Chapter Twenty-Three: Turbulence

The shipping containers lay strewn along the concrete as the faint rays of sunshine tried their best to work through the passing clouds floating by overhead. Eriza Kessner and Yoriko Chihara can't help their mixed looks of concern and distaste for the trio that stood in front of them. These sort of meetings would have traditionally taken place back at the single floored house they'd used for a base, but ever since Delta had forced her way onto Seth and Siro's team, this scrapyard had turned into the new meeting point. In a sense that seemed fitting to Eriza on the grounds that this was where the Hiroe Trio had first met the group that called themselves Triple S. The six of them had grown close since then, and that day felt like a lifetime ago. Yet, only four of those same six stood here today. Merrick hadn't returned yet from searching for supplies and information on any new threats that might arise, and Sagiri wasn't around anymore. As she looks towards Siro, Yoriko's thoughts ring similar to her step-sister's. Even now, that last piece of reality was still difficult for her to fully accept.

BLAM!

BLAM!

A pair of gunshots sound off from the other side of the shipping containers that the foursome had been resting by. Almost immediately afterwards, two muffled thuds follow as Seth snaps to attention and turns his head towards them. The long moments of silence are followed by the sound of some kind of large objects dragging along the ground as they gradually become louder and louder as they approach ever so slowly. Seth can't help but groan, knowing that whatever the hell just went down can't be anything but trouble for the rest of them. He hears Delta humming pleasantly to herself as she comes into view, in spite of what must have been a fairly large amount of physical strain on her. No matter how hard he tried to get used to living with Delta and having her around constantly, he never felt any less sick about the entire situation.

THU-THUD!

Seth, Yoriko, and Eriza turn their heads over to see Delta drop the bodies of two men by her feet. She motions over to the pair of them, lying face down and motionless as if she were a cat proudly showing off the mouse she'd just caught. Even though she just stood there smiling, Seth could have sworn that he heard her let out a "Ta-daa!" sound gleefully.

"I'm back!" Delta exclaims in a chipper tone as she makes her way over to where Seth and Siro are sitting, with her thumbs in the pockets of her jean shorts. "I hope you boys didn't miss me too much while I was out on patrol."

Playfully, she pats Siro on the right shoulder as he sinks partly on the lid of the barrel he's sitting on and looks towards the ground quietly. With suspicion written all over his face, Seth passes a glance first at Delta, and over to the two bodies before returning back to her.

"What did you do, Delta?"

His eyes narrow in accusation as she simply turns her eyes skyward almost innocently as if to have no idea what he was possibly worked up about. She gives off a shrug that just pays no heed to his concerns and question as she casually brushes them aside with her response.

"Oh, why are you so mad, Sethy? Those two were here to kill our whole team. I just saved Siro's life over here!"

"Tsk."

Delta ignores Seth's displeasure and continues as she squeezes Siro's shoulder and reaches around with her other hand. She turns his head slightly to face her as she leans towards his ear, speaking softly into it.

"See, Siro? I can be a team player too. Now, you're still alive...because of me."

Silently, Siro closes his eyes for a moment, before looking to Yoriko. His eyes shine hollow as Eriza bites her lip. They would have to tread lightly with meetings such as this, it seemed. Delta clearly had no qualms about coming and going as she pleased or doing whatever she felt like at the heat of the moment. As she spots Seth running his tongue along the side of his mouth, Eriza is reminded that he's worse at holding his thoughts back than she is. Yes, it was true that sometimes she would let comments slip out, but Seth was free to be a little more on the candid side in his remarks on account of him knowing that Delta still needed him and Siro around. That same luxury wasn't one that the Hiroe Trio could be so sure of.

"How can you be so sure? I didn't even hear you try to interrogate them first."

"Now, give a girl a little credit, would you?" Delta teases Eriza's concerns, before scooting up closer to Siro. "They were talking all loud before I decided to go and sneak up on them. I heard them say all sorts of things like that!"

"I'm not so sure I'm entirely convinced..."

