Description: A convoy of military vehicles rolls along the wilds of Africa, while crimson rain falls in the distance. Before long, the skies are filled with bloodforged iron and anti-aircraft fire, a lethal ballet between two opposing forces, as vengeance from a year past is brought back to light.
The trip to escape the confines of the heavy overgrowth of the jungle surrounding the small island where the latest King of Fighters match had taken place is a great deal more laborious than the one to get in. Kira had gotten wind of its location ahead of time through her network of contacts and flown her little surprise in the day before via helicopter making sure to conceal the bulky vehicles from sight with camouflage tarps coated with dried grass and leaves. An old military trick that would ensure that they would be almost impossible to spot under the canopy of jungle by satellite or air reconnaisance. She hadn't expected it to be necessary but her tactical precaution proved to be more than mere paranoia.
Unfortunately, despite having the complete element of surprise, someone had managed to interfere in the operation. The mercenary queen's teeth grind as she goes over the scenario in her mind again, analyzing every detail of the short operation for atleast the twentieth time since their departure. They had done everything right. Her people had gone about their tasks with discipline and professionalism maintaining radio silence and general stealth until the moment they had broken the cover of the trees. They had prepped the cages for release with lightning speed wasting no time on idle chatter or pointless dawdling. Yet, SOMEHOW, in the short few moments between then and when she made the ready check, someone had disabled one of her best soldiers without so much as a sound.
The gaggle of mercs that had accompanied their leader sat in the back seats of the massive jeep, helmets discarded and armored suits unzipped in an attempt to glean some relief from the ever-present heat. Kira tilted her head to peer at them in the rear-view mirror, noting with a grunt of approval that it takes less than two seconds for each of them to become aware of her stare and return it. She doesn't shy away from those gazes, meeting each one with a piercing stare for several long seconds to ensure that none of them make that mistake either. She has no tolerance for weakness of any kind; in her world, the weak get dead quick and she has no use for dead weight.
When she eventually gets tired of staring at the mugs of her guards, Kira's gaze drifts back towards the scenery beyond the heavily tinted windows. They travel along an old trail just barely wide enough for the large transports to fit. The dull crunch of scattered stones and fallen branches creates a constant drone of noise and she allows herself to finally relax a bit, sinking into the cushions of her seat and kicking her feet up on the dashboard like some kind of uncouth hooligan. It's her dashboard, damnit, she'll do what she wants.
"Ten minutes to the rendevous, ma'am."
The voice speaks up at almost the exact instant she gets comfortable causing her to cast a petulant glance towards its owner. The heavyset man behind the wheel shrugs a casual apology in response to her annoyance. Her lips press into a thin line as she fights down the urge to vent some of her lingering frustration the undeserving subordinate. Instead, she crosses her arms and leans back, intent on gaining a few minutes of mental reprieve before the even bumpier ride back to base in the lumbering Ark awaiting their arrival.
The operation bore a striking similarity to one conducted approximately one year ago. The location, of course, was different: the heart of Majigen, the pocket dimension and personal playground of a fiend with an axe to grind against the demonic nobility of the Earthrealm. And the weapons platforms were different by design; instead of the heavily-armored wheeled vehicles in which the Dragoons are traveling today, much more vulnerable helicopters were used instead.
It was an armed violation of airspace through an aperture which had never before existed, let alone needed defending. A grievous oversight by the Majigen overlord who, for one agonizingly long moment, had more important things to deal with.
Once Dohma had found his realm's sanctity breached, he had, of course, been rather upset -- to say the least. But patience is a trait demanded of gods such as he. He has lived for hundreds of years -- what's one more?
The vampiric bookkeepers at his beck and call moved numbers around on their ledgers. It was a significant sacrifice, but not an unworkable one. Vengeance would come, in good time.
As Kira Volkov's brilliant gambit became known, Jedah Dohma came to understand her intervention -- her entire existence, in fact -- as a blessing in disguise. A fleet was mobilized. For minutes, the rainfall ran red over the jungles of Zambia, some miles away from the Victoria Falls; a bloody aperture opened in the sky.
