned his words against him from their previous argument. But what choice did they have? If they stayed and fought the Stranded off, sure it wouldn't be much of a fight. The Stranded were, for the most part, not as tactical and trained as a Gear, especially compared to veteran Gears, but whoever sent them will know for sure their most recent position, and that was the last thing they wanted to do, especially if any of the other squads fell into the same trap.

Raven starts to get impatient.

"We're running out of time, just…I'll meet you on the side of the mountain later, I promise. Cole you heard me, right?"

"Yea, I heard ya baby…c'mon, Damon, we'll worry about all dis later," Cole insists. Baird growls to himself before he pulls out his Gnasher and starts to move towards the thicket ahead.

"Let's move," Baird commands while Cole follows behind, gesturing to Sven,

"C'mon, Vinny…we need to go!"

"Alright…comin!"

The three Gears begin to make their way into the woods, trying to keep their trail concealed as much as they can, hoping the falling snow will help cover their tracks.

Raven quickly breaks off a shallow branch from one of the conifer trees, using the bristles on the branch to level the snow around the area and around the bodies, hoping the falling snow will accumulate on top of them. Brushing the footprints left by her comrades, she dusts some of the snow from the branches of the trees and back onto the bodies as she scatters foliage around some makeshift, possum tracks. She climbs back up on a fallen tree, walking on it towards the wooded area and climbs into a shrub as she pulls out her Gorgon pistol, checking to see if it's loaded.

It was obvious that Raven had done this numerous times before, almost as if she had the Stranded down to a science. She had observed their behaviors for some time and found them to be simple people, not soldiers like the Gears, or malicious monsters, like the Locusts. It's few in between that she has come across a Stranded that went beyond just trying to survive, but this circumstance was different. If Baird is right, then this settlement may be a force to reckon with, it would be a deadly combination of both the Locusts and Gears.

She sits and waits patiently for the horseback riders to make their way into the area; then I'll know for sure if it was them whom set all this up. Pretty clever, for a Stranded…Cole's right, it's not like them to take the time to be this tactical. She had seen Stranded ransack Gear equipment, rummaging in collapsed Centaurs or fallen Ravens, but they normally just take only what they can carry, like ammo, medical supplies, and radio equipment. Only recently has she witnessed groups of them stripping a fallen Raven, almost to the chassis, taking the armor plates and even the console. For what purpose, however, is yet to be seen.

In the distance, she can hear the horses snorting, clopping through the snow. The beasts we're huge, weighing almost half a ton while massing in some articulate armor and headdresses. They had a generous amount of feathering on their wide hooves, while their manes were cropped and their body hair thick as a means of adapting to the bitter cold.

She can see five of them, lingering outside the woods, peering in, as two of the Stranded begin to dismount. This is definitely a scouting team. They are way too organized just to be a handful of vagabonds simply passing through.

She could see clearly that some of them were armed with Lancers. One of them, still on horseback actually had Gear armor; a worn silverback with dents and littered with scratches, but functional nevertheless, judging by the lights illuminating from the shoulder harness. It almost resembled the recon armor, but not the latest manufactured all-purpose, blue armor that she had been seeing more often among the Gears.

The two men walk slowly and carefully into the woods, scanning the area. What they were scanning for is the more appropriate question…are they looking for Locusts, or are they looking for Gears? And then it suddenly dawns on her; they have been listening to our radio transmissions…damnit…why didn't I figure this earlier? Did Baird ever consider their transmissions to be jeopardized? Well it's too late now…if, and when I get out of this, that is the first thing I am going to have to address.

One of the men began to enter the open area, while the other follows close behind. The first one was rather tall and lean, not near as bulky as a trained, protein fed Gear. This was the common physical appearance of the Stranded, especially when there was a shortage of food. Most of these guys would go for days without eating, spreading out their meals so they would not run out too quickly. They had no other choice.

He wore the typical Stranded garb, mostly ragged layers of garments for additional protection from the cold since most of them had little body fat. He carried a shotgun in his hands as he looks around the area, searching for something that apparently was eluding him. As he started to relax, he stands up straight and swings the shotgun strap on his shoulder.

The other man, however, was almost the opposite. He was bigger, not near as big as Cole, but roughly the size of someone between Baird and Sven, maybe bigger. Needless to say, he was not a typical scrawny Stranded. He moved into the area, cautiously as he carefully scans the vicinity with each quiet step, even though his partner had already done it for him. This one is experienced!

He wore a dark, heavy pea coat that hung below his pelvis, while wearing Gear boots and leg fatigues, with a Lancer strapped under his arm. His movements were similar to that of Cole and Baird; precautious and authoritative, maybe arrogant. Oh God…this guy is a Gear. There is no other explanation.

His head was wrapped with a scarf, hooded over his head, leaving only the lower portion of his clean-shaved face to be somewhat visible. His brow was heavily shadowed, peering through the black scarf, draped over his forehead. He wasn't walking around aimlessly like the other one was. He was definitely searching for something specific.

The other Stranded started to talk as he nearly stumbles over a body, mixed in the snow on the ground.

"I…I, don't…see nothin," the scrawny one jitters, as if he was literally in fear of the other. Can't say that blame him…the big one is intimidating.

"Shut up and keep looking…" the other barks in a low, grinding voice. Slowly, he kneels over one of the corpses as he carefully brushes the snow off, glaring at it as if he smells something out of place. Shit…he's going to figure this out.

Still glaring at the body, he mumbles,

"The tags are still here…"

"Well…maybe nobody came by after all, or maybe they did come, but were in a hurry."

"It's not like a Gear to leave the tags…unless they've caught on to us."

"No way…how would they know that?" the scrawny one shivers in between words.

"Well, they managed to figure out our location…explain that one to me," the big one barks, his stern gaze turning to the other with a demeanor of suspicion.

The other Stranded didn't dare respond. The icy glare from the big one was piercing through him, chaining the scrawny one to his attention as he continues,

"We have the Jammer, that should have shielded us from the satellite…and those electromagnetic impulses should have taken out their communications, but some how some way, they know where we are!"

So that's why the COG had difficulty finding them…and I bet that's why Baird was having a hard time contacting command.

He continued to contemplate to himself while staring at the body. He then slowly stands up and moves to another. He kneels down again, brushing the snow off as he tilts his head, his gaze fixated to the remains.

A chill ran down Raven's spine as he was much closer to her position now, hovering over the corpse nearby, studying it without a break in concentration. Suddenly, he lifts his head up and slowly looks over his shoulder, peering in her direction. Even though she was well camouflaged in the brush and snow, Raven almost forgot to breathe as she sat perfectly still, nervously gazing at his bright pale blue eyes from under his heavy hood. Peering from behind the thicket, she doesn't even blink while he stares at the brush with his piercing gaze. He then turns back around, redirecting his focus back down at the corpse. She could tell he was sensing something that wasn't right.

"This body was tampered with…" he mutters. The other Stranded turns around as if he was startled by the others' statement. He then responds,

"Maybe an…animal messed with it."

"Maybe," the big one growls, scanning the area to look for any tracks that may have been left behind. He shifts his head, as if he was searching for a scent in the breeze that blows past them.

"Or, it could have been a Feral."

Oh God…he knows about us.

The Feral seldom reveal their identity to anyone without purpose, or at least that's how Raven understood it. How does he know about the local Feral? Wait, could the Stranded actually be responsible for the missing clans?

It was said that the Locusts ambushed and killed Raven's clan while she was out scouting, doing her recon work. She came across two of her sisters whom said they found the clan, almost completely annihilated. With the Frost coming down on them, it was decided that in order to protect the other clans, an alliance to the COG had to be made. It has been imminent for quite some time, especially after the Lightmass Offensive. But what if it really wasn't the Locusts? What if it was the Stranded after all?

Considering the amount of lost, the idea of the Stranded being involved seemed implausible, especially since they normally lack even basic resources, much less the means to form a militia. Maybe we were wrong.

"Oh shit…we need to get back! You know where there is one, there's more to follow…" the other man starts to panic.

"Relax Gil…if a Feral found this, she probably assumed it was the Locusts who did it…and even if she doesn't, I doubt the Feral are going to go out of their way to raid our fortress. They know better than that. They can't handle the troikas, their armor is too weak."

He slowly stood back up as he scans around one last time.

"But your right Gil…we need to get back. Those Gear bastards are out there somewhere. It's only a matter of time they come knocking on our door, and then we'll be ready for them…and if they don't, the winter will slay em. Without food and supply, they won't last out here on there own, out of contact from central command. Now let's go…leave the bodies, we'll check them in the morning."

He proceeds to step out of the area as Gil follows close behind, reuniting with the others still on horseback. They climb back into the saddles, turn the beasts around and gallop away.

Raven carefully crawls out of the shrub, moving backwards as she starts to move in the other direction, following the squad's, more than faint trail. The breeze picks up as it shakes the stems around the thicket, brushing along her armor.

The events unfold in her head as she recites the scene over and over again, trying to see if there was anything she may have missed. It was too important, and she knew this was going to change everything they were set out to do.

Things were taking a turn, realizing that they may have been blind all this time, both the COG and the Feral.

Chapter: 14 Detour Edit

Trying to forget

We’re falling right through

Lying to forget

We’re raising our truth


Lacuna Coil

Our truth


"Gus baby, you need your hat…you can't go out in that without keeping your head warm…"

...a six year old, Augustus Cole groans, feeling the time delay between being stuck in the house all day from the white, snowball fight, bliss. As with most little boys, time cannot be wasted trying to put on a bunch of outdoor attire before jumping out to explore the freezing enigma that awaits them.

"Aw, c'mon mom. I'm not going to get sick," he moans as his mother walks over to him to fasten his hat on his earflap beanie, snug on his head.

"That's exactly right…you're not going to get sick, if you keep your head warm…do you understand me?"

His mother gave him a scolding look as he nods.

"Yes ma'am…" he mutters out as she finishes wrapping the crochet scarf around his neck and checks the buttons on his coat. After she finishes, she kneels down to him, laying a kiss on his exposed cheek.

"I only want what's best for you baby…you know that," she says solemnly. Looking up at her, she gives him a smile while he flashes one back as he gives her a hug. She lets him go, and then looks him in the eye,

"Now you be careful…and you will be back in this house by six o'clock, do you understand…unless you don't want your supper?"

"I don't want to miss supper."

"Then you'll be back here by six, right?"

"Right!"

"Ok…now go out and play nice!"

"I will, momma…bye!"

"Bye, baby!"

His mother waves as he darts out the door and into the snow, covered wonderland, teaming up with his friends from down the street.

Ever since Gus was four years old, his mother practically raised him herself, taking on the multitasks that most single parents often had to do for the welfare of their children. His dad had disappeared, along with forty-three other men, who worked out on the Imulsion drilling fields.

With the war becoming closer to home, a lot of kids have either lost a father, or a brother, sometimes even a mother. Gus could remember two of his friends whom lost family members a year later from when he lost his daddy. It was sadly starting to become the norm as he grew up in school, along with every other kid who lived with a single parent or grandparent.

But his mother would always wake him up in the morning while she got herself ready for work, and him ready for school. She would always make sure he had his shoes on right with his shirt tucked in and his teeth brushed, while she kissed him before she dropped him off to school. His bond with her was beyond price.

Like many, she worked hard, but she always had him in mind when she would help him with his homework or take him to his games, followed with a homemade meal. She did the best she could not to let her circumstances get her down. She would always tell him,

"You make the best of what you have…the good Lord will never leave you with just nothing. Everything he gives you is for a reason."

She supported his internship at school to play "thrashball," making an effort to come to some of his games when she could get off of work early enough to watch her son play. She was impressed by his intensity as his talent eventually helped pave his way through college, where he was eventually employed to the "thrashball" profession. As he moved up into the big leagues, however, he started to lose contact with his mother as the games took him further away from home. He often sent her money to help pay bills back home, but she often refused it, sending him letters stating how proud she was, to see him become the man he grew up to be. That was all she ever wanted from him.

If only momma could see me now.

Cole was trudging through the snow, trying to bring his knees up to keep the snow from dampening the rest of his fatigues. They we're already soaked around the knees and started to bleed up into his thighs.

He wrapped his head and arms in the blanket he took from the conduit station, while he trekked around the trees, occasionally looking back to see if Feral was coming.

All three were getting dreary as the snow started to soak into their pants from all the hiking. Sven had a pillow tied to his lower back, which offered some warmth, but his lower thighs were screaming at him. He kept moving his legs, just to keep them warm, but it did nothing to settle the hunger pains in his gut and his aching calves.

Baird still had the torn sheet wrapped around his neck and another around his waist, trying to make sense of where they were actually going. Nobody else seemed to know where they were going, but him. He finally halts as they come to a rocky ridge, inside the forest that probably stood down twenty feet, as they peer over to see the rocky bottom below.

"Ok…we need to take a breather," Baird announces as he plops along the side of a boulder, slumping into the snow. At this point, his pants were already soaked so it didn't matter anymore if he sat in snow or not.

"I heard that," Cole agrees as he too, descends to the ground, laying out with his limbs sprawled in all directions. Sven finally came up to join them, panting in between breaths from the climbing.

"Oh, good…a break!"

He too plops down, leaning his back against a tree.

The three sit and wait, reminiscing what may have happened back where they found what was left of Gamma Four. It was a sobering encounter, considering they had no contact with command. They were literally on their own out in the arctic wilderness, without shelter, without food, and without their guide. The situation couldn't be any more bleak, although nobody dares to say it.

Cole groans as he tries to pass the time, hoping that Feral would catch up with them, but in the back of his head, he was worried, and Baird could tell that he was worried.

"Relax, Cole…she's a big girl…well, not literally, but, you know what I mean."

"Yea…I just still can't help it…that we left her behind, alone."

"Cole, she's been wondering in the wilderness, alone, for weeks at a time. She knows this area like the back of her hand…"

"Maybe she had to take a detour…ya know…to lead the Stranded away from our trail," Sven adds, sharing his thoughts openly.

"Sigh…maybe," Cole ponders.

"Do you think we'll ever get back…I mean…back to headquarters?"

"Yea kid…we'll make it…you'll see," says Cole a he too starts to wonder, does he really believe that? He tries to find something else to talk about to lighten the bland mood, making the best of what they did have…and right now, it was each other.

"So…Damon…what did you say to Feral?"

"Huh…what?"

"What did you say to her, man?"

"We didn't kiss and make up, if that's what you were wanting to know. You can give Vin his ten bucks back."

"Ok, so what were y'all talking about?"

"Sigh, nothing."

"What? Nothing, my ass! You guys were talking, non-stop for almost an hour…Sven would know, he timed it!"

"What…you actually timed it…for real?"

"Yea, I mean it was seventy one minutes," Sven said, despite it lacked Baird's point.

"Look…we just talked about the Feral's breeding theories"

"So you were talking about sex," Cole blurts out.

"Not really, she was just explaining to me how the Feral ordain their "fertile" periods," Baird responds.

"Ew…y'all were talking about periods," Sven cringes as Baird turns to him and sneers,

"Seasonal periods, not menstrual periods, you dumbass!"

Cole cuts back into the conversation.

"So did she tell you about what they teach?"

"Teach?"

"Yea…like some sex ed class…ya know…how they stroke it,"

"No, Cole…we didn't talk "techniques"…can't imaging what the hell for,"

"Ah c'mon! It was some good stuff! She was talking about shit I never knew…and I know quite a bit, I mean…"

"Ok, Cole, we can stop right there,"

"Oh c'mon, baby…everyone can use some pointers, even Vinny learned some stuff…"

"Yea, I can't wait try some of it," Vinny joins in with a giddy expression while Baird retorts,

"Oh yea, great Cole, now you soiled his virgin mind with all that crap!"

"I didn't tell him…I showed him," Cole beams.

"You…wait…what? How'd you…"

"I used your pin-up drawings in your journal."

Baird's expression turns into irritation.

"Damnit Cole, you were rummaging through my shit again!"

"Hey, quite leaving your shit behind when you go out to take a shit!"

Sven jumps in,

"Wow, I never knew you could draw like that…those were some hot chicks…I especially like the one with big knockers, holding a blowtorch…"

"Oh, great, Cole…now you ruined his virgin eyes too?"

"Hey, I'm not a virg…"

"Shut up, Vin," Baird stops him in mid sentence.

"Ah, give the kid a break! It's been awhile since he's seen some nice ass…hey, remember when Tanner talked you into drawing him that one chick,"

"What chick?"

"Ya know, that one waitress from the bar,"

"Oh, yea…I remember now."

"Was she hot?" Sven asked as Cole nods,

"Whoa yea…she was hot, wasn't she Baird…" Cole lightly kicks Baird's boot as he continues, "…he would know, he drew her."

"Yea, Cole I did…thanks for reminding me," Baird mutters while rubbing his arms, trying to stay warm.

"Hey, you went along with it willingly, don't say you regret it now, white boy."

"I'm not implying anything…besides, Tanner was the one who had a big crush on her."

"Yea, he did…may he rest in peace," Cole mutters solemnly.

The three sit quietly, contemplating about the events that have taken place in their military careers, reflecting the times of tribulation, and wondering where will they go from here? But despite the past and the bitter, freezing cold, Cole decides to break the ice of their gloom for a second round of useless, men's locker room chitchat.

"So, Damon…did you frisk her?"

"What…who?"

"You know…that chick you drew,"

"What, no, I didn't frisk her, she just…willingly took off her clothes to let me sketch her, especially when I told her that it was for Tanner."

"Uh huh…"

"Ah damn…she actually did that, man, I really need to change my strategy," Sven whimpers.

"Yea…Baird's all good about strategy, hehe," Cole chuckles.

"I didn't bang her, for crying out loud, Cole…ok, I'll admit, she was kinda playful,"

"Uh huh…so what stopped you?"

"Are you kidding me, you know Tanner would've been pissed about it, besides, I didn't feel like picking up every disease in the STD alphabet,"

"What, you didn't know where she'd been?"

"No, I knew exactly where'd she been…that's what was so scary,"

"Yea, I guess you got a point there," Cole ponders before flashing a playful grin, "…so, when are you gonna draw Feral?"

"Oh, oh now I get it, you just couldn't resist, could you. You had to bring that up!"

"Damn right, baby…no point in leaving any blank spaces in yo journal, when you could be fillin it up…so when can we see some artistic pics of Feral?"

"Damnit Cole, I'm gonna start hiding my journal from you,"

"Damn, you already drew some stuff on Feral…how'd I miss that?"

"I didn't…and even if I did, it's none of your fucking business!"

"Aha, so you did!"

"Sigh…you know what, fuck you," Baird turns to Sven, "…and fuck you too!"

"Ah, c'mon baby, it's all good…everybody likes your artwork…I especially like the one you did of Marcus banging Any…"

"Shit, Cole, what else have you…"

Before Baird could finish, the three look up to find Raven standing above them with her arms crossed, and her brow lowered, glooming at them. It was apparent she'd been eavesdropping on them for some time.

The mood suddenly turns awkward as the three sat in hesitation, as if mom caught them with their pants down, pissing in the yard. Instead, Raven simply strolls down next to the ledge as she peers forwards and then turns to them,

"We need to talk."

Baird sighs as he starts to explain.

"Yea…we figured that. Look, we just…"

"Not about your "male," gossip," she says, exasperated.

"Oh…well, while we're somewhat on topic, yea we do need to talk. We're cold, we're hungry…we're cold,"

"Yes, Damon, I know,"

"Did he mention that we we're cold…and hungry," Cole reiterates for Baird while the three look at her with weary gazes. As she glances at them, she could tell they were uncomfortable and fatigued, not to mention famished.

"Sigh…listen, for a moment…please…and I promise I will take you to some food."

The three slump further into their places as they look drearily up at her. Considering she hadn't let them down yet, they figured they could spare some time to give her their audience, despite their unpleasant dilemma.

"Ok…look…I found out for sure that the Stranded, did, in fact, set up those bodies back there,"

"Shit, man," Cole blurts out as he shakes his head in disgust.

"I also…found out…that they have been eavesdropping on our radio conversations to control."

Baird quickly looks up as he starts to ponder back to what all was said during those contacts. He then turns to Raven,

"They've been monitoring our communications…which means, they knew we were coming, and, any contact from here on out is going to expose the other squads, not to mention, ourselves…all further communications from this point on will be compromised."

"…I'm afraid so," answers Raven.

"Fuck…" Baird groans as he leans his head back against the boulder behind him.

"It gets worse, Damon."

"How can it possibly get any worse, Feral?"

"They…may, have some former Gears working with them."

The three look up, appalled by what Raven had just revealed to them. She could feel the heavy, concentrated glares as she decides to sit in her place, grasping the inevitable unpleasantries.

Baird's brow begins to sit heavy over his blue eyes as if he was demanding her full attention.

"Are you sure?" he says sternly.

"They were wearing some of the Gear fatigues and armor…and they moved like you guys do. They were not typical Stranded, that's for sure, which might explain the new strategies they used to hunt down Gamma Four."

Cole keeps his gaze fixated to the ground as he curls his lip, processing Raven's words, and then starts to talk.

"That explains why they set up Gamma…they were waitin' for us."

Raven let's out a sigh, "That seems to be the better theory, but they definitely know, that we know, where they are located," she says as she starts to rub her forehead, still trying to unwrap her head from the image of the large man with the cold, piercing gaze.

"Well shit…that changes our plans, big time," says Baird as he slowly sits up, trying to get comfortable, but it did nothing to relieve his cold joints. Forgetting the fact that the older he got, the longer it took him to warm up and stretch his muscles. He realizes that he was going to have to get these guys to some food and warmth pretty soon. That was their current, and only objective. He looks back up at Feral,

"First thing's first, we need to go someplace where we can eat and get warm…preferably somewhere that we will not be found, before these freezing temperatures kick our ass."

"It's not horribly far…we can get there by dark."

Baird nods his head as he motions the others to get up as well.

"But what are we going to do afterwards?" Cole stammers impatiently, suddenly forgetting that he was cold and hungry.

"I don't know yet, Gus…we'll figure this out after some grub, ok," says Baird, trying to get Cole to focus on the problem at hand.

"We can't stay out here after dark…it's not feasible."

Cole looks to his side as if he was going to say something, but instead he just nods his head and coldly gathers his gear. He knew Baird was right. There was nothing they could do at the moment but relocate before nightfall. The idea of potentially freezing to death was not at the top of anyone's list.

Sven gathers himself up from the cold, mushy ground, as Baird helps him up on his feet. Raven steps back up towards where they just came, as she motions to them,

"This way."

As they depart to follow Raven to their next shelter for the night, it starts to snow.

Damon’s Journal Entry #1 Edit

Baird here,

It’s been nearly two days since we landed, oh wait I’m sorry, crashed, for a mission that was supposed to take only till dusk. Well, somehow, somewhere, we fucked that up royally.

As much as I was able to gather within the past few days, when Cole and Vinny are not bugging me about shit I could care less to talk about, I have been monitoring our Feral “guide,” Raven in hopes that maybe we can get a little better understanding of the Feral and how they have managed to function as a somewhat separate culture. Now, I have not been able to observe their language since Raven has seldom used it, but she speaks our language rather well, which I later found that she was actually integrated into COG society before she ran off and joined the Feral; a little tidbit I had to pick her brain to get, but with some perseverance I was able to manage it. Yay me.

Needless to say, apparently they have some sort of caste “structure,” broken down into what I believe to be two major groups. First we have those similar to Raven, who do reconnaissance work, spying, hacking, busting balls, the usual, and then there are the “breeders,” to put literally are specifically “trained,” yea you heard me right, to seduce and mate with whoever they find, I guess “worthy” to lay pipe with, all under the guidance or leadership of a “matriarch,” or “reverend mother,” whom supercedes above the “right of passage” for mating and procreation.

According to Raven, after I had to drag my ass and apologize to her just so I could get her to talk to me, (don’t ask why) majority of the Feral have had some basic training on “breeding,” techniques. As I am trying to keep a straight face while writing this, please pardon the following jargon as I attempt to orient this to my own understanding of the topic. Besides, we can always edit later.

Now what one can find anything about sex that requires training was for the most part beyond me. I had always assumed that it was “wham bam, thank you ma'am,” until Raven mentioned the methods they use to inevitably turn a man on to the point his load blows all the way to the moon. Anyway, the Feral have amassed some sort of techniques on pleasuring, enticing the male by multiple means, and let me tell you, there was shit I found out that made me shudder. Things that they can do with their hands, feet, mouth, breasts, buttocks (don’t ask because I didn’t), legs, nose (wtf) and of course the vaginal fly trap.

Now, being inevitably the man that I am, you would think I would find the conversation rather alluring, but I shit you not when I say that it was pretty disturbing. These women can be malicious! They make S&M look like kiddie play, and on top of that, they take this business pretty seriously, almost as if it was a religion.

But moving along from the sex ed category, Raven has proven to be more resourceful than we give her credit for, hence the reason most of Sigma squad is still alive. Apparently, we have been trekking into her assigned territory, which crosshatches into other Feral “scouts’” along the mountain border and coast. She has amassed supplies, including food, shelter, and ammunitions for quite some time, stashing it away in “secret” locations, some of which is pretty well hidden. I believe she uses these places to stay at weeks at a time, carefully rationing her supplies, including medical and hygiene supplies. These chicks really take care of themselves, I mean, I’ve seen Raven use her toothbrush on the road several occasions using some “homemade” toothpaste and peroxide mouthwash. She probably uses the river, when it’s not frozen, to bathe, otherwise, she has found access to some old wells with a water heater, powered by a fuel generator. Needless to say, she doesn’t stink!

Now whether this is relevant, I am not sure, but it has been difficult to tell how old Raven really is because the Feral have found some means to keep them looking young. I found out that Raven is actually twenty-seven years of age, but she looks as if she’s nineteen, and apparently from what I gathered when I was conversing to her about it, they use some means of detoxification and natural ointments to keep their skin protected from the elements. Whatever it is they’re doing or using to keep them looking young, they could make a fortune patenting it.

Anyway, obviously she has been spying on us for quite some time, longer than I expected, so I would put money on the fact that these chicks are not by any means ignorant of what’s going on between us and the Locusts, as well as the Stranded. I can only guess though is that they are losing territory and their natural resources to the Locusts, Stranded, and probably us. This may be the contributing factor as to why they’re attacking Gears, but this is just speculation.

I also have reason to believe that she has been hacking into our network in the past few years, maybe longer, especially since she has access to computer terminals in some places where they are still connected to Jacinto’s mainframe. Now I do not know as of yet how much of our intel she has gathered but I bet she has a whole network of “classified” information somewhere in that little riddle of a head of hers that as of now has managed to keep from me, imagine that. But whatever the case, we seriously need to upgrade our security system on command's terminal, because obviously it’s not working.

When and if we return to headquarters, I would strongly suggest to command to invest into the further development of Feral and COG ties. The last thing we need is for these bitches to go medieval on our ass!

But on a more observational note, if these chicks have a more advanced means of reproducing as Raven claims them to be, then perhaps the COG needs to rethink it’s present “breeding” strategy other than just throwing all the women in the barn and hoping for the best.


Chapter 15: Back to Square One Edit

The key is so distant...I've open doors. Now when to listen, know what to listen for.

The shelf in the room, has been the way, Of holding me, and letting me stay.

The shelf in the room, has been told the truth. I can't hide, from the shelf in the room.

The key is so distant, and I've closed my door. The shelf in the room, is rain waiting to pour.


Days of the New


The air grew colder as the light from the setting sun faded behind the mountains, making the shadows from the trees grow taller as the afterglow buried itself further into the Seran terrain. The sky was water brushed in an array of colors, accenting the thin clouds over the horizon.

Though Raven has watched it many times, she would never cease to awe at its magnificence. Of all the sunsets she has ever witnessed in her lifetime, this kind was her favorite. She wanted so badly to sit and watch it go by, but the urgency of finding shelter hung heavily over her head, as if she was dragging three, heavy sacks of potatoes, uphill.

Nothing seemed to ruin a picturesque moment more than Vinny asking annoying questions, or Cole whining to slow down, or Baird bitching about one thing or another, and then another. She continued to remind herself, it's for the cause, for your sisters and our relations with the COG…pfft, seriously, who is this really fooling? As she finally makes her way to a familiar place, she stepped up onto a boulder to peer overhead to see a small, vacant cabin up ahead in the woods nearby. Our destination, finally! She then motioned to the others to look ahead.

"We're here…just near that cabin," she pointed to the shabby, log building.

"Agh…about time," Baird moaned, rubbing his arms to stay warm, while Cole and Sven huddled together, shivering in the cold.

Raven darted down the boulder as she ran through the woods, towards the cabin. Cole and Sven moved ahead, trying to keep at each other's pace while Baird picked up his legs, attempting to dodge fallen logs and heaps of foliage debris as he ran down a slope to the back of cabin. Slowing down, he peered around the rickety building, noticing that the roof had caved in under the heavy snow, while the foundation was teetering slightly on one side.

"This piece of shit is not going to help us, Feral," Baird griped as he kicked it, hoping that the tattered cabin would just collapse. We hiked all this way through this frozen hellhole, just so we can spend the night in this crap shack?

"We're not staying in the cabin, Baird," Raven responded before she went a little further down behind the cabin and into an unmarked area, near a slope. Cole and Sven finally joined up with Baird, gazing at the abandoned, raggedy cabin.

"Ugh…this doesn't look good…what are we going to do now?" Sven complained while Cole just stared at it blankly.

"Guys…over here," Raven yelled out, waving her hands as the three turn to see her pull open a cellar door, hidden behind the brush. The three quickly make their way around the trees and over to the cellar entrance while Raven pulls out a lantern that was hanging next to the doorway and attempts to light it with a match. As the three finally catch up to her, she managed to get it to light up and holds it at the doorframe, revealing a flight of stairs that lead further down into what appeared to be an underground shelter.

"This was a shelter, used at one time during really bad snow storms. It's pretty intact; it has about two rooms with beds, a "living" area with a fireplace, and an iron stove with a large pot for cooking."

The Gears were about to melt at the news of beds, food, and warmth. Raven proceeded to walk down the stairs as she clears the way into the "living" area and hangs the lantern on a hook that was bolted from the ceiling. She could hear the stairs creaking under the heavy Gears feet, carefully moving down the twelve-foot, flight of stairs. The three began to sober up from the blistering cold as they could feel the warmth of the shelter already.

Raven meandered over to a wardrobe cabinet to pull out some more lanterns, while Baird went back up the stairs to shut the wooden door and clamped the bars down onto the hooks bolted on the doorframe.

"We're secure," he yelled over his shoulder while Raven lit up two more lanterns.

"Damon, come help me with this," Raven yelled from the living area as Baird made his way back down the flight of stairs. She turns over to Cole and Sven,

"See if you guys can get the fireplace started…"

"I'm all over it," Cole beamed as Raven handed him the matches and waits for Baird to join her.

"Did you call for me mistress," he said as he limped his way over to her. Groaning, she got up to hand him one of the lanterns.

"Sigh, yea…I…need you, to go put this in that room over there while I set this one in the other room."

"Alright," he said as he took the lantern and walked towards the room, while Raven moved into the other.

The with only lighting coming from the oil lanterns, the shelter was dimly lit against the wood walls and concrete flooring. Judging by the smell, apparently either the walls or the cabinets was made of cedar. It was hard to tell in the dim light.

Sven meandered around a table, to over to a wall of cabinets. Opening up the cabinet door, he starts to rummage around in the shelves, looking for something to eat.

"Hey…we have beans…chicken broth…some canned vegetables…hey, we could make soup," Sven yelled out for the others to hear.

"Leave the cooking to me, Vin…you nearly burnt the chili last time," said Cole while lighting up the cast iron stove, pulling out some more chopped wood from the pile that was flushed against the wall.

As Baird finds a place to hang the lantern, he looked around to find two twin beds, adjacent from each on opposite sides of the room walls, with several quilts and a pillow on each.

"Hey, guys…we got beds…with blankets," Baird yelled out as Cole and Sven dropped whatever it was they were doing to go run into the room, nearly tripping over one another trying to cram through the doorframe to get a look.

"Aw, man, this is paradise," Cole glees in excitement. Admiring the comfort of the room, Raven's voice could be heard coming from the other room.

"There's a full size bed in here," she yelled out.

Without hesitation, the three race over to the other room, slamming into the doorframe as they peered in, watching Raven pull out some fur blankets from under the larger bed.

"I call dibs on this one," Cole blurts out as he pushes the others out of the way and darts in to jump on the bed while Raven jolts back.

"Holy cow, Cole…geez."

"Sorry Feral, but you gotta be quick with these guys."

Before she could even turn to the other two, they were already darting back to the other room to claim their sleeping arrangements.

Raven could only sigh,

"Oh, well…the couch is more comfortable anyway," she muttered to herself, picking up the sheep hide blankets before returning into the living area where the couch was at. The four continued to make themselves at home as the fireplace thaws the cold, musty air. The chicken broth in the pot, above the iron burner was boiling while Cole opened up the cans of beans and vegetables, dumping them into the pot. He pulled up a chair next to the pot and sat down, wearing only his shirt and pants while his armor and boots sat near the fireplace to dry off.

Sven started to disrobe the top portion of his fatigues as he sat down and warmed up next to the fire, taking off his boots. He slowly peeled off his socks from his suffocating, pale feet before placing placed close to the fireplace to thaw out.

"Aw, yea'…much better…I swear, my feet felt like they were going to fall off," Sven moaned, relaxing as he propped himself up with his arms and extended his throbbing legs.

"You'll feel even better once you get some food in ya," Cole grinned as he takes a wooden spoon to churn the broth. "…but I know what ya mean…I couldn't wait to get my boots off my achin' calves."

As the two get comfortable, Raven walked in, carrying some wooden bowls and stainless-steel silverware, placing them on the wooden coffee table next to the couch.

"You guys may want to eventually take off the rest of your fatigues so they can dry out…they're pretty soaked," she suggested as the two noticed that she was still in full gear.

"Hey…how come you didn't get drenched in the snow?" Sven complained.

"My fatigues are mostly made of Reaver hide…their pretty weather proof…that's why the Feral preferred the Locust garb over the Gear's."

"So how'd you get em?"

"We've spent the past eight years collecting a lot of armaments from the deceased…we discovered the advantages of the leather hides used by the hordes. Granted the armor is light, but we can move more efficiently in it than the Gear equipment…no offense."

"None taken…besides, it looks flattering," Cole mused as Raven gave him a perplexed look.

"On who?"

"On you, baby!"

Raven rolled her eyes, as she continued,

"If you say so…and one more thing, there's no bathroom so you'll have to use the bucket in the closet."

"You got it," Cole replied while Sven basked in the heat coming from the fireplace.

As the three continued to chat, Baird carefully limped into the room, cringing as if he was walking on broken glass. He came in wearing just his undershirt and pants, tip-toeing barefoot while his COG tags dangled around his neck.

"Sup, Damon," Cole acknowledged, noticing Baird was trying not to put too much weight on his bare feet.

"Sore…everywhere…my feet…my legs, my ass…hey Feral, I don't suppose there's any ibuprofen around?"

"In the cabinet…over there," Feral pointed behind her to the counter.

Baird limped over to the cabinet and opened it up. The shelf was filled with all sorts of pharmaceutical bottles as he scanned through them, organized alphabetically.

"Geez, Feral…half of this shit is prescription only," Baird noticed as he could see the colored labels used to mark prescription bottles for side effect disclaimers. Baird finally finds the bottle he was searching for and grabbed it. After closing the cupboard, he carefully limped over to the couch, cringing as he took a seat until he finally sat down and redirected his attention to Raven setting some folded blankets on the coffee table.

"What is that all for?" he bugged her as he slowly propped his feet on the coffee table.

Raven looked up with sarcastic expression as she responded, "I'm going to wrap you up in it with duct tape and use you for a kicking bag."

Baird leaned back into the plush couch while bringing his hands behind his head before flashing a musing grin.

"Don't you think it's a little too soon for foreplay?"

Raven picked up one of the blankets up and throws it at him,

"That's yours for the night…and keep it up, asswipe…you have to sleep sometime."

"Ooo…better watch it Baird," Cole chuckled.

"Yea, yea…still, at least I can say I got some action with a chick, even if it involves getting a ass kicking…whatta you got to say for yourself, Gus?"

Cole sat in silence while Raven interrupted,

"Also, you guys need to hang up your fatigues so they can dry."

"On what, the countertop?" Baird griped.

Raven sighed, "You see that clothesline on the wall over there," she pointed over at the wall while Baird looked up to notice a wire prostrated along the wall, "…that's where you hang your clothes and socks."

"Yes, mom," Baird sneered in return. Raven ignored him and started her way to the cupboard, pulling out some more bowls.

"Damn, Feral...how'd you collect all dis stuff?" Cole asked in amazement, noticing all the supplies Raven had stashed around the room.

The living area was conventional with wall shelving, makeshift wood furniture, and other furnishings containing books, cans, and the like, with several hooks on each wall to hang the lanterns. The pantry was open with top and bottom cabinets and a stainless steel countertop. The breakfast area was merely the cast iron stove and fireplace with several chairs and no table.

"Did you guys think I wandered the wilderness for five years and not pick things up along the way? How did you think I managed to stay out weeks at a time without food and supply?"

"I guess that would explain all that canned food in the pantry...half of them are expired though," Sven observed, noticing the dates were at least five years old.

"Most cans have a shelf life of at least three years…but I believe we'll be ok. I've had it before and it tasted fine." Raven recalled from her past experiences of eating expired, canned food. She couldn't afford to be picky when food was scarce to begin with.

"You've used this place several times, haven't ya," Baird observed as he leaned back into the sofa, noticing some clamped, modem wiring along the wall. She's probably got a laptop stashed somewhere around here, he pondered.

"Quite a bit actually. Like I said…this is a perfect spot for hiding away for awhile, whenever needed."

Cole stood up as he checks their meal, picking up a bowl and scooped some of the soup up for test tasting.

"It's ready guys," he announced.

"Ah, sweet," said Sven as he got up and hobbled over to the pot. Baird groaned, realizing that he really did not want to get up, especially since his feet was still hurting. He gestured over to Cole,

"Hey man, bring me a bowl, willya?"

"Sure thing…" Cole replied as he got up and hands it Baird. Before Baird could grab it, Cole shook the bowl, teasing Baird as he faked it.

"Don't make me have to get up, Gus," Baird sneered while Cole let out a laugh, finally handing the bowl to him. As Baird placed the bowl on his lap, he takes out the spoon for Cole to see,

"I outta shove this up your ass when I'm done," Baird scoffed.

"Ooo, is that promise? Heehee," Cole giggled as he sat back down with his bowl while Baird flipped him the bird and blows him a kiss.

"Yea, you know you love it when I talk dirty to ya," Cole mused.

"Whatever man," Baird snickered before chowing down. Raven was right...this didn't taste too bad.

"Pretty good, huh," said Cole. Baird nodded, trying to swallow before he acknowledged Cole,

"We've had a lot worse, that's for sure…and it beats Marcus' cooking any day," he said while Cole laughed.

"You mean, Sergeant Fenix?" Sven asked while eating at the same time.

"Hehe, oh yea, that's the one…tell ya what, that man can burn water…" said Cole, reminiscing the days when they had to put up with Marcus' burnt toast for breakfast.

"…now Dom, WHOO, that boy can cook. He can make some the best enchiladas, hands down!"

Cole and Baird quickly figured that Dominic was better at cooking home, made meals, mostly from when he used to fix dinner for his wife and children. When Delta squad was getting tired of chewing on burnt rice and scorched eggs, it was widely suggested that Dom would be the "cook" from then on.

"Yea, those were the same enchiladas that also gave you guys the runs for a whole, damn week," Baird griped, "...I finally had to tell Dom to quit making them because I got tired of cleaning the fucking toilet every time you guys used it!"

Raven dropped her holsters down next to the couch and turns to Baird.

"Ok, of all the things you could be ranting about while we're eating, Baird, you had to bring up your former squads' dietary issues?"

"Are you kidding Feral…Damon's always talking shit!" Cole beams while Sven laughed.

"Damn right I am…anything I can use to diss Marcus," Baird scoffed.

After removing her shoulder harness, she placed it next to the couch beside her holsters as she rotated her head, trying to relieve the tension in her neck as she looks up at Cole.

"Could you make a bowl for me please, Cole…I need to go turn on the generator for the water heater to work."

"You got it, baby!"

Raven opened up a trap door that was underneath a floor rug in a storage closet, next to the pantry. She grabbed a flashlight before going down a ladder into the small quarters below.

After filling his bowl, Sven walked back over to the fireplace and sat back down on the floor.

"Oh, don't forget, Feral said we need to strip down," Cole reminded the two men.

"Yea, yea…we'll hang it all up when we're done chowing down," said Baird as he removed his aching feet off the coffee table.

Raven came back up from out of the closet, bringing a galvanized tub and placed it on the counter.

"Please put your bowls in here when you're done so they can soak," she said, leaving the tub on the counter,and then walked back to find her bowl.

"I got it right here, baby," said Cole as he handed her the bowl. She turned around to go sit down on the couch next to Baird, waiting for it to cool off by setting it on the coffee table. Baird placed his empty bowl down on the floor and slowly leaned back to prop his knees up and turn his attention to Raven,

"Ok, back to business…so do we go next, because obviously we can't flank the Stranded settlement from the side, if we can flank them at all. Most likely, they are probably waiting for us, and from what I understand from what you mentioned earlier, they're probably a lot more resourceful than we give them credit for."

Raven took a moment to analyze the situation, reviewing her own mental notes from a few months earlier.

"The settlement has been there at least five months, that I know of, but I have not updated them in over a month so I can't tell you what they have amassed as of now…but what I can tell you is that they have been stripping down a lot of your fallen vehicles, and I'm not just talking about ammunition, or weapons."

"What else can they possibly take?" Cole asked in curiosity.

"I've seen them haul an entire APC, using a couple of mountain bison to pull it all the way to their fort...I really didn't know why at the time, but after recent events, I believe they may be forming some sort of a militia."

"Do you think they could fix up those vehicles?" Sven asked as Baird turns to look at Sven to add in his two cents.

"I doubt it…they can't even maintenance their own vehicles, much less fix a Dill…"

"I have reason to believe they may have a few mechanics working on something," Raven responded.

"Oh? Please…enlighten us," Baird questioned her.

"The last time I spied on them, I noticed some Stranded working on the vehicles inside a large, metal building…that and they were moving all their scraps they've accumulated into what I believe to be a garage."

"That doesn't sound good, Damon…" Cole acknowledged, "…if they have some disgruntled Gears working along with the Stranded…"

"That's another reason why we can't just go up to them, guns blazing Gus… we won't know for sure what they have until we can investigate it…shit, this whole thing is starting to piss me off"

"Hell Baird, you knew this whole thing sucked balls to begin with," Cole conveniently reminded him, "…and I wonder what command is going to do about it now!"

"Well, Cole, only three squads made it do the drop-off point, and from what Anya told me, they too were having communication problems," Baird informed him.

"Well, shit Damon! What the hell could be causing all that radio disturbance?"

Raven began to blow on her bowl, hoping for it to cool down as she cutted in,

"I believe I may have an answer to that," she said as the others direct their attention to Raven, "…they're using some device to shield them from your satellite. I believe this same device may be contributing to your communication issues."

"How do you know?"

"I overheard them talking about it…they were curious as to how we figured their location, since the COG couldn't locate them."

"Wait…you overheard them?" Baird asked abruptly

"Uh…yea…"

"You were that close…without being detected?"

"Are you kidding, I've managed to hide from Drones and Berserkers without being detected."

"Ok, now how did you do that?"

"I used entrails left by wretches, to hide my scent…it works great as a camouflage…especially against Stranded, not to mention you guys."

"Yea…you keep reminding us…" Baird groaned as he rubbed his forehead, waiting for the medication to kick in, "…but it probably smells pretty gross, too."

Raven sighed, "Yea…you get used to it."

Baird let out a slight chuckle as he continued,

"Anyway, if what you said earlier is true, then that would explain quite a bit. Command has been searching up and down this whole area, trying to put together schematics of this entire terrain…if they're disrupting the satellite, then we were probably going the wrong way to begin with…the schematics that we had to work with is crap!"

"They also mentioned that they have acquired some troikas, and something about a fortress…" Raven continued, "…as you said before Damon, it will not be wise to move in from the side as we originally planned."

Baird groaned, leaning his head over the cushion while Raven finally picked up her bowl and began to eat.

"Which means we're going to have to go around the mountain to the "ass end" of the settlement…" Baird moaned.

"…that would be the more practical alternative, yes," Raven confirmed. Baird slumped into the sofa as Raven finishes up her soup and then continues,

"You may want to sleep on this one, Baird…because the only thing I can suggest at this point is to wait a little longer. They have no idea how you guys are surviving the cold...they think y'all will not last any more than a day."

"Point taken…shit, my feet hurt," Baird griped while Cole put up his bowl.

"Well then get off your feet and go to bed," Raven suggested as she got up to put up her bowl.

Baird began to groan, "But then that means I have to get up…"

"Well why don't you sweet talk Cole into carrying you to your bed."

"Shit yea, I'd do it," Cole blurted out. Baird lifted up his head to give a Cole a dirty look.

"You even so much as look at me wrong and I swear…"

"Yea, promises, promises, hehe…" Cole chuckled while he looked at what was leftover in the pot, "…hey, we got enough here for breakfast!"

He placed the lid back on the pot while Baird pulled himself up and hobbled his way over to the tub on the counter, placing his bowl inside,

"Ugh, we still need to hang up our clothes…shit, my pants are wet," Baird suddenly remembered.

Cole started to snicker as he takes off his pants to hang them on the clothesline, leaving on his boxers and undershirt.

"Well, quit wettin' yourself…c'mon guys…take it off so I can hang it up! You too Damon!"

Baird groaned as he loosened his utility belt to slip off his pants, all the while, glancing at Raven filling the tub with warm, soapy water.

"Ok, Feral…cover your virgin eyes while we undress," he smirked while Raven looked over her shoulder to give him a dirty look.

"Contrary to what you may believe, I am familiar with the male anatomy," she explained, "…so anything that you may have to brag about will not shock me."

Cole started to chuckle,

"Yea, but you ain't seen nothing until you've seen the Train, baby!"

Baird snickered while watching Sven throw his pants over to Cole. Raven waleds over to help Cole hang up their fatigues.

"Try to spread them out so they can breath," she said.

"You got it, baby," said Cole, pulling up his pants over the clothesline while Feral hangs up Sven's.

"Hey Cole…" Baird blurted out, "…catch!"

Baird threw his pants for Cole to catch in mid air.

"Damn, baby, these are soaked," said Cole, still holding up Baird's damp fatigues.

As Raven finished setting up their pants to hang and dry, Cole moves over to pick up his armor.

"Well, I'm going to hit the hay…catch you bitches later," Cole announced as he started to walk into his room. While Raven hung up the last pair of socks, Cole yelled out from his room,

"Hey, Feral…be a sweety and bring me a cup of water please," Cole asked in his come hither tone while Raven just let's out a mellow groan.

Sven began to pick himself up from the floor after thawing out. He raised his arms to reach up to stretch before scruffing his light brown hair as he yawned. After his pre-bedtime routine, he staggered his way to bed.

"See y'all in the morning."

"Be sure to put your armor against the wall so I don't trip over it," Baird articulated to Sven. Sven only waved his hand in return while letting out a yawn. As Baird turned back around, he noticed Raven was still loading the dishes into the tub that was sitting on the counter.

"And while you're at it, you think you could come tuck me in…" Baird mused for the hell of it. Placing the last bowl in the tub, Raven rebuts.

"Go to bed, Damon…and don't trip and fall on your way over there because you're not going to get a lick of sympathy from me."

"Aw…not even a tiny lick?" he scoffed as she turned to face him with her arms crossed against her chest, "…alright, fine…but you need to get some rest too, so quite playing house-wife and go to sleep."

"Yes, dad," Raven sneered, flashing Baird an expression of sarcasm as she resumed finishing up the dishes. Despite the rhetoric exchange, her words bounced off him like raindrops hitting kevlar, rolling off his back while he could dish out the same without pretense.

"Yea, you remember who's your daddy," he casually scoffed back, followed by a chuckle as he goes inside his room. Raven threw her washrag to the wayside before marching over to Sven and Baird's door.

"Good night," she growled, and then shuts the door. Arrogant prick.

Raven turned back around to grab a clean cup from the cupboard and fills it with water. She proceeded to walk over to Cole's room. Stepping past the open door, she could barely see him under the faint light coming from the lantern, still trying to get under the layers of blankets that was neatly tucked under the bed.

"Geez, Feral…how many blankets are there?"

"Hopefully enough to at least keep your feet warm."

"Yea, I heard that!" said Cole while Raven walked into the room, trying not to trip over his armor that was lying on the floor.

"…and I brought your water."

"Aw, Feral…that's so sweet of you. My momma used to bring me a glass of milk almost every night."

Raven walked over to hand him the cup while Cole continued,

"When I was real little…if you can ever imagine me being little…" Cole bragged, "…Momma would either read me a story, or sing me a song."

"Well, I'm afraid I am out of bedtime stories…or at least some happy ones…and I'm not much of a singer."

Cole let out a slight chuckle, glancing at Raven's pale face under the dim lighting coming from the lamp above. Although her expression was serene for the moment, relaxed and glowing compared to her usual scowling glare that he remembered when they first met. It was another side he guessed that was always there, she just didn't have much of a reason to show it.

"How long have you been away from people, Raven?" Cole suddenly asked. His question caught Raven slightly off guard, but answered it anyway,

"Too long, perhaps," Raven said soberly, with a brief smile that dissipated just as quickly as it appeared. Cole drank his water and then sets the cup on the table next to the bed, while Raven leaned over to pick it up.

"Well…hopefully that will do," she said as she stood back up.

"Oh, yea…that's nice…" Cole moaned, nestling his head into his pillow, thawing from the cold. He returns his gaze back to Raven, watching her rub the back of her neck.

"So why doesn't a cutie like you ever get out?"

She looked at him with a perplexed look, but then responded.

"Get out, where…I mean…where am I to go? To the COG, where I'll get shipped out to the nearest breeding farm…to the Stranded, where the only means of survival is to work in a brothel?" she listed on while Cole just takes it in, realizing he should have rephrased the question.

"Gee Feral…I meant, why didn't you go out and get married, have some kids?"

"With who…to some scrawny, booze ridden Stranded, or some hormone fed Gear? I mean… yea, my choices are really infinite," she laughed sarcastically. The idea of going out and finding someone to spend the rest of her life with and raise a family was thrown on the backburner for so long, she didn't dare to entertain the option since.

"So I guess us, guys aren't to your liking, huh?"

Raven could already feel the weight of complexity, coming from Cole's question, even though he was just making small talk. No harm in that I suppose. But how could she answer that without coming across as snooty, or without lying, which she already knew she wasn't very good at? She figured if the Cole Train can handle Locusts, then perhaps he can handle the plain truth.

"Sigh, Gus…don't take it the wrong way, it's just," she hesitated for a moment, but then decided to just let it out, "…you guys have more important things to worry about than thinking about settling down, much less worrying about me. Seriously, how often do you think about it, Cole? When was the last time you even had a moment to yourself to think about such things, as shitty as this world is?"

"All the time…" Cole answered with a smile, knowing that Raven wasn't being condescending. He was just glad that she could finally open herself up about something.

"It's just I got a lot to choose from, ya know," Cole chuckled to himself, "…well, at least I used to. Those were the good ol' days."

Raven realized that Cole wasn't afraid to admit that things have changed, whether they were for the better or for the worst, while still reminiscing the good ol' days as if they were something worth remembering.

"Yea, I bet they were…" she acknowledged, knowing that he probably had flocks of women wanting to shack up with the sports celebrity, lingering like groupies to the latest flame musician.

"Nah, there's plenty of strapping men out there Feral."

"Pfft, like who? Vinny?" Raven laughed half-heartedly, "…seriously, can you see him settling down? I mean, geez, I don't even know if his balls have dropped yet."

Cole chuckled in amusement at Raven's blunt observation.

"…and oh, where do I even begin with Baird?"

"Nah, Baird's ok…you just have to get to know him before you hate him."

"Who ever said that I hated him?"

"Well…it seems like you get pissed off at him all da time…and believe me when I say he really isn't trying to piss you off, he just doesn't know how to talk to the ladies."

"I don't think he really knows how to talk to anyone, much less ladies."

"Oh…so…you don't hate him?"

"He's just as human as the rest of us…but apparently you know him best, Gus."

"Pfft, sometimes. Other times, I just take him as he is, ya know," Cole continued, his eyes gazing at the glimmering light bouncing off the wall adjacent from him, "but, I guess there's hope for him yet,"

Raven sighed as she makes an effort to change the depressing subject.

"What is it about you that keeps you going, Cole?"

Cole never thought that Raven would ever be interested in such things, but he addressed her inquiry anyway,

"My Momma always used to tell me, when things just didn't seem to go right, to make the best of what you have," Cole continued, as Raven hung onto every word, listening attentively, "…and right now…the best that I have is Damon, Vinny, and you."

Raven could see the exhaustion in his face as he mumbled the last bit of words that she took into her mental journal. She never thought a Gear could feel such things, embrace on the little moments that would otherwise appear so subtle. Perhaps they were not as unsentimental as she always believed them to be. Cole certainly wasn't. Raven almost envied Cole, in the way he viewed daily life as a blessing, considering everything he did have, and not second-guess on the things he didn't have.

"Get some sleep, Cole…your exhausted," she said while Cole snuggled his head into his pillow, and shutting his heavy eyes. Raven slowly exited the room with the lamp in hand and carefully closed the door behind her.

As she made her way to the couch, she opened up a blanket and places it on the couch while she straightens the cushions before taking a seat. Taking off her boots and leather leggings, she placed them on the coffee table, and then unstrapped her loincloth, along with her pelvic plates. Leaning back, placing her hand on her forehead, Raven sighed, slowly unwinding while she drifted into exhaustion.

Raven started to get comfortable until she felt something underneath her, jabbing into her thigh. Damnit, what the hell am I sitting on that is digging into my leg? She sat up from her seat, looking over and noticing a pair of goggles clumped in between the cushions.

Ugh…geez, Damon, she groaned, picking them up and started to make her way to his room, cringing from the cold, concrete floor stinging her bare feet. Carefully, opening the door, she slowly stepped in, trying not to make any noise while Sven and Baird were fast asleep. The lamp, hanging above, gave just enough light for her to move around without tripping over their equipment, sprawled out on the floor.

I thought they were going to put it up against the wall, she growled to herself as she carefully meandered around their armor while moving over to a lamp table that sat in between the two beds. Sven, who was lying on his side in the fetal position, snored, soundly as she walked over to the lamp table and places Baird's goggles next to his Snub pistol. As she turned around, her glance catches Sven's youthful skin in the faint light, noticing the reddish stubble that littered along his jawline. Apparently he hadn't shaved since they were deployed. I guess he didn't bring a razor...but then again why would he? This mission was only supposed to last a day.

Moving away, trying not to step on their stuff, she turned around and noticed Baird was lying on his stomach, snoring loudly, while drool was seeping from his mouth. His arm was hanging off the bed while the rest of his body was sprawled out, judging by the indentions in the blankets that laid on top of him.

Well isn't that a classy sight, she chuckled to herself. Stepping around the armor in the dimming light, she stumbled over a boot, quickly placing her hand along a bedpost to keep herself from falling on her face as she managed to pull herself up along the side of Baird's bed. Shit…she was grinding her teeth in fury, tempted to entertain the idea of picking up his boots and tossing them outside. Releasing a sigh as she rubbed her forehead, she turned her head and noticed the calm expression on the side of Damon's face, while the other side was buried in his pillow, lying on top of his pool of drool. Out of inquisitiveness, she slightly leaned over to get a better look of the scarring that was apparent on his pale cheek, wondering to herself, what has this man seen in his military career…is this the face of a hardened soldier?

Unlike the youthful, innocent complexion of inexperience that masked Sven's façade, Baird's complexion was coarse from years of service and mature in age. She never took notice of Baird's scars before until the fluttering, dim light of the lamp exposed them, revealing a part of his character in a way that was serene, yet obscure. She couldn't help to wonder what it was that made him so fractious and unfeeling. Despite his hardheartedness, she wondered if there were something she never thought to see in him before that he kept so veiled, that only the most penitent of people would be able to grasp it. As Cole pointed out, you just have to accept him for who he is.

Raven placed her thoughts aside the moment her eyes began to grow heavy. She carefully stood back up and proceeded to tip toe out of the room before grazing her shin against one of their breastplates. Ugh, damnit! Wincing from the sharp pain, throbbing in her leg, she caught her tongue before she was able to blurt out any profanity. Limping out of the room to her own place of rest, Raven crashed on the couch, pulling herself under the layers of sheep and camel, fur blankets, and shuts her eyes, letting exhaustion just take her away from this cold and callous place.

Succumbing to her dream state, she drifted in and out of her thought closet, subconsciously wandering into her childhood memories, dwelling on the times when she was "happy," and life was normal. She recalled the days when Mommy would greet her with a smile when she got off from school, and then went home to see Daddy to tell him about her day, just as any family should be.

How much things have changed since then, when her foster father was killed defending an COG medical frigate, and her foster mother was hiding her from the "Fortification Act," by home schooling her and keeping her profile low when they went to places, like the supermarket. Everything changed after E-day. Everything that she was taught, their family values, the moral code, all that she grew up to know was quickly debased when the Probation officer would visit their home, checking on Raven when she was a preteen. She remembered her mother confronting the officer, telling him to get out of their house, accusing them of soiling the sanctity of their home with their presence, eying her "daughter."

But then it happened; the day Raven dreaded for so long had inevitably come. It was the first day she began her menstrual cycle. She realized she could no longer hide her secret from them anymore. It was from then on, she believed there was no other option, but to runaway.

Intermission II Edit

The dogs of war don't negotiate

The dogs of war won't capitulate,

They will take and you will give,

And you must die so that they may live

You can knock at any door,

But wherever you go, you know they've been there before

Well winners can lose and things can get strained

But whatever you change, you know the dogs remain.


Pink Floyd
Dogs of War


The early morning was calm and clear as the overcast sky remained dormant, giving time for the recent fallen snow to settle. The sun peered over the mountains, giving a soft afterglow into the forest as the faint light glistened around the snow, covered trees.

Not far from the frozen great lake, a Stranded on horseback traveled across the open plain, clopping back to the forest where Gamma Four was left to rot. Tied to the back of his horse, pulling behind him was a man, partially unclothed as he moved barefoot in the snow behind the animal.

Hanging heavy in the a air, the bitter cold nipped at his flesh while his feet were frost bit, numb and unfeeling as he could barely keep up with the pace of the horse, until he finally collapsed onto the ground, letting the horse drag him. As they moved near the edge of the forest, the rider slowed down and then suddenly dismounted. It was the same man Raven saw before, the big one who was sniffing out the whereabouts of Sigma squad.

He walked around as he grabbed the man by the hair on his head and stood him up, barking at him.

"On your feet soldier…keep moving this way," he growled as he untied the rope from the saddle and pushed the man from behind, forcing him to grudgingly walk on his frozen feet, wearing nothing but his lower fatigues without anything covering his torso or face. The Stranded shoved him again.

"Move along, Sergeant Harley…your men are waiting,"

"Go…fuck yourself…traitor," the Sergeant spits out while shivering violently from the cold. The Stranded only shoved him again as Harley staggered into the woods, back to where his men where dumped in the open area ahead. His face and chest was as red as beets, blistering from the frostbite that infested his peeling skin.

Just as they entered the forest, Harley collapsed from his weathered feet, trying to get back up as he crawled. Instead, the Stranded decided to grab Harley by his hair and drag him inside. The Sergeant could only cringe from the pain as the big Stranded threw him next to one of the bodies, still partially buried under the snow. The Stranded walked around Harley, patiently waiting for the Sergeant to look up at him as he lectured.

"Apparently Sergeant, Sigma One is still alive and out looking for our settlement...so what I want to know, is how did they found out about our location?"

Harley didn't answer. He just glared at him, blood seeping from his mouth as his arm was hideously swollen from a bullet wound he received during the ambush Gamma Four walked into the night before. He could tell that the Stranded was once a Gear. He knew their protocol too well, and was able to strategically take out his men, one at a time. He knew that it wasn't the Locusts or the Feral who took out Epsilon Two and Etta Three a month ago and Theta Four a week earlier. Command has it all wrong. This wasn't about just stealing supplies and clashes among factions.

"Come on Sergeant…don't make me have to ring the info out of the others."

Harley was shivering vigorously as his whole body was becoming numb, his limbs losing their feeling as his lungs ached from breathing the cold air. He didn't know if he could respond if he wanted to. Either way, he knew he was dead, and the others would eventually be too, regardless if he told this guy anything or not. If Sigma was still alive and well, searching for the settlement, then he would be damned to tell anything about how they knew about it. Their Feral guide is with them…she's supposed to know this place front and back, so she probably knows about their location…and I bet she is leading Sigma to it.

As much as he could muster, Harley sucks in the cold air into his nostrils as he summoned up the blood hanging in his throat into his mouth and spits on the Stranded's boot.

"Fuck…you...asshole!"

The Stranded's blue eyes scowl underneath his hooded scarf as he looked away at the scattered remains of Gamma squad. There's plenty of room for one more.

"Then I believe it is time for you to join you're men, Sergeant. I must admit, you are an admiral Gear, you would have been an excellent soldier for our cause…but alas, you are brainwashed… and all this for what? For the sake of humanity under Prescott's rule?"

The Stranded pulled out his Lancer and then revs up the drum on his chainsaw bayonet, warming up the chain belt from sitting idol in the cold air. As he revved the Lancer some more, he moves in to prostrate himself over Harley, holding the Lancer above his head.

"Until we meet again soldier…in hell…"

Harley closed his eyes, not feeling the air turn around him, even while the Lancer comes down on him, plowing through his head. His body was too numb to feel anything, even while his severed skull collapses under the jagged teeth of the saw. No screaming, no howling, just the sound of the Lancer echoing through the woods and over the lake. Only to those who may be in earshot, understood it's war cry, even in the blinding snow.

Chapter 16: Rude Awakening Edit

Don't wanna feel no more

It's easier to keep falling

Imitations are pale

Emptiness all tomorrows

Haunted by your ghost


Fading out by design

Consciously avoiding changes

Curtains drawn now it's done

Silencing all tomorrows

Forcing a goodbye.


Lay down, black gives way to blue

Lay down, I'll remember you


Alice in Chains
Black Gives Way To Blue


The smell of burnt wood saturates the air, as Raven pictures the fires still burning while the Hammer of Dawn raped the landscape of it's once rich resources. She can still smell the smoldered prairies still fresh in the aftermath of its ruin. A world once so beautiful, now ravaged by the schemes of men, trying to control what was not meant for them to control.

Raven could still see the faces of those who were left behind, to wander in the wilderness, known only as the Stranded. She remembers the seeds of hate, still burning deep in the soil, while further down in the depths of Sera lies another tribulation, soon to surface and rear it's ugly head. Now, both forces rise against the COG, as the Stranded gather to reorganize their masses, and the Locusts, fighting over territory on two fronts, the humans and the Lambent. But now, the wrath of Sera chills the air with her cold shoulder, as this year marks a heavy Frost, raging on all that inhabit it. The lines of right and wrong have since then blurred into a gray so vague, it was at times Raven didn't know whom to feel sorry for the most.

As the aroma of the burnt wood starts to dissipate, she can feel a tug on her shoulder, pulling her back into her consciousness, as she slowly opens her groggy eyes, only to see another dilemma that she has been dealing with for the past couple of days.