Seth's eyes meet Eriza and Yoriko's as he mutters under his breath. What was taking Merrick so long in all of this? At the very least were he back here with the rest of them, there would be somebody else that Seth could try to work out a means of moving forward with. Eriza's eyes had become fixated on trying to bore a hole through Delta's skull, while Yoriko was getting progressively more and more concerned for Siro as the days went on. Even as she had tried to keep up a cheerful mood for his sake, Seth saw a feeling of powerlessness in her eyes as she looked upon him with a sorrowful gaze. Siro himself was a whole different situation entirely, though. With his head lowered, and bags forming under eyes that were trying to space out into nothingness, much of the energy he'd once had still remained dormant. When Seth looked close enough on occasions, he could see sparks of the old Siro remaining. Yet, there was an undertone to them that made him feel slightly uncomfortable, as if the energy itself was darker by design.

As Yoriko's gaze switches from Siro she catches Delta crossing a leg as she sits perched on a nearby barrel. Delta whistles nonchalantly, leaving Yoriko unsure of what to think. She wants to try and reach out to Siro to help him through the situation in some way, but she can tell that the wound of losing Sagiri was far too fresh for him to even begin healing. With that being what it may though, were she to try, she had a hard time believing that Delta wouldn't just take the opportunity to hop in and give her own two cents on the situation as a whole again. That would completely ignore whatever sort of impact that it might have on him, just as she had after killing those two men. When Yoriko and Eriza look over to Seth for some sort of sign as to whether they'd be in the clear enough to resume talking, he merely gives them a slow nod of sorts. The pair find it less reassuring than they would have liked, but that he thought they should be alright was at least a little bit of a relief. Or, at least that thought would have been if Delta didn't opt to open her mouth again.

"I thought your brother would be back by now, you two! Did he get all sick? It'll make me kinda sad if he's just hiding."

Eriza, her thought process interrupted, glares at Delta with lingering disgust in her eyes that she makes very little effort to hide.

"We already told you, Delta. He's getting supplies. You didn't have to come here with Seth and Siro, you know. If you were just going to get bored so easily, then you could've patrolled somewhere else."

As she rests her chin on a hand in a mock attempt at being thoughtful, Delta plays with the hanging chain from her hand-held sickle as the weapon rests comfortably in the holster on her waist. She can feel Eriza's frustration rise as she gives a tiny smile back at her.

"If I went and ran off after saying I'd look after Sethy and Siro until you got to have fun with Merrick, what kind of teammate would I be? We've gotta take care of each other, right?" She taps a finger against the side of her face playfully. "I might just start taking up protection now!"

"They don't need the kind of 'protection' you can offer." Eriza snaps, gritting her teeth after a failed attempt at biting her tongue. "You can't look at the two and them and think your presence is helping. Do you even care what's happening? Look at what you're doing to Siro, and try to say he wants you so close to him."

Siro slumps down silently as he casts an eye towards Yoriko. A spark of life and mixed emotions flickers within it for a few moments before he turns his attention back towards the ground in front of him. She notices him try to lean away as Delta slides over against him as a less than amused Seth looks on in dismay.

Quietly giving a brief laugh to herself, Delta's smile only widens as she locks eyes on Eriza.

"Don't be silly, of course he does! Siro and I have some really special going on between us, you know."

"What are you...talking about?"

Yoriko speaks up in confusion as her sights switch from Delta and over to Siro before returning again. As Delta tilts her head slightly to the side, she feels a sense of unease begin building up in her stomach.

"You mean you didn't notice?" Delta asks, firmly grabbing hold of Siro's hand. "We're together now, you know? He's mine. Aren't you, Siro?"

"That's...you don't have to bring that up to them..."

With his voice barely breaking past a whisper and Yoriko straining to hear him, Siro turns his head to make his gaze go as far away from Yoriko and Eriza's eyes as possible. As his shoulders slouch, the sheer scale of shame he feels becomes vividly clear even before Delta leans forward and places her free hand on his chin.

"Hey, there's no need to be embarrassed. You should be happy that you found someone to be all close with!" Delta pauses momentarily, her eyes lighting up as the gears that turn in her mind give rise to a thought. "Hey Siro...I've got an idea. How about we show them how close we are? You know what I mean, right?"

