abby6_icon.gif aviators_icon.gif griffin_icon.gif megan_icon.gif raith_icon.gif rue_icon.gif

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Scene Title Gallows
Synopsis When a group of Ferrymen goes missing during a routine patrol, six volunteers set out after dark to find them and make a gruesome discovery.
Date February 3, 2011

North of New York City

Earlier, the wind had been worse than the snow. It roared in the trees, tore branches from the forest's defenseless saplings, and on Pollepel Island made the castle's narrow corridors scream with banshee shrillness, but that was hours ago when the patrol first set out and the sunlight still bled monochrome silver through churning clouds in a pale gray sky.

Tonight, the forest's pristine landscape would be illuminated by the glow of the moon if there was more than just a fractional sliver of it waxing crescent in the sky. The storm has passed, leaving a perfect stillness in its wake — the breeze fails to make the frozen braches in the trees even tremble, their limbs reinforced by a thick coat of ice like glittering sugar frosting that lights up under the beams of the search party's torches.

That patrol never came home. On the back of the white stallion Winchester, Rue Lancaster's arms hook around the waist of a man who was once close to her aunt, though she doesn't know it. The knot of her hands at his lower stomach distracts Raith less than the chill nipping at his nose and mouth, or the crunch of boots in the snow alongside him. They should have more horses, but the missing patrol took one, and the others are in desperate need of rest with long, haggard faces and thin stomachs where their ribs have begun to show. The next shipment of feed comes in Saturday — the small herd under the network's care need only wait until then.

Up ahead, a screech owl swoops low across the gnarled path and snaps talons around a mouse hiding in a ratty cluster of blackberry bushes that will bear fruit in the spring but have died down to the forest floor amidst the stinging nettles to wait for the thaw. Its shriek is small enough that no one hears it.

It's not as cold as it could be…. but it's certainly not warm either. Megan is bundled into thermal underlayers, which helps. Her heavy jacket is mostly waterproof, and her copper hair is bundled up inside a winter hat that's jammed down as far as it will go to keep her ears warm. The backpack with her med gear is secured, her handgun tucked at her hip, and the strap of the submachine gun keeps the weapon slung within easy reach. Considering what they found last time, she wants it accessible. But it's miserable traipsing through the snow and she's grateful for the extra socks that layer her feet inside her combat boots. From beneath a fleece scarf that has seen better days, Megan says over to Abby quietly, "I sure as hell hope they stuck to the patrol route or we're never going to locate them."

With his back resting against the bark of an old pine tree, Avi Epstein is hard to recognize in clothing suited for winter weather, cobbled together from the Goodwill-chic of the Ferrymen's limited clothing stores. A tattered sweater has been trimmed apart into a face wrap, pulled taught in black and gray stripes over his mouth and nose. A winter hat with furry ear flaps keeps his head warm, and aviator sunglasses don't quite work as well as snow goggles would to keep the wind and ice out of his one good eye, but better than nothing.

The heavy brown jacket he wears is patched over one shoulder with denim instead of with coarse brown material it's made out of. Work gloves are worn over thinner cotton gloves to try and provide layered warmth, though it makes for feeling the trigger of his battered old AK-47 difficult.

Breath passes as steam through Avi's face wrap, and snow is caked down his jeans from hid thigh onward. Somewhere below the thick snow, boots are cold and filling with snow around the neck. This isn't the worst winter he's had to deal with, but it is the one he's been worse prepared for. Flicking the flashlight he has duct-taped to the assault rifle, Avi shines it through a cluster of trees up ahead, trying to make out anything in the dark.

He's cold and damp enough to be unable to appropriately voice his dissatisfaction with this entire situation.

"We'll find them" Abby assures Megan. In what state, who knows, but they have something far better than any infrared helicopter or whatever else it is that the cops and search and rescue might have besides a whole lot more people.

Worst comes to worst, they find eileen and bird patrol starts. She glances over to avi when he pipes up about spring and Abigail just rolls her eyes at the man. "You know that Jeans is the worst thing to wear out here? The fabric gets wet from the snow and clings to your legs and then when you freeze, it freezes adn adhere's to your skin, and the only way to get them off is to trim them off and the skin attached?" Surely Avi knew this already?