"Ugh…what do you want…go away," she moans as she pulls her blanket over her head.

"C'mon sleepyhead…it's after nine…we need to get moving," says Baird in a low, quiet tone, as he shakes her shoulder again. He could hear her groan under the fur blanket as she curls in a tight ball, not wanting to give him the time of day. Baird sits up with his hands on hips as he gets impatient.

"Ok…no more nice guy," he says as he grabs the top of the blanket and yanks it off of her. Suddenly, the cool air swarms her body as she feels the tingling on her exposed legs and shoulders.

"Son of a bitch!"

"You better believe it…c'mon Feral, get up!"

Baird throws the blanket on the floor as he picks up Raven's equipment and dumps it on her.

"Owe…damnit, that's cold!" she yelped.

"It's after nine, we need to get going." Baird informed her.

"After what? Why didn't you wake me up earlier…"

"Well, I figured you needed the extra rest, besides, it's not like we're in a hurry to get anywhere."

"That's not the point!"

"Yea, yea…hurry up and get your breakfast…the rest of us are ready, waitin on you."

Raven grumbled to herself as she can feel her hair shuffled in all directions while she rubs her bare arms to warm herself up. She wore only her ceremonial garb, made of a fine velvet, wrapped around her body as it haltered around her neck, holding up her bosoms. Baird walked back over and put a warm bowl of soup on the table while Raven quickly shielded her breasts with her arms to avoid exposing her hardened nipples, protruding through the cloth. She couldn't imagine anything more embarrassing.

Baird stood back up, already in his full armor as he crossed his arms, amused by her modesty.

"Nice…"

"Oh, shut up! Go…do something."

"Like what?"

"I don't know and I don't care, just go away."

"Alright, alright, I'll give you your privacy."

"Thank you," Raven barked while Baird started to climb up the flight of stairs. She picked up her bowl of soup and started to eat, hoping it will warm her up enough for her to crawl out into the cold air.

Meanwhile, Baird emerges back out into the bitter wilderness of a white wonderland as Cole and Sven were throwing snowballs over a shallow cliff, trying to see who can throw the farthest.

"Haha…c'mon, Vinny…let's see how low you can throw," Cole mocked in amusement.

"Yea, you just wait Cole Train…I got ten years of softball behind this arm," Sven bragged as he takes a few steps and swings his arm, watching the ball of snow hurl across the rocky chasm below.

"Not bad kid, but let me show you how a pro does it," Cole muses as he steps up for his turn. Baird hollers in the background,

"C'mon Cole, your not going to let that snot nose get the best of ya!"

Cole swings his massive arm, launching the ball across the gap, but stops abruptly as the ball of snow splatters on a boulder below.

"What…the…fuck," Cole snorts in shock while he could hear Baird spilling with laughter, so hard he nearly falls over. Sven starts to laugh as well, moving back down the slope, trying to brace himself against a tree.

"Yea…you assholes laugh it up," Cole barks while the two start to laugh even harder at Cole, as if ponies and rainbows were coming out of his ears.

All the while, Raven stomps up the stairs with her equipment and out onto the surface, seeing what all the commotion was about. As she glances to see Baird on the ground trying to contain himself and Sven hugging a tree, she rolls her eyes and carefully shuts the door to the underground cellar. Baird tries to get up and walks over to Raven's position while trying to compose himself.

"Uh…ahem…so are you ready to go?"

Raven hides the chain back behind the brush as she kicks some snow on it to conceal it and then she turns to Baird,

"Yes…it is time to go…and wipe the snow off your ass before it gets soaked again."

"Yes, mom," Baird sneered.

Raven adjusts her holsters as she waits for the other two to join them. While Baird wipes the snow from the back of his rear and legs, Cole treads his way down the slope, huffing in the cool air while Sven walks over to pick up his Longshot and slings it on his back.

"Well as our illustrious Corporal mentioned earlier, we need to go around another mountain to flank the Stranded from behind," Raven began. Baird looks up to respond,

"So the "back" of their settlement is further from the lake, I take it."

"Yes…it will take us out of their sight, giving us some time to flank them in the back, which is actually the more vulnerable area…assuming they have not fixed that since the last I've seen it."

"Terrific…so what makes the back vulnerable?"

"There is a cliff that hangs a bird's eye view of the entire settlement…I've used numerous times to spy on them."

Cole jumps into the conversation.

"How come we didn't consider this direction before if it offered a better advantage?"

"Well, that's the bad news…" Raven replies, "…there is a problem if we go this route."

Baird sighs, "Here it comes…"

"There are some Locust outposts between here and there," she said.

"Shit, are you kiddin…that's even better…now we can finally get some action," Cole bursts out with enthusiasm.

"How many are we looking at," Baird asks.

"At least two…maybe three…" Raven responds.

"Are there any places that you know of where we can accumulate ammo?"

"Of course, Baird…. I wouldn't suggest this path otherwise"

"You do realize, Feral, that we're taking quite a risk here…especially when it concerns Locusts…there's not a lot of room for screwing this up guys!"

Baird looks at the squad as a whole while his demeanor turns sober, hoping that the three understood what they are getting into.

"What's so different about these Locusts than the one's we encountered before?" Sven asked.

"For one thing, kid, we don't have access to any intel from control," Cole answered while Baird continued,

"That also means we are outside of the line of command, and until we can reach the other side of this settlement, we are literally on our own…just the four of us…" Baird turns his attention to Raven,

"Feral, as you should already know, although we're somewhat on objective, we have no other resources concerning the schematics of this area, so we're going to have to trust you to help us get through this…we're kinda winging it from here on so there's no room for fucking this up."

"Ok, now are you being serious, or are you just patronizing me?" she said in suspicion.

"No, I'm being serious…look, yesterday has been kind of a circus so I need everyone to get back into focus, just as we did when were being dropped off, you got it?"

"Sigh…understood," Raven replied.

"So what's the plan when we finally get there?" Sven asked.

"We haul ass back to Fort Block…" Baird replied.

"Command is going to have reevaluate this fubar situation real quick, if what everything we speculate is true," Cole added as Baird replied,

"That's the plan Gus…so are you up to it?"

"You know it," Cole blurts out while Baird continued,

"Vin?"

"Yes sir," Sven salutes while Raven nodded.

"Alright, let's get this party started!"

Chapter 17: Running With Scissors Edit

Just give me the word and I will be there,

Just tell me the words that I've been living for,

Just tell me the things that I've been fighting for,

It's do or die, this is either or,

Just give me the word and I will be there.


You've got to find your balance,

You've got to realize,

You've got to try to find what's right before your eyes.


And if you find you've fallen,

And all your grace is gone,

Just scream for me and I'll be what you're falling on.


Finger Eleven
Falling On


A small town sits on a shallow plateau, wedged against the mountain where a small mining community apparently made their permanent residence. From the woods nearby, Sigma squad can see the empty civilization clearly as they observed cargo trucks lined up near the town fuel station, heaped in snow. A pavilion sits in the middle of the town, surrounded by wooden and log houses while the mining facility, sits along the mountain slope.

The town has long since been abandoned, while the roofs on a few of the homes caved in from the heavy snow. The snow on the dirt roads was so high, the vehicles that parked along the side of the road were practically buried. A bridge that crossed over a rocky frozen creek was iced over while the water tower leaned slightly on one side from the ice weighing it down. The place was completely dead.

The squad sat and looked on, wondering what was actually down there while Raven sat and scratched her head, trying to figure out what happened to the Locust outpost that once occupied this area.

She starts to get irritated.

"Ugh…damnit, they were here…not even two weeks ago!"

Baird looked over the area, using Sven's rifle-scope.

"Well…it appears to be empty now. We're just going to have to go down there and check it out, Feral…we don't have any other option."

"I don't like this," she growled while Baird chuckled.

"What's to like?"

Raven buries her head in frustration, and then looks up, holding her head with her hand. She groaned trying to reevaluate her mental notes, wondering if there was anything she may have missed. It was not like her to be careless when it came to such things.

Sven and Cole sit along the trees, waiting for Raven and Baird to make up their minds as to how this was going to play off.

Baird finally sighs as he turns over to hand Sven his rifle back. Cole breaks the awkward silence,

"Maybe we ought to split up…ya know...two of us stay here while the other two go in," he suggested.

"No way…we need complete support in the case of an ambush…" Raven protests while Baird cuts her off.

"I like that idea, thanks Gus."

"You're most welcome," said Cole.

Feral turns to Baird in shock.

"What…you can't be serious!"

"Yea, well, guess what Feral…I am," Baird responded without missing a beat.

"You're only agreeing with this, just so you can disagree with me, you arrogant bastard…" Raven continues to rant while Baird rolls his eyes and begins to pull off his COG tags. He gestures Cole to do the same.

"…and furthermore…wait, what the hell are you doing?"

Feral looks at the two while Cole hands Baird his tags. Baird then turns to Raven,

"You and Vinny stay here and wait until Cole and I check it out."

"Oh no…nuh uh…I'm not going to sit here while…"

Baird takes Feral's hand and puts their tags in her palm as he cuts her off in mid sentence.

"The Locusts can't handle a snowstorm, so they probably took off elsewhere…" Baird continues while Raven gives him her blue eyed glare of disapproval, "…look Feral, if there is an ambush out there, we can't afford to let it take out the entire team…if we don't signal to you guys within thirty minutes, you and Vinny get out of here and head back to Fort Block. Oh, and hang on to these just in case."

"This is absurd…"

"Hey, if you have a better idea, then let's here it!"

Baird catches her off guard while she reacts as if she was going to say something, but her words come up dry. Raven was so drenched in frustration, she couldn't come up with any other better alternative. Baird sits patiently as he waits for an answer, but soon realizes that she didn't have one.

"Uh, huh…that's what I thought," he says, standing up, impressed with himself while Raven just flashed him a scowl as he pulls out his Lancer. Cole does the same, brushing the snow off of the handle as he gets up. Baird turns to Sven.

"Vinny, you keep a scope out for our signal, you got it?"

"On it!"

"Good boy…oh, and watch the little lady…be sure she doesn't run off!"

Feral gives him a sour look while Baird turns her direction,

"Yea, you heard me Feral…we'll be back soon, so keep your panties on," Baird mocks, while Raven stands up, grumbling to herself as she sits in disgust next to Sven. He starts to chuckle to himself as he begins to move down the slope into town with Cole following behind.

The two slow down as they get to the central road that swerves into town, covered in at least knee-deep snow. A breeze passes them by, circling around the structures and the vehicles, piled in the snow. Cole and Baird carefully walk through the deserted town, looking around for tracks, shells, and Locust paraphernalia as they peered into the windows of the buildings nearby.

"Wow…could it be any more desolate?" Baird remarks while glancing around the buildings.

"Ah, man…this is just a ghost town, I just don't know why Feral is so all uptight about it," said Cole, while scouting for tracks at the same time.

"Aha…you see, this is why girls should never be in the military…we were doing just fine until they put a little estrogen in the mix, and now we're up to our elbows in an emotional cataclysm, that just won't die!"

"Yea, but if it weren't for Feral, we would be popsicles by now."

Baird walked in silence, realizing that Cole had a point. If it weren't for Raven's insight, they would have most likely suffered from the unforgiving conditions that surrounded them.

"Besides…she's just worried about ya."

"Why in the hell is she worried about me…I don't need to be worried over, I've been taking care of myself since I was seven years old...I don't need some woman trying to nurture me with empathy, compassion, and all that other maternal crap...I get enough of that shit from Granny!"

"Did it ever occur to you that there are people in this shitty world that actually care about your sorry ass…and those don't come often!"

"Oh come on, everyone hates me…Feral will figure it out, and when the shit hits the fan, you'll see…she'll hate me too!"

"Uh huh, well she's a lot sweeter than what she puts out."

"Ok, now what are you talking about…wait…what the hell did you two do last night?"

"Nothing…just talking."

"For almost half an hour? C'mon, what did you do?"

"Why do you wanna know, mister "I don't need anybody worrying over me"…"

"The hell Cole…whatever happened to "bros before hos," man?"

"Tell you what, boy…she can be really sweet when she wants to…"

"Damnit Cole, are you gonna tell me or not?"

"Oooo…somebody's getting jealous…"

"I'm not fucking jealous!"

"Yea you is…just cause some cute little girl wants to snuggle up with a real man…"

"Yea, right."

"Hey, you know what they say…once you've had black, you never go back, heehee…instead of shacking up with the anal, angry white guy…"

"Screw you, man!"

"Haha…I knew it…you are jealous! Ooo, I can't wait to tell Boomer Lady when we get back!"

"If you even so much as sneeze about any of this to Bernie, I'll kick your ass!"

"C'mon, Damon baby, make your Granny proud!"

"Whatever…"

"But just so you know…we really didn't do anything. She just gave me a drink of water to help me sleep, and then chatted for a little bit."

Baird sighed as he stops at the pavilion to look around. Cole stops beside him as he continues to talk.

"You relieved now?"

Baird continues to scan the area, finding nothing that would suggest an ambush, much less occupancy as he peers into the windows of the buildings.

"Somewhat…I don't see any tracks, do you?"

"Nah...nothin."

"They must have cleared out before the storm came through…in any case, let's go ahead and signal Vinny and Feral. I don't see any threat here, but keep your eyes peeled anyway."

"You got it…I'll go get em."

Cole ran back down the road as he looks up in Sven's direction and waves his arms.

Sven pulls up his rifle as he turns to Raven,

"They gave us the ok to come down."

"It's anything but ok, Vin."

"Well, I'm going down…" says Sven as he loads his rifle on his back and starts to make his way down the slope. Raven sighs to herself as she gets up and follows Sven, looking around, scanning the road for tracks. They come down onto the road, moving through the snow until they reach the gravel curb.

"Gee…how long do think they place was deserted?"

"It wasn't deserted Vin, it was invaded. If you look closely under the snow, you can see blast marks on the vehicles. These people attempted to defend it, but it was too late. The Locusts strategically took them down, swiftly."

"How did you know?"

"I watched it."

"Oh…"

Sven stopped asking questions as he saw Cole in sight and picked up the pace.

Raven followed behind while still looking around, hoping to find clues as to where the Locusts went, but so far nothing indicated otherwise. She didn't like this at all.

"It's clear, baby...everything seems to be ok," says Cole while Sven and Raven move closer to his position. Raven turns to Cole.

"Then what is Baird doing, if everything is ok?"

"He's just looking through the buildings…ya know, looking for anything they may have left behind…"

"Sigh…where is he?"

"In the house over there…" Cole points as he continues, "…watcha going to tell him?"

"He may need to know what actually happened here," Raven says as she makes her way towards the house. Cole blurts out while she continues to walk.

"Don't be too hard on him…hehe," Cole yells out.

Raven waves from behind as she moves closer to the porch. Sven strides over to Cole as they watch Raven walk over to the building.

"Man, she's going to chew him out, isn't she," Sven ponders out loud.

"Probably…and he deserves every minute of it…but I still don't see why she's so moody about this place."

"She said that this place was overrun by Locusts…and I guess they killed all the people here."

"Shit…fucking grubs. Maybe we'll get lucky and find a few, so we can blow them bitches back in their shithole!"

Making her way to the house, Raven notices the door was still open as she steps in, peering round the frame as the wood floor creaks with each step she takes. Ugh, good stealth skills there Ellie…you'd make a Gear proud…stupid wood floor! Widening her stances to avoid making anymore noise, Raven peers over to her left as she gets an eyeful of the interior.

It was a makeshift laboratory, inspecting the ores from the mine nearby. She moved in further, looking at the ore's and rocks scattered on the tables and floor while the equipment, for the most part was untouched. Raven carefully picked up a piece of ore on the table as she carefully looks at it. It had odd scent that was not overwhelming, but subtle. A combination of an ozone and metallic aroma with a dirt-like odor ignited her senses. They were mining for metals.

Although she knew there was a mining settlement here, she never knew what they were actually mining. She never came back since the Locust took it over. The memories of the incident still haunt her as she could still hear the screams, the children crying, the men shouting, and she was helpless to do anything about it. She hated it.

Baird peered over the balcony looking down at Raven as she was studying the vicinity, not noticing his presence, which was not like her. She must really be focused on something for her not to hear me. He finally broke the silence.

"What do you see?"

She whips around as if she was startled, and then suddenly puts the ore down and looks back up at him.

"I was…just wondering what they were mining…"

"Metals…steel alloys mostly. This whole area is littered with them…" said Baird as he started to walk down the flight of wooden stairs, "...I'm not entirely sure how long this place was taken over by the Locusts. They didn't leave much behind to indicate otherwise."

"They took over this place last Thaw. They killed everyone here."

Baird observed her solemn expression while she turned around to look out the window as thoughts of the onslaught ran through her head. She often tried to forget about it but she couldn't. It was embedded in her psyche forever, all the horrible images of people, slaughtered, desecrated, until she was suddenly distracted by Baird's subtle voice.

"You saw what happened here?"

She hesitated for a moment, not really wanting to talk about it, but she felt she owed it to them if only somebody knew. Nobody knew what happened here, and the Feral have since stayed clear of the area.

"Yes…I did…but that's not the worst of it," Raven muttered.

She turned around to find Baird leaning against a wood pillar, his expression lenient and maybe sympathetic, but with Baird, Raven couldn't really tell. She began to explain,

"They…were…flanked in all directions. It happened so fast, they didn't have a chance…and I watched it happen, from a distance. I have never felt so helpless when…I saw one of them, throw a young child in a bonfire. I can still hear her scream, Damon."

Raven's eyes were restless as her glance moved between Baird and the rest of the room. She couldn't focus on one thing for too long before she could give away the duress in her expression. She didn't like to be vulnerable and she certainly didn't want to cry in front of anyone. But the voices of the people, the children, they wouldn't go away.

"They took the women, in chains…they, disemboweled the men and fed them to the Bloodmounts, while they burned the children."

She choked the last few words as she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, collecting her thoughts while she composed herself and then turned to Baird,

"I do not trust this place. The Locusts used it for their outpost for almost a year and now suddenly, they're gone…it makes no logical sense to me. I suggest we find some food and leave…this place is damned."

She shook her head and started walking towards the door, walking past Baird until he gently grabbed her arm and slowly pulled her back to face him. Raven didn't flinch or fight back. She was so entrenched into her thoughts, she didn't even look up to face him.

"I need my tags," he mentioned as he pulled her thoughts back into the present. She looked down into her ammo pack and pulled out both his and Cole's COG tags, and held it up for him. He gazed into her eyes, trying to see through the windows into her conscience, wondering what was hiding behind them. Baird gently took the tags from her hand as he placed them over his head.

"Will you let me go now," she requested glumly. She didn't struggle or pull away, which surprised him. He gazed at her for a moment but then loosened his grip and let her go. She turned and walked out, isolating herself from the others.

The moment seemed awkward to him, as he couldn't get her expression out of his head. He could tell that she was fighting back anguish but it was a side of her he didn't understand. He probably didn't want to know. He had seen so much death, so much despair in so many faces, over time it made him jaded, but the expression in Raven's soft face was beyond words and comprehension for him. It weakened something in his subconscious that he had nothing to collaborate with to resist it.

He pushed his emotions aside as he normally does when he felt susceptible by it and finally started to walk out of the laboratory when he heard a faint sound coming from a distance. As he turned his head to peer through the town, opening his ears to the sound that he could not clearly elaborate. Raven was nowhere in site.

Baird looked across the street to see Cole and Sven loitering on the curb as the sound became more audible, but before Baird could make his way to Cole and Sven, it started to snow.

"Shit, this is going to make it harder to see," he moaned as he picked up the pace to meet up with Cole and Sven.

"Whoa, did you hear that," Sven said softly.

"Why are you whispering, Vin," Baird nagged.

"Shhh, Damon…yea…I can hear that," Cole said, moving around the other two to look down the road.

The faint noise sounded like an echoing thud, moving in a slow rhythm. The snow in the air covers their visibility as it starts to snow even harder, thickening the atmosphere around them. Cole stares down the long road as he tries to peer through the dense snow.

"We better get some cover…whatever it is, it sounds like it's coming closer," Cole suggested as Baird and Sven make their way to him.

"Guys, move into the storage barn…hurry," Baird insists as they quickly move over into the barn further down the street, taking cover from the heavy snow. The three shake the snowflakes off of their armor as they pull out their weapons. Sven climbs up the ladder to the top of the barn to get a better look with his Longshot. He peers out through the broken glass of a window, facing towards the road.

Baird pulls out Cole's tags,

"Here Gus," Baird tosses them to Cole.

Sven then suddenly realized something, "Hey, where's Feral?"

Cole and Baird looked up and then they looked at each other.

"Ah, shit…where did she go," Cole moaned.

"She went around the town to look around…" Baird answered.

"Well, we need to go find her before whatever it is, comes rearin its ugly head around the corner..."

"Well then go find her, Cole!"

"WHOO, you know it!"

Cole gets up and steps outside in the heavy snow, moving toward the road. Suddenly, the noise becomes increasingly louder, as Sven can feel it rattling the barn.

"Oh, shit! Guys…"

"What is it Vin?" Baird griped.

"Whatever it is, it's big…I can see it in my scope."

"What do you mean, big?"

Baird races up the ladder to Sven's position as he sits next to him, peering through the window.

"I can't see shit in this…Vinny give me your rifle," Baird says as Sven gives him the Longshot.

Cole carefully moves around a snow, buried car, parked right outside the barn as he looks over towards the road and sees a large black figure approaching them in the distance. The noise is suddenly broken with a large growl, piercing the vicinity as it rattles the buildings nearby.

"Ah, man…what the hell is that?" Sven whines as Baird peers through the scope, getting a better look at the menacing beast, slowly walking their direction as the lights glistened from the distance.

"Oh, fuck…BRUMAK, DAMON…IT"S A FUCKING BRUMAK," Cole yelled as he runs back over to the barn.

"Son of a bitch…Cole, you in here?" Baird shouts out.

"Yea…how many Locusts are with it?"

"Two on top…three that I saw walking along the side…" said Baird as he hops down the ladder with Sven following behind.

"…I believe they're just scouting for food or supplies, otherwise they would have brought larger numbers."

"Are you sure?"

"Hey, I'm just telling you what I saw…"

"Well, shit…that's not very comforting, Baird!"

"What the hell is that?" Sven gripes, starting to panic.

"It's a Brumak kid," Cole says as the three hunker down into the barn, "…so now what do we do, we need more than just these Lancers to take that bitch down…and I don't see any heavy artillery layin around."

"I know, I know…and if we try to take out any of the Locusts, it will just alarm the Brumak to come after us…"

Baird peers his head around the corner as he pulls his goggles over his eyes to see how far it was.

"Can't we just hide until it passes?" Sven suggests

"No we can't Vin…that thing has a keen sense of smell…that, and they'll eventually find our tracks. The only reason it hasn't sniffed us out yet is because of the cold."

"Oh, so we're just screwed..." Sven ranted.

"Yea, Vinny…we're fucked!"

As the creature moved closer, it suddenly stops in its tracks, idling as the three Gears can see the lights glimmering from its armored helmet, rocking side to side as if it was trying to catch a scent. The Locusts on the ground start to move forward down the road, as the falling snow hides the Gears from their site.

"Ah, crap…the drones are coming in," Cole gestured.

The scaled face drones walk slowly through the snow, peering with their deep-set eyes as they scan the streets with their nostrils twitching, searching for a scent, but the cold masked the looming odors. They come to a halt as if they could smell something peculiar, while the Brumak sits back as the rider holds the beast into position while the gunner sits and waits.

Suddenly, without warning, a massive array of flames erupted around the drones. The Gears gaze in shock as they watch the drones shriek and holler from the rampant inferno, engulfing them. They couldn't escape the napalm, splashed all over the vicinity, burning brightly.

"Damnit, Feral…" Baird yelled out.

The Brumak let's out a deafening roar as it starts to get antsy while the rider tries to keep it under control from the sudden blaze. It turns to its right and suddenly fires the large canon, mounted on its back. The blast obliterated a building next to it as pieces of rubble and wood scatter in the dense, frosty air.

"RAVEN…FUCK," Baird yells out as Cole suddenly takes off running towards the hotspot.

"FERAL…I'M COMING BABY…" Cole roars out, as he takes out his Lancer and fires the rounds at the screaming drones ahead. The three drones fall back onto the ground as the bullets impale their burning bodies.

"Vinny…give me your scope," says Baird as Sven hands him his rifle. He gets a better look at the creature and notices something odd.

"Wait…it doesn't have any gun turrets on the wrists…just the canon. If we can take out the gunner, we can at least keep it from firing the canon."

Baird quickly gives the rifle back to Sven as he grabs him by the shoulder and runs back into the barn.

"Listen, Vinny…you need to get up there and take out that gunner, or else we're all going to eat it…do you understand?"

"I…I got it, yea," Sven blurts out.

"Then get your ass up there…I'm going to draw their fire!"

Sven quickly climbs up the ladder while Baird runs back out into the street.

Cole continues to run around the enormous flames as he finds cover from behind a car nearby. The Brumak starts to shift its direction away from the demolished house as it scans the street. Cole peers over the car to get a better look while the Brumak suddenly turns it's gaze towards the commotion down the road ahead.

"HEY ASSHOLE…" Baird roars out, revving the chainsaw bayonet on his Lancer, drawing the creature's attention.

Ah, Baird…what the hell are you up to now?

Cole looks back as Baird continues to scream at the beast, drawing it nearer to him.

"YEA, THAT"S RIGHT BITCH…I'M TALKING TO YOU!"

The napalm scattered in the street continues to burn while the Brumak tries to walk around the flames. With each step, Cole can feel the ground shake as the snow starts to slide off the car next to him. He then could hear a shell being loaded into the canon.

Damnit, Baird, you better move.

As the Brumak turns to face Baird's direction, a shot rings out in the sky, startling the Brumak as it shakes it's massive head, swerving from side to side. Cole looks around to see a drone fall off from the Brumak.

"Whoa shit…was that Vinny?" Cole mutters to himself.

Baird begins to shout as the creature steps back.

"SHIT, YEA…GOOD SHOT VINNY!"

Cole finally moves from his position as he points his Lancer directly at the rider, who was still trying to get the Brumak under control, and fires at him.

"Yea, it's your turn now, Jackass!"

As rounds impale the rider, the Locust drops off to the side as his foot gets caught in the straps, letting him hang along the side of the Brumaks massive head. The unmanned Brumak starts to move in confusion as it begins to walk toward Cole's direction.

"Uh, oh…time to go!"

Cole takes off running towards Baird as the massive beast pushes through the cars and debris scattered along the road, roaring with it's dead rider, swinging on the side of it's head.

"Ah, crap! Run Cole…move your ass," Baird yells out as Sven runs out of the barn and darts out into the street to catch up with Baird.

"Ok…now what?" said Sven.

"Vinny, you need to get out of here…go back down the road," Baird says, as Cole finally meets up to them.

"We need to move man," Cole blurts out as the ground shakes underneath them from the Brumak's heavy stride.

As three continue to stand out in the middle of the road, suddenly the sound of a roaring diesel engine revs into the background behind the houses. Out of the blue, a fuel truck drives through a wooden fence, knocking down a shed in it's path as it swerves on the ice, turning onto it's side and comes to a grinding stop directly in front of the Brumak, startling it.

"Holy shit, what's up with that?" Sven shouts out as the three dodge behind the nearest cover along the side of the road.

Baird peers around the corner of a storage house as he sees the truck on its passenger side, with the engine still running. He starts to walk out towards the truck as he shouts out.

"Feral? Is that you?"

The door is swung open as he sees Raven trying to crawl out of the cabin.

"FERAL…GET DOWN," Baird yells out as he proceeds to run back out into the street, trying to draw the Brumak's attention away from the fallen vehicle.

"NO, OVER HERE…" Baird screams, waving his arms as the beast moves its head in his direction.

"YEA REMEMBER ME, SHITBAG?"

A roar rings through the air as the Brumak moves near the truck, focusing on Baird as he slowly moves back, keeping his distance. Raven moves over the toppled truck with crowbar in hand, jumping to the ground on the undercarriage side. She swings the crowbar and punctures a hole in the fuel tank, allowing the fuel to pour out onto the ground. She quickly times a Nape grenade and tosses it under the truck as she darts away from the vehicle, running towards the road yelling at Baird.

"MOVE, MOVE…get back!"

"Ah hell…what did you do Feral?"

She quickly runs towards him as she jumps on him, shoving him down into a somersault as the two roll into the snow.

"Feral, what the…"

"Keep your head down and…"

Before Raven could finish her sentence, the grenade ignites the fuel underneath the truck as the flames rise into the tank. A massive explosion shoots high into the air as the Brumak is caught in its path, blowing it apart. Truck parts are projected into the air, scattered and mixed with the meat parts and mangled metal. The sky starts to rain blood and metal shards while the fire, illuminates the debris strewn all over the vicinity.

Glistening in the afterglow of the fire ahead, the blood pours down, coloring the snow crimson as the commotion that stirred the ghost town goes mute. All that is left now is the silence after the disarray of a beautiful disaster.

Chapter 18: Beautiful Disaster Edit

Entrails, mixed with metal debris lay scattered, blanketing the area within the circumference of the decimated Brumak. The snow was inked with blood, seeping into pools as the crimson rain was settling down, leaving only a faint red mist.

Sven and Cole raise their heads from behind a car as they peer over into the bloody disarray.

"Whoa…that was awesome," Sven perks up.

"Damn…that's a huge mess…I'm not cleaning that shit up," Cole mused as he looks over to see where Baird was, yelling out,

"Hey Damon…Feral…you there baby?"

Towards the side of the street, Raven is lying face down into the bloody snow, slowly lifting her head while Baird was resting on top of her, carefully wiping the blood from his face, trying to avoid getting it in his eyes. He turns over his shoulder to get a look at the mess behind them as he proceeds to pull his goggles onto his bloody forehead, while he lets out a cough, pushing out the blood that seeped into his mouth.

"Fuck, *cough…that's the second time I had to cough up blood that isn't mine, shit," Baird began to rant, in between coughs.

Raven spits out snow as she gags on the iron taste of the Brumak's entrails.

"Ugh…gross," she whimpered

"Agh…there's shit everywhere, Feral," Baird whined, wiping the mess from his mouth and face. He looks down at Feral,

"You alright?"

"No, Damon…your weight is crushing me…" she groans. He carefully props himself up on his arms, lifting his weight as she steadily crawls out from under him. Feral drags herself across the crimson colored slush, pushing metal debris aside as she cringes from a sharp pain in her buttocks.

"Agh…shit, I think something got me…damn, it hurts like hell," she grimaced in aggravation. Cole and Sven run over to their position, carefully trying not to slip on the crimson rubble, mangled with soft tissue.

"Man, Feral…you need to warn us next time when you set up booby traps," Cole griped, "…look at this shit…damn, it's still rainin blood!"

She looked up at Cole as she tried to sit up.

"Ugh…well, I couldn't give away your position. That Brumak would have taken out that barn for sure…that, and it took awhile to get the engine started...and what was up with you three standing out in the middle of the road with your thumbs up your ass, while the damn thing was coming at you?"

"Uh, well…" Sven started to explain while Baird cut him off.

"Don't…answer that Vin…just…don't even begin to try," Baird groans as he continues to cough.

"Damn, Damon…you got Brumak shit all over ya," Cole chuckled at Baird's expense.

"Gah, you think?" Baird snapped back.

Baird continues to wipe the entrails off of his head, not bothering to even look at the rest of himself as he finally turns over to sit up, using his arms to brace his torso up off the ground. He turned to look at Feral, who was still on her stomach, groaning.

"Ah, geez Feral…no wonder your miserable," Baird says as he crawls over to her.

Sven walks over to where Feral was laying as he kneels down and takes a look at her wound.

"Oh, crap…she's got something stuck in her ass."

"It's called shrapnel, kid," said Baird as he sits up to get a better look at her lesion.

"Grrr, son of a bitch…don't touch it," Feral yells, flinching as Baird tried to move her loincloth.

"Don't…move, Feral."

He carefully moves the cloth to find a long piece of metal, hanging slightly into her cheek.

"Yep…looks like you got a piece of fender in your ass."

"Well, don't just sit there, admiring it, get that piece of shit out of me!"

Suddenly, the ground began to vibrate underneath them as the pools of blood started to ripple from the tremors.

"Ugh, what is that…damnit I can't move," Raven groans while Baird sits up, trying to listen. Cole and Sven look around, trying to peer through the crimson rain, falling all around them.

The ground shook underneath them as the snow began to fold from the seismic pulses, streaming around the area.

Baird started to get antsy, "…we need to move, now!"

"And go where?" Sven whined as Cole blurted out,

"Anywhere but here…I say we go for the chapel."

"You got my vote…" said Baird as he quickly knelt down to help Raven up, "…c'mon, Rav, we gotta go."

Grabbing Baird's arm as she slowly stood up, Raven grimaced in pain, letting out a whimper,

"Grrrr, damnit Damon…I can't move that well," she barked.

Rolling his eyes, Baird let out a groan as he quickly bent down, wrapped his arm around her legs and threw her over his shoulder as he stood up.

"C'mon, Damon…move," said Cole.

"Working on it, Gus…hang on, Feral," Baird griped as the three raced over towards the town chapel nearby while the tremors began to worsen. Roadie running through the snow, they could hear a commotion as bullets began to ricochet across the parked vehicles nearby.

"Aw, crap…did you hear that?" Sven panicked.

"Shit…move, move," Cole yelled out as he and Sven climbed up onto the chapel porch, while Baird grabbed cover behind a parked truck, nearby. Bullets flew all around them while Baird carefully dropped Raven on the ground, next the vehicle.

"Ugh, the fuck," Baird yelled out, trying to keep his head down while unloading his Lancer. Raven grimaced form the pain as she tried to stable herself against the truck, pulling out her Gorgon pistol. Baird turns his head and peers around the front fender, trying to make out something in the thick air as it snowed profusely.

The firing ceased for a moment, leaving the Gears on edge as they try to make out their attackers. Cole and Sven hung around the porch, looking out with weapons in hand. After loading his rifle, Sven lifted it up and peered through the scope.

"You see anything?" Cole nagged, getting irritated that whomever was shooting at them was nowhere to be seen.

"Nothing…shit, I can't make out anything in this snow," Sven griped, "….wait…I see movement."

Sven peered carefully through his scope while trying to keep his cover at the same time. He suddenly noticed movement, closing in on them. Peering past the falling snow, he sees the flickering lights coming from Locust armor as they moved, their weapons glistening in the dim illumination from the overcast sky.

"Hey Cole…" Sven said quietly, "…I got em…they're moving in."

"How many?" asked Cole.

"Six…that I can count…maybe seven…but there's something behind them…something, oh fuck."

"What?"

"Aw, what the hell is that?"

"Gimme that," said Cole as Sven handed him the rifle. Cole looks through the scope, seeing the Locusts take cover behind some parked vehicles down the road. Then, he saw it. Watching carefully, he sees the movement of eight large, arachnid legs, clopping through the deep snow.

"Oh, oh hell no..." Cole blurts out as he hands the Longshot back to Sven and starts to wave his hands, grabbing Baird's attention.

"CORPSER…" Cole yells out, gesturing, while Baird tunes in, "…straight ahead!"

Baird pulls back behind the truck as he lifts his goggles off his eyes and on his forehead.

"How in the hell did a Corpser get out here?" Baird griped.

"What did Cole say?" Raven stammered while her buttocks started to throb from the sudden cardiovascular rush.

"A damn Corpser…I don't suppose there's another truck we can use to ram into it…"

"Not a working one…ugh…I was lucky to get that one working. Why is there a Corpser out here?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"Because YOU said that YOU knew everything!"

"Yea, well I haven't updated my database in a few days, OK?"

Suddenly, the Locusts resumed their fire. The Gears quickly take cover as the bullets ricochet around their vicinity.

"Ack…I'm getting tired of this shit!" Cole barked, aiming his Lancer and returns fire. Sven also takes aim but has difficulty making out the Locusts behind the vehicles, through falling snow. Baird also exchanged fire, but it was futile, not being able to see the enemy accurately.

A noise broke out as the ground started to shake again. The Corpser was moving, crawling over the Locusts cover and onto the road ahead.

"Aw…that doesn't look good," Sven yelled out as he could see the Corpser crawling over to their position. Cole looks out as Baird yells out,

"GET OUT…GO TO THE BACK OF THE CHURCH!"

"WHAT ABOUT YOU AND FERAL?" Cole yelled back, over the noise of the gunfire and the roaring Corpser.

'WE'RE GOING BACK…THAT CORPSER CAN"T FOLLOW US BOTH!"

Cole nodded, realizing what Baird intended to do. Cole grabs Sven,

"C'mon, we gotta go!"

"Go…go where?"

"Just move, kid…I'll explain later!"

Cole and Sven quickly moved through the chapel doors, running into the sanctuary as they crawled over into the pulpit and raced to the back entrance, behind the baptismal room. They exited through the door, back out into the cold wilderness as they run over to the corner of the building. They peer around the building, looking out as they could catch a glimpse of the Corpser moving.

Suddenly, an array of bullets race past them as they move back behind the building.

"Ah, shit," yelled Sven as they could see the Locusts flanking from the side. Cole returns fire with his lancer while Sven raises his rifle and takes a shot, lobotomizing a Cyclops as his head blasts off into a crimson mist.

"Shit, yea, Vinny," Cole yells out as he takes out a Drone, stumbling backwards and into the heap of snow below. Two more move up, closing in on the Gears as they continued to fire their Hammerburst assault rifles.

Sven runs off to the side while reloading his rifle as he ran sideways, and then shoots a fatal shot in a Drone's chest. The other Drone continues to move in, firing aimlessly, trying to aim and shoot in the falling snow. Cole moves around, taking advantage of the Drone's limited sight as he flanks from a utility pole, taking out his Gnasher and shoots the Drone in close range, blowing off an arm. Screaming hideously, the Drone drops down on to the ground, clutching his arm while Cole moves in and swings the butt of his Gnasher across the Drone's exposed head, knocking it sideways as the beast goes limp.

"WHOO…yea, take that bitch!" Cole blurts his victory chant while Sven reunites with him, loading another round in his Longshot.

"Hoorah," Sven joined in as the two clamped fists. Suddenly, a roar rings out from the other side of the building.

"Aw…we gotta move to help Baird and Feral," said Sven.

"This way, kid...we're going to flank that Corpser from behind," said Cole as he took the lead towards the back of another building, going around the Corpser.

Meanwhile, Baird managed to carry Raven back to the laboratory while he takes cover in the balcony upstairs, firing at the Locusts below. Raven was sitting inside against the wall, trying to wrap her last napalm grenade around Baird's Bolo grenade with duct tape, tightening the hold, hoping it will stay intact when swung into action.

"I got it, Damon," she yells out over the gunfire. The building starts to shake as the Corpser was moving closer to the laboratory.

"Ok, Rav, we gotta move."

"…Alright," she responded, not getting excited about the idea of being picked up and carried again, but what choice did she have.

Baird moved back inside as he loaded up his Lancer. He knelt down while Raven handed him the grenade.

"Are you sure this will work…Corpsers have hardier hides than Brumaks," said Raven.

"Their underbelly is their weakest point…so we have to aim for that."

"But that means we have to get close in."

"Exactly…"

"Damon, I can't get in fast enough to plant it and then move out."

"Who said that you were going to do it?"

Raven's eyes widened while Baird took the nades from her hand as he ghrabs her hands and lifts her back up on her feet.

"Baird, you can't get in close enough to throw it in before running out far enough to avoid the blast…you can't do it without getting killed."

"Well then, I guess that's one less Gear you have to worry about now, isn't it."

"Ok, that's not even close to fair!"

"You know what…your right, it's not," Baird mused, but before Raven could respond, he quickly grabs her legs, subsequently lifts her over his shoulder, and darts down the stairs despite Raven's ranting.

"Damnit, you bonehead…that grenade has a ten foot reach…are you even listening to me?"

"Shut up, Feral…you're going to give away our position."

Baird kicks down the back door as he roadie runs with Raven over his shoulder. Fortunately, she was pretty light so moving around quickly wasn't very difficult, it was just moving fast through the snow that became problematic.

He quickly took refuge between a shed and a tireless bus, putting Raven back down as she cringed from the pain in her glute.

"Ugh…asshole," she grumbled quietly after landing on her bum.

"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Baird scoffed as he stood back up, peering around the bus.

"Sigh, no!"

"That's what I thought," he sneered as he looked back out. The Corpser was still moving towards the building as the Locusts where still firing in the same direction. Suddenly, Baird could hear the Locusts yelling,

"Behind us," one of them growled out. Baird peered out to see Cole and Sven flanking them from behind, across the road as they fired towards the Locusts, taking out three almost immediately. The other four took cover quickly as they bunched up in position.

"That's my signal," Baird blurted out as Raven looked up in shock.

"Wait…signal, for, what?" she demanded but Baird ignored her as he took off, running towards the Corpser.

"DAMNIT…BAIRD," Raven yelled, trying to pull herself with her hands, pushing with one leg while dragging the other. Baird ran out, moving around the parked cars until he closed in, kneeling behind a horse trailer. He was close enough to see the Corpser's belly as it stopped in its tracks, bellowing out while it started to turn around to see what the commotion was from behind.

Baird ducked back down, trying to stay out of it's sight, using the trailer and falling snow for cover as the massive creature turned around, letting out a deafening roar, over the sounds of gunfire as Baird tried to cover his ears from the noise.

"Shit…shut the fuck up, willya," he rants as the beast starts to move back towards the Locusts' position. No, no…he wasn't suppose to go back, damnit.

Cole returned fire towards the Locusts, until he saw the Corpser moving back to their position.

"Aw…DAMON, BABY, YOU BETTER HURRY THIS UP," he yelled, hoping Baird could hear him over the deafening Corpser.

"Cole, it's coming back," Sven whined.

"I know, Vinny!"

Within an instant, Baird knew that he had to act now while he still had some chance of success. He quickly pulled out the grenades as he darts out, moving behind the Corpser while swinging the duct-taped grenades on the chain and then throws it underneath the Corpser.

"FRAG OUT," he yells.

"Shit, Vinny, get down," Cole yells as he grabs Sven and they both go down.

Raven groans as she places her arms over her head, curling up behind the bus.

Baird jumps over a picket fence and rolls next to a snow buried, parked truck. The sound of detonation bursts out from the ground underneath the beast. The sudden pop from the Napalm grenade mixed with the loud boom from the Bolo grenade pierces the decibel level in the vicinity as the sky is split with a ringing. The Corpser let out a gurgling snarl, limping on one side that was tattered into bloody shreds. Leaning its weight on one side, the creature falls over, causing the ground to shake from the impact. The flames from the napalm, takes control as it consumes the Corpser, burning brightly.

Shimmering through the falling snow, Cole and Sven hoped over their cover as they race towards what was left of the Locust horde. Cole charged in, revving up his lancer as he spots the nearest Locust, still weary on the ground from the blast. Cole moves in, swinging his chainsaw bayonet as he rams in into the Locusts head, severing it into pieces as the skull collapsed from the impact.

The last two Locusts started to pick themselves up when another shot pierces the air, splitting through a Cyclops' head. His blood splatters on his comrade next to him and then tumbles to the ground. The other Cyclops wipes the blood from his lens as he lifts his Lancer in Sven and Cole's direction, when a shotgun blast rips into him, blowing off his waist as his bowls scatter across the snow, slumping to the ground.

Shaking his head to get the ringing out of his ears, Baird moves in from behind with shotgun in hand, stepping round the mess he made as he takes a look at his final masterpiece. Leaning over while letting out a cough, pushing out the metallic ozone taste from the snow that managed to get into his mouth from when he took cover from the explosion, he spits at the ground, relishing in the kill as he sneered loudly,

"Oh, I'm sorry…did that hurt?" he mocked, kicking the corpse a few times before Cole and Sven reunite with him.

"Damn, Damon...you look like shit," Cole bellowed at Baird's scruffy, bloody appearance,

"Yea, gee thanks, asshole," Baird barked while still trying to spit out the sour aftertaste from the snow.

"Hey, where's Feral?" Cole asked, after soon noticing that Baird was by himself.

"Damn, I knew I was missing something...I left her near the bus," said Baird as he points towards the stationary bus, "…over there, c'mon!"

The three move quickly, taking a detour around the burning Corpser while pushing through the collecting snow, making the road even more difficult to follow. Raven was pulling herself along the curb and then comes to a stop as she leaned against a utility pole. She peered out to see the three Gears making their way to her location.

"Feral, baby…you alright?" Cole asked while Raven groaned,

"No, I'm not alright…this shrapnel is killing me!"

Kneeling down, Baird reaches his hand out for Raven to grab as he turns his attention to Cole,

"Cole, I'll need bandages or something to get this cleaned and stitched," he said as he helps Raven get back on her feet.

"Sure thing, Damon, but you take her to that house over there, and get her out of this snow" Cole suggested as he pointed to a small log cabin nearby, "…I'll look around to see if there's a med kit somewhere."

"Alright...I'll meet you there," said Baird before Cole left the scene to go search for medical supplies. Raven groaned as she tried to balance herself, hanging on to Baird's arm, despite the sharp pain. Letting out a sigh, Baird looks up at Sven,

"Vinny, go see if you can find some alcohol, whiskey, anything I an use to clean this up…and meet me at the house."

"Alright…where should I look," Vinny asked.

"Try the fuel station...that's where I would start."

"Got it."

Sven takes off while Baird carefully pulls Raven's arm over his shoulder.

"Look, Damon…I may be able to walk,"

"No, you can't…and even if you could, I don't have time for you to be limpin' like an impotent mare on three legs."

Raven's face began to burn in fury, but before she could let even let out a single word, he quickly, kneels down and scoops her up, lifting her legs off the ground with his arm while she quickly clings to him, wrapping her arms around his neck to to brace herself from from the pain in her rear. Cringing, she closes her eyes and tightens her grip, putting pressure on Baird's throat.

"Rav…your…choking me," Baird grimaces as he tries to breathe.

"Ugh…sorry…it, just…hurts," she groaned as she reluctantly loosens her grip, letting Damon breathe.

"We're almost there…don't pass out please…" he gripes.

"I'm not going to pass out," Raven barks while Baird chuckles.

"Just…get me into the cabin, please," Feral replies in pain as he carried her onto the porch, and carefully moves through the door, trying not to bump her legs along the doorframe and walks in. Raven grimaces from the pain as Baird walks into the next room and carefully puts her back on her feet.

"Ok, let's get you situated," says Baird as he leads her to a bed, helping her lay on her stomach while she yelped from the fragment, aggravating her glut.

"Alright, now get this thing out of me…" she demanded.

"I need the medkit first and some alcohol to clean it, so will you relax," Baird scoffed. Raven groans in pain as she grabs the nearest pillow and puts it over her head.

Suddenly, Cole walks in the house with several cases of medical supplies.

"Hey, I found some, baby!"

"In here Cole," Baird yells out from the door as Cole walks in and places the equipment on a vanity table.

"There's lots of bandages in this one…and some stitches and iodine in this one."

Baird removes his bloody chest armor and zips down his upper fatigues, leaving on his undershirt while freeing his arms and hands.

Just as Cole opens up the med boxes, Sven comes running in with a bottle of vodka and rice wine.

"Hey, I found some stuff…will this work?" Sven asks as he enters the room.

"Yea, that's enough," Baird moans as he pulls out several sheets from the dresser and proceeds to tear one. While Cole rummages through the med kit, Baird takes a sheet and wipes the blood from his face and pants. He then walks over and carefully wipes the blood from Raven's backside.

"Alright, Rav…I'm going to have to cut into your pants," Baird informs her. Raven removes the pillow from her head as she protests.

"I don't want you touching my ass…get one of them to do it!"

Cole starts to chuckle, "Sorry Feral, but Baird is the better medic, baby."

"Shit, I don't know how fix a wound," Sven joins in.

"Well watch and learn, Vinny." says Baird as he picks up the bottle of vodka and opens it.

"So guess what, Feral," Baird snickers in amusement.

Raven groans as she puts the pillow back over her head, mumbling to herself.

"Yea, I thinks she's ready," Cole chuckles as Baird proceeds to move her loincloth, as he carefully grabs the side of her hip to brace himself, gently lifting the tear around the shrapnel.

"DAMNIT…" Raven blurts out, flinching while grabbing the edge of the mattress as Cole quickly walks over.

"Shit…you're going to have to hold her down Cole, she's moving too much…and where's the gloves?" Baird asks.

"What gloves?"

"I need latex gloves, Cole."

"I didn't see any."

Baird turns to Sven,

"Vinny, is there any gloves in those boxes?"

Sven rummages through the med box.

"Ah, sorry…I don't see any," Sven replied while Baird let's out a sigh as he ponders for a minute and then turns to Cole,

"Ok Cole, give me your wallet."

"What for?"

"Cole, will you just do it please…we don't have a lot of time."

"Alright, alright…shit!"

Cole pulls out his wallet from his pocket as he throws it over to Baird. Baird opens it up, rummaging through his cash, cards, and photos of some naked girls while Sven peers over his shoulder.

"Whoa…where'd you get those?" says Sven.

"Damn, Cole…you didn't tell me about these," Baird mentions as he turns them over to get a better look.

"Hehe, thems just souvenirs...you know what I mean?" Cole muses while Baird conveniently ignores him, looking further into his wallet and finally pulls out a couple of packets of condoms.

"Hey, I need those," Cole protests.

"Are you kidding me Cole, you haven't had to use one of these in two years!"

Both Sven and Baird start to laugh.

"Yea, just keep laughing it up, assholes!"

Baird opens up the condoms and places them over his fingers while Raven gets impatient as she yells out.

"Whatever it is y'all are trying to do, will you hurry it up, please?"

"Now, now, don't worry, I'll have my hands embracing your ass in a minute, I promise," Baird teases.

"Oh, shut up…and what the hell are you doing with those?"

"I thought you told me to shut up..."

Raven turns her head over and growls at Baird. Literally. The tone in his voice changes as he explains,

"Alright, look…I don't have any latex gloves to keep your wound sanitized so I'm going to have to use the next best thing."

"Whoa, seriously?" Sven beamed in interest while Raven starts to fume.

"Some fucking condoms?" she barks at Baird as he sneers back,

"These things are made out of latex too…they'll do the job. It's the best thing I have right now so deal with it!"

Raven shoves her head back under the pillow while she starts to growl.

"Hold on baby…it'll only take a sec," Cole assures her as he puts his arms around her upper body, holding her down as she yells back.

"A second my ass! The sooner you get this done, the sooner you get your paws off of my rear."

"Damon…you better hurry this up," Cole said as Baird manages to widen the tear in her pants.

"Alright…get ready Cole, I'm going to pull it out," Baird warned him as he pours vodka around the shrapnel. As the alcohol soaks into the gash, Feral fidgets intensely from the sting, as Cole carefully holds her down while trying not to crush her at the same time.

"...and here we go…"

Baird places his hand on her cheek as he slowly removes the shrapnel from her buttocks. She clinches and fidgets at the same time, squinting and growling from the throbbing pain. He finally removes the shrapnel completely while Raven starts to relax.

"There we go…all better…well shit," said Baird.

"What, damnit?" Raven barks.

"It really wasn't that deep…just two inches,"

"That's deep enough…now will you patch it up, please!"

"Yea, yea…shit, your ornery when you're hurt."

Raven buries her head back into the mattress as she groans from Baird pouring more vodka on her lesion.

"Ok, Vin, bring me the box with the stitches."

"On it."

"Rav, this is going to have to be stitched."

"Ugh…I was afraid you were going to say that," Raven whined as Baird takes a sheet and soaks up the blood, putting pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. He could feel Raven tensing up.

"Feral, you need to relax, darlin."

"Ugh…I'm trying..."

Sven pulls out some packaged needles and iodine while Cole gently loosens his hold on Raven. Baird opens up one of the sterilized needles and proceeds to tie a thread to it. He gently releases pressure from the wound to check to see if it stopped bleeding.

"Ok…I just need to wipe this down with iodine and I'll get started sewing it up," Baird announced as wipes the wound down with another sheet. Sven hands him the bottle of iodine while Baird opens it up and pours it around the lesion.

"Hey, Baird…how long will this take?" Cole asks.

"Probably no longer than fifteen minutes…it's not that big of a cut."

"We need to move out as soon as we get done…I bet you ten bucks more Locusts are going to come back, looking for their missing squads."

"Sigh, agreed…go see if you can find something that we can take to eat on the run...and take Vinny with you."

"You got it…come on Vin."

"Alright, comin," Sven acknowledges as he puts the bottle of iodine on the dresser and follows Cole out of the room. Baird sits up for a moment, moving his neck as he slightly induces a subluxed vertebra back into alignment by rolling his head to one side. He moans as it pops back into place, feeling the release in tension in his shoulders as he slowly rolls his head to stimulate circulation.

After spending the past half hour running around, dodging exploding tankers and rolling on the ground form grenades, Baird's body was feeling the strain. He then leans back down to begin stitching the gash in Raven's rear.

Remaining motionless, she drifts into a trance, not making any attempts to converse as she takes in deep breaths and slowly exhales, releasing the tension from her body, trying to forget about the numbing sensation in her buttocks. She was fatigued and Baird could sense it from her arched back as he proceeded to stitch up her wound. She didn't flinch as he gently touched her skin, pushing the needle in and through, closing the wound. As he sewed it up, she let's out a long sigh as if she was going to say something. Baird looked up as if he anticipated her to speak, but instead, she just closed her eyes and coasts into a daze.

He looks back down and continues to work, but the mood becomes awkward for him as his mind begins to meander while he gently presses her soft bare skin, realizing that he probably needed to keep his mind occupied before he becomes completely distracted. He starts to converse,

"Alright, what are you thinking about...and don't bother sparing my feelings..."

She hesitates at first and then answers him.

"Nothing."

"Oh, please, Raven…you may be good at surviving but you're a bad liar."

"It's nothing personal that concerns you."

"Well then what's the problem…if it's not that big of a deal?"

"I don't feel like talking about it, Baird."

"Well your going to have to talk about something because I need to know if you're still coherent."

"What do you mean?"

"You lost a bit of blood…you probably feel woozy by now."

"Yea...I do…and your point is?"

"We can't stay here for too long, so you're going to have to suck it up. I'm hoping Cole will find something for you to eat, your going to need it…speaking of which, is there any place we can to for the night?"

"There is a place that we can stay the night from the cold, but there is no food stock piled there…we'll have to either find something, or hunt something."

Baird finishes up as he tears the thread with his teeth and wipes up the stitches with a cloth.

"Crap…well, hopefully the guys will find something that we can eat along the way."

Raven buries her head back into the pillow, groaning. She's had gashes before but never stitches. She started to relax while Baird finished up as he carefully places his hand on her tailbone while he rubs more vodka on her exposed rear.

Raven tenses up from the sting.

"You ok, Feral?"

"Ugh…yea…it just stings"

"We're almost done, shit…you can't handle the pain, can you."

"How would you like it if somebody shoved something up your ass?"

Baird lets out a grin as he turns over her shoulder,

"I don't know…that actually sounds kinda kinky…gee, Rav, I didn't know you had it in you. Maybe all that training is finally coming out."

"You know what…I'm just not going to talk to you for the rest of the day,"

Baird starts to laugh, "Oh, and why not?"

"You're giving me a headache," Raven groaned, lying her head back on the pillow, closing her eyes.

"Yea…you definitely need to eat something."

Baird smirks as he finishes up cleaning the wound while a thought starts to fester in his head. Entertaining the notion of teasing her some more, he throws the sheet onto the rest of the pile while he turns over and carefully prostrates himself over her lower body as he lowers his head over the wound and kisses her exposed cheek. Raven could feel something odd touching her skin, mingled with the numbing that sends a shockwave up her spine, not realizing what just happened until she took the pillow off of her head.

She turned her head over her shoulder, watching him lift his lips from her rear as he grinned. Despite her condition, she could have easily mule kicked him from where he was sitting, but something compelled her not to.

"Ok now what the hell was that for?" she sneered.

"Well…now you can't say I don't ever kiss your ass."

Chapter 19: The Iridescent Snow Edit

The sun began to set and the colors of the sky unfold into a winter manifestation so scenic, it bleached the white ground into an iridescence of many colors.

As Sigma squad continued to trek in the cover of the woods, they could peer outside to see the glistening snow, as if the meadow was immersed in petroleum. They walk through the snow, covered thicket, brushing along the conifer branches as they come to the edge of the woods gazing at the hazy mountain.

Raven was not ahead of the pack this time, trying to come out of her anemic weariness as she nibbled on some trail mix, filled with nuts, dried fruit, and cereal flakes. Cole and Sven where doing the same, picking in their plastic bags, full of nuts and potato chips, while Baird was leading the pack, looking ahead just outside the forest.

"Well…Feral, the area looks clear," he motions as she moved up to the front to get a better look, wrapped in a sash and blanket. She peers out towards the open area, looking for tracks but saw nothing that would indicate a Locust outpost.

"Maybe they took refuge in the mines," Raven wondered while shivering.

"Yea, that's what I'm guessing."

"There was an outpost on the edge of the woods over there…" Raven pointed in the direction of a forest on the other side of the hill.

"…but they too may have taken refuge in the mines. There's no other means of shelter in this area."

Cole and Sven moved up as they tried to gather what they were saying.

"Are you sure the outpost is empty?" Cole asked impatiently, still bundled in a blanket.

"No, I'm not sure…which is why we may have to check it out," Raven answers as she turns to Baird.

Damon looked up at Cole as the two got the drift that they would have to go investigate it themselves, trekking through the bitter cold while leaving Sven and Raven behind, just in case they did find something. They were really starting to hate this part of the job, especially in the damn cold.

It has been nearly three days since they started this mission, one that should have only taken one day. All four were getting pretty weary of the Frost, which seems to be worsening as the long nights came and the short days go.

Although Baird seemed to be handling the cold better than the others, despite his constant whining about it, he too was getting pretty weary from it. He was mostly annoyed of the fact that they have had to procrastinate, throwing everything they we're supposed to be doing completely on the back burner just in order to stay alive. Baird was not one to give anyone credit for much but he had to admit to himself, indeed, if it weren't for Raven, they would have not lasted as long as they have. I'll need to write a note to remind me to ask Hoffman to give Rav a gift certificate for free coffee and donuts for a month, or something.

Cole groaned as he shook the snow from the blanket wrapped around his arms. His charisma was put on limbo for the moment and started to move forward without complaint, but you could tell he was still loathing it. Baird did the same as he turned to Sven and Raven,

"Stay here…we'll let ya know if somethin's up."

Raven didn't argue this time. She knew Baird and Cole didn't want to do this anymore than she wanted to stay behind, while Sven second the motion. The feelings among the four were becoming a lot more mutual this time around. Although, it was few in between that anyone agreed with Baird on anything, they were in total agreement on him with this one, and that was that the whole thing really sucked balls. Hey, somebody had to say it.

As Cole and Baird took out their Gnashers, Raven gently grabbed Baird by his arm before he stepped out,

"Listen…" she said in between shivers, "they may still be using the forest as a hide-out, so you and Gus will need to be extra careful when you go in."

"Yea, Feral, we've done this shit before…" Baird replies as he turns his focus between the forest and Raven.

He responds sarcastically"…but thank you for your concern…gee, you're in a much better mood than you were earlier."

Raven sighed, "Look…I'm sorry I was difficult before, ok…it's just…"

"Oh for God sake, don't start apologizing, Rav…this is what Gears do…and besides...you can make it up to me later." Baird smirked, while Raven's expression drooped into a sarcastic gloom, letting go of his arm and gesturing,

"You can go now," she snorted. Baird chuckled to himself as he joined Cole.

The two Gears moved out into the open while Raven and Sven slumped into the thicket, keeping their coverings fastened to avoid the cold seeping in. Raven finished up her "take-out" food, feeling a little better but still for the most part, fatigued while Sven slouched in his spot, moving his hands up and down his legs, trying to keep them warm. They were just as miserable as Cole and Baird were.

Raven drifted into her thoughts, trying not to dwell on the numbness on her bum. Although the bandages offered some warmth, sitting in the snow offered no comfort whatsoever, and yet, despite not being able to have any feeling in her frozen ass, she could still feel the stitched gash.

It was then that it suddenly dawned on her, why is Sven so quiet? It was not like Sven to just sit and be quiet. He must be really miserable.

Sven was already getting impatient as the day was almost done and they have yet to find a place to stay for the night before the cold worsened. Shivering next to Raven, Sven finally started to rant,

"Aw, man…how long are we going to have to do this…sit and wait, hike and wait…sit some more…"

Sven rambles on while Raven rolled her eyes, letting it go through one ear out the other. Ugh, I spoke too soon. She was hoping that the outpost would be deserted so she can finally take them to the place she intends for them to stay the night, but Sven's whining was quickly getting irritating. She finally had to cut in,

"Alright, enough Vin…you're really starting to sound like Baird."

Before Sven could put his foot in his mouth, he catches himself as he sits and ponders. Holy crap, I am starting to sound like the Corporal!

Sven slumps further as he sighs, grumbling from the bitter cold. Raven tries to sit as comfortably as she can, but the stitches in her glute was making it difficult for her to get comfortable. Both of them were fidgety, with Raven trying not to sit directly on her wound and Sven crossing his legs trying to keep his bladder from exploding.

"Damnit, Vin…why can't you hold still…wait a minute…you're doing the peepee dance, aren't you!"

Sven grumbles in misery, "Yes…I really need to take a piss…"

"Well then go out and piss…geez Vin, instead of sitting here squirming like a little girl, holding herself."

"But it's cold…do you know what it feels like for a guy to have to whip it out and piss in the cold?"

"Sigh…can't say that I have,"

"It's worse than sitting on a cold toilet seat…it sucks!"

Raven finally gets irritated as she orders him,

"Get up…go out, and take a piss, please…"

Sven groans, "…alright, alright…shit!"

He gets up, shivering more than ever and starts to walk back into the thicket, moving a ways before he finds a wide tree, big enough stand behind for some privacy, not that it was going to really matter since the cold shrunk his winky down into a little nubbin. As he unzips his pants, the cold air rushes around his male bits, making him shudder as he grabs his crotch with both hands, trying to shield his testicles from the bitter cold.

Sven starts to mumble to himself, "Ah, fuck! I hate this part, ugh…"

He manages to barely muster some strength to force himself to finally urinate. He moans while his bladder was finally released from the obnoxious pressure he had to endure for the past thirty minutes. Basking from the warm sensation coming from his urethra, he leans his head against the tree, feeling relieved, at last.

"Ah…that is soo much better…" he moans as he closes his eyes while still urinating until he pushes himself to drive it all out, down to the last drop. He did not want to have to do this again any time soon.

His body stops shivering as he finally relaxes, savoring the moment as much as he could before he has to go back and sit in the snow some more. Yuck! As his head was still leaning on the tree, his ears begin to catch a faint noise deep within the forest. Opening his eyes he looks around with his peripheral vision, not moving or twitching, trying to focus on the noise coming from the distance.

Maybe it's just Feral…wait, why would she come out here? Sven begins to analyze the possibilities in his head as the faint noise became more audible. Ok, now there is something definitely moving back there. He slowly moves his head off of the tree, trying to open up his ears to listen carefully, hoping whatever it was would either not notice his presence or just casually pass by. Wait, can Feral hear it?

His adrenaline pulses through his body, as his heart rate picked up the pace, pushing the hormone more potently. He slowly drops his hand to his pistol holster, quietly lifting the flap on the pistol stock while carefully sliding it out, not realizing the obvious as the cold air filtrates through his pants again. Ah, shit, I forgot to zip up my pants!

