45 400 Days Later (2) (Arc 1 Premier)

Under the ominous glow of the overhead lights, Lando stared fixedly at the imposing black door that stood before him. He reached out, his fingertips grazing the cold, metallic button adjacent to the door. As he pressed it, the door swung open revealing a sight that was etched in his memory - the four Founders seated around a substantial table. 

"Congratulations, Lando," intoned Blayne, his voice resonating in the quiet room. A broad smile danced on his lips as his hands came together in applause, the sound resonating in the confined space. Kade quickly joined the applause, followed in unison by the other two.

"It has reached our ears that you've finally managed to eradicate The Vultures once and for all," declared Curtix, his voice tinged with an unmistakable note of surprise. Lando merely inclined his head in acknowledgement.

"Indeed, the mission was successful," he responded succinctly, his gaze locked with Curtix's. A silence hung in the air for a moment before Wallon turned his attention towards Lando.

"I wish to know," Wallon began, his fingers tapping rhythmically on the polished surface of the table, the taps echoing in the room, "what transpired out there. It was a twenty-day mission, and you..." his voice trailed off for a moment, "you were the sole survivor. I do not wish to upset you, however."

In response, Lando simply lowered his gaze to the table. A cacophony of bloodcurdling screams echoed through his memory, images of a terrified girl, pleading with him to run, to escape. A mysterious figure, cloaked in shadows, tackled her. The recollection was so vivid, so real, that for a moment Lando could hear her terrified voice ringing in his ears. 

"We infiltrated their base, wiped them out and attempted to retreat," he began, his voice low, "but we were outnumbered by bandits. They killed everyone... I was the only one who managed to survive." He looked down, his gaze focused on the smooth surface of the table.

Across the table, Blayne exchanged a glance with Wallon. "Let's not mar this moment of celebration with talk of the unfortunate events," he suggested. "Tonight, we celebrate!"

A soft smile adorned Hana's face at Blayne's words. "Indeed, you are allowed to stay with us." Curtis turned his attention to Hana, his expression serious. "After all, it was your contribution that helped us reach this milestone. Just four hundred days ago, we managed to bring down Renan Cosmo's reign. We lost friends and family, but we emerged victorious."

Lando merely nodded in response and took a seat. Hana, taking the seat next to him, cast a glance in his direction. "Say, Lando, I saw your interaction with that individual on the security cameras," interjected Kade, breaking the comfortable silence.

"Oh…" Lando's response was clipped, his tone hinting at the unease he felt. Hana, turning to face him, voiced her confusion. "What did you do?" Kade looked at her, a trace of a smile playing on his lips.

"You're not aware of his little escapade?" He chuckled, lifting his cup to his lips and taking a leisurely sip.

As Kade laughed, Lando's gaze was locked on him, his eyes wide with shock. He had hoped that Hana wouldn't find out about the incident, but it seemed that Kade had other plans. 

"Well, on the day Zander was attacked, Lando decided to give chase," Kade began, a hint of amusement in his voice. "The man he was after had killed three others by the time Lando managed to corner him. What happened next was nothing short of a bloodbath."

Lando's mind flashed back to the exact moment he had brought the pipe down onto the man's head. It felt good, satisfying, almost as if justice was served. 

"He incapacitated the man by breaking his knee, impaling his hand, and stomping on his other hand. Then he bashed the man's head in. It was a pure blood bath. It took the cleaning crew hours to remove the remnants!" Kade laughed again, the sound echoing in the room.

Lando's eyes widened in shock, he began to protest, "Why did yo-" but Kade interrupted him.

"But you enjoyed it, didn't you? Aqua was there. You ignored her," Kade accused, his words ringing in the silent room.

With a sudden vehemence, Lando slammed his hand onto the table, causing everyone to jump in surprise. A deep silence fell over the room. 

"Y-" Kade began, but was interrupted by Lando.

"Shut up," Lando hissed, his voice echoing in the silent room. "You don't dare say her name." He visibly tensed, and Kade waved his hands around, attempting to placate him.

"Hey, hey," he said, his tone placating. "It's all just banter. Let's enjoy the drinks, shall we?" Lando breathed in deeply and rested his hands on his lap. 

"Yeah, okay," he responded, the tension in the room slowly dissipating.

