Authors notes.

First update in ages, sorry!

After my writers block my computer decided to die. Therefore I needed to buy a new one and that... needed money. A couple months later and I have a new computer and a new chapter.

Thank you for the reviews, everyone who has reviewed. Apologises if I haven't messaged you back to thank you properly. :-(

Thanks also to Verpine and 321Jaz who destroyed my spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. (If there are any left, tell me and I can make it right!)

Because of work and my social life etc. I can't pinpoint when a next chapter will come as my writing time has been reduced because of work. So rather than disappoint, I'll just say...

the next chapter will come, when its been written.

Chapter Twenty


_My sisters keeper

"Lord help the mister that comes between me and my sister..."

- Irving Berlin

Sunday 12th July 2294. 10.17 EST. The Citadel: Squires Classroom Beta: C Wing.

Maria and James were still in detention after waking the entirety of the C Wing squires from their free day slumber. He was sure that Richie Durga-Vegas' arm being broken by his sister had sometime to do with it also.

"Are you still mad?" James meekly asked his sibling.

"Shut up! I'm not talking to you! It's all your fault!" Maria cried in-between sobs. Those words hurt yet he tried not to show it.

"I didn't... sorry..." was also he managed to utter before turning silent again. A devilish gaze from Maria halted his attempt at repentance as to did the steeled glare of Senior Scribe Yearling, now fully clothed in front of James' detention class.

There were but two of them in the room. Both he and his sister Maria. James pondered morosely at how long they'd be confined for. He was getting restless and the young Lancaster wanted to make things right for his little sister too. His impatience at once got the best of him then as he asked the Senior Scribe that very question.

"How long do we have to stay here miss Yearling?" James queried, his words still quiet and weak.

"For as long as I deem it necessary. Why do you have a place to be squire?" Lancaster's head tutor questioned. He wasn't sure how to answer her so James simply shook his head in response.

"Hmm. I thought as much. Your sister broke another squires arm. She attacked another member of our Brotherhood. I don't know how it was in that vault of yours but here, that's inexcusable." Yearling said. Her words however shone no light onto why he was in detention as well.

Still the answer annoyed James, Maria was defending him not attacking Richie, he didn't know the real difference but there was one and that was important!

"But miss! Maria was defending me! Richie was going to h-" He started but a stern shush from the Senior Scribe promptly quieted the nine year old down.

"That may be the case. Right now it's being looked at but as of this very moment your both in detention. Is that clear squire Lancaster?"

In an overtone of resignation James replied, "Yes Senior Scribe..."

His Pip-boy was of course no longer donned upon his forearm. It lay on the desk in front of Yearling as too did Maria's. They were to be confiscated until further notice. Unlike in his other daily detentions he had nothing to focus on. Nothing to do. With his Pip-boy also gone James had no other outlet to distract his attention, so he started counting roof panels...

More minutes passed without a word from anyone. Only their breathing and Maria quiet sobs could be heard, as well as the muffled voices of other members of the Brotherhood moving along the expansive corridors outside the part workshop, part detention class.

James' roof panel count was at three hundred and fifty eight when the door of the confinement room opened vociferously. He jumped at the sudden startling noise as hardened steel and oaken wood hit the concrete wall, shuddering the classroom slightly. His sister and Senior Scribe Yearling did also. Where as Maria went pale at the abrupt surprise, James' head tutor instantly rose to her feet in an attempt to lambaste the new arrival at the door.

Upon seeing who it was however she saluted immediately.

"Sentinel Vargas Sir!" James' head tutor said with a prompt haste.

Why is he here... the young Lancaster wondered curiously.

"Acting Elder until further notice Elora. Now why are these two here, on this day? Elder Lancaster's own children and late Elder Lyons own grandchildren?" Vargas' words sounded thunderously, almost angry. Yet his face and features were calm.

"But sir... Squire Maria Lancaster is accused of breaking another squires arm. She openly admits to it, though she said it was in defense of her brother." Head tutor Yearling said.

It was obvious to even James that she appeared uncomfortable at their superiors entrance and questioning.

"So you've put both squires in detention for an offense only one was a part of? Is that correct Senior Scribe?"

Instead of an answer only a plethora of mumbling came forth from the Senior Scribes mouth.

"What was that? I can't hear you Senior Scribe. How about we both forget the fact you've punished an innocent Squire as well as an apparently guilty one and just let them have the free day. It's their first week here after all."