Siro swallows down a lump in his throat, before he looks back at her and slowly shakes his head. His eyes tremble slightly, as if trying to dissuade her.

"Delta...no. Please...not in front of them. I'll let you do it later when we're by ourselves, but don't...don't make me do it now..."

Sporting an impish smile, Delta turns over towards Siro's ear and coos softly into it, causing a tingling sensation to find its way down the back of his neck.

"You didn't forget what I said about her, did you?"

She motions with her head in the direction of a concerned Yoriko, sitting directly across from them. As Siro tries to deny what she means, he can feel her breath on the side of his face as she whispers a single sound.

"Bang."

His eyes widen.

The thin veil hiding her threat had been pulled back, revealing the truth behind Delta's intentions. If she decided to, she could go after Yoriko whenever she felt like it, and Siro would be powerless to stop her. She'd do it too, of that he had no doubt as he felt a small surge of bile gurgle in his stomach.

A long pause and a deep breath make Siro reluctantly concede defeat for what he convinces himself is the greater good. Emotions run through him as Delta turns his head to meet her gaze. Anxiety, regret, disappointment, anger, disgust, and a wave of numbness wash over him. When she leans in close, he forces down every remaining ounce of his pride and presses his lips against hers.

There was a looming and uncomfortably awkward silence filling the air as Delta breaks away and puts an arm around Siro's shoulder. He couldn't look at them even if he'd wanted to as he lowers his head back down to the ground. The thoughts of how the faces of the other three must have looked fill his mind. Whether it was Seth's restrained disgust as he tried to keep everything together for both of them, Eriza's quiet fury as she fights to repress it, or Yoriko's unease as she tries to think of what she could possibly say, Siro felt too sick to see them.

A slight breeze brushes across his face, blowing his hair to the side as everybody sits in an uncomfortable silence. Even Delta kept quiet, aside from some upbeat humming as she bobbed her head back and forth to a triumphant tune that she made up as she went along. Instead, they all just waited, counting the time as they quietly pleaded for Merrick to finish taking so long to get back in order to break up the tension filled tedium.

In all honesty, Siro was uncertain as to whether it had been 30 minutes, or simply 30 seconds that he'd sat without as much as a mere sigh escaping him. The daily gunfire in the far distance had drowned itself out. In its place, he was left listening to the beating of his own heart until mercifully the audible stillness was interrupted.

"Is everybody okay? Hopefully I didn't worry you guys too much."

Eriza releases a sigh of relief to where both Seth and the approaching Merrick could visually see her exhale. If nothing else, then she could at least focus her energy elsewhere for the next few seconds in place of trying not to rip Delta's head off. She looks over to him, a small smile crossing her lips. Eriza pulls back the hood of her jacket that had been the sole means of keeping the garment from falling and sets it next to her.

"Of course we were worried. You told us you'd be back like an hour ago. What the hell took you?"

"I know I did. I ran into bunch of trouble and something came up. I wasn't trying to keep you or Yori waiting."

Merrick rubs the beanie on his head as he walks over towards his sisters. His switchblade nagamaki clinks gently against him from inside its holster while he sticks his hands into the pockets of his baggy dark orange shorts. With a quick scan of the area, he deduces the tension in the air fairly easily. However, Delta opts to chime in before Eriza, Yoriko, or Seth can properly respond.

"Aww, trouble? Did you bump into some big, bad scary guys and have to run? I bet that was awful!"

Only casting a side glare her way and neglecting to properly face her, Merrick just shakes his head dismissively.

"No, no, it was nothing like that. I didn't get into a fight or end up playing tag around the city, if that's what you're wondering.

Seth, having kept his eyes on Delta for the entire time, crosses his arms and leans back on the barrel as he tries to alleviate some of the pressure on his upper legs.

"So, you made it back here without this 'trouble' or whatever the hell it was following you? We're not just going to randomly get some weird surprise out of nowhere, right?"