And through it, ten Bloodreavers, crafted in Dohma's own image. Sinister and sleek, the Bloodreavers emerged one by one through the scarlet portal, leaving a fine crimson mist in their wake as they rocket past. In this configuration, the Bloodreavers resemble fixed-wing aircraft -- if they were born as streamlined, organic shapes, akin to insects. Scythelike wings glisten in the light as the Bloodreavers thunder past, no thought given to locomotion as the demonic spawn hurtle downwards towards the earth.
Behind them... Lord Dohma himself will be accompanying them, his chisel-sharp visage pulled into a macabre grin as he rockets downward. His arms are crossed over his dark purple suit, blithely unconcerned about such needs as 'trying to look like he's flying' as his downward trajectory does all the work, his wings flattened behind him for maximum velocity.
Assuredly, Kira's mercenary team would have countermeasures against aerial assault. Miniguns would be of little consequence to the heavily-bladed Bloodreavers. As they approach, the beasts would shift to an assault configuration, their deadly bladed wings peeling off to the sides. Agile in ways not expected for their bulk, the insect-like Bloodreavers would twist and reshape themselves to parry bullets away, clearing the path for their lord and master.
One after another, the Bloodreavers slam down into the narrow trail in the immediate path of the convoy. The first impacts the trail a fair distance off, his bladed projections embedding a good eight inches into the terra firma. He turns about, as if he had taken but a small hop instead of a grand leap from high altitude. And the insectoid beast turns its antennae towards the convoy, spreading its arms. The wings are blades. The heavily-armored arms have two blades apiece. The legs are made of segments each sharp enough to be blades themselves. And the roughly four-hundred pound mass looks to be the very epitome of a darkstalker to avoid, if he were not fully blocking their path.
Three more Bloodreavers impact with the ground in similar fashion, thoroughly blocking the road. It's... certainly possible that the beasts could be run over. Or gunned through. But the slick, glistening armor and its scarlet color suggests that the feat might be more difficult than it sounds.
The six remaining Bloodreavers soar through the skies overhead, entering a holding pattern. In the center of said pattern, Lord Dohma finally deigns to spread his wings wide, slowing his fall. His expression is as smug as ever, his arms crossed as he sinks down to a spot about thirty feet ahead of the convoy.
Certainly, they pose a threat to him and his Bloodreavers. But it is not one he is concerned with, as he regards the Dragoons with almost casual indifference.
"That was an impressive advertisement for your services, Kira Volkov" resound the dulcet tones of the Black Messiah's voice -- loud, and at the same time, almost musical in their tone.
"Dare I ask what prevented you from proceeding?"
While she has no methods of tracking the bizarre weather phenomenon on the fly, leaving her blind to the danger descending upon her from afar, Kira's convoy is well equipped to deal with the sudden aerial menace that makes its way down through the skies once it makes itself know. One of the many LCD displays on the dashboard begins to blink and chirp wildly flickering from some kind of tophographical map to a more stylized radar bullseye. The sweeping bar of light emits a ping as it passes over the first of the Bloodreavers marking the creature's position on the display as a blob of red.
Muttering under her breath, Kira sits up and shifts her feet off the screen, eyeing the information on display with disdain. This quickly shifts to a look of confusion as more dots join the first. The mercenary's eyebrows rise in alarm when the fifth blip appears and she turns to bark at the half dozen soldiers peering at their own versions of the display on small monitors built into the seats.
"It appears to be about a dozen of them. Too fast for helicopters but too small for jets."
"Drones?", another voice suggests.
"Whatever they are, they've got an intercept course plotted. They'll be on us in less than two minutes."
All eyes lift from the displays to stare at Kira, the expressions ones of discipline as they await her orders. The Dragon runs a hand through her hair to smooth it back and readjusts the piece of elastic holding the long blonde locks back into a sharp ponytail. A grin spreads across her face, devlish and confident. This is more like it! Maybe now she can find out who's behind the bullshit that went down earlier.