Yearling nodded solemnly at Vargas words, yet he could see a fury in her eyes that he'd never witnessed before.

"Yes, sir." was all she uttered before the acting Elder spoke to her again. His words were soft this time, with a sense of familiarity and friendship to them.

"Elora... my good friend. Are you going to spend all this day making sure they stay in this room? We have more important matters. Priority Alpha. Meet me in the Great hall, something's come up."

Vargas paused momentarily then, his attention turning to Maria.

"Squire. Do you speak the truth? Was it in defense of a fellow Squire?"

"Yes! He was going to punch James! I didn't want that to happen!" His sister said, still defiant as ever. Maria's tears had dried upon her reddened cheeks and her hair too was all a mess, even so it appeared not to bother her in the slightest.

"Hmm, do we punish our own for protecting our own? Yet at the same time punish our own for hurting our own? What would you have me do Squire?" Vargas queried. Maria's mouth moved but she closed it before words escaped them.

Again she tried, this time his sister spoke with a sense of uncertainty. It was unlike her.

"Err... I... don't know. Elder...knight sir. I would... instead praise the protector but punish the person who wanted to hurt the other."

Vargas smiled mildly at Maria words.

"Yes. But not today. Today is your free day. Now go. And take those Pip-boys with you."

And so they did. Maria was smiling now, cheerful almost as they exited the detention room to venture to only they knew where, her tears had also stopped but it was still written across her face that she'd wept recently.

Even with his sisters uplift in mood, James felt that something was amiss. He just couldn't place it. He'd noticed the look of Senior Scribe Yearling before exiting. He noticed the worry upon her face, it was plain to see. Vargas' words had changed her emotions from anger to concern and shock.

How had they done that?

He didn't answer. His own questions would wait. They were free for the day.

"What are we going to do now?" James simply asked, taking his mind off of his unseen misgivings and back to his seen ones. His sister had been angry at him before, he hoped she wasn't now. James also wished that she'd speak to him once more.

"Look at the Old bot?" James' sister replied. Her answer brought a smile across his face.

She's talking to me again! She's not mad!

Unfortunately though, judging by the time; he'd already come up from the ground and out of the Citadel.

"He's already gone Maria." He said sorrowfully. Despite it upsetting his sister more so, it made her grin more pronounced.

"Ah well. Lets explore! We're sure to find something fun to do, without all the other squires."

James' smile to broadened at those words. He was in full agreement.

"The Lancaster kids: Citadel adventures! It'll be fun! And... I promise not to mess with my Pip-boy either."

"Good!" Maria replied. "I'm still mad at you for that! Don't think our off the hook." She pouted and mouthed without a sense of madness. After that she playfully punching him in the shoulder.

It hurt slightly. For once however, James didn't mind.

"That's what I saved you from mister. Richie would have knocked your head off. I swear it, I do!"

He laughed. Knowing full well what Maria said was probably true.

We protect each other. My sister and me. Together always and forever. Like a family should be.


"We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time and the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep."

- Queen Elizabeth II. House of Windsor.

Pennsylvania Wasteland: Shawnee Manns. Outpost Yankee. 19:43 EST

"Report Knight Captain." Sarah words, although commanding were dripped with tiredness and fatigue.

A yawn from her before Knight Captain Louis Vallincourt spoke, made it clear that weariness had been setting in for sometime. She had hadn't slept since the early hours of the morning and it had been a rest of only a couple of hours. Then the attacks came.

It was the same for Vallincourt also, as well as many of her Steel Brothers and Sisters. CRsec had received staggered rests since the morning assaults but her Knights and Paladins had napped for merely an hour or two. The same as her. Only an excessive amount of Restco black coffee, Stim-pills and her own Power Armour kept her standing and awake.

"No movement as of yet from the north or west. Citadel Command know we are here however, alive and as well as can be. Sentinel Vargas is asking if more Brothers and Vertibird's are needed. We have provisions for two months, four if we go to half rations. Enough water for one but with the nearby source that would now be far more. Pack Brahmin can sustain us even longer with milk and meat, if the need arises."

The Knight Captains words were heavy yet quick, Sarah sensed the underlying impatience in them.

He wants to strike now. To save his sister.