Merrick shakes his head in order to make the attempt at alleviating Seth's concerns. He'd checked behind him as he returned constantly. While Merrick was about 75 percent confident that he wasn't being pursued by Wasponi and Apatur, he needed to make absolutely certain.

"I took an alternate way back here, Seth. That's part of why I'm so late. You can never be too careful in here."

"Yeah, I know. I have to ask though, okay?"

Seth shrugs slightly as he answers back. His capacity and willingness to endure extra stress had begun rapidly diminishing. As Merrick looks around between Seth, Eriza, and Yoriko, Seth senses the beginnings of a foreboding feeling in the air.

"I know, I get it. Hey, Yori?"

"Yeah?"

"Could you and Eriza follow me for a few minutes? I need to talk to you two about something." Merrick pauses, thinking on how to avoid raising suspicion with his request. "Seth, could you come too? I think we need to have some important words too. Including you telling me exactly what's going on with you and Eriza."

Seth drops his head embarrassingly as an annoyed sigh follows that all but asks what he did to deserve this. However, as he spots Eriza wink towards him knowingly, he gains a partial understanding for just what Merrick's intentions might be. At least, he hopes he's right.

"I'll be right back, Siro. Just hang tight for a few minutes, okay?"

"Yeah...I'll be alright..."

Looking over towards him, Siro turns his head to meet Seth's glance. His hair falls forward in a mess as one of his eyes peers out, apprehensive and still bloodshot as he watches his four friends check back over their shoulders and walk tentatively around a pair of stacked and rusting shipping crates.

A hand pats his back playfully as his stomach groans at the slow realization that he's left alone in the shipping yard with her, with a devil named Delta. Siro needs not even look as he senses the grin crossing her face grow even larger as she slides the barrel she's sitting on over to be directly in front of him. She cocks her head as she lowers her view to be face to face with him.

"Aww...what's wrong, Siro?" Delta asks, a mischievous and amused tone accompanying her voice. "You're not still all sad about Stabbiri, are you?"

"...It's Sagiri."

"Hm?"

Lifting his head to look her straight in the eyes, Siro focuses his gaze as a wave of cold and silent outrage at Delta's blatant disrespect for his closest friend climbs its way through him.

"Her name, Delta. Her name is Sagiri. Don't twist it like that...and don't think I'll ever forget..."

Amused, Delta's eyes turn upwards innocently as she playfully taps her chin, feigning ignorance at the source of Siro's outburst of defiance.

"You mean you won't forget about the fun times we all had together, right? Of course we won't forget about those and-!"

"No."

He glares back at her, his glare turning dark as he raises a hand to signal her to stop. For a quick but lingering fraction of a second, Delta hesitates at being cut off.

"I wasn't done. Don't be rude."

There's a tinge of warning underneath the playful tone of her reaction, but it passes over an uncaring Siro's head as he stares unwavering.

"I wasn't done either, Delta. I'll never forget what happened back then on the edge of the river. And some day..." Siro takes a breath and briefly looks up towards the heavens in determination. "Some day, I'm going to kill you for what you did to her. I promise."

The winds blow as the two sit across from each other, eye to eye as Delta wears an entertained smirk across her face as comfortably as a piece of clothing before she leans in towards him.

"No, Siro. You won't."

She giggles playfully to herself and places her hand under his chin to force his face closer, as Delta follows up with another kiss.

Grinning, she places her index finger over his lips to tease him, before she continues.

"That's just not the kind of man you are."


"You'll have to excuse us for being a little skeptical, Antonio. Especially considering the shit your man pulled on us the last time."

Sergeant Isabel Carsedine crosses her arms and snarks at Antonio Pacinotti as the sunlight shining in from a high window reflects off of the goggles on her forehead. Dismissively, he leans back in his chair smoking a cigarette as his brother Angelo cautiously holds his Tommy Gun before glancing over to Fernando and the half a dozen men accompanying him.

"Sergeant, that's enough. I'll handle it from here."