Would explain why Abigail invested in a pair of snow pants before she'd come back to Pollepel yesterday. Boots, snow pants, her Russian jacket and her own internal heat up just enough occasionally to keep her warm. she holds the rifle in her hands, plowing through the snow with others wishing she'd had foresight to bring her snowshoes from last year. They were in a closet back in NY.

Griffin, as promised to his son, didn't stay away from Pollepel for long. A few things were taken care of, the last of his belongings were gathered from their hiding spots throughout the city, and he returned to Pollepel to be with Owain, and to assist the Ferrymen in any way that he can. Which is exactly what he is doing this lovely evening.

Not that Griffin particularly enjoys the weather. It always bothers his knee, which is wrapped in a heating pad beneath the layers of warm winter clothing. Since the snow and the potential situation is not quite ideal for a cane, Griffin is instead relying on his ability to keep his weight off of his bad knee. His feet still touch the ground, but on either side of him, handprints appear in the snow with similar crunches. They're strange— distorted, almost, and their cause is unseen, but they're there.

The rifle is…floating, pointed upwards, just behind Griffin's right shoulder.

Maybe under different circumstances, that screech owl would be a second set of eyes for them. Maybe it won't make that much of a difference, given the weather. They'll just have to do the bet they can with what they have, and Raith will be content knowing that, if nothing else, his elevated position makes it easier for everyone to see him in the event they stray too far from the group. The same gear the ex-spy once wore to Antarctica has again proven itself invaluable at keeping the chill at bay, even if it does sting his face where scarf and cap don't cover the skin. The M-14 hanging from his shoulder and the considerable bulk of Wilby at his hip provide reassurance that they'll be ready if they run into the Army. Or a bear. Megan words don't reach his ears, too quiet and too far away, but he would assure her they stuck to the route. He hopes. Like his brother-in-law, Raith finds his sunglasses, rounded lenses as opposed to the more military style of Avi standing in contrast (just like most everything else about him stood in contrast to the four of them back in the day), but are better than nothing.

His horse is cold. He is cold. But what else can they do but keep looking? "Keep the chatter down," he says. The captain is in charge, and whoever rides the horse is the captain. "Megan, move out to our right ten feet, see if anything of that way catches your eye but don't move off too far, or we'll never find you. Abigail, slide left the same distance. Griffin, get up in those trees if you can. Avi, move up thirty feet, scout the trail. Watch out for snares and bears."

It's almost an afterthought when Raith adds, "Unless you'd rather take the reins for a bit."

The beam of Avi's torch breaks up around spindly branches, creating thin wedges of light that spill out into the clearing on the other side of the trees. There are many like it along the route that the patrol usually takes, and an ideal place for the missing patrol to have stopped for a short rest and allowed their horse some water. Avi knows because the first thing he sees is the horse on its side, its long legs stiff in the snow and tail spread out behind it. Torchlight transforms the ribs beneath its pelt into a dome-shaped xylophone.

The eyes in its skull are glassy, dead, and if there's any lingering doubt at all, then the ice that's frozen around the edge of their sockets and formed across the yellow bars of its teeth, lips peeled back, eliminates it.

Something creaks in the dark.

The woman riding on the back of the horse casts blue eyes down to her own attire. At least she wore thermal leggings under her faded grey bootcut jeans? It's not like any of them have a whole lot of options when suiting up for these sorts of outings.

Everyone but her, it seems. Rue's probably dressed the best of the group, next to Abigail, in so far as she is wearing her own clothes, brought back from a trip to the mainland earlier in the week. Her coat is new, a paler shade somewhere between white and grey, light enough to keep her movements fairly unrestricted, warm enough to keep her from freezing to the point that movement becomes difficult, and coloured to let her blend in with the snowy surroundings a little better. One comment from Hana Gitelman about her previous red beacon of a coat prompted it being put in storage.