She would have done the same, yet Sarah had no blood siblings to test that view on, only Steel siblings. The urgency was greater Elder Lancaster knew, but blood wasn't thicker than Steel. Yet it made the bonds stronger. More lives than Cecillia Vallincourt hanged in the balance if she erred in her decision making.

"Good. Our provisions are in order then. Is our perimeter sufficiently strengthened now Colonel?"

Colonel Henshaw of the Riveter 3rd Battalion was a stocky men, of balding hair. This lack of protection had reddened his head in the wasteland sun, giving it an almost unholy crimson shade. Sarah tried not to stare at the burnt and blistered skin while he spoke. Thankfully she succeeded.

"Our Construction bots have raised walls of scrap, stone and wood around the defensive line following the paths of the trenches. I believe the Arch-commons have been working on Sentry towers upon Point November also, one is completed, while another two are being raised. It's a wonder that so much material is so close at hand Elder. What with the Shawnee marshes near us."

Yes. An Oasis so close, that we're now ripping apart for wood, stone and everything else. The thought annoyed her, it was counter to everything the Codex stood for, at least Sarah believed that. Civilization couldn't be rekindled without nature alongside it...

But all she said was "Good. Carry on Colonel." He did so. Sarah had already heard his report but for the others it was new information.

With Elder Lancaster now were Knight Captain Vallincourt and Colonel Henshaw in her makeshift command tent, others also joined them. Colonel Michelle Pacion of the Arch-commons 2nd Battalion stood across from her. A portable metal table and a local map of the area lay between them.

Sarah noted her to be a hard but brave women who's voice cut like serrated Steel. It matched her nickname 'Machete'.

Machete Pacion or Colonel Machete the men of Canterbury Commons call her.

The name suited the women well, she reasoned.

What is my nickname to the men under me? Or am I simply 'Elder'? Probably not.

Knight Captain Artemis was in attendance as was Major John Dickson.

The Major all that was left of the 10th Riveters 2nd Battalion. His wounds were clearly painful, she saw for he winched at many of his movements. Apprentice Brandice helped him to be seated and despite his protests the Major stood up anyway, like everyone else around him. Sarah had misgivings of the Major's health after so soon a time but he was adamant. He should of still been in triage but Elder Lancaster had relented.

'Elder with all due respect. If I can talk, walk and piss by myself. I'm sure a meeting won't kill me.'

Sarah had seen him do the former two yet she simply took his words for the latter. His information though, would be crucial, and he was right. A command meeting wouldn't kill the Major, maybe only bore him to death...

I used to hate these when I was younger. Now Elder Lancaster knew the reasoning behind them.

At least the Republic's military doesn't twiddle its thumbs and speak words that mean little to nothing. The politicians do enough for everyone.

When CRsec spoke, they did things, as they should. Much like her Brotherhood. Objectives were made and set, then they were accomplished. It was as simple as that. Sometimes however the Brotherhood hid things... or conceal the truth.

And this was one of those times.

Marie... Marie Ashur. I know her as. Louis too because of their blood connection. Yet no one else. How do I tell my other officers and my Steel Brothers that our enemy is a child of one of our own?

Many believed Cecillia Vallincourt was in the Pitt to act as a liaison between the old Capital's new state and the one in Pennsylvania. Which was true from a certain point of view. Anyone could of done that, yet Cecillia was a cousin, a family member to the young Marie. Someone she could look to for guardianship, guidance and even motherly love.

Why betray that? Unless...

Sarah inwardly recoiled, no doubt a clear grimace appeared upon her features too.

"Elder?"

The named title broke her thoughts. She looked around. It appeared Colonel Henshaw had finally finished updating everyone.

"Thank you Colonel. Now, Major. Do you believe yourself well enough to tell us what you saw?" Sarah politely asked, forgetting her past musings.

With a wearied inhalation of breath and a strained nod of the head Major Dickson began. Oft stopping at times for a brief respite.

"It was the same tour as any other Elder... Colonel Henshaw will tell you when he's on the Trail escort. We rested up at Century Square as always. Just outside of the Pitt. Small town... but the guards there paid us no mind. Friendly bunch like always... then we moved up to the Mount, Olivers mount and the Pitt's first gate..."

Dickson paused as if in recollection. Then after wincing at a pang of pain from his wounds, the Major continued with gritted teeth.