"Deploy the countermeasures. All guns active. Turn those fuckers into scrap!"
She's hardly got the first words out of her mouth before they begin to move. There was only one possible outcome of a such an obviously aggressive move against their commander in her own territory. Fingers dance across digital keypads relaying remote commands to the half-dozen transports following in their wake. Almost in unison, panels atop each of the fat armored vehicles slide open to reveal a hollow pit from which emerges a daunting twin-barreled gatling gun mounted on an automated pintel. The heavy weapons swivel about with robotic precision shifting their aim to the invaders far above.
Rippling explosions of high-calibur gunfire shred the air around the convoy as ammunition is belted out at a prodigious rate. The deadly munitions hammer into each of the Bloodreavers like tidal waves of lead but the creatures are deft beyond reason for such massive things and each barrage is either deflected or hits only empty sky.
"What the fuck?"
Kira's sentiment is echoed by several other curses in quick succession and a swift glance at the targeting displays of her soldiers shows a similar outcome across each screen. Her fingers tighten to painful levels as she grips the edges of the dashboard. How the hell does this keep happening? First, that overbearing megalomaniacal jackass simply /appears/ in her fucking base like a goddamn ghost and now the weapons she had custom built to take down fucking /fighter jets/ are doing dick all to these... drones!
"Gettin' real fuckin' tired of being out of the loop here," she growls to no one in particular.
The shouted warning gives only a few seconds of heads up before the first of the reavers dive bombs himself into the path blocking their advance. The driver glances at her, waiting for instructions, and she glares at the offending thing with undisguised hatred.
"Stop. Stop! Bring us to a halt. All of you, suit up!"
The sound of squeeling brakes fills the air with their protest as the massive armored cars some to an unexpectedly short stop. Helmets and armor are replaced and fastened within moments. Kira snags her own ballistic face-shield from the floor and slips it on but leaves the guard flipped up like a tennis visor for the moment. Turning to the nearest of the soldiers she points at the back of the vehicle and snaps her fingers, feeling the comforting weight of a long cylinder slide into her grasp a few seconds later.
When the cars have finally come to a complete halt they remain still for several long moments the tinted windows making any motion within impossible to detect from the outside. It is only when Jedah himself has finally chosen to alight upon the ground that the doors to the command vehicle swing open and the soldiers spill forth with regimented alacrity, fanning out into two teams of three on each side of the car. Seeing as full-sized gatlings had basically no effect on whatever these things are each of the Dragoons sports something a little more appropriate the for the situation. Six armor-piercing RPG warheads level on the small congregation of darkstalkers blocking the road, each mercenary choosing a different target to ensure maximum destruction when the triggers are pressed.
As if responding to the smug vampire's praise, Kira herself finally swings out of the passenger seat, leaning against the open door. She gives Jedah a quick once over and the expression on her face seems to indicate that she isn't terribly impressed; or happy. Glowering at the darkstalker noble, she reaches into the cab and pulls a small radio handset connected by a dark wire up to her mouth, speaking loudly so that her words carry to the prick blocking her way.
"Z, did I have any appointments with a giant smurf in a purple suit today?"
There is a pause before the line crackles with faint static and a female voice responds with, "One moment." Several seconds tick by before the voice speaks again. "You have no outstanding appointments today. Will that be all?"
"Yep, that's what I thought, thanks girl."
Kira tosses the radio back into the car and emerges from her seat to stand at full height. Another of the long rocket tubes is rested upon her shoulder and she aims it directly at Jedah, flipping the safety cover away from the firing switch with a dismissive flick of her thumb.
"Liked that, huh? Well, unfortunately for you I'm kind of busy. Here, have a fucking business card."