The redheaded girl shifts a little restlessly behind Raith, tipping her head to one side to nudge one purple earmuff against her shoulder. She presses a little bit closer to the man's back, despite the firearm between them, if only for the warmth. The sense of security is just an added bonus. Her own carbine is slung loosely across her back, and the pistol at her hip feels an awkward sort of weight to her. It does make her feel a little better prepared, however.

Especially when something moves in the dark. Rue's head snaps up sharply, her eyes wide and alert. She leans back from Raith again, despite her first instinct being to wrap her arms around him a little tighter. If it's trouble, he's going to need access to his weapon.

Peeling off from the group, Megan follows orders immediately. She's fallen far more into that mindset lately. Her flashlight comes up to check to the right even as Abby splits off. She's glancing for anything out of the ordinary — scraps of fabric, signs that perhaps someone slipped and fell, signs of them traveling out here. The creaking gives her a shiver and draws her attention sideways too. With the flashlight in her free hand, the weapon in her other doesn't come up immediately. It wouldn't do to overreact.

"Fuck you kindly, Captain." Avi grumbles, trudging off ahead of the group through the snow, heedless of the noise creaking in the branches. Wind, animals, Gabriel; there could be any number of things that go bump in the night out here, and as far as Avi's counting more of them than not are on their side. Overconfidence or just laziness steers his decisions, creeping out towards the shape mounded in the snow, ice crystals on the frozen horse's corpse glittering under the glow of the flashlight.

Muttering a curse under his breath, Avi holds up one hand and a closed fist in view of the others, then starts making his way over to the corpse, angling his flashlight down to the snow so as to reflect some of the light back up and around the area, more diffuse and ambient than a steady beam cutting through the night.

Cold legs work tiredly through the deep snow, and on reaching the horse's body, Avi sucks in a slow breath exhaled as a sigh. He turns, looking back over his shoulder and shakes his head, waving a gloved hand forward to signal that it's clear. Grim, but clear.

At Raith's prompting, Griffin offers a slow nod, before his eyes turn up toward the branches of the trees above. There's the crack of ice moving and shifting in the frozen branches, before Griffin is raising up into the branches above. What follows is a complicated weave through bare branches, with Griffin's feet occasionally touching down on a bow, though he doesn't transfer much weight.

Then, there's the sound of something moving in the darkness. The man's glowing white eyes cast down over the ground, searching for its source. Ever the twitchy telekinetic, that submachine gun raises up, readying itself to be fired if the need should arise, hovering over his shoulder. The telekinetic falls silent from his perch in the tree, surveying the area with a frown on his face.

Raith, separating the chatter boxes like a parent separates the squabbling children in the back seat, shoving the good well behaved sibling in the middle. Abigail does as Raith instructs regardless, moving the ten feet, her own flashlight slowly moving here and there as they go, looking up into the tree branches as they move through the snow, her breath curling out into the air. The creak brings her attention swiveling towards the glasses wearing man and eventually with a craning of her head, the horse and in the general direction of the sound. She brings the rifle up to the ready, flashlight clicked off and shoved into a pocket, ready to flick the safety and aim if need be.

"Love you too, bro." Raith and Avi get along so well together.

The creak firmly captures Raith's attention, and without even thinking his hand jumps to and around Wilby's handle, even if he doesn't immediately draw the weapon. There's no immediate indication after several tense seconds pass that anything bad will happen and 'clear' is signaled- no gunshots or barking dogs or anything- but strategy is called for now. "Hold position," he orders, "Griffin, stay up there, everyone watch for movement, sides and behind. Dismount."

Raith complies with his own order, carefully drawing one leg up and over the saddle before lowering himself to the ground. After Rue has done the same, the reins are given to her to keep the horses from wandering away, but allowing her to be in the ground in case it spooks and runs off. The ex-spy foregoes bringing out his revolver and unslings his rifle instead, sliding up towards Avi at a half-jog. Grim indeed, but clear. "Tracks?" he asks lowly of any indication that the rider escaped even if his steed didn't.