"The gates were closed they said. Upon further orders. It was the same Captain of the gates as always yet he felt different... my bones tingled then. It felt wrong. They had us there, waiting in line. Pack Brahmin and water merchants in the center of us too. 'Hand over your supplies. Upon orders of Queen Marie.' he finally said. 'Only when we have the munitions', Colonel Stanley said back... then the shooting started. Not from the gates but from the ruins and buildings to our flanks. Most of us went down then. The colonel, he... took a bullet to the neck. Dead before he hit the ground."

"Who attacked you then?" Sarah queried.

"Hell if I know Elder but I can guess. The guys on Oliver's mount just watched. The Captain just watched, the bastard. Watched us die from afar."

A spat of coughing from Dickson followed then, apprentice Brandice moved to help but he waved the young scribe away.

"They watched as we were gunned down. I saw glimpses of the attackers... Teched up. Good armour they had, weapons too. We couldn't see them proper but for the red. So that's what we shot at. We held our own... then the 'bird's came. Three of um, blasting out machine gun and missile fire. I... called the retreat... they followed us, what was left. Twenty fell back with me to Century square, we all ran. Ran the furthest I've ever gone in my whole damn life. When I got there, no one followed. The Bird's cut um down. Slaughtered us. All the while playing music. Fuckin music! Old, old music, stuff from before the war. It was Enclave no doubt about it."

Apprentice Brandice chirped up then, his curiosity appeared to peak. "Major... what music? Can you describe it? Pre-war knowledge is the Quill's to know."

"God above! You want me to sing it?" Dickson replied, with a cut of cynicism.

"No...no... just. How did it go?" The apprentice once again asked.

"Well... it had no words. Not that I heard. Just sounds... drums I think, those instruments people used to bang I guess. A whistle too. Like a whistle. That came first... then the drums, both of um at once. Them and the whistle."

"Yankee doodle? Was it that?" Brandice quizzed curiously.

For Steel's sake I hope not. If its the Enclave...

"Not that, Jesus it wasn't that, I heard enough of that when I was a kid on that fuckin Radio, that and Eden! But I could of put of with that. It was different. It was something... something else."

A slow hum came from Dickson then. Sarah didn't recognise it, it appeared however that Apprentice Brandice did. Yet all he uttered was a single word.

"Impossible."


"There's forty pennies on the drum

For those that volunteered to come

To live and fight for another day

Over the sea's and far away

O'er the sea's and o'er the waves.

To Erie, Albany and Maine

Our King commands and we obey

Over the sea's and far away.

Through storm and torrent , wind and hail

We landed here, we shall prevail

We shall stand and we shall stay

Over the sea's and far away.

(Chorus)

Now though I travel far from home

I know that I am not alone

For we are Kings-men, we'll not sway.

Now o'er the sea's and far away.

(Chorus)

So fall in lads behind the drum,

With colours blazing like the sun,

Along the wastes to come-what may,

Over the seas and far away.

(Chorus)

When traitors defy us on the land,

I'll neither hold nor stay me' hand,

But to fight to win a better day,

Over the seas and far away.

(Chorus)

If I should fail to raise no more,

As many comrades did before,

Ask the pipes and drums to play

We'll hear them, O'er the sea's and far away.

(Chorus)

When Britannia fell, I did not stray

I stood me ground and made them pay,

Against our foes that did betray,

Over the seas and far away.

(Chorus)

And when our children take her back,

They will not falter, they will not crack,

When our King commands, we will obey,

Over the seas and far away."

- Royalist song of the Eternal War, adapted from the 18th Century recruitment song by George Farquhar.

Annesplace. Eastport: Chesapeake bay-side. 22:14 EST.

Dark, damp, and wet. Those were the perilous conditions Malcolm now found himself in. His detention room certainly earned its name. A water cell. He hated water, and combining it with enclosed spaces made it hellish for his psyche. The Steel Regulator had, had many a nightmare of Vault 101 flooding, leaving him drowning and unable to swim anywhere. Yet it could have been worse, for he could see the full spectrum of the outside world.

Besides I could be dead or at the Centre again... damnnit to hell I'm still just as helpless here! Malcolm realized.

He'd been imprisoned for what felt like weeks but the sunlight that continuously bombarded him through the serrated bars and the moonless nights that then followed allowed Malcolm to recognise the time of his incarceration. The sun had finally gone down sometime before, minutes or hours ago? He couldn't say. It was night time now however.