Outside, under the stark desert sun, a metallic rod was thrust into a sandy hill. Brown boots kicked up a cloud of dust as a group of about fifteen people trudged past.

Scar glanced over at Bale, his face weathered from years under the unforgiving sun. "Let's go, son!" Bale looked over at him and nodded, a smile playing on his lips. 

"How close are we?" Bale asked, looking out into the expanse of sand.

Scar let out a snicker, his gaze shifting to a girl with blond hair and green eyes. "Hey Em, tell Bale how close we are!" 

Em looked over at them, her green eyes glinting in the sunlight. "Not even close." Bale turned to Scar, pointing an accusing finger at Em. 

"Yeah, because she's brutally honest, I am not." Scar led the group down the sandy hill towards some ruins. "Hey y'all, let's stop here for the night. We can continue the journey tomorrow."

Bale nodded in agreement. "That sounds pleasant." Scar laughed, a deep, booming sound that seemed to echo around them. "Not used to walking? Used to being in that little robot of yours?"

Bale shrugged in response. "Yeah, you were in those once too, as well. And plus, you promised me that you will get me to my friends. When will that ever happen? You know, they are trapped in that hellscape."

Scar shrugged, the gesture accentuating his broad shoulders. "No clue when we will, but when we have enough people, and the resources, then we will help. For now, we got to focus on living and building up. Your friends will be fine." Bale frowned and nodded.

"Okay, dad," Bale said, his voice laced with a note of disappointment. He glanced down at the sandy terrain under his boots. The wind whispered around them, ruffling his hair. His gaze lifted to the sky, his eyes free from the dark embers of previous times; they looked normal, almost serene. 

Scar offered a warm smile and patted Bale's back, "I promise you we will get them back. Whatever it takes." He raised his thumbs, and Bale returned the smile. "Thank you," he replied.

As twilight fell, casting long, grotesque shadows, they huddled around a crackling campfire, the orange flames dancing in the descending darkness. A pot of stew bubbled over the fire, filling the air with its hearty aroma. Everyone had gathered around, their faces illuminated by the flickering firelight, their voices merging into a symphony of laughter and chatter. 

Em was seated next to Bale, the warmth of the fire casting an ethereal glow on her face. She glanced at him, her curiosity piqued. "So, you were in Titan City? How was it like there?" She was intrigued by his past, eager to learn more.

"Well, I was oblivious to a lot, until I wasn't," he began, his voice barely above a whisper. "My friends, they're still trapped in that state of oblivion." Scar nodded solemnly, his eyes glistening in the firelight. "That was Aqua's mission," he recalled, his voice heavy with regret. 

"So she never meant to cause that explosion?" he asked, his eyes widening with surprise. Scar immediately shook his head, "She only wanted to take down the power grid so she could convince you guys to leave." Bale frowned, his thoughts heavy with the weight of the revelation. 

"I hope she's okay," he said after a moment of silence. Scar breathed in the smoky air, "I'm sure she's out there, somewhere."

Suddenly, Em changed the topic. "On the subject of disturbing and violent things, have you guys heard about this lone wolf guy?" she asked, glancing around the firelit circle. Some shook their heads, while others looked confused.

"I heard a story from another traveler," she began, her voice taking on a somber tone. "It's a pretty recent tale. One about a lone wolf, roaming around, and killing anyone he sees. No discrimination, whether you're an elder, or a child, he would still kill you."

Meanwhile, in a distant location, a campsite was ablaze. Unburned tents were splattered with blood, casting an eerie glow in the flickering firelight. A man fell to the ground, his desperate attempts to aim his gun at something thwarted by his injuries.

"GET THE FUCK AWAY!" he screamed, his voice piercing the chaos. Suddenly, an axe swung down, burying itself into his arm. He screamed in pain as his blood spurted out, staining the ground beneath him. 

A burly figure towered over him, clutching the blood-soaked axe. The man tried to scream again, "Y-YOU!" but before he could finish, the axe was raised again, and brought down swiftly. His scream was cut short as his head was violently separated from his body.

The figure scanned the scene, the campsite littered with mutilated bodies. With a final glance, he turned and walked away from the horrifying scene, leaving the burning ruins behind him.

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