But before he could remedy the situation, something huge moved right out of the thicket as it casually moved almost right in front of Sven, causing him to scream,

"FUCK!"

Raven was startled by the scream, quickly trying to get up to go find Sven as she pulls out her pistols, shaking off the snow while attempting to run through the thicket at the same time. She dodges around the trees as she hears the shattering sound of gunfire and growling.

Oh God, what was that?

Raven comes to a complete stop peering into the woods as the noise dissipated in silence. Moving her head, she scans the area looking for Sven's trail, when suddenly Sven jumps out of nowhere, running as fast as he could muster while holding himself at the same time with one hand, and holding a pistol in the other, shouting,

"LOCUSTS!"

He nearly runs over Raven as he grazes right passed her, grabbing her arm and trying to pull her back the other direction.

"MOVE, HURRY!"

"What the hell, Vin…" Raven blurted out but Sven was inevitably pulling her with him as the two run through the forest, pummeling through the branches and pine needles along the way. As they run, the sound of gunshots and ricochet, screams past them as they both dive into the ground, stirring up the snow and forest foliage around them. They slam up against a tree as they both turn on opposite sides, looking for their pursuers.

"Oh shit, oh shit," Sven whispers to himself while Raven quietly, immediately shushes him.

"Shut up, Vin…be still!"

The footsteps could be heard as the growling became more familiar. Sven quickly darts his head back behind the tree, trying to stay calm.

"Fuck, they got some big guy with a machete' and three Grenadiers," Sven whispered, as they could hear the Butcher ahead of the pack, breathing heavily and slowly pushes through the thicket, having trouble moving through it.

Raven cautiously peers around the tree as she turns to look at the massive beast, chopping at the brush with his enormous cleaver. The Grenadiers came up from behind with shotguns in hand, waiting for the Butcher to cut them a more mobile trail.

"They must be hunting for food…" Raven whispers while Sven was trying to zip up his pants up with his cold hands

Raven knew they could not stay in their spot, the Butcher would sniff them out for sure.

"Ugh, we can't stay here, we have to move…Sven, do you have any nades," Raven asks.

"Just this smoker."

"That'll do...let me see it."

Sven quickly hands it over to Raven as she peers around the tree, watching the Mauler still hacking at the brush while the Grenadiers push it along. She carefully swings the nade right over the brush until it landed somewhere right behind the Mauler. The smoke grenade goes off, thwarting the Grenadiers a few steps back while the heavy, dense smoke lingers in the vicinity around them.

"Let's go, Vin, hurry," Raven pushes him as he finally moves away with Raven following behind. They could hear the massive Butcher coughing heavily as it blurts out with it's gurgling voice,

"Landwalker gone…"

Leaving the scene, Sven and Raven push through the thicket, making their way out into the open.

"Aw shit…where do we go now?" Sven griped while Raven looked around to see where they were, turning to the direction of the Locust outpost.

"This way Sven…we need to find the others!"

She grabs him by the arm as the two haul ass before the Locusts behind them catch up with them, out into the open. Not looking back, Raven picks up the pace through the thick snow as she lifts her knees up, almost galloping while Sven attempts to do the same, still clutching his crotch with one hand and carrying a pistol in the other.

Suddenly, a load roar echoes from behind.

"Oh, shit," Sven panics while running and zipping up his pants as the same time.

"Keep moving, Vinny…don't stop, we can make it to the woods ahead," Raven persists as she slows down to come up behind Sven and pushes him from behind.

"Landwalkers…" the beast bellows out as the massive Butcher steps out of the woods and peering through the dense snow with Sven and Raven barely in view. The three Grenadiers were not too far behind as they too entered into the open area and continue moving after them.

Raven manages to move Sven into the woods as they both brush up behind the trees. Sven pulls out his sniper rifle, shaking the snow off before he peers into the scope, trying to catch a glimpse of one of the Grenadiers moving through the falling snow.

"Can you get a visual, Vin," Raven asks.

"Barely…" he says, moving to the side to get a clearer shot.

"…just…a little closer,"

Sven fires a round, knocking the front Grenadier backwards as it clutches the jugular of its neck, bleeding profusely. It squirms on the ground, hacking and hemorrhaging as the other two take cover in the snow.

"Hoorah…" Sven beams as he puts in another round but ends up jamming it.

"Ah, shit…c'mon!"

Raven notices that his gun was too cold to load it quickly, watching Sven trying to pull out the old shell still jammed in the chamber. She pulls out her Gorgon pistol, loading up the magazines as she peers through the trees, but before she could even fire a round, one of the Grenadiers stands up and starts to fire his Gnasher in their direction.

"Damnit," Raven yells, pulling back into the woods as the stray shots fly by aimlessly. They were still too far away for the Grenadiers to shoot at them more efficiently but as the other one runs out of ammo, the other strategically covers fire with a fresh clip, making counter fire almost unfeasible.

"Son of a bitch…Sven, do have a round in yet?" Raven yells out, hoping that Sven would have it fixed by now, but considering the circumstances that may be asking much.

"Agh…I can't get the damn shell out, it's as if the chamber shrank…fucking cold weather," Sven complained.

Raven groans as she finally peers through the woods, hoping not to take a hit as she glances around the trees and fires her Gorgon pistol, alternating around the tree in between bursts.

She manages to hit one Grenadier, but not enough to knock it fatally. Growling in fury, the Grenadier proceeds to move forward while firing it's Gnasher shotgun, closing into their position.

"Oh God…get ready Vin…he's coming in…" Raven warns.

"Wait, what?" Sven panics, finally giving up on loading his rifle while he throws the shell on the ground and moves over across from Raven, waiting for the Grenadier to enter the woods. The Grenadier moves in quickly, wasting no time as he fires his last round right before he enters the thicket.

Moving in he turns around to find Raven pointing her Boltok at him and firing, but she accidentally stumbles over something on the ground as the shot just grazes the Grenadier over the shoulder while he flinched back, grabbing the tree next to him to keep from falling backwards. The Locust glares at her with his menacing eyes, snarling at her as his thick scaly face grimaces at the little human who took a shot at him.

"Puny female…I'll break your little neck," it sneered, moving closer while Raven manages to climb up into the broken tree trunks near a cluster of boulders, and moves up quickly without effort before the Locust could clutch her, evading him and slipping from his massive grasp. He was nearly three times her size and slightly bigger than the average Gear, not to mention he had a devastating right hook as he tries to melee through the branches after her. He attempts to climb, but he was too heavy to balance on the branches properly.

Without warning, Sven comes charging out, yelling as he swings his Longshot, plummeting it across the Grenadiers head, knocking him sideways.

"Yea, take that, bitch," Sven yells.

The Grenadier tries to pull himself backup as he shakes his head from the contact but he falls back down while Sven proceeds to pull his rifle up over his head and drops it quickly onto the Grenadiers head, finishing the job at last.

"Feral…" Sven calls out as Raven peers over the top boulder.

"Sven…move away now…the other one is coming,"

"Shit," Sven says as he moves back further into the woods and notices the other Grenadier just outside the forest when a gunshot rings out into the horizon. The Grenadier's skull craters as a part of his head shoots off from the side and the body topples over, sliding across the snow near the edge of the forest.

Sven carefully peers around, as he looks out, perplexed as to where the shot came from.

"Hey, Feral…did you do that?"

"No, Vin…I didn't," Raven answered in a dreary tone. Just then, a couple more shots echo out into the frosty air as the snow continues to fall, not the least fazed by the sound of gunfire from a distance.

Raven climbs back down and makes her way to Vin, trying not to make too much noise as she peers out from their position, but the snow made visibility impossible.

"Maybe it's Cole and Baird…maybe they heard us…" Sven says.

"No Vin…they don't have rifles…just…stay quiet for a moment."

"Uh…ok."

The two move carefully near the edge of the woods, looking out from where they just came. They could barely see the Butcher, whom was lying in the snow, motionless.

"Alright, I know we didn't kill him," Sven observes while Raven ponders, so who did if we didn't?

Just after Sven openly spoke his mind, Raven slowly stood up, putting her pistol back into the holster. She started to speak to Sven while peering out of the woods.

"Whatever you do Vinny…don't make any sudden moves, don't raise your weapon or arms…"

Raven continues to talk as if she was petrified, not making any gestures of any kind as if she was looking into the eyes of the devil himself, but it was the next sequence of her mellow words that made him nervous the most.

"…and do exactly as I tell you, if you want to survive this."

Chapter 20: The Harpies Edit

As sun was descending behind the mountains, the afterglow mingled in the woods as Cole and Baird ran around the brush, darting through the thicket, hurrying to find the commotion coming from the wilderness ahead of them.

They spent the past thirty minutes looking around of what apparently was once a Locust outpost, now long abandoned. Nothing was left of it, no ammunition’s, no troika's, just a map of sandbags, covered in heaps of snow, but the sound of gunshots from the distance directed their attention back to where they left Sven and Raven. Cole finally had to stop as he halts next to a tree on the outskirts of the forest, clutching a nearby boulder to hold himself up as he panted. Baird came up and joined him, also prostrating himself along a neighboring rock, looking out into the empty, white space, outside of the woods.

Cole couldn't stay silent for too long before he started to worry.

"Aw, man…I hope that wasn't coming from Vinny and Feral," Cole mumbled.

Baird turned to look at Gus and then turned his gaze back out into the open.

Still looking out, Baird responds to Cole,

"I don't see anything out there…we'll have to trek back to where we left them…to see if we can find a trail before the snow covers it."

Cole gives Baird a nod as he catches his breath and proceeds out of the woods, and into the open field of snow. Baird follows close behind, trudging along while the two Gears move as quickly as their legs could take them in knee-deep snow. Pushing through the terrain, they could feel the snow seeping into their fatigues again, adding more weight to their legs. It was bad enough that the cold air made it the more difficult to breathe, putting a slight damper on their endurance.

Coming to the middle of the open area, Cole comes to a halt as he looks out to the side of what appears to be several trails heading into another wooded area to the right of the one they left Sven and Feral at. Baird moves his way up as he too glares at the tracks.

"Son of bitch," Baird blurts out, moving ahead of Cole to get a better look. Cole didn't move as he just stood there, sulking, thinking the worst while Baird moves up to analyze the footprints.

Baird turns his head over his shoulder,

"They went this way…they were being followed, Gus," said Baird, not mincing words but choosing them carefully, knowing that Cole was worried out of his mind right now. Baird turned back towards the area Raven and Sven were retreating at. He continues to follow the trail as Cole moves behind him, keeping up at Baird's pace, moving down on the incline. Baird moves along until he sees something partially buried in the snow. Oh, God, no.

Baird picks up the pace while Cole slows down, letting Baird get ahead as he watches him slow down and stops to kneel, brushing the snow from what appears to be a corpse. He didn't want to know whom it was, laying out there, but at the same time he was hanging on the edge of sanity, observing Baird's mannerisms carefully, to see if it was ok to come over there or not.

Baird stood back up as he turned to Cole, motioning him to come over as a great weight lifted off of Cole's shoulder's, freeing him from that brief moment of anxiety that seemed like an eternity. Cole moved quickly to join Baird, glancing at the object in the snow, noticing the familiar scaly hide of a Grenadier, Locust. His heart started to sink, wondering if there were other Locusts following Raven and Sven. Cole takes a look at the corpse, noticing the jugular in its neck exposed.

"It was shot by a Longshot, no doubt," Baird informed him, looking at the gaping hole on the back of its neck. Baird held out the bullet he found near the corpse.

"Vinny must have shot him from the wooded area, but why so close?" Cole pondered in puzzlement while Baird continue,

"He probably couldn't see that well…I mean look at it now, I'm having a hard time making out the area from here, he probably had to wait. Shit, I'm surprised he managed to clock him from this range…I gotta hand it to the kid, he's getting pretty good with that thing."

Baird got up as he looks ahead, noticing another Grenadier corpse nearby.

"Hey Cole…there's another one, over there," Baird says out loud.

"Oh, yea…I see it," Cole reiterated as he follows Baird over to the other carcass. Baird kneels down as he looks carefully at the Grenadiers caved in skull, folded under by some high caliber weapon. A Longshot maybe, definitely some sort of rifle.

"Damn, that kid was on a roll," Cole beamed.

"Yea I'd give him credit for it if he actually did it, but he didn't."

"Say what?"

"The trajectory of the bullet didn't come from the woods ahead…it came from somewhere back there," said Baird, pointing behind them from the forest further up the hill.

"How can you tell?" asked Cole, watching Baird pick up the bone fragments from the snow.

"Look at the direction of the bone fragments and blood splatter…it's impact came from the back of it's head, not the front."

"Holy shit, Baird you're right."

Looking more closely, Cole could still see the blood not entirely veiled in the snow. Baird stood up while putting the bone fragments he collected, into his pocket while he steps around the body and proceeds towards the woods ahead, with Cole not far behind.

They followed a set of tracks into the forest, seeing that some of the brush was recently trailed through, with some of the limbs bent and broken, as if someone forced an entry. Baird carefully entered first into the thicket as he looked down, occasionally looking up to see if it was still clear. Cole followed close behind, moving along the side of Baird, noticing the tracks divided to each side.

As Baird looked down, he noticed a faint pool of blood not too far from his feet as he pulled away trying not to step on it before he realized something lukewarm was dripping on his head. He slowly looked up to the source of the liquid dropping on his head as his eyes widened in horror,

"Oh, fuck me," Baird swallows as he takes a few steps back, feeling the drops rolling on the side of his face.

Cole turned around to look up as he blurted out in revulsion,

"Ahhh, man…what the fuck is that?" Cole whined as his stomach started to turn, feeling the nausea creeping up.

Slowly moving backwards while still looking up, Baird reaches his hand on his face as he wipes the droplets from his face and looks into his hand. It was blood. Damon starts to cough as he bends down, trying to control his compulsions, spitting on the ground while groaning. Cole rushes over, dragging Baird back by his shoulders, trying to pull him up as the two look at the horrible scene above them.

It was a Locust Grenadier, hung from the tree upside down, with it's intestinal bowls tied around its neck while it's genitals were apparently removed and shoved into its mouth, along with its heart.

The chest of the beast was removed completely, leaving only an empty cavity while its skin from its torso was stretched from side to side, pulled apart with ropes tied from opposite limbs. Its arms were completely severed, cut cleanly either with a sharpened saw or some sort of sharp metal object, similar to a sword perhaps. In either case, whomever did this had experience and paid attention to detail. This was not the work of some drunken hoodlums, just out having fun, this was the work of either of a professional or a masochist.

As Baird composes himself, he carefully looks around at the disturbing scene, trying to make sense of the trails underneath the hanging cadaver, a but there was too much activity to make out what all that happened there. The ground was littered with footprints, blood splatter as well as pockets of blood glistening against a boulder nearby. Baird starts to rant out of aggravation,

"Ok…I can't make any sense of what happened here, what happened first…or last for that matter…and it's getting too fucking dark and too fucking cold for me to just sit here and figure all this out!"

"Uh Damon…" Cole said quietly while Baird ignores him and continues to rant,

"…furthermore, there is no way I can find Sven or Rav's trail…"

"Damon, hey…"

"…and I'm not…"

"BAIRD…LOOK UP, SHITHEAD," Cole finally yanks Baird's attention at the present as Baird finally looks up.

They were surrounded, with weapons pointed directly at them. Baird dropped his jaw while Cole just stood there frozen, not realizing until now that they were being watched almost the entire time they were there.

The dark figures in the woods glared at the two Gears, their eyes hidden from them as their attire blended into the snow, ridden forest around them. Their weapons, mostly shotguns and Hammerbursts, glistened in the partial light stemming from the setting sun that seeped through the trees.

Although the Gears have fought against overwhelming odds before, these were not Indies, Locusts, or Stranded. With just the slightest slip of a finger, Cole and Baird may as well serve their testicles on a silver platter, knowing full well that these people can and will do it without second guessing. They've done it before, and they can do it again.

Though Cole wanted to react, he looked to Baird for guidance as the two exchanged glances, trying not to make any sudden movements, and then glared back at their predicament.

The armor and weaponry of their captors was not all too dissimilar to the Locusts, but the figures' shape and demeanor was all too familiar. They are the Feral.

Chapter 21: Marching Into Darkness Edit

Tamarbanner


I was born amidst the purple waterfalls.

I was weak, yet not unblessed.

Dead to the world. Alive for the journey.

One night I dreamt a white rose withering,

A newborn drowning a lifetime loneliness.

I dreamt all my future. Relived my past.

And witnessed the beauty of the beast"


Nightfall

Bless The Child


Lights from the night sky lit up a pathway between two dense forests, winding as if the trail was once, intentionally bulldozed to lead to some sort of settlement nearby. The moon hung high and bright, as it's light guided the band of Feral scouts, pacing along comfortably in the bitter cold.

They escort the two Gears into what was once some small mission settlement, made up of only two log buildings and a chapel of sorts, made of rocks, wood, and clay. The Feral clan apparently found refuge here for the time being as campfires glistened around tents made of animal hide. The sounds of singers, Raven referred to as "Sirens," could be heard subtly around the campsite, their melodies in harmony from one end of the campsite to another. The song was soothing, and surprisingly angelic as the soprano, in time with the contralto, gave the Gears chills with their strenuous chords. Such a beautiful thing has long since been missing for a long time to the ears of some war-hardened men, to hear the velvet, exotic voices of women, while at the same time, the soothing sounds was like a poison, incapacitating those who are seduced by it. There is more to these women than meets the eye.

Baird and Cole followed them willingly, in hopes that the Feral may have information on the whereabouts of their missing comrades. If the Feral wanted to kill them, they would have done it already, instead of going through the effort of escorting them back to their camp. If anything, Baird and Cole hoped that they would at least know where Raven was.

As the scouts lead the two Gears into the camp, the women became alert as some have moved the children inside the buildings while the clan's "praetorians" continued to stand guard from multiple, strategic sites around the camp.

Baird quickly noticed the "cast structure," of the clan, as he observed the differences between what he believed to be the "soldiers" and the "breeders." The scouts themselves wore dressings similar to Raven's, Locust materials made of thick hides while wearing cloaks and sashes around their heads to hide their faces, and probably to protect them from the cold, granting them the ability to adapt and maneuver in the climate.

The mood that hung in the atmosphere varied, as Baird looked to observe the women, but many of them quickly slipped away into their tents as if they could feel his eyes scanning them, while a few others simply gazed at the two men out of pure curiosity, finding something about them that was admirable, taking notice of their husky build, which was in contrast to straggly, local Stranded. Others however, were more ominous in their ogling while some were staring down on Cole and Baird as if they were going to burn a hole in their chassis with their glare. Then, there was a few who would glance when their eyes met with the men, and then shyly turned away in a flirtatious manner. If Baird had to summarize it all, the Feral were very conscientious about one thing or another, and they probably had to be in order to survive in the wilderness.

The scouting party led Baird and Cole into the steeple, lit up with lamps and countless, staged candles, illuminating the entrance and inside the chapel sanctuary with the fire light afterglow.

The place was warm, a nice change from being out in the cold for most of the day, especially since it gets worse as the sun starts to set. Both Cole and Baird started to thaw, noticing the fires in several fireplaces around them were burning, as they could smell the aroma of pine and peppermint.

Baird could feel the ogling eyes rolling on him from the women inside, some gazing in what appears to be interest while others would glance and then quickly turned their heads as if they did something they were not supposed to do. Baird continued to follow the scouts until he could sense the glance of a familiar gaze. Cole felt the same as the two looked over up near the pulpit to see Raven alive and well, but somewhat apprehensive to the atmosphere around them. Sven, however was nowhere to be found. Cole's eyes widen as he quickly turns his glare to Baird. Baird carefully acknowledged Cole with a nod while keeping his eye's fixed on Raven. She was looking at him as well, the two exchanging looks as if they were silently communicating to each other until Raven's eyes moved to her left, to whom what would appear to be the leader, or "matriarch" of the clan.

Holy shit…I don't think anyone has seen this before, and lived to tell about it. As Raven glanced back and forth between Baird and the clan leader, he could tell that she was nervous around the intimidating woman. Baird turned his gaze to the "matriarch" while she glared at him for a moment and then turned her glare back to Raven, as if the two were carrying some hypnotic jousting.

The woman had a bizarre beauty to her, one that commanded anyone's attention to her as she walked in elegance, with her dark wardrobe contoured to her long figure. Her dark hair was wrapped tight into braids as they themselves were woven into a headdress made of some organic material. Her dark eyes pierced through her light olive skin, fresh and rosy from the cold while smooth and hard, like porcelain. Turning her gaze back to the Gears, her swollen, dark lips would part as if she was testing the air for a scent.

Her light armor was a bit more elaborate than Raven's and just as dark, as the shoulder pieces sat on layered plates made of some pieces similar to the Locusts. The layered plates extended down around her chest and reformed down to her waist, exposing her ground shattering boobage, bolted up into a nice, perky form of round cleavage so arrogantly flaunted and ridiculously cliché, Cole had to pinch himself twice just to make sure he wasn't daydreaming. Pieces of cloth, draped from her waist into some sort of "battle" skirt, similar to what the Theron Locusts used. If the Feral from Fort Block was intimidating by appearance, the "matriarch" was even more so.

"You…" the "matriarch spoke in a mellow, mature tone, not showing the slightest emotion in her cold, pale face, "…you are the remnants from the COG descent a few days ago."

Baird and Cole stood there, dumbstruck. How does she know our language?

The two glances at each other for a moment and then Baird gave Cole the subliminal hint that he would be the one to speak.

"Yea…we are...so what's it to you?"

Raven's face cringed from Baird's comment.

Shit, Baird, your going to get us killed!

The matriarch's gaze turns back towards Raven. Raven looked up at the menacing woman as Raven's expression turned bleak, shrugging her shoulders and looking away as if she just wanted to put a plastic bag over her head.

Just shoot me now.

The woman speaks to Raven in a strange dialect, pushing vowel sounds with a hiss. Raven returns her eyes to the "matriarch" and collectively speaks back with the same dialect.

Baird turns his attention to their conversation, trying to make out the language as he could hear some of the sounds repeat themselves. The matriarch's tone in her voice was stern, but not angry. After she finished her talk with Raven, she turned to the Gears as she proceeded to speak to them again, in Tyran,

"Your guide has informed me that you are looking for a Stranded militia…"

"A rumored, Stranded militia…" Baird said, choosing his words carefully, trying not to reveal too much information about their directive.

"I see…are you aware that it was, this militia, that ambushed and killed some of your fellow Gears?" the woman retorted.

Baird could see from his peripheral view that Cole was getting tense. The thought of the Stranded killing Gamma was infuriating to Cole. Baird continued,

"We have reason to believe that the Stranded may be involved..."

"...then you may not know that this same militia, has taken hostages."

"Hostages?" Baird's eyes widened at the news while Cole turns his stare towards Baird, hoping he would say something, but Baird was just speechless.

Hostages?

Cole just couldn't wait anymore.

"Where did they take them?" Cole blurts out, stammering in his place as if he was a man on a mission. "…where are they?"

The atmosphere took a turn for the worst as the Gears could feel the spaces between them shrinking. The "praetorians" moved out from their crevices and started to close on the two men. Raven quickly jumped off of the pulpit area and darts over to where Cole was standing.

Baird suddenly noticed that more praetorians began to emerge from the corners of the room and was closing in on their position. But Raven got to Cole first as she quickly wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her head against his massive chest plate. Cole was perplexed at Raven's demeanor but stayed his ground, no longer commencing to move as he watches their surroundings cautiously, keeping his hand just a few inches from the Snub pistol in his left holster..

The praetorians halted in their tracks, holding their stance as they keep their weapons at bay, trying to make sense of the situation Raven just put herself into. The tension in the air was larger than the room, almost suffocating as everyone stood in their place, baffled as to what to do next.

Baird didn't have to analyze to understand that Raven took a great risk, putting herself in between them and the Feral. The only question that now fiddled in the back of his head was why. Why would she waste her life to save two chauvinistic Gears?

Cole didn't dare move, for Raven's sake, but that seemed to be the only thread that was keeping him subdued from going into a rampage. Raven stayed close as she leaned her head on his arm, turning her gaze to the matriarch.

Suddenly, the matriarch started to laugh haughtily, amused by the predicament that stood out in front of her. As she laughed, Baird noticed that the praetorians were backing down, retreating from whence they came, and that was almost out of nowhere. Their stealth skills are pretty impressive for a bunch of sadistic bitches, Baird had to admit.

Cole slowly loosened his brace around Raven as she turned and looked up at the matriarch, whom was composing herself from her laughter. The woman then spoke directly to Raven in the Feral language, almost jeering at the predicament of Raven's interference. The matriarch's voice was almost mocking, speaking in some repetitive prefixes, moving the dialect as her tongue hissed.

Raven stood there with her brow, hanging heavy over her eyes. Baird could tell she was not the least bit amused, but she didn't say anything. She didn't even make any gestures that would suggest otherwise, as if she was petrified to do so.

After the matriarch finished her musing, she turned her eyes on Baird and gave him a sinister smile.

"I have not found such loyalty to the COG in so long…I would have never believed it coming from the very least of us."

Baird could tell that Raven's body began to stiffen at the matriarch's words. Her fists started to clench as she held her tongue back, trying to keep whatever piece was stirring in her mind to herself, while the matriarch continued to lecture,

"I must admit, if she finds your favor, then surely your presence here is not threatening, however…" she speaks as she turns her gaze to Cole.

"…there is a price…for your, intrusion on our territory."

Baird's expression turned into puzzlement as he slowly turns his eyes to Raven,

"Ok…what did she just mean about "price?" Baird asked in annoyance while Cole mumbled quietly,

"…and what the fuck does she mean, their territory?" he said, almost grinding his teeth from the fury in his breath.

With her eyes, still fixed on the matriarch, Raven responds,

"The Feral demand a seed…"

"A seed…now what the fuck is that suppose to…wait…" Baird catches himself in mid thought as his expression turned sour,

"…oh, no, is…is she serious?" he starts to sulk as Raven replies,

"Yes, Baird…she is."

Intermission III Edit

The fluorescent bulbs dimmed on and off between surges as the lights flickered in the makeshift, office, containing the motherboard of the COG terminal that was connected to the building next door. Although the buildings that inhabited Fort Block were not the best in condition, they surprisingly held up to the bitter cold that laid the rest of Port Farrall to waste.

Colonel Hoffman sat in a chair, glaring at a computer screen for the past hour, searching through Jacinto's archive of COG personnel. He refreshes the search for "McNight," hoping to pull up the database listing all known active and inactive Gears within the past thirty years, hoping the information wasn't lost during Jacinto's fall into the ocean's abyss.

He takes off his hat to rub his weary head, watching the list of names just pour onto the screen. Damnit to hell…there's over four hundred possibilities, Hoffman groans to himself, watching the list lengthen every few seconds. Apparently, the database was including government employees along with the enlistments. Jacinto's records have been on the fritz since the desolation. I guess I should be lucky that this thing still has access to this information.

A knocking on the door steers Hoffman away from the screen as he peers over the arrangement of consoles, stacked side by side near the room entrance.

"Come in," Hoffman yells out.

Sergeant Bernie Mataki peers her head around the door frame, giving the Colonel an odd look.

"I would have never thought to find you decomposing behind some deskjob," Bernie joked while Hoffman chuckled to himself. She walked in, making her way to the computer console, standing behind Hoffman while observing his latest updates.

"Now don't you be going around, telling the staff that I'm contemplating a career change, Mataki," Hoffman grumbled, while Bernie was looking over his shoulder, looking to the computer screen.

"Of course not, Vic…" she responded as she looked at the list of known "McNights" in the human resources database.

"McNight?" she observed, perplexed.

"Yea…does a Jonathan, W. McNight ring any bells for you?" Hoffman asked.

"I vaguely remember several Jonathan's…but it's been over...shit...twenty years?" she recalls.

"What about Captain, Jonathan McNight?"

"Captain…wait…was he the one who was awarded several embry stars within a five year period?" Bernie recollected.

"That's the one."

"He also had a pretty wife…Marion was it…but they couldn't have any children."

"Yep…Marion was a charming woman, but they did have one kid…"

"…I thought they adopted?"

"That's what I'm trying to confirm, right here," said Hoffman, pointing to the computer screen, "…and there's at least seventy-three possible "Jonathan McNights" in this database that I am going to have to rummage through to find the one I'm looking for."

Hoffman leaned his head on his hand, perched on the desk, scratching his scalp that was dry from the cold. Many of the soldiers have been dealing with skin issues since the beginning of the Frost.

"So what bloody hell brought this on, Vic?" Bernie cuts to the chase as she usually does when she wants to forego the technicalities.

Hoffman sighs, "Well…" he stops mid sentence when a personnel file of interest comes up on screen, "…wait…hold that thought, Sergeant."

He moves closer to the screen to read the file. It was missing child report from the Dept of Missing Persons, listing Jonathan and Marion McNight as the parents of the person of interest, but a COG officer in charge of reporting adolescent girls into some other department, filed the report.

"Son of a bitch…" Hoffman muttered to himself, "...they did have a little girl after all…and she was reported missing."

"So why didn't the parent's report it…why did a COG officer go through the hoopla to make an inquiry on some adolescent girl?" Bernie asked with a hint of disgust under her breath.

Hoffman knew why, and it was something he really didn't want to bring up, especially with Sergeant Mataki. The Fortification Act required "of age" girls to report to a probation officer to be "placed" in camps for potential breeding. It was a sensitive subject that people didn't want to acknowledge. In fact, most of what happened was swept under the rug and was nearly forgotten until recently.

"She didn't just go missing, did she…" Bernie hissed glancing at the missing person's profile, "…the kid ran away."

"That's, probably what really happened," Hoffman said regrettably.

He scrolled down the report with the mouse, coming across the Tyran Citizenship documentation.

"Now I remember…" Hoffman recalled, "…Captain McNight was on a waiting list from an adoption agency, when the COG came across an abandoned baby girl…he and Marion volunteered to take the infant under his immediate care while going through the process of adopting the child. It was finalized the following year."

"What was her name?"

"They named her, Ellie…no wait, it was Eloise McKnight…"

Hoffman typed in Eloise McKnight to pull up the profile. The database brought up several records concerning the link.

Bernie chuckled as the list of records came up under a photo of a caucasian, black haired girl with braided pig tails, roughly eight years of age showing off her bottle rockets in a school science fair,

"Well idn't that something…this kid has a juvie record," Bernie noticed under the "cute" photo.

"Class C misdemeanors only…apparently she intentionally "hacked" into the school grading system just to prove that their system was corruptible…and then she made pipe bombs for a physics class, violating school policy on bringing "weapons" and explosives to the school grounds."

Bernie laughed, "She would have made a damned, fine Gear…so why now the sudden interest in this kid?"

"She's not a kid anymore, Mataki…I think she's a Feral."

"Your bloody, shittin me," the Sergeant responded in shock.

"I wish I was, Berns…I have reason to believe she ran away to join the Feral…and I also believe that she's one of the scouts whom was deployed out to locate the insurgencies a few days ago…"

"Where is she now?"

"Missing…with her squad, Sigma One."

"Shit, Victor…you lost her again?"

"We're not sure…Sigma was able to make contact with us from Hurl Dam, and hasn't made contact since…as of now, both McNight and Sigma One is MIA."

Bernie hesitated to ask, knowing the squad was reformed with its former members. Concerned for her comrades in arms, she couldn't help but to ask anyway,

"Who's among the missing?"

"Corporal Damon Baird, Private Augustus Cole, and Private Sven Dunrich…Sergeant Barker Milane is the only one that we know of that is KIA. I had Lieutenant Stroud inform the Corporal to take charge, and return when their objective was complete."

"…and what was their last known objective?"

"To investigate and bring back intel about a possible Stranded settlement somewhere in the mountains…and they've been silent since. Nobody has a clue where they are…"

"And what of the search parties?"

"They located the chopper, but their trail is long gone…the snowstorm took care of that. We're not sure if they even survived the snowstorm, so I had little option but to list them MIA, along with six other squads."

Colonel Hoffman slammed his hand on the desk,

"Shit, Sergeant, we lost six damn squads in one day…this whole place is has been nothing more than a icy tomb," the Colonel barked in aggravation.

"I wouldn't count them out yet, sir…knowing Cole and Blondie, they may pull through this yet, you'll see…and maybe they'll bring back your missing little girl."

The Colonel just chuckled, "Maybe…"

He knew that the two Gears had a history of surviving much bigger odds than this, but the question that still remained was how generous "lady luck" is willing to be.

Chapter 22: The Covenant’s Sharp Edge Edit

Vows are spoken

To be broken

Feelings are intense

Words are trivial


Pleasures remain

So does the pain

Words are meaningless

And forgettable


All I ever wanted

All I ever needed

Is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm


Depeche Mode
Enjoy the Silence [5]


The sanctuary basement was not the coziest place in the building, but it wasn't the worst either. The temperature in the air was mild, in comparison to the below, freezing temperatures outside the building, while trapping in the humidity..

Cobwebs hung from the ceiling as a thick layer of dust on the rice bags, stacked along the walls of the basement, was like chalky paste, mixed with the humidity in the air.

Baird sat on top of a stack of bags set along the wall with his feet propped up on another stack, reclining against a stud on the exposed, inner wall. He sat with his arms crossed, glaring at Raven whom was sitting on the floor, adjacent to him, with her back leaning up against an old mahogany wardrobe. Cole sat next to her on the floor, reclined on another stack of rice bags, while his legs were stretched out in front of him with his hands resting behind his head.

The basement was a decent size, divided into several chambers that contained food, medical supplies, and wine. Wheat and flour were set neatly on wooden shelves while bales of hay were stacked no more than two at a time against the walls. The mission must have been a central location for storage, rationing, and distribution for the local communities during the harsh frost when such items became scarce.

The voices of the neighboring Feral in the other rooms could be heard from the open doorway, as voices carried into Sigma's room. They could hear water running nearby as the commotion of the Feral moving about became more audible.

But the mood within the immediate vicinity was growing coarse as the three sat in agitation, not really understanding as to what the Feral intended to do with them while still sobering from the enlightened news of their fellow squads, plight. Ever since their little confrontation from earlier on and then escorted into the belly of the cathedral, the three were hanging on a thin thread.

Raven for the most part was mingling in her thoughts, not exactly sure where this was going to go, but she hesitated to tell Cole and Baird to avoid making things even potentially more complicated than it already was. Cole sat in silence, huffing with his arms crossed, impatiently waiting for someone to get it out and say something. Baird sighed as he removed his goggles from his forehead and started rubbing his temples. Patience was testing him and Raven knew it.

Since the atmosphere changed little within the past fifteen minutes, Baird finally stopped rubbing his temples and turned his attention to Raven,

"Ok, Feral…I'm a little behind here on what is really going on, so if you would…since we're just sitting here on our fucking asses, doing nothing, would you care to please enlighten me…" Baird gripes as he continues to rant,

"…first of all, where in the hell is Vinny…second, why are we down here, and further more, how the fuck do these bitches know what is going on with the other squads, and the Stranded?"

Raven begins to respond, wearily, "Sigh…Baird,"

"…and WHY have you not told us that the Feral was occupying this territory?" Baird's pale face was becoming red with fury while Cole looked up and noticed Baird was close to blowing a fuse as he started to sit up, trying to cut into Baird's ranting before he blows a nut.

"C'mon, Damon..."

"…No, Cole…these are questions we need answers to!"

With Baird continuing to bitch, Raven rolls her eyes as her patience with Baird is soon wearing thin. She cuts in,

"I didn't know about this clan settling here, Damon," she barked as she gets up, "…and I never knew that they had information concerning the Stranded…so get off my case!"

Trying to avoid getting into an argument, Raven proceeds to leave the room, before Baird drags her further into the conversation.

"Oh…no, no, no, NO," Baird growled as he too quickly gets up suddenly grabs Raven by the arm before she exits the room, restraining her from leaving, "...I am not going to let you try to weasel your way out of this one!"

Raven sneered back, "You let go of me now, Damon!"

Putting her hands together, she quickly twists her body, consequently swinging her bicep out of Baird's grasp, but the gesture only pissed him off even more as he grabbed her again, only this time, he tightens his grip as it starts to cause discomfort.

"You're NOT leaving without an explanation, DO YOU HEAR ME?"

"Damon, you're hurting her damnit," Cole protested as he could see Raven grimacing from his hold.

The adrenaline begins to surge in Raven's body, quickly oxidizing her blood as her muscles start to heat up. She reacts quickly, and whirls around, snapping her leg with a diagonal kick, plowing her boot into the inside of Baird's thigh.

"FUCK," Damon bellowed as a sharp pain pulsed up and down his leg, subsequently losening his grip on her arm and leans against the wayside, clutching his leg while Raven backs up into a "fighting" stance. Baird manages to compose his equilibrium as he clenches his fists so tight, the forearms start to bulge slightly from the tension. His brain switches to battle mode, rewiring the pain from his leg as he moves forward, his jaw locked and his shoulders widened.

Cole was the first to see the signs as he quickly gets up and he puts himself between the two knuckleheads, facing Baird with his hands up, restraining him. This was certainly not the first time Cole had to step in front of Baird to keep him out of a fight, and although Cole was the stronger of the two, he knew Baird can summon quite a spat of strength when his temper flared.

Raven was more direct in combat and had the speed to use it effectively, but Cole knew she didn't have near the brawn that Baird had, and he could easily overwhelm her with his brute force if he wanted to.

"Get the fuck out of my way, Gus!" Baird growled, keeping his focus on the little bitch.

"As soon as you calm your hot-headed ass down," Cole warned him as Baird and Raven glared at each other. Cole turns over his shoulder as he blurts out at her, "…and don't think I'm letting you off the hook, Feral…Baird's right, you need to get straight with us," Cole demanded.

"Like hell I do," Raven yelled, with her menacing eyes glaring at Baird, itching for a rematch, "...I don't have to do shit for any of you…I could have dumped your sorry asses more times than I could keep count! You don't have any idea how much ass I had to kiss, just to make sure this clan didn't obliterate you, because believe me, they would have done it in a heartbeat…I could have just let them rip you to shreds, saving me alot of trouble!"

"So why haven't you Feral…let's hear it!" Baird roared, pushing up against Cole.

Her lips quivered in fury as she stared at him, but something compelled her to hold her tongue. Though the truth was blatant in her mind, she didn't have the valor to say it. She couldn't tell him, she didn't want to tell him. Her eyes began to tear up as her rational thoughts began to slip to the wayside. Baird noticed that she was close to crying, so he continued to instigate it as he pushes her to the edge even more.

"Yea, you go ahead…cry…do it, you little crybaby" Baird sneered with a spiteful tone.

Raven suddenly leaped at him while Cole quickly turns around to face her, wrapping his arm around her and holding her back, before she could take a swing at Baird. Shit, for a little wench, she's got some vigor, Cole pondered, struggling to keep her back. The tears ran down her face as she pushes against Cole's massive bicep, trying any which way she could to get to Baird so she could tear into him, but Cole's brace was too strong. Baird continued to taunt while Cole held her back,

"…and I was beginning to think you were tough as nails, but I guess your just a softy like every other whiny bitch…so yea, cry for me!"

Raven shrieked like a wild animal, cussing at him in the Feral tongue as the commotion could be heard into the other rooms. The other Feral began to turn their attention to the spat as they all peered around the corners and into the hallway. Baird and Cole had no idea what Raven was saying, but the other Feral could hear the profanities clearly as their eyes widened in shock.

"Feral, baby, you need to calm down, shit," Cole begged her, "…stop, Feral…damnit, stop, RAVEN,"

Cole's bellowing voice startled her as she comes to a halt. Still trembling from the adrenaline rush, she starts to shut down as her fury turns into dejection.

Cole turned his head as he glares at Baird, scolding him, "Are you finished?"

With his brow still heavy over his pale eyes, Baird starts to back away. The three turn their eyes towards the entrance of the room as they could see the Feral standing in silence, watching the drama unwind as if they we're wrapping up a fight in a highschool hallway.

Raven suddenly turned to bark at Damon,

"You want to know what happened to the other squads, you arrogant prick? They were ambushed and killed by a Stranded militia…they took prisoners, tortured them to get info, and then left them out naked to freeze…that's what is happening to them…they sacrificed themselves to save the other squads, including ours!"

Cole began to let her go as he looked at her in disbelief, but her concentration was on Baird,

"The Feral scouts saw them…the same one's that took out Gamma Four, they were the one's who are attacking the outposts, not the Locusts, not the Feral!"

Baird stood up straight, letting the information flow into his head, along with the rage in Raven's voice, as her lips quivered in fury.

"So where's Vinny," Baird snides.

"He's the collateral, Baird," Raven scoffed.

"And what the fuck does that mean?"

"He's the one providing what we need to get out of this, dumbass! I had to make a bargain to satisfy the retribution for invading their territory...in exchange to relocate YOU safely back here!"

Damon's façade drooped in disbelief,

"So he's the one getting fucking laid?"

"Yes, Damon, he's the reason why you're sorry ass is still alive!"

Baird throws his arms in the air,

"Well that's just fucking incredible," he spats out, turning around in irritation.

Cole jumps in on the bandwagon,

"You mean he's been getting some tail why we've just been sitting here with our dicks hanging in between our legs…man, that ain't right!"

"Idn't that the truth," Baird agreed.

"It was their choice, not mine!"

"You could've at least given them a good word about us,"

Raven scoffed as she gave Baird the most pitiful look that she could muster, not even trying find the words to justify Baird's complaint. She shakes her head as she marches out of the room, miffed, wiping the tears form her face while the other Feral that were watching the drama from the hallway moved out of her way.

After somewhat simmering down, Baird sits back in his seat, growling to himself and cringing from the pain in his thigh as he props one leg up and starts to massage it. Shit, that's going to leave a mark for sure.

Cole throws his arms up and plops back down on his seat, astonished with Baird's "conflict management" skills.

"Fuck, she kicked me hard…and right on the nerve, too!" Baird grumbled as he starts to loosen his utility belt, carefully dropping his pants, just enough to get a better look at his thigh. Sure enough, there was a large, nasty bruise on the sensitive part of his thigh as he tried to massage it to get the blood circulating, grimacing from the pain. Although he was still fuming at her, he decided to somewhat let it go, recalling that she did save them from becoming fubar, earlier, but he was still puzzled as to why she put herself at risk like that, there's got to be something she's not telling us.

Cole watched him, still slumping in his seat as he gets bored and starts to ramble,

"Man…I don't know how the fuck you ever expect to "get some" if you keep pissing girls off."

Baird looked up as he gives Cole a menacing glare and then turns back to massaging his thigh.

Raven walked in to what appeared to be a bathing room as she plops down on one of the hay bales and puts her head in between her legs. Taking deep breaths and then exhaling slowly, Raven starts to unwind from her little spat with Baird while succumbing to her exhaustion. The other Feral in the room tend to their business, filling a galvanized water trough with hot water and mixed herbs, preparing it for hand bathing. Feral looks up as she speaks in the Feral tongue,

"Who is that for?"

One of the other Feral looks up and gives Raven a grin and looks back down as she responds,

"This is for your friends…they are dirty."

The others in the room start to snicker as they prepare towels and soap ointments for different aromatherapies that are often used by them to help relieve tension and encourage healing.

"They're not my friends," Raven growled as she tries to correct them.

One of them responds back,

"Of course they are your friends…do not see us as fools."

The girls start to giggle at Raven's expense. She quickly remembered why she never liked gossiping with "breeders." Raven was never very good at lying, much less hiding secrets because her demeanor always gave it away. Breeders were manipulative, and they were very good at it. They had to be, in order to please a man's most inner desires by his attitude or behavior, without seeming intrusive. Raven never did learn how to do it, nor did she attempt to make the effort, to learn.

"But come…" one of the breeders tries to sway her, "… you are mentally exhausted, you must calm yourself down into the therapy room,"

"I don't need therapy," Raven started to argue as the bathing breeder cuts her off.

"This was not a suggestion, sister of the valley…this was a command by Tamar."

Raven groaned, knowing that the "matriarch," known only as Tamar, was very insistent of certain things and that it would be terribly unwise to disobey her, especially with Sigma squad at stake. She can only hope that the Gears will keep their "hands," or other parts, to themselves, or this evening will end in one, big tragedy.

Raven slowly got up and grudgingly started her way to the "therapy" room as she could hear them whispering among themselves. She then heard one of them blurt out as she leaves,

"Do not worry, black bird, we will not frolic with them too much."

They started to laugh as Raven rolled her eyes, dragging her feet almost the entire way to the other room. She could hear some of the other Feral laughing and teasing down the hallway, apparently trying to coerce Cole and Baird to follow them. Of course she expected Cole to be easily persuaded, but Baird on the other hand was a bit more demanding.

Cole didn't understand a single thing they were saying, but he followed them anyway as a little petite, caucasian blonde was gently pulling him by his hand while an oriental one with gray eyes was pushing him from behind.

"Hold on, baby…I'm comin…" Cole assured them as they were leading him into the bathing room. Raven could tell he was getting giddy as the two girls giggled and teased, gesturing to him to take off his armor and attire.

"…oh you ladies wanna see the Train in the flesh, huh," Cole said in amusement.

She could also hear Baird, whom was apparently following Cole,

"Cole…hey wait, don't leave me alone with these wenches," he complained as a brunette Feral shoved Baird into the bathing room while he was still clutching his pants by his utility belt to keep them from falling down.

"Hey, hey…handsies off the merchandise…will you…shit," Baird protested. The commotion was becoming a little more than Raven could tolerate as she casually gets up and walks over to the room, only to find Cole nearly stripped down to his undies and Baird trying to shoo off the array of little hands trying to undress him,

"…hey, that tickles, wait…no, no, don't touch me there, damnit…" Baird yells out, …"Feral, I could use a little help here!"

Raven stands near the doorway with her arms crossed in defiance,

"Oh, and what am I suppose to say?" she scolds.

"Tell them to get their little hooks off of me…and tell them to stop laughin!"

Cole starts to mock at Baird's expense,

"Awww…what's the matter Baird…you afraid they're going to laugh at your teeny weenie?"

"Screw you, man!"

Raven speaks out in the Feral tongue,

"Let them be…they don't need any more assistance."

The girls stopped what they were doing as they looked at her with a perplexed expression.

"Go on…come back later when they are washed," Raven orders. Cole and Baird turn their gaze to Raven as they watch her speak in a dialect they have otherwise never heard her speak before. Baird especially tunes in as she continues to converse with the others.

After Raven made her instructions clear, the girls quickly moved out of the room as Baird lets out a sigh of relief from the "fondling."

"Oh thank God…"

"Aww…you ruined it Feral, I was just warmin up," Cole complained as he quickly grabbed a towel to wrap around his waist.

"Chill out, guys…they're just trying to get you ready for a washing," Raven was trying to explain.

"Why…do we stink that bad?" Baird whined.

"Well, now that you mention it…yea, you stink," Raven replied, adding on the list of insults she intended to stab at Baird as much as she can for the rest of the evening. Giving her scowl in return, Baird started to pull off his fatigues while Cole was testing the water in the tub nearby.

"Shit, that's hot…how are supposed to, uh…" Cole tries to be discreet while Raven cuts him off in mid sentence,

"You take the wash towel there, soak it in the tub and just wipe yourself down with it," she explains.

"Oh, so this isn't really a bath, just a wash down,"

"Yea...you could say that Cole."

Baird continues to disrobe, down to his underwear as he moves his tags to the front of his bare torso. Raven moves over to the tub and proceeds to soak the towel and then lightly rings it out.

Baird watches her prepare the wash towel while he starts to scratch himself in places that normally don't see the light of day, and then watches her stir the water with a wooden rod.

"Ok, now what the hell are you doing, Feral?" he scoffs. Without missing a beat, Raven responds while holding up the rod,

"Why don't you bend over and I'll show ya."

Cole starts to chuckle,

"Oooo, buuurn, hehe," Cole teases while Baird shoots Raven a dirty look, continuing to scratch his male bits under his underwear.

"Ooo…that sounds kinda kinky," Baird frolics with Raven's gesture, trying to get a rise out of her, "…oh, wait, are you going to give my ass a rub down?"

"What the hell for? Didn't your mother ever teach how wash your own ass?" Raven blurted back.

"Nah, that's a woman's job…to do all the cleaning," Baird smirks while Raven slowly turns around to peer at him after his unflattering comment,

"Well, then you definitely could use a rod shoved up your ass…maybe then, you won't be such an asshole all the time!"

Cole spills out in laughter, hanging onto the side of the galvanized tub while Baird just stood there, curling his lip.

"Haha…she's getting pretty good at this," Cole continues to jester. Between the fight they had earlier till now, Baird had finally had enough of Raven's flak and decides to up the ante. As he shoots her a grin while reaching the waistband around his underwear with both hands, he slips it completely off, right in front of Cole and Raven and kicking it to the wayside, not the least bit embarrassed about exposing his junk. Hell, she'll eventually see this anyway when the plumber gives her the one eye salute.

Just as Raven gets an unintended eyeful of Baird's male bits, she gets miffed at his lack of modesty as she takes the damp towel and throws it at his groin. He catches it before it slaps him in his genitals, and returns her a smirk.

"Don't you want to get a look at the big bruise you put on my leg…" he sneered as he props his leg up on a chair for her to see. Raven just gives him a huff as he continued,

"…What… you wanna take another swing at me, well here's your chance," he scoffed, "...I thought you wanted some of this…"

"When pigs fly, Damon," she barked back as she turned around, making her way to the exit, pulling the curtain down in front of the door.

"Ah, c'mon Feral…you know I'm kidding," Baird muses as he takes a whiff of the damp towel, and starts to gripe, "…hey, why in the hell does this smell like geraniums?"

Raven yells back from behind the curtain,

"It's the oil and soap mixed with water…just, shut up and clean yourself with it," she barks back as she proceeds to give them privacy while trying to shun the image Baird threw in her head.

"Aw…you mean we don't get any room service?" Cole whimpered.

"Be sure to include behind your crannies and especially your feet, please," Raven reminds them as she sits down in the next room.

"Yes, mom…" Baird scoffs while he begins to wash himself down with the towel, mumbling to himself,

"…yea, I got your crannie right here," he gestures while washing his parts.

"Shit Damon, have you no shame?" Cole sneered.

"This is me you're talking about, remember…" Baird reminded him.

"Uh, huh…"

Cole manages to soak another towel while he pulls it out of the tub and rings it out. Removing the towel from around his waist, he starts to scrub himself down.

"Well Baird, I gotta hand it to ya…you're pretty hung, for a white guy…or are you just happy to see Feral get mad?" Cole flashes a smirk, observing Baird's generously gorged appendage.

"The fuck, Cole, will you quit staring at my dick," Baird griped, covering his member with the towel.

"Well shit, Baird, you took off your britches right in front of us, what did you expect us to do…besides, you don't have to hide your feeling's in front of me,"

"Don't you be talking to me like that when I'm naked…the hell's the matter with you?"

Cole erects his body from bending over, and starts to strut his stuff.

"Now, get a glimpse of a real man, hehe,"

"I'm not going to be looking at your cock…" Baird gripes while Cole flashes his family jewels.

"Fuck Cole, will you knock that shit off?"

"What…afraid Feral's going to wise up and go for The Train, WHOO"

"I doubt Feral gives a shit about your pecker, Cole…"

"Yea, but I bet she gives a shit about your little willy,"

Baird flashes Cole the middle finger as he continues to wash himself down while ranting at the same time,

"Besides, the only one that's getting any boon out of all this is the damn Rook…now explain that one to me," he complains while Cole sulks,

"Shit, man, you got me on that one…"

The two continue to wash themselves as they rambled on, and on.

In the other room, Raven removes her fatigues, leaving on her velvet garment as another Feral waits for her to sit down on a chair, covered in wool. Raven carefully sits herself down, feeling the soft wool feather along her bare legs as she reclines back with her feet propped up on a stool.

The other Feral pulls up another stool as she places a bowl next to Raven's feet. Another stands behind her, carefully stroking the back of her neck, releasing the tension in her body as she presses her thumbs against Raven's trapezoids, activating the acupressure point in the shoulder muscle.

"You are taut, like the head of a drum," said the dark skinned Feral near her head as she moved her hands along Raven's shoulders.

"The males stress you out," she pointed out, amusingly, "and yet, you have found favor with Tamar that she would grant you their lives...they must be of great importance to you."

"I don't want to talk about it right now," Raven groaned as the fair-haired Feral at her feet began to rub her calves.

"You are tense all over…you know what this means," the fair Feral said.

Raven sighs, "Again, I do not want to talk about it…"

"But you are in season…how will you manage, especially around the males?"

The dark Feral moved her hands around her head, massaging her scalp as she moves her fingers into her soft, ebony hair.

"Even your hair stands on its ends…"

Raven interrupts,

"I am not an animal, my primitive instincts do not preside over my actions…"

The dark Feral chuckles as she can feel the heat coming from Raven's body while moving her hands back to her shoulders, feeling the knots built up around her scapula and down her thoracic vertebrae.

The dark Feral finished up Raven's upper back, while the other pulls on her feet, releasing the tension as she rubs along the arches.

Raven sighs, closing her eyes and letting the tension flow out from her body, as if the fair Feral was letting it surge out of her, massaging deeply into her feet and heals.

"Oh…and did you hear?" the dark Feral mentioned with a grin. Raven looked up at her, perplexed.

"About what?"

"The younger Gear, who took down the Locust is released…the "avatar" said, that he was…productive."

"I bet," Raven groaned, wondering how the other two were going to feel about all of this, considering she didn't know how these Feral were going to react towards her alliance with the Gears. This clan was not as cordial as hers. Among the Feral in general, they were known as the Harpies, the clan of the mountains, and they do not play well with others.

She turned her head to the commotion coming from the "bathing" room as the two Gears proceeded to open the curtain and exit the room, wearing their lower fatigues and undershirts, apparently finished with their bathing.

The two were still chatting as they turned towards the room to see Raven being "treated."

"Damn…now that's what I need," Cole pesters while Raven turns away and sighs. The fair Feral finishes as she packs up the supplies and moves out of the room, turning her head to glance at Raven, flashing a grin and then walks away. The dark Feral does the same as she too, smiles and then turns her smile to the Gears, exiting the room.

The two Gears watch them leave and then turn their gaze back to Raven,

"Ok, so what was that all about?" Baird demanded.

"Sigh, which part?" Raven asked bluntly.

"What were they smiling about?"

"I don't know, Damon, this is not my clan."

The two enter the room as they put their armor to the side of the room. Raven remains seated in her chair as she rubs her forehead.

"And apparently Sven is doing well," she decides to inform them, not that it would make them any more cheerful.

"Yea, I bet…lucky bastard," Cole mumbled as he plopped down in a chair near the entrance.

"No kidding…how'd the hell we get the short end of the stick?" Baird complained alongside with Cole.

"You know, I would have never thought you were the type to contribute to the human population Baird," Raven conveniently mocks him.

"Yea, well, it doesn't mean I don't like playing hide and seek in the garden, either" Baird admits.

"Well I guess I know what you're priorities are…wanting all the service without paying the tab…just find something to put your knob in and then you could call it a day, huh?"

"You got that right."

Raven finally gets weary of Baird's bluntness,

"Ugh…I'm going to go check on Vinny and then hit the hay, so try to behave yourselves…or better yet, don't even leave this room. If you need to go piss or masturbate, there is a closet right over there with a bucket in it…now goodnight!"

Cole quickly jumps up,

"Ooo, I get the bathroom first," Cole blurts out as he dashes his way to the closet and shuts the door.

Raven gets up and groans as she starts to leave the room, rubbing the back of her neck while still in her velvet, ceremonial garment.

"But mom, I want a drink of water," Baird nags before she even steps out the door. He stands near the door frame, leaning against the wall as he gives her a sarcastic grin. She halts and proceeds to turn around while she walks over to a water trough, grabs a metal cup and scoops up the water from the trough. She turns around and holds it out for Baird, glaring at him with tired eyes.

"Go on, take it…" she says while Baird carefully takes it, "…now goodnight."

She tries to leave the room, again, but Baird never fails to find every moment that he can muster out of her time to drive her further up the wall,

"But mom, you didn't kiss my bobo to make it better," he derides, "…as I recall, you still owe me one."

Raven stopped in her tracks, growling as her arms drooped to her side with her back still facing him. Down the hall, she could see some of the Feral ogling, as Raven sighed, contemplating what she can do to remedy the situation, and quick. She turns around with a tired expression on her face and her hands on her hips, glaring at him as he returns a smirk, obviously impressed with himself for finally getting under her skin.

"Seriously, be quiet…and I'm not your mother," she says

"Oh come on, if there ever was a pitiful copout, that would be it," Baird begins to rant as Raven becomes exasperated, what does it take to get this guy to just shut the hell up? Apparently hitting him doesn't work! A last ditch effort hits her mind as she moves closer to him while he was still ranting,

"…and besides, what are…"

Before he could even finish his sentence, she quickly wraps her arms around his neck, placing her hands on the back of his head, sinking her fingers into his thick hair and pulls him down to her level, pressing her lips to his.

Standing right in front of the doorway, the Feral watched in awe. Baird, on the other hand just stood there, stunned, not quite expecting her to actually come up and kiss him, but it wasn't anything near a catastrophe either. He felt her warm, soft lips mesh with his, slightly gaping his mouth with hers, feeling her coaxing him as she gently tugged on his lower lip with her teeth.

Although the idea has crossed his mind before, he really didn't intend to go this far while messing with her head. Aw, what the hell, I could use a little mingle, so he closes his eyes and opens up his mouth, letting her in as he moves with her. He raised his hand to the back of her neck, gently stroking the side of her soft jawline while moving with the motion of her caress, feeling her exhale on his cold skin. Although he wasn't quite sure where she was going with it, he decided to stop analyzing it and started to enjoy the ride as far as it would take him, delighting in the bliss coming from the grasp she cornered him into.

It has been awhile since the last time he kissed a woman, he almost forgot how enticing it could be as he started to moan while savoring the moment, lodging him in place by a primitive, subliminal tick that wasn't going to let go. She was stroking him in all the right places, gently moving her fingers across the side of his stubbly face, feeling the fervor in her touch while pondering at the same time, shit, if she's willing to kiss me after a fight, I can only imaging what the make-up sex would be like.

Feeling the drive pulsing in his brain, the sensations that have long been idle, began to wake and float to the surface, but before he could jump into the deep end of the pool, she suddenly stops and starts to dislodge, releasing the hold she had on his mouth while gliding on his lower lip with hers, and then gently releases him. As everything came to a winding halt, he suddenly drops his hand from the back of her neck and braces himself against the door frame, taking a deep breath. She slowly moves away, giving him room.

"Now, we're even…so good…night!" she stammered.

Baird just stood there, completely speechless, just as she hoped he would. Finally.

He had nothing witty to say or anything that he could instigate after their brief, little rendezvous. As she turns around making her way to the door, she stops suddenly as a thought came to mind, something she would have never thought to say to him before. She turns over her shoulder and casually mentions,

"Oh, and by the way…thanks for the practice."

Baird stood there in awe, again without saying a word. Her statement caught him off guard while letting her get a lead in the "headgame." Score one for the virgin…shit! But before Baird could really respond, if he had anything to respond with, the door to the closet was opening while Cole started to step out, finding something he could use to wash his hands. By this time, Raven had already escaped out of the room, leaving Baird to his own vices.

"The room's all yours," Cole mentioned to Baird, whom was still naturalized in the moment. Damon shook his head as he moves his glance to Cole.

"Damn, baby, you alright?" Cole asks.

"Yea, I'm…just…tired."

"Well, the bathroom is all yours if you need to…well ya know, beat the stump."

Baird groaned,

"...whatever," he mumbled, dragging himself over to the makeshift bathroom, loosening his belt as he closes the door behind him, still groaning. Damn you Feral.

Chapter 23: Back On Route Edit

This life for me changes every day

I will stand up tall, I won't be betrayed

If you play with fire, I'll control the flame

I'll do anything to make you believe


I will take your thoughts away

And I'll ignite your fear today

Well I can take you far away


With my mind
Cold


The sun peaked over the mountains early that morning as the freezing temperatures lingered for hours, until the sun made it to the sky, warming the land underneath it. Finally.

This was the first day in days that Sigma squad could feel some warmth out in the wilderness as they moved on around the mountain. They couldn't leave the monastery soon enough as the four progressed to the mission at hand, trying to put the later evening far behind them as their memory will allow. Or at least three of them are trying to move on.

Sven, on the other hand, was in good spirits, can't imagine why, which, for the most part, annoyed everyone else. Raven, otherwise was deeply relieved that they were able to walk away without too many repercussions while Baird was crabby as usual and Cole kept to himself most of the morning, pouting that he didn't "get any."

Normally, Baird had a list of the usual things he ranted about every morning, but this morning, it was all Sven. He went on and on about his "experience," so much that Baird put his scarf around his ears just to shut Sven out while Cole just listened, and pouted some more. Raven, on the other hand, just stayed quiet while pretending to care. The three were too mentally exhausted to bother listening to Sven as they continued to drag their feet through the snow. Considering all that they have been doing for the past three days, they still couldn't really get used to walking out in the wilderness for this long. You'll be back by nightfall, my ass, Baird mumbled to himself.

During the early trek, Raven noticed that Baird would periodically pull out his journal to write down some notes or go back to review his previous ones, mumbling to himself as he drifted into his thoughts. She couldn't help to question what he has been focusing on ever since their encounter with the Locusts at Hurl Dam. She didn't think much of it at first, until she noticed that he wasn't rummaging the Locust paraphernalia for just ammunitions. This led her to speculate that maybe he had some knowledge on the Locust war machine, or something else of importance.

Cole was ahead of the pack today, while Sven and Baird stayed close behind, with Raven was hanging at the end, for a change. She had a lot on her mind, going through the motions in her head while trying to piece together the events the Harpies were telling her. Why would the Stranded take prisoners? What intel were they trying to get out of them? Is there something that these guys are not telling me? Is Baird even contemplating the same thing?

She could probably ask him but she has quickly learned that early morning was not the best time to talk to Baird about anything, even if it had to do with the mission. So her questions were just going to have to wait, since it's not like they're getting anywhere, any time soon, except to their next destination for the evening before they can finally come over to the plateau above the Stranded settlement. Or least that was the plan for now, if no other calamity came their way.

The only good thing that seemed to have come from their time spent with the Harpies was that they were given several bags of rations, a trail mix full of protein rich nuts, dried berries, wheat flakes and some spicy jerky. That would be more than enough to accommodate their supper for the evening.

All the while, Sven continued to yak about his late night rendezvous with a fresh, young breeder and an experienced "avatar" to help guide the breeder through the motions, and then some. Although Sven was completely clueless that the two women were manipulating him for procreation, Baird had a more generalized idea as to what they were doing to him as he occasionally listened to Sven bugging Raven with question after question.

"I can't believe they could do that with their feet…holy cow, I didn't think that was possible!"

"Yes, Vin…it's an old practice passed down from generation to generation," Raven replied, grudgingly.

"Yea, but…wait…how do they…uh, learn to do …this stuff? I mean, like that one hot chick…"

Oh God, there's that word again, Raven groaned.

"…who just…uh, she didn't really have sex with me , but,"

"She's what you may call an avatar, trained to provide guidance and stimulation for those whom are inexperienced," Raven explained.

"You mean, like a coach?"

"Somewhat…but she uses her own body to provide visual means of arousal and sometimes uses other vices to accomplish the same."

"Wow, you guys really have this down to an art form," Sven beams in amazement, while the other two just kept quiet.