Three days, and now three nights. Still countin'.

His caged cell was held half aloft via a crane upon the chilled waters of the Chesapeake. His now naked body was submerged always to waist height, sometimes more depending on the tide. Only holding onto the rough cutting roof's metal bars at those times stopped himself from drowning. His hands and arms were cut and bloodied because of it, that however was his saving grace. When the waters around him began to turn a crimson hue, the Steel Regulator was brought back ashore. It had happened three times thus far and the newly made cuts of tonight made it his third time, the Annenite's were in the process of bringing him back to land once again. At those times they'd give him basic medical attention such as rad-away and anti-hypothermic medicines, as well as burn ointments for his legs, groin and chest. Rashes had come forth everywhere on his body because of the prolonged exposure to the mildly acidic waters. Foodstuffs and drinks to stave off dehydration and malnutrition were also given to him.

They want me alive...

Why Queen Anne had kept him alive was another matter entirely however.

He'd seen the grizzly spectacle two days before, the Regulator believed that was in store for him also.

Malcolm's viewpoint was probably the best in all of Annesplace. The Democracy had fired upon a pair of derelict old patrol boats, which had been floating not two hundred metres from his location. There were people in each, members of the Brotherhood of Steel gagged and tied, six had been hoisted onto vertical pillars that stuck out of the boats bow like ravenous teeth of the dreaded deathclaw. They were killed for 'Crimes against the state', the Annenite's said to him. 'Murder' was what he said to them.

The blinding light that came with the blast, the following shock-wave and torrent of water that followed nearly had the wearied Regulator at deaths door. He couldn't see, he couldn't breath and it was a surprise to say the least when his cage began to ascend from the depths.

Did they do the same to Artemas? Was he one of those ships the Democracy fired on, only I couldn't see him?

The Steel Regulator didn't know, nor did he know the fate of Will the Regulator. Worst of all he didn't know if Victoria was alive or dead. That was what hurt the most. It had played upon his mind and heart for the entirety of his captivity.

"Dear Lord, if your listenin' to this broken man right now, I hope you've saved them. They're good people. Good people that don't deserve that fate! They need to live, they have too! Please, please lord make it so."

I hope that's enough.

Moments later Malcolm's cell was again placed upon the pier. Dry land once more, a respite from his own version of hell. When the cage hit the concrete he simply slumped to the metal floor, forgetting his modesty. He was exhausted and his captors had already gotten an eyeful on the first day. Malcolm's eyes closed immediately and for a brief few seconds he fell asleep.

"Regulator Raymond. Wake up."

It wasn't the command that brought the Steel Regulator back to consciousness but the voice. His eyes starred and with help of the dimly lit pier he could make out the ceremonial dress of the Annesplace guard.

Not just any guard. Halsey... Admiral Halsey.

His words but a murmur brought a similar statement from the female.

"Wake up. Mister Raymond, wake up."

With his body and mind upon the precipice of collapse, he couldn't, there was only so much a person could do on willpower alone and his had been eroded constantly in the Chesapeake's cold, burning embrace. His eyes drew back once more, while sleep and its inherent darkness took him.

'His burns have been tended to. Radiation levels are at acceptable levels. No lasting damage. If I may speak freely Admiral?'

'No you may not. Wake him up doctor. He's had enough rest.'

'Yes Ma'am!'

He could hear voices again. Two females this time, one of them the Admiral's, of that his mind was fairly certain. After a few moments his eyes, once trapped shut from sheer exhaustion opened once more.

'He's awake Admiral.'

'Good, leave us and remove the guards from the entrance. Bring them back when I leave.'

'Ma'am?'

'That's an order doctor.'

'But... Admiral this man is under my care, I can't-'

'You can and you will. Out. Now.'

'Yes Ma'am...'

The interchange between the two still felt like a fever dream to him. As his eyes fully opened he could see the same uniform again. It was indeed Admiral Halsey. The second occupant of his new environs had indeed removed themselves. He was in a medical bay or something akin to one. The Annenitie's brought him here for treatment. Of course he was strapped down to an examining table, they'd done the same previously.

"Regulator Raymond can you hear me?"

He mumbled in agreement. It appeared the Admiral understood.

"Good." She moved closer to him then, her mouth now almost touching his left ear. Her next words came out in but a whisper. Even with such close proximity he could scarcely hear her voice.