Flecks of blood frozen to the horse's lashes appear to have popped from the hole in its skull. It's the only bullet wound Avi can see on the animal without rolling it over, and it easily weighs almost one thousand pounds of dense flesh and bone. It's still in the relatively early stages of rigor mortis, but the amount of ice and snow dusted across its fine, wiry pelt has accumulated over a few hours — whoever is responsible for the horse's death is long gone. Boot prints in the snow surrounding the body have also been filled in, but aren't so shallow that they've been completely obscured.

There are signs of a scuffle in the drifts. A broken branch dangles limp like a mangled bird's wing from an elm tree nearby, and there are pink smears smudged around indentations scooped violently out of the ground.

A dropped canteen is shining. Across the clearing from Griffin's perch, the source of the sound rocks gently in the breeze. Five corpses hang from the strongest branches of an oak with hands bound behind their backs with the same type of rope used to fasten the nooses around their necks.

Abigail and Megan recognize Wiktor Maciejewski, a father of three refugees back on the island who sometimes volunteers at the castle's infirmary — like Rue, it was his first patrol. Raith knows his face, too. He gave him explicit permission to join the others swinging there, men and women who easily adapted to island life and gave their time to helping protect those struggling with it. Owen Thurgood. Muhayr Tahan. Molly Burwell, who looked after Griffin's son while he was away. And Hannah Kirby.

Rue dismounts from the horse carefully. She may not know how to ride very well, but she can climb up and down with relative ease. Feet planted firmly in the snow, she takes the reins and curls them around one arm. Tight enough to give her a chance to tug back should the horse start to wander, but loose enough that should it simply bolt, she can swiftly release him and not be dragged along for the ride.

Despite having long gotten over the urge to fire a rifle at the first thing that moves in the brush, Rue doesn't reach for either of her weapons. Her allies aren't wearing the tell-tale blaze orange to make her think twice before pulling the trigger. The situation has her too nervous to pre-emptively draw.

The usual sparkle in Rue Lancaster's blue eyes is snuffed out when she catches sight of the bodies hanging from the tree. She gasps sharply, first once, then again and again in quick succession. Shock and panic bringing her to hyperventilate.

Oh…. oh God. Megan's hand flies to her mouth to stifle the sound she makes. Her blue eyes wide as the light plays over the corpses in the trees, she is shocked to the absolute core. Perhaps she shouldn't be, but this… this was not what she expected to find. People hurt? Yeah, sure. Strung up as examples of some kind? That goes beyond anything even the caveperson instincts in the back of her animal brain could have come up with … before this moment. And suddenly the nearly black night is not just a little spooky, it holds the feel of a horror movie with all the dark anticipation and paranoia that the media industry has fostered with slasher films.

The instincts war in the nurse's head — go cut them down, check them, see if anyone might have survived …. or run like hell to get away from a butcher who must surely be nearby. Luckily Megan is a practical woman, and as she gathers her wits about her in those brief seconds of disorientation, she also warns aloud, "Don't approach! Raith, we're going to need more light to ….. take them home. They could be rigged." She knows she doesn't have to tell Raith or Avi that — they, too, have seen what happens in desert countries maybe not so far removed from the war zone that is this state right at this moment.

Avi isn't listening.

His rifle is dropped down into the snow in the same speed that he's moving ahead towards the trees, reaching down to his belt to unclip a serrated folding knife he keeps there. The six inch blade isn't particularly suited for cutting rope, but Avi isn't seeing many other options at the moment. Rushing over to where Owen is hanging, Avi grabs him by the legs with one arm and hoists his weight up, trying to take tension off of the noose. "Jensen!" He pitches the knife towards Raith with his free hand, not really understanding how Griffin's wacky invisible monkey arms work.

Both of Avi's arms wrap tight around the legs, one hand wrapped under the bottom of Owen's feet. "Jesus Christ don't just stand there they might not be dead!" Bellowing loudly, Avi is pulled unfortunately out of the sedate haze that alcohol had left him in before he got called out on this trek. Adrenaline and anxiety clear his head some.