Cole continued to sulk while Baird just kept to himself, making mental notes in his head for his journal later, trying to get past the fact that the topic of sex has seemed to poke it's naughty little head in almost every concept of dialogue during the entire mission. Oh, thank God Marcus isn't here to watch me put up with this. Baird put his mental notes aside as he continued to reevaluate his inquiries, trying to interpret the Locust language while Sven rambled on.

"It was kinda scary at first…I mean, I had no idea that "avatar," was going to shove her finger up my ass, while…"

Cole's expression suddenly drooped into a façade of shock, turning around towards Sven,

"Ah, what the hell...did I just hear that right?" Cole busted out in uncertainty, "...what kind of sick, twisted shit you guys got going on over there?"

"Cole," Raven tried to explain as Baird dropped his attention from his notes to the three while Cole continued to rant,

"Feral, you didn't say nothing about them wenches shoving something up someone's ass!"

Raven sighed, "I didn't think it was going to be an issue…in fact why would it be an issue?"

"Man, I know I've done some kinky shit, but that…that's just wrong!"

"Why are you lecturing me about this?" Raven griped, "…I'm not the one who did it!"

"...but that's what they teach you, Feral, idn't it…and I thought it was all touchin, and strokin, maybe a little polish on the knob, but shoving shit up the cornhole…man, that's just downright nasty!"

"Oh, and all this time, I thought the Cole Train can handle anything, especially when it concerns the ladies…did I get that right, or was that just someone blowing smoke up my ass?"

Baird busted out laughing, nearly stumbling over his own feet while Cole just turned around to give Damon a dirty look. Sven joined in on the jubilation, trying to brace himself while keeping his distance from Cole.

"Oh, hahaha…that's some funny shit right there," Cole sneered sarcastically at Sven and Baird, "…I don't even know what the fuck you're laughing at, Damon…you wanted some Feral ass too!"

Baird tries to compose himself before he even attempts to respond while Cole just stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for Baird to come to grips with himself.

"Sorry, Gus," said Baird in between chuckles, "but she's gotta point…like they say, don't knock it til' you try it."

"Yea, well you go ahead and knock yourself out, Damon, if that's how you wanna get your cookies," Cole sneered as he turned around and started to hike again.

Sven manages to pick himself up while Raven glances between Baird and Cole, and then shrugs before she too continues on. Baird picks up the pace as he moves up next to Raven.

"So let me get this straight," Baird starts off, "…you have a handful of "breeders" whom primarily guide, I guess, the "virgins," or newbies, to do what, exactly?"

Raven sighed heavily, "They help the newbies by interacting with them,"

"By…wait…what do you mean, interact?" Baird asks in puzzlement while at the same time, he wonders if he should even venture this topic further. But it was too late as Sven jumped the bandwagon while bluntly spilling out the details,

"Ah, man, they were smooching…and don't mean just a peck on the cheek, they were going at it!"

Cole turned around as his interest peaked at the news of girls "making out."

"Say what?"

Raven cringed as she realized she had all three taking a peek through the forbidden keyhole, something she could never understand about men and their fascination with women "kissing."

"I'm not kidding," Sven continues, "…I mean, hell I bet Feral can back me up on this one."

The three turn their attention to Raven. Ugh, Vin…you had to drag me into this.

"Well, c'mon Feral…spill the beans," Cole tires to sway her, much to her hesitation.

"What does any of this have to do with our mission at hand?" she gripes.

"It's intel," Baird jumps in, "…any information we can gather about the Feral will help the COG improve our relations with you guys and the other clans."

Cole and Sven bust out laughing while Raven's brow droops over her eyes. Baird stops himself as he rolls his eyes, realizing that what he just said was taken totally out of context.

"That's not what I meant, you fucking pervs," Baird barks.

The two Gears couldn't help themselves as they stopped to catch their breath in the thin cold air. Raven sighs as she continues ahead of them, ignoring the comical relief at Baird's expense. Normally, she would probably enjoy the occasion of ridicule just to bring him back down off his pedestal, but Raven was not in the least bit of mood to entertain them in any way. She was still a little shaken from their meeting with the Harpies. Something didn't settle too well with her concerning their pact. She never told the Gears that in exchange for their lives, she had to give them information concerning the COG's plans, moving Jacinto's remnant to the island of Vectus.

She stopped along a slanted cliff, not to far from where she left the Gears, looking out across the mountain range while scanning for smoke or other signs to indicate the whereabouts of Locusts. Although the Locusts were now few in between than they were before, they were still a threat. Even though the Harpies desecrated the remaining Locusts from the outpost they were investigating, many may have still taken refuge into the mines than run deep in the mountains. Raven fears they may be gathering, but they will probably not strike until the next season. But by then, hopefully, that which is left of Jacinto's remnant will be relocated to Vectus before they overrun Farrall. But how the Harpies heard news of this before Raven confirmed it to them, troubled her the most.

Why do they care what happens to the COG? Perhaps they too are losing their lands…to the Locust maybe, or is it something else?

It was a sobering thought, knowing that one day she will lose her home, regardless if it was because of the Stranded, or the Locusts, or even the COG; one way or another, she will not be able to stay. And then where should she go? With only a handful of what is left of her clan, they may decide to stay with the COG, and do what? To become a part of their society, to maybe be forced into a "breeding camp," for the sake of repopulating the human race, or will they venture back into the wilderness, if there is a wilderness to return to? So many things remain uncertain, but she can't help to wonder, for the first time in her life since she was taught not to trust the COG, about how do the Gears feel? What do they desire out of all of this that compels them to fight against overwhelming odds, knowing that they may not live to see their dreams come to fruition? She can't help but to think of Cole, contemplating over the memories of his mother when things were "normal," Sven daydreaming about his memories in school, or even Baird. What does he miss the most?

As her thoughts race through her head, she could hear them from a distance, some laughing, some scolding, followed by inevitable array of laughter, a typical moment that has become the norm for Sigma squad, almost similar to that of a family, if one dares to call it that. So what's it to me if they are more than just soldiers that are expendable?

Never in a million years would she ever dwell on such things, realizing what if everything she was cultured to do by the Feral was wrong. Where would her alliances be now, if she cannot trust one over the other?

The scent in the air takes a turn as reality spears into her conscience, thrusting it's javelin into her moral convention that she understood long ago as a child when she knew what a loving family was like, even though the ties were not biological. She looked out into the wilderness ahead, tuning out the commotion nearby and listening to the forests crying out to her. She has heard these voices before, when she heard what happened to Theta Four a few weeks back, when she could hear the screams echoing in the wilderness and the same voices she heard when they discovered what was left of Gamma Four. Raven was too terrified to accept it, but she knew what it was and she could no longer play ignorant anymore. They have been betrayed.

Entrenched in her thoughts, she barely notices Baird as he walks up to join her, looking out into the wilderness, trying to get a glimpse of what Raven may be contemplating, while the other two were still behind, shooting the bull. He could tell she was in deep thought, he's seen it in her expression before, so he finally breaks her concentration in hopes that maybe she would be willing to share something she would otherwise not make an attempt to mention,

"Ok, I know something is wrong…so what is it?" he asked in a tired, low voice. Raven was slightly caught off guard by his calm demeanor, which is unusual for him early in the morning. She finally tells him the bad news,

"We're…going to have to take a different route."

She waited for him to rant and holler, suggesting the idea was another bullshit strategic maneuver, but he didn't. Baird didn't scowl or bark, nor did he give her a look of disapproval. By now, if Raven felt that they were going in a direction that could be perilous, she would detour elsewhere. He stopped doubting it, and made no effort to argue about it. Instead, he turned his gaze out into the mountains, looking further into what was left of Sera. Despite all the military outposts, the scattered Locusts, and the crappy weather, this place wasn't too bad. Beautiful view, plenty of space to wander around, find a place to settle with his own workshop garage, building whatever the hell he wanted to, without interference or parameter, hell, maybe Raven had the right idea, finding solitude out here.

Baird sighed, placing his hands on his hips as he looked down while Raven was at loss, as to what he was contemplating. This was something she had never seen in him before and it became surreal. For the first time since she has been out here with him, she did not know what to expect.

And then he said it, as if he knew all along what she was trying to avoid,

"We're being followed, right?" he asked, with no emotion in the tone of his voice. He then turned his glance to her and waited for a response, knowing that she was a piss poor liar. She turned her gaze from him and looked to the ground,

"Yes…but I fear that may not be the worst of it…and I can't tell you what it is right now or else it may compromise the mission. I can only hope that you'll understand," she says.

"I can understand…" said Baird, "…I just don't have to like it."

If there was anything that Raven appreciated with Baird, it was his honesty. Although it was blunt and sometimes crude, it was honest. He didn't mince words for anyone's sake. She could see why people didn't like him, maybe it's because nobody wants to hear the truth… ignorance is too blissful.

"So, which way do we go?" he finally asked the question, without rebuke or sarcasm.

Raven gestures to him without pointing in the direction she intends to lead them.

"All I will say is that it will be someplace we can stay until early morning…I can tell you the rest later, when it's safer," she said while Baird groans, knowing this was going to delay them even further. But what other choice did they have.

He yells out to Cole and Sven who where still chatting,

"Hey, shitheads…get up here, we're moving!"

"Say what?" Cole yelled out, trudging up to their position with Sven not too far behind.

"Change in plans guys…we're going a different way," Baird announced as he could feel the groaning from his other squad mates.

"Holy crap, we have to hike the long way again, shit," Sven griped.

"Damn Baird, what the fuck are we doing?" Cole joins in, getting somewhat irritated with the lack of intel concerning their predicament.

Baird turned around as he blurted out in a nasty tone,

"For starters, you two can shut the fuck up and stay quiet for the rest of the fucking trip, until we reach the place Feral intends to take us to spend the night…and I'm being fucking serious, not a word!"

The vicinity was quiet as Baird gathered himself up and stormed down the path while the other three just stood there in shock. Even Raven was stunned by Baird's sudden spat, not seeing exactly what it was that set him off. She finally looked at the other two, who were still in a daze,

"C'mon guys…the place we're going will be worth it, I promise…" she attempts to assure them as they started to follow her while keeping a generous distance between them and Baird. Raven continued her speech quietly, and out of Baird's audible range,

"…but we need to stay quiet for now."

Sven and Cole nodded, walking along Raven's side as she starts to ponder to herself. She didn't know exactly what Baird had in mind, but she kept her distance along with Cole and Sven as they trekked into forest primeval, concealing themselves from the hostile world around them.

Intermission IV Edit

The sun shines out of my hands

can burn, can blind you

When she breaks out of my fists

ice lay down on your face

lays painfull on your chest

the balance come to loss

lets you go down hard

and the world counts loud to ten.


Rammstein
Sonne (Sun)


Tamar looked out into the grand horizon, admiring the white snow spread on the forests nesting in between the mountains as the days were becoming shorter. It was only four in the afternoon and the sun was already starting to fade behind the mountains, it’s colors bleeding into the snow on the landscape, while the water in the air turned to frost, swelling the molecules as they cling to the icy terrain.

As a matriarch of the Feral clan, she has known many days when things were much simpler, when the resources where plentiful. Much has changed since the Lightmass Offensive, shrinking their territory almost in half as the clans struggled to occupy areas that were not intruding upon others. But the struggle for control became inevitable as Tamar found a way to successfully keep her lands and supremacy.

Few knew of her schemes, while others where naïve and before they realized their impending doom, it was too late. She knew it would work and she justified it as a means to the survival of the fittest. That is how the Harpies will survive, their clan was one of the first to wander in defiance. They have amassed in numbers, they have destroyed Stranded settlements to gain their women, and retrain their daughters into fierce warriors.

Though the Coalition was powerful, they have become arrogant, and Tamar knew it. The Union of Independent Republics became too overconfident, and they misplaced their power when they lost their key weapon of mass destruction. The COG is no different, but whether they will lose to the Lambent or to the rebels is yet to be seen.

Tamar looks out as she could see a stray, but still one of their own coming into their camp. The stray entered without escort, as if she had been here before, even though she was from a different clan, one of the clans that was decimated earlier that year. Carrying a Gnasher in her right hand with a Gear issued Snub pistol in her holster, she proceeded to meet up with Tamar, whom has been waiting from her to hear the news. As the stray Feral made her way before Tamar, she looked around as the praetorians gathered around the two while the stray carefully held up a handful of COG tags in her other hand for Tamar to see.

“You have done well…sister of the valley…and the others who are blinded along with their Gear comrades?” Tamar asked. The stray Feral looked upon Tamar as she could feel the eyes of the Harpies upon her.

“Three daughters of Anetha have managed to return to Farrall with what is left of the remaining squads…I do not know what has happened to your Pandora,” she carefully responds to Tamar, nervously, “and the Stranded militia continue to search for the squad they call “Sigma.”

“We know of Sigma’s whereabouts…and they will continue to seek out the Stranded settlement, then they will return to Fort Block…the COG will unleash their offensive against the militia, hitting two birds with one stone. They will do the dirty work for us and then leave to Vectus, and we will pass without notice, taking the women and children left behind."

Tamar looks ahead of her clan, admiring all that she has amassed in the past twenty-seven years, watching, waiting, and plundering when no one was looking. She learned from the best of what the COG had to offer.

“Myrrah will soon return from the ashes of the world…and when she does, we will be ready. And then, my Pandora will return to me, to seek the truth.”



Chapter 24: The “Fellbeasts” of Nexus Edit

"Vinny…we need to go…hurry up Vin."

Sven could hear the voice of his sister Guinevere, insisting him to hurry up so they could get to the park before all the neighborhood kids beat them to the tire swing.

"Coming Gwen," Sven yelled out as he raced down the stairs, trying to put on his jacket at the same time. As Gwen opened the door, the two raced out towards the sidewalk.

Sven was seven years old at the time, while his sister was nine. They spent most of their off-school days at the downtown park, filled with swings, makeshift cars and an enormous playground that consisted of wooden poles and old, weathered, tread tires.

But the one place the two would spend countless hours playing back and forth was on the tire swing at the end of the playground. Sven would often get on while Gwen would pull the tire back and then push as she jumped in, letting the tire swing them, spinning around from the three chains tied to the wood post above, until they got dizzy.

Gwen always tried to spin the tire so fast until Sven threw up, and then she would laugh at him. After Sven vomited, they would climb up into the playground to slide down the whirl slide that dropped twelve feet from the very top of the structure, and then would climb back up that same slide afterwards.

Of all the training that the COG put him through, nothing was as tedious as the downtown playground. Sven could remember the days he would be chased all over the playground, climbing up the fireman's pole and then jumping from a ten foot ledge and rolling on the sand, getting it all in his shoes, his hair, and his mouth. Gwen would swing him by his arms and then let go, watching Sven fly until he hit the ground. He had so many scrapes, tears and holes in his jeans, his mother ceased to ask how in the world he ruined his brand new pants.

The memories of those days ran through his head, like a compilation of clips that would rerun constantly. The very same rush that he would get, on the brink of puking as the world spun from the tire swing, was pulsing through his body. He could feel the deja vu all over again, the running the chasing, climbing as if his life depended on it. Never in a million years would he have ever thought that he would have to run for his survival.

But there he was, running as fast as his legs could take him, darting through the trees as he could hear from the distance the snarling and growling of the beasts that ran aimlessly, following the nearest scent that their nostrils could gather. He knew his rifle was useless at this point as he reached for his Gnasher just in case, but whether that would help him or not he had no idea. Man, the Corporal was right all along, this so sucks balls!

The others where already ahead of him, motioning him to hurry up as they took refuge into the thicket, trying to climb up onto a boulder.

"C'mon Vinny, move your skinny ass…unless you wanna to be dog food," Cole yelled out while Sven picked up the pace, trying not to run into the snow-covered trees in the process. Raven was already perched up on the boulder, extending her hand to Baird, as he took a hold of it, pulling himself up with the other that was clutching the ledge. Cole was close behind as Baird quickly turned around to help Cole up, quickly grabbing the ledge as the two try to get him promptly while Sven just now started to crawl up.

"Aw, shit, I can hear them," Sven panicked as he tried to pull himself up on the tall boulder.

"Fuck…Cole, hold my legs willya," Baird yelled out as he quickly knelt down.

"You got it," said Cole while Baird started to lean down the edge with Cole grabbing onto his legs.

"C'mon Vinny, grab my hands," Baird shouted. Sven reached up as he was able to catch one of Baird's hands, while the snarling from behind was getting closer and more boisterous.

"Aw, crap, pull me up man," Sven whined while Baird went ahead and grabbed Sven by the collar with his other hand.

"Shit...hold still Vin," said baird as he turned around and shouted, "...c'mon Cole, pull us up!"

Cole started to pull them up while Baird hung onto Sven. Suddenly, the beast that was following their trail, thrusts itself into the brush, pushing through the thicket as it snarled and clomped its massive jaws, filled with jagged teeth.

"Damnit, hurry Cole," Baird yelled.

"I almost got it, hang on," Cole shouted back as the two suddenly felt a jerk as they were yanked over the ledge, while Sven pushed the remainder of his body over the ridge.

"Ok Vinny, will you please shoot that son of a bitch," Baird shouted as Vinny stood above the ledge and started to shoot rounds into the stray Bloodmount below. The beast became more irritated after Sven shot three rounds into it.

"Damnit, why can't these things just DIE," Sven yells out in irritation. Suddenly, Cole joins him with his Gnasher and puts a few more rounds into it until it started to gurgle, twisting and turning from the impact and then slumped to the side of the boulder as it's blood was smeared along the wall. It laid still as they could hear it exhale its last breath. Baird walked over to join them, looking down at the fallen beast without it's rider, whom Sven took out earlier before the Bloodmount started to go berserk.

"Fuck, that was way too close," Baird commented as Raven quickly joined them from scouting the area ahead of them.

"I'm assuming there's bound to be more," she analyzed.

"Yea, they usually come in packs of five...and they're going to catch up with us real quick," Cole mentioned, looking up at Raven while Baird continues,

"...and they don't die easily. We need to stay up on the these boulders and trees to avoid the mounts claws."

"But what about the riders?" Cole asked.

"Vinny may be able to take some of them out while you and I can focus on the Bloodmounts with our Lancers."

"Ok, that sounds feasible...so what should I do?" Raven asked making sure she wasn't put off to the side.

"Can you get up into the trees across from here?" Baird asked.

"Yea, no problem," she said.

"Then get up over there so you can draw their attention with your Gorgon pistol…just try to keep yourself for the most part covered. The riders normally use Hammerbursts."

"Got it…going up," Raven replied as she stepped back a few paces and then ran and jumped onto a nearby tree branch, sturdy enough to accommodate her weight. She hung onto the tree using the flexible needles that hung from the nearby branches as she climbed a little further up the trunk to the next tree branch and looked through the trees to see sure enough, five more Bloodmounts and their riders, making their way into the forest.

"Here they come," she yelled out while Sven moves up to a higher position, placing his rifle along the ledge, peering through his scope. Cole and Baird take refuge along the ledge as they load up their Lancers.

"Get ready guys…Vinny gets the first shot," Baird reminds them as they brace themselves for the oncoming assault.

Sven finally got a view of the beasts as they torqued and moved their bodies, making it difficult for him to get a clean shot.

"Shit, those things move around too much," he complained.

"Breathe out and shoot Vinny, I know you can do it…I hope you can do it," Baird yells out to him, trying to keep faith in Sven's sniper skills. It may be a little too much to ask, since there hasn't been a sniper who has ever had a lot of success shooting the riders off of a Bloodmount.

Sven picked up his rifle as he held it up braced into his shoulder, slowly exhales and takes a shot, knocking one rider clean off his saddle.

"WHOO, good shot, kid," Cole yells out while Raven is the next to take the stage as she fires off her Gorgon pistol, drawing their attention away from the Gears. The riders start to fire their Hammerburst assault rifle in Raven's direction as she quickly takes cover behind the tree trunk. The bullets ricochet off of the tree, ripping off the bark as the wood chips scatter in multiple directions.

Sven loads up another round in his rifle as he raises it up and takes off the head of another rider. The headless corpse was still strapped in the saddle as the Bloodmount wandered the area, aimlessly, compromising the accuracy of the others whom were trying to avoid running into it.

"Ok, Cole, let em have it," Baird yelled out.

"You got it, baby!"

The two started to fire their Lancers at the other Bloodmounts as their riders turned around in confusion, but before they could fire their weapons, Cole and Baird had already over leaded their "horse" as the dying beasts flip them out of their saddles.

Thrown across the thicket next to the tree nearby, the Locust rider tries to get up to continue the assault as he looks up only to find Raven holding her Boltok directly aimed at his head and takes a shot. The Boltok impales his helmet and into his skull as he falls backwards, rolling down into a ditch nearby.

The other rider was able to stand up and fire his Hammerburst at Cole and Baird, until another shot rings out into the woods, knocking the rider backwards as he let out a growling cry, and crashes into the snow covered ground, lying lifeless.

"That's two, bitches," Sven yells out after shooting the other rider as he flips the shell out and slides another round in.

Cole and Baird move back up over the ledge as they fire at the other loose Bloodmount, loading it with almost two rounds of ammunition before they finally take the beast out.

"Eat shit and die," Baird yells out after killing the beast.

The other two were still wandering without direction, snarling and barking, huffing in the dense, cold air. Raven started to fire her Boltok pistol at one, trying to aim carefully as it moved constantly.

"Shit…I can't get it down," she yelled as she finally got a shot in, but it only provoked it as it started to ram into the tree, shaking it.

"Ugh, damnit," Raven hollered, trying to hang onto the branches as the beast slammed into it, shaking it violently. She loses her footing, hanging on for dear life with her hands, while catching herself along the thick bark of the trunk with her boot.

"Ah, Baird…it's going after Feral, man," Cole blurted out as Baird moves around to get a look,

"Aw, shit…hang on Rav…Cole, fire at that bitch," Baird yelled a he raised his Lancer, pummeling the beast with rounds as Cole joined him, nearly emptying their cartridges as the Bloodmount finally started to falter. It thrashed and twisted it's body until it started to slump on the wayside, gurgling and choking on it's own blood, until it laid limp.

Raven was able to pull herself back into place, leaning behind the trunk, while the other Bloodmount went over to the boulder ridge, trying to climb it.

"Guys…it's near the ledge," Raven yelled. Sven pulled out his Gnasher and started to put some rounds in it. The Bloodmount, growled in fury as it started to pick itself up the edge with it's back claws.

"Shit…it's coming up," Sven yelled as he quickly backed up. Baird and Cole reloaded their Lancers and started to fire at the thing pitilessly while it hung just over the ledge, trying to take it out before it got any closer. Finally the beast started to waiver as it slid off and fell to the ground, motionless.

"Yea, take that muthafucka," Cole yelled.

He looks over to see the last Bloodmount and it's rider, loitering near the thicket entrance as the rider tried to turn the menacing beast around.

"Oh, oh hell no…don't even think you're going to get away," Cole blurted out as the other three get a glimpse of the last rider, trying to retreat. Sven moves up further near the ledge as he raises up his Longshot and fires a round, shooting the rider in the back, knocking him off of his mount.

"Hurry, we got to take out that Bloodmount before he gets away," Baird yells out as he jumps off of the boulder and rolls onto the ground. The others follow with Cole and Sven doing the same while Raven climbs down from the tree and follows behind the Gears. They run quickly towards the edge of the thicket until they peer out into the forest, listening to the beast wandering around without purpose as it's helmet limited it's visibility.

"There it is," Sven points out as he looks through his scope, "…holy shit, it's coming back!"

The beast makes a detour as it catches a glimpse of their scent, cocking its head to the side as it starts to charge their direction.

"Fuck, shoot it with everything you got, now!" Baird ordered as Sven took the first shot. As the bullet ricochets off of it's helmet, the beast comes to a halt as it tries to remove the helmet with it's back hook.

"Shoot it now," Baird yelled again, trying to take advantage of the beasts delay before it got any closer as both Cole and Baird load it with Lancer rounds, but it only aggravated the beast as it removed it's helmet off completely and starts to charge in their direction.

"Shit," Vinny yells, firing another round into it's shoulder, but it didn't slow it down the least bit while Raven was unloading her Boltok into it, but that didn't slow the angry monster either.

"Aw, fuck this," Cole yells out as he puts up his Lancer and takes out his shotgun. The beast runs right up to him as he takes his weapon and slams it across it's big head, nearly knocking it sideways as he pulls back and fires a fatal shot directly into it's skull, taking it out for good.

"...AND STAY DOWN, BITCH," Cole yells at it, giving it a couple of pummels into it's head just to make sure.

"Alright Cole, you took it out, enough already," Baird tries to pull him back but Cole was too much into the moment. He moved out of Baird's grasp as he kept hitting at it, beating and bludgeoning it until you almost couldn't recognize what it was. Baird gave up and backed away, letting Cole take his adrenaline high out on it. He knew better than to get in Cole's way when he was having one of his "moments."

Cole continued to bludgeon it, as the blood sprayed all over the snow around it, splattering on his armor and his arms. With each passing fist, battering it into nothing, Cole started to calm down, slowing his pace until he came to a stop. He stood over it, panting, with his eyes closed, catching his breath. He forgot how cold it was as he breathed the crisp air, inhaling long and slow, and then exhaled the same, letting the tension depart is body.

He slowly turned around as he looked at Baird and Sven, just standing their glaring at his blood smothered fists, torso, and arms. Sven was more shocked than Baird was, remembering how strong and brutal Cole could be. Baird on the other hand had seen this before, and has learned since then to just let him go, take it all out on whatever he found to be his punching bag, thanking God it wasn't him.

Raven stood further back, perched on a log away from the other two as she peered down at the bloody mess strewn around Cole. He could tell that his demeanor must have made her nervous.

Baird turns around as he walks over to the dead Locust nearby and starts to rummage through his ammo packs. Sven walks over to do the same, but could not find any rifle rounds. Baird moves back into the woods and searches the others, looking for other miscellaneous paraphernalia that he may be able to find.

Cole stood in his spot for a while and then decided to sit down on a snow buried log, lying on the ground. His head hung low, not wanting anyone to see the look on his face, especially Feral.

Like any other soldier who has fought this war for too long, it was taking its toll on him, it couldn't end soon enough. He didn't know if Raven would ever understand how they felt about warfare, hell, she must think we relish in it. Sven was too young to understand that war was hell. Will time and death harden him as well, just like the rest of them?

Baird walked back over to Cole, who was still sitting on the log with his head down.

"Gus…I got some ammo for ya," said Baird as Cole looked up while Baird tossed him a clip.

"Did you find anything else?" Cole asked, wondering if he found any other materials that could help him decipher their language.

"Maybe…we'll see when we find a place to sit for awhile," Baird answered as he extended his hand. Cole took his hand as Baird helped him up and slaps him on the shoulder. Baird continued,

"Let's go, Gus. Everyone's tired and hungry…and we only have a few hours left before dawn."

Baird turns to Raven who was still perched on the log as she pointed towards the mountain.

"This way," she said as she walked on the log and then jumped from the ledge onto the white floor in front of them.

Suddenly, a noise rang out through the air in the distance, behind them. The four turned around, drawing their attention to the commotion, echoing over the woods. Sounds of gunfire suddenly hit their ears, startling them. A shrieking roar that was all too familiar to Baird's ears, was closing in. After taking out the Bloodmounts, the commotion must have alerted another scouting squadron nearby...there could be no other explanation.

Cole's eyes widened to the sudden realization that they were being hunted as he turned his gaze to Baird.

Baird sulked, slowly moving back as the noise shivered down his spine, "…we need to move, now!"

"Aw, shit," Cole blurted out.

The four took Baird's advice as they picked up the pace, moving quickly from the direction of the commotion coming behind them.

The snow began to fall again, accumulating on the ground and trees around them, concealing their footprints, but would that be enough to keep them from being followed? The sun still hung over the mountains for now, but soon it will sink into the horizon, leaving Sigma little choice but to take out the Locust scouts before the sun departs, blinding their only advantage in this frozen hell.

Damon’s Journal Entry #2 Edit

Well, it would seem in the past few days…shit, we've been out here for three, going on four days? Anyway, we have stumbled upon some disturbing revelations as of late. We have learned that the Stranded may be more inventive than we earlier comprehended; even I'm having some serious doubts, but the evidence that we have gathered so far suggests otherwise.

After our sleepover at Hurl Dam, we stumbled upon what was left of Gamma Four, and unfortunately they were KIA while their Sergeant is, as of my knowledge, MIA. We can only guess that they were ambushed sometime the following morning after the day we were deployed, and then relocated to be set up as bait for other squads. We also have found out that the Stranded may be taking prisoners and subjecting them to torture. Now why the Stranded would go out of their way to be this tactical, I cannot confirm as of yet.

During our investigation, we found reason to believe that the Stranded are either being lead, or assisted by some "disgruntled" Gears. If this is so much the case, I'm willing to bet they may be massing armaments for a militia. We won't know for sure until we investigate the settlement on the other side of the glacier lake, but we have had to change our route since we now know that we're being followed.

But, moving on to a lighter note, we've attained additional intel from another Feral clan, only known for now as "the Harpies," which I totally agree is the appropriate name for these bitches since from what I understand, they are more militant than the other clans. During our "stay" at their camp, I have come across some additional observations concerning the Feral culture and evidence to back up my previous speculations.

While, apparently, Raven's old clan, known as "Daughters of Anetha," (I'm not sure what the names mean) was more "talented" in the arts, sciences, and breeding philosophy, while another decimated clan of the valley was more involved in hunting, crafts, and metallurgists. From what I gathered, these women are skilled, they're not just a handful of "dumb," broads who just run around, accumulating testicles from anyone who is unlucky to come across them. The quality invested in Raven's "custom" armor and attire alone, should be evidence enough of the degree of their proficiency. I would know, I spent over thirty minutes closely evaluating her armor while she overslept the other morning. Now how they have acquired these skills is unclear, I can only guess that maybe some of these Feral were educated craftsmen (women) from a previous "occupation," before they we're integrated into the Feral doctrine.

I have also discovered, oh boy, here it goes, additional methods they use to assist in proficient breeding. They have, whom they refer to, as an "avatar,' and apparently, she assists the virgin breeders, or inexperienced breeders, by offering their services as, I guess you would call, "eye candy," for the male's visual stimulation. Apparently, they used one when they threw Sven to a breeder (I didn't know this until after the fact, lucky bastard). From what I gathered, since Sven wouldn't shut up about it, she's literally there just to entice the male to mate and help boost the breeder's confidence. In some situations, they have been known to interact with the breeder by performing "lesbian," or bisexual acts to, as I mentioned before, entice the male visually…sorry, my mind wandered. Anyway, she may also engage with the male during procreation by stimulating his other "regions" at the same time, however, it would probably be best if I did not leave it to my own imagination to theorize what exactly the "other regions" are, so I'll bug Raven about it later.

Anyways, I have managed to figure out a few snippets of the Feral language, very basic words mind you, but enough to get me started on translating.

I will try to record my observations daily whenever possible, in the meantime, I will attempt to milk Raven's brain of anything I can get her to reveal about the Feral dialect.

Chapter 25: Riding The Pale Horse Edit

Aerials in the sky,

when you lose small mind you free your life.

Aerials, so up high,

when you free your eyes, eternal prize.


System of A Down

Aerials


Pushing through the light breeze, stirring the snow flakes floating in the air, prods the exposed skin as Sigma hurries through the woods, feeling the heavy panting tracking them.

It wasn't long that the "hounds of Nexus" alerted the Locust horde nearby. Although Sigma took out their Bloodmounts, another scouting party was on the move, in full force while pursuing the Gears, fast and hard.

Sven pushed ahead of the pack, closely following Raven as they darted around the trees, brushing against the snow covered branches. She could hear him breathing heavily as he started to pass her up.

Raven finally had to yell out to him,

"Wait…where's the others?"

Sven stopped as he found cover behind a tree, panting in between words,

"There…they…are," he points.

Baird and Cole where running around the trees, darting from an array of bullets flailing from behind.

"TAKE COVER…" Baird yelled out.

"MOVE BACK," Cole followed as the two reunited with Sven and Raven.

Bullets ricochet in the woods, glancing across trees and boulders, stirring up the snow and pine needles.

"There…" a loud, foul voice shatters the serenity of the woods as the Locusts take cover in the forest, opposite of the Gears.

"Fuck…there's eight of them!" Baird griped, fiddling with his gun while Cole fired his Lancer in short, controlled bursts, trying to aim around the trees as he taunted,

"WHOO, yea…come get some, bitches…"

Sven lifted up his rifle, peering carefully through his scope as he found a Cyclops glancing from behind a tree. Sven take the shot, splitting the Locusts head as the body slumps on the ground. A Grenadier moves up in to take the Cyclops' position, exchanging fire with his Boltok pistol, aiming directly at Sven.

"Fuck! I can't get around that pistol," Sven barks as the rounds start to take off the bark of the tree in large chips.

Raven took refuge up into the trees and onto a tall boulder nearby, strategically flanking from the side as she pulls out her Gorgon and Boltok pistols. Dueling with both as she fires one after the other, she strikes the Grenadier with her Boltok first, forcing him to stumble back and then finishes him with the Gorgon, pummeling him with bullets. As the Grenadier drops to the ground, a Cyclops discovers her position and starts to fire.

Raven takes cover behind the boulder, yelling as she nearly slips on the snow,

"Damnit…I hate Lancers"

"Get your tiny butt back here, Rav…you don't stand a chance up there," Baird blurts out as he quickly moves into position behind another boulder and fires his Lancer in the Cyclops' direction, redirecting the Locusts attention away from Raven. As the Locusts continue to fire at Baird, Raven slips down the boulder onto the ground, sliding on her bum and then plummets into the heap of snow below. She suddenly feels a tear in her rear as a sharp pain shoots down the back of her upper thigh.

"Ugh…oh, God…" Raven panics, "…my stitches! I think they broke…shit!"

Cole and Baird alternate as one loads and the other continues fire. Cole pulls back behind the tree, yelling,

"Reloading!"

"Got it," Baird yells back as he turns to return fire, filling a nearby Cyclops with rounds until the Locust stumbles backwards and falls down on the ground.

"Shit, yea," Baird yells out.

"Haha…good one, Baird," Cole yells out as he reloads and peers around the other side of the tree to return fire. Cole aims at a Bolter, trying to meander in the woods, but the impact of round rushing from Cole's Lancer, strikes him down as the Bolter slips onto the ground, bleeding profusely.

Cole peers through the heavy, cold air, noticing his victim, trying to pull itself along the ground as it crawls slowly, choking and heaving.

"Oh, where do you think your going?" Cole sneered as he moves forward, meandering around the trees until he reaches the lame Boltok's position.

"We ain't finished yet, bitch!" Cole quickly grabs the Bolter, pulling the beast up against his torso as he pulls out his pistol, using the Locust as a meat shield while he walks out into the firefight.

"Holy crap, Cole," Sven beams in amazement.

"Move up Vinny…we have the advantage," Baird blurts out as the two start to move around, following Cole.

Sven takes his place behind Cole as he raises his rifle, shoots a round into another Grenadier. The beast stumbles back from Sven's Longshot while taking Cole's pistol rounds, finishing the job as the beast gurgles it's last breath and slumps to the ground. Baird moves up, revving his Lancer as he catches Locust sniper, trying to reload his rifle while Baird moves up and rams his chainsaw bayonet into the sniper's head, carving it into two, bloody pieces.

"Hehe…parts is parts," Baird sneered as he kicks the corpse away from him while Cole follows the last two up ahead.

"C'mon, bring it," he taunts, moving forward as the Bolter's body eats up the bullets coming from the Cyclops and Grenadier up ahead. Cole and Baird exchange fire, picking at the trees as the Locusts alternate between the Lancer and Gnasher shotgun. Suddenly the firefight takes a toll on Cole's meat shield as the corpse starts to lump into pieces.

"You better drop him, Cole," Baird yells out.

"Aw, fuck this," Cole gripes as he drops the bloody meat shield and takes cover behind another tree adjacent to Baird. As the two hold their position the Grenadier starts to move in, growling,

"Moving…"

The large, husky beast plows through the thicket like a charging bull, unloading its shotgun towards the Gears.

"Shit…take it out," Baird yells.

Suddenly, a shot rings out from Sven's rifle, knocking off the Grenadier's head into a crimson mist, while the rest of the body falls forward, leaving a bloody trail behind it.

A growl is heard in the distance as the Cyclops revs his Lancer, cutting through the rest of the thicket as he advances quickly in a suicidal, last ditch effort to take out the Gears.

Cole quickly turns around as he moves to the other side, revving up his Lancer, darting around the trees towards the Cyclops until the two clash saws, pushing against each other. Sparks fly from the duel as the two move from side to side, trying to push the other down as the glistening teeth from the chainsaw bayonets grind against the metal.

"Die…human…" the Locust scoffs as he puts more force into his Lancer, pushing Cole back slightly.

"I don't think so, bitch!"

Cole moves his arms in a circle, releasing his bayonet from the Cyclops' Lancer, freeing his, forcing the Locust to lean on one side while Cole moves in and thrusts his chainsaw bayonet across the Cyclops exposed gut, cutting clean through the mid torso, splitting it in half.

"Yea, that's one for the highlight reel, WHOO," Cole blurts out, stepping back away from the bloody, bowel clutter while Sven and Baird join him.

"Aw, dude…that's a mess," said Sven, looking at the bloody scene in awe.

"Shit Cole…you had to overdo it…again" Baird griped.

"You know it…hey, where's Feral?"

"Aw, crap…I knew I was forgetting something," Baird groaned while Cole turned back around,

"FERAL…WHERE YOU AT, BABY?"

Baird starts his way back, stepping over the Locust corpses over towards the boulder where he saw her last.

"Raven…hey, where'd you go?" he yells out. He suddenly hears a whimper further down a slope behind the trees. He looks in horror to find a slight trail of blood in the snow.

"Aw, crap…Rav, say something…please?"

Now's not a good time to lose our guide…shit!

"Over here…"

He could hear her faint voice as he follows the trail into the thick thicket. He finally sees her lying on her side, groaning.

"Shit, you alright?"

"Do I look alright?" she barks, cringing from the pain coming from her rear.

"You really want me to tell you what you look like?" Baird joked as he kneels down beside her.

"Damnit, Baird, not now!"

"Alright, alright, I'm sorry."

He looks over to her glute, noticing the blood seeping from the stitched gash.

"I…I think it tore it," she said, cringing in pain.

Baird sighs, "Yea, you did…shit! I can't stitch it up right now…we gotta get you…"

Suddenly a noise breaks the silence in the woods. Baird looks up towards the direction of the noise as it becomes more audible. The low roar was clearly audible as Baird's face went pale. He whispers, subtly,

"Don't…talk. Don't make…any noise."

He turns over to see Cole and Sven, taking cover behind some trees, both frozen in awake of the new menace. Raven tries to sit up so she could hear the noise coming from the woods ahead. Her blue eyes widen as she recognizes the heavy breathing from the sinister monster.

She peers through the trees, watching movement in the woods, hearing the rattling of chains along the slow thumping of the Berserker's heavy feet. Baird was frozen, looking out the same direction. He's seen these things more times than he really wanted to count. One was enough. They must have brought her to sniff us out, he thought to himself, since the cold made visibility difficult for them. The snow was also making it difficult for her to catch their scent, despite her keen sense of smell, but it won't be long before she can hear them. It was this Baird feared the most.

Raven carefully turns over and starts to crawl over to where the Locust corpse lies in the forest behind them.

"What the hell are you doing?" Baird hissed quietly while Raven pulled with her hands towards the nearest corpse.

"Come over here…hurry," she motioned.

Baird crawled over to her position as he knelt down next to her.

"Get my knife from my boot," she said. Baird looked down towards her boot and pulls out her "bowie" knife and hands it to her.

"Ok, now what the hell are going to do?"

Raven cuts into the dead Locusts gut, disemboweling it.

"We need to cover our scent…here," she says as she hands him some of the Locusts innards.

"Aw, gross…ugh, now what?" he asked, trying to tolerate the smell.

"Smear it on you."

"Fuck, I had a feeling you were going to say that."

"Hurry Damon…before she sniffs us out."

"Shit!" Baird gripes as he bites the bullet and smears the guts on his chest armor. Raven does the same by smothering her legs with the entrails.

Cole and Sven move quietly next to them as they watch the two sloshing through the entrails.

"What…the…hell," Cole covered his nose from the stench.

"You're going to have to put some on Cole if you want to live," Raven whispered sternly, making sure he understood her intentions. She recalled the last few times she encountered Berserkers was that they couldn't distinct a live human from a corpse when she first discovered the strategy.

The monster stopped in its tracks, listening as it turns its head, gaping it's mouth slightly to catch an odor with her vomeronasal glands in the roof of her mouth. The steam from her heavy breathing seeps from her jaws as she clamps them shut and starts to get agitated. Swinging her head from side to side, the five drones whom were trying to guide her with the chains, hold fast as she growls impatiently.

Suddenly, a loud shriek bellows from behind them as a Kantus priest moves closer from the rear. The priest begins to "chant," reciting some poem in a dialect Baird has heard before but couldn't quite decipher it. The Berserker starts to calm down as she stops moving her head and focuses her senses in the Gears direction.

"Let her go…" the priest hissed in a high, pitch shriek. The Kantus then let's out a wail, aggravating the Berserker as she shakes her head and stomps her feet. The drones drop their chains, letting her march into the woods, pushing down the thicket with her massive body.

The four scatter as fast and quiet as they could, using the noise she was making, pushing through the thicket to cover their movements. All but Raven managed to get some distance, struggling from the tear in her rear. She tries to pull herself, pushing with her legs as she drags herself through the thick snow.

The Berserker stops suddenly as she tilts her head in Raven's direction. Baird peers out, noticing that Raven was still too close for comfort as she leaned against a tree, near a Locust corpse. She froze in her place, ceasing any potential noise that the Berserker may pick up. The monster shook her head, trying to shake the accumulating snow on her head, brushing it our of her ear holes. Raven's heart started to race, breathing heavily as the creature moved closer, and Baird could see it from a distance. Shit Rav…you need to calm down.

The Berserker stops in her tracks as she leans over to the other side to sniff out another corpse nearby. Raven tries to move back slightly away from the tree while the Berserker was temporarily distracted. In the process, she feels something moving from behind, compelling her to yelp until a hand reached over mouth, shutting it.

"Shhhh…don't…move," Baird whispered into her ear as the monster suddenly spun her head around and began to sniff the vicinity around them. She moves her massive head closer to them, sniffing the area as the stench from the corpse in front of them was reeking in her nostrils.

Raven was trembling slightly, thawing from Baird's body heat as the two sat deep in the snow, trying to cover their scent from the hunter. Her eyes widened in fear, getting a front seat look at the Berserker, feeling the panting from her nostrils brush against her hair while Baird held his hand over mouth, keeping the creature from hearing her breathe. The monster suddenly exhaled, massively, as the two got a big whiff of her foul breath. Baird's face grimaced from the revolting odor, trying to hold his breath from breathing the stink coming from her orifice. Agh…it smells like somebody took a shit in her mouth.

Raven did the same, trying not to breath it in directly. She didn't know what smelled worse, the corpse nearby or the berserker's bad breath. Please, just kill us now and get it over with, she groaned to herself, feeling Baird tense up as he tried to refrain himself from vomiting.

The Berserker brushed her head against a tree trunk, scratching the side of her rough face, ripping the bark off with each movement of her big head. Shaking the bark off, she pulls away and moves to the side, following the scent of the entrails nearby.

Baird and Raven were relieved for the time being, while Cole and Sven sat still in their places, watching the Berserker move past them, grazing their place of refuge as she moved further in to the woods nearby.

Pushing through the thicket, sniffing out the entrails ahead, the Berserker growls in between her heavy breathing. She too was having trouble breathing the chilling air. She moves through effortlessly, rummaging through the forest as the snow begins to fall again. The white flakes add density to the air, making visibility next to impossible.

As Baird and Raven sat in their place, they turn towards the noise of footsteps dropping into the snow. Raven stiffened up, wondering how long it will be before they are discovered, but the heavy snow accumulates on them, falling quickly, nearly covering them completely.

Drones are the first to march in, barely visible through the falling snow but their movements were still readable. They make no acknowledgment to Baird and Raven, cooped up against a tree and a corpse, buried under a heap of snow. Passing them up without taking a glance, the Drones push forward, following the Berserker ahead.

Cole and Sven stay in their place, not making any effort to start a ruckus as the Drones pass by, not taking notice of them. Cole could barely make out Raven and Baird as he peers through the falling snow that has them hidden away.

Suddenly the Kantus priest makes his entrance as his raspy breathing could be heard while he steps into the vicinity. He was light on his feet but his demeanor and the way he moved gave him away. He stood for moment, taking the time to scan the area. Raven didn't even dare to breathe, trying to keep the steam, seeping from her breath from being seen. Baird did the same, holding his breath as the priest glanced by.

Moving along, the priest continues forward behind the Drones, passing up Cole and Sven. The two were shivering profusely from the cold settling in. How can these Locusts stand it? Cole couldn't understand why they would want to come out in this icy hell, they must be desperate if they're out here…but desperate for what?

One thing was for sure, they can't let this scouting party go, otherwise they would be hunting them down for the rest of their journey, and that was the last thing they wanted to deal with. Although the Drones weren't much of a problem, the priest on the other hand was a force to be reckoned with, even more so with the Berserker. This was not going to be easy.

Baird moved slightly, releasing his hold on Raven's mouth as he tried to sit up.

"So now what do we do…we can't have them following our tracks," Raven quietly griped, keeping her decibel level down.

"I'm thinking, ok?" Baird sneered back, realizing that the situation just got even more complicated. He peered through the falling snow, watching from across the woods, Cole , waving his hand. Baird looked up over, checking to see if it was clear and then darted across the vicinity to Cole and Sven.

"Shit, did you get all that?" Cole whispered.

"Yea Gus, I did," Baird responded, trying not to admit the obvious.

"Man, what are we going to do now…they'll hunt us down for sure," Sven whined while Cole noticed that Baird was in thought, reevaluating the situation. So far, they are up against five Drones, one priest, a Berserker, with three Gears and a wounded Feral. Fuck!

Raven tries to stand back up, lifting her frozen bum from the heap of snow she had been sitting in for the past fifteen minutes. Bracing herself against the tree, she turns around and notices a frozen river nearby. It was the same river that eventually leads to Hurl Dam. Raven could recall bathing in it many times during the harvest time of the year, and she could recall that the waters run deep towards the center on the river. An idea spawns in her head.

"Baird…" she calls out, trying not to get too loud. Baird turns around in her direction, noticing that she was trying to walk, but started to fall to the wayside. He runs up to her as he catches her arm before she topples over.

"Geez, Rav, you really need be careful," Baird starts to rant as Raven cuts him off,

"The river, you see it?" she points, drawing his attention to the frozen body of water, "...how much do you think that Berserker weighs?"

"Uh…several hundred kilo's I imagine…three to five tons, I don't know, I'm just guessing here."

"Does she weigh enough to break the ice through the river?"

Baird looks over the river, realizing what Raven was getting as he gazed at the river for a few moments and then turns back to Raven.

"She may not be quite heavy enough to break it with her weight…but, if we can cause the ice to crack, her weight may be enough to aggravate it further, resulting in collapse."

"And how can we do that?"

Baird pulls out a his last Bolo grenade for Raven to see,

"This should do the job…" he says, flashing her a grin as he looks up to see Cole and Sven coming towards them.

"Ok, what are you two conspiring about now?" Cole gripes.

"I believe we found a way to take care of the Berserker…our next order of business is to take out the others without being mauled by that fugly bitch!"

"Hehe, you got that right!" Cole chuckled.

Without warning, a loud screeching roar echoes through the forest, while the trees tremble from the tremors coming from the noise.

"EVERYONE EVASIVE…NOW!" Baird yells out, quickly throwing Raven over his shoulder as she yelped in pain from the transfer,

"Shit, Baird, warn me next time!"

"Shut up, Rav!" Baird blurts out, trying to move to the closest possible cover available before calamity ensues. Without surprise, the Berserker thrashes through the forest, letting out a loud, piercing squeal. She stops in her tracks as she shakes her head violently, trying to scope out a scent, but the cold air was hampering her efforts. The cold, however, didn't numb her hearing.

The drones followed behind with their Hammerbursts ready, but kept their distance from the monstrous female. As the Drones made a lot of noise with their feet, the Berserker was starting to get irritated, thrashing her arms, swinging the chains around the vicinity that was still attached to her massive wrists.

Suddenly, a smoke grenade is tossed between the Berserker and the Drones. The grenade pops, startling the Berserker as she thrashes some more and then charges in the grenades direction. The drones tried to clear out from the smoke, but it was too late. The Berserker tore right through them, not knowing what she was running into other than the sound of something threatening. All that she could smell was the smoke scattered in the area as she decimated the three out of the five Drones that were unlucky enough to stand in her way.

One of the Drones was slowly trying to get up after being shoved away through the blinding smoke. But before he could even make sense of what was going on, something grabbed him by the neck and twisted, severing his spinal cord and dropping him lifeless to the ground.

Cole threw the Locust down after breaking his neck and then peered towards the Berserker, barely visible through the smoke. I see four down…where's the other?

She was growling, swinging her arms as the chains thrashed along the trees, shredding the bark off in large chunks. As the smoke cleared, the last Drone was up and started to fire his Hammerburst in Cole's direction. Perfect timing, asshole!

Cole quickly took cover behind the trees near a boulder as the Drone started to move back in, but the noise coming from his gun alerted the Berserker. She tunes into the noise from behind as she charges again, pushing down trees until she plowed through the vicinity again, running over the unsuspecting Drone, trampling him to his death. She continued to move out of the woods until she stops out in the open.

Cole was trying his hardest not to laugh at the Drone's misfortune while he turned his attention to Baird, whom was making hand signals, instructing Cole to stay put while Baird goes out to redirect her attention towards the frozen river.

Squealing like a couple of boars in a skirmish, the Berserker stomps her feet, trying to brush the snow accumulating on her massive head. Baird uses the commotion to roadie run out of the woods, passing her up while Sven followed behind, trying to stay on route with the Corporal. The two Gears manage to get closer to the lake before the Berserker could hear them running through the snow.

Baird stops in his place and signals Sven to do the same as Sven comes to a halt. The Berserker goes on a rampage and aimlessly charges across the white, open area, pushing her weight at an incredible speed through the deep snow. She misses the two Gears by a longshot, hoping that their lack of movement will only confuse the blind monster. Stopping in her tracks, she sniffs the air, hoping to find a scent but the falling snow shielded their whereabouts from her. She started to get annoyed.

Baird gestured to Sven, giving him instructions on what to do after Baird darts out onto the river, hoping to direct her onto the iced over water below. After Baird finished, Sven nodded, understanding what he was going to have to do to make this work. Hopefully.

Baird waited a few moments to study the Berserker's demeanor before charging out and getting her to follow him. As the time was right, Baird suddenly sprinted towards the frozen river ahead. God, I hope this works, otherwise I'm so screwed!

Shifting her attention to Baird's getaway, the Berserker snarls for a moment and then charges in his direction, shrieking as she ran while plowing through the snow. He doesn't stop running until he makes it onto the frozen river and slides into a stop, grasping the floor before he slides out even further. Shit, I haven't done this in years…I hope I still got it.

As the Berserker runs onto the thick ice below, her massive feet slide out from under her as she collapses and slides out towards the middle of the river. Baird looks up, noticing that she was having a hard time trying to keep her equilibrium on the slick ice.

Baird couldn't contain himself,

"Haha…not so tough now, huh, bitch?"

She responds with a piercing roar as she turns her head in his direction, focusing on picking up his scent that was barely readable, but it was enough. She started to slowly get back on her feet, oh, crap!

Baird suddenly manages to set his footing right to where he pushed himself and slid across the ice while using his knee armor for breaks as he drops down and comes to a stop. He turns around to taunt her some more,

"What…are we having trouble?"

As soon as he finished his taunt, the Berserker gets back on her feet and starts to charge again, but the ice made her aim futile as she slipped again and rolled out further onto the river.

Now's my chance, Baird said to himself, pulling out his Bolo grenade. He starts to swing the grenade by the chain, trying to get the projectory just right through the thick snow falling between them. He releases the grenade, letting it roll across the river until it stopped right next to her. As soon as it stopped, the grenade went off, blasting the snow and ice around it. Suddenly, the ground started to shift underneath them as large popping sounds echoed through the area.

Baird was moving quickly, sliding and stopping with each push along the slippery ground, but the ice below, started to move.

Aw, crap…hurry up Damon, move your ass, Baird was trying to move as fast as he could across the shifting ice. As the Berserker thrashed her arms, the ground beneath her began to sink in, pulling her down as large blocks of ice collapse from under her weight and movement.

Sven watched form the shore, shocked that it worked. Noticing Baird was having a hard time trying to get off the river before the cracked ice collapses underneath him as well. Sven darts out onto the frozen river while slowing down his pace, trying not to slip and fall himself. With Baird slipping and sliding along the ground, he finally catches up to Sven, grabbing him before he slips down, taking Sven with him.

Without warning, the ice breaks apart between the cracks that extended near the shore, floating aimlessly, bumping into each other while the wailing of the sinking Berserker starts to diminish. She wasn't going to get out of this one.

Baird and Sven could feel the block of ice turn as they both kept their ground.

Cole was running out towards the edge of the river when he noticed that the two were just a few meters away.

"C'mon, guys…you can make it!" he blurts out while Baird and Sven turn to his direction.

"Let's go kid, before this situation gets ugly," said Baird.

"On it, Corporal," Sven responded as he grabbed Baird's extended hand, pulling himself up.

The ice starts to rock slightly.

"Move, Vinny," Baird yells out, giving Sven a shove as he slides across the moving block of ice, coming to the ledge that was rising up fast.

"Aw shit…" Sven blurts out, with his legs hanging over the edge. Baird quickly joins him, watching below as the block started to lean on one side.

Suddenly, the ice block drops down, knocking Sven's balance as he slips and falls into the cold, blistering water.

"VINNY!" Baird yells out, jumping in after him.

"BAIRD…VINNY, shit," Cole yells out as he makes his way onto the river, trying not to slip as he comes do a grinding halt near the cracked ledge. He looks down, noticing Baird's head was still above water as Sven hung onto him like a monkey on his mother's back.

Cole stretches his arm,

"C'mon baby…you gotta reach," said Cole as Baird swam as fast as he could carrying Sven in the icy water, trying to move before the water freezes up again.

"Shit, this is cold," Baird gripes as he manages to catch Cole's hand.

"Hang on," Cole yells out as he tries to pull them both out.

"Cole, take Vin first…you can't pull us both out at the same time!"

"Shut up Baird, and hang on…" Cole barked as he grimaced while pulling both men out. The water was starting to refreeze as Baird kept kicking his legs to avoid them getting trapped in the ice while Sven was hanging on for dear life, trembling profusely from the cold water.

"Almost…got, it," Cole cringed as he slowly, but surely pulled them out from the icy tomb below them. Cole continued to drag the two over to the shore and releases them. Cole then kneels down next to Sven, whom was shivering violently. Cole takes off his blanket and wraps it around Sven while Baird sits up and starts to feel the brisk cold air sting his wet face and hair.

"Agh…this is going to feel like hell," Baird whined as he too started to shiver.

Suddenly, a load shriek surges into the air as the audible chants become familiar to the Gears.

"Son of a…now he's here," Baird barks, grabbing his pistol from his holster, hoping the trigger wasn't frozen as he looked up.

Sure enough, the Kantus priest was wailing, waiving his Gorgon pistol as he threw out an Ink grenade in their direction.

"INCOMING INK," Cole yelled as he grabs Sven and takes whatever cover he could find nearby while Baird did the same. The grenade rolls over to a halt and then detonates, splashing a poisonous fume, filtering through the air around it. The men start to cough, trying not to inhale as much of it as they can while Baird buries his head in the snow, avoiding the eye and mouth contact. Cole held Sven down, using his own body to shield Sven from the spreading fumes.

They could hear the Kantus taunting with his chants, as he reached for his Gorgon pistol. Cole sat up, pulling out his Lancer while bringing the blanket to his face, trying not to breathe in the poisonous air, but the priest fired first, firing in bursts in between shots.

"Shit, *cough, damn," Cole grimaced, ducking down to avoid the gunfire.

The fumes from the Ink grenade start to dissipate, allowing the Gears to breathe freely as they try to focus on the problem at hand. Baird sits up with Lancer already in hand and starts to fire.

"Back off, asshole!" Baird yelled out as the Kantus rolled backwards, trying to avoid the gunfire from Damon's Lancer. Soon, Cole also joined in once he was able to peer over the heap of snow and catch a glimpse of the priest, moving back.

They took turns firing at the priest while he dodged, moving from side to side, reloading his pistol and he returns fire. While firing with one hand, he pulls out another grenade and starts to swing it with the other.

"Aw, crap…COLE…ANOTHER INK," Baird yelled out, trying to find cover. He didn't know if they could handle another Ink grenade. As the Gears go back down for cover, a shot rings out into the air, followed by a screeching hiss, and another round of shots from a Gorgon pistol. After a loud shriek, the area went silent.

Baird picked himself up, shivering between the cold air and the adrenaline rush, peering over the snow and saw that the Kantus was lying lifeless on the ground and Raven , limping along the way.

"Well I'll be damned…FERAL," Baird said as he stood back up, rubbing the sides of his arms. He looked over to Cole and Sven's position as he calls out,

"Cole…you alright?"

"Yea…FUCK, it's cold!"

Cole stands back up while pulling Sven on his feet. Baird could tell that Sven was freezing. He looked over to see Raven carefully sitting down as she starts to rummage the Kantus' lifeless body.

Raven managed to pull the Gorgon pistol from hand, taking out the rounds to load up her own. She then started to rummage through his paraphernalia, looking for artifacts, or other religious materials. She looked up to find Baird walking over to her, watching him gesture,

"Hey, hey…quit hoggin all the goodies," he gripes.

"I need the ammo, Baird!"

"..and I need anything else this priest might be carrying."

"Like what?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," he scoffed as he shooed her away, but she stood her ground and shooed back.

"No, this is my kill, go back there to claim yours!"

"Oh, so we're on, only rummage what you kill, terms now?"

Realizing she didn't have a lot of movement with her wound, Baird takes advantage of the situation and scoots her over with his hip.

"Hey…this is mine!" she sneers, trying to push him back, but he was too big for her to move him from the ground.

"Mine now," he chuckled, amused by her insistency as she slapped his arm, unintentionally glancing his shoulder armor in the process.

"Shit!" Raven wailed in pain from the contact, clutching her hand as she cringed. Baird started to laugh after he pulled out a "leather" scroll and some metal pieces that resembled "runes."

Cole and Sven made their way over to the corpse.

"Man, we need to find shelter…and fast," Cole mentioned as Raven looked up, still rubbing her hand from accidentally hitting Baird's armor.

"It's not far from here…" Raven squeaked out.

"What is?" Baird blurted out.

"The place we're going to stay at, asshole," Raven barked, carefully standing back up as she placed her Gorgon pistol back into her holster.

"All right, all right, let's get going," Baird scoffed as he put the paraphernalia in his pack. Cole had Sven's arm over his shoulder while he was shivering profusely,

'Yea…" said Sven in between shivers, "…let's…get…some, place…warm."

Raven limped around the group as she growled to herself, moving ahead while the others just glared at her. She finally stopped in her tracks and turned around.

"Well…c'mon. This way," she stammered as she turned back around and continued forward, limping. Without comment or sarcasm, the three Gears huddled up and followed her down the slope as the snow continued to fall, turning the world around them into white as the sun was now setting behind the mountain.

Chapter 26: Quid Pro Quo Edit

Breaking away with the beast of both worlds

A smile that you can't disguise

Every minute I keep finding

Clues that you leave behind


Save me from these reminders

As if I'd forget tonight

This time la luna

I light my torch and wave it for the

New moon on Monday

And a firedance through the night

I stayed the cold day with a lonely satellite.


You got me coming up with answers

All of which I deny.


Duran Duran

New Moon on Monday


The afterglow of the setting sun has nearly dissipated while Sigma squad moves quickly to their place of refuge for the night. Although the Gears had no clue where Raven was taken them, they trusted her word that the grueling trek would be worth the aching.

Raven stops in her place, waiting for the others catch up to her, as she turned around, carefully walking over to Baird, speaking to him in between shivers,

"I'm going to…need a flare," she asks him, shaking from the gust of wind, brushing against her cold face. Baird reaches into his leg pack and pulls out a flare and hands it to Raven.

"Thanks…give me a…minute," she says. Baird nods, rubbing his trembling arms as he waits for her to light it up. His face was layered with grime and frost, while the snow blowing in the wind was stinging his cheeks. He quickly noticed that Raven was having trouble lighting it with the wind.

"Here," he said as he used his body to shield her from the wind, "...now try it."

Raven nodded while she tried again. Cole and Sven huddle together as they watch Raven light up the flare, gazing in it's illumination.

"Well, at least we have light…shit, Feral, are we there yet," Cole asks, trying to be patient despite freezing in the blistering cold. His dark skin was starting to pale from the frost accumulating on his face. Sven on the other hand, was turning red, as his poor nose and cheeks were getting frost bit.

"Just ahead…around those jagged rocks," Raven said as she pointed. She lifts the flare to get a better look of the rocky, cliff wall next to the dense forest.

"Ugh, about damn time…shit, it's cold, can we hurry this up?" Baird complained while trying keep his pace with Raven.

Raven sighed as she shivered,

"I'm working on it, Baird."

She moves along the wall, over to a cluster of shard rocks as they see a faint hole surrounded by immense boulders.

Baird moves up closer to Raven's position as he gets a better look at their destination.

"Wait…is that a cave?" Baird asks.

"A shallow one, but yes," she replied.

She limped ahead while Baird followed, shivering, with Cole and Sven close behind. Baird turns around and waits for the other two as he too huddles with them, trying to shield himself from the brisk wind gusting along the rock wall. Raven finally moves into the cave entrance as the flare lights up the walls inside. As the Gears follow Raven into the cave, they start to relax, relieved from the harsh cold breeze that was beating on their faces. They move in, following the flare, looking around at the granite and marble contusions that glistened in the light, mixed with the solidified ice. They peer ahead to a faint pool of water as Raven carefully climbs up on a slope shelf, placing the flare on top.

The three Gears stare in awe as steam was lifting from the pool nearby.

"Holy crap…is that what I think it is…is that a hot spring?" Baird asks.

"Yes it is, Damon," Raven replies.

The three looked at it as if they we're going to faint. After three days of hiking and trekking through the harsh, bitter Frost, they finally get to soak in a hot bath.

"This is one of several hot springs located around the area…obviously I found this one more suitable since it is more concealed," Raven explained while the three Gears just stood there and drooled as Raven continued,

"Damon, could you light up another flare please?"

Baird shook his head for a minute as he looked down and pulled out another flare and lit it up.

"Ok, now where did you want it?" he asked while Raven made her way down the slope to their position near the shore.

"Hand it to me…I can take it from here while I get a camp fire started," Raven suggested as Baird handed her the flare. Sven starts to get antsy,

"Hey…can we…" Sven managed to leak out before Raven interrupted him,

"Sigh…go ahead," she said.

Not even within a split second, Sven and Cole darted to the shore, taking off their armor and clothes as fast as their frozen hands will let them, throwing their attire to the wayside.

Sven was the first get completely undressed as he runs off into the water,

"Whoe, yea…" he runs in, not realizing how hot the water was as he squealed, "…oh shit, it's hot!" Raven rolled her eyes as she steps down the slope to get a campfire going, and to give the men some privacy.