There is a soft click as the mercenary queen depresses the trigger. Fire explodes from the tip of the launch tube as the rocket ignites and rips through the air towards the vampire lord, a screaming comet of death capable of putting holes in all but the thickest of battle tank armor. Six more missiles ripple off at her signal venting flames and destruction into the foolishly clustered mob. Kira ducks back behind the protective cover of the jeep's door to shield herself from some of the concussion wave, lacking the full coverage helmet that her guards sport. When her ears stop ringing, she rises to inspect the remains, waving a hand in the air to clear some of the exhaust smoke from her vision.
Lord Dohma's condescension knows no bounds.
His Bloodreavers seem to have thwarted every effort of the mercenary queen up until this point, proving nigh invincible against the anti-aircraft fire rained upon them. Their speed and maneuverability up until this point has been evident -- even if showered by heat-seeking missiles, the result would have likely been the same. Even now, the inhuman Bloodreavers stare back at the convoy, fixing their lidless black eyes on each of the mercenaries in turn. They have human-esque faces; hooked noses which cast dark shadows upon mute, downturned lips. The antennae seem to serve the role of ears, providing finely-tuned positional tracking in whichever direction they are turned. And their blades are pitched downward -- a clearly passive gesture, so as not to upset the (in)delicate negotiations of their Lord and Master.
The Black Messiah is proud of his creations. He does not need to give them orders. They implicitly understand his needs, responding to his emotional states.
They, too, will share the feeling of disdain that their Lord and Master feels, in response to Kira's... indifference. No, the -disrespect- she's voicing.
Jedah arches an eyebrow, his head canting sideways a couple of degrees. Is she...?
He made a point of introducing himself.
He made a point of allowing her the opportunity for rebuttal.
And she seizes it, by sassing him.
By the point of a rocket launcher.
The Bloodreavers move without thinking. Despite their bulk, they are nimble and maneuverable -- and there was plenty of warning. Their blade-laden arms slam into the dirt once more, reciprocating back and forth in a rapid flurry.
Jedah Dohma frowns in disapproval. Though he even finds a way to -overdo- it, in his typically condescending fashion. "Tsk."
He raises his left hand to the rocket.
The point of the rocket flies forward, its molten copper core continuing forward even as the body of the rocket is abruptly halted by the web of the Black Messiah's hand. Finger stretch apart from the sheer stress of =obstructing= the flow of the anti-tank round.
These weapons destroy tanks. They have kept bands of insurgent muhajadeens from being wiped off the face of the planet. One of the hallmarks of asymmetric warfare, they have been the great equalizer allowing rebels to effectively resist the will of the world's mightiest empires. Suffice to say, even Jedah Dohma is not strong enough to stop such an rocket-propelled grenade at the peak of its launching cycle, when its fires are hottest.
He is, however, strong enough to redirect its flight. Fingers and thumb alike stretch apart, knuckles exploding in fits of crimson spray. The rocket continues forward -- but it is wrenched in an upward arc. Over Jedah's head. His shoulders pivot, and then his hips follow.
But now his palm makes contact with the superheated exhaust tube, erupting a white-hot plume plume of fire. A pained grunt escapes his lips for one moment.
The rocket is jackhammered into the road like the instrument of a touchdown on the Super Bowl. The molten copper slips outward, shaping the charge for maximal penetration. And then--
As Jedah Dohma disappears into a cloud of explosive fury, six more rockets fire in rapid succession. The Bloodreavers, similarly, disappear in the resultant cloud, that only grows larger and larger...
A moment passes; the role of the gout of flames in the ballistics ballet is overtaken by rising clouds of black smoke and soot. A shockwave erupts, sending up a rapidly-expanding torus of dirt, dust, and soot in its wake, forcing all around to cough violently just after its passing.
The soot is rapidly and violently parted by the whirling of a dark, seven-foot-tall figure from within. From the brief instant where the airspace was clear, it had been obvious that his coat was eroded down to the blood-slick surface beneath. Too smooth to be skin or cloth, too even and regular to be destroyed muscle tissue. It can only be blood -- conforming rigidly to the will of the Black Messiah himself. He holds his shape, even as the decorative outer surface has been abraded away.