Major Verden lowers his automatic shotgun in a call for calm and order. He's unable to resist a sigh as he looks to his right at her only to hear a snicker escape Captain Quinn's lips behind him. Carsedine was a good and efficient soldier. As long as the plan was sound, she would go above and beyond in the line of duty. She always had, and he knew she always would. On the other hand, if there was a flaw with his decision making, she would make no secret of it before they left. Her honesty could be savage, but at the end of the day, he appreciated that she knew when to draw the line. Still, while he knew he could count on her in a pinch, her rather low tolerance for 'bullshit' as she liked to so eloquently put it, led to her having a temper as red hot as her hair was.

"It looks like you need to remind your fellow soldiers about keeping in line, Major."

A puff of smoke blows out from behind Antonio's lips as he calmly and collectively scans his subordinates. His stomach growls, and he clears his throat to try and keep the charade going in the hopes that the Lavrick Company doesn't sense his anxiety. He may have held a numbers advantage both inside the musty room he called his office, and throughout the city, but for all of their personality quirks, he knew that Major Verden's group were far more trained and than he or any of his men could ever be. When he had instructed Diego to handle the situation involving the massive drop in place of Angelo, the absolute last action he'd thought his associate would take would be to try his hand at eliminating people they had deals with. The countless migraines he'd received from trying to figure out just how he was going to possibly clean up Diego's mess without getting not just the Lavrick Company against him, but without another group using them to usurp him were never ending. As he peers down at the pile of already smoked cigarettes that line the makeshift tray in front of him, he feels more tempted than ever to stop delegating altogether.

"My comrades are intelligent enough to know not to pull anything crazy, Antonio. Nobody goes into business for themselves. All of us are working as one. This isn't the first instance of one of your people acting on their own."

Verden looks over his shoulder towards Quinn's direction, causing the man to brush his long shaggy dark hair behind him with a sigh.

"We've been more patient and forgiving than a lot of other people would be, but let me clear up what the Major's trying to say. One of your men shot and tried to take out Carsedine. Now, as much as I think she can be a loud mouthed pain in the ass, there has to be consequences for something like that if we're going to try and do business again. Her arm's still a little bit sore after all."

Carsedine shoots daggers towards both of them with an angry glare as Antonio leans forward. He rubs his temple as the chair creaks.

"Diego is dead, Captain. I lost a number of men and sub-groups during that whole operation. You still have your entire squad intact, so don't you think we've paid enough?" Antonio pauses to clear his throat, scanning the room again before locking eyes with Verden. "There is one thing weighing on my mind right now though, Major."

"And just what might that be?"

"You talk about all of you 'working as one', but you seem to be a little down on manpower right now. I can spot you, the Captain, Sergeant Carsedine, and even the Corporal peeking out from behind big ol' Sergeant Amstead, for sure. The thing is though, where's that Lieutenant of yours? I thought I was going to be entertaining six guests, not just five."

Verden crosses his arms and taps his fingers as his face settles into an expression of disappointment.

"Come on, Antonio. Are you really going to start asking about things you already know the answer to?"

"What are you...?"

The realization hits him as Antonio turns his head towards the window on the makeshift office as an unsettling silence sinks in. The tiniest flicker of light reflecting towards him makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up on end as a bead of sweat runs down the side of his brow.

With a look of smug satisfaction, Carsedine briefly fiddles with the goggles on her forehead and answers the elder Pacinotti's concerns with a slow, knowing nod. As much as she wanted to put a bullet between his eyes right there and then for Diego's actions, the temptation to watch him squirm as they tried to work out negotiations was simply too much for even a soldier like her to pass up. At the end of the day, one of his men had still thought that it was the greatest of ideas to go and try to make some kind of attempt on her life, as ill advised and poorly conceived as that idea had ultimately proven to be.

"You may want to stay seated for the time being, Mr. Pacinotti." Captain Quinn recommends lackadaisically. "Jorgi doesn't really like to take chances on things like this. He's got an itchy trigger finger, you know."

"I keep telling you not to call me that, Captain."