Baird was the next to disrobe as he tried to pull off his attire with his ice, cold hands, pulling off his boots while dropping his pants and throwing them to the wayside, yanking off his drenched socks shortly afterwards.

Cole was the next to get all his clothes off as he runs up to the slope shelf.

"WOOOO," Cole blurts out as he jumps from the rock ledge into the hot spring, ass first as the waves of hot water wash over Sven, trying to brace himself from the stinging surf. As the water finally settles, Cole finally merges from the bottom of the pool.

"Whoe, CRAP, that's hot," Cole shrieks as the heat finally hits him like a bunch of poking needles.

"Sweet, that was awesome, I wanna try that," says Sven.

"Nah uh, my turn," Baird interrupts as he runs off the ledge, splashing into the pool on his back, causing the water to rush over both Sven and Cole, while Baird finally emerges, cussing from the sweltering water stinging his fair skin.

"Shit, this water is hot…FERAL, you didn't say anything about this spring being scorching!"

"I said it was HOT!" Raven responded from a distance while still setting up a campfire.

"It's BOILING Feral…big difference."

"Well what the hell did you expect, it's a hot spring,"

"It's a swelter, look at my ass, it's fucking red,"

"Well that's sounds more like personal problem Damon, you know they got ointments for that,"

"Yea, I got your ointment right here," Baird yells as he moves closer to the shallow part of the spring, coaxing, while Cole and Sven get the Full Monty. Cole starts laughing,

"Damn, Damon, yo ass is red man, not to mention your…"

"Oh, shut up…HEY FERAL, move the flare more over to the right," Baird yells as he watches to see if the light over the bolder moves. Finally it does, as Baird bellows

"Your other right," he says while Raven growls.

"There…is there anything else?" she sneered.

"Well, now that you mention it…"

"You know what, I take that back…nevermind."

"What…oh, c'mon, you didn't know what I was going to ask you…"

"You're just going to try to find some moronic reason for me to come over there, just so you can somehow humiliate me for your amusement."

"Who, Baird…nah," Cole muses.

"Ah ha, ha…ass," Baird said sarcastically, "…c'mon, Feral, it's nothing you haven't seen before," he conveniently reminds Raven.

"Just because somebody's seen the show doesn't make it spectacular, Baird."

Cole and Sven laugh out loud, nearly sinking into the pool, trying to brace themselves along the rock wall.

"Well, apparently they still pay to go see the sequel," Baird continued.

"Not in this life time, Gear," Feral responds.

"…you know I had to try."

"Whatever, shut up and scrub your ass. Other people need to use the pool too,"

"Well nobody is stopping you from joining in," Baird sneered while Cole and Sven keep laughing, almost to tears.

"Dude, ya think she'll do it," Sven glees in a giddy expression.

"Like, dude, I don't think she would pose selling tupperware, much less jumping naked in the pool, especially with us three grunts," Baird replied.

"Man, that don't mean we can't dream," Cole mumbles, going down, submerging his head under the water, then racing back up.

"In it that that the truth," Baird mutters to himself as he looks over to view his red buttocks, not the least bit concerned about exposing his junk to the others while trying to orient his body to the sweltering water.

"Woooh, damn this is NICE! We need to come back here when this is over," Cole begins to simmer as he leans his back on the smooth bolder behind him. Baird too goes under and comes back up, starting to relax as he breathes the steam into his sinuses and then exhales.

"When and if this is ever over," says Baird, as he sobers up to the idea of rest and relaxation.

"Like, when will it be over…I mean…do you think we're close to ending the war?" says Sven, as his optimism starts to shy away when both Cole and Baird just stare at him with discernment. Sven hasn't fought near as long or hard as these two have and his naive outlook on the situation can only be natural. The two make no comment on the subject, as they have already accepted Sven's infantile blueprint and expect nothing else other than noobish questions. Shit, he's just a kid.

"Hey, so how does this water get so hot," Sven asks, trying to change the atmosphere.

"It's getting its heat from under the ground, right Baird?" Cole joins in as they turn to Baird, still leaning his head back on the boulder. He then looks up to find Cole and Sven glaring at him.

"What am I, your personal encyclopedia?" Baird scoffs as the two continue to just glare at him.

"Sigh… the water is being heated by an geothermic heat source."

Sven gives Baird a puzzled expression.

"Oh for crying out loud…there is a heat source under the damn ground, heating the groundwater…just like Cole said."

"Oh…ok," says Sven trying to envision the geology.

"So, exactly what is it underground that is heatin the water," Cole continues.

"The planetary core, or the magma, or hot rocks."

"Like in volcanoes?"

"Probably…there's one not too far from here, where do you think Vectus island came from? This whole area sits on the edge of a tectonic plate."

"So that's why we haven't seen any grub holes lately...I thought it was because this valley is mostly made of granite, like Jacinto."

"The mountains are, but most of the valley is some form of limestone…this place is rich with metals and it was long rumored that there may have been some Immulsion depositories here as well," said Baird as he gave Cole a grin, "your finally starting to catch on, Gus…I'm impressed!" Baird mused while Cole flips him the bird from the other side of the pool.

"Bitch," Cole sneers while Baird smirks, blowing him a kiss.

As the three men soak in the sauna, shooting the breeze and slapping their cocks around, over the bolder, Raven takes a seat, trying not to sit directly on her wound that's been numb from the cold. She cunningly rummages in Baird's nap pack, finding and opening his journal. Raven quietly moves next to the campfire, as she occasionally looks over to the three men occupying themselves. Ok, let's see what you have been researching.

Carefully turning the pages, Raven tries to be discreet as she comes across some of Damon's "artwork," mostly pin-ups of naked women. She turns the book on the side, wrapping her head around his doodles. What a perv, she says to herself as she analyzes the drawings more closely…wow, he's actually pretty good, despite the subject matter. Raven curls her lip as her brow scrunches, reading some of his notes regarding the Kantus scrolls and something about the "Trinity of Worms," trying to read the material in half light, since the asshole insisted the flare to be moved closer to the shore.

"From other writings I've found, I think I've pieced it together: This is something called the "Trinity of Worms," and it's probably the closest thing I've seen yet to a Locust religious symbol. They really worship worms…we so do not deserve to be alive.

As far as I can tell, there's some kind of mantra on the artifact, about the queen making drones, drones protecting Nexus…and I'll have to work out that last part a little later. I don't work well under gunfire." (GoW 2)

Reveling in her thoughts, Raven contemplates the worms Baird was referring to. He must mean the rock worms…but how does he know about them, they're not indigenous on the surface, or at least near Jacinto.

Turning the pages, Raven comes across some more of his "creative doodles," only they're caricatures of some of other squad mates. She stumbles upon a caricature of Colonel Hoffman, whom appears to be "yanking" his male appendage. Raven laughs to herself, trying not to do it out load as she turns the page to find another hand drawn caricature, of what appears to be Sergeant Fenix, boinking Lieutenant Stroud from the rear. Raven raises an eyebrow, wondering if there was any truth the "cartoon," geez, this guy either has a vivid imagination or he has way too much time on his hands…moving along. Turning the page, she comes across some of his journal entries regarding the Locusts. She tries to read Baird's somewhat legible handwriting,

"Why aren't there any Locust brats around here? Figured we'd see some grub's grub somewhere around this place.

Well, guess if the Berserkers are the females, maybe the males just wised up and quit laying the pipe to 'em. Man, that would be perfect... Locust go extinct due to the fugly, homicidal chicks they have to mate with." (GoW wiki)

Raven rolls her eyes at Baird's observation and ignorance, but at the same time, she ponders again, what place are they referring to, the Hollow, or Nexus?

She recalls the means the Locusts used to mate with the Berserkers, but it wasn't from strapping them down in chains so the drone can mate without being ripped to shreds, as it was cataloged in the COG database.

On the contrary, Raven scribbles on the side of Baird's notes, they use a song, or chant to "charm" her when she is in estrus…and that, from what I have observed only happens four times a year.

Among Ravens' surveillance of the Berserkers, from a safe distance, she found that their keen sense of smell is particular on whom they want to mate with. She has seen instances of Berserkers mating willingly with one drone while decimating another. She can only guess that Berserkers have a pheromone preference. With many of the Berserkers becoming few in between, this may be one of the contributing factors as to why hardly anyone has seen juvenile Locusts.

The Locusts must be trying to produce out of desperation by forcing the Berserkers to mate using confinement, similar to what the COG was doing with breeding farms. It seems pliable in theory, but as one wise woman once said, there is a rhyme and reason for nature's selection. To deviate from those natural laws will lead to misfortune. How quaint, the Locusts are picking up bad habits from humans by trying to produce results artificially.

She turns over to another section of his notes, to what appears to printouts pasted on his journal pages. She starts to read one of his note's,

"I think this thing's like the Locust equivalent of a calendar or a clock…it says something about "every season having it's opposite," and I also see some glyphs for "Nexus," "Queen," and maybe "Imulsion"…can't quite tell.

I'm guessing it has something to do with the ebb and flow of Imulsion, but I'd have to do a lot more research to confirm that.

Considering that I'm about, oh, three kilometers deep, right square in the guts of the enemy, you'll have to forgive my vast empirical skills aren't exactly at their finest right now." (GoW 2)

Raven noticed a picture taped into the journal of what looks to be a calendar dial. She tries to peer carefully to get a better look at the glyphs on the picture of the "calendar."

These look more like star constellations than glyphs, but how can that be plausible, they dwell under the surface…unless…

As she flips the page over, she notices that Baird drew the Locust "alphabet" along with part of the interpretation.

He has actually deciphered some of the Locust language?

Raven quickly reaches down into her pack as she pulls out her own journal and a pencil, setting them down in front as she reaches near her boot to take out her knife. She carefully places Baird's journal next to her leg as she sharpens her pencil with the knife on the other side to avoid getting any shavings on Baird's journal.

Over the slope near the pool shore, she could hear the three Gears frolicking in the water, doing whatever it is men do when they're naked in a hot tub. She carefully places Baird's journal on her leg while she sits hers close by as she writes down the "letters" of the Locust alphabet, while keeping a tuned ear in the Gears' direction.

How come I haven't seen any of this in the database, Raven ponders, wondering the reason may be perhaps Baird wasn't done translating it all yet.

She turns several pages over, trying to ignore his "pin-up" drawings until she stumbled upon a photograph taped to a page, facing down. She carefully lifts it up to see what appears to be a "family" picture. She carefully turns the journal upside down to get a better look at the photo and noticed that it was some picture of a "family," outing or vacation of sorts. She could see a man and a woman, with a little boy in the middle of the two, posing in front of some ruins outside a historical site somewhere outside of Tyran. Raven tried to turn the journal more towards the fire light while trying to make out who they were. Is that Damon with his parents? She notices the scruffy looking blonde kid, holding what appears to be a notebook while posing grudgingly with his parents.

Raven laughs to herself, I don't know of any kid that liked to be photographed…I couldn't stand it.

Raven could recall during her childhood when her foster father would tickle her to get her to smile for the camera. She would have never thought that she would ever regret it now. She sighs as she carefully flips the photo over into place, turning a few more pages until she came across something peculiar. Trying to go back to the page of interest, she skipped over some "life" drawings of some women, posing naked. She rubs the back of her neck, trying not to be impressed with his eye for detail, but she couldn't help but to take notice of the fineness in his work.

"HEY FERAL," Cole blasts, like an obnoxious, muted trumpet, startling her as she twitched. Oh good lord, now what?

"What doya girls think about a guy with big hands,"

"Well he probably wears big gloves, Cole." Raven yells back, fumbling with Baird's journal as she tries to close it up without wrinkling the pages.

"What about big feet,"

"Big shoes."

"And nose?" I can already see where this is going.

"Well Cole, I hate to bust your ego but just because a guy has some funky characteristics doesn't necessarily mean he's packing," Raven blurts out, hoping that it will be the last of Cole's musings.

"But I thought…well you know,…suppose to know all dis breeding stuff, what do y'all chicks dig in a man," says Cole while Raven can here the others laughing.

"I'm not a fertility counselor, Cole," she yells back.

"Alright Feral, Cole wants to know if size matters," Baird finally had to say it. Raven puts the journal down as she lets out a heavy sigh, sitting, contemplating, until she finally breaks the silence, yelling over her shoulder.

"Are we seriously having this conversation right now?"

The three men respond in unison

"YES!"

Raven carefully puts the journal back where it was, placing it just as Baird had left it when he stripped off his boots and pants. Speaking of which, what is taking them so long? Raven pulls out a watch from her pocket, it's been…almost an hour!

Raven groans as she gets up and limps down to the pool shore, coming across the rock ledge the men were jumping off earlier, and in a brief instance of borderline shock, she stares while Cole and Baird are wrestling in the deeper part of the water. If only I had a camera, this would be priceless.

"Uh, sir…guys," says Sven, all the while, Cole and Baird, as usual, ignores him completely, continuing with their "man fest", not even giving Raven a glance. As Cole tries to catch his footing, Baird goes under and snags his legs, lifting up and literally throwing Cole over him into the other side of the spring, all the while Raven tries not to look directly at their private parts. Baird laughs out load as he starts to mock,

"Ah c'mon Cole, I thought you said you can…oh," Baird cuts short as he turns and sees Raven standing on the shore with her arms folded, giving the three a grimacing look. Cole finally emerges, trying to swim his way back and talking flak.

"That's it white boy, your going…uh oh," says Cole as he looks up as the awkward moment fills the atmosphere, like someone letting out a loud fart during a eulogy. Whatever testosterone frenzy they were relishing in, it was over now.

"Wow…two guys wrestling naked in a hot tub…I should post this on my blog,"

"Yea, I bet that gets you all hot, doesn't it," Baird responds to Raven's sarcasm.

Her brow sinks over her eyes as she scowls.

"It's been nearly an hour…your done…OUT, now." Raven orders, still standing with her arms crossed.

The three stare at her dumbfounded and then turn to each other as they suddenly start to snicker, and before Raven can even get a word out, the three are already laughing hysterically.

"You know what, you three can go fuck yourselves! I'm going back to the campfire." Raven scoffs as she turns around and limps back over to the campsite.

"Aw c'mon Rav, you know you want some of this…" Baird blurts out as she walks away. He turns over to the others as he moans, "ok…the party poopers' right, we do need to eat and hit the hay," says Baird.

"Ah…we gotta go back out in the cold," Sven mutters as he tries to run his way out of the pool, with Cole following close behind.

"Yea, now my dick's going to run and hide…SHIT, it is cold," Cole whines as he quickly tries to shake the water off while putting on his underwear. Sven attempts to put on his pants rapidly, but his hands were shivering so vigorously, he fell over onto the rest of his attire.

"Crap, man I can't find my shirt…" Sven whines.

"I got yo shirt…here."

Cole throws it on top of Sven.

Damon finally drags himself out of the warm water, while feeling the sudden rush of the cold, crisp air, whisk right in between his legs, and he suddenly covers his naughty bits with his warm hands.

"Ah, man, this feeling sucks." Baird gripes as he teeters over the rock, staggering to his wardrobe and quickly puts on his pants and undershirt.

Cole and Sven ultimately get dressed and make their way to campsite, carrying their armor and boots, plopping them near the campfire, while Raven throws in some more tree branches and grass to keep the fire going. Baird, too, catches up as he jumps down from the shallow ridge, throwing his gear next to Raven.

"Oh damn…I missed," Baird snickers, hoping it would get a rise out of Raven, instead, without missing a beat, she turns on Baird's frolics.

"Yea, that too sounds like a personal problem. How do you expect to multiply with your crappy aim?"

"Oooo…burn...hey Baird, I think you just got told," Cole coaxes, as Baird picks up Cole's blanket and throws it at him.

"My aim is still better than yours," Baird mocks back, although she was not quite sure which he was referring too, her sexual orientation, or her lack of experience with a rifle. Either way, he was slowly trying to get under her skin.

"Oh, by the way, you can have the pool now," said Baird as he gestures in a feminine pose, while the other two start to chuckle, "…and be sure to wash out your gash. I'll stitch it back up when you're done."

"Gee…your too kind," Raven sneers.

"You better start being nice to me," Baird frolics as Raven exchanges a grin of sarcasm and then grumpily frowns just before she gets up.

"So what's for grub?' Cole asked, pulling out a bag that the Feral gave him from the night before.

"Nuts, dried berries, and jerky," she said as she pulled out a piece of jerky and started to gnaw on it.

"Aw, for real? We got some beef jerky?" Cole beamed in excitement.

"Beef? I don't think so," said Baird, picking the jerky strands from his sack, trying to analyze it.

"How do you know it's not beef?"

"When was the last time you saw a cow, Cole?"

Cole ignored Baird as he took a bite into his strand, tasting the spicy meat, mixed with a taste of cedar and cinnamon. Sven started to chew on his, relishing in the sweet taste, melting in his mouth. For jerky, it was rather tender.

"Whatever it is, this stuff ain't bad," said Sven.

"Damn, this shit is good…what is this Feral?" Cole finally asked and then shoved the rest of his jerky in his mouth.

"It's Kryll, Cole," Raven answered. Baird suddenly threw the meat from his hand in disgust,

"Aw, gross…the fuck, Feral!"

Cole stopped chewing for a moment, letting the info that Raven just informed him sink into his head. Sven turned to look at the others, wondering if that was actually a bad thing. They all then turned their attention to Raven who was just eating away at it, not thinking twice about it. She stopped for a moment as she noticed the glares she was getting from the squad.

"What…it's good for you. It's a lot leaner, and more tender than beef, besides, it's rich in iron," she tried to justify the means.

"It's Kryll, Raven…I can't believe you chicks actually eat this shit," Baird griped. Cole shrugged and continued to finish up his jerky,

"It ain't that bad, Baird. Try some…it'll put hair on your chest," Cole chuckled while Baird gave him a dirty look.

"No thanks…you guys go ahead."

Raven finishes up as she tosses her bag down on the ground,

"Well, I'm going to take care of business, so…try not to screw anything up…and refrain yourselves from pissing in the campfire, please," said Raven as she starts to make her way over to the spring.

"You got it, baby…" Cole yells over his shoulder.

"We won't piss in the campfire as long as you don't piss in the pool," Baird added while Raven sighed, ignoring him as she continued to limp over to the pool.

"Hehe, I think she was really talking to Vin," said Cole.

"Really…hey, you think she..." Sven contemplates while Cole and Baird cut him off, barking in unison,

"NO!"

Chapter 27: Taming of The Shrew Edit

"Why came I hither but to that intent?

Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?

Have I not in my time heard Lions roar?

Have I not heard the sea, puffed up with winds,

Rage like an angry boar, chafèd with sweat?

Have I not heard great ordnance in the field

And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies?

Have I not in pitchèd battle heard

Loud 'larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?

And do you tell me of a woman's tongue,

That gives not half so great a blow to hear

As will a chesnut in a farmer's fire?"


Petruchio

Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew


The night has settled in, while the wind could be heard, whistling outside the cave entrance. The campfire offered warmth, mixed with the steam coming from the hot spring nearby, as the air grew comfortably warm. The three Gears sat around the campfire, eating the trail mix and jerky they picked up from the Feral camp the night before. It wasn't like a warm bowl of chili or soup, but it satisfied their hunger, nevertheless. Cole and Sven continued to stuff their faces, chewing on dried berries while munching on the Kryll jerky, while Baird nibbles on the trail mix, ignoring the jerky altogether, gross.

In the denizens of the searing spring nearby, Raven takes a deep breath and leans over to a rock nearby, cupping her face with her hands as she slides them over her head, slicking back her black hair and folding them behind her neck. She can feel the warm water on her bare skin, loosening her anxieties as her sore muscles start to relax. She tilts her head back, breathing in the steam, clearing her sinuses as she exhales slowly, relieving the tension that has been building up over the past few days. Thoughts race through her head, recalling the conversation she had with the Harpies, trying to piece together the events that have been unfolding during their mission.

Running through her mental notes over and over, Raven tries to piece it all together but she couldn't make any sense of the puzzle, only speculations that just so happen to fit the facts. But that wasn't enough for her. None of it was logical. Why would the Harpies willingly let the Gears go? That was the question that haunted her the most.

The matriarch, Tamar is known for her brutality, especially when it concerned the COG. Raven knew that the hard woman seldom entertained Gears, if ever at all. It was long rumored that Tamar was a repercussion of a failed experiment that attributed to her spite, but none of Feral would ever speak of of it otherwise. It was as if any correlation concerning Tamar's beginnings was quickly brushed under the rug to be piled on the heap of hypocrisy.

As Raven understood it in grammar school, it wasn't uncommon, back in the day when people would receive subsidies if they volunteered to be subjects in individual studies, whether they were by legal means or not. Some of those studies, unfortunately went as far as exploiting their subjects, performing experiments that were deemed inhumane, which lead to a extensive chain of events, followed by lawsuits and for some, criminal charges. Raven never really knew what happened to Tamar during her trials, but one thing was for sure, she gave the Feral the bad rap for being malicious, brutal, and cruel.

It was something Raven has heard many times from her Reverend Mother, Paroux, a elderly woman whom, before she chose to pursue a life of wisdom, was once a fierce, tyrant herself. However, the elder woman learned long ago that only wrath can lead to inevitable destruction and that ties with the governments must one day be reconciled if the human race is to ever survive and thrive. But how can we accomplish this if we are betrayed by our own, and for what purpose? Raven felt the tension, strong enough to quickly notice that Tamar did not like their alliance with the COG, but how long has she known about it?

Soaking in the warmth of the water, she couldn't help but to recollect the notes she read from Damon's journal. She recalled, before Jacinto's destruction, that the Locusts were advancing out of desperation from another threat, something called, the Lambent. Raven knew that the sinking of Jacinto was a huge blow on the Locust war machine, but something didn't seem right about it. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she felt that maybe Baird had the right idea, that their last ditch effort to destroy their only refuge may have been in vain.

As she slowly exhales, she shoves her thoughts to the wayside for now and starts to focus more on relaxing. The stinging sensation from her wound eventually faded as Raven leans her head back and moans at ease, only for the moment to suddenly go sour as she turns and finds Baird, trudging down to the shore, cussing under his breath, as he comes to a stop and stands with his hands set firmly on hips. Ugh, what implicable timing, what the hell does he want now?

"You were going through my journal, weren't you..." he barked.

Raven dropped her hands in annoyance as she turned her focus in his direction as she responded bluntly,

"Yea…so?"

"Shit, you're really are something else…how'd you like it if I started rummaging through your shit?"

"Wait a minute…you have been consistently "picking at my brain" for the past three days and now, all of a sudden, you get little miffed when I read notes from your journal? Are you for real?"

"That's my personal journal, damnit!"

"...and now you have the audacity to come here and complain…couldn't it wait until after my bath to talk about this?"

"Hell yea, I'm addressing this now…before you take off on me!"

"Where in the hell am I going to go in this freezing weather, Baird…especially with this open gash on my ass…which you have yet to fix!"

"Well then get out so I can fix it…believe it or not, I would like to go to sleep sometime…especially since it's your turn to keep watch!"

Raven growled, realizing if she didn't get out, he may never fix her wound, that jerkoff! She moves closer to the shore as the steam rose around her, exposing her upper torso that was visible above the water.

"Fine, I'll get out…" Raven barked as she gave him a glare, "…now, do you mind?"

Baird stood there with his arms crossed as a smirk swelled at the corner of his mouth while he shrugged,

"No, not really," he said as matter-of-fact. It's not like she'd be the first woman I ever saw naked…

Raven curled her lip in aggravation, oh, so we're going to play this little game are we? Fine!

Without a comeback or a gesture, Raven started to march out of the water, not the least bit conscientious about exposing her nude body to him as she stepped out onto the shore and passes him up while going over to her pile of clothes and armor.

Baird stood there as he turned to look her over, raising his brow, somewhat surprised that she actually did it without shame or indignity. Well, shit…that backfired…but hey, at least I got a look.

The faint light coming from the dimming flare illuminated the water still clinging to her skin, accenting her toned body. The curvature in her form was elegant in it's own way, while the musculature that protruded down her back to her calves would contort as she twisted her body, rummaging through her things while searching diligently for her velvet, ceremonial garment. Huffing under her breath, Baird could tell that she was getting irritated, which only made her even more enticing, in a odd, peculiar way. She's kinda cute when she's pissed. Baird finally had to break the awkward moment as he sighed and then interrupted her frantic search,

"Are you looking for this?" he says as he holds up her ceremonial garb for her to see.

"How…why do you have my clothes, Damon?"

"Quid pro quo…" he sneered.

"Can it wait till after I get dressed?"

"You should have thought about that before you got outta the pool, " Baird mused while Raven just flashed him a dirty look, "what…are you embarrassed about me seeing you naked?"

"Is there a reason I should be?" she sneered back, "are you not mature enough to handle it?"

Baird stood there as her words wrestled in his head, realizing she was turning the discussion in her favor real quick. Not wanting to give her the benefit of dominating their conversation, he quickly changes the subject as he starts to get down the nitty gritty portion of their little chat,

"Answer me this…why did the Harpies let us go? As I recall, the Feral are very strict about imposing visitors, especially with the egotistical, chauvinistic, Gear pigs…"

The question caught Raven off guard, not realizing that Baird had some insight on the history of Feral and COG "relations," many of them not being constructive ones. She turned her gaze to the ground as she shrugged her shoulders, rubbing her arms to warm up her exposed skin from the crisp air. Baird could tell she was nervous when it concerned the Harpies, in fact, she's been on edge ever since we left the clan.

Raven looked back up as confidence brightened her pale face,

"I had to give them something for escorting you safely into their camp. I…used Vinny as collateral to…express our intentions…"

Baird quickly realized that she must have given them some information in exchange for their lives. What else could she have possibly given them that would remotely equal the Gears in value?

"What did you tell them?" Baird asked without being sarcastic.

"Quid pro quo, Damon," Raven said, turning the tables over before she gave away her leverage. She could see Baird's brow, droop over his eyes, giving her a suspicious glare, but his expression softened as he dropped his arms and started to lean against the ledge while he folded his arms with her garment still in his hand.

He sighs, "Go on…"

"You've been trying to salvage Locust paraphernalia for quite some time. Apparently you have some key insight into their language and civilization…with that said, do you know why thy are advancing on the human race…does it have something to do with the one's they call, the Lambent?"

Baird chuckled to himself, realizing that she had been hacking into their classified archives concerning Locust intel, clever bitch. He looks down for a moment, collecting his thoughts and then turns his gaze back to her as he replied,

"From what I have gathered, the Lambent has been advancing on the Locusts territory…which have lead us to believe, as of now, that this may be the reason the Locusts are advancing to the surface."

Raven's pale blue eyes widened, as if an epiphany just spurred into her head. She crosses her arms, subtly covering her generous bosoms as she slowly kneels down, attempting to take a seat. She leans to one side, keeping her legs together to avoid showing off her girly bits while trying to avoid sitting directly on her gash. Sitting up on her side, she pulls her legs in, reaching over and grabbing her fatigues as she props it up over her breasts to keep them warm.

Baird almost found the whole thing amusing as he watched her trying to be discreet, but continued on with their discussion as he uses his own leverage.

"Ok, your turn…" he snides as Raven looks up, shoving her thoughts back to the present, "…so, what did you tell them?"

Raven stared at him for a moment, coming to terms with the scathing she was going to get in return.

"I told them about the COG whereabouts…that Jacinto's remnant is going to be relocated to Vectus Island."

Baird's jaw dropped, as if she just let a big cat out of the bag for the whole world to see. Raven could feel the scolding coming from his eyes as he just stood there with his brow, hanging heavily over his face. He starts to scratch his head, shuffling his hair as he drops his arm in exasperation,

"So now they know where our new headquarters is going to be located," he griped as Raven confirmed,

"Yes,"

"Fuck."

An awkward wall of silence was quickly bricked up, filling in the emotional gaps that neither really wanted to reveal at the moment. The mood was suspended somewhere in the steam, threading along the shore as the air intertwined between the masses.

But whatever anger that festered in Baird's head, something compelled him not to take it out on Raven. Though he tried, Baird couldn't find anything to blame Raven for what happened. If she didn't reveal any information to the Harpies, they may not have lived to see the next day. It was this fact that he couldn't really argue against.

His only card that he had to play now was the fact she was, literally, a cyber pirate. But what was he going to do about that, arrest her? The only immediate leverage he had now was her clothes in his possession.

"Was that the real reason they let us go?" he insisted.

"I, don't…" Raven began but suddenly held her tongue before she found the words to carefully explain, "…really know, as of yet."

"What other reason could it possibly be?"

"That there was something of value for sparring our lives…but I don't know of any reason why we would have been any value to them, so…I'm…not entirely sure."

After watching her demeanor, he could tell she wasn't lying. He knew that she was a bad liar, so anything that he asked at this point was cut and dry, whether it would be for better or for worst.

But something else came to mind that was lingering in the back of his head ever since they left the camp. He didn't think to ask it before, but what the hell…it's not like it's going to get me into any more trouble than I'm probably already in.

"Ok, remember back…at the Feral camp…" he started, somewhat apprehensive, but there was no turning back now, "…I asked you to kiss my bruise that you left on my leg, which I'm still waiting for you to do, by the way…"

Raven rolled her eyes,

"I'm not kissing your damn leg…you so earned that," Raven snorted, but despite her shrewdness, he continued,

"…instead of addressing my leg, you kissed me on the mouth instead."

He looked at her as she tilted her head in suspicion. Baird continued,

"What… brought you to…I don't know…do that?"

Raven's demeanor softened slightly as her eyes glared down for a moment, for the words to finally surface and perhaps satisfy his curiosity,

"The breeders were eyeing you for potential. I had to make it look like that you were "taken" in order to…prevent them from using you, which would consequently have lead to your destruction."

Baird's eyes widened in shock. He had no idea that the breeders where contemplating having relations with him.

"Wait…why…would they kill me…but let Vinny go free...that's makes absolutely no sense to me!"

"Well, gee Baird, why don't you read in between the lines…your kinda overly opinionated, and believe me when I say they would have done some things to you that would have thrown you for a loop…they would not tolerate your big mouth!"

Baird lifted an eyebrow as he started to chuckle,

"But you did…"

"Say what?"

"I think you heard me," he smiled as he noticed that he was getting under her skin again.

"I think you actually enjoyed it…practice my ass, you just wanted to get a piece of me."

"I wanted you to shut up, because, apparently kicking you didn't do the job!"

"Oh, so your going to sit here and tell me that you kissed me, just so you could get me to be quiet…is that what I'm supposed to believe?"

Raven carefully got up as she threw her fatigues to the wayside and marched over to Baird. He watched her in amusement, wondering what she was going to do now, but before he could get a word in, she stopped right in front of him as she gave him a menacing glare,

"Well, I would say it worked, didn't it," she sneered as she quickly snatched her garment from his grasp, turned around and marched back to her attire.

With his esteem now cupped in her cold, little hands, she started to twist at it, mercilessly.

"…and just so you know, before your ego gets ahead of yourself, I've had better."

Ouch, that was low, Baird thought to himself as he watched her put on her velvet attire. He really couldn't tell if she was just saying that to get back at him for something he did, or if she really meant it. Who else has she been lip locking with? She's bluffing…

"Oh, c'mon…with you being out and about, away from society, where did you ever find the convenience of kissing guys at random?"

"I have my sources…and why do you care?"

Raven finished putting on her ceremonial garb as she glared at him with her hands on her hips. As thoughts festered in her head, she started to really dig into the heart of the matter,

"Oh, so, are you insinuating that we're supposed to, fall in love, and then fuck," she sneered as Baird's expression turned into a bleak dribble, "...or are we supposed to run away someplace for a brief time...and then fuck, is that how its supposed to happen?"

"I wasn't trying to insinuate anything...you were the one who kissed me, so you tell me how it's supposed to be."

"You were the one who asked…and don't try to sugarcoat it now, Gear boy, because if you weren't curious about it, then you wouldn't have asked!"

"Ya know...ok, yea, I was curious...but don't start jumping to conclusions,"

"Of course not Baird, because that would have been a really tall order for you, Oh no, she might actually like me...oh, I better change the tide so she doesn't think I'm coming across as desperate...oh, we can't have that now, can we. Gee Baird, is it any wonder women hate you!"

"Ok, now that was below the belt!"

"Oh, did I hit a sore spot?"

Baird's face was starting to scowl as the words just added more fuel to the fire.

"It's not funny when people say something that's asinine and insensitive, isn't it..."

"Are you finished?" Baird scoffed as his brow dropped into a menacing glare. Impressed with herself, Raven backed off as she continued to rummage into her things, not giving the conversation another chance to be saved. What the hell for…we've hurt each other enough with the things we wanted to say. But as always, Raven always had to have the last word,

"...and just so you know, I wasn't implying that I just go around, kissing guys at random."

Baird's expression shifted as the conversation took a turn that could work to his advantage, "...and you never did...did you...until recently."

He gave her a condescending grin as she just glared at him while her brow slumped down over her eyes, looking at him intensely as if she was going to burn a hole in his head.

"Ok, this discussion is officially over…" she barked as she kneeled down, cringing from the pain in her glute.

Baird started to laugh while Raven attempted to ignore him. Completely amused by her defiance, he decided to give the banter a rest for the moment as he attempted to pull himself together. Baird suddenly changed the subject, while trying to salvage what they were discussing earlier before they piss each other to the point that neither would have anything nice to say.

"So, with that said…who has been following us?"

At last, it came down to this. Oh, so now he wants to talk about this again? Raven sighed as her eyes moved from side to side, as if she was trying to be discreet, and yet despite the quarrels they have had over the past few days, the mission was still a priority to her. She responds mildly,

"Another Feral…has been tracking us…"

Suddenly, some of the pieces were coming together.

"Say what?" Baird blurted out in shock.

"I believe a Feral has been keeping a watch on us…as to why, I'm not sure. I speculate that the Harpies may be involved…"

Baird hung onto her words, giving her his complete audience as Raven's suspicions pulsed in his brain.

"How did you figure this, Rav?"

"I know how scout's operate, Baird. I'm the best at it, remember?" she conveniently reminds him as he rolled his eyes, "…I really didn't start to notice until after we discovered Gamma Four…and after our, encounter with the Harpies, I was able to put the two together. I believe she has been conspiring with them."

"Conspire to do, what?"

"I'm…not sure as of yet…all I know is I'm not sure who to trust anymore. Ever since our, stay with the clan...this is the first time I felt out of place, within my own kind. I was so focused on trying to keep you guys from, literally, mortal danger...I feel that I may have missed alot of details that could have...maybe, prevented some things..."

Raven started to rub her arms to stay warm as she knelt down to take a seat. Her demeanor shifted as she started to get lost in her thoughts, trying to make sense of things she wasn't quite ready to deal with.

Baird didn't know what to tell her, and even if he did, he didn't know how to say it without being either brutally honest or lying sympathetically. This was not the kind of thing he knew how to do, much less do well, but he didn't want Raven to fall into a state of despair either. It was then that it suddenly dawned on him, shit, I need to stitch her gash.

Baird sighs, "Wait here…I need to get some bandages…and some stimulants, so I can fix your stitches."

Raven nodded slightly as Baird marched up towards the camp near his pile of armor and packs as he quickly grabbed one with some med supplies and antibiotics. He swung it over his shoulder and made his way back to Raven.

The flare was nearly expended as Baird pulled out another flare and quickly lit it up, placing it on the ground, near the shore as he took a seat next to Raven.

"Lemme guess…I'm going to have to roll on my stomach again, right?"

"Unless you want me to do this standing up…" Baird responded while Raven gave out a slight chuckle. He looked up at her for a moment, realizing that she just laughed, something that was so few and in between with her.

It had been awhile since he last saw her smile, and when she did, it was a sight for sore eyes. With each smirk or grin, Raven's cheeks would glow with a brilliance that only poets would dare to describe. Baird could still envision the subtlety of her face when her lips parted as she laughed. It was something he meant to one day put on paper, but never got around to it.

Raven proceeded to lie on her stomach while Baird was pulling out a small bottle of antiseptic and a syringe. Raven looked over her shoulder, wondering what he was going to do.

"What's the syringe for?"

"I need to give you something to avoid a possible infection…that and it's also a pain med. This should help make hiking a lot more comfortable…that and I'm tired of watching you limp."

Raven groaned as she rested her head on her arms.

"What, you don't like needles?" Baird mused at her expense.

"Do you?" Raven snapped back.

"Well, now that you mentioned it…not really. And speaking of which…"

"What?"

Before Raven could even comprehend what he was getting at, Baird dropped the needle into her other butt cheek as Raven let out a faint squeal.

"Shit, Damon…you could have warned me!"

"I could have…but then you would have tensed up and I would've had to really dig to get this in you. Besides, at least I can say I made you squeal with a little prick."

"Ok, the playful banter is getting old…seriously, you think you can tone it down a bit?"

"Why, am I actually getting to you?"

"What is there to get, Baird?"

"…ok, I guess you gotta point…but still, your kinda cute when you get mad."

"Well, I'll be sure to mention that to the matchmaker!"

Baird busted out laughing while Raven turned over her shoulder and wondered what that was all about. Shit, it wasn't that funny.

"Don't you be laughing when you're sewing me up…" Raven reminded him as he prepared the needle and thread.

"Alright, alright, I'll stop," said Baird in between chuckles, "…just…give me a few seconds."

Taking a rag, he moistens it with the antiseptic and starts to wipe the wound down through the tear in her garment that he left from last time. Raven tensed up from the sting as she tried to take deep breaths and slowly exhaling.

Baird was working the thread in the needle while Raven let out a sigh, somewhat dozing in and out from exhaustion. It was a long day.

Baird straddled his legs as he climbed over her thighs, sitting slightly and leaning down, trying to get a better look at what he was doing.

"You ready?"

"Sigh, not really…" Raven replied, bluntly. She could hear Baird let a out a light chuckle as he proceeded to sew the gash back up. At this point, her bum was surprisingly numb, the medication must have kicked in. It then dawned on her that the medication may be contributing to her exhaustion. Damn…it was my turn to keep the nightwatch.

"Uh, Damon…I think…"

"Relax, Rav…if you're dozing off, don't fight it, geez," he said. He looked up and noticed that she was rather drowsy. Her body started to relax as her shoulders drooped down to the floor and the arch in her back laxed. Baird was just relieved that she finally got some rest. She had been a nervous wreck since their encounter with the Harpies, and she hasn't been in the best of condition since her injury. Hopefully, the painkiller will loosen her up.

The air in the cave was settling for the night as the steam from the spring hovered over the shore. The campfire was completely extinguished as the only illumination left was the flare, still burning brightly.

Baird finished gathering the wound as he tied the string in a taut knot, hoping she won't break it again. After he finished, he leaned over to her fatigues and gently pulled it over her body as Raven snored peacefully in a deep slumber. He gathered himself up as he moved over next to her equipment, setting his med pack to the side and pulled out his journal.

He opened it up, looking though his notes and then turned over to a blank page. Placing his pencil in between is teeth, he leaned over to her heap of armor as he rummaged around and pulled out her journal. Leaning back against another rock, he place her journal on one side while resting his on his leg.

Pondering to himself, he looked up over to the sleeping Feral, succumbed under the weight of a mission that was supposed take no longer than a day. Baird couldn't help to wonder what was driving Raven to keep them alive. Knowing that she could no longer trust some of the other Feral, he can only imagine how lost she must feel, to spend most of her existence fighting for a cause she once believed in, is now pulled out from under her.

If they could locate and report the Stranded militia before they advance, it could be the end of a perfect week as far as the Gears was concerned, but for Raven, it probably wasn't going to end well for her at all, and it was this that concerned him the most.

...No one plans to take the path that brings us lower, and yet we stand before them all and say it's over. It's your decision...(Alice In Chains)

Chapter 28: The Gallant Will Emerge Edit

Assumed it's whether we're right or wrong

We're doomed and there's plenty for all


How dare you catch me counting?

How dare you call it off?

How dare you call it suffering?

How dare you call that on?


I Get It

Chavelle


"Damon…"

A voice could be heard from nearby,

"…Damon, c'mon get up, time for school."

"Ugh, five more minutes, mom…please?"

His eyes flutter open and close as he peers at his blaring alarm clock, screaming at him to wake up. He lifts his arm and slaps the snooze button and drifts back into slumber.

His mother finally walks in, trying to avoid stepping on his assortment of pet projects as she pulls the covers from his body, still wearing his clothes he wore the day before.

"Argh, mom, gimme five more minutes," he groaned some more.

"It's twenty after, you're already running late, so suck it up and go shower…and your breakfast is waiting. Maybe next time you won't stay up so late tinkering with your airplane."

A ten-year-old Damon Baird groaned as he slowly dropped one leg at a time, off of his bed while trying not to knock down the collection of motorized parts accumulating on his nightstand. He spent majority of his evenings working on his RC plane, trying to configure the radio frequency so it could fly further than it's original design intended it to. With school taking up a good chunk of his day, while the family trips soaked up most of the weekend, that left only weekday nights for him to get anything done.

So he spent most of his spare time ever since he was seven years of age, when daddy would actually let him use a solder, taking apart and reconstructing anything motorized. But his father would force him to take up more "physical" hobbies outside of school so every season, his father would drag him to the play field where all the games were being held.

Although Baird would think back to his childhood days, he seldom mentioned it. His only hobbies that he had any passion for was his mechanical projects, where he would spend countless hours after dark, until he was so exhausted, he crashed where he worked. It wasn't uncommon to find him asleep in his work chair with his head on the desk, next to his tools.

"C'mon Damon, get up…"

"Ah, mom, just five more minutes,"

"Damon get up,"

Damon…

"Hey Damon, get up man," said Cole.

Baird could hear Cole's overwhelming voice while Cole was shaking him, vigorously out of his slumber. Baird slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes as he tries to remember exactly where he was. His dream, memories of home were still fresh in his brain as he looks around to see nothing but a cold, dreary cave.

"Damn, man, you were out like a light…everyone is waiting for you man," said Cole as the light from the cave entrance peered on the wall next to them, glistening on the snow, blinding Baird's eyes.

"Ugh'…damn, what time is it?" Baird groaned as he shielded his eyes from the light.

"It's nine, baby,"

"NINE, shit, why didn't you wake me up sooner?"

"We tried…like I said, you was out!"

Baird proceeded to roll over onto all fours, shaking his head as he starts to stand up, stretching his arms and torso as he let out a massive yawn. He looked around with groggy eyes, trying to find his chest plate, shoulder guards, and goggles.

"Hey…I got yo stuff right here," Cole gestured while Baird looked up, peering into Cole's direction, watching Cole hold up his goggles.

Baird sighs, "Thanks…just…give me, a minute," he mumbles as he takes his goggles and places them on his head.

"You alright, man?" Cole asks.

"Yea…why do you ask?" Baird responds as he puts on his utility belt.

"You just seem…out of it."

"C'mon, Cole, you know I'm not a morning person."

"Yea, well it's not like you to oversleep and miss breakfast either."

"I missed…aw, shit! Is there anything left?"

"Yea…Feral saved some for ya."

"Great."

Baird finishes up with his armor as he straps his pack to his thigh and loads up his weapons. Cole slaps him on the shoulder plate,

"C'mon…we gotta move.'

"Yea, yea, I'm comin."

As Cole and Baird make it out of the warm cave, Baird looked up to see Sven leaning against a boulder, polishing the barrel of his rifle with a rag. He looks up at the weary-eyed Corporal, putting his rifle down and hands Baird a bag of trail mix and some of the Feral's Kryll jerky. Gross.

"Feral said to give this to you when you woke up," Sven replied.

Baird took the bag and opened it up, nibbling on the contents as he looked around to find Raven nowhere in sight. Aw shit…where'd she go now? I hope this wasn't from last night…ok, now my head hurts.

He eats his breakfast slowly, not relishing much of an appetite as his mind wandered, bouncing between the dreams he had last night and his discussion the evening before that ended on weird terms.

He tries to change the atmosphere in his own consciousness as he turns his focus to the problem at hand.

"Ok, now where did Feral go?" Baird asks.

"She got up early to check out our trail…" Cole replied, "…and something about watching out for a lookout party."

"A lookout party?" Baird blurted out in puzzlement. Cole just shrugged as he wraps a blanket around his shoulders, the same blanket he was using for the past few days.

"How long ago did she leave?" Baird asked.

"Since seven," Cole responded.

"...but she got up at six," Sven added, trying to be helpful.

"You mean to tell me she's been out for over two hours…and you hadn't heard back from her since?" Baird ranted.

"Uh…yea," Cole replied, perplexed by Baird's demeanor, "…and this bothers you, why?"

"Maybe she went to make sure there were no Locust outposts out there that we didn't know about…or maybe she had to use the bathroom," Sven joined in.

"For two whole fucking hours, Vinny?" Baird griped.

"Like you should talk, Baird! I remember Dom would bitch constantly about you hogging the can for almost an hour…reading your techie journals!" Cole barked.

"That's because it was the only place of privacy that I could find in the whole fucking base…and did it ever occur to you people that she may have left our sorry asses to rot out in this shit?"

"Now why would she do that? Wait…did you piss her off last night or something?"

"What, no…not…exactly,"

"Whata ya mean, not exactly?"

"Look, we just talking about the Feral camp we were at the other night…and I went ahead and fixed Rav's stitches."

Cole gave Baird the look of suspicion as Baird's conscience fumbles with the words to explain why he was up so late. If there was a moment Damon wanted to put a bag over his head and call it a day, this was it. Fuck!

But fate would save Baird's ass once again as the three could hear the faint noise of footsteps coming near the cave as they turned over to the slope nearby to see Raven trudging uphill through the knee-deep snow. She finally makes it to the cave entrance where they were waiting for her return.

"Oh good…you're finally up," said Raven, still panting for air.

"…I've got some good news…and bad. So what…do you want…to hear first?" she said. Without missing a beat, the three blurted out in unison,

"Bad."

Raven let's out a heavy sigh as she catches her breath, sitting up while she gathers her mental notes.

"Ok…bad news. I may have figured out where all the Locusts are gathering at."

"Ok, so this pertains to us, how?" Baird says before he thinks, realizing what the news really implied, "wait…this camp is nearby, isn't it..."

"Hello…yes Damon," Raven sneered.

"Fuck!" Baird blurted out.

"Alright, cool it Damon…so what's the good news?' Cole asked.

"We may be able to go back the way we came," she said.

"Wait…you mean go back to take the shorter route to the end of the Stranded campsite?" Baird beamed in enthusiasm.

"Very possibly…I have scoured the area to look for any recent tracks but found none…so, we may be able to get there before dark, if we leave now."

"Aw, sweet," said Sven.

"So what are we waitin for?" Cole gets antsy.

"Let's go then," Raven gestures as she turns back towards the slope and the three Gears follow her lead.

For the first time in a few days, the sun starts to shine through the clouds, illuminating it's light on the path ahead of them. The four travelers could feel the sun as the their armor absorbed it's warmth, basking in the heat radiating from the white snow. Visibility was the clearest it has been in weeks, ever since the air was littered with the Frost's haze, filled with it's chilling breath. They were able to pick up details in the scenery they never could see before, including the details they recognized on the way back to where they changed course.

As they climb up the slope, back to the side of the mountain just on the edge of the forest, Raven perched herself up on a boulder, staring out towards the side of the mountain, gesturing,

"Over there…in that direction," she points out. Sven climbs up to her position while Baird and Cole stay hear the ledge beside the boulder.

"You mean down into that valley?" Sven asked.

"Yes…we hike just around the mountain…and then the Stranded settlement will be in scope visibility," she replied.

"Sweet…did you hear that, guys?"

"Yea, Vinny…we heard." Baird muttered.

"I can't believe we've actually made it…assuming nothing else comes up," Cole joins in.

"C'mon Gus, don't jinx it!" Baird reminded him.

"Sorry man…but all this hiking is gettin old."

Baird couldn't agree less.

"Yea, and I'm sure I'm speaking for everyone here when I say I'm getting tired of wiping my ass with pine cones."

"Amen to that!" Cole responds.

"Yea, well it hurts more for me that it does you guys," Raven grumbled.

"What, you don't drip dry?" Baird chuckles in amusement at Raven's expense. Instead of snapping back, Raven gave the flak a rest and just turned over her shoulder to give Baird the finger. Baird just snickers at Raven's gesture.

They have been wandering in the wilderness for over four days, dodging snowstorms, getting shot at by Locusts, frisked by the Feral, only to locate and report a Stranded militia. Why are we doing this again?

Baird lifts up his goggles from his eyes as he peers up towards Sven and Raven.

"How long will it take to hike in visibility range?" Baird asks.

"It's a two hour hike at most," Raven replies.

"Damn…the day will be close to done before we get there Rav…I hope there's another place nearby that we can stay for the night."

"Of course, Corporal…"

Baird gave Raven a sour look,

"What I'd tell you about calling me that," he reminded her, waiting for her to respond, but she only flashed a grin, shortly before dislodging from the boulder.

"Aw, man…we gotta stay out in this shit another night? Damn, I'm starting to miss the guys back at Farrall…no offense Feral," says Cole.

"None taken…if nothing else happens, we should be able to wrap this up by tomorrow," says Raven.

"Well, let's get this over with." Baird mumbled. Raven nods while Sven joins them from the boulder. Raven then moves towards the path between the mountain and the forest, walking down the slope through the deep snow. While Cole and Sven bask in chitchat to pass the time, Baird moves up to Raven, picking up his legs as he finally catches up to her. Geez, she must be doing better today. He quickly noticed that she was back to moving forward again, not limping or lagging behind.

"Alright, I'm going to have to ask, so...are you holding up ok?" he asked out of curiosity when he caught up to her.

Raven turned to over to look at him, somewhat surprised that he asked.

"Yea…I mean...well, considering…I think the stuff you gave me last night worked."

"I'll say, you crashed within five minutes when I gave it to you."

"Seriously?"

"Yep. You were out."

Raven turned forward, somewhat smiling, not realizing that Baird caught a glimpse of it. Yea, she's in a lot better mood.

"So, you're not pissed at me for last night?"

Raven chuckled in amusement while Baird lifted his brow, wondering what was so funny.

"I never said that," she smirked. Baird rolled his eyes, knowing that she was finding amusement at his expense. But he didn't say anything back nor tried to get the last word in. Raven continued on, waiting for him to say something, but nothing came. If Raven could ever muster concern for Baird, this was it.

"Now, are you alright?" she asked as he quickly turned to her, somewhat startled that she would even ask how he was.

"Uh, I guess…why do you ask?"

"Because you're out of it. It's not like you…normally you're a lot bitchier than this."

Baird started to rub his sinuses between his eyes as he loosened the pressure that has been building up since that morning.

"I didn't…sleep well, last night…that, and I have a sinus headache."

"You stayed up last night, didn't you," Raven quickly jumped to conclusions, wondering if his plight had anything to do with what they talked about the night before. But instead of giving her an answer, Baird just turned and asked,

"Do you still have that bottle of ibuprofen with ya?"

Raven sighed, "Yea, just…give me a minute."

Raven turned over to rummage through her pack. As she pulled out the bottle, Cole and Sven managed to catch up to them as Cole started to yak.

"Ok, so what are you guys, chattin about now?"

"C'mon Cole, I'm just getting some meds."

"What, your head hurtin?"

Baird groaned, "…Yea."

Raven turned over to Baird and handed him the bottle.

"Ok Feral, so what's up with Damon?" Cole persisted.

"He just has a headache, Cole…and he mentioned he didn't sleep well last night. Nothing more dramatic than that…you can give Sven his twenty bucks back."

"Whoohoo…now I'm ten ahead," Sven beamed while Cole grumbled.

Baird looked up in astonishment,

"Wait, what…ten ahead…what the hell Cole?"

"Yea, Vinny's ahead," Cole admitted.

"What the hell did you…" Baird stops mid sentence before he realized what he was getting himself into, "…you know what, my head hurts too damn much to be dealing with this shit right now!"

"Yea, well that's alright…I'll read about it in yo journal later," Cole chuckled while Baird growled to himself. As the four continue on, Sven and Raven continued to talk while Cole and Baird hung behind as they listened to random conversation.

"Man…I miss Gwen's homemade honey rolls," Sven lamented.

"Honey rolls? Man, when do you ever get to eat honey rolls…and who's Gwen?" Cole acknowledged.

"Gwen is his older sister, Gus." Raven answered.

"Aw, for real?"

"Yea…and every time I got on leave, she would make me some honey rolls…enough to take back with me for a few days," Sven pondered, remembering back when he would visit his sister in Jacinto.

"Hey Vinny…yo sister, is she, uh…single?" Cole tries to ask discreetly. Raven starts to laugh.

"Geez, Cole…you've only heard about this girl for, not even, five minutes…"

"Ah, give Gus a break…" Baird interrupted, "…it's not like we get a lot of "down" time to socialize with the local ladies. Ya gotta get em in when the chance arises."

"Hehe…I heard that!" Cole chuckled as the two Gears clamped fists.

"Yea, I remember back at the town square, they would make us recruits host the dances," Sven recalled.

"Dances…" Baird groaned, "…where the hell were we at when they had "dances?"

"Damn, no kiddin…they had some social gatherings and we wasn't invited…man, that's low," Cole complained.

"Well, you guys did mention you were always out on missions…and I assumed they preferred their more experienced soldiers on the front line," Raven analyzed.

"That may have been the case…doesn't mean it was right," Baird muttered.

"Of course not, Baird. I can't imagine the COG not letting you go out dancing, getting plastered, and hiding the rainbow roll…" Raven continued to relish in mockery, "…that's just wrong."

"Damn right it is…they don't let me do anything…they won't even let me get close to a blow torch anymore, much less going out and getting some tail."

"Oh, sniffle…" Raven gloats in mockery, "…I can't see straight because of the tears in my eyes."

Raven revels in amusement at Baird's expense as he tilts his head in astonishment and starts to speak his thoughts out loud.

"Ya know…why am I taking this crap from someone who has never hit an orgasm?"

"That's not true," Raven blurted out without thinking. Oh…wait…did I just say that out loud…shit!

The three Gears look up in astonishment after Raven's little outburst that went a little further than she meant to insinuate it. There was no turning back now, the cat was already out of the bag.

"Uh, so…you've, uh," Sven tried to ask discreetly, but was failing miserably, until Baird said it even more bluntly,

"Aha! So, you've been basking in the garden, touching the forbidden fruit…whoe, man, I could go all day with this little tidbit!"

"I'll say, " Cole jumps in, "…gotta pet the kitty!"

"…and sweeten up the sugared almond…"

"Alright! Enough…yes! I admit it!" Raven barks, "…I just don't understand why it has to be such a damn, big deal?"

"So…Feral…how do you bump the carpet?" Baird frolics.

"Why should I tell you…" Raven sneers, "…in fact, why should I even entertain this subject to you at all?"

"Because we're guys, Feral…this is what makes the world go round, every guy dreams watching a chick rinsing her cock holster" Baird muses while Cole continues,

"Yea baby…somebody's gotta polish those pretty pearls…"

"...and sit back and watch the teaser trailer."

Raven gawks at Baird's blunt statement,

"Why am I taking suggestions from a guy who can't even find the remote control!"

Cole and Sven bust out laughing.

"Whoa…you so got told…" Sven snorts.

Baird curls his lip as Raven continues,

"What, got lost trying to find the canyon, have we?" Raven continued to mock, "…you know, I can play the devil's euphemisms too…and you get on my case about my "lack" of experience, when apparently you've spent more time buttering your corn than rocking the boat."

"Yea, well it takes awhile to steer a ship than it does the little dingy, darlin," Baird sneered back, while Raven gives him a scolding look.

"Oooo…are you gonna take that from him, Feral?" Cole mused.

"Wow…you really are an arrogant ass," Raven sneered.

"Yep...and you wouldn't have me any other way, would ya," Baird gloated.

"Ok, we're not even going there, Baird," she snapped.

"Well, shit Feral, don't tell Baird...you can just tell me and Vinny," said Cole.

"What, no! In fact, we're dropping the subject, starting now!"

Baird started to laugh, "Aw, c'mon Feral! You make it sound like it's a bad thing."

"It is when it…" Raven began to comment as her intuition suddenly hit her, stopping her mid sentence. She halts suddenly, turning her head forward, kneeling down with her hands on her pistols. Her sudden change in demeanor startled the Gears as they too, stop suddenly in their tracks.

Baird looks out as he kneels down while Cole and Sven follow, watching Raven carefully as she tilts her head as if she was listening carefully for something.

"Do you hear that?" she whispered.

The three stay silent for a moment as they could barely make out some sort of thumping sound. The three looked at each other as they try to make it out while keeping their silence until the noise becomes more audible.

"Oh, fuck…" Baird quietly murmured, "…yea, I hear it."

Raven turns around as she gestures to the three,

"Go…move over to the rock heap on the left," she says quietly, "…stay low."

The three move to their left as they subtly make their way over to a pile of boulders, covered in snow. They move behind the mass of rocks, with Raven following close behind as she turns to meet up with them. She stands up from behind the boulders to peer around the rock to glance down the valley. Baird moves over to her position to get a better look,

"Was that the sound of horses we just heard back there?" he quietly asks.

"Yes…but I couldn't make out the direction…I don't see anything in sight," Raven responds. Baird turns over to Cole and Sven as he gestures for Sven to move up to his position. Sven quietly moves up next to Baird,

"Vinny…give me your rifle," Baird ordered as Sven hands him his Longshot. Propping the rifle on his shoulder, Baird looks out through the scope. Raven moves out of the way and back over to Cole while Baird and Sven kept their position.

"What's going down?" Cole asks Raven.

"I heard what I believe to be horses…there may be Stranded nearby," she said.

"Ah, shit…which means they can pick up our tracks," Cole mentions.

"Possibly…but we can't make out their location."

Suddenly Baird puts the rifle down and gestures Cole and Raven to move up. The two start to move closer next to Sven as Baird looks out again and then turns to Raven,

"There's three of them…on horseback, to your right," Baird informs her as he hands her the rifle so she could get a look. She peers through the scope and sure enough, three men on horseback, clopping through the snow.

"Shit…they're going to discover our trail Damon…we can't let them," she said sternly.

The three look at each other as they try to let the suggestion settle in. In all logic, they couldn't let the Stranded find their trail and report back to the camp, but how to do it, humanely, was the real question. Baird removed his goggles from his forehead as he rubs his sinuses, delving into his thoughts on how to go about this.

"Damn…that's going to be a tough order Feral," says Cole.

"I know Gus…but please remember, these people have ambushed your fellow squads…they may attempt to do the same with us. Letting them go would be catastrophic for us."

Cole nodded his head, turning his gaze to Baird to see if he had anything to say about Raven's suggestion. Baird looked back up over his shoulder to see the riders in the distance.

Baird sighs, "Fuck, she's right…they're going to pick up on our trail here real quick if we don't act, and we need to do it real soon."

"So what do we do…they're still pretty far away," said Sven.

"We can either draw them near here, or, go out and meet them…either way, I suggest one person to be the bait while the rest of us stay hidden with the rifle ready," Raven suggested.

"Which would mean, Vinny here stays behind while one of us goes out, right," Cole translates.

"No…Feral needs to stay back too…which leaves just you and me, Cole," says Baird.

"Wait, Damon…why are you suggesting that I need to stay behind," Raven asks.

"We need you to lead the rest of us out of here in case this goes horribly wrong," Baird responds, expecting Raven to argue, but instead, she gently nods her head. Raven realizes the logic in Baird's strategy as she gives him a grave look and then moves her gaze over to Cole.

Cole looks over to Baird as the two exchange glances, realizing that one of them was going to have to go out.

"Cole…stay here," Baird begins while Cole interrupts,

"No Damon…this has my name written all over it,"

"Gus, listen to me…please. If this goes bad, I need you to look after Sven and Feral…it's crucial that they get back to Fort Block."

Cole turned away as he shakes his head, wanting to so desperately disagree, but if there was anything that the two did agree on, was that it was imperative that Vinny and Raven made it back, safely.

Baird grabs Cole's shoulder pad and pulls his face to his while Baird looks him in the eye,

"You need to take care of them, Gus… you've never let me down before,"

Cole turns his stare down, and then raises his head back up,

"Just this once, Damon…but only for Vin and Feral."

Baird nods his head as he releases his hold on Cole's shoulder plate. He reaches behind his back and pulls out his Lancer, checking to see if it had a fresh clip. Baird then stands up as he puts his Lancer back up, straightening the holster on his thigh and carefully looks out again to get a look at the riders.

"They're moving to the north…" Raven informs him, "…they don't seem to be in a rush…at least not yet."

"Yea, well that might change here real quick, so you'll need to be alert Vinny."

Sven nods his head,

"Got it."

Baird puts his goggles back on his head as he shuffles his hair, moving his head from side to side as he turns back to them,

"Well…here it goes."

He carefully roadie runs around the bed of boulders, staying low while he finds cover behind some snow covered shrubs. The men were still unaware of his presence. Sven carefully lifted his rifle up and followed the Stranded while Raven and Cole sat up further on the boulders, watching Baird as he stands up and starts to make his way over to the Stranded on horseback.

"Here it goes," Cole muttered to himself, followed by a deep breath. He could sense the tension in Raven's demeanor as she sighed heavily, watching Baird walking his way over to the riders. Cole looks over at her as he notices she doesn't take her eyes off of Baird nearly the entire time, feeling her on edge as he carefully places his hand on her shoulder. The instant he touched her, she jumped slightly, as the contact startled her. She looked up at him and then let out a sigh of relief realizing it was just Cole trying to calm her down.

"It's ok Feral…he knows what he's doing," Cole tries to ease her tension. She turns her gaze back out into the valley as she looks down, entrenched in thought. She closes her eyes for a moment and then turns to look up at Cole again,

"I'm just…uneasy about all this…" she muttered.

"All of us are, baby," Cole replied, as he turns his focus back to Baird.

"Man…you better come out of this alive," Cole mutters to himself again.

As the two watch the events unfold, they observe the Stranded acknowledging Baird's presence as they hold their horses in place, making gestures to each other and to Baird. They continued to wait in anticipation, holding onto the thread of hope that this encounter will not turn out for the worst.

Sven, sat idle as he carefully watched through his scope.

"Hey, Vinny," Cole whispered, "…what's going on?"

"They…they're just…talking," Sven replied, "they don't seem to be threatening at all…I can't even see any weapons on them."

Raven turned to Cole, perplexed as the two look back over from their position, watching as they suddenly see Baird motioning to them. Cole carefully watches his hand signals, interpreting his instructions.

"Wait…what is he saying?" Raven demanded while Cole was looking out, holding out a few hand signals of his own. He then knelt back down with Raven,

"He says they're not a threat…Vinny and I need to come down, but he said for you to follow us without being detected."

Raven peered over to Baird's position and then turns her perplexed look back to Cole,

"Can, you…do that?" Cole asked.

"Yea Cole…that's not a problem for me."

"Well, if Baird says so, there must be a reason."

"Yea, Cole…I understand his reasoning."

"Even if you don't know what it is?"

Raven sighs, "I have spent the past few days expecting you to trust me…I guess it would be fair that you expect me to trust you."

Cole nodded as her words filtered into his conscience. Within the past few days, they have come to rely on each other more than they ever anticipated prior to their meeting. Although Raven seldom trusted anyone other than herself, she didn't believe that the three would intentionally put her in harms way. Why she came to this conclusion she couldn't really clarify.

Cole and Sven gathered themselves up as they peer over the rock, revealing their whereabouts to the stranger below. As Cole looks out towards the men, he mutters quietly to Raven without looking at her,

"Stay close baby…we'll be in touch. Got it?"

"Of course, Gus."