"Tell me true. Did the Brotherhood do this?"

No! Hell No! Malcolm thought. Yet all he could do was shake his head slightly.

"I believe you. Your friend says the same. I... believe him too."

"...Who...?" The Steel Regulator replied. One of his first coherent words since his prayer to the Lord almighty before.

"Philip, Knight Artemas you call him. I know you both speak truly. For what its worth your friend is alive." a paused ensued then from Halsey that felt almost eternal.

"Your other Regulator colleagues haven't been found. They may still be alive too."

With those words, Malcolm's hope lifted yet before he could ask his own questions, Queen Anne's second retreated towards the doorway, leaving him alone in the sterile white room. Minutes passed before he again had the strength to speak again.

"Thank you Lord. Thank you..."

"Ha! He's not the one getting you out of this fuckin' Matriarchal piss-town. Fuckin' women."

It was another familiar voice. One Malcolm had tagged immediately. The hoarse, gravelly accent gave him away.

"Lockheart... bastard. You..." his words failed him as his own bodies tiredness again took hold.

"Ah ha! Charmed fucking charmed. Still as the princess commands I'll obey. Your coming with me kid."

What? How? Had he heard right?

"What?" The Regulator uttered wearingly.

"You. Are. Coming. With. Me. Kid."

Malcolm felt the straps upon his wrists and ankles loosen, followed shortly by the ones placed on his thighs, waist and chest. Then a jab into his left thigh sent a shot of pain through his body.

"Jet kid, one of those new syringe types. Now wake the fuck up and get these bloody clothes on."

It was the same sensation as the one he felt in Big Town. With a grunt and a growl Malcolm sat up. His wearied muscles felt renewed, almost invigorated. The next thing he knew Malcolm was on his feet, and with his new found awareness he went straight for his target. The Regulators hands were immediately around the ghouls neck trying to snap it, yet he ended up on the floor almost instantly.

"Ugh... uh! Well then! Ha! Nice try kid. Seriously don't fucking do that again. Now get dressed. I have a pretty pissed off wench waiting for you."

The Steel Regulator returned to his feet once more but before he decided to try and break Lockhearts necrotic neck a second time, he noticed the suppressed ten millimetre pistol pointing towards his head.

"I said. Don't. Try. That. Again! Now the princess bitch Vic said to rescue you. Which means she wouldn't want you dead but a bullet in the knee wouldn't kill you. Now get dressed. Don't make me fucking say it again."

Those words got him moving and thinking. His mind went in overdrive whilst he put on some very inauspicious red clothing.

Vic? Victoria? She's alive! Why would Lockheart help her...?

Without saying another word the Steel Regulator followed the ghouls instructions. After a few more minutes, Malcolm was now wearing a pair of long brown boots, near black trousers which held a vertical yellow stripe upon both thighs, followed finally by Brahmin undergarments and armored vest as well as a scarlet tunic that matched the color of fresh blood.

"And the Stetson kid." Lockheart said assertively. "You don't wanna get shot by some pissed off fish wenches do you?"

Stetson? Clearly puzzled, Malcolm's face must of shown his confusion distinctly.

"The fucking hat boy. Put it on." He did so. Adjusting it slightly like his regulator hat of old.

"A proper Mountie? Well I'll be fucking damned! You look the part kid. Now move it out the door, I'll be behind you."

With momentary hesitation, concern and still rising confusion, Malcolm again followed the ghouls suggestions.

It's sure as hell better than hanging in the ocean all night!

The Steel Regulator cautiously exited the medical bay. With the door almost open he then noticed another question mark about this supposed rescue.

Blood...and bodies. Three of them.

Single bullet wounds in each of their heads. Two had their side-arms holstered, whilst another, the female that gave him daily medical attention was completely unarmed. They were taken by surprised.

The Admiral isn't here...did she have something to do with this?

"You killed the guards? The doctor too?" Malcolm queried, already certain of the answer.

"Of course I fucking did. You think they'd of let me walk you out of here any other way? Now watch the blood and shut the fuck up. Turn left then your first right, after that I'll show you to your princess."

Princess?

Victoria...


"Colonies do not cease to be colonies because they are independent."

- Benjamin Disraeli

Monday 13th July 2294. 02.44 EST. Inner Baltimore: The Under-tunnel's. Chesapeake Bay.