The whirling motion continues, amidst a =second= shockwave -- this one caused by Jedah's motion. And Kira Volkov will gain a front-row demonstration of the Majigen Lord's reach, as his phalanges detach from his hand, his hand detaches at the wrist, his radius and ulna detach from his elbow.
And half of the armored vehicle's door -- the same passenger door that was providing her cover from the blast -- is detached from the rest, sheared clean off in one upward sweep of his razor-sharp talons. The sound won't even reach her ears until a split-second after the work is done.
His form is obscured by the dust. But his voice is clear.
"I have one... -urgent- recommendation for you."
The monstrosity's wings melt down rapidly into their base metal. Rivulets of the sanguinary fluid ripple down the creature's arm, growing in both speed and size. The blood collects at the separated palm, growing into a sphere -- and then violently erupting outward. Another split second passes, and the beast twists his hand sharply, pulling it back. The rapidly-coagulating blood remains fixed, forming a long shaft.
Another twist reveals the sinister iron blade of a deadly scythe.
The terminal point of the scythe taps at the armor near the base of Kira's neck.
The reaving edge of the scythe itself is curled around her from the side, as his segmented arm -- held together only by bloody sinew, overdrawn muscle, and the demon's all-binding will -- holds the scythe with lethal accuracy, eight degrees of spin away from cleaving Kira's foolish head from her body. The entire process took a second, maybe two. The beast cut through a metal door like it were whipped cream -- how far will she last?
As the shockwaves dissipate, only one shadow remains where the Bloodreavers stood. The bloodreaver is embedded antennae-down in the dirt, its blackened, charred legs pointed upwards, and twitching somewhat. It is not dead -- not in the typical human definition of dead, anyway. But, like Jedah, its blades have been subsumed into their base hemoglobin. If the creature is anything like their master, their recovery will be undoubtedly swift -- and indeed, the blood begins to seep outwards, swallowing the charred material whole.
But there were six rockets. And there are roughly six craters, only one of which has clearly served its intended purpose.
Jedah Dohma intones gravely, as his charred, blackened face progressively turns glossy red, then dark crimson -- and then melts away into its usual pallor of blue:
"Clear your schedule."
The lead car shudders, as beneath it, the three heretofore-unaccounted-for Bloodreavers erupt from the ground in three plumes of powdered dirt and clumps of sun-scorched grass. Two are on the driver's side -- and =instantly= they begin bludgeoning the sides of the armored car with their arms.
They could pierce it with their multitude of blades, but that is not the point. They, like Jedah, sensed the fear and confusion present. And they =feed= upon it, as the car begins to shake.
Undoubtedly, another volley of rockets could be fired. But =will= they fire, with the doors open? Jedah seems to be daring them to, holding the blade steady as, once again, he cants his chin to the side.
The Black Messiah gave a suggestion, and with the clear threat provided, he will brook no further disagreement.
It takes only a few moments for Kira to assess the situation as it unfolds. The door of the humvee, layered with several centimeters of armor plating, parts at the center as if made of butter even as she begins to rise from her crouch. The deadly blade whistles past her so fast she almost doesn't feel the whiff of displaced air but the sudden crash as the dismembered slab of metal hits the ground is impossible to miss. Her eyes dart down to stare at the bizarre sight and for a brief loathesome instant she is frozen by terror, unable to comprehend what just happened.
The answer to that, however, becomes abundantly clear when the edge of the massive blood scythe comes to rest against her neck. The mercenary queen goes still as a statue not daring to move even an inch for several second as she peers down her nose at the killing tool impossibly coiled around her. How had he moved so fast? It is impossible to cross that much distance in such a short time. More importantly, how did he /survive/ that?