Cole stepped out from behind the rocks as Sven followed, both with a weapon in hand, just in case as they start to walk down the same path Baird took to meet the strangers below. The men sat patiently on their horses, watching and waiting while Cole and Sven casually came down the hill, keeping their guard at the same time. The two Gears looked up to see an elderly chap, whom appeared to be roughly in his fifties, sitting in his saddle, dressed in a wool coat and scarf, not readily carrying a visible weapon or ammunition. His facial expression was cheery, as the lines lifted to their places when he smiled. Cole could tell he was an industrial man, looking at his carpenter fatigues and work gloves. He didn't really resemble a typical Stranded.

The other two men were younger, late twenties to early thirties, not near as mature in age as the older gentlemen, only that they carried hunting rifles, strapped to the side of their horses. They too wore similar dressings, that of contractors and prospectors, men whom go out and search the land for minerals and other materials. In either case, they did not appear in anyway threatening to anyone.

"Guys…" Baird began as Cole and Sven reached the group of men, "these men work for the Santa Fe Mineral Corp. They have been monitoring the potential deposits of natural resources around this area…how long, did you say you where contracted out here?"

The old man answered, "We were deployed to Farrall to test the sites for the COG about three months ago…we came up here to set up some stations, but we're getting behind on our research because our communications have been unreliable…"

One of the younger men followed in response,

"We have been collecting data for weeks now and we cannot get in contact with our home base either."

"And where is your home base?" Cole asked.

"At Vectus."

"Wait, did you say Vectus?" said Cole.

"That's right, son," the older gentlemen replied, "we had locations all over, including Jacinto…not anymore though."

"They've been searching for metal ores, similar to the one's at the mines from earlier," Baird explained, realizing the men were not Stranded after all. He continued,

"They're just some prospectors checking out the sites…only did they realize that they were sent here at the wrong time."

"No kiddin…" the old man snorted, "we didn't expect to find a bunch of Stranded hooligans, running amuck around these parts…this area has been desolate for years, especially after the Hammer of Dawn was unleashed…we were in for a surprise."

"So where were you headin?" Cole asked the older gentleman.

"Back to our temporary refuge, not far from here. You boys can come along if you want…we may be able to sort out some of our stories there over a hot meal, whataya say?"

The three looked at each other, feeling the temptation of hot food, stirring into their consciousness. Although Baird was not one to take charity from most people, he noticed that Cole and Sven where somewhat famished, and if what these scouts say is true, they may have essential information that can aid them in their quest. There was only one way to find out.

Baird looked to Cole as Cole nodded, agreeing to the idea while Sven stood there glancing between the two, wondering where they're going to go from here.

Intermission V Edit

The heaps of snow, scattered over the frozen glacier lake glistened under the fading sun as the lights from a grunite layered, security wall, beamed out from the watchtower nearby. An iced over sign that read Plantire Mining Corp., hung over the chain link fence near the entrance around the concrete wall. Inside the forted area was a large pumping station, nestled in between three large metal buildings and four large generators that were being powered from the collected, electrical output, surging from Hurl Dam.

The facility was once an immulsion mining station, long abandoned when the Locusts ravaged the land, until the urgency from the Hollow, followed after the Lightmass Offensive, subjected every possible Locust back to the stronghold, abandoning the station.

Now, it is a militia stronghold, housing the Stranded settlement that has been gathering there for almost a year. The station has since been converted into a fort, armed with chain gun turrets and spotlights posted on the watchtowers. One of the buildings was being used as a makeshift, vehicle salvage yard and mechanics station while the noise of air compressors and generators could be heard from inside.

The “citizens” of the settlement where armed with mostly Hammerbursts and shotguns while the “soldiers” carried the Gnashers and Lancers. Only a handful of soldiers carried Longshots and rotated shifts in the watchtowers.

The people where a rough looking bunch, wearing shredded clothes, layered one on top of another to keep warm while wearing boots that where usually two sizes too big, but they where shoes. The “soldiers” on the other hand wore blood stained Gear fatigues and salvaged combat armor, with either a piece or two missing. Much of the Gear battle armor was customed, layered with duct tape and soldered metal patches while those who were there longer had made enhancements to theirs. Some wore the old gray issued armor while many others salvaged the recently manufactured blue armor, with slight modifications. On each chest plate was a red, pray-painted symbol of a gear with jagged edges and in the center of the gear sits a star; the emblem of revolution.

The soldiers marched around the complex in between shifts while the “citizen’s” where either busy making rounds and ammunitions or preparing deer and wild boar carcasses for meals. Many of the men where subjected to heavy duty jobs, hauling scrap metal to the garages and chopping down trees for fire-burning wood. The few women that they did have where subjected to harlotry, to keep morale in place and the people under control.

In the central area of the camp, large, metal posts where propped up, apparently for public hangings and burnings. One corpse was still swinging by the rope tied around his neck, frozen over and hanging a few feet from the ground, right above a heap of ash, burnt armor plates, and some skeletal remains, left from previous cremations. Not too far from the “execution” platform, a figure stood in front, glaring at the dead body still hanging from his execution the day before. It was the same figure that Raven saw before, out in the wilderness when the Stranded came to check on Gamma Four, earlier that week. He stood there, his cloak still hung over his eyes while wearing the same coat and battle fatigues. The Lancer he used to butcher Sergeant Harley was still drenched in blood from another execution he performed earlier that morning. It was business as usual here at the Plantire settlement.

But the past few days have left him frustrated, going through prisoner after prisoner, trying to find the whereabouts of Sigma One. They have eluded his search party’s three times now, and it was three time’s too many. He had already interrogated over half of the Gear prisoners, but none would speak concerning the objective they where sent out to do, much less the whereabouts of the other squads. His jaw was clenched, trying to simmer out of frustration as he heard footsteps from behind. He whipped around to find Gil, carefully approaching him,

“We…we have…some news that may be…of interest to you,” Gil trembled before him.

“We’ll see if it’s of interest, or not…who brings the message?” the dark figure spoke in a low, grizzly voice.

“It’s that…damned Feral,” Gil sneered, while trying to keep his composure, especially in front of the intimidating man.

“Ah…the prodigal daughter returns,” the figure chuckles in amusement while Gil smirked slightly but then quickly went back into a frown as he continued,

“She said she knows…where Sigma One is hiding…”

“Is that so?”

“But…I don’t trust her, Mo…Morose,” Gil shivered violently in the cold, “…what if she’s lying just to distract…”

“Did she say anything else?” Morose asked sternly, cutting Gil off.

“Yea…she said they have…a Feral guide. A remnant…of the Anetha clan from the valley…but it sounds fishy to me,”

“Shut up, Gil,” Morose barked, “what she’s saying is true…I’m just surprised that the remnants allied themselves with the COG pigs…how ironic.”

Morose looks back up at the corpse hanging from the rope as he puts his hand out in front of Gil. Gil hesitated at first, but he knew what he had to do as he handed Morose his Hammerburst assault rifle. Morose cocked a round into the chamber and pointed it up, shooting a round into the rope, slitting it as the corpse comes crashing down onto the ash heap below.

Morose hands the gun back to Gil as he turned to look at him,

“Get that piece of shit out of my camp. Afterwards, gather the militia for debriefing…we have a big day tomorrow.”

Chapter 29: The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes Edit

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.


Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,

Towering over your head.

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,

And she's gone.


Beatles

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds


The night sky began to creep from the east as the curtain of stars hang clearly above the trees. Although the cold was becoming more demanding as it always has, every evening, the mood seemed to be calm for the time being as the three Gears follow the Santa Fe prospectors to their makeshift hideout that was once one of Raven's underground, supply stations.

"So how long have you guys been out here?" Cole asked.

The old chap known as Billy grinned from ear to ear, walking alongside side his horse, Seoul, while Jon and Ashley were still mounted on theirs.

"The station sent us from the Block nearly two months ago, trying to find possible mineral deposits, but…our communications…"

"…have been jammed," Baird interrupted, finding the whole situation amusing, considering no one has ever known about the Stranded screwing up their frequencies.

"Yep…and since then, we've been bouncing between refuge to refuge, trying to beat this, damned Frost…that and avoid the Plantire colony."

"Say what?" Cole beamed in interest.

"The Stranded colony, only known as Plantire…has been amassing a militia for awhile."

"Yea…we just figured that out a few days ago," Baird mentioned as he continued, "…what do you know about it?"

"Which part…" Billy chuckled under his breath, "…I mean, those bastards are ruthless. They have been gathering almost all the Stranded around the area…drafting them for their cause…and if they refuse, they're shot on site!"

"Funny little world, idn't," Ashley commented as Billy continued,

"We've seen them out on patrol, looking for runaways and such…"

"Have you seen them take prisoners?" Cole asked, trying to cut to the chase.

"Not that I could confirm…but it wouldn't surprise me. Their "leader," goes by the name, Morose."

Baird beamed in interest as the name Morose came up, trying to gather where he had heard that name before.

"You say his name…was, Morose?" Baird tried to confirm it.

"Yea…that's the one…and let me tell you, he is the bastard you don't want to be around, not even within twenty feet."

"So you've seen him?" Sven jumped in as Billy continued,

"Kid, I've seen a lot things in my life, especially during my service in the Pendulum Wars, I've met a lot of hard asses, but this one…is something else."

Billy could barely finish his thoughts as he looks up to what seemed to be their destination, deep in the trenches of the woods as they could see the firelight nearby. They could smell the scent of freshly, cut mesquite, burning as its aroma seeped in the air, mixed the scent of ozone and conifer trees.

"Aw…is that what I think it is?" said Cole, drooling over the scent of the barbecue, coming from the hideout. As the group made their way towards the stable, they could hear the laughter of a high-pitched voice, running towards them.

"Daddy, daddy," a little girl yelled out as Billy bellowed out in laughter, opening up his arm to receive the little girl, who seemed to be no older than seven years of age.

"There's my angel," Billy beamed at the girl, covered in small pea coat and beanie hat. She giggled as she looked at the rag-tag group of Scouts and Gears.

"Are they friends, daddy?" she looked at Baird with her large, glistening gray eyes, staring at him for some reason that Baird couldn't tell what about him she would remotely find interesting.

"Yes, sweetheart…these men are Gears…their soldiers that fight the monsters," Billy said as the girl smiled, showing her missing baby tooth grin. Ashley went over to take Billy's horse into the stable while Jon loaded up the saddles.

"Come on inside, boys…you're in for a treat!" Billy beamed in excitement.

"Yea, I bet," Baird muttered, realizing that they were probably going to eat some of the food that Raven has carefully put aside in the shelter. I bet she's pretty pissed about these guys rummaging through her hideout…speaking of which, I wonder if she's nearby?

Baird follows Cole and Sven as they enter the shelter, occasionally looking over his shoulder to see if maybe he could catch a glimpse of Raven, perhaps hiding away in the woods. He then turns his focus back into the shelter as he walks in and shuts the door behind them.

He could tell that Cole and Sven took their places inside as they sprawled out on the floor, basking near the fireplace, defrosting from the cold evening air. The smell of mesquite planks and cooked meat festered into their nostrils, watering their mouths as they could already taste the spice in the meat.

"Aw, man…that smells so sweet," Sven moaned.

"Hehe…you haven't had the pleasure of Abigail's cooking. Like I said, you're in for a treat," said Billy.

Baird took his place in a chair nearby, sitting down and removing his goggles as he scratched his head and started to rub his eyes from the dry cold air. Ashley and Jon came in through the door as they take off their coats and hung them on the hooks on the wall.

"Delilah, darling, why don't you go over and help Abby with the cups," Billy said to the little girl as he carefully put her down.

"Ok daddy…can I bring them in here?" she asked.

"Of course, darling…be sure to bring some for our guests."

"I won't forget."

"That's my girl."

Little Delilah ran off in the other room, to where it was assumed Abby was, preparing the meal for the evening.

This wasn't the first time Baird could recall coming across prospectors, looking for mineral or imlusion deposits. It wasn't uncommon for a five man/woman team to be out weeks, maybe even months, at a time, checking areas similar to places such as Glacier Valley. Any place that was on the edge of a tectonic plate was often rich in materials, gemstones, or metals, and often in their purest form. Such occupations of prospecting have especially been on the rise ever since there was a demand for imulsion. To think of it, it wasn't a bad job; I mean, you're out on your own, working without some superior breathing down your throat, make your own hours, as long as you turn in your assessments on time, shit, it wouldn't be bad job at all. Baird couldn't help but to envy their freedom from parameter.

"I hope we're not impeding on you guys," Cole began as the group soaked up the warmth coming from the fireplace.

"Nonsense, son…you're the only pleasant company we've seen out here in weeks…"

"What do mean…who all have you come across?" Baird asked.

"Well, sometimes the Stranded…mostly drifters that come through, but they eventually get picked up by the militia…and then we don't hear from them again. We haven't seen too many Locust around, they may be having trouble adapting to the cold…and then there's the Feral."

The three Gears looked up in interest as Billy continued with his thoughts on the matter.

"…we haven't had too much of a run in with them, but the few times that we did, it was pretty intense. They don't play nice, that's for sure."

The atmosphere sat hollow for the moment as Billy reclines in his chair, chewing on his thoughts while Ashley comes in to join the group.

"We haven't seen any Gears come near this area, until you guys showed up," Ashley began, breaking up the silence in the room, "…I take it your on mission."

The three looked at each other as to who was going to explain everything they had to endure within the past four days, not to mention the whereabouts of their Feral guide. Baird sighed as he put his goggles in his pack,

"We where deployed out along with some other squads to quash the hostilities that have been attacking our outposts," Baird said, choosing his words carefully.

"Out here?" Jon asked, perplexed with Baird's demeanor, "…I mean, we haven't even seen any Locusts out here, much less between the mountain and the coast."

"…It was also rumored that a Stranded militia was located somewhere near the glacier lake…and apparently from what you have just told us, our presumptions are for the most part not to far from the truth," Baird explained, trying to keep his sarcasm to a minimum.

"It wasn't the Locusts who've been hostile to Farrall's outposts, Jon," Billy convened as he turned his attention Baird, "…it was only a matter of time that some of the Stranded would eventually rise from the ashes to go out and ruin the prospect of peace for everyone else."

"What do ya mean?" Cole asked.

"In my experience, wherever there's power, whether it be an infinite resource, a great weapon, or just simply control, somebody else is going to have an issue about it. Think about it, we've spent eighty years fighting over it, hell, I wouldn't be surprised if and when this war ends, we'll just get back from where we started, fighting over something else."

"So why do you think this "militia" is attacking the COG outposts?" Cole gets down to the gritty of details that have been eluding them for who knows how long. Billy just looked up at Cole, chuckling to himself, amused by Cole's insistence that he would expect from a younger man on the edge of testosterone lore. Billy then sighed as he looked down on the wood floor,

"You remember the man I mentioned to you earlier?" Billy asked to the three Gears while Jon and Ashley sat in silence, not wanting to delve into deeper ambiance that was already festering in the room.

"Somebody by the name of Morose?" said Sven, trying to be helpful.

"That's the one…you need to pat this kid on the back Corporal, he's pretty sharp," Billy complemented as he watched Baird, whom was rubbing the back of his neck.

"Sigh, you have no idea," Baird grumbled to himself.

"So what about this Morose, guy?" Cole gets a little impatient.

"He's not like the other Stranded, if you ever see him," Billy continued, "…we, as in the boys and myself, noticed that most of the higher ups at this settlement have some military background."

The three Gears glanced at each other as they listened attentively. Baird was rushing through his mental notes that Raven spoke of earlier after their encounter of what was left Gamma Four. The idea of former Gears working alongside the Stranded was becoming more of a reality than they could fathom. Baird listened carefully to Billy, taking in his manner, his expression as he continued with his explanation,

"I have reason to believe that Morose was a Gear at one time...and from what we can tell, he has some vendetta against the COG leaders," Billy explained as he leaned back into is chair, "...this guy isn't doing it for business, or profit, he's doing it out of spite...and we believe that he may be conspiring along with some other former Gears, his comrades in arms. "

"Comrades?" Cole sneered.

"How many of these…disgruntled Gears are we talking about?" Baird asked in monotone, staring towards the floor while Billy caught the glimpse of Baird's stern expression. Billy looked up as he turned his attention to Cole,

"Eight at least…maybe twelve…about a total of two, three squads, I reckon."

Cole turned away in disgust while Baird closed his eyes, taking in the information into his subconscious, while Sven just sat there in awe. As the atmosphere sat in loom, Delilah enters the room with an armful of cups, clanking with each step she took. Baird opened his eyes to see the commotion.

Billy eye's beamed in the faint firelight as he chuckled watching Delilah pass the cups around.

"Don't forget about our guests, angel," Billy reminded her.

"I won't…here you go," she says as she handed a cup to Cole.

"Aw, thank you sweety," Cole said as Delilah giggled and then moves over to Sven as she hands one to him and then turns around to give one to Baird.

"Here ya go, Mr. Gear," she said with enthusiasm as Baird lifted an eyebrow at Delilah's "childish" nature. Although, Baird was not one to relish in the company of children, he tolerated Delilah's antics for the moment.

"What happened to your glasses?" she asked with an expression of curiosity, staring at Baird with the utmost of attention, more than Baird was capable of handling. He wasn't quite sure how to respond, so he looked down into his pack and pulled out his goggles to show them to her.

"Wow…those are cool," she said while Cole chuckled in amusement.

"They're even "cooler" when you put them on," Cole instigated, while Baird looked up and gave Cole a sour look.

"Gee, mister…could I try them on?" she asked. Baird's eyes widened as he looked up at her father, wondering if he would have a problem with her associating with a Gear. Billy only gave him a smile as Baird sat up in his seat.

Baird looked back down at her, "Here kid…allow me."

He carefully adjusted the strap so it wouldn't fall off of her head as he carefully places the goggles on her head, trying to avoid tangling them in her light brown hair. As they hung on her forehead, Cole let's out a laugh,

"I think you started a fashion trend, Baird," he mused while Baird rolled his eyes and proceeded to put them over Delilah's eyes.

"There you go kid," Baird said as he watched her smile, looking around the room.

"Wow…I can see closer…I can see better," Delilah said in awe, still looking around the room while Baird looked up at Cole and stuck out his tongue. Cole leaned back while he subtly, gives him the bird as he scratched his forehead.

Delilah carefully took the goggles off as she walks over to Baird and hands them back,

"Gee, where can I get some?" she turned around and looked at her father, "…can I be a Gear daddy?"

"Well, if you become a Gear, you have to fight those ugly monsters," Billy replied in amusement by his daughter's charisma.

"Ew…no way, I don't want to fight monsters," she said, with a scruffle in her expression.

Delilah decided to skip around the men while Abby came into the room,

"Supper's ready, boys," she announced as the group stood up and made their way to the makeshift kitchen.

"C'mon, darlin…let's go eat," Billy said to Delilah.

"Okie, dokie," she replied, jumping around as the three Gears followed her into the kitchen.

"Hehe, cute kid," Cole chuckled quietly, nudging Baird with his elbow, "…just think Damon…you could have some cute kids just like her, if you…"

"We're not going there, Gus," Baird snapped while trying to keep the conversation low.

"Have a seat boys, dive in," Billy announced as the three Gears took their seats at the table while Ashley and Jon already started to help themselves to the rolls and potatoes.

"Gee, Abby, you really outdid yourself," Ashley commented as he was struggling to get a potato while Jon was hogging it.

"C'mon boys…there's plenty for everyone…I still got another bowl on the counter," said Abby. The woman appeared middle aged, early forties maybe with some gray strands mixed with the auburn color in her hair. She came back to the table with a plate piled with meat.

"I hope you Gears like venison," she said.

"Are you kidding…this is best meal we've had all week," Sven beamed in excitement.

"More like all month," Cole added as he helped himself to the venison, while Baird was able to finally get some potatoes before the others hogged it all.

Abby came back to the table with a jug full of water as she handed it to Billy.

"I can imaging the COG having issues trying to keep everybody fed," Billy added while he poured water into his cup.

"It's been getting harder to find deer," Baird recalls, as he remembers the times that Sgt Mataki would go out to hunt them down, trying to get enough to feed several thousand people. The Frost was making conditions bleak at best, forcing Jacinto's Remnant to relocate to the island of Vectus. But the hostilities around Port Farrall have escalated as of recent, making the relocation even more difficult, and if what we just found out is true, then we really have a problem on our hands.

The room went silent as everyone was focused on their meals, enjoying the mesquite, cooked venison and garlic potatoes. Although the venison they have eaten in the past was normally dry and tough to chew, the meat was surprisingly more tender, not quite as tender as beef, but a lot better than what they had before.

"Damn, baby…this is some fine meat, right here," Cole complimented, nudging Baird with his arm, "idn't it good?"

"Sure…" Baird mumbled with his mouth stuffed.

Delilah started to giggle from across the table, watching the blonde Corporal and the big Private, stuffing their faces as if they haven't ate in days.

"Gee mister…you must of been hungry," she observed.

"Kid, you have no idea," Baird replied, trying to speak before he finally got to swallow.

"Well, honey, they've been out in the wilderness for awhile...I'm willing to bet they don't have a lot of five star motels with a big breakfast buffet around here..." Billy commented, "…speaking of which…where's your little Feral friend?"

The phrase dropped in the middle of the room like a anvil falling from the sky, cutting right into the fabric of whatever bliss the three Gears were relishing in. Cole froze in his seat while Sven sat there with his mouth open, not quite sure if he should even say something about the topic. Billy broke the awkward silence,

"Oh, come now…we're not as dumb as we look. We know that the COG allied with some of the local clans outside of Farrall, and that they dispatched some squads earlier this week, trying to eliminate the Locust outposts and locate the Stranded gangs…we have radio's too."

Baird carefully placed his eating utensil on his plate as he refrained himself from eating any further.

"Well then why did you ask us what we were doing here to begin with?" Baird replied with a somewhat hint of annoyance in his tone.

"Well, son, I wanted to hear it from you first…I wanted to make sure you were from the COG and not from Plantire," Billy continued, "…they've been looking for us for the past three weeks."

The Gears looked at each other as they started to ponder the same question that was pondering in the back of their heads.

"Wait…how long have you been here at this shelter?" Baird asked.

"About a week. We found it filled with supplies and some ammunition, as well as a radio and other technical equipment," Jon replied.

Baird slumped in his seat, realizing that the three may have put these people in danger.

"Well, then, if you've been monitoring our communications, then you may already know that we too are being hunted," Baird added, "…and this shelter, by the way, is a Feral supply refuge that has been used to store stolen COG equipment and food rations."

The men sat in silence as the news filtered into their ears, realizing the danger they may now be in.

"Our Feral guide," Baird continued, "…is out in the wilderness nearby, watching out for the Stranded…she didn't feel too comfortable being amongst some scouts while they were rummaging into her shelter. If you guys have managed to find it, the Stranded will probably eventually find it as well."

The men glanced at each other while Billy sat in silence, staring at his plate while the other two where getting antsy.

"We can't stay here for too much longer Billy," said Ashley.

"...especially if they found out that we have Gears here," Jon added.

""Relax boys…it would have been only a matter of time before the Plantire found us…the Corporal's right, if we managed to find this place, the Stranded are bound to find it as well. They have been growing stronger, adding to their numbers of people and weapons, including some tanks and APC's."

"Shit…they have vehicles?" Cole griped.

"At least one Dill is in working order," Jon responded, "they've been salvaging fallen vecs for awhile now."

"Shit…" Baird mumbled, rubbing his forehead while he noticed that Delilah was staring at him with her solemn, gray eyes, twinkling in the candlelight. Baird knew that they would have to leave the following day if they had any chance of surviving.

"Listen Corporal…my boys and I can rotate guard duty through the night while you guys get some rest," Billy suggested, "…and you may want to convince your Feral friend to come inside and get out of this cold. She's not going to survive if she doesn't."

Cole and Sven watch Baird starting to pile some meat and potatoes on his plate as he stands up from his chair.

"Vinny…" Baird begins as he picks up the plate, "…take this out to Feral."

"Is she even around…how will I find her?" said Sven.

"You won't find her, she'll find you…take this to her and see if you can get her inside," said Baird while Sven gets up and walks around the table. Baird gives him the plate.

"...and if she doesn't come in?"

"She's coming in…one way or another, even if I have to drag her in."

Sven walks out of the room as the others start to get up and out of the kitchen while Ashley and Jon go back to the stable to pull out their rifles. Abby picks up their plates and loads them in a galvanized tub, filled with soapy water. Billy escorts Cole and Baird back into the room with the fireplace as he takes seat in a chair. The other two seat themselves on the floor while Delilah peers around the corner, watching the men from the kitchen.

"You boys are going to have to head out first thing in the morning," Billy began.

"Yea, we figured that," Cole jumped in.

"...and I'm guessing you guys want to come with us," Baird scowled.

"No…" Billy said suddenly, as if he never intended the idea in the first place, "…we will not go with you. You guys need to focus on getting this info back to command before this militia grows any further. That is your objective…we would only slow you down."

"But what about the kid?" Cole asked sincerely.

"Delilah comes with me…she's always with me, she prefers to be with me…and when it comes right down to it, she'll die with me."

"But…" Cole starts to argue until Baird interrupted him,

"We can't protect her anymore than they can, Gus…" said Baird, "…we've debated all along during this entire time if we were ever going to get out of this alive."

Baird rests his case as Cole backed off from the idea of taking Delilah with them.

"So now what do we do?" Cole griped.

Meanwhile, Sven went out in the open as he could hear Jon and Ashley, rummaging in the stable. He peered out in the darkness as the cold air gusted past him while the breeze whistled around the conifer trees, shaking the snow off of the needles.

Sven tries to cover the plate with a paper towel to keep the food from getting cold, but he ponders if it would make any difference. Damn, it's cold out here, how can Feral stand this? He continues out into the wilderness as he whispers out into the woods,

"Feral…hey Feral, you there?"

He looks up into the sky as the stars shined brightly in the heavens, glittering into the surrounding milky-way around them. Awing at its magnificence, he pulls his arms closer to his side with the plate still in hand as he tries to keep himself warm while admiring the dazzling white lights above.

Suddenly, he heard a faint noise coming from the side. He carefully turned his body to peer into the woods, directing his ears into the thicket. Vinny…

"Feral…is that you?" he calls out quietly, trying to make out the shadows among the trees. He hesitated as he takes one more step, carefully trying not to drop the plate of food while he looks around, wondering if it was just the wind.

And then he suddenly heard a subtle voice,

"Vinny…"

"Feral?"

"…you can turn around now,"

He cautiously turns around to find Raven, perched on a fallen tree, shivering slightly while she was wrapped in a fur blanket.

"Shit, Feral," Sven went over to her as he put the plate down and extended his hand to help her down from the log. She slumps down, putting her feet onto the ground and starts to slump, while Sven lets her down, softly.

"Geez, you must be freezing…here, Corporal said to bring this out to you," he said as he picks up the plate and hands it to her, taking off the paper towel. She carefully takes it as she starts to nibble on the contents while her hands shook as she tries to pull the meat apart with her teeth. Sven kneels down as he occasionally looks over his shoulder.

"Th…thanks," was all she could mutter while trying to eat. Sven noticed the skin on her pale face glistening under the stars, framed by her dark, feathery sideburns that hung over her ears.

"You really need to come inside…you can't take this for too long," Sven mentioned as Raven ate. She put the plate down on her lap as she tried to swallow her food before she spoke.

"I've handled worse," she commented.

"In ten degree's below freezing?" Sven asked skeptically. Raven frowned as she picked up another piece of meat,

"Gee, Sven…you're starting to sound a lot like Baird," she griped.

"No, I'm not…you're just trying to find some excuse not to listen to reason," Sven quietly rebuked. Raven looked at him in shock as she could somewhat see the sincerity in his eyes. He's growing up after all.

She turned her attention back to her food as she tried to gobble it up before it got colder. Sven sighed as he looked back over towards the shelter, trying to make out the faint noise that was moving towards them. Raven stopped her eating as she raised her head towards the direction of the faint noise. She quickly, but subtly hops back up and darts back onto the log, perching herself next to the neighboring trees. Sven quietly stands up as he notices a small figure walking towards them as the wide, gray eyes sparkled under the stars.

"Delilah?" Sven said out load, as a giggle could be heard into the thicket.

"Hey…you shouldn't be out here, it's too cold," Sven scolded as Delilah looked up into the trees, looking at the pale face perched into the forest.

"Then why is she out here?" Delilah said, fascinated with the ambiance, radiating from the frost on Raven's face.

Raven relaxed as the little girl moved into the woods, watching the silly girl, glare at her with iridescent eyes, dancing in the skylight.

"How are you?" Delilah beamed with a grin, "…I'm Delilah…what's yer name?"

Raven's brow lifted in puzzlement as Sven glanced at Raven and then turned his gaze back to Delilah. Raven decides to delight the child with an answer,

"My name is Raven."

"Gee…like the birdie?"

"Yea…like the birdie."

Delilah giggled as she skipped around the forest, while Raven leaped off of the log onto the snow, covered ground.

"Wow, how'd you jump so high?" Delilah asked.

"I didn't jump…I climbed," Raven replied.

"Or fly…can you fly, like the birdie?"

In the background, a familiar laugh could be heard as another figure walks into the woods. Oh, great, now he's out here too.

"Now wouldn't that be something…if Raven could fly," Baird chuckled as he walked into the woods while Raven gave him a scowl. Delilah laughed as she runs over to him and gives him a hug. Baird cringes from the impact of Delilah's head butting against his groin while she wrapped her arms around his legs. He tries to keep a straight face as she tightens her grip and then let's go as she looks up at him, giving him a warm smile.

"I like the pretty lady," she says with glee, "…do you like the pretty lady too, mister?"

What is this, trivia bingo?

"I…think it's time for you to get ready for bed…your daddy's waiting for you," Baird replied, trying to calm the numbing pain in his loins.

"Ok…but will the pretty lady come inside too?"

"Yea, sure kid…won't you, pretty lady…" Baird sneered as he looks directly at Raven, as she rolled her eyes at him.

"See ya later, birdie lady," Delilah yelled out as she skipped back to the shelter.

Baird sighs, "Vinny, why don't you make sure that kid gets back inside,"

"Sure thing, Corporal," said Sven, as he started to walk back towards the shelter.

Baird looks back in puzzlement as he turns his puzzled gaze back at Raven.

"Birdie lady?"

"She associates me with the bird, Damon…and by the way, I'm not going in,"

"Uh, yes you are."

"Uh, no I'm not."

"Rav, it's late…I'm tired, I really don't want to deal with this shit right now, so could you please cooperate…for once?"

"Somebody needs to keep watch, Baird."

"And somebody is keeping watch, Feral."

"Oh, and who?"

"The scouts are going to rotate tonight."

"I don't trust their competence."

"And we should trust yours?"

Raven's eyes widened in fury while Baird continued,

"You're tired too, Rav…you're in no condition to be doing anything right now."

"I can manage just fine, if you haven't noticed by now."

"I really didn't want to have to argue with you about this..."

"...well then don't," Raven replied as she folded her arms in defiance. Baird sighs as he rubs his head in irritation...shit, I swear this stubborn woman is going to be the end of me!

"Ok…I'm going to take a wild guess at what's really bothering you,"

"Don't bother Damon…you're not very good at playing twenty questions."

He could see the scowled expression on her pale face soften as she looks up into the night sky. He couldn't help but notice the ambiance, shining from her porcelain façade. She looked so unusually beautiful under the winter night sky, accented by the frost in the air that clung to her cheeks. Perhaps it was appropriate that she would be a child of the Frost, the season of cleansing all life from the hurt of this world, preparing to start anew.

She looked back down as she wrapped her arms around her body, trying to shield herself from the cold as she let's out a long sigh, feeling the air exiting her breath, roll on her face. As the cold swept around her body, she started to listen to the reason that has been screaming at her for the past two hours. Maybe Baird was right, but she wasn't going to admit it, especially to him, the voice of reason. So instead, she looks up at Baird as she carefully walks over,

"We need to leave before sunrise…no exceptions," she ordered.

"Ok," Baird said matter-of-factly, without sarcasm or retort. Raven looked at him with puzzlement, but then walked passed him as she moved over to the back of the shelter, lifting up her legs, trudging through the deep snow. Baird turned around, perplexed as to what she was doing. He proceeds to follow her behind the shelter. He turns around the corner to find her rummaging into a hidden storage case, pulling out some bottles of what appeared to be rice wine.

"Feral, what are you doing?" he finally asks while she sat up on her knees and shuts the case, grabbing a bottle in her hand as she stands up.

"Something to help me sleep," she says in monotone while pulling off the top and starts to chug the bottle down like it was water.

"What the hell, Rav," Baird blurts out as he darts over and pulls the bottle from her mouth and out of hand. She coughs and gags from the liquid overhaul, leaning back against the building, bracing herself against the wall while coughing violently.

"Too…late, Gear boy," she sneered as Baird noticed she drank almost more than half of the bottle.

"Shit Rav…how is getting drunk off your ass going to help you sleep at night?" he barks as Raven grasps her equilibrium and starts to walk over towards the shelter entrance.

Baird stands there for a moment, still in awe of Raven's odd behavior as he darts back over to the shelter entrance with bottle in hand. He turns around the corner to find Raven standing at the door. Hesitant to go in as she clenches her tiny fists, Baird walks up behind her and gently grabs her shoulders,

"C'mon, you drunken maid…let's get some sleep," he says, gently pushing her forward as they get inside, only to find Delilah sitting on Cole's lap with her blanket in hand and Sven nuzzled in a fur blanket next to the fireplace.

"See the birdie lady…just like I told ya," Delilah said cheerfully as Cole and Sven looked up at Raven.

"Damn, baby, your whiter than the snow," Cole noticed as her face was still frost bit. Her hair was dry as she shuffled it with her hand, her expression drooping into a gaze.

"Geez, she looks like something the cat dragged in," Sven added, wondering what Baird did to convince her to finally come in from the bitter, cold hell, festering outside.

"Cole, could you make a space for her to sleep at?" Baird asked, still holding Raven by her shoulders with his hands.

"Sure thing…" Cole said as he sat Delilah up on her feet with his massive hands and opened up another blanket. Baird gently turns Raven around as he pushes her into the kitchen.

"C'mon Rav, we need to get you warmed up," Baird insisted as she stubbornly walked into the kitchen. The room began to spin as the noise faded in and out of consciousness, echoing into her head. Raven began to sway.

"Aw, shit…" Baird said, realizing what was happening to her, "…shit, shit, shit…c'mon girl, stay up just a little longer."

He pushed her near a tub as he grabbed a towel, soaking it in warm water and started to wipe her expressionless face down. It had been over fifteen minutes since she chugged all that wine down, and now it's pulsing through her system.

As Raven stood there, she gets lost in thought. Pictures of the warm nights would rerun insistently as she could remember the touch of warm hands caressing her bare body in warm water, the laughter of playful banter underneath the starry blanket, and the aroma of pine meshed with the scent of aftershave. Succumbing to the hormonal concoction, Raven could hear the bells ringing and the sky singing as the Feral "avatar" dances with her eyes glistening and giggling, blowing kisses in the wind.

Raven starts to laugh.

She could faintly hear the voices of Sigma squad, fumbling through her head,

"What the hell happened to Feral?" Cole's voice could be heard.

"She's smashed Cole," said Baird, trying to keep Raven standing straight as she giggled while swaying, hanging on his bicep.

Yielding to the emotions, stirred by the heat coming from her core as the dopamine slams into her head while morale and regulations fall on the wayside, Raven slips in between the cracks of what is rational. She starts to fall into the clout of her most primitive of drives as her brain floods with oxytocin, causing her to moan in between spats of laughter. Her time of estrus has begun, and its flow was much more powerfully potent than she could tolerate. Of all that the Feral conditioned her to be, she was desperately trying to fight back. No, no…not now…

But her strategy worked as the wine swells in her system while her eyes slip into the back of her head and her body went limp, falling into forever. If she was to hit the floor, she wouldn't register the collision, but the warmth that caught her in mid air was clear. Her lifeless limbs dangled as she slipped into a comatose state, passing into a dazed consciousness, slumped into Cole's massive arms while he scooped her up, effortlessly before she hit the ground. After pulling her up, Cole carried her into the room, and then gently laid her on the floor next to Sven, whom was fast asleep. Cole looked up at Baird as the two exchanged glances, trying to make sense of what had just transpired, but neither were in the mood to talk about anything, much less about their plastered, Feral guide.

The night air drifted into the frost as Ashley and Billy take up the watch while Sigma squad slept on the floor, sprawled under the wool blankets. Sven was lying next to Baird as he snored loudly, along with Raven, whom was just as loud, completely dazed and out of consciousness, while Delilah snuggled in between her and Baird. Cole laid next to the two girls, shielded by his massive arm, basking in their warmth. All laid with a sense of apprehension that they shoved to the wayside for the time being as they finally drifted into the catacombs of uncertainly.

And when all piece of mind succumbed to the siesta, the most ludicrous of thoughts would take reign in our lucid dream-state.


Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,

Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,

The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

Chapter 30: Can You Hear Me Running Edit

Time to change has come and gone

Watched your fears become your God


Overwhelmed, you chose to run

Apathetic to the stunned


It might seem an afterthought

Yes it hurts to know you're bought

It's your decision


You feed the fire that burned us all

When you lied

To feel the pain that spurs you on

Black inside


No one plans to take the path that brings you lower

And here you stand before us all and say it's over


Alice in Chains

Your Decision


Ellie, sweetheart…that’s not lady-like. Ellie?

An eight-year-old Eloise McNight shifted in her seat, swinging her legs a few inches above the floor, loathing the fact that her "mother" made her wear a dress today. It wasn't just embarrassing enough that she had to wear a dress, but a dress with white tights and glossy, strapped dress shoes to match the frills on the hinges of her formal garment. She sulked in her chair, knowing that there was no point arguing about her "unlady-like" behavior as she sat in-between her foster parents, a couple with some military prestige, summoned to a military recognition and memorial that day.

As the chairman wrapped up his speech concerning the commencement, the crowd of people in their chairs stood up and applauded, including her parents. Eloise made the initiative to stand as well, not for the sake of the speech, but to finally get out of her seat so she could scratch her rear from the itchy tights her mother made her wear. Hence the other reason she hated wearing tights, other than feeling like a "dork" for wearing them.

Moving through the crowd of people while holding her mother's hand her father turned to her as he smiled,

"You look pretty Ellie," he would say.

"My name is Raven, Daddy," she would correct him. He chuckled,

"Of course angel, but for the sake of formalities, you are Eloise."

Raven sulked, followed by a grumble that was always expected of her,

"Yes, sir…"

Captain McNight smiled at his defiant foster daughter, whom was trying to remember her manners.

"That's my girl," he would say as he patted her on the shoulder.

Her parents would often mingle during formal military functions, which would subject Eloise to have to socialize with the other "kids," from other military personnel. But she knew it was the same front that all the kids would put up every time Eloise would attempt to mix because rumor had it that she was one of those Feral kids…a label that infiltrated not only her school life but her church congregation as well as among the military personnel, and Eloise loathed it.

So Eloise would often slump behind her mother while still holding her hand, not wanting to be gawked at, especially in a stupid dress! In the array of conversations that blurred into audio slurs, one voice was clearly shot through the ballroom as her father turned around to be greeted by the host.

"Captain McNight…oh wait, my apologies, soon to be Major McNight, " the host greeted her father, along with a member of the cabinet and a Major. The three men of military prestige among other talents gathered as they talked with great respect for her father's promotion.

So daddy gets to be a bigger boss…whoopie…that means he gets to be away more, Raven groaned to herself. But at least it was another excuse to ask him for that solder she always wanted so she wouldn't have to keep borrowing his stuff to improve her bottle rockets.

"Ellie…would you come here please…" she could hear her father calling from the distance. Raven would turn to look up as her mother nodded and let her loose. She slowly walked over to the group of men, not quite sure what to make of it, otherwise, but one thing was for sure and that was she still felt dorky in her little get-up, which consequently was the first thing the host took notice of.

"Well, don't you look lovely," he said rather sincerely, not that it made her feel any better.

"Tha…thank you…sir," she squeaked out, trying to be courteous so that her mother would be pleased with her behavior to make up for her defiance from earlier. Although everybody knew she wasn't the McNight's "real" kid, on the outside, she looked liked any other little girl at the party with ribbons in her long black hair, pinned up into a elegant bun, wearing a "dorky" dress.

The endless cliché of adults admiring "Eloise's" attire was becoming tedious as she contemplated some way to escape the bombardment of complements of a dress she didn't even like.

"Ellie, you look so nice,"

"Your little Eloise is so pretty,"

"Pretty girl,"

"…pretty lady…"

"…birdie lady, wake up."

The strain felt in the early morning as voices carried all around the room, was overwhelming for Raven as she woke from her drunken slumber. Peering with her groggy eyes, the sense of haste fills the room as movement was grazing all around her, the urgency that was happening in the room.

Delilah was still shaking her shoulder, trying to wake her up,

"C'mon, Birdie Lady…we have to go…the bad people have found us."

Bad people? Raven drifted in and out of her dazed state, as her eyes dropped back into her head, then suddenly she felt someone pulling her up on her feet, the voice stern and pressing,

"Rav…c'mon…" she could hear, until the hands that held her shook her back into the present, "…Feral…damnit, we gotta go…now!"

Baird tried to shake her into reason as he knelt down and picked up her pistols, loading them in her holsters. She looks around, trying to make sense of the commotion.

"Wha…who, what's…happening," she muttered trying to focus on the problem at hand, rubbing her eyes so she could see more clearly.

"We've been discovered…we gotta leave, right now!"

"What…how'd did…we," she groaned while Baird tried to get their equipment together.

"I don't have time to discuss this, just…let's go…you too kid!" Baird says, while pulling Raven along by her arm, out of the shelter, as Delilah followed close behind. She quickly noticed that the sun was not completely up as the darkness still hung over the sky while the horizon bled in an array of colors just ahead.

Billy and Jon had their horses saddled up while Sven and Cole, rummaged for some ammo in a nearby storage case. Abby came out with some supplies while Delilah was dressed up in a coat and hoodie, wrapped in a wool scarf.

"Come here sweety," Billy said to Delilah as she ran over to him, "…you're going with Abby for right now, do you understand?"

"But why can't I go with you daddy?" Delilah fretted as her gray eyes began to moisten.

"The bad men are coming," Billy explained as best as he could to the child, hoping that she would understand their plight, "…we have to fight them off or else they'll come and get you,"

The Gears changed out their cartridges, loading up on as much ammo as they could carry. Sven slapped a round in the chamber while he filled his pouch with rifle clips and shotgun rounds. Cole strapped another cartridge into his ammo belt as he loaded up his Lancer. Baird pulled out his pistol, checking to see if the clip was full. Afterwards, he grabbed some shotgun shells and loaded up his Gnasher, throwing it on his back, along with his Lancer. Raven stumbled at first, trying to remember where she put the ammo for her Gorgon pistol, if it hadn't been rummaged through already. It was then that Cole stood up and turned her around,

"Feral, baby, these are for you," he said as he hands her some ammo for her Boltok. She cautiously takes them and loads up her Boltok.

"Th…thank, you," she replied, trying to wake up to the dire circumstance at hand.

Meanwhile, Baird walked over to Billy as the scouts loaded up the last of their ammunition.

"You boys must go east of here…we'll take the north," Billy suggested to Baird, "they can't follow both groups at the same time without dividing their numbers…and they know better than to divide their forces."

Baird nodded as he looked over his shoulder and glances at his squad, and then turned to Billy,

"If you head north, try to avoid the west crossing…we have reason to believe that the Locusts may be gathering in the mine area," said Baird as Billy nodded, "…also, is there a shortcut to get to Fort Block from here?"

"Yea, but you'll have to go around Plantire to get there," said Billy.

"Understood," Baird said as he signaled to Cole.

Abby hopped up into the saddle while Billy picked up Delilah, giving her a kiss on the cheek and placing her on the horse, behind Abby. Abby placed her feet into the stirrups and moved forward to give Delilah some room near the cantle.

"You girls go ahead…we'll catch up when it's clear," Billy said to Abby.

"And if you don't come," Abby asked suspiciously.

"You know the way home…just do what the Corporal said, avoid the west."

Abby nodded as Delilah started to wave,

"Bye mister," she called out, staring at Baird as she waved her hand at him.

"Bye mister Cole Train," she yelled out again, waving at Cole.

Cole waved to the little girl, bumping Baird in the arm with his elbow to get Baird to wave too. Grudgingly, Baird picked up his hand and waved slightly, watching the girl return a smile back.

Abby, pulls the horse back as the beast turned around and began to gallop out of the woods, moving north. The prospectors watched the girls ride off, making sure their path was clear as they loaded up on their own horses. Billy pulled the shotgun strap over his shoulder as he hopped up on his horse.

Suddenly, they could here a rumbling engine in the distance.

"I'll check it out," Ashley yelled out as he turned his horse and went out towards the direction of the commotion nearby. The Gears had their ammo gathered and their weapons loaded and ready to go as Cole wrapped the blanket around his arms and Sven wrapped a sash around his head with his sniper goggles strapped to his forehead, just in case. Baird wrapped a scarf around his neck while tying a skirt sash around his waist that dangled down to his knees. Raven on the other hand was trying to wrap her custom Feral sash around her head, but she was too groggy to get it right so she just whirled it around her neck for the time being and placed her pistols back into their holsters.

As the noise became more audible, the Gears went up and behind the shelter, followed by Billy and Jon.

"Aw, crap…I think I recognize that engine," Baird grumbled.

"It's a Dill, idn't it," Jon asked in anticipation.

The men sat behind the shelter in patience, waiting on Ashley, as they heard a galloping horse making it's way towards them.

Ashley made it over the hill and near the back of the shelter as he came to an abrupt halt, yelling frantically,

"Four soldiers on horseback and an APC…we need to go…NOW!"

"Fuck," Jon blasted as he pulled out his shogun from his coat. Billy turned to the Gears, as the Gears turned to Raven. She looked up drearily, trying to muster the words to remedy the situation.

"We…must go into…the woods back, there," she points behind them, "there is a rocky ledge…the vehicle cannot follow us there."

"But the horseback riders can," Sven blurted out, impatiently.

"That, is true…" Raven replied, "…but at least we don't have to worry…about the APC."

Despite Raven's "hangover," her strategic skills where still lucid. Billy turned to the Gears,

"Take the route your Feral guide suggested…go quickly…we will go another way."

Baird turned to Billy as he looked at the old man saddled in his horse,

"Billy, these are trained Gears that you're dealing with, not incompetent Stranded…they will flank you, and take you out." Baird said gravely.

"Well then, Corporal…I guess you better wish us lots of luck," Billy responded as he pulled back his horse and signaled Ashley and Jon to move on.

"Get back to the Block, soldier," Billy saluted, and then turned the animal around and galloped away, following the others.

"C'mon Damon…we gotta go," Cole persisted as Baird turned to Cole and nodded, grabbing Raven by her arm and started to move her forward.

"Let's go Feral…suck it up and move," he urged her.

"I'm…working on it…I just have a really, bad headache," she griped.

Sven went ahead of the group while Cole stayed at the end, looking over his shoulder, while they meandered around the conifer trees, trying to find the ledge that Raven was talking about. As they swerved around the trees, trying to move as fast as their legs could take them before the sun reaches the sky, they could hear faint noises in the distance.

"Shit…what was that?" said Cole.

"Hey…I found the ledge…" Sven yelled out as the other three tuned into Sven's voice.

"Wait there, Vinny…we're coming," Baird yelled ahead, trying to move quickly while dragging Raven by her arm. Cole picks up the pace, still listening to the racket that was still audible from a distance.

The sun was seeping into the forest, as it's rays of light glistened into the snow covered branches. With visibility becoming more prevalent, Sigma needed to move quickly before the Stranded picked up their trail.

"Vinny?" Baird yelled out again.

"Up here, Corporal," Sven yelled back, waiving his hands in the air from the top of an incline, next to some grounded boulders. Baird moved around the trees, pushing through the snow and foliage on the ground as Cole followed close behind. Baird gets to the top and turns around to grab Raven by her hands and pulls her up. Once on top, she braces her back next to a boulder and starts to lean her head over, coughing.

Cole moves up with Lancer in hand as he hears a familiar sound, coming from Raven's groaning.

"Aw, man…I thinks she's going to hurl," Cole blurts out as Baird moves over to Raven, whom was pushing up some dry heaves.

"C'mon Rav…let it all out," Baird teases, patting her on the back while Raven swings her arm to shoo Baird away.

"Hey, what are we," Sven griped until he sees Raven heaving and then vomits as she falls onto all fours, thrusting her body while she gags, "…ahh, gross."

Cole looks over shoulder, trying to keep an eye out while Raven continues to barf.

"Baird, we need to hurry this up," Cole says with persistence.

"You hear that, Feral…can you barf any faster, we need to move," Baird scoffs as he walks over to her and lends out his hand.

Raven finally stops heaving as she drearily looks up and carefully takes Baird's hand. He pulls her up while trying to avoid stepping in her pool of vomit and setting her back on her feet as she swayed slightly.

"I'm…fine," she says as she starts to point past them, "…that way…follow the ledge."

"Alright, you heard her, let's go! Vin, lead the way," Baird orders as he grabs Raven's arm and pulls it up over his shoulder, dragging her along while Cole pushes from behind.

The noise Cole heard earlier was becoming audible again as the four stopped in their tracks to tune in and listen.

"Ahhh…that sounded a lot like gunfire," Cole muttered.

"Fuck, it is," Baird said while Vinny grabbed his rifle and turned to the others,

"Wait here…I'll see if I can get a look."

"Try not to give away our position, kid," Baird reminded him.

"Yes sir," Sven responds while climbs up to the top of a boulder to lookout of the woods. He props his rifle up, carefully looking through the scope.

The three could hear the noise clearly now, the sounds of men shouting blended with gunfire and the scorching sounds of horses shrieking.

"Shit," Sven blurted out as he starts to dismount from the rock.

"That didn't sound good Vin," Baird said.

"They just took out Jon!"

"What?" Cole blurted out while Raven pulled herself away from Baird's grip and started to move ahead.

"We must move now!" she insisted, even though she was still shaking from the heaving.

"Shit," Cole stammered as he started to follow Raven, with Baird and Sven close behind. The four move along the ridge, carefully trying to avoid the edge while staying hidden in the woods, moving through the snow. By now, the sun was already shining down through the trees from above. The night sky can no longer conceal them anymore.

Raven pushed herself, panting as she swayed sometimes but then straightened herself out. Baird watched her carefully to make sure she didn't pass out or fall over as she picked up the pace while the noise from the Stranded was fading away. Sven moved ahead of Cole and Baird as he tried to catch up to Raven.

"Feral…wait," Sven yelled out as they approached the edge of the forest.

"Let me get a look before we get out," he suggested.

Raven stopped in her tracks as she leaned against a tree to catch her equilibrium, giving Sven a nod and gestured,

"Up there…" she pointed near a boulder, "is where you go to get to the plateau…you may be able to get a view near that boulder over there, but any further may expose us."

"Alright…give me a minute," Sven said as he carefully moved towards the boulder to get a look.

Baird and Cole catch up to Raven as they stop and wait.

"What's Vinny doing?" Cole asked as he could see Sven trying to look out with his scope from the woods.

"Don't…go out yet…let Vinny get a look to see if it's clear," Raven insisted as she slumped along the tree trunk, groaning. Baird moves over to her as he kneels down,

"You don't look so good, Rav."

"I don't feel good, Damon."

"Can't hold the rum down too well, can you…"

"Baird, I don't even drink…I don't do this, often,"

"Then why the hell did you try to get yourself plastered last night?"

"I…had to, Damon. There was too…many of you," Raven mumbled as she brought her hand over her mouth and turned to the side. Baird quickly knew that she was going to vomit again so he grabbed her by her waist and straightened her out as she leaned her head to the ground and started to heave.

Cole came up as he too knelt over,

"Man, this is so bad timing."

"Tell me about it, Gus, " Baird cringed as he could hear the vomit gush from her body, feeling her stomach convulsing as it pushed everything out of her system. Raven stopped to catch her breath as she started to lean back, gasping for air. Baird pulled her back as he sat her down away from her pile of barf.

"Geez, Rav…I haven't seen a hangover like that since…" Baird turned over to Cole, "…since Rojas got wasted celebrating his kid's birth, remember Cole?"

"Oh yea…that boy was plastered, hehe…and he was so sick the next morning, we just dumped his sick ass in the bathtub and left him there all day." Cole recalled.

"Oh yea, we did leave him in the bathroom, didn't we," said Baird.

Raven was able to catch her breath as she looked up at Baird,

"The plateau, I was telling you about…it's that direction."

"Ok…so why are you telling us this now?" he asked.

Suddenly, Sven roadie ran up to them as he jumped down,

"They're moving to the west…" said Sven as he looked at Raven.

"Then we need to move, now…to avoid detection," Raven suggested while Sven put up his rifle and helped Baird put her back on her feet.

"Let's get moving," Baird said as Cole took the lead while Baird and Sven pulled Raven along.

Suddenly, they heard a horse shriek from a distance, followed by the sound of a woman screaming.

Oh, shit…Abby.

The four turn their concentration towards the noise coming from the horse as Baird growled to himself,

"Agh, we can't just ignore it," he said, "…I'll go check it out…the rest of you go to the plateau."

"Wait Damon…" Raven blurted out, "I'll go."

"Feral, you're too hungover to go anywhere right now…"

"I know this area better than you, Damon…I know where to go and where to hide. I can still do this…trust me."

Raven looked directly into Baird's eyes as he could see the sincerity in her suggestion. He could tell she wasn't going to back off from this easily.

"If you have doubts, just get up to the plateau and look out through Vinny's scope." Raven suggested while Baird gave her a perplexed look, wondering if he should even consider her going out in her condition. But Raven was right, she knew where to go and how to get there, without being noticed.

"Alright, Rav…I'm giving you thirty minutes, not a minute more, you hear me?"

Raven nodded as Baird looked at Cole and Sven,

"Go ahead, I'll catch up in a minute…Gus, give me the bottle of ibuprofen, please."

"You got it, baby!"

Cole pulled out the bottle and handed it to Baird. Sven and Cole start to make there way to the trail that led to the top of the plateau while Baird turned to Raven as he took her hand and put the bottle in it.

"You're definitely going to need this," he said quietly. Raven took her journal out of her pack and handed it to Baird.

"What the hell is this for?" he demanded as she wiped the sweat from her face.

"There are some schematics of the area in the last few pages…just in case something happens between when I leave here to catch up to you. At this point, we don't know what to expect when I get to the horse and Abby."

Baird sighed as he looked up at her, but proceeds to put the journal into his pack with his.

"And just for the record, I don't like this," Baird scoffed.

"Well, what would you like, Damon?"

Baird turned his gaze back on Raven, caught off guard by her question as he noticed her sickly pale face, glistening like plastic from the sunlight.

"You need to give me another good reason why I should let you go," Baird stammered, trying to change the subject.

"Because, you're the better leader…Sigma needs you to guide them back to the Block…," Raven coughs in between sentences, "…we need you to guide us to Fort Block, so please…just…keep to the mission."

"We…?" he scoffed.

Raven sighed as she pulled something from around her neck that was buried under her chestplate. It was a leather string with trinkets of sorts dangling from it. Raven pulled out Baird's hand and placed her "necklace" in it. Baird quickly noticed a USB drive was among a bottle cap, some bone fragments, a locket, and a key that dangled from it.

"Hang on to this, for me…I'll come back for it…" Raven claimed.

Baird gazed at her for a moment and then nodded,

"I'm going to be watching, Feral," he said sternly.

"Yea, I heard you the first time," she groaned as she took a few steps back and started to make her way towards the commotion, yelling back as she turned over her shoulder, "…and try not to lose my memory card."

Baird stayed and watched Raven move through the woods until she was out of sight. He takes her necklace and places it around his neck while burying it under his chestplate along with his COG tags.

His trust in Raven was much stronger than it was five days ago, but the one thing that he couldn't push out of his head was the feeling of tribulation that was inevitable. Of all the decisions that he had to make during his military career, this was the one he started to fret the most.


Can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you?


Mike & The Mechanics

Silent Running

Chapter 31: Captured Edit

The agonizing noise coming from the horse started to dwindle as the animal laid on the ground, hopelessly immobile from its leg clamped into the bear trap. Abby was able to calm the animal down, but had no way to break it free from the heavy, iron clasp that held onto it's broken ankle.

The horse apparently sprung the trap, not realizing it's presence until it was too late, throwing Abby off while Delilah hung on but then jumped off before the horse crumpled to the ground from the immense pain in it's leg. Delilah stood next to Abby as the two were at a loss as what to do next while Abby looked in dismay at the horse lying on it's side, huffing in pain

Suddenly, they could hear a noise, a brushing coming from in the woods as Abby held onto Delilah closer to her body, taking a few steps backwards from their fallen horse. The sound of movement was becoming more audible and closer. They could hear the footsteps compacting the snow beneath them, slowly pushing though the thicket, enclosing on them. As they moved back, Abby reached into her holster in horror, realizing that her pistol was not there.

Damnit…it must have fallen out when I was thrown from Sheba!

Suddenly, several figures pushed through the snowy thicket. They were Stranded, armed with shotguns as they looked at the fallen horse in front of them. They then noticed Abby, moving backwards while holding Delilah close to her side. The two Stranded started to spread out around the fallen horse as they carefully flank the two girls.

"Don't be scared…we won't hurt ya," one sneered as the other started to chuckle.

"Then stay back…" the woman snarled back, "or I'll shoot."

"She's bluffing…she's not armed."

Abby sneered, "You don't know that, asshole!"

"Oh yes I do…" the Stranded picked up a pistol that was strewn on the snowy floor nearby, and held it up to Abby's attention. Oh, no.

Abby started to tremble while Delilah held her hand even tighter, pulling back behind Abby.

"Delilah," Abby whispered, "go…just run."

"Abby?"

"Go, now!"

Delilah stood there for a moment as she gave the men another look. Suddenly, Delilah turned around and darted away into the woods.

"Fuck, get her," one of the men roared as one started to approach Abby. Abby ran into him, pushing him away while the other darted past them, running through the woods after Delilah.

Abby tried to get up and chase after him but the Stranded she pushed down quickly got up and grabbed her with a bear hold, holding her back.

"Let go of me, you bastard," she shouted as the Stranded picked her up and threw her to the ground. Abby rolled a few feet until she landed on her back, wincing from the fall. She tried to get up but she was quickly held down by the Stranded, holding her into place while she thrashed and yelled profanities at him.

"Get your meat hooks off of me," Abby snarled, wrestling under the Stranded's grip as he struggled to keep her still.

"Shut up bitch!" he snapped back.

Suddenly, another figure stepped into the area. It was one of the soldiers, a former Gear, marching straight towards the wrestling match between Abby and the straggly Stranded. The ex-Gear grabbed the Stranded and yanked him off of her without effort.

"Get the fuck out of my way, Ren…" the ex-Gear barked as Ren got up and backed off. The massive Gear then grabbed Abby by the hair and pulled her up. She cringed from the pain as the Gear pulled her close to him,

"Where did those Gear pigs go?" he said sternly, grinding his teeth in fury as he tightened his fist around her scalp. His pale eyes glared heavily at her as his lip curled, watching her grimace from the pain.

"She's not going to say anything, Hogaus," Ren sneered, " if she's like the others, she won't say shit!"

The ex-Gear known as Hogaus turned around as he swung the back of his hand onto the side of Ren's face, knocking him sideways.

"Shut the fuck, up…stupid ass," Hogaus snarled, realizing that Ren just gave away any collateral he may have had to entice his new prisoner to get her to talk. As Hogaus was barking at Ren, his grip loosened around Abby's hair while she whipped underneath his arm and punched him in the groin.

"Fuck," he growled as she swung out of his grip and started to run, while Hogaus continued to bark, "...fucking cunt!"

He pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Abby as she was running, pulling the trigger, watching Abby fall and plummet to the ground. Hogaus moved forward while still clutching his genitals, trying to succumb from the throbbing pain as he marches over to the woman, still trying to move on the ground.

Abby whimpered from the pain, trying to pull herself along the ground as the bullet wound in her leg bled profusely. Hogaus finally caught up to her, reaching down and grabbing her by her hair again as he knelt down and threw her on her back. Holding her down by her head, he points his pistol against her face.

"We're going to try this again…where is Sigma One?"

With as much strength as she could muster, she cocked her head back and spat on him. Hogaus shook his head as he cocked the hammer back,

"Just another fucking waste of ammo," Hogaus sneered and pulled the trigger.

________


In the distance, Delilah stopped suddenly from the gunshot echoing in the woods, she looked back, still panting from running nonstop. Thoughts of Abby ran through her head, trying not to fear the worst, but the terror that pulsed through her veins was inevitable. The adrenaline fluttered through her little body as she picked up the sound of someone following her. Abby told me to run, and so she did.

The other Stranded pushed through the thicket as he caught a visual of the runaway girl.

"There you are," he blurted out while moving as fast as he could. Delilah quickly turned around and tried to pick up her legs as the snow deepened the further she went. Although she had the energy to keep moving, she didn't have the strength to push her little legs through the snow as her body started to fatigue. The Stranded was quickly catching up to her as she panted, pushing herself as best she could, until she tripped and fell over.

"I gotcha now, you little brat," he sneered as he finally grabbed her by the leg. Delilah screamed, shaking her leg, trying to break free from his grip as he was pulling her out of the thicket.

"Let go, you meanie," she sneered.

"Get over here so I can shut your piehole," he barked, but before he could pull her out, something strikes against his head, knocking him sideways. Turning around wearily while trying to get up, a dark figure from behind him kicked him under the chin, knocking him backwards as the Stranded blacked out, letting out a faint moan from the blunt force.

Delilah tried to move away as she looked up towards the figure,

"Birdie Lady!" Delilah beamed in excitement as she ran over to Raven, wrapping her arms around her waist. Raven braced herself in between the trees, putting her Gorgon pistol back into her holster.

"Let's go," Raven whispered, "and try to stay quiet."

"Ok," Delilah said quietly, grabbing onto Raven's hand. Raven tried to move around the trees subtly, trying to make as little sound as possible, but with Delilah in hand, she knew that it was not that feasible.

Ugh, I can't have them follow us back to the plateau, she groaned, knowing that it would expose Sigma's trail. Damn.

"C'mon, Delilah, we have to go another way."

"But what about Abby?"

Raven turned to the child, knowing that Delilah was not as ignorant as some may believe her to be, just because she was a child. Raven knew better, from her past experience as a child, she wasn't just some naive' little girl either.

"Abby's gone, Delilah…we need to go too or else we're gone," Raven tells her, watching Delilah nod as her gray eyes focused on her. Raven could see her reflection in the child's gaze, looking back at her as the weight of their survival was now placed on her shoulders, stirring a deep, quintessential instinct that goes beyond maternal. Raven didn't expect to uncover this.

Suddenly, a thunderous noise broke out from the thicket behind them,

"Get back here…you Feral bitch!"

We've been spotted…damn. Raven quickly pulled Delilah by the hand as she raced through the trees.

By now, her hangover has subsided as the ibuprofen started to course through her system, subduing her splitting headache while her equilibrium was slowly coming to stabilization. She was moving more fluently than earlier, but poor Delilah was staggering behind. Raven started to slow down, realizing that something was hindering Delilah.

"I hurt, Birdie lady" Delilah complained, whimpering as Raven stopped and knelt down. She could see the pain in Delilah's face, cringing from whatever it was that was ailing her. Raven had to think of something quick before the Stranded Gears catch up to them.