The Lieutenant's disgruntled voice cracks over Quinn's earpiece as he adjusts the position of it with a free hand. Opting to ignore the ongoing banter beside him, Verden scans over the various mobsters throughout the room. Angelo rolls his eyes back towards Verden to avoid meeting his stare and taps his foot impatiently. Whatever actions needed taking weren't his problem, he figures, between still being unable to figure out in the world Diego had even been thinking. As far as he was concerned, none of this would have happened if Antonio had listened to him and decided against giving some of his squads to Diego. Even though he was as far from heartbroken over Diego getting a brand new hole in his head, Angelo couldn't help but be pissed off as he bites his lower lip. He'd lost some good men over the whole screw-up, and all he could do was pick his jaw up off the floor when the survivors came hobbling back with their reports.

"You know, you've really got a lot of balls pulling a stunt like this on me. I'm not sure whether to respect your guts, or hate every smug piece of you for putting me in this position."

"You should be lucky we're reasonable, otherwise we'd be putting you in the ground."

Carsedine shoots back at Antonio, making no attempt to hide the disdain she has for him in her voice as she speaks. As much as she knew that the Major was right about them having to keep their composure on the situation, the fact remained that Sergeant Carsedine didn't think she could fully be satisfied until she got to exact some sort of payback for what happened. Normally, she would've capped Diego herself in response to him even considering going against their agreement like that. Lieutenant Jorgston had dropped him within seconds of Diego taking the shot, which left her having to find another way to make things even.

As Antonio contemplates grabbing another smoke, Angelo narrows his eyes with what precious little remains of his patience leaving him. He had no desires to stand there and deal with Carsedine's hotheadedness while Verden and Quinn decided this would be the perfect time to lecture them. There was already a mess that he needed to clean up with that crazy doctor that Angelo wasn't looking forward to. Evidently, Diego and his men had tried to intimidate Doctor Choi, so he'd decided to increase his rates when treating those associated with the Pacinotti name, and now Angelo had to smooth that entire thing over too. There was no surprise then, that he simply wanted this entire situation over and done with already.

"Calm it down, lady. Okay?" Angelo's head shakes as he rolls his eyes and pats down his dress shirt. "If you're going to be wasting any more of our time, with this idle threat crap, then how about you show yourselves out?"

"Major, I'm picking his obnoxious ass. He'll do."

A few strands of hair fall over the straps of the tactical goggles on Carsedine's head as she turns to look at Verden. Her hand points straight at Angelo, with her stance tensed up and firm, showing Angelo that whatever she had in mind, she was completely serious about. The sight of Major Verden's expression gradually softening into an expectant and satisfied smile only told him that he really wasn't going to like this. Before he can press the issue though, Antonio interjects himself into the discussion again.

"What the hell are you two babbling about now?"

Verden picks at a spot in the middle of his chin as he looks across the desk, looking remarkably smug as he does so. If nothing else, he felt confident on who was in control of the situation, that much was certain.

"Oh, nothing too serious, Antonio. It's just before we came here, all of us had a nice long chat on what the best way to make things even was gonna be. We finally figured out that hey, since one of your guys shot Carsedine here in the arm, it'd be nice and simple if she gets to return the favour to one of your guys."

"Who the hell do you think you are?!"

Antonio slams his fist down on the desk and rises to his feet, as the wrinkles on his brown dress shirt partially flatten out. He clenches his jaw from underneath his dark beard and growls, leering at the Lavrick Company with his eyes showing no lack of unbridled outrage. The murmurings of uncertainty from his men talking under their breath amidst themselves made it perfectly clear that none of them were stepping up to volunteer and take Angelo's place or offer some sort of alternative. Moments like these were the ones that made him wonder why he even bothered wasting his time sheltering and employing them in the first place.

"We're the ones in control here, Pacinotti." Quinn responds curtly, as he taps the earpiece he wears on the right side of his head. "Surely, you're not going to make the Lieutenant get involved here, are you?"

Further angered, Antonio kicks a trash bin next to his desk over, as he returns to cursing Diego for leaving him to deal with everything here.

"So you think that just means I'm going to let you waltz into my house like you own the place, and shoot someone from my family?"

"Someone from your family shot someone from ours, on your watch. How do you keep forgetting that, Antonio?"