"Watch your step mister Lancaster. These tunnels are treacherous." Bryce Stanford rasped quietly and not unkindly.

Treacherous indeed. Chris Lancaster noted, after nearly stumbling in the pitch black darkness. He gritted his teeth and continued onwards.

Only three of the five rangers had accompanied the ghoul Stanford, Gallows and himself.

Monica had returned to Hollins center with the Rangers Brahmin, who Chris called Bessanette. The gentle bovine had continued to help them masquerade as merchants and caravan guards on their journey eastward. Whilst the young Kacie had stayed to look after Stanford's granddaughter Jennie as well as to keep the Auto-bar open.

Brick had informed him that both sweet Monica and the blonde haired Kacie were best used to gather intel from their foes, in their own territory. They had done as much in the years since the mauling of Baltimore.

They're spies for us, the Republic's agents.

Chris hadn't envisioned the Rangers evolving into such a group. Some of their members had essentially become deep cover operatives. It was welcome news. He'd left Major Reilly-Donovan and her right-hand women Brick to use their own initiative and they'd done much more than he'd realized.

Mason, Brick and Andrews of Reilly's Rangers were with him now, all of them following Stanford into God knows where. It may well have been the depths of hell itself but for the lack of any light, heat or brimstone.

It's pitch black, I can hardly see my hand even if I put it in front of my face.

The ghoul had taken them into a pre-war labyrinth of tunnels and passageways that ran underneath the Chesapeake bay. It had been used by auto-mobiles as well as other motorized land vehicles before the bombs fell. Now it reminded Sentinel Lancaster eerily of the Capital Wastelands ruined subway network.

Derelict and abandoned Corvegas, Highwaymen and other vehicles of the pre-war era had been piled up at the entrance of this particular tunnel. Bones too laced the through-way and its entry point. Some glowed a pallid sickening green in the darkness. The luminescence off these human remains happened to be the only light the ghoul had allowed. His Pip-boy light was off too because of this.

'There's feral's in these tunnels. Best not let them see you fella's. They'll rip you all apart and leave me all alone watching. Still they're not the worse kind of monster here. No, no, no. Who do ya think ate the owners of them bones?'

When Stanford had uttered those words, Chris had stopped, momentarily reeling. It may have been a trap, one he'd walked them easily into. Yet the Sentinel quickly waved the notion away.

One of the Ranger's care for his granddaughter. He won't betray us. Lancaster sincerely hoped that were true.

The first tunnel the motley group had entered into was dubbed the harbour tunnel by Stanford yet Chris saw no harbour, only a long, arduous tunnel. It connected onto a further tunnel and that was were they now happened to be.

The Fort McHenry tunnel. We must be close.

"Are we nearly there? We've been walking for five hours straight." Mason asked, a little too loudly for comfort. The Rangers voice carried dangerously in the dead and rotting passageways around them.

It echoed. "Ssstraighhht. Sttraighttt. Strrraighhhttt..."

Chris heard it clearly and immediately reached for Blackhawk.

Bryce's voice shushed him angrily but it was overshadowed by a set of louder noises.

A growling shriek followed by other similar sounds shot forth from around them. Wails and halting grunts and screams followed.

"Lights on! Weapons free." Chris commanded despite the words of Stanford before.

I can't shoot if I can't see.

Arm-fitted Flashlights sparked to life on the Rangers whilst Gallows twisted a flare, igniting it. The blazing incandescence hurt Chris' eyes somewhat but they adjusted quickly.

Stanford who had been in front of the small entourage began to track back, eventually standing shoulder to shoulder with the Sentinel.

His mottled and cracked skin was made to look all the more gruesome in the crimson-orange light. The ghoul looked at him then almost saddened yet it appeared more like a deathly grimace.

"'Let's hope your as good as they say you are Lancaster."

The next sound that followed was Eugene and her iconic whine.

"Their behind us Mister Brotherhood!" Brick yelled, as her vaunted weapon began to let loose.

"And ahead!" Gallows shouted as Eugene's melancholic song drowned out almost everything else. Even the shrieks that came forth from the Feral ghoul's now bearing down upon them could barely be heard.

He, Gallows and Stanford looked forward whilst, Mason, Andrews and the stalwart Brick covered their rear.

There's dozens of them. The Sentinel noted.