"Hurry…grab onto me," Raven ordered as she pulled Delilah behind her, encouraging her to climb up on Raven's back, wrapping her arms around her neck, while Raven picked up Delilah's legs and stood up, giving Delilah a piggy-back ride.

Raven continued to hike, moving faster now while darting around the trees, picking up her legs as she galloped like a gazelle. Delilah, for the most part was pretty light so Raven was able to pick up the pace once she ran towards the edge of the forest. Raven looked out, scanning the area quickly before she darts out towards her destination.

After giving the area a brief scan, she moved forward, pushing through the snow while trying to move towards a bed of rocks fifty feet ahead of them.

"Hang on…." Raven said in between her panting, "we're almost there."

Delilah clung to Raven, clenching her tiny fists on Raven's shoulder guards while keeping her legs wrapped tightly around Raven's slender waist. Delilah could feel the breeze brushing along her cold, nipped face, leaning her head on Raven's shoulder as the sun beat down on them, offering some warmth.

Suddenly, she could hear it, the sound of horses galloping nearby. Raven whipped around, looking out, not seeing anything in sight, but she could hear it, the sounds of horses panting and snorting from a distance. Please let that be the prospectors, but her gut feeling said otherwise. Shit. She knew she was not going to outrun the horses, much less with Delilah on her back. This is not going to work...damnit. The Stranded have already discovered their tracks, leaving one other option if Raven was going to succeed getting Delilah to safety.

Raven carefully put Delilah down and turned to her,

"Listen to me…you see those rocks?"

"Ye...yea," Delilah leaked out.

"Behind them is a trail…it will take you up to a big plateau, and there you will find the Gears…and you must find them, do you understand?"

"Yesum."

Raven reached underneath her armor, zipping down a part of her fatigues, then reaching in, ripping a piece of her ceremonial garb and pulls it out, placing the torn piece into Delilah's hands.

"Give this to the Gears when you find them, ok?"

"Ok…will you be alright, Birdie Lady?"

"Of course…I can fly, remember?" Raven reminded her, giving Delilah a warm smile, but slumps back into a frown as the noise of the horses become more audible.

She pushes Delilah along, "...now go, hurry…and don't look back."

Delilah gave Raven a smile as she turned around and started to run through the shallow snow. Raven then turned around and darted down the hill as she came across some scattered pine trees, moving through sparse forest until she came back out into the open again.

Raven stopped suddenly, catching sight of the Stranded on horseback. One of them was looking straight at her as he moved the animal to the side to get a better look at the object before him.

Oh my God…it's him, Raven muttered as she stood there, petrified. She recognized the man on horseback as the Stranded she saw in the woods, the big one who was searching for them when they came across Gamma Four. But instead of turning back the way she came, she darted down the hill, pushing through the heel deep snow, hoping the incline would make it difficult for the horses to move quickly without straining their ankle joints.

The big stranded jumped off his horse as the others whom just caught glimpse of her running, turned their animals around and started after her, but they were having a hard time keeping them moving along the steep incline, just as Raven predicted.

The big Stranded, known as Morose was moving quickly, picking up his legs over the snow, yelling at the others,

"Go to the other side of the woods…now!"

As three of the Stranded took off down the hill towards the other side of the woods, one of them jumped off his horse and started to follow Morose. He too, moved quickly, nearly catching up to Morose as the two men followed the trail Raven intentionally left behind.

Raven made it into the thicket as she pushed through the twigs, brushing up against the branches, breaking the small limbs as much as she could, distracting the men from Delilah's trail, praying that the girl will make it to Sigma without being detected. Dashing as fast as she could, she could still outrun the men, but she can't outrun the horses. Her only advantage was the woods, that will slow both them and the horses down for sure.

Moving on through, Raven comes out into an open space in the thicket as she tries to kick up as much snow and foliage as she can to make her trail more readable. Suddenly, something snaps around her boot, halting her as the momentum from running through the woods whiplashes her backwards. Falling to the ground as a pain swelled around her ankle, causing a deep numbing sensation shooting up her leg to her spine, she lets out a yelp from the sharp pain. She turns over her shoulder and notices an iron clasp, caught on her boot, clamped around her ankle.

"Shit!"

Raven hollered from the pain of the bear trap as she tries to turn over onto her back, but the pain from twisting her ankle into the clasp made any movement in her leg strenuous. Raven grimaced from the throbbing while lying on the ground, still panting from the running.

"Shit, shit SHIT…DAMNIT," she yelled in aggravation, realizing that she had no other place to go as her optimism cuts short form the traps' tight grip, holding her by her ankle. She tried to slow her breathing, calming the palpitations in her heart as much as she could, but the noise of someone closing in, pushed the adrenaline through her body again. Pulling out her Boltok pistol, she reaches over to her other holster, but her Gorgon pistol was gone. Damnit…I must have lost it, brushing up against the branches…son of a bitch!

Suddenly, a Stranded made his entrance into the open space,

"There you are...little bitch," he sneered, but before he could even take out his pistol, Raven tuned over her to side, aimed and pulled the trigger, shooting the scrawny man in the shoulder.

"FUCK," he screamed as he toppled backwards from the impact of her Bolter. Raven twisted back as she cringed in pain form the movement, watching over her shoulder the man she just shot, was the same man she kicked in the head a few moments earlier when she rescued Delilah from his clutches. He was on his back, cursing while wiggling on the ground like a snake with its head cut off, screaming in pain, bleeding profusely from the wound.

Raven looked up ahead of her to see another Stranded in Gear armor moving in. He quickly noticed that she was armed and tried to pull out his Gnasher, but she quickly reacted, shooting towards him, striking him in the jugular of his neck. He staggered backwards, clutching his neck as he gagged, slumping down to the ground, hemorrhaging. Her Boltok kicked back so hard, she lost grip of the thing as it thrusts her onto her back. Normally she could shoot the Boltok with one hand, anticipating the kick, but she has never had to shoot it from the ground before, lacking the equilibrium to withstand the force. She pulled herself up, trying to forget the pain, but every time she moved, the throbbing would send shockwaves into her back. She frantically started to look for her Boltok , but the noise coming from the dying men, mixed with her bewilderment from the pain, made her lose focus.

And then the worst was yet to come. Morose entered the woods, followed by what appeared to be another one of his fellow, disgruntled Gears. Raven looked up, watching the two men, carefully trying not to move too much. They walked casually in, once they saw that she was trapped, literally. They first looked down at the one she shot in the neck, kneeling down next to him as his body stopped twitching. She could tell by their demeanor that he was dead.

Three more Stranded entered the area, looking around, noticing Morose and one of their own, wounded while still whining on the ground, clutching his shoulder. Raven looked around realizing that the Stranded were surrounding her, keeping their distance, despite that she was for the moment, unarmed. Apparently, her reputation as a Feral proceeded her, as they watched her carefully while Morose stood back up and looked directly at Raven. His hood hung over his pale eyes, peering at her as if he knew what she had been doing all along. The other Gear wore similar attire with a sash that also hung over his face except he was in full, gray armor. He too carried a Lancer, hung on his back along with a Gnasher. Judging by the way they moved, Raven guessed that the men worked from the same squad, prior to their mutiny.

"Are we taking her, or are we killin her?" a Stranded blurted out, still keeping a safe distance from the immobile Feral.

"We can't take her…she'll cut us in our sleep, we need to gut her, now," another barked as he pulled out his pistol, "…just say the word!"

Morose quickly moved towards the Stranded with the pistol in hand and kicks him, ramming his boot into his shin, forcing the Stranded down as he collapsed onto his side. The other Stranded backed off, watching their own trying to get up from the ground, but Morose quickly held his pistol toward him, aiming at the man's head and shoots him. The skull caved in as the body dropped still into the snow, twitching every other second. The other Stranded didn't say a word as they watched Morose taking the shotgun and ammo from the dead man. Morose stood up as he glared at the others,

"Nobody, and I mean nobody…is to touch her," he lashed out. Raven's heart raced, watching Morose move away from the body lying on the ground as he makes his way to her while the others back off. Raven started to panic as she grabbed her knife from her other boot, but Morose moved quickly as he kicked her on the side of her head, knocking her out. Everything went black for Raven as the strike put her out of consciousness, lying motionless on the ground.

"Shit Morose...why don't you just knock her whole block off," one of the men sneered.

"Shut up, Trey…she could still cut you in half, even with a broken leg," Morose scolded, throwing the shotgun for Trey to catch, "…and if I catch you ever coming near this Feral, you will be shot on sight!"

The others stayed silent and away from the comatose Feral while Morose knelt down,

"Sanders…come over here, I need your tool," Morose yelled over to his Gear mate, known to the others as Sanders. He walked over to Morose's position, handing him a philips' head screwdriver. Morose took the screwdriver and started to loosen the trap from the hinges.

"Is this the one that was with Sigma?" Sanders asked quietly, keeping the conversation to themselves.

"Yes," Morose answered just as quietly, "…but this was all too easy."

"You mean catching her?"

"That's right…she wasn't trying to escape…she was trying to distract us so the others could escape…and it fucking worked!"

"Which means we lost the Gears…"

"Yea…they got away,"

"They couldn't have gone far...should we continue our search, or do you have another plan?"

Morose loosened the bolt to the trap as he turns over to Sanders,

"This Feral has kept them alive for a week out here in the wilderness…I had no idea until yesterday that Sigma squad was still on objective…"

"Then that means the COG knows where we are."

"Not necessarily, they still can't use their radios…that, and I don't believe they're going to leave their pretty, little "guide" behind," Morose said in a low husky voice, leaning over as he lays his hand on the side of Raven's face while turning her limp head. Gazing at the abrasion he put on her forehead, he gently brushes the hair from her face to get a better look. He then moved his hand down over the trap, gaping the iron clasp from her ankle as he tossed one of the hinges to the side, then gently moved her ankle from the trap.

"We need to get her back to Plantire, and get her some medical treatment,"

"What of the little girl…the boys said there was a kid with the woman…"

"The cold will take care of her, there's no sense in wasting the resources to hunt her down…she's the least of my concerns right now."

"...and what of the old man?"

Morose looks up at Sanders for a moment, relishing on his thoughts as a new strategy began to fester in his mind. He turns his gaze back to the fallen Feral as he muttered,

"Gut him."

Chapter 32: When Black Birds Fly Edit

Don't want to reach for me do you

I mean nothing to you

The little things give you away

But there will be no mistaking

The levees are breaking


All you've ever wanted

Was someone to truly look up to you

And six feet under water

I do


Linkin Park

The Little Things Give You Away


The sun hung high in the sky, glancing through the patchy clouds, gathered in the aerials above. With each passing minute, time starts to eat away the sanity that once held Sigma One together, hanging by a thread of hope that Feral would return, but in the back of his mind, Baird was succumbing to inevitability.

Sven and Baird sat near the ledge of the plateau, getting a bird's eye view of the settlement known as Plantire, just as Raven said there was. Sven would peer through his scope, checking out the compound, occasionally, glancing over is shoulder to see if Cole returned from checking out the trail for Raven's return. He could see that the Corporal was antsy, trying to keep his mind occupied by writing in his journal, drawing the schematics of the Plantire compound, but anxiety distracted Baird to the point he would have to stop and rub his head, looking over to see if Cole had came back yet. It's been over thirty minutes, and still no sign of Cole. Baird got tired of waiting as he closed his journal and put it back into his pack.

"Shit…I'm going back down the trail…c'mon Vin," said Baird. Sven grumbled as he gathered himself up, putting away his rifle while Baird started to make his way down, with Sven following behind.

"What are we going to do if Feral doesn't make it?" Sven asked, realizing that Baird was probably not in the mood to be thinking of such things, but it was a legitimate question. How were they going to get back without their guide?

"We'll worry about that when we have confirmation," Baird said, without rebuke or sarcasm. Sven could tell that he was on edge, but was unclear as to what was truly contributing to Baird's restlessness. Was he concerned about getting back to Fort Block without Feral, or was he genuinely concerned about her welfare?

Although Sven figured the Corporal was somewhat on tolerable terms with Feral, he wondered if it ever went beyond just that? He knew that Raven could be a complicated person in more ways than one, but she wasn't anymore immune to the basic needs that all human beings crave, and that is to be accepted, valued, or even loved. Baird, on the other hand, never seemed to care beyond the outside of his infinitesimal box, bricked within the tight walls that he used to keep others from scrutinizing him. As a consequence, he isolated himself from all affectionate propensity while the speck of malice continues to fester inside. How Cole was able to get a inside peek still eluded Sven, but he wondered even more if Raven ever got close enough to dent the surface? And even if she did, why would she try, knowing the kind of person Baird is? It was this that baffled Sven the most.

Walking a little ways down the slope, they began to hike up to the edge of the woods nearby when they heard the sound of faint footsteps coming their direction. Baird stopped in his tracks and motioned Sven to do the same as they both knelt down, and waited for the moving object to appear from the woods ahead.

It didn't take long to realize that it was Cole, pushing through the thicket as he was carrying something with him.

"What is he…wait, is that…Delilah?" Sven blurted out while Baird glared at Cole, making his way to them.

Cole was moving as fast as his legs could carry him through the knee-deep snow, carrying Delilah on one side while holding his Snub pistol with his other hand. Baird could tell that the expression on Cole's face was grave, revealing the one thing Baird feared would happen.

As Cole finally made his way to them, he gently put Delilah down.

"Mr. Gear, Mr. Gear," Delilah busted out as she tumbled through the snow, running over to Baird and wrapped her arms around his legs. Baird was trying his best to brace himself from Delilah's hold as he stabilized his balance while standing in the snow. Cole watched her as his face began to sadden, observing the little girl beam with enthusiasm as she continued to brace Baird as long as she could while she had the chance.

Cole didn't want to have to break the ecstatic moment, but with time moving against them, he couldn't put it off any longer. Cole had to break the moment.

"Ashley is dead."

Silence followed for a brief moment as the news surfaced to the stunned.

"…and Billy…Abigail?" Baird asked.

"Delilah said that Abigail is gone…and I don't know about Billy…"

Baird choked down the only sense of reasoning he had, to finally ask the question,

"…and Feral?"

"Feral's been captured, Damon."

Baird's expression turned mute, his eyes peering through a daze as the news hits him like a wrecking ball. He subconsciously places his hand on Delilah's head, gently rubbing against the beanie hat that protected her head from the cold. She looked up gently, staring at him with her big gray eyes peering through him as Baird could see his own image in her glistened eyes, his reflection staring right back at him. Of all the experience that he gained over the years as a Gear, none of it prepared him for this.

Cole brought Baird's daze back to the present,

"I went back to look for her…and I found this,"

Cole took out a Gorgon pistol and held it out for Baird to see. Baird quickly moved forward, breaking Delilah's brace as he grabs the pistol and glares at it. Cole watched as Baird inspects it in vain, trying to make sure it wasn't hers, but it was.

"I also…found a, bear trap," Cole muttered as he continued, "…I found footprints all around it…including Feral's. Delilah said that the Birdie Lady told her to go and find us."

Cole reached into his pocket as he pulled out a piece of torn cloth, made of a soft velvet as the hinges where starting to feather.

"Delilah said that the Birdie Lady gave this to her," Cole said as he held out the cloth in his hand. Baird reached over and took the cloth, bringing it closer to his face, testing the scent.

It was the familiar scent that he remembered most vividly that was uniquely Raven's, mixed with the floral oils she used to keep her skin and hair clean and her natural pheromone odor, her true blueprint that resembled wild, unrefined vanilla.

Cole began again to confirm his findings,

"From the woods, I saw them from a distance...they had Feral...and I believe they were taking her back to Plantire."

"How do we know she's not dead?" Sven pondered, wondering if even the thought of going to rescue her was feasible. Cole responded,

"They wouldn't have gone through the trouble of taking her to camp if they wanted to kill her..."

Gripping the Gorgon pistol tightly, Baird closed his eyes as fury pulsed through his veins, his face scowling. She meant to do this all along…fuck!

Sven stood in silence, getting the gif of everything that has happened. But knowing that time was working against them, Sven finally broke the silence,

"It' won't be long before the Stranded send out a search party to look for us."

Cole turned to look at Sven, nodding.

"I have to agree with the kid, Damon," said Cole, "...now that they have Feral, they may try to…get her to talk,"

Cole was having a hard time finishing his thoughts as the fear of what they would do to her, throbbed his head. His mouth quivered, as he continued,

"…we can't…"

"…can't what, Gus?" Baird blurted out as his face turned red. His body tensed up as his anger seeped into his speech,

"They expect us to come get her…and I'm willing to bet they're waiting for us to come and get her…which is why we can't go back, to get her."

"We can get her Baird… shit, we've walked into worse situations…this one's no different!"

"…and how in the fuck are we going to do that Cole…how do we just, waltz in and get her?"

"Well if you're so damn smart, think of something!" Cole snapped back, pushing against Baird's logic while Baird pushed back.

"How are we going to get past the whole fucking militia, not to mention twelve of them are Gears…and what do we do with the kid? We can't take her with us…"

"Well, instead of barking like some impotent bitch, start thinking up a plan!"

"I already have one, Gus!"

"Oh, and what's that? Let's hear it Damon!"

"We go back to the Block, just as Feral originally instructed us to do!"

"The fuck are you talking about?"

"We have to get this intel back to command before the militia becomes an even bigger threat!"

"...and how'n the hell we gonna get back without Feral, Baird?"

"Her journal contains maps and schematics of the area, Cole...we don't need her to get back to the Block!"

The tension in the air lingered in between all of them, pushing against the barriers that were buckling under the weight of the friction. It was only a matter of time before somebody would snap. Although Baird's demeanor was somewhat poised, Cole on the other hand, was bending under the strain. He didn't like the idea leaving Feral. To him, there was no other option.

"So that's how it's gonna end, huh" Cole barked, raising his arms, gesturing his frustration at Baird's plan.

"Are you going to start shit with me now, Gus?" Baird rebuts as his jaw clenches and his shoulders protrude. The spaces between the two Gears begin to crowd as Sven and Delilah start to back off from the two Gears before the heat around them swells into a wildfire on the verge of bursting into a damning inferno.

"I'm not going to let this one go, Baird, so yea, I'm startin shit!"

As the confrontation swells, the cold air submits to the heat building around the two. For the first time in days, Cole and Baird couldn't feel the cold. Baird tries to take back the reigns,

"This is not open for discussion…we have to get back to the Block before dark…"

"Fuck that…I'm not going to leave one of our own behind!"

"She's not a Gear Cole…we live and die for own, for each other…"

"She's just as close as any other brother in arms…she'd done more shit to save our asses than ten Gears, so as far as I'm concerned Baird, she's family…"

"...she's also a spy, a hacker, and a thief...she's a Feral, Cole, her allegiance lies with them...and they have had their share of bloodshed in all of this mess, which doesn't make her any more innocent!"

"Yea, well then why did she bother saving a bunch of douchebag Gears when she could have dumped our asses in the ditch?"

Baird could feel the weight of Cole's words, pulling him down as his logic was trying to come to terms with his conscience. The awkward silence gave Cole the advantage,

"Yea...that's what I thought..." Cole starts to deride, but Damon, however, was just as equally defiant.

"Fuck this…I don't need this shit right now," Baird grumbled as he put away the Gorgon pistol, pocketing the cloth and started to walk back the other direction.

"Yea, that's it…you just keep walking, Damon…like nothing ever happened," Cole yelled out.

Baird stops in his tracks, leaving Cole to wonder if he was finally getting into his thick head. Although Cole had known Baird for years, as the two have shared life and near death together, there have been times they reveled in their spats, bickering as only friends can when they piss each other off. Normally it was usually something Baird said that was insensitive or hurtful, regardless of his blunt honesty. However, this argument was a first, oh God... we're fighting over a woman! Shit…look at us now…Dom would be so proud…fucking asshole!

"If we go back to get her, Cole, we'll put everyone here at risk, including the kid!"

"The kid is already at risk, Baird…you said so yourself," Cole sneered as his gestures began to become more animated, "…oh, wait…now you start giving a damn about the kid, huh? I'll tell you what, Baird…you go back to the Block, and while you're at it, take the kid with ya…I'll go back to get Feral!"

"…and then your going to get yourself killed doing it Cole…so instead of one KIA, now I'll have two…damnit, Gus, I thought you were smarter that that!"

"Yea, I guess we all can't be as smart as you, Damon!"

"Well I'm so fucking sorry that I can't find the time to be all sentimental about all of this but I have a fucking job to do, Gus…and that job is to get back to Fort Block before this militia tears into everyone at Farrall!"

"So you don't give a shit about anything or anyone unless it fits in with your objective! Feral was nothing more than just a convenience, to keep your sorry ass alive until all of this was done…" Cole yelled out in fury while Baird rebuked,

"The fuck, Cole…Feral knew the risks just like the rest of us…"

"…and Feral cared about your sorry, selfish ass…but you don't seem to give a shit! Is it any wonder most folk hate you!"

"Yea, well it comes with the job!"

"Well, you go ahead and go, feeling sorry for yourself, dragging your whiny ass back to Fort Block and telling Marcus what all happened in the past week, and how your entire team just told you to fuck off…"

"You don't have a fucking clue how I feel about all of this…"

"Well then prove me wrong, Damon…let's here it!"

Baird's brow curled into a scowl as his jaw tensed up, contemplating what to say next, but he couldn't conceal the truth anymore than Cole could find it. Baird finally let it all hang out.

"OK…FINE, I DO CARE...I"M SORRY THAT SHE"S GONE...THERE, IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR?" Baird roared as Cole sits up, impressed with Baird as he watches his emotions spill like an ongoing faucet, overfilling the tub.

"…I MADE THE MISTAKE OF LETTING HER DO IT, COLE!"

"DO WHAT?" Cole bellowed back. The confrontation between the two men stirred the grass to startle the snake as the truth swelled up into concoction of angst that left nothing unscathed.

"Raven…" Damon choked as the words bleed through his mouth, "…led the Stranded to follow her so that we could escape. She was betrayed…by one of her own"

A stunned expression was blatant on Cole's face. Baird figured that it was time to reveal the truth.

"…the Feral…one of them ratted us out!"

The three stood there in silence as the soft wind, meandered around the space between them, brushing the cold air in the tense vicinity. The truth was there, lying on the floor as it bloomed into fruition. Cole peered at Baird with a perplexed expression as he took the news in with confusion,

"And you know this, how?" Cole asked.

"She…revealed it to me at the spring…and apparently left a letter in her journal…stating what was really going on."

Cole and Sven hung on to his every word as the news pierced into them like a knife. It's not as if they needed any more tension than what they were dealing with before, and now this.

"Apparently, it was a Feral that led the Stranded militia to the squads, that told the Stranded about our whereabouts, that's how they almost found us," Baird said, moving to the side to sit down as he hung his head low, rubbing his sinuses while he carefully gathered his thoughts. There was no point in hiding the truth now, even though Baird did it to protect them, just as Raven kept it from him for the same reason. She new that they were being monitored.

"She didn't know about it until it was too late," Baird continued, "…we were being followed so she couldn't tell me right away…which is why I couldn't tell you…otherwise this whole thing would've been compromised."

"So we were being followed almost the entire time?" Cole asked as his anger started to simmer.

"Raven believes that one of the Feral scouts that was deployed with the squads, was working for the Stranded all along…Raven didn't know about it until later. Nobody knew anything about it, not even the other renegade Feral. They still don't know, which is why it is imperative for us to get back to Fort Block!"

Baird lifted his head for a moment as he turned his gaze towards the mountains behind them, letting out a sigh as he continued,

"...I didn't know about this until after we parted, Gus…and she did it for a reason. I didn't understand at the time, but I do now. She wrote down some instructions for us to follow so we can take this information back to command, before they grow even more stronger…"

The other two Gears found no other reason to argue as they listened to Baird carefully while he spoke in monotone.

"…those instructions did not include us going back and rescuing her."

His gaze still focused on the mountains ahead, he could feel the stares coming from Cole, Sven, and Delilah, looking to him for guidance.

Cole looked over at Baird as he broke the silence between them,

"Man…what's up with you,"

"The hell is that supposed to mean?" Baird sneered, trying to find something to justify the means.

"Something somewhere between the Block and here, just crawled up your ass and died…"

"Yea…it's called Raven," Baird griped while Cole chuckled at Baird's expense,

"Well, believe it or not, she doesn't hate ya…"

"Ok, now that's a load of bullshit…"

"It's true, baby,"

"..and you know this, how?"

"She told me."

Cole could see the conflict wrestling inside Damon's head. He's seen it before, not too often, but enough to understand what it is that makes Damon who he is. Cole started to laugh at Baird's defiance, knowing that's usually his way of trying not to come across as sentimental, God forbid, if anyone would ever believe that Damon Baird could be sentimental…Boomer Lady would have a heart attack if she ever witnessed that!

"She told, you…" Baird groaned.

Cole replied, "…yea, she did."

"Why…" Baird began but cut himself short, followed by a sigh.

"…would you believe her if she told ya?" Cole finally asked.

Baird sat for a moment as he pauses, understanding the kind of person Raven was, who could be honest yet rhetorical at the same time,

"Yea…your probably right, I wouldn't…"

Baird looked up at Cole, still gathering his thoughts as best he could despite the dilemma he was dragged in. Cole chuckled to himself, turning his gaze over to Sven and Delilah, who were both sitting on the side in a daze. Shit, it's been a long week, and it's not over yet.

"Well, I'm glad we cleared that up," Cole acknowledged while Baird rolled his eyes as he rubbed his forehead. Within the friction that confined the vicinity, a small voice sprung into the mix,

"Did the Birdie Lady fly away like she promised?"

Delilah's voice brought the two Gears back to sane, as she looked at Baird with her eyes wide, piercing him with her glare as he rummaged through his head to find the words to say that might answer her question,

"Not yet, kid…not quite yet," Baird answered.

Sven stood back up as he gently walked over to Delilah's side. She looked up as she reached for Sven's hand and held onto it, clinging to a glimmer of hope that may be all that's left for Sigma One.

Cole summarized the general mood of the group as he finally asked the question that has lingered before them for the past thirty minutes,

"…so where do we go from here?"

Chapter 33: Revelations Edit

I am watching the rise and fall of my salvation

There's so much shit around me.

Such a lack of compassion


What does that mean to you...For me, it’s something I just do

I want something

I need to feel the sickness in you


I feel the reason as it's leaving me, no, not again.

It's quite deceiving as I'm feeling the flesh make me bad.


Korn
Make Me Bad


Carefully opening her groggy eyes, Raven could still feel the sting pulsing on the side of her head, swelling from where the one they call Morose, kicked her earlier. She doesn't remember a thing since she blacked out, but she could clearly remember the bitter dread she felt shortly before he struck her. The fact that he could move with incredible accuracy and speed was startling to her, knowing that he could have easily fractured her skull if he wanted to, but for whatever reason, he held it back. It was this fact that she feared the most. Apparently he wanted her alive, but for what purpose she was not quite sure.

Will they subject me to torture, or are they going to put me in a brothel, she begins to ponder of the horrible things that they would do to her, after hearing from what they did to the other squads. Not that any of it mattered, she was a broken, abandoned vessel. All that she believed to be true was a lie, and she kicked herself for being so naïve and not uncovering it earlier. But perhaps she can still turn the tide for the Gears by allowing them to get away and return to the Block. Then the COG will unleash hell against the militia. It would be senseless for Sigma to rescue her now, she knew it and she knows that Baird was not one to make such rash decisions that would put the others in harms' way. She was counting on it.

Slowly lifting her head in the low light of some makeshift room, she noticed that her hands were zip-tied behind her back as she was slumped in a chair, her good ankle tied to leg of the chair, while her broken one was left out, apparently duct taped tightly in place. She could feel the pain throb as she did little to move it. Agh, shit it still hurts.

Despite the hangover from earlier that morning, the meds that Baird gave her before her departure was able to quash most of the queasiness, until Morose kicked her in the head. Asshole. Thoughts ran through her mind, wondering where Sigma was. Baird's probably pretty pissed with me by now…I hope he uses the schematics in my journal to find their way back to the Block.

She could hear the commotion coming from the outside of the room, listening to the voices of men, laughing and carrying on, in between the sounds of what appears to be motors from an APC or two. She could tell that at least two Dills were in working order, damn.

As she cautiously leaned over to listen to the noise coming through the windows, hung high on the concrete walls, she suddenly turns her head to the door as the knob was turning and the door began to open. Stepping inside the room, Raven's heartbeat raced as Morose, calmly walks in, wearing his usual attire, Gear fatigues, boots and a heavy pea coat with his scarf hanging around his neck instead of on his head. Raven's innards crept into her stomach, her body shuddering in the presence of the traitorous Gear. For the first time she could actually see his entire face, other than just his glaring blue eyes as he looked at her for a moment and then turned around to quietly close the door behind him. As he turned back around, he began to take off his scarf and threw it on the table next to the door. He then proceeded to remove his coat, carefully unbuttoning the wool flap and then unzipped the front and pulled his muscular arms out, wearing only a pale undershirt and his bottom fatigues, similar to what the other Gears wore.

Although she already knew that he was pretty big, she didn't really know how built he was. He wasn't quite as massive as Cole, but he was pretty solid, maybe an inch taller than Baird, definitely dwarfing Sven. He was undeniably, in the physical sense, an emblematic Gear, vigorously conditioned for the battlefield and all that its lore entailed.

His white undershirt was thinning from long-term use, with a few holes torn near the hinges around the arms and his pectorals. She could vaguely see an array of tattoos on his back through his shirt. Between the hangover and the weariness from being struck to the head, her eyes blurred on occasion, but the body art bleeding through his garment was as plain as day.

His face was not young but not old either, just worn, as any veteran soldier would be. It reminded her so much of Baird's, hardened and unfeeling, and just as pale, however, Morose's hair was pitch black like hers and exceptionally longer. Apparently he didn't feel the need to keep it cropped, but his face for the most part was kept shaved. Although she didn't catch any prominent facial scars, one of his forearms was littered with them…if I didn't know better, I'd say this guy was ritualistically cutting himself, as part of a conditioning for pain tolerance. His thick long hair was partially pulled back into a horsetail, while some loose strands hung on the sides, as if he was out in the wind. His demeanor at the moment was not threatening, but she still felt uneasy around him, just as she was when she first saw him, but now, he looked even more intimidating than ever.

She shrunk a little in her seat as much as she could when he dropped his coat on the table and proceeded to move closer, not the least bit concerned about what she thought of him. He walked over and grabbed her chin as she grimaced from the pain while he forced her head to turn so he could look at the abrasion he left on the side of her forehead. He tilts his head as he analyzed it, then gently brushed the back of his hand against the swelling on her face and then quickly let's it go, turning around as he walked over to a med kit hanging on the wall, dismounting it and placing it on the table next to his coat. As he opened it up, he began to rummage through the supplies with his back turned to her while she tried to peer around his body, attempting to make sense of what he was really doing. Oh, what difference does it make...one way or another, he's going to kill me, regardless if he fixes me up and saves me to be killed later.

As he turns around, he pulls the table near her chair and then moves to pull another chair, placing it right next to hers. He carefully sits in it, shaking a bottle of iodine while he grabs her face again, but this time, she whisks her head out of his grasp, pulling herself away from him in spite. A sudden shift in the atmosphere around them took a turn as she could feel the scowling from his demeanor. Apparently, he didn't like that, not one bit.

He put the bottle of iodine down on the table and grabbed her leg that was fastened on her chair as he pulled her even closer to him and violently grabbing her neck, pulling the side of her head close to his face with his mouth next to her ear,

"Don't…ever…do that…again," he sneered into her ear while Raven trembled in his grasp, trying not to whimper from the pain in her broken ankle while rasping for air under his tight grip. It startled her just how fast he was able to move her like that and he could tell that it startled her. With his hand still wrapped around her throat, he loosened a little so she could somewhat breath comfortably while he took a cleansing pad and began to wipe down the abrasion on the side of her face. She whimpered from the pain as the alcohol coming from the cleaning pad soaked into her skin, stinging the side of her face around the scratch.

After he was done, he threw the cloth to the side as he took a queue tip, mixed it with some iodine and carefully blotted along the scratched area. Raven took a deep breath, trying to slow her heart rate down, but it didn't make her any less nervous. His presence, the epitome of his poise was unsettling, violating her personal space as she was way too close for comfort. She knew that he could tell that she did not like being near him, much less close to him, but he was unwavering, forcibly putting her in a vulnerable place. But what could she do? With one slip of his wrist, and he could break her slender neck easily. And if that wasn't enough, although she can normally fight close in, she felt so wobbly from being hit in the head, she would not be able to keep her equilibrium effectively enough to counter without toppling over, not to mention the fractured ankle.

He gently begins to loosen his tight grip around her neck as he finishes putting the iodine on her abrasion and throws the queue tip to the side. He turns over to reach in the med kit, pulling out a disposable syringe and a bottle of some anti-inflammatory, medication. After shaking the bottle, he opens up the syringe, placing the needle into the bottle as he draws a few millimeters of the liquid.

Raven just sat there in a daze, her eyes shifting, puzzled by her medical treatment. She watched with her peripheral vision as he draws the syringe from the bottle turns slightly behind her. She quivers as he looks at her from behind, noticing the tear in her pants from when Baird removed the shrapnel out of her rear. Morose carefully wraps his large hand around her small chin, bracing it as he slams the needle into her glute. She yelps from the sudden jerk in her rear as he holds her against the back of the chair by her jaw.

"Hold still…" he said in a low, menacing voice, "…and be calm."

Yea, right.

He suddenly takes out the needle and tosses it back into the kit, sitting up as he loosens his grip around her jaw. Without warning, he then gently pulls the side of her face next to his as he carefully brushes his nose along her jaw line next to her ear, inhaling the pheromone aroma, coated on her skin. Raven tenses up, looking carefully from the corner of her eye as he closes his eyes, analyzing the scent, moving over her ear to her hair and back down along the side of her neck. She dares not to move as she apprehensively allows him to violate her space, feeling his breath brushing along the skin on her neck as he exhaled serenely. She was not quite sure what made her more nervous, his sudden outburst or his gentle caress.

He opens his eyes as he lightly takes his hand off of her chin. The fact that he could control his strength with such a soft embrace made her fear him even more. She quivered as the sound of his low, dark voice seeped into her ears,

"They will come back for you…"

At the sudden stint with his taunt, Raven could only react with what she did naturally, and that was to be defiant,

"No they won't…they're probably already near Fort Block by now,"

"No…" he hissed between his teeth, "...they will come back for you. They're not going to leave a comrade behind…especially since you have been keeping them alive all this time."

Her heart sunk into her gut as he sneered softly into her ear,

"Of all the Feral that I have had to deal with in this whole, fucking mess, you, my dear, have caused the most problems for me…you have kept Sigma alive a lot longer than I expected. I'll admit, I'm impressed…I have underestimated you, but I will not make that same mistake again."

"Well, then you can start by firing that traitor…the one who's been following us for the past three days," Raven taunted.

Morose's eyes perked up as he leaned back, impressed with Raven's little outburst.

"Is that so?" Morose sneered, his glistening blue eyes piercing into the side of her face. With her head still turned away from him, she could still feel his heavy ogling as the sound of his breathing became more audible,

"…you knew that you were being followed?"

"Next time, do your homework and get one who has more experience with the terrain," Raven sneered, hoping to piss him off so he could finally kill her.

"They're not coming for me...so why don't you do yourself a favor and just shoot me now before I get loose and cut your throat in your sleep," she snapped.

Thinking she had the last word, Morose let out a guttural laugh. If there was anything Raven was expecting from this conversation, it certainly wasn't that. Morose took his time to compose himself as he carefully grabs her by the neck again and gently pulls her ear next to his lips. Raven started to tremble at the sound of his voice, whispering in her ear,

"I can smell them, on you…they're not going to leave you behind, Feral,"

Raven froze as his words penetrated her psyche, cutting into the deepest fabric of her intellect. Desperately trying to hold back her emotions before they betray her, she scoffs back,

"Are you retarded? I'm just one less...Feral bitch that they have to worry about," she sneered, hoping that he would just break her neck right now so she could save face before it betrays them too.

Morose chuckled under his breath as he whispered,

"So…which one is it," he mused, tilting his head as he glares at the softness in her flushed face.

"Who…, she starts to snide, but before Raven could finish, he tightened his grip around her throat, putting some strain on her windpipe as she grimaced,

"Do not mock me…" he sneered quietly as she could hear his teeth grind, "…I know damn well that one of them has touched you…has severed the hymen into your soul…Raven."

She quivered at the sound of her name articulated on his lips, no, this is just a sick mind game, don't give in.

"So, is it the snot nose Private, Vinny…no, it wasn't him…or maybe the big, charismatic black one, he would be the most fun to break, to listen to the Cole Train squeal in agony, just like the other COG pigs that were like him…" Morose said, amusing himself as he could feel Raven stiffen up with each mention of their names. Leave them alone, she cringed to herself as he tore apart the only people in her life that she has unintentionally grown to love.

"…or, is it the asshole Corporal…" Morose continued as her whole body starts to strain.

"…let's see, what was his name…that's right, Corporal Baird…I can see him hanging from the gallows, whimpering like a dog," Morose went on, scratching at the layers of her psyche, ripping at them till they were sore. He could feel the duress, radiating from her body, starting to blister as the pounding in her chest became audible…so that's the one.

"You know…I must admit, I would have never thought that you Feral bitches would ever ally yourselves with the COG pigs. So, was it worth it, girl…to let him stroke you like those COG whores they round up for their breeding camps?"

Raven mustered enough malice and strength to yank her neck from his hand, turn her head and spit in his face.

Morose was caught by surprise as he looks at her, casually taking a cloth and wiping the saliva from his face. Ok, now I pissed him off…he's going to kill me for sure, so why don't you do it, you sadistic bastard! Do it!

But instead of fury, Morose let out a sinister grin, tossing the cloth to the side as he grabs the back of her head, tightening her hair in between his fingers, pulling her into his face and meshes his lips into hers. She struggles to keep him from entering her mouth, keeping it clamped, but his brace was strong and ravenous.

Realizing that she was trying not to participate, he stretches his mouth over hers and bites her upper lip. The pain causes her to lose focus and loosen her clamped mouth, giving him the window he needed to penetrate her mouth, forcing himself in while tasting her blood from the cut on her lip. Shocked by his intrusion, she loses the fight as she becomes fatigued, letting go and allowing him to enter.

The tension in her mouth slackens while her body turns into mush. She could taste him, like something sweet and metallic at the same time while he slithered into her subconscious, awakening some primal instinct that has been long suppressed. She did not expect him to feel so gentle as he caressed her mouth, tasting her delicate, salty lips with his own. He then gently dismounted from her mouth as he pulled away with his eyes closed, savoring her taste as he curled his lip, relishing in her flavor.

"Ahh…so that's what you taste like…now, I don't blame him for touching you," Morose said softly, his low voice twisting at her soul while he releases her hair. Trying to sever herself from the moment, he continued to drag her back as he meddles with her head some more,

"Although I have tasted many a Feral, in more ways than one, none of them was as potent as you are," he said as her blood began to boil, spilling over as she clenched her fists, tightening her jaw. He continued to cut into her conscience,

"…that can only mean one thing," he sneered, tampering with her mind as he leaned next to her ear, "…that you're in heat."

Raven quivered from his observation, the deepest of instincts that she has been trying to subdue was in vain, and its fragrance flowed from her most subliminal yearnings. The oxytocin that has been pulsing in her brain since the night before, immersed into her body as her natural signals began to blossom, causing her skin to flush and her lady parts to gorge.

Morose could smell it all over her, the pheromones reeking in the air around her. He knew that the Feral conditioned themselves to be lush, but he also knew that Raven was trying desperately to control it, fighting against it. She feels the conflict festering in her head as the touch in his caress ignited her most primitive of drives, moistening the air around her. She begins to feel the guilt stabbing her conscience, telling herself to hate it, to damn it, but the sensation Morose used to poison her head shoves prudence to the wayside. He uses this to his advantage as he lures her deeper into his confidence,

"It's not to say that the other Feral were not pleasurable…they're always at their best, when they are forced."

That did it. Raven sprang up as she quickly leaned into him, sinking her teeth into his neck, trying to reach and tear into his jugular. Her fury bypassed the pain in her leg as she ravaged around his neck. He quickly grabbed her by her hair again, but it did nothing to hold her back as she continued to gnaw wildly, so he grabbed her neck with his other hand as he moved to force his fingers into her trachea. She started to gag as he dug into her throat, under her chin, and then he threw her off of him. She collapses onto the floor, feeling the aftershock as the pain in her shoulder throbbed into her brain. Moaning from her already dizzy head while she leaned on the floor, she starts to cry in anger.

Morose, quickly grabbed another cloth and placed it on the bleeding, broken skin caused from her bite. Although she missed his jugular, she broke the skin leaving a shallow gash. Now we're even, asshole!

He rummaged into the med box and quickly poured alcohol on his cut as he moaned from the sting.

"That's it…" he sighed, almost as if he was getting off on it. Raven continued to lie on the floor motionless as she realized she did nothing to bend him in any way. He was too psychotic to be manipulated, realizing that her assault only added the fuel to his lunacy.

After he stopped the bleeding, he tossed the rag on the table and walks over to grab her chair as he effortlessly picks it up and sits her upright. His blood was still fresh on her mouth, mixed with her tears as she tried to spit it out,

"No you don't..." he scoffed as he grabs her hair again and pulls her head back. He then leans over, meshing to her lips again as he forces the blood back into her mouth. She starts to choke as his tongue crams the blood down her throat, grimacing from the metallic taste that was submerged onto her taste buds. He then releases her mouth with his, moving slowly along her face as he glides his tongue along the soft skin on her moistened cheeks, tasting the tears, and then stands back up, chuckling at her fatigued expression.

"Something to remember me by…I hope it was satisfying, trying to cut my throat with your teeth," he smirked, running his hand across her cheek, and along the bridge of her nose, until his finger met her lips.

Although she was tempted to bite into his hand, she now knew that he would only relish in it, and she was too depleted to tamper with his sadism.

"But it no longer matters, they will come back here for you…it's only a matter of time…and we will be waiting," Morose said sternly as he lifts his hand from her face and proceeds to stand up, closing the med box up and moving the table back against the wall. As he moves over to exit the room, after opening the door, he turns over his shoulder, glancing at her as he speaks,

"I can't wait to finally meet him…"



No one knows what its like

To be mistreated, to be defeated

Behind blue eyes


No one knows how to say

That they're sorry and don't worry

I'm not telling lies


But my dreams they aren't as empty

As my conscience seems to be


I have hours, only lonely

My love is vengeance

That's never free


No one knows what its like

To be the bad man, to be the sad man

Behind blue eyes.


The Who & Limp Bizkit

Behind Blue Eyes

Chapter 34: And There Will Be Blood Edit

Warning: Be advised, there is explicit, violent, graphic content in this chapter.


I'm never relaxed

even when I say I am

I'm always on the alert

looking for the problem


I am all of these things

I am this and more

you don't scare me at all


It’s hell above the water


Curve
Hell Above The Water


The day withered by as the frozen lake near Plantire fell into the shadow of the overcast sky. Clouds could be seen from the west, gathering together in the distance as the lookout from the watchtower carefully peered towards the inevitable snowstorm coming their way.

Standing in the tower, watching over the snow covered plains, Gil, a Stranded henchman, stood and waited for a sign, anything that may reveal a potential infiltration, but the only thing that they could see festering was the dark horizon. It has been five hours and no sign of anyone coming to reclaim the Feral they took prisoner earlier that morning.

He knew that Morose was borderline anxious, waiting patiently for Sigma squad to come and take back what was theirs, now in his possession, and he relished in it. But Gil, on the other hand, was skeptical. He knew that the Feral allowed herself to be captured to aid in Sigma's escape, hell, they must be near the Block by now; they have to if they are to survive this oncoming storm, especially during nightfall. The sun was still hanging above the mountains in the mid evening afterglow through the overcast sky. It normally won't be dark for another four hours, but the storm may hasten the darkness.

Gil could suddenly hear the heavy footsteps of Gear boots, marching up the stairs into the lookout tower. He turned around to find Hogaus, a stocky caucasian man with short blonde hair, spiked up from the dry cold air, approaching him.

"Morose wants the word," Hogaus snorted as he glared at Gil with his pale eyes, "…he demands an update."

Gil didn't think to question Hogaus since the guy dwarfed him with his height and husky build. He knew that Hogaus was a man of few words with a short temper, but his allegiance with Morose was inseparable. Along with the other "Gears," Hogaus had the Gear armor strapped on, somewhat customized to accommodate his build. His massive arms hung out freely, using "arm socks," to protect them from the cold, while his fatigues were patched in some places from previous encounters.

Gil started to make his way around the large man, slowly going down the steps while Hogaus stayed in the lookout tower. Getting to the bottom of the stairs, Gil pulled up his shotgun over his shoulder as he walked through the crowd of people gathering as they were quickly going through their routines, making preparations.

Gil looked out and noticed Morose standing near the barracks entrance, looking out at the commotion while standing back, waiting for Gil to make his way over to him.

"Anything?" Morose demanded.

"N…nothing, as of yet. We haven't seen anything or anyone coming near the camp."

"…and Pellin's scouting party?"

"They haven't returned yet. No flares, no smoke signal, nothing."

Gil could tell that Morose was getting irritated. Without warning, Morose, turned around and opened the door into the factory office, storming in as Gil follows behind Morose, going down a hallway into a closed room, where Morose shoved the door open.

Gil peered in to see the Feral still strapped to her chair, slumped and shaken from Morose's sudden entrance. Raven lifts her head in horror as Morose quickly grabs her chair, turning it around while gripping her arms as he pulls her in, directly into his face.

"Alright…where did you tell them to go?" Morose sneered, leaving Raven speechless from his sudden change in demeanor. His bright eyes pierced into hers, as if he already knew the answer from just looking into them. His head tilted slightly as Raven sat frozen in her seat, speechless.

The expression in his face turned sour as his patience with her was wearing thin. Raven has been a thorn in his side for too long and with her now in his possession, he intended to make the most of her.

Raven turned her glare away from his face, knowing that it would inferiorate him, hoping that he would kill her like he did the others when they tested his patience. But Morose found her too valuable to just throw away to the side, so he decided to move on to the next best thing he could use to his advantage.

He stood up as he glared at her looking away from him, somewhat amused at her defiance, but time was pressing for him as he finally walked around her, pulling out her "bowie" knife that he had confiscated after her capture. Raven froze as she closed her eyes, waiting for him to slit her throat, letting the blood spill from her body, releasing her soul from this cold, bitter world that abandoned her to the darkest of fates, but death was not present, nor did death make an entrance as Morose grabbed her hands from behind the chair to cut her bonds, releasing her aching wrists from the ziptie that was strangling her joints.

As soon as her arms were released, a great sense of relief swelled in her shoulders as she nearly topples over from the tension from being tied up. Morose catches her by her arm before she hits the ground, slowly letting her go down to the ground as he leans over and cuts the ziptie wrapped around her boot and the leg of the chair.

"Wait…what the hell, you're just going to let her go?" Gil protested before Morose stood up, putting away the knife, giving Gil a sour glare.

"Shut up, Gil…she's not going too far on a broken ankle," he sneered as he quickly pulled her up and threw her over his shoulder.

The whole thing startled Raven, not realizing how strong Morose was until he whipped her over his shoulder and walked out of the room. Her heart rate shot up as her stomach turned into knots and contortions she never experienced before, and it scared her. Morose turned to face Gil,

"Get the boys over here…we're going to have a little soap opera…" Morose ordered, "…and you be sure to bring the prodigal daughter as well."

________


Morose's men gathered near the building entrance as they waited for others to make the gathering. Hogaus was the last to join them as he dragged their Feral informant to the crowd, making sure she was standing to the front as they waited for Morose to join them.

The door opened as Morose carefully dragged Raven outside of the building in the blistering cold. He held on to Raven tightly by her arm, bracing her from a sight she never thought to ever see as she peered out into group of Stranded and disgruntled Gears, only to find among the crowd a familiar face, one that she has known before the destruction of her clan. Raven glared at the Feral informant as Raven's eyes widened, putting all the pieces together that she has gathered for the past three days. The Feral sunk back while Hogaus kept her in place, making sure she didn't leave as he pushed her forward into the menagerie.

The Feral informant was hesitant, feeling Raven's cold, blue eyes meet hers, a deep hazel that was sunken in from the warpaint. Her dirty blonde hair was course from the wind, pushing her long strands to the front of her petrified face. The fury swelled into Raven like hives, itching from the malice pulsing in her brain, while the Feral before her, glared in fear as Raven summoned her last bit of strength to yank herself from Morose's grip and dashes over to the Feral girl. It wasn't long before Raven struck the other Feral, knocking her sideways as Raven fell with her, stumbling over her broken ankle, but her anger rerouted the pain form her leg as she landed on the girl and started to bludgeon her with her tight fists.

Morose stood back and watched the drama unfold, chuckling as Raven screamed at the girl, beating her repeatedly, slurring in a sequence of profanities in the Feral language as she shouted at the top of her lungs.

"YOU TREACHEROUS BITCH…DAMN YOU, HAGAR…" Raven snarled while Hagar tried to wear through Raven's outburst as best as she could, "…YOU SET US UP…WHY?"

By now, Hagar was bleeding profusely from the nose, attempting to shield her face from Raven's clinched fists, bashing in fury. The other Stranded watched in awe and shock while some of the Gears laughed at the girl fight, exchanging wagers amongst themselves.

"WHY…TELL ME WHY, DAMNIT!" Raven continued to scream at the top of her lungs.

Morose looked over to his men, gesturing to them to break it up. Hogaus and Sanders moved quickly as they grabbed Raven's flailing arms, pulling her off of Hagar, dragging the furious Raven away from their squirmish. Struggling against the two men, she continued to scream in the Feral language, squirming and kicking with her good leg.

"Damn Mills," Sanders blurted out as he tries to keep Raven in his grasp, but her thrashing was loosening his grip as he attempts to tighten his hold. Morose pulls out his Snub pistol and shoots it in the air. The shot rings out, silencing everyone around, including Raven, startling her tantrum.

Hagar was still on the ground bleeding and whimpering from the assault, looking up at Morose as he glared at her, giving her a sour look.

"Well, I guess you had it coming," he sneered and then turned his attention to Raven, "…and as for you, let's just say this whole set up has been nothing more than a disappointment…"

"I told you, asshole…they're not coming, so why don't you do yourself a favor and just kill me now," Raven snapped as she tensed her arms under the Gears' hold. Morose was for the most part, poised, tilting his head as he knelt down in front of Raven.

"This one has spunk," Morose scoffed while Hogaus and Sanders snickered, "…I would have expected such charisma from a Harpie...not from a remnant of Anetha," he derides, glaring at her with same intimidating look. Raven slumped back trying to keep a distance between her and Morose, but it didn't make her any less nervous.

Morose looked down for a moment, rummaging through the denizens of his head as his subliminal tendencies would peer through the darkness with glowing eyes, like a lion, stalking it's prey. He looked back up as he grabbed Raven by her chin, making sure she was looking directly at him as he muttered softly,

"Would you like to know what really happened to your clan?"

The question yanked her like a leash on a tight collar, leaving her speechless as she gasped for air. Morose peered into her, as her eyes met with his, while the words continued to tighten her chest,

"…should I tell you, before your…conversion?"

"Don't bother…there's nothing you can say that will conform me to your sick sport," Raven scoffed, hoping that it would end his little mind game, but it had only just begun.

Morose let out a light chuckle, amused at Raven's insolence while catching himself becoming fascinated with her resilience, killing her would be such a waste.

"Your courage is commendable, Feral, but your ignorance will betray you…just as it betrayed your clan," Morose continued as Raven's eyes widened from the revelation, "…they made the mistake of joining forces with the COG…the same one's who exploited the Indie settlements, subjecting their citizens to inhumane experiments…they did the same to the Feral clans that inhabited the area."

"What…" Raven choked as the noose started to tighten even more.

"That's right girl…" Morose continued, pushing the envelope even further as he sees her tensing up, "…the COG was desperate, trying to expand their military resources…their scientists were bold enough to use human components to test the mutagenic properties of Imulsion...but these scientists claimed they needed live, human DNA to get the results they needed, so they used those who were disposable. They knew that no one would question their disappearance, which is why they used the Indies and the Feral."

"You lie..." Raven sneered as her face scowled, "…the clans would have known about it!"

Morose's eyes suddenly burned into fury as he tightened his grip on her chin, pulling her forward while Hogaus and Sanders held onto her arms,

"I know that I am a man of many things, but I am not a liar," he hissed as his jaw clenched, watching Raven grimace in his grip, "…do not call me that, again."

He suddenly released his hold on her chin as she gasped from the pain. He leaned back, watching her compose herself again as he spoke,

"…but you are right…some of the clans did know about it...but Tamar had them silenced, and has since then waited for vengeance."

Raven shook her head, finding the strength to snap back,"…and why would she do that?"

Hagar carefully picked herself up as she wiped the blood from her mouth and nose. She stood in between action and hesitation, knowing full well the conversation being carried between Morose and Raven. As Hagar stood on her two feet again, Raven turned her gaze to Hagar, letting the malice that festered in Raven's brain, stir the water as the ripples clouded rationality.

"Why…" Raven scoffed, snapping at Hagar, "…why did you betray us?"

Morose grabbed Raven by her chin again, directing her gaze back to him,

"It was your clan and the neighboring clans among you that betrayed the Feral," Morose sneered, "…your reverend mother, Poroux wanted to reestablish ties with the COG."

"She did it so we could survive…" Raven answered back, "…we were losing our lands to the Locusts!"

"NO…" Morose barked back as Raven jumped from the sudden change in his voice, "…you were losing the land to the COG. They were taking anyone and everyone to amass their armies, strengthen their power…they conquered and then they destroyed, settlement after settlement with their confiscated weapon of mass destruction! I've seen it…I was there."

His eyes where burning with rage, his brow scowling as he peered into Raven, closing in.

"I watched as they destroyed my home, my land, and my men, all who were in the crossfire, trying to hold the Locusts back so the citizen's could get to Jacinto. They...we, were branded, expendable. I watched from a distance as they were burned, alive…" Morose mouth quivered in disgust as the words seethed from his lips, "…Chairman Prescott broke the fundamental law of the Octus Canon…to protect the citizens of the COG alliance. Instead, they were sacrifices to the alter for the sake of protecting humanity…our fucking humanity…a sick joke that the COG uses to unite the world for their victory over the Locusts."

Raven just sat there, trembling in Morose' presence as he ranted some more,

"After they unlocked the Hammer's key components, they unleashed it's power over the face of Sera to destroy the Locusts, but they set it off too early, before we could relocate the citizens back to Jacinto…they knew this, but they did it anyway, because we were fucking expendable for their welfare...few of us managed to survive the onslaught, and since then, we vowed to serve justice to the coward, Prescott and the others whom were responsible...starting with that old fuck, Hoffman."

Raven's gaze fell into Morose' trap, listening attentively as he continued,

"Paroux knew this...she knew what they have done...even you knew this, how they destroyed our lands and the people that were still in them…and now, you have allied yourselves with the "pigs," the true enemies of the Coalition, Chairman Prescott and his dogs of war. They will be held accountable for their crimes…"

"And you justify this by killing the innocent?" Raven snapped back, "...you killed Stranded for your own amusement, don't bullshit me...and you killed the Gears...and then turned it all around and blamed it all on the Feral, you son of a bitch!"

"The Gears were given a choice before I executed them…and they chose the side of the "pigs." And as for the Stranded, well…" Morose looked deeply into Raven's scorned eyes, "they're like dogs. Some are obedient, and can be trained...others are just a hindrance and must be removed…the Feral, on the other hand…"

The grip that Morose had on her gaze quickly tightened, "…they were becoming a threat...they have always been a threat, so Tamar did what was necessary…the Harpies scouts led us to their camp,"

Raven started to tremble as the words seeped from Morose's mouth,

"…and we ambushed them…"

You unimaginable bastard.

"…and we destroyed all that we could find…and as I said before," he said as he flashed a condescending grin, "…they are much more pleasurable when they are forced."

Without warning, Raven whipped her head to the side and sinks her teeth into Sanders leg.

"Ah, FUCK," Sanders bellowed as he loosens his grip on her wrist, allowing Raven to pull out from his hold so she could take a swipe at Morose. Realizing what she was trying to do, Morose quickly countered Raven, suddenly grabbing her wrist and drops her to the ground while holding her facedown. With Hogaus still clutching her other arm, Raven was for the most part, immobilized.

Sanders continued to growl, clutching the inside of his thigh where Raven bit him.

"Gah…that fucking cunt, bit me," he protested as Morose and Hogaus started to laugh. Sanders finally looked up from clutching his leg as he blasts out,

"Smack that bitch, Mills," Sanders sneered as Morose and Hogaus refrained from laughing any further. Hogaus still held on to Raven, his hand clenching her arm tightly to keep her from turning around.

Gil for the most part stood behind the commotion, not wanting to take any delight in Morose's "entertainment." He knew Morose to be brutal, especially with Gear prisoners. He couldn't imagine what Morose would intend for their captive Feral, especially if Sigma would never come back for her.

Morose pulls out his pistol, loading it up while Hagar watched in fear, her eyes widening. Morose grabs Raven by her armor, pulling her up. With malice still fresh in her head, she thrashes at Morose, getting a shot in as her palm mashes into his face, but the hit didn't faze Morose at all, as he just turned and glared at her. Blood was seeping from his mouth as Raven watched in horror, suddenly realizing his true intentions as he smirked,

"I hope there's more where that came from," he sneered. Without warning, he slaps her across the face, coercing a response from Raven as she fell to the ground, whimpering from the stinging sweltering the side of her cheek from the contact. The ritual was enticing to him as he leans down and pulls Raven back on her feet, hoping that she would fight back some more. He proceeds to drag her back to the quarters when Hagar suddenly blurts out,

"NO…STOP…do not kill her," Hagar yelled out. Morose turned and looked at her, stopping in his tracks as the vicinity became still around them.

"I don't intend to kill her," Morose sneered as he continued to drag Raven over to the door before Hagar called out again.

"Tamar's Pandora must be spared and unspoiled…" Hagar finally revealed as Morose stopped in his tracks. His demeanor shifted into a state of astonishment as he turned to Raven with her arm still in his grip while he pulled her up and snatches her chin with his hand, looking at her carefully.

"Well well…isn't that just fucking dandy…" he mused as he looks her over, admiring his prize, "…so this is Tamar's lost daughter...you're more profitable than I have ever imagined"

Raven trembled in his brace, breathing heavily as the palpitations in her heart skipped several beats from the anxiety. Raven's eyes widened to the news of her true identity, something she never knew and was not willing to accept as her mind shifted in many moods, from confusion, to despair, intertwined with betrayal. Tamar is not my mother…she is a traitor! A sudden flux of questions hit her brain all at once, pushing her into anguish…everything that I thought I knew, everything that I was told was a fucking lie! NO…it's not true!

And then the revelation hit her, was that why the Harpies didn't kill us? It was too much to take in. Raven began to shut down and Morose could see it. His head tilted, peering into her pale eyes, looking through the glass lens and seeing the truth in her expression. He moved closer towards her frozen face,

"You didn't know about this, did you…" he commented, looking at her as his brow hung heavily over his sharp blue eyes, "…you have been ignorant all along. They never told you what really happened to your parents, did they…Eloise McNight"

How does he know my name, Raven pondered. Morose grinned, amused that he was dissecting her from the inside out. The sound of her name, flowing from his lips caused a rift from reality as her mind went into a daze. Just shoot me now…get it over with! There's nothing left for me here now.

Morose could tell that Raven's demeanor slumped as the tension in her body laxed. She stopped struggling against him, submitting to whatever fate awaited her, and it started to irritate him.

"No…no…you're giving up way too easily," he sneered as he yanks her and throws Raven up over his shoulder,

"C'mon on, girl," Morose said as he made his way back into the building while Sanders and Gil followed them from behind. He turned over his shoulder as he yelled out to Hogaus,

"…and bring that Feral bitch as well."

Hogaus quickly grabbed Hagar, pulling her away from the group by her arm as she wiped the blood from her nose. Raven watched from behind and noticed that Hagar wasn't fighting back, she didn't even struggle against Hogaus' tight grip as he yanked her towards the door, while the two followed them.

Morose walked down the hallway until he reached towards a door that was already open, and walks in with Gil and Sanders close behind. Morose stormed into what appeared to be a living quarters with weapons and other armaments scattered on metal shelves along the wall and a small bathroom across from the entry door. Hogaus soon joined them with Hagar still tucked in is grip.

"Put her there, Hogs," Morose ordered as Hoguas nodded, picking up Hagar, literally by her waist and threw her on a makeshift bed. Morose pulled out a chair and plopped Raven on it, holding her back by her shoulders. Raven glanced at Gil and Sanders, wondering what was going on, but the grave expression in Gil's face was unsettling as Raven turned to see Hogaus glaring at her, while holding Hagar down with his massive arms.

"We're going to try this again," Morose sneered as he gave Hogaus a nod.

The anticipation in the room took a turn as Hogaus pulled out his hunting knife, sending shivers down Raven's spine, oh God, there going to gut her…granted she should die for her betrayal, but not like this!

Raven started to squirm,

"No, this is not necessary…if it's me you want then leave her be!" Raven snorted. Shortly after her outburst, she felt a hand grabbing the bottom of her chin and pulling her head up so that her gaze was met with Hogaus'.

"I don't you think you understand what I'm getting at, girl," Morose scoffed, leaning over to her ear, so close that she could hear him breathing, slow and calm, "...you're either going to give me some COG intel…or you can sit back and watch this."

Raven didn't answer as she flashed a scowl look on her face. After all that she had been through for the past week, she be damned if she was going to put Sigma in danger, much less what was left of her decimated clan, still finding refuge at Fort Block. Morose' patience finally gave out as he looked up at Hogaus,

"Go ahead…let the show begin."

Raven's heart sunk into her stomach, as she couldn't help but to watch Hogaus cut unto Hagar's armor, ripping through the tough leather straps that held her armor in place. He couldn't cut through the Reaver hide so he loosened the straps and pulled off her armor once the bonds were severed.

Raven struggled to watch as she could see Hagar's face was expressionless. She had no idea what was going on in Hagar's mind, but she couldn't stand that fact that she didn't fight back.

"Fight back, damnit, what's the matter with you?" Raven barked out in the Feral tongue, until Morose let out a chuckle. The outburst didn't phase Hogaus at all as he continued to remove Hagar's armor until he reached her ceremonial garb, made of a fine silk.

Hogaus quickly turned Hagar over onto her stomach, forcing her head down with his massive hand, her hair clinched around his fingers as he straddle himself behind her while pulling up her hips. He cut through the cloth and ripped it in half, exposing Hagar's bare backside as Hogaus gently ran his hand down her exposed back. It was then that Raven realized what they were going to do to her, Oh, God, no.

"No, damnit, leave her alone you bastards," she barked, squirming in Morose' hold.

"Quiet you...you're spoiling the mood," Hogaus sneered, slowly grazing his hand down Hagar's buttox and slipping it in between her legs, gaping them open as he places himself in between. He quickly removed his chest plate and utility belt as he accessed his fatigues, unzipping it and pulling part of it off, revealing a bare, muscular torso, littered with ink and scars. Loosening the zipper to his fly, he drops his pants slightly, giving him just enough room to free his male bits as his erect member was in full extension.

Raven tried to turn her head away from the ghastly sight, but Morose grabbed her chin and moved it in place,

"You're not going to get out of it that easily…" Morose serenely whispered in her ear, "…watch and learn, girl…you might like it!"