Griffin's eyes trail across the clearing, the man moving to half-crouch on the perch, half sit on air, his telekinesis keeping him from losing his balance. He does falter a little, however, as his eyes reach those bodies— faces that he knows and recognizes from his time on Pollepel since the horrible happenings of nearly two months ago that brought him here in the first place.

He turns his eyes down toward his group, briefly, before they turn around the clearing, searching for any sign of what may have happened— signs of a stuggle, signs of what may have happened, and where the people who did this might have gone…and perhaps signs of anyone who may have stuck around to see if they could get some more victims. The gun is held at the ready; he'll let the others handle the dead bodies.

However, a knife is being drawn from his boot; indeed, even as Avi is attempting to help the victims down, the knife floats across the clearing, four of Griffin's vectors quickly working to cut down each of the bodies, and indeed help to lower them down to the ground as gently as possible. They're definitely dead, but…it's a shame to leave them hanging there.

Twice Abby's seen people hanging. In front of a blazing church with people she knew and loved and in Canada, a family in an attic who thought it their only hope to escape capture at the hands of the institute. At least in Canada, she knew right away that they were dead, a couple days putrefying in the attic. Like Avi, Abby's moving forward with her rifle abandoned in the snow heedless of Megan's warning, her own small knife out and already looking for a way to scale the tree that the quintet are hanging from. She's trying hard to reign in her emotions, nearly shaking in her boots and jacket, a very real probability with how hot she's feeling. Get them down is her focused mental priority. Maybe someone's still alive, the cold could have preserved their brains, maybe they can resuscitate them if necks haven't broken. People have been brought back from drowning just as cold and fine!

It's been more than once that Raith has remained the voice of voice in a tense situation. This time, he either is not, or the reasonable thing to do is to get their comrades down, because Raith takes off after Avi and joins in the effort. Having Griffin present helps incredibly: Without him, getting them all down may have taken several minutes. With him, they have everybody down inside of just one. Maybe that will make all the difference.

Maybe the reasonable thing to do is just being on hand in case Abby goes insane and starts tearing their clothes off to perform CPR. Every possible method to booby trap a corpse, Raith has seen. But she isn't, and so the reasonable thing for him is to push open the eyes of one of them- Wiktor, he will later recall- and shine the beam of his flashlight down in the hope, naive and vain though it may be, that his pupils will still contract.

Owen slumps in Avi's arms, snapped free from the tree by Griffin's knife. Nothing explodes. His blond head falls against the older man's shoulder, and like the horse his limbs are stiff and his hair peppered with snow. The only blood on his face is in corner of his mouth where his lip was split — unlike the horse, there's no hole where a bullet punched through his head. He and the others went up into the oak alive.

Molly, Wiktor, and Muhayr come down with backs as rigid as metal rods, though Megan can see that their necks aren't broken but bruised purple where the rope cut into the skin of their throats and bled black. Wiktor's eyes are open and stare back at Raith without seeing anything at all.

They all died kicking.

Hannah is the last to be eased to the ground by Griffin's ability after Abigail cuts through her rope with her knife.

When Avi says they might not be dead, Rue snaps out of her stupor. With a deeper inhale of breath than the several previous, she drops the reins to the horse, sprinting forward to where Hannah Kirby lays in the snow. "Hannah! Hannah, wake up! You have to wake up!" she demands. She presses her fingers to her neck, feeling for a pulse even as she drops down to hover her cheek just above the unconscious woman's nose and mouth, feeling for any signs of breathing.

Rue's head jolts up and she shrieks part scared and part elated. "She's alive!"

Well, clearly there's no bomb. Megan wades after the group quickly. The possibility that they might be alive is slim, but slim is better than no hope. She starts to help check each body for life, but Rue's exclamation yanks her immediately to Hannah and Rue's side. "Shit," she murmurs, amazed at Hannah's fortitude. She drops her gear on the ground and yanks out a small kit. "Check the others. Abby, get down here." The redhead's tone is tight and urgent as she strips off her gloves and verifies Rue's findings. "In the red kit in my bag is a large-bore tube. I need you to cut a piece about 4 inches, and I need the surigical tape. If we don't trach her here and now, she's not going to make it back. Her throat's swelling shut now that the rope's released!"