Chris brought Blackhawk to bear and then breathed deeply. Damp, stale air filled his lungs yet it calmed him.

He began to focus, concentrating upon the maddened feral's ahead of him.

Their movement seemed to slow drastically, as he began to aim his shots.

Closest first, ahead.

Blackhawk whistled thunderously and the first foe dropped within an instant. Some of those behind the pitiful feral tripped up as it's irradiated shell of a body fell limply to the dampened concrete below. Those that went down with the dead were finished off quickly by the regular blasts of Gallows' PPK12 Gauss pistol.

Second, third and fourth. To my left.

He breathed again, saturating his body with yet more oxygen. He noted their movement, analyzing the direction of travel and then fired.

Three .44 projectiles sprang forth rhythmically, racing well and true from Blackhawk's barrel.

Their impact was devastating. One feral was thrown back with the impact, it's muscle and sinew exploding away at the right shoulder in a macabre and sickly crimson ridden spectacle.

The second went down without an utterance as Chris' bullet ripped cleanly through what remained of the forgotten humans teeth, throat and rotten jawbone.

Then the third fell, the feral's head cascaded downwards as his shot sundered the ghouls spinal cord and what was left of it's decayed tendon's. The ghoul's facial features were a muted snarl of malevolence even in death.

Fifth, sixth. Ahead again.

The feral horde continued unabated as yet more and more fell to Gallows and Stanford's gunshots. He lined up his own, aiming calmly and with careful precision.

Blackhawk sang again. Two more bullets whistled away ripping into his targets. Both went down, their death flails impeding those that continued to race towards them.

Reload.

The Sentinel did so, gracefully and within mere seconds. Years of practice had made the transition from firing, reloading to firing again an effortless one.

Six more shots.

Lancaster' side-arm whistled twice again.

Two ghouls that had gotten within mere meters away from Stanford on his right collapsed suddenly as Blackhawk's musical tone continued.

"Glowing ghoul!" The shout came from Brick, as Eugene fell silent momentarily.

He turned, eying a hulking ghoul that brightly shone a sickly green, a color which vaguely appeared like the bones that lit their way beforehand.

Eugene opened up again. Her cacophonous dim once more filling the tunnels about them as Brick aimed for the glowing ghoul. Yet despite numerous hits from the mini-gun's projectile's it continued to move towards them.

He patted the shoulder of Gallows who stood to now to his right as he looked this time to the bio-luminescent feral encroaching to the rear.

"Cover our front." Sentinel Lancaster shouted, to make himself heard over Eugene' whine.

The Knight Captain nodded solemnly as his Gauss Pistol continued to rip through the feral's ahead.

The glowing one. Chris mentally prodded. It needs to go down.

He jumped onto the bonnet of a long decommissioned Corvega. One which had helped to guard their left flank. Lancaster was up quickly and again raised Blackhawk, aiming steadily at the ever encroaching glowing one. It was being lambasted and ridden with bullets from Brick. All the while green luminescent blood and horrid plasma flew every which way off of the mindless ghoul. It had lost one arm under Eugene's continuous fire but it still marched on.

Four shots. Head. All head.

He focused himself once more, the environment and feral's coming towards his mixed Republic group again appeared to slow as his movements and thoughts quickened. More oxygen filled his lungs, the stale taste now tinged with a sickly retching stench ridden flavor.

Blackhawk opened up, ferociously singing four more quick and deadly keynotes.

All hit, hammering into the glowing ones jaw, nasel pit and right eye socket, near simultaneously.

It's head arced back at the impact and not a moment later did it fly off the ghouls blazing corpse. It's body dropped meekly to the floor as the head hit the side wall of the tunnel, splattering grey-green matter, irradiated muscle and pastel bone in all directions.

Chris reloaded a second time but thankfully Blackhawk had done it's job.

Pained growls and fury ridden shouts came through from other feral's in the tunnels depths. The handful that remained... fled.

"What? What...? How?" He was lost for words. Feral ghouls had never done that, they were mindless beasts without capacity for reason or thought.

A further noise came forth in the feral's retreat. A veracious roar that shook the very foundations Chris stood upon. A predatory and monstrous sound.

No...

Stanford beckoned them to move, loudly. Ignoring the Sentinel's momentary confusion.

That's why they flee...

"Deathclaw! Run! Run! Run!"

They ran.