Again, she receives an answer to this baffling quandry in short order as the smoke clears to reveal the grotesquely extended arm of the vampire lord. Her eyes widen visibly but she quickly clamps down on the mounting fear this time, biting it back. Her teeth clinch and she glares at the dark stalker noble, that terror turning into boiling hate. For a moment, she entertains the idea of trying to make a move, twisting beneath the deadly blade to fire another of the RPGs at the monsterous thing or perhaps unleash the ferocious cargo she has contained in the transports. All it would take is the press of a couple buttons on the remote in her pocket. But then what? She would still be outnumbered and, if these things can shake off a direct hit from an RPG, horribly outmatched. If this was near her base she'd take those odds as there would be a hundred more soldiers and twice that in the domesticated beasts at her beck and call.
Slowly, Kira lowers the empty launch tube of the spent RPG and lets it fall to the ground. The other mercenaries stare at her, their expressionless helmets offering no outwards sign of the thoughts passing through their heads, but then do the same. Taking a deep breath, the Dragon turns to face Jedah directly, spinning around without moving too much to avoid slicing her own neck open, however, the expression she gives him once they are face to face is a defiant one.
"You have a lot to learn about how to conduct business around here," she says, reaching into one of the many pockets on her vest. A package of cigarettes is withdrawn, crumpled from use, and she nabs one of the remaining smokes with her teeth.
"If you were anyone else, you'd be a pile of smoking slag under my tires right now."
A silver flip-top lighter is produced next and she fires up nonchalantly as if holding a casual conversation at the local bar. The motions are slow and deliberate and she takes her time, inhaling sharply on the butt before slipping the ornate tinderbox back into her pocket. She keeps her gaze on Jedah's face the entire time, deliberately ignoring both his freakish dismembered arm and the weapon it holds her hostage with. All signs of fear or panic are gone from her face replaced with a calm cocky grin which she maintains around the cigarette.
"But, anyone that can walk away from something like that obviously has power - and that's something I respect." She pauses again, exhaling a cloud of smoke from her nose, and tilts her head to the rear in a little jerk at the sound of the bloodreavers pounding away on her convoy. "So how bout you tell your thugs to stop bangin' up my shit and tell me what you want."
In truth, Jedah Dohma regretted the need to single Kira out for a dressing-down.
The integrity of a war party rests solely on their leader's ability to maintain dominance on the battlefield. It requires the ability to balance charisma with disciplined order, of assertiveness with all-out aggression. A leader appearing weak in wartime will lose the respect of her followers just as quickly as overpermissiveness will in peacetime. Likewise, Jedah Dohma was a leader of his own army -- albeit one greater by a significant margin. Allowing the ferocious Dragon another opportunity to lash out could be perceived as weakness; doubly so, should Jedah have failed to anticipate the wily human. Considering her violent act to his belligerent arrival, following the escalated violence with any less than he did would have been a mistake, and lost the faith of his own men.
Leadership demands that important decisions be made in rapid succession, in the blink of an eye.
A tiny hint of the flame from Kira's lighter reflects in the smoldering eyes of Jedah Dohma. Kira's boast paints her as a true leader of men -- the need to bare her teeth and snap even as the master holds her by the scruff of the neck. To do any less, to stand chastened, would lose the respect of her men. Her begrudging admission of respect did not come easily, and a cold-faced Jedah Dohma respects that.
Respect is a troublesome, if necessary construct -- a prerequisite to any conversation involving trust. She claims respect for Jedah -- but the need to keep the respect of her men may prevent her from conceding certain points.
"You expressed the extent of your capabilities. And I expressed a fraction of mine. Yes, we may move on."
Jedah Dohma speaks in an ancient tongue, his icy command cutting through the incessant sounds of bloodforged iron scraping across the reinforced armored vehicles. The bloodreavers cease their assault in mid-surge, drawing backwards. Images of the armored vehicles reflect in their cruel arm-blades as they fold them upon their chests, retreating to provide a comfortable margin of breathing room to the mercenaries and their vehicles.
"The Bloodreavers will respect your presence now, per my command."