Megan's weapon is on the ground in the snow, and her hands have to remain busy with this job and this job only — it's going to be up to the others to get them back. She won't be able to tell if Hannah's going to stabilize until she can be warmed up and checked in better lights.

Avi crumples once he has someone in his arms, dropping to his knees in the snow and laying the one body he carried the burden out out on his back. His lungs burn with cold, his arms tremble and his back aches from the strain of the weight, even as brief as it was. Hunched over there, he holds up a palm to indicate that he's fine, in pre-emptive dismissal of whatever fleeting concern might be angled his way. That he's getting too old to be running around in knee-deep snow pulling people out of trees is made crystal clear by the way his hands shake from exhaustion and cold.

His legs are going numb from the chill of the snow and ice accumulating on his jeans, his one good eye flicks over to look in Hannah's direction, and he exhales a breathy sigh as a puff of steam out of his mouth. Swallowing dryly, Avi looks up and around for Raith, his sunglasses slouching down the bridge of his nose, revealing one awkwardly angled glass eye in the process.

"We're fucked," Avi breathes out to Raith, his voice shuddering the syllables. "They know we're here, this— s'a fucking message. Guerrilla, fucking— playing with us." His breaths come in as heaving inhalations and exhalations and the out of shape old man struggles to catch his breath.

The man's brows raise for a moment at Rue's shriek, Griffin turning those white eyes down toward Hannah as Rue makes her proclamation. He blinks a few times, turning to watch; he'll leave her for the medical types that have come with them. Still, it's pretty damn amazing that the woman is alive, judging by the deep, dark bruises on the necks of the others. He can't help but pause briefly to marvel at the woman.

Then, slowly, he lowers himself to the ground, making his way through the snow toward the others, a frown on his face. "Way too much death…" he mumbles under his breath, shaking his head. One must wonder what happened here. The snow doesn't offer much in the way of answers.

Bluish-white eyes glimmer as they turn toward Avi, a frown on his face. Then, the telekinetic offers a quiet nod. "We don't know that they know we're here, but…" His brow wrinkles for a moment, the man not completing his sentence. Perhaps he should consider speaking to that Jaiden fellow he's met few times…Pollepel isn't looking quite as safe with this new development.

"The birds" It's breathless as Abby levers herself down from the tree, landing with the thud and a bit of a stumble before she's scooping up the red bag that Megan is directing her to do. Tubes to fetch, a tracheotomy to preform, Abby's never done one, never even seen Peter do one though she's had the training to do it. But she can assist like she did those months in the ambulance and she kneels beside Megan in the snow, gloves off and playing assistant to the nurse, try and reign in the fear that's coursing through her, letting the men and rue protect their backs.

"If they knew where we were, we'd all be back on Pollepel sucking napalm right now." Raith is right, of course. The fire wouldn't go unnoticed, but it would of course have been an accident: The military cornered the terrorists who, unwilling to be taken alive, set fire to everything on the island. A real tragic story, news at ten, film at eleven. People love tragic stories.

Old training kicks in, and Raith backs off to let the medics do their job. It's not as urgent as Somalia, but it still brings back old memories. What he does instead is trudge through the snow back to his horse, which has not wandered terribly far, so that he may guide is to the gathering. Unwise though the decision may be, no one get left behind tonight.

No one.

I don't care how much good you think you're doing, Avi had said, how many lives you're saving from tyranny or whatever the fuck puts you to bed at night— but there is some serious shit coming down the pipe that throwing rocks isn't going to make go away.

She told him her people wouldn't throw rocks if they could use them to build a fortress. That was a lifetime ago, but if Bannerman's Castle is the fortress Eileen had been talking about, then this is the serious shit he'd tried to warn her of, but one look at Raith's face tells him that the Ferrymen already knew.

These people have spent the last year preparing for the reality of November 8th and everything that's come after, from supply shortages that leave children hungry to dead bodies left to hang in trees during the coldest days of what promises to be a very, very long winter.

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