Antonio's eyes pierce straight through to Captain Quinn, doing everything within their power to try and bore holes into him out of payback for trying to make a mockery of him. This was ridiculous, and yet, thanks to a flickering red dot that had appeared on the desk in front of him, he had to appease them if he didn't want his brains splattered all over the nearest wall.

"Need I remind you again that I didn't even make that call? So you should take your bitching to someone-!"

"How the hell is everybody acting like I don't get a goddamn say in whether I get shot or not? This ain't even my business!"

Angelo cuts in before Antonio can even finish his sentence. Here he was, off to the side dealing with some of his own men snickering at him and trying to contain laughter over the way he was being talked about like some sort of sick hospital patient. He swears that he sees Carsedine's face twist into an angry snarl to where he wouldn't have been surprised if steam seeped out from her ears. Verden turns to her and nods, before turning, unflinching to Antonio.

An excruciatingly long and tense few seconds pass before Antonio lets out a frustrated and resigned sigh that seems to scream 'screw it', as Major Verden eyes a pistol he has strapped to his belt.

"You know we're actually doing you a favour, when we could've made things a lot worse, so just give it up already, Pacinotti."

"Fine." Antonio spits back, looking up to the ceiling as Angelo's stomach clenches. "Just get the damn thing over with."

Satisfied, Verden unclips his pistol and passes it over to a disturbingly eager looking Sergeant Carsedine, as her machine gun hangs over her back. Flicking the safety from on to off again a few times, she smirks as she points the barrel towards Angelo's right shoulder.

"It's about damn time, Major. Maybe now he'll finally shut up for a bit and give everyone a few days of peace and quiet."

"Hey, this is ridiculous!" Angelo yells back, desperately trying to avoid the sharp, and messy bite of hot lead. "I never agreed to this shit!"

As she tilts her head and pulls back the hammer of the gun from squeezing the trigger, Carsedine turns stone faced as a strand of hair falls over her left eye.

"Relax, Angelo. You'll live."

BANG!


Geoffrey Erickson stands inquisitively as the steam from the cup of coffee in his right hand rises into the surrounding air. The lights of his on-site office shine down onto the grey carpet as his desk chair sits wheeled back from his thick mahogany desk. There was never a dull moment in The Compound, and that fact is only reinforced by the sights displayed on the monitors that line the wall. His eyes scan over The Revenants using a pair of old wheelbarrows to push numerous crates and barrels into a small single-storey warehouse, as a young woman in a black hood wielding a pair of handheld sickles bows down before a bird monument made of concrete and wire.

He lets out a deep breath and sticks his free hand into the tan dress pants that accompany his matching suit. The entire experiment had been one gigantic gamble when his father started everything, and now here he stood, making yet another potential gamble again.

"I hope you understand what sort of message you're sending with our recent actions, Geoffrey. This could be used against us if people start to push."

Alexander Matthews paces impatiently behind Erickson, a hand on the side of his chin, as he voices his growing concerns. Both of them were entering uncharted territory and while Erickson saw nothing but an extra layer of excitement that people would embrace, Matthews had far more reservations about the possibility of major long term ramifications. These consequences appear to be of little concern to Geoffrey as he takes a small testing sip of his coffee.

"The message we're sending Alex, is that just about anything can happen in Kuber's Compound. We're showing the world an extra layer of unpredictability that will get people talking."

"You mean to say that you're not worried the fans will think something is fishy? We both know there's many among our viewers who subscribe to conspiracy theories as it is. This sort of thing is only going to put a lot of fuel on that kind of thinking."

Erickson sighs. It was true that the Compound's fan-base was a rather rabid one. After all, had they not been, then it was almost certainly safe to say that the program wouldn't have been as successful and popular as it was. The comfort that the production crew had been afforded when it came to improving and expanding the grounds over the past two and a half decades would not have been there had the viewers lost interest years ago. For that reason, it was imperative that he ensured the viewing experience was as captivating for their fans as possible.