The scythe lifts away from Kira, as the bloodweaver pulls his arm back and away. The joints lock back into place as they would appear on a human -- knuckles, wrist, and elbow seat themselves properly. If it were not for the blood that seeps outward at each respective junction, one might be forgiven for thinking that the separation had never actually taken place. The scythe is slipped lazily within his palm, the blunt(er) terminus of the seven-foot-tall weapon making a small thud as it connects with the packed dirt below.
"I thank you for giving me the honor of your time. And I will keep this brief. Walk with me, child." His voice is calm, controlled, and just a -little- condescending -- but all things considered, he could have been much worse.
The injured Bloodreaver's legs continue to twitch in the distance, its armor showing the grim aftermath of the explosive impact: missing in some places, cracked in others. The scarlet flow coating the wounds is poorly distributed; the bubbling fluid isn't sufficient to stem -all- of its injuries.
The creature appears to be in shock.
The antediluvian vampire turns away from the assault vehicles, his scythe resting calmly upon one shoulder. His assessment of Kira's attitude is obvious in the way that he no longer sees her as a threat -- certainly not with three Bloodreavers still poised to strike, and six more circling overhead. The Black Messiah angles his head as he surveys the Bloodreaver's battle wounds as he approaches the creature. And in what seems like a dismissive gesture, he prods the creature's wounds with the blunt end of his scythe. One tap here, one tap there. It looks like tough love -- poking the wound itself in order to provoke an irritated response. But those with an eagle eye might notice the scythe is somewhat shorter from the exchange.
Jedah dismisses the creature as he resumes walking along the path, away from the assault vehicles. Cooperation is, naturally, expected.
He looks off into the distance as he walks. The dulcet tones of his voice will have no trouble reaching Kira's ears, though it is unlikely that any other soul will hear. "You may know of my intent to advance and uplift this world into a higher state of existence. It is a time-consuming process, and not something that can happen instantly. Nor should it." One hand curls upon the haft of his scythe, while the palm of the other is held supine. "In almost every instance that a key to salvation has been offered to a promising candidate, it has been refused. As it was explained to me, some humans prefer to remain shackled by their own mortality. That they fluorish despite the limitations. That an immortal lifespan and fearsome powers might somehow be its own limitation on creativity." Jedah's eyebrows angle downward -- he does not agree with this idea, as if the very concept somehow -offends- him. And yet, he is not so misinformed as to completely ignore the counsel of his subordinates. "/Horror vacui/, in a sense -- the concept that if a painter lacks the requisite inspiration, a blank white canvas can be the most terrifying and intimidating concept of all."
With a small shower of dirt and sand, the injured Bloodreaver wriggles backwards out of its self-imposed prison. Its wounds bubble with crimson, though. Disoriented, the soldier looks around its crater -- and quickly busies itself with retrieving the ravaged remnants of its leg.
"Not everyone is offered the choice. It would be simpler to decapitate you right then, to forcibly extricate your soul, to embed it within the iron shells of one of my Bloodreavers. And you owe a debt to me personally -- I would not even bat an eyelid."
He exhales a sigh, a cruel smile coming back to his lips for a moment. "But fear not, child, my hand has been stayed. Something is lost in the exchange. Your kind would insist the 'humanity' is lost."
He chuckles softly. "They consider this a downside. I beg to differ."
He continues, his hand clenching into a fist. Razor-sharp talons dig into his fleshy palm, drawing blood -- it's kind of a theme, really. "And what's more, you owe me. And the terms of your repayment insist that a certain measure of your 'humanity' and 'creativity' remain intact."
Only now does he turn his eyes to Kira, halting his advance. The smile falls from his face: even the condescension drips away.
"I want to thank you and yours for reminding me of something I had forgotten long ago. How long was it ago, that you had opened my eyes to the arrogance of the human race?" His expressive eyebrows shift, communicating his sincere loss of acuity in this regard. "A year? More?" A dismissive shrug follows, a grim frown taking shape. "To not only spit in the face of the devil, but to have your associates imperil his family in the process."
It's a compliment, almost.
"You took advantage of a deteriorating situation, and against the odds, threaded the needle to escape with your lives, as well as those of several -hundred- of my family."