Raven struggled against his grip, feeling the pain in her ankle again. She yelped from the sudden throb that shot into her leg, pulsing between her core and her ankle in rhythmic thrusts. She looked down and quickly noticed that Morose was holding her broken leg in place with his own, pressing it against the leg of the chair as his force was agitating it every time she squirmed.

"Don't make me have to break your other one, Eloise…" he sneered into her ear as he watched the scene take place, forcing Raven to watch, violating the sanctity of her mind, poisoning it with the image that was forced upon her. He knew that she would never forget it, and that it will always transcend into her memory, forever burning abhorrence that will never cease.

Raven could see Hagar grimacing from the forced entry, whimpering from the pain as Hogaus moved in and out of her slit, rocking his hips against her rear while still holding her head down, brushing his thumb against her flushed cheek. Holding her hip with his other hand while pulling her in as he pushed, he moaned, curling his lip while stroking the side of her face, pushing in deep and hard. He could hear her yelp in between thrusts as he penetrates deeper, straddling her legs even more while he leans over, licking the sweat that was beading on the back of her neck.

"That's it…take it like a cunt…" Hogaus moaned in her ear as he sits back up and peers into Morose's direction.

"Oh yea…she's loving this," he sneered as he turned his gaze back to Raven, peering at her with a frenzied expression while Morose gently stroked the side of her face as he noticed that she was starting to pale. The whole thing was making her sick to her stomach, trembling under Morose's tight grip. Raven couldn't stand it anymore and decides to shut her eyes. Morose noticed what she was trying to do as he tightened his grip around her neck.

"No, no…open your eyes, now," Morose demanded, but Raven ignored him as he shook her head. Noticing that she was being defiant, he pulled her up from the chair as she yelped in pain from standing on her leg.

"So you wanna play this game now, huh…" he scoffed as his tone turned into gratification, "...good, cause I can't wait."

He turns her around as he starts to drag her towards the bathroom, when someone ran up to the door.

"The search party is back," a Stranded started until he noticed the disturbing scene, cutting him off short as the shock started to hit him. Morose let out a growl as he turned his glance back to Hogaus,

"Get your dick out of her and move," he growled as he dragged Raven back over his shoulder and marches over to the door where the Stranded was standing there, dumbfounded. Morose pulled him off to the side as Gil joined them,

"How many?" Morose demanded.

"Just three…they said that they we're ambushed…" the Stranded quivered as Morose's demeanor starts to get agitated.

"Fuck…Hogs, hurry it up!" Morose yelled as he stormed towards the door that lead outside.

Morose kicked the door open as he marched out with Gil following close behind, noticing that Raven was in a daze, weary and fatigued, both physically and mentally. He wasn't quite sure how far Morose intended to peel into her mind, but he knew that Morose was capable of alot of things, she was lucky this time.

The area was in chaos with everyone inside the fort, quickly running to their posts as the Stranded gathered their weapons while the soldiers took their places, readying the horses from the stables nearby.

Morose dropped Raven onto the ground as he noticed his scouting team was galloping across the crowd, splitting off in different directions. Raven was cringing on the ground, carefully sitting up to look at the commotion going on around them, confused by the sudden crisis while Morose started to walk through the array of men as he approached one of the soldiers nearby,

"Jenkins, what happened…what did Pellin say?"

"He said they were ambushed…four of them, coming this way" Jenkins responded.

"Four?" Morose glared at him, his eyes intense as he looked up to see one of the rider's slow his horse down, his face covered by the hood and scarf while his coat was wrapped tightly, with his Lancer strung to his back. Morose peered towards his scout, trying to make out his eyes through the goggles.

Without warning, Morose turned around as he felt a warm breeze splash upon his face, followed by the sound of a streaking whistle, from a faint gunshot that rang out from a distance. His eyes stung as tears filled them, pushing the blood that splattered on his face as the Gear that was right next to him leaned and slumped against him.

"Jenkins…JENKINS, FUCK," Morose tired to wake the fallen soldier while having difficulty seeing with the blood still obstructing his vision, not realizing that part of Jenkins head was scattered across the snow, trampled ground.

It was then that a voice was heard over the crowd,

"SNIPER…GET UP TO THE TOWERS, QUICK…SHOOT THAT SON OF A BITCH DOWN."

Morose dropped the lifeless Jenkins as he quickly wiped the blood from his eyes, pushing the remnants with his tears while wiping his cheeks from the warm crimson that saturated his face. He turned around to where he dropped Raven, but she wasn't anywhere in sight.

"Fuck…" Morose blurted out as he scanned the vicinity, she couldn't have gotten too far on that ankle.

Hogaus finally made it out of the building while Sanders marched up to Morose and pulled him to the side,

"Get into cover…shit, they fucked up Jenkins," Sanders observed.

"Find that Feral…she's around here somewhere," Morose ordered. The crowd moved frantically as another whistle breezed across Plantire. Morose turned to Hoguas as he watched in alarm while his head thrusts backwards, followed by a crimson mist. Morose watched as Hoguas' eyes rolled into the back of what was left of his partial head, while his massive body slumped to the ground.

"HOGS…FUCK," Morose roared. He turned around as Sanders ran up to him,

"WE NEED TO FIND COVER, DAMNIT!"

The Stranded moved recklessly, making their way to the walls of Plantire while the snipers in the watch towers search frantically for the sniper taking shots at them. Raven managed to drag herself near a shed, where she wedged herself between the building and carport filled with canisters and propane tanks. She continued to pull herself by her arms while pushing with her good leg, but it was starting to get fatigued from the extra work of moving her around without the other. Damnit...I need a gun, she suddenly realized as she noticed a Gear scout met his gaze with hers as he dismounted his horse. Oh no...

Scanning quickly in her immediate area, she finds a flathead screwdriver, shit, it's better than nothing. The Gear scout, Pellin moved towards her direction with Lancer in hand, damnit...there's no way, Raven grumbled to herself. As he moves in she raises the screwdriver in her hand, getting ready to stab him with it as Pellin knelt down and grabbed her hand, twisting her arm behind her back and forces her down. He quickly looks around while everyone else was trying to take cover from the assault as another shot rings out, followed by another Stranded toppling over with half his head missing.

Raven growled as tears swelled in her eyes until she heard a familiar voice calling to her,

"Damnit, Rav...hold still," he said, turning her around as she looked at the Gear in confusion while he pulls her close, "...grab onto me, quick!"

Without question or response, she wraps her arms around the Gears' covered head. Clinging onto him, he straps her body to his torso with a leather harness, gathering her legs into a leather belt, pulling her up off of the ground, freeing his hands as he gathers his Lancer. Standing back up, the harness holds her close to him, while still clinging to his overcoat, keeping her head down and nuzzled against his torso, she could feel the palpitations in his chest as he moved quickly through the crowd.

"TAKE OUT THAT FUCKING, SNIPER," Morose yelled as he and Sanders stormed over to one of the towers. Suddenly, the roar of an engine could be heard, roaming in the middle of the chaos as an APC suddenly broke into the commotion that was festering in the vicinity.

"I didn't order anyone to start up Shitpiece," Morose growled. As Sanders turned around, a sudden crash was audible as the Dill plunges through the rows of portable bathrooms that were stacked in the middle of the camp. Porta potties were strewn in all directions as their contents spilled all over the snow. The crowd scattered to avoid the APC, and an array of sewage, scattered across the snow, sloshed ground.

Suddenly, gunshots ring out as the sound of rapid-fire streams through the crowd. Everyone in audible range ducks, as the soldiers quickly take evasive, dropping to the ground while trying to make out their target.

Sanders and Morose hit the ground as they pull out their weapons.

"They're here…they're inside our base," Morose snorted as he stood back up, looking for the infiltrators. The Dill turns around and slides into a stop, while the hatch opens up as a Gear inside opens fire from the cabin.

"Yea…WHOO…come get some of this, bitches," a voice rang out through the racket of the gunfight, clipping the first few Stranded in sight.

Morose looked over and saw his scout, Pellin, running through the crowd, and watches closely as Pellin pulls out a knife, swings around another one of his men and grabs the unsuspecting soldier by the neck, cutting across the side of his throat. The soldier gags, clutching his neck in vain as the blood spills from his opened jugular.

Burning in fury, Morose glares at his scout, realizing it wasn't Pellin. The stranger in Pellin's garb glared back, carrying someone strapped across his chest in a sling that was hung around his neck as he quickly took cover behind another portable building.

Between the frantic audio slurs and the motions of pandemonium, Morose's senses tune out everything around him, keeping his focus on the scout as the stranger stood his back up against the metal wall with his Lancer on his side, hung over his shoulder by a strap. Freeing his other hand, he reaches up to pull the scarf down from his head, revealing his scruffy, blonde hair, and then moved his goggles onto his forehead. In a brief moment, Morose' eyes met with Baird's, in a sudden glimpse of exchange as the two men peered at one another, but just as Baird stood slightly out and turned to reveal a small framed body of his Feral prisoner, strapped in his brace, he lifts his other hand and extends his middle finger for Morose to see.

"FUCK…HE'S GOT OUR PRISONER," Morose barked, but before he could take action, an explosion near the propane tanks shoots across the field as debris and snow scatter across the vicinity, separating Morose and his men from the infiltrators. A fire blazes between them while Morose rises from the snow, covered ground, peering through the smoke, watching Baird get up from his cover. Without warning, Baird turned and started to fire his Lancer in Morose's direction. Morose took cover behind a parked car while the shots ricochet across the metal, shooting out the glass and a side mirror.

"Over there," Morose roared, gesturing to his men as they gathered around him, "they have Shitpiece…take out the Dill, take out the Dill."

Four of his soldiers returned fire towards the Dill as Baird managed to take refuge inside the hull, closing the door behind him.

SHIT," Sanders blurted out as he jumps out from his position, running around the blaze and towards the Dill, raising his Lancer while attempting to take out it's tires.

The APC jerks backwards as the driver, apparently was shifting the gears into reverse while the Dill runs into a shed, tipping the building over while the roof broke off, sliding across the icy ground. A rumble could be heard as the Dill takes an abrupt jump forward and starts to drive off.

"FUCK…" Sanders yells out as he tries to gesture to the Stranded near the front gate, "…CLOSE THE FUCKING GATE!"

Before the men near the gate could respond, the Dill rams through several small, makeshift buildings before exiting through the entryway, taking out part of the chain, link fence, with it as it drove out of Plantire and down the road ahead. The men watch in vain as their Dill drives off down the road, towards Port Farrall.

________


The snow began to pick up, dropping heavily as the afterglow of the sun behind the overcast sky was dimming. A breeze grazes the landscape as a taste of the things to come for the evening was becoming evident. It was going to be a very bitter, cold night.

Sven walked through the knee-deep snow, carrying Delilah as she hung onto him, keeping her head buried under his scruffy chin. Pulling his legs up and over the snow, he finally made it to the road.

He looked out in the distance as the sounds of a vehicle could be heard. Peering through the heavy snow that was falling from the sky, he pulled out his last flare, lighting it up and throws it out on the road, I don't know how they are going to stay on the road in this weather.

The flare glistened brightly, sending waves of iridescent light around the falling snow nearby. The ice particles in each flake flowed from the light illuminating from the flare, giving off a brilliance that Sven have never seen before. Sure he's seen snow glowing from the porch light at his parent's house, but the glistening light radiating from the snow was dazzling.

The only thing that turned him from the sight was the sound of a small voice, muttering from the little girl nestled against him.

"Mr. Gear…" Delilah's voice mumbled from her quivering lips, "…do you think they found Birdie Lady?"

Sven looked down, realizing that Delilah was looking out, probably admiring the same, beautiful scene. She was still watching ahead in the direction of the flare, nuzzled against his breast plate as she clung to him. Sven could feel her warmth, holding her close as her beanie hat was still nested under his stubble chin. The moment was suddenly broken as the sound of an APC plowed down the road.

"Yea," Sven finally answered, "I believe they did."


And the pistons of insurrection pulse in rhythm

Searing in my blood,

Burning like the scorching sun on the asphalt

As I break out of your fist.


They may not remember why,

But they will remember when

That I stood up and spoke,


And that the words yanked the very fabric of stability

As the threads snapped to reveal the blemish within

Unraveling, at last coming undone.

Believe me when I say, there will be blood.

Chapter 35: Futile Escape Edit

I hope you're not intending,

To be so condescending,

It's as much as I can take.

And you're so independent,

You just refuse to bend,

So I keep bending 'til I break.


But you always find a way,

To keep me right here waiting.

You always find the words to say,

To keep me right here waiting.

And if you chose to walk away,

I'd still be right here waiting,

Searching for the things to say,

To keep you right here waiting.


Staind
Right Here


Grinding through the icy road as the snow started to pick up the pace, the APC comes to a grinding halt, just a few feet from the illuminating flare ahead that was still glowing in the middle of the road.

The door opens up as Sven walks around the vehicle, carrying Delilah to the entry side while the headlights were still blaring.

"C'mon Vinny, get in," Cole's voice rang out as Sven steps inside the cabin of the Dill while Cole continued, "that was some good shots, kid! So what's the word?"

Sven moved quickly into the vehicle as he could feel the heater blasting at full max. He sat Delilah in the front seat next to Cole as he looked up, watching Baird rummage through a compartment, pulling out a medkit and blanket.

"We gotta go, now," Sven said urgently, "…they were mounting their horses and one other Dill that last I checked."

"Where are we going?' Delilah asked.

"We're going to the Block, sweety," Cole responded while Sven shut the door.

Baird looked up, still wearing the garb he stole after they ambushed the Plantire scouting party.

"Shit…if what Vin say is true, then we need to haul ass, Cole," said Baird.

"Yea, yea, I heard," Cole groaned as he changed gears and shifted the vehicle forward again, "…it's just this icy road is a bitch to drive on!"

"Good...then that means the militia will have a hard time maneuvering in this as well," said Baird.

Sven quickly took a seat behind Delilah as he helped her get her seat belt on. He wrapped the strap around her lap and then buckled it in. Sven sat up and looked over, noticing that Raven was quiet, lying on the backseat, in a daze and bewildered.

Sven turned to Baird, watching him still rummaging through a med box while trying to hang on from the bumpy ride.

"Shit Cole," Baird griped, bracing himself as the ride was getting rougher.

"Damn, I told you this road is tricky to drive on," Cole complained as he slows down, trying to avoid sliding off the road.

Baird managed to find an I.V. in the medkit as he pulled it out and a coat hanger, twisting the ends up while hanging it beside Raven. Baird carefully knelt down, gently brushing her forehead while checking her temperature. He then proceeded to unstrap her armor when her body suddenly jerked,

"NO…" she blurted out, without warning. Baird pulled his hand back as if he thought she was going to bite him.

"Rav…listen to me…I have to get this I.V. set up…do you understand?" he said, watching her face go pale, her eyes wide in fright. Sven could see the fear in her soft face, what did they do to her?

"What happened?' Sven asked as Baird looked up with a solemn expression. Baird just shook his head, and it was then that Sven knew that Baird had no idea, and that it troubled him.

Raven was trembling slightly, but Baird couldn't tell if it was because of the cold or if it was because of the anxiety. He gently attempted to unstrap her armor again, but Raven didn't flinch this time. Sven could see her eyes, her pupils move back and forth, as Baird started to dismount her shoulder plates, exposing her fatigues. The Dill jolted again as Baird fell backwards against another seat, breaking his fall.

"Shit Cole…watch the damn road," Baird sneered.

"How the hell am I suppose to watch the damn road when I can't see, not even five feet in front of my face…look at this shit," Cole barked, trying to stay on route as he slowed the Dill even more, keeping a watch for the orange markers on the side of the road as Cole ranted some more, "...man, I'm going to be real pissed if those bitches catch up to us in this shit!"

Baird pulled himself up as he started to take off the heavy coat that he switched with Pellin and loosening his ammo belt. Man, I miss my utility belt…now I'm going to have to get another one, Baird grumbled to himself. As he got comfortable, Baird rubbed the back of his neck while pulling his tags and Raven's necklace to the front of his torso. He was still wearing his under shirt as he pulled his fatigues down to his waist.

Sitting back up, he carefully started to pull Raven's fatigues off of her arms, but she jolted suddenly, flaying her arms as she shrieked,

"No…let go," she screamed, nearly pushing Baird back, but he held his ground as he grabbed her, folding her arms across her chest while trying to calm her down.

"Shit…Rav, knock if off…I swear your going to smack me one," Baird griped, but as he looked down to her face, her eyes started to dilate as her face grew heavily pale.

"Aw, shit," Baird blurted out as he grabbed the I.V. with one hand while still holding her down with the other. He manages to free up one of her arms as he held it out, unwrapping the needle from the plastic package with his teeth as he carefully wiped down the entry point with an alcohol, moistened gauze. Managing to insert the needle into a vein, he tapes it up and relaxes, realizing that the hard part was over, or at least for now.

"What's wrong with her?" Sven asked.

"Other than a broken leg, I don't know, Vin…" Baird admitted, "…she's been a nervous wreck since I brought her on."

Cole was doing his best trying not to think about Raven's condition while trying to watch the road, but her sudden, anxiety outbursts was eating at him. When we get back to that place, we're seriously going to smash some fucking heads, he pondered to himself, relishing in the things he was going to do to those who hurt her.

The markers along the side of the road were starting to fade as the wind outside picked up, blowing the heavy snow in all directions.

"Fuck…Damon, we're really gettin shit on," Cole mentioned as he slowed the Dill even more.

"Just…try to keep going Gus…the further we go, the closer we get to Fort Block…without walking."

"Wait, walking?" Cole protested.

"We have to keep going Gus, or else they'll catch up to us," Baird reminded Cole, trying to find a syringe for the morphine, "…and we gotta get there before dark."

Baird turned to look over Raven, noticing an abrasion on her head as he moved his hand, noticing her eyes were moistened, puffy and red. Although her cheeks where still pale, the color in her lips was coming back as the plasma started to flow into her system. He took the syringe, filled with morphine and inserted it into her I.V., gently releasing it into the injection port as she let out a soft sigh, becoming less disorientated. As the morphine took effect, he could feel her starting to relax as her arms loosened under his grip.

Baird couldn't find the words to say anything that would remedy her plight. All throughout the past five days, of all the words they have said to get into each others heads, there was nothing that he could think of that would bring the light back to her face.

"Rav…can you hear me?" he said quietly over the noise of the Dill, trying to snap her out from her daze. Her eyes met his, glaring empty and sober while hazed under the overhang light inside the hull. Her mouth moved slightly, trying to speak to him,

"You were…supposed to go back…to the block," she mumbled with a quenching rasp in her voice.

"So fire me," he responded as he watched her pupils contract again.

Raven flashed a slight smirk as she closed her eyes and responded serenely,

"Ok…you're fired."

Baird let out a light chuckle as he reached over to gently wipe down the side of her face with a moistened towelette.

"…and by the way," Baird began as Raven opened her eyes to look at him again, "…your welcome."

Raven gave him a soft smile, but it quickly faded into a frown as she looked over to the others. She noticed Sven was sitting up over the front seat, watching, while Cole was driving, cussing under his breath as the weather outside started to worsen.

"We're, not going to make it…are we," she said as Baird looked up at the others and then turned his gaze back to her, but he didn't say a word. At this point, there was no need to put her under any more stress than what she was already in. He continued to wipe her face down as she let out a sigh.

She started to mumble again, "Leave me…"

Baird's brow dropped as her words perplexed him, wondering if what he heard was right. She quietly mumbled again…

"Leave me behind, please…"

If he didn't hear her the first time, he certainly heard her the second time. His face flushed with anger as he turned around and threw the towelette down and then turned back to face her,

"I just risked our team, going into the militia camp and pulling your ass out of there…and all you want me to do is to leave you?" Baird derides, his jaw clenching and eyes burning.

"I didn't…ask to be saved," Raven softly mumbled, her eyes sinking into her face as the exhaustion was testing her sanity. She could tell that he wasn't happy with her, but she didn't want to sugarcoat the truth either. Nobody has done it for me so why should I?

"…you can't take all of us back…I'll be one less baggage to carry, but it's crucial you get back to the Block...there's more going on than what we have discovered earlier."

Baird looked up for a moment, gathering his thoughts, and then he turned to face her as he let all of it spill out,

"Ya, know…" his mouth quivered as he was somewhat hesitant to speak, but the injury was already taking over, "…I should have left your ass to the Stranded!"

He hesitated for a moment as if he had plenty more to say, but he cut it short as he looked away. Staring at the floor for a moment, he turned around to check the I.V. while making sure it wasn't tangled. He gathered up the supplies in the box and slid it under the seat while trying to hang on from the bumpy ride.

The words sank into Raven like a concrete block, crushing whatever feelings she had left. Normally she would usually let anything Baird say roll off of her back, but this time it didn't. It stayed and it festered and Baird could tell that it did. He watched her gaze roll back up to the ceiling, aching from the inside out until it all just went numb.

The sting shifted Baird's conscience like a noose that was tugging on him. Did he say it to state a fact or was he intentionally trying to wound her back? He finally couldn't just let it all go anymore, not after everything they've just went through. Cole was right. She did care about him; she cared for all of them and it was something he may never fully understand why.

The Dill rocked a bit and then mellowed out again as Sven turned over to watch Raven, still hanging in a daze, drifting in between irrationality and sane. Baird turned back around, to face her again as he noticed that she was drifting into exhaustion. Baird figured the morphine was making her drowsy. He leaned over to her ear as he laid his hand on her neck, checking her pulse as he started to whisper,

"…You're going to make it…you're tougher than that...just hang in there."

"I thought I was just another whiny bitch," Raven mumbled in her fatigued voice, "...and you were right…I can't do this anymore. I'm tired of running..."

"Then stop running...damnit Rav, when are you ever going to trust me?" he scolded her softly. Her eyes fluttered under the cabin light, feeling the morphine taking over as she struggles to even look at him, mumbling.

"It was the militia that destroyed my clan...not the Locusts...we were all set up Damon, by my own kind, and I failed to see it. I'm supposed to pick up on these things..."

"...and the COG was supposed to have "reliable" schematics of the terrain and working communications, but it all turned out to be crap...if it wasn't for your intel, then all of this would have been for nothing...and it will be for nothing if we don't get back, so quit griping about woulda, coulda, shoulda."

Raven could see her own reflection, gazing back at her in his pale eyes, sunken in under his heavy brow, "This is war, Rav...and believe me, shit happens."

Raven's heartbeat calmed into an even rhythm as her eyes fluttered, fighting to stay awake as she reached over with her hand, and placing it over his that was still monitoring her pulse. Reaching under is palm, she tightens her grip around his hand as she turned her head to look at him, trying to fight the sudden burst of exhaustion while she muttered,

"What a…way…to celebrate a, birthday…" she said before she closed her eyes for the last time as her hand gently went flaccid, succumbing to the morphine. Her body began to lax as her consciousness drifted away from reality, releasing his hand from her hold.

"Rav?" he shook her softly, but she twitched slightly and then fell back into a slumber. Baird grabbed and lifted her hand, placing it onto her chest, and then pulls the blanket over her body as she slept.

"Happy birthday, Rav," he muttered, watching her face lax as it brightened up again from the paleness.

It never occurred to him until recently as he recalled from previous conversations that her biological clock encircled around the annual date of her birth, and it didn't take too long for him to figure out why she intentionally intoxicated herself the night before. She was so far into her "estrus," she was having trouble controlling her urges…it wasn't because she didn't trust us…it was because she didn't trust herself.

Thoughts went through Baird's head, wondering what could have happened if she didn't take matters into her own hands, that could have been turned out to be a rather interesting evening, he pondered.

He was somewhat amused by the notion that Raven was capable of strong sexual urges, possibly more so than the average male when her clock hit the right time. Nevertheless, such a situation could have also turned out equally, just as ugly, resulting in catastrophic consequences.

"How long will she be out?" Sven asked while Baird continued to monitor her pulse.

"Hopefully until we can get her to the hospital…" Baird replied, hoping that the morphine would knock her out even longer than that, considering her "hormonal" condition.

Sven continued to watch Baird, propping himself against the hull wall, leaning his head back as he took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. Sven new that the Corporal was worried, but he would never say it, much less admit it. Baird brought his hand to his forehead and started to rub his brow, trying not to give into duress.

Then it started to happen, the last thing none of them wanted to happen.

"Aw…shit…you've got to be fucking with me," Cole griped as the engine sputtered in short bursts. Baird cautiously stood up as he listened suspiciously to the dying engine. What perfect timing.

"Let me guess…we ran outta gas…" Baird scoffed. The engine continued to push a few more sequences and then goes dead as the Dill starts to slow down to a full halt.

Cole slammed the steering wheel as he curled his lip,

"Man…didn't they think to fill this thing up?" Cole griped while Baird walked around the middle seat until he reached the console. He leaned over to look at the gas meter and sure enough, it was empty.

"Sigh…let's start packing…we'll need to move quickly," Baird suggested while Sven got up and moved over to the compartments to pull out some blankets and scarves.

"You think we can make radio contact from here?" Cole asked while Baird sat next to Delilah as he started to tinker with the radio console.

"It's worth a shot," Baird commented as he opened up the frequency, "…Gus, why don't you, Vin, and the kid go get bundled up while I get on the horn…we may not be able to communicate, but they may at least locate our frequency."

"You got it," Cole said as he turned to Delilah, "…c'mon kid, let's get you bundled up."

"Ok…" Delilah beamed as she hoped over to the next row of seats, "…but what about the Birdie Lady…is she going to wake up again?"

Baird turned over his shoulder to look at the young girl glare at him with her large, gray eyes.

"She'll wake up again…she's just sleeping," Baird responded.

"Geez, Baird…did you have to sedate her?" Cole asked.

"Gus, please…she'll be fine, just…get her bundled up as well…let me try and make radio contact," said Baird, getting to the task at hand, testing the radio frequency.

Cole turned back around as he helped Sven pull out the contents in the overhead compartments.

"There's only blankets, a few scarves, and some…" Sven looked carefully as he rummaged through a box, "…some rags."

Sven picks up a blanket and wraps it around Delilah,

"Ok, is that alright…are you comfortable?" Sven asked Delilah.

"It's too hot," she griped, starting to sweat under the layers.

Cole snickered, "Baby, it won't be hot for long, I guarantee."

Cole moved over to the side as he moves around Raven's seat, kneeling down as far as his massive body would let him. He pulls up a scarf and gently lifts Raven's limp head. Placing the scarf around her head and neck, he carefully checks her boots and legs, making sure that everything was clamped, strapped, and snug.

Baird turned around as he too made his way over to the compartments, looking for anything that he could use to keep him warm.

"Did you manage to make contact?" Cole asked.

"Just static…which is actually good news, it means their radios are working…even if they can't hear my message, they will at least get a frequency reading," said Baird.

He quickly put back on his fatigues and the coat while Cole loaded up a strap holstered over his neck. He leaned down over Feral,

"Baird…help me out with her," said Cole.

"Sure thing."

Baird moved around next to the edge of Raven's seat as he knelt down and slid his arms under her limp body, scooping her up against his torso and stood up, lifting her from the seat.

"You got the harness on, Gus?" Baird asked as Cole tightened the last strap across his torso.

"I do now…load her up," Cole responded while Baird held Raven close to Cole as Cole strapped her limp body in.

Sven finished bundling Delilah as he leaned over and picked her up while she wrapped her arms around his neck. Sven and Delilah watch as Cole finishes strapping Raven into the harness while Baird wrapped both Raven and Cole in a few more rags and blankets.

"Listen up, ladies…" Baird began as he gathered his own garb, "once we get out, we have to keep moving to stay warm, got it?"

"Got it," said Sven while Cole replied,

"Then let's do this."

Baird opens the door and the snow came in heavily as the cool air whisked in like a vacuum, pushing all the warm air out. He takes the first step out into the white, chilly abyss.

Intermission VI Edit

Captain Miller of Epsilon One sat in the Communications station, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, the only thing he could muster to help warm him up from the Frosts' cold shoulder. As he leans back into his chair, feeling the coffee warming his sinuses, Lieutenant Stroud was tweaking with the radio signals, still keeping an ear out for any possible transmissions from some of their lost squads.

Despite the fact Hoffman ordered Sergeant Fenix to list Sigma One as MIA, Marcus asked Anya to keep listening to the radio just in case. Although the thought of anyone surviving out in the freezing wilderness was improbable, Anya knew that Marcus had a sixth sense for such things and she has long learned to trust him, despite the odds.

Occasionally glancing over the com where Miller propped his feet on the desk near the console, Anya kept communications feeding throughout the complex while Miller yawned from a long excursion the day before, trying to find more venison for the troops. She could tell that Miller was exhausted from wandering out in the cold, hours at a time with Sergeant Mataki, looking for deer, which has been becoming too far in between. Since one of their outposts was mysteriously attacked and raided a few weeks before, they lost a rather substantial amount of rations and supplies that was stored there, forcing the men to cut their rations by another third, if they were going to have enough for the rest of the season. The cold was taking its toll while the men were forced to tolerate the hunger pains after noon, but at least they still had plenty of hot coffee.

Miller let out a sigh, "Heard anything lately, Lieutenant?"

Anya looked up from her post as she meandered through the archive of the most recent communications.

"None, Jon…I haven't heard anything from anyone outside of the Block," Anya replied, solemnly. She knew that Marcus has been worried over Cole and Baird since their latest transmission, but as the days have been counting, so was inevitability.

"Well…it's been almost week sweetheart…and granted I know your sweet-talk can calm the soul of any man," Miller mused, flashing a grin as Anya chuckled lightly at Millers' modesty, "but, I should probably take the hassle off your hands and go tell Fenix the bad news myself."

"Sigh, that's a gracious offer, Captain…but I feel I should take that responsibility."

"Ah, perhaps you're right...you know the Sergeant better than anyone else," Miller gave a smile, a gaze that mellowed Anya's anxiety for the moment as she smiled back, knowing the Captain was just trying to keep her focused and tranquil.

She remembered Jonathon Miller during her academy days, when he would offer to buy her a cup of coffee on occasion just to shoot the breeze, especially to ease her sorrows that followed her mother's death and Carlos', as well as Marcus' incarceration. But her affections were always for the Sergeant, keeping her on edge when he was present, and it was Miller whom eventually caught on to her daze when Marcus appeared, but there was plenty of fish in the sea, and it was seldom a problem for Miller to enchant a lady or two with ease. Nevertheless, there were times when Jon could still make Anya blush, and yet, in the grand scheme of things, Miller would not cross the line when it concerned the Lieutenant, but at times he was tempted to, especially when Anya would occasionally mope around because of Marcus' cold demeanor. The Sergeant would seldom make an effort to express any feelings to her, much less insinuate any desires for companionship, and Miller could tell that it would upset her on occasion.

With that said, Miller would often invite her for a cup of coffee, just to rock the boat a little, and maybe then the Sergeant would take notice. Anya would always laugh at the idea, but as silly as it may sound, she really couldn't argue with Jon's logic. Maybe he's right.

Anya finally took a seat in a chair, rubbing her forehead as she turned the volume of com radio one more time, before she went off for other duties. Without warning, the Captain sat from his seat, spilling some of his coffee on his armor as he stood up and looked over the Lieutenant's shoulder.

"Whoa, hold it right there sweetheart…can you hear that?"

Anya looked up at him and turned the frequency back from where she had it set earlier,

"Ok I got it back, but I don't…" Anya was about to say when a subtle noise was more audible this time around.

"…oh my God….yea, I can hear it."

"Quick, turn up the volume," Miller suggested as Anya pulled up the earphones to get a more audible reading of the transmission.

"It's still pretty weak, Jon…can you alter the frequency just a hair?"

"Sure…one second."

Miller reached over to the console as he adjusted the frequency, hoping to get a better quality signal. The radio static was breaking up in waves as a faint voice could be heard through the com.

…this is Si….squa…d…we nee….assista…if you….hear…repea…t…

"Well I'll be damned…get a location on that signal Lieutenant, I'm going to form a search party," said Miller.

"I'm on it, Captain…be sure to…" Anya began as Captain Miller interrupted,

"…don't worry, I'll be sure to enlist Fenix," he said while Anya returned a soft smile as he started out of the Com station to gather his troops.

Chapter 36: Returning To Fort Block Edit

Tell it like it is

Till there’s no misunderstanding

When you strip it right back

Man feed machine

Machine feed man


Tell it like it is (And on this land, we cast our fortune)

Till there’s no misunderstanding (And on this ground, we make our home)

You make up what you like

Man feed machine

Machine feed man


Peter Gabriel
The Tower That Ate People


Snow was falling from the sky, coming down hard, blinding the road as a drained and weary Sigma One, pushed through the heavy air, pulling each other a step closer to destination.

We're almost there, closer…closer, Sven kept telling himself. Leading the pack while trying to push forward, he carries a bundled, Delilah close to his body, using their duel body heat to try and stay warm. His night vision goggles were strapped over his eyes while a scarf was wrapped around his head. He could see better with the goggles on as the breeze blew the snow in his face, along with Corporal Baird, whom also had his goggles on.

Baird was right behind Sven, keeping him from falling backwards against the wind, while pulling up his legs over the knee-deep snow that has accumulated on the road to Fort Block. The only thing they had to go by as they tried to stay on path was the bright yellow markers along the side of the road that was not quite yet buried, but after tonight, they may as well be.

The storm was becoming stronger, dropping snow like a heavy downpour, covering everything in white. The gray sky darkened the terrain, covering the late sun completely as the air started to freeze.

Cole was huffing, breathing the heavy cold air, trying to keep up, but between the wind pushing against him and the weight combined with Raven's, whom he had strapped up against his torso, was slowing him down. Baird looked back, noticing Cole was struggling to keep up as he turned around and went back. Baird made his way, looking at Gus, shivering as he held Raven close to his body, using her body heat along with his to keep each other warm, but the storm was hitting them hard. Raven was still sedated, lying limp, wrapped in scarves and blankets while her limbs hung from the harness that was haltered around Cole's shoulders. Baird came up to Cole and started to rub Gus's arms, warming him up.

"C'mon man…we can't stop right now, you're doing fine," Baird said, trying to encourage Cole as much as he could, "…here…"

Baird started to pull him, using himself as a shield to protect Cole and Raven from the wind. Baird was wrapped with a blanket over his coat while rags where tied around his waist and Raven's sash, wrapped around his head. Sven was waiting ahead, as he too, walked next to Cole while they all huddled while moving forward through the freezing abyss.

Their limbs we're aching from the frost, biting them through the layers while the cold stung their exposed skin, numbing their flesh as the wind seeped past them, pushing the snow in all directions. The weight of the weather was getting heavier and heavier as the minutes went by. God, I hope somebody heard me, Baird pondered, hoping that someone from the Block was able to pick up the transmission. He continued to look towards the road, hoping for a sign, something. They wouldn't send a Raven out here, that's for sure…not in this weather.

Suddenly, Sven fell to the side, sinking into the snow while Baird quickly tried to grab him, but he noticed that Sven's face was pale, his lips so dry they were cracking. Baird had to muster up some strength just to pull Sven and Delilah back up,

"C'mon Vinny…not now, you gotta pull through it," Baird tried to tell him, as Cole too, slumped by the wayside.

"Shit! Gus…get up, damnit!"

Cole could hear Baird, but his body wouldn't move, it couldn't move. He has pulled himself through pain before, but the cold was pinning him down as if he was tied to a freight truck, driving in reverse.

Baird picked up a shivering Delilah while grabbing Sven's arm and pulling him up over his shoulder, trying to drag Sven and Delilah back over to Cole as he leaned over to drop Sven next to Cole and gently placed Delilah in between. Then the weight of the load that Baird was pulling was about to buckle as the wind brushed him down. Baird gathered himself up while crawling over to the rest of his squad, pulling Sven closer to him and Cole as they shield Raven and Delilah between the three.

There they sat, huddled in certainty, waiting for the glimmer of hope that someone from the Block will find them, eventually. Baird pulled out his com, one last time, turning it on, hoping they would catch the signal. He wrapped his arms around Sven and Cole as much as he could, peering through his goggles and the thick snow, watching ahead of the snow, buried road.

The markers along the side of the road was dimming as the light faded underneath the blanket of clouds, swallowing the landscape around them. All has faded to black and white as the snowflakes swirled around them, draping them steadily until, in the distance, they could see a ray of light, shining subtly from the void.

Death stands from a distance, his silhouette standing between them and the light, watching and waiting, but not making an effort to reach out to them. Just take us now and be done with it, damn you!

"What the fuck are you waiting for?" Damon screamed, tempting fate while his throat dried up and his voice was quashed by the wind. As his eyes began to blur, the light illuminated into his pupils as he brought his hand to shield them from its brilliance. The silhouette in the distance began to move, closer…

________


The ride was bumpy at best, feeling the jolt from the struts in the back of the Dill, bracing for more bumps along the winding road. The heater in the cabin was on full blast, trying to keep the console warm as well as the crew, while attempting to keep the frost off of the windshield as they tried to steer in a total, white void.

The crew inside felt a sudden jolt as everyone inside jerked to one side,

"Damnit, Bjork…slow down, shit," barked Captain Miller of Epsilon One, riding shotgun alongside Corporal Bjork, trying to make out the road ahead of them.

"I can't see the fucking markers along the side of the road, sir," Bjork sneered in an concoction of sarcasm and anxiety that had been festering in the cabin since they left Fort Block, trying to locate the source of a weak radio signal.

Accompanying Epsilon was Delta, carefully monitoring the radio signal that would come in waves of static in between frequencies. Sergeant Marcus Fenix sat anxiously, trying to make out the direction of the signal. It was a longshot at best, but so was anything else he has done throughout his military career. For the past week, they have been searching for the whereabouts of Sigma One, and their latest transmission was the first sign in days, as faint as it was.

He could remember the transmission, buried somewhere in the static. Marcus replayed the transmission over and over again, trying to stabilize a very frail signal, but the faint voice imbedded somewhere in the transmission all too familiar. Baird is alive out here, somewhere.

They were taking a risk, coming out in such demanding conditions, but Marcus wasn't going to let the impending weather stop him from finding his men, even if this hell froze over, he wasn't going to leave his men behind, not this time. He occasionally looked up, checking up with the Captain, anxiously waiting for something in sight, but with the snow making the air dense, was adding to their frustrations.

Dom sat quietly, watching Marcus monitor the radio com, waiting for something to come though, watching the others in the cabin as they hung onto whatever they could, every time Bjork would make a turn.

"Shit…got anything Bjork?" Dom blurted out, noticing that Bjork was slowing the vehicle down.

"Natta…fuck this weather, man."

"Got anything, Sergeant?" said Miller as he turned to Fenix.

"Nothing…just static," Marcus grumbled, hearing nothing but the same thing over and over for the past twenty minutes since they left Fort Block. Epsilon's medic, Sergeant Grimes peered over the crowd,

"We need to pick up the pace…they're not going to survive for too much longer if we don't find them," Grimes reminded them.

"You think we don't know that, Doc?" Bjork scoffed, trying to drive and lookout for a sighting at the same time, while the Captain kept a sharp eye between the navigation console and the road ahead. The crew was getting antsy, hoping for something, anything to find their comrades alive, but as the time passed, the possibility of finding them alive was thinning.

"Whoa, whoa…shit," Bjork slowed even more, sitting up at the edge of the steering wheel, "…aw, you see that Captain?"

"Yea I do…carefully, move the headlights," Captain Miller said in monotone, peering through the small windshield, noticing something in the road ahead.

Marcus got up from his seat, moving to the front, trying to look out through the windshield,

"Son of a…pull over, I'm going out there," Marcus ordered.

"You got it, Sergeant," said Bjork as he slowed the Dill down to a stop, switching on the high beams while Captain Miller took off his seat belt, grabbing a flashlight from the side of the cabin.

"Is it them?" Dom asked in anticipation.

"We're going to find out, Dom," Marcus said in a solemn tone. As Miller was trying to unlock the front hatch, Dom quickly took off his seat belt as he grabbed the nearest blanket from an overhead compartment and slapped it under his fleeced arm.

Miller turned around towards the crew,

"Get ready ladies," he said before he opened up the door. The APC opened up, and the blistering air swarmed in quickly, pushing the snow into the cabin.

"Fuck…we need to hurry this up," Bjork yelled out over the wind as Miller, Fenix, and Dom marched out into the freezing abyss. Sergeant Grimes was rummaging through compartments in the back, pulling out medical supplies just in case, preparing for the worst as much as he could while their sniper, Private Welche started to fold the back seats into the side compartment, making room for Grimes.

The three men continued forward, moving carefully through the thick snow, trying to make out a clump on the side of the road in the distance ahead. Marcus pushed forward, a scarf wrapped around his head and neck, trying to peer though the thick snow as he noticed something as if it was moving.

With Miller and Dom not far behind, Marcus picked up the pace, lifting his knees above the deep snow, turning his hips as he gets closer to something or someone that was apparently standing ahead of him. He couldn't tell what it was, as the figure was swaying, trying to stand against the wind as pieces of clothing, draped around the figure was flapping in the wind. Could it be Death?

Marcus moved closer, trying to get a better look at the figure until he saw something familiar, something glistening from the radiance of the light coming from Miller's flashlight. The body started to lean, after dropping its arms, hanging onto whatever equilibrium it had left, as a flash of blue glistened across its eye sockets.

"BAIRD…" Marcus yelled out as he started to run as fast as his legs could take him, running over to the Corporal, barely hanging on, drifting away into the white abyss. Marcus runs over, grabbing Baird by the torso as he slumped into Marcus' arms.

"Baird…talk to me you asswipe, don't you die on me or so help me God, I will reprimand your sorry ass," Marcus yelled at him, trying to get Baird back into consciousness, but Damon's body started to go limp as Marcus held him up. In the distance, Marcus could see some other bodies, huddled in a pile,

"DOM!"

"I SEE THEM…" Dom yelled out as he and Miller ran to the others, passing up Marcus, hold on Cole, I'm coming.

Miller got there first, pulling up another Gear, quickly noticing that it was his former rookie sniper.

"Vinny," Miller barked, tapping him on the face, trying to wake him up, "you lucky son of a bitch!"

Dom quickly joined him as they both look down, noticing quickly that there was two other people bundled in between Sven and Cole,

"Fuck me…they got their Feral guide with them…and what appears to be a kid, shit," Miller turned over his shoulder and into his com, "…WELCHE, BJORK, get your asses over here, NOW!"

Private Welche jumped out of the cabin and into the elements, followed by Bjork, making haste as they close in on Marcus' position.

Moving carefully, Marcus was moving back towards the Dill, dragging Baird along over his shoulder, trying to remain stable in the damning weather.

"MEDIC," Marcus roared, pushing along as he was coming towards the Dill. Grimes quickly jumped out and welcomed the Sergeant, extending his arms to help carry their comrade into the Dill.

"Shit, Sergeant…get him back here…I'll try to make as much room as possible, but we're going to get cramped here real quick."

"We'll figure that out as we go along, Doc…"

"I need to get him on plasma, help me lie him on the floor."

Marcus and Grimes laid Baird on the floor, setting him down carefully while Grimes carefully took off the sash from Damon's head and cautiously started to remove his goggles from his eyes.

Suddenly, just as they removed the goggles, Baird started to twitch, and then let out a groan,

"Corporal…can you hear me?" Grimes started to talk, trying to get Baird's attention. Baird suddenly started to flinch, shifting his body in short bursts,

"Baird, stop, hold still," Marcus knelt down, trying to calm Baird down as he started to curse,

"Fuck…that hurts," Baird barked, shivering violently as Marcus holds him down while Grimes proceeds to remove his coat and armor.

Marcus looks up, noticing Welche coming in with another Gear, up over his shoulder, trying to stabilize his weight as he walks in the Dill. Bjork followed shortly behind, carrying a shivering little body as he stepped in and places a little kid in the back seat.

Marcus gets up to help Welche as he quickly drops down, lowering the soldier onto a nearby seat, next to the kid. As they placed the Gear down, he started to mumble, in between shivers, calling out to them.

"Don't…forget…others," the soldier squeaked out.

"What's your name, Private?" asked Marcus as he carefully starts to unravel the scarf from around his head.

"Vi…V…Vinn…y," Sven muttered while Marcus carefully unstraps the goggles from Sven's face. As Marcus takes them off, he notices the frostbite on Sven's lips and cheeks, blistering.

"Hang on, Vinny," said Marcus, grabbing a blanket that Grimes left out nearby, and placed it around Sven.

"Vin, Vinny…you there?" Baird managed to muscle out while still lying on the floor, bundled in a blanket that Grimes pulled from the compartment.

"I..I'm here…Corp…oral," Sven said, slightly turning his head. Marcus looked down and noticed Baird moving his cracked lips, trying to communicate in between shivers,

"What, about…the kid…?"

"Del…lilah," Sven muttered,

"She's right here, Private," Bjork answered as he quickly scanned Delilah's face, wrapping her in another blanket, "she's ok…just a little cold."

"Gus…where's, Gus?" Baird whimpered.

"He's coming, Baird," Marcus answered.

"…and…Rav…" Baird started to mumble. Marcus looked up at Grimes and then to Bjork,

"Who…what are you talking about?" Marcus questioned.

Sven started to mutter, "Feral…where's…Feral?"

Before Marcus could answer, Miller's voice is heard over the bristling wind,

"Somebody get out here and lend us a hand…"

"I'm on it," Bjork blurted out as he jumped over the front seat and darted out of the Dill, moving as fast as he could through the deep snow.

"Welche..come help the Corporal," Grimes asked.

"Sure thing…" Welche responded as me meandered over to Baird's position.

"Sergeant," Grimes turned to Marcus, "I got the Corporal on the I.V. and I'm going to check on the Private…can you look over the girl?"

"Yea," Marcus responded as he stepped around Sven and moved over to Delilah, whom was bundled like a caterpillar in a cocoon.

"Hey, kid…" Marcus called softly in a low, raspy voice, "you ok? Just…nod your head yes or no…"

Delilah peered through her wrappings and looked up at the big Gear. Between shivers, she tried to nod her head as she trembled while lifting her little, gloved hand. She held it out as Marcus looked down, struggling with the words to say as he extended his own hand and gently took hers in. It was then he could hear her quietly mutter,

"I…want to go…home."

"We all do, kid."

"But…where's…Birdie Lady…we can't leave Birdie Lady," Delilah choked out as Baird slowly looked up, trying to keep some poise in all of this,

"We're not…leaving Birdie lady behind…" Baird was able to muster while Welche tried to keep the I.V. from getting tangled. Suddenly, Grimes started to move back from the APC entrance.

"Sergeant…I think they're going to need your help on this one…" said Grimes.

Bjork and Dom was making their way to the Dill entrance, carrying Cole. They carefully moved him in as Marcus went over and picked up Cole's legs while Dom had one arm and Bjork the other.

"Guys, over here…put him on the floor, next to the Corporal," Grimes instructed as the men carefully placed Cole next to Baird.

"Shit, Gus…GUS, can you hear me?" Marcus started to yell out, "…you answer me now, Private, you hear me?"

Cole was shivering profusely, trying to muster the strength to open his frost bit mouth.

"He…here…re…reporting for…duty. Sir…" Cole was able to spit out. As Grimes started to rip into Cole's fatigues, exposing his arm, for an I.V., Baird started to move as he looked up at Grimes.

"Sit…me up, please," Baird muttered out.

"Hold on, Corporal…" Grimes said, putting the needle in Cole's vein, hanging the bag on a compartment hook.

Suddenly, Marcus looked up to see Miller, moving quickly inside the Dill with a small, framed person lying limp in his arms.

"GRIMES…get another blanket and I.V." Miller shouted, "…this one's in bad shape!"

Marcus moved to the entrance to meet Miller. Miller carefully placed Raven in his arms,

"She's been sedated…and it looks like she has a broken ankle," said Miller as he turned around to shut the door, while Bjork took the driver's seat and began to rev up the Dill.

Marcus moved over to the others, carrying the little woman as Grimes helped Baird sit up against the cabin wall. Baird turned his gaze over to Marcus,

"Set…her here," Baird suggested, moving up and making space as he extended his arm. Marcus knelt down, gently placing Raven in between Baird and Cole. Grimes started to unwrap the cloth around Raven's head, revealing a pale, rosy facade,' with dry lips and sunken eyes.

"Is that…Feral?" Cole asked as he slightly turned his head. Marcus just glared at Cole, nodding his head, assuming the woman was whom Cole was referring to.

"She's here…Cole," Baird muttered, "she…already has…a connector in her…left arm…"

Grimes nodded as he knelt down, "Alright…I'll look."

Cole mustered the strength to yell out, "Vinny…you here?"

"Yea…" Sven yelled back, "I'm, here."

"..and Delilah…"

"She's doing fine, Gus," Marcus assured Cole.

Grimes tore into Raven's attire, trying to free up her left arm as he scans for cannula connector to place in the I.V., when he suddenly noticed it, still taped to her arm. Baird carefully placed his hand on Raven's forehead, stroking her hair, trying to find something warm to see if she was even alive.

"Rav…" Baird tried to muster out, searching for a pulse.

"She's alive, Corporal," Grimes tried to assure him the best he could, "…a little worse for wear, but she's alive."

Then Baird moved his other hand over Cole's head, patting it gently,

"G, Gus…you there?"

Cole turned his head slightly as he responded,

"Yea…I'm…here…"

Marcus sat and watched them in awe, wondering how they actually survived out in this frozen hell. Grimes managed to connect the I.V. into Raven while he hung the bag next to Cole's. Cole reached over as he patted Baird's leg,

"She'll, be…fine," Cole assured him, finally thawing from the warmth inside the cabin. Dom sat next to Cole on the floor, unfolding some more blankets to place under Cole's head.

"Ok, Cole…lift your head up, man," said Dom. Cole slowly lifted his head enough for Dom to slid it under, and then dropped it back down.

Marcus sat up in the last open seat in the Dill as he reached for the radio com,

"Control…this is Delta, come in."

A sudden sparce of static blared from the com, until a sketchy voice could be heard,

"This is...control...go...ahead,"

"We found Sigma, I repeat…we found Sigma One. We need an immediate medical team waiting upon arrival, do you copy?"

"Roger that...Delta…How many?"

"We have five, control. They're in pretty bad shape, so we need the medical team to be ready and waiting as soon as we get in."

"Understood, Delta. They'll be ready...upon...arrival, control out."

________


The staff medics of Fort Block, scurried around the makeshift hospital, setting up beds and monitors while stacking towels and blankets next to galvanized tubs that were placed along the side of the beds. Nurses set up the curtains while others were filling the tubs with hot water and prepping the beds with fresh sheets and pillows.

Lieutenant Stroud was walking in a hurry, scanning the room that used to be a locker room, now a hospital room to place Sigma in when they arrive. She checked to make sure they had five of everything, including galvanized tubs for thawing and cleaning. She didn't know what to expect when Delta and Epsilon came back, so she instructed the medical staff to prepare for the worst.

Anya left the room, moving outside as she buttoned up her coat and wrapped her scarf around her neck, trying to withstand the cold wind that stung her delicate face. Gears were waiting near the Fort entrance, preparing for the Dill's return from earlier that evening. Hoffman waited outside in his usual attire, waiting patiently, with Sergeant Mataki hanging back, waiting anxiously.

But the audience that struck Anya the most, waiting for Sigma's return was the Feral scouts. They sat out in the weather, withstanding the cold surprisingly better than everyone else. Even the latest Feral recruits that joined them shortly after deployment were out, watching and waiting for their linguist to return to them. Anya had never seen the Feral so concerned for one of their own before.

A familiar noise could be heard in the distance as everyone in the Fort began to move with anticipation. Anya quickly stepped out from the building, placing her hand next to her com,

"Delta, this is control, do you read?"

"This is Delta…we're coming in, get ready."

"Roger that, Delta…we can hear you coming…the medics are standing by, over."

Shortly after the last transmission, the APC roared in slowly, trying to move through the slushy snow that has piled up within the past few hours. The Dill carefully drives up towards the hospital, moving close to the entrance as it comes to a complete halt.

Shortly after the vehicle stops, the hatch door opens up as Captain Miller is the first to exit. He quickly starts to gesture to the medical staff, waiting near the entrance,

"Bring the gurney's…we can load them up from here," Miller ordered. Marcus was the next to step out of the Dill, carefully carrying Sven over his shoulder as he gently placed Sven on the first gurney while Miller helps a nurse to bring the next one.

Everyone in the Fort, watching the events unfold was standing quietly on edge, waiting to hear the news of Sigma's condition. Hoffman watched as Delta and Epsilon started to unload the others.

Dom was the next to come out with Raven, holding her head to his chest while her legs dangled over his other arm, carefully placing her down while Welche followed behind, holding up her I.V. As soon as Dom laid her down on the next gurney, the nurses began to move her into the building. Miller and Bjork carried Cole, carefully placing him down in a nearby gurney while Marcus and Grimes moved out with Baird. Welche followed, carrying Delilah as he carefully placed the little girl into the arms of one of the nurses nearby.

Anya noticed the apprehension in Hoffman's expression, not to mention Bernie's, as Sergeant Mataki placed her hand over her mouth, watching in shock at Sigma's condition. She watched from the distance as they placed Cole down, throwing blankets on his body and moved him inside. Marcus and Grimes carefully placed Baird down into another gurney, propping up his head. Baird turned over as he reaches and grabs Marcus' arm,

"Look into…the Jacinto archive, and look up a former Gear…by the name of Morose ."

Marcus looked at him with a perplexed expression on his face while Baird continued,

"He's…the leader of the militia, Marcus," Baird was able to spit out, definitely catching the attention of the surrounding Gears as Marcus looked up at the others.

Marcus looked back down at Baird, placing his hand on Baird's shoulder,

"I'll look it up…but you need to rest, you hear me?" said Marcus.

Baird forced a grin as he closed his eyes while the medics took him inside. Marcus watched them take Baird in until he was no longer in sight. He then turned over to see Hoffman walking towards the hospital entrance, opened the door and walked in. Marcus stood there for moment, pondering what Baird had told him, an ex-Gear is leading the Stranded militia? Fuck.

________


The atmosphere outside hung blankly, as everyone went back to their stations while all of the anxiety drifted inside the hospital. For Cole, Baird, Sven, and Delilah, the vicinity was warm, at home. Baird turned his head, peering through groggy eyes, not paying any attention to the nurse drawing his blood as he watches the other staff carefully pick up Sven and place him in a bed next to Cole.

Drifting in and out of exhaustion, Cole was dead weight for the staff as five of them attempted to move him on his bed. He could hear the voices of the staff running around his head but his focus was on Sven. The kid made it…he actually made it.

Sven was somewhat conscience, listening to the nurse as she adjusted his IV while another was threading a catheter into his urethra. Gus could hear Sven respond to the nurse in a low moan. He was medicated by now, for sure.

Cole slowly turned his head to look on the other side where Baird was already transferred. He could hear Damon griping already, blurting out profanities in his tired, course voice. He could hear Damon trying to convince them that he didn't need rest, until one of the nurses got tired of Baird's ranting as she quickly loaded a sedative into his IV, hoping it will knock him out. As the drug pulsed through his veins, Baird's words started to slur as he slowly dozed off, until he succumbed to the medication. As predicted, he was hushed.

Cole chuckled as he watched his best friend slip into a comatose state while the nurse proceeds to thread a catheter into his urethra. Man, he's really going to be in a shitty mood when he gets up.

The nurse finally turns her attention to Cole as she proceeds to place another blanket on his body,

"Are you doing ok, Private?" she asked, breaking Cole from the daze.

"Yea…I just, have one question ma'am…" Cole asked in a tired voice as thoughts of Raven's whereabouts flooded his conscience.

"Of course, soldier,"

"How's Feral?"

"You mean the Feral who came in with you?"

"Yea…I don't…see her in here…"

"She was relocated into the trauma station…the Corporal suggested to the head nurse to screen her…"

"Screen…for what?"

"…to check to see if she was raped…it's a normal procedure for anyone whom was held in captivity."

The color in Cole's face started to pale as the news sunk in. He wasn't quite sure if it was better for him to know. The nurse could see his expression turn cheerless as she continued,

"She's doing fine, otherwise…it's, just a precaution…"

Cole didn't say a word as he looked up at her wearily and nodded his head. She gently placed her hand on his forehead,

"She'll be ok…they may move her back here after they realign the break in her leg and cast it."

Lifting her hand from his head, she gave a brief smile while pulling the covers over his body. Cole basked in the warmth from the bitter cold, hellhole they have been swarming in all week, but thoughts of his friends, his only family, ran insistently through his head.

He thought of Sven, how the kid actually made it with them, and if it weren't for Vinny, they wouldn't have been able to pull off their rescue mission from Plantire, the kid deserves a medal after all this.

He thought of Damon, the jackass that he is, who managed to come up with a sound plan that actually worked in getting Raven out of Plantire. Cole has since wondered why Damon changed his mind concerning rescuing their Feral guide. Was it because of principle, or does Damon actually like Feral? Shit, now wouldn't that be something!

But, knowing Baird, Cole figured that there was an ulterior motive for why Baird does what he does, and it's normally, seldom out of heart. Why would his efforts for saving Raven be any different, especially when the two would quarrel sometimes, just for the sake of quarreling? Perhaps that was the reason. Maybe Damon likes arguing with Feral, it seemed like the more plausible theory when it concerned his cantankerous, best friend.

Cole turns his head over and looks at Baird from his bed, watching him snore obnoxiously, shit, he's earned the rest. Cole couldn't recall the last time Baird ever had a good night's sleep, especially when Baird would often stay up going over his notes, trying to decipher the Locust language or drawing out motorized diagrams, or doodling as a means of venting, which was a normal occurrence. He watched as Baird slept soundly, for the first time in a long time, wondering what Baird was thinking about, or dreaming about. What does Damon Baird miss the most?

Surrendering to exhaustion, Cole finally closes his eyes, drifting into a void that was calling him, compelling him to let go. He could hear Damon's voice, ranting over petty things while listening to Sven talk consistently about his pretty sister, Gwen. He could hear the soft, mellow tone in Feral's voice, rebuking Baird for something that he said that was tactless or out of context. Then, he would hear her mutter softly, conversing with Sven over random things while Cole watched the soft light glistening on her face as the illumination would contour her cheeks, nose, and brow. Her smile was radiant, bringing out something surreal that complimented everything that Raven could be if she really wanted to. It was something he didn't pay attention to before until he saw it etched in detail, illustrated in perfect form…when he snuck a peek into Damon's journal the night before.

Chapter 37: The Best Laid Plans Edit

Stirring from what seemed to be an eternity from a long incubation after roaming in the bitter Frost, Sven started to open his bleary eyes as his pupils take time to dilate from the light that was illuminating the room. As the pictures start to focus, he rummages through his memory, trying to recall where he was, but all he could remember was the freezing cold that numbed his limbs. Carefully lifting his head from his pillow, he looks down and subconsciously, begins to wiggle his toes, holy crap…I can feel my toes; I still have my toes. He then peered down over to the fingers on his right hand, watching his digits move, one after another. Got my toes, got my fingers…oh my God, my balls!

Sven tried to quickly lift the blankets from his body as his arms started to ache in the process, ugh, I moved them too fast, shit. He slows down as he proceeds to remove the blanket from his groin. He sits himself up while trying to loosen himself from the hospital gown that was wrapped tightly around him. Untying the string that held his gown in place, he carefully pulls the gown up to his waist. Oh thank God, they're still there…wait,

Rational thoughts began to surface as he realized where he was. He glanced at the catheter tube that was connected from his urethra and trailed down to a urine bag that was hanging from his bed. It was then he noticed a series of wires that was tangled in the mix, including his I.V. tube. He looked over to his left arm and attempted to disconnect the connector, taped to his arm from the I.V. port. He then slowly moved his arm down and proceeded to carefully remove the catheter from his urethra, cringing slightly from the awkward sensation.

He takes a moment to relax, feeling somewhat drained from just trying to sit up in his bed. Ugh, I feel weird, he said to himself as he brought his hand to his face, feeling the wild whiskers that were itching his face. Shit, I need to shave.

He looks around the room to notice an empty hospital bed next to him with the sheets disheveled and the I.V. missing. Another bed was also empty with the I.V. cannula connector lying on the pillow and the sheets strewn on the floor. Whoa, we made it…we actually made it to the Block.

As he looked around, trying to make out the recent commotion that was coming from outside the room, it suddenly dawned on him, wait, where's Cole and Baird?

________


Walking as fast as he could on the icy cold floor in his bare feet, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, Corporal Damon Baird was marching across the hospital hallway with a nurse frantically following behind, trying to somewhat restrain the defiant Corporal from exiting the premises.

"Sir…Corporal…Doctor's orders demands that you remain in bed…"

"Screw that, I don't need anymore rest," Baird growled as he continued to march over to the infirmary desk, hoping to find his belongings somewhere in the locker storage area.

With Raven still separated from the others, he attempted to go see her shortly after he woke up that morning, but for whatever reason, her room was heavily guarded and no one was allowed inside, other than the "Reverend Mother" and Colonel Hoffman, which consequently pissed him off to no end.

Brushing along the other nurses and patients that happened to be in his way, he meandered through the crowd, not the least bit conscientious about walking around in a partially opened gown, exposing the backside of his bare body. The only thing that he did have that was his, was his COG tags and Raven's necklace, which surprised him that the hospital didn't confiscate that.

"C'mon, c'mon…move your ass, let's go," Baird sneered, pushing along as he finally reaches the front desk to the infirmary.

"Soldier, you have not been released yet…you're not leaving," the nurse yells out from behind a crowd of patients.

"Watch me, sweetheart," he yelled back over his shoulder and turned his attention back to the lady behind the desk.

"Corporal Baird, id number 638941…I need my armor and packs," Baird requested.

"Do you have a release form, sir?"

"Ma'am, this is a matter concerning a crises, stating code 163…"

"Sir, the Block is not under attack…"

"Well, DUH…not yet…and there won't be if you let me get my crap so I can go over to command…

"Well then sir, you need to fill out the form…"

"I don't have to time to be filling out some fucking form, just…"

"Sir, don't make me have to call security…"

"I am the security, damnit," Baird yells out as he looks over his shoulder and notices the nurse coming towards him.

"Sir, you get back to your room this instant!"

Suddenly a shout is heard through the hallway as another patient runs amuck in the hallway.

"Get outta my way…BAIRD…YOU THERE?"

Baird looks up over the crowd to find Cole moving from down the same hallway, while holding his gown together with one hand and carrying his I.V. stand in the other, using it to shoo the security guards trying to restrain him.

"HEY…COLE," Baird yells, waving his hands as the nurse grabs him by his arm, holding a syringe in her other hand.

"You're coming with me…"

"Like hell I am," Baird sneered as he grabs the syringe from her hand and jabs it into the wall. He thrusts the syringe to the side, breaking the needle that was impaled into the sheetrock.

"Move…get the fuck outta my way," Cole bellowed, pushing through with a couple of security guards trying to restrain the Cole Train in vain.

Baird turns back over to the front desk as the lady picks up the phone calling for additional security.

"Oh, fuck this," Baird growled as he pulls off his gown in front of the desk lady. The woman gawks at him in shock as she drops the phone while Baird grabs his tags and hops over the desk onto the other side in the buff.

"Excuse me, ma'am," Baird scoffed as he pushes her chair over and reaches down into the file cabinet, looking through a series of assigned patient locker assignments.

"Hey…I found where they're keeping your shit Cole," Baird yells as he rummages through the files, until he finds his, "..aha, there you are."

Baird looks up and notices that Cole was able to make it to the desk,

"Man,