"You're overthinking things again." He responds, as if to wave away the notion. "The only risk we have to worry about with the audience is if something unfortunate happens and this is snuffed out too early. Even then, everything can still work out. Just look at what happened with the Escape Pass and how that's still in play."

"Say you're right about the viewers, Geoffrey. What about our sponsors though?"

Geoffrey lowers his hand into the pocket of his dress pants and narrows his eyes. As he thinks over the question, his eyes turn towards another pair of monitors. While the first shows an uncomfortable Ashleigh Steigner attempting to ask and Anna Nari for something, a second displays Siro and Seth exchanging words with a concerned Yoriko. Eriza and Merrick briefly enter the screen, only to turn their heads towards something out of sight and return to their previous location, looking less than enthused.

"What about the sponsors? As long as we're able to fully pull profits and make their continued endorsements financially beneficial, this shouldn't be anything for them to concern themselves with."

"Our actions could be seen as going against our contracts with not just them, but with some of the legal and governmental groups we needed approval from." Matthews lowers both his head and his voice as he tries to make himself heard. "Your father...he's always thought it best if we simply act as observers of the events transpiring in the Compound so we can document and broadcast it. This could very easily be seen as a clear case of us as members of Production interfering directly to impact the outcome were they to find out."

Momentarily, Erickson pauses from Alexander's words and raises his head towards the ceiling. A part of him knew full stop that Alexander Matthews was right. Kuber's Compound as a concept had been faced with many legal hurtles to overcome. Everybody involved could only breathe a sigh of relief as the populace as a whole had quickly changed its tune and become far more accepting of its benefits, if nothing else over the past ten years. That change in mentality had only proven to be beneficial, as the adjustments and tweaks that had been brought in, along with perks and possible advantages such as the Escape Pass were easier selling points as a result than they might have otherwise been. Still, there was kind of grey area that they had to operate within every so often, that much was certain.

"Then I guess we'll have to keep as tight lipped about the situation as we can." He takes another deep breath. "The same is going to have to be the case for the team that handled and dealt with them directly. An opportunity like this doesn't just fall into our laps all the time. We'd be pretty silly not to take advantage of a chance when it presents itself."

Disappointed, Alexander can't help but pinch the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger as he groans. He understood that he was an older man now, and that indeed times were changing and evolving. However, there still had to be a place for the foundations that he and Geoffrey's father Gabriel had set in place over 25 years ago. If they strayed too far from their original goals, then there was no telling what might come to pass as a result of it.

"That's only half the problem, Geoffrey!" He pleads desperately. "The supplies and professionals in this facility were meant for helping us or the crew. I know full well that it's too late to turn things back now, and yes, I know we tried to balance it so that it's more fair, but we can't just get involved whenever we feel like it."

"I know, Alex, I know. You don't have to worry about that."

Matthews releases a sigh that he was unaware he'd been holding and slouches his shoulders forward slightly. Maybe there was still hope yet to stop Geoffrey from going too far after all. He owed Gabriel that much, so as long as the chance still remained, he was going to take it.

"We'll have to keep a closer eye on what they decide to do or tell people in there though. And what's more, we need to keep an ear to the ground when it comes to people's responses." He stops and adjusts his tie as Erickson looks over to him. "Just promise me one thing moving forward, Geoffrey. "

"Hmm? And what's that?"

Walking up to Geoffrey, and giving him a small pat on the shoulder, Alexander narrows his eyes.

"Promise me that you won't get carried away with these kinds of actions, and that you'll keep running them by me first."

"Alright, my friend. I promise." Geoffrey remarks, with a quiet chuckle to himself. "I'll keep myself grounded on these kind of ideas. Just trust me though, this is sure to stir up some attention."

Erickson's eyes focus to one of the monitors in front of him as he takes another sip of his coffee, and as a shadow begins to cross the alleyway on screen, he gives a slow nod of knowing satisfaction.


Next Chapter:

The most delicate of plans need the utmost of care. With information being more precious than gold, one simple mistake can cause everything to come crashing down. As a lone Raven's curiousity takes over, the time for action draws near, and the fuse will lead to a tipping point.

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Vermilion Eclipse