"You have trained them, to become simple slaves in some cases. In others, brutal, savage warriors."
"I may have need of your services. Of honing a mass of unwilling battle thralls into a company of disciplined warriors."
When the scythe retracted, a normal individual might have exhaled a sigh of relief or rubbed at their neck at the uncomfortable thought of just how close death had come to claiming them for its own; but not Kira. Death has been a constant companion in her life for as long as she can remember. She reeks of it, her scent a heady perfume of savagery and violence born out of a burning desire for revenge. Many went mad when faced with the choice of the atrocities that must be commited to survive in a world that cares nothing for life. She, however, embraced a simple truth that has guided her from that moment forward - power is all that matters. There is no right or wrong, good or evil, there is simple action and inaction; those who will fight and those who will die. This convinction made her strong and that strength has carved a future for her where there was nothing but misery and loss.
And so, as death stares her in the eyes with the bored expression of a pampered noble, she just stares back and smiles.
Jedah's boasting has no more effect on her than the blade held at her neck. Her arms cross in casual apathy as the iron bug-things retreat at his command, expecting no less from subordinates to whatever this foul monstrosity is. It is clear that his power is quite formidable and she was not lying when she stated that the simple fact of that power had earned her respect. Power, after all, is the root of everything. Money, influence, physical strength, military might... these are all just different forms of power. Right now, he has more power than her. Would that remain true if she had her army at her back? Perhaps. One day, she might get her chance to find out.
For now, however, she has little choice but to comply with his 'suggestion' that they speak out of earshot of her men. Kira grunts under her breath. Arrogant shit. He'd underestimated her once and felt her sting. Now he thinks he's seen everything she has to bring to bare. Fine. Let him.
Turning towards the gaggle of mercs, the woman makes a series of hand gestures, barking out orders in silent code. Several of them go rigid at the aggressive tone in her movements, the momentary distraction of being overwhelmed in such a manner vanishing in the face of intense discipline. Jedah isn't entirely wrong in his assessment of the skills required for leadership. A firm hand and an iron will are important, especially for those who live and die by the metaphorical sword, but these soldiers have loyalties that run much deeper than those shallow emotions that give rise to doubt in the face of the unknown. They see the same thing as she does - an enemy that must be overcome with unity, not devisive second-guessing. It is the authority of a commander that has proven herself countless times on the battlefield that she wields here, not the scepter of fear which bludgeons those beneath it into forced submission.
Her orders given, Kira marches after the vampire lord and falls into step beside him, not bothering to acknowledge whatever perceived gap between their station that he might believe exists by trailing behind. She listens to his grand spiel, knowing better than to interrupt the monolouging of a tyrant at the very least. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what he's suggesting long before the actual offer is laid out on the table, but she lets him get it all out in the excessively verbose manner of pompous aristocrats. There is something comforting about that similarity between the creature and the men that she has known before. It peels away one of the layers of alien intent from the vampire making him less of an unknown. Ofcourse, he's still looney as a jaybird, which is its own problem.
"What can I say," she offers with a tone that is completely lacking in anything resembling humility. "I'm good. That's why I'm here today. It's why /you're/ here today."
Kira inhales deeply on the cigarette and blows a thick cloud of gray smoke from the corner of her mouth as she turns to meet Jedah's gaze once more, tapping the dwindling length to flick used up cinders from its tip.
"You keep going on and on about how I owe you. For what? Still being alive. Tch. You're not the first person to try and kill me and you won't be the last. Maybe you could simply end me right here and now. Been in plenty of situations as bad as this before, death hanging over me like a shadow, scythe-" She reaches out and flicks the blade of the vampire's weapon. "-at my neck. If you think you've intimidated me, you're dead wrong, pal. If you think you're going to cow me into being an obedient little slave like your pointy-legged lawndarts by swaggering around you've made a rather grevious mistake in judgement."
The mercenary queen stands tall as she speaks showing no signs that her bravado might simply be a mask or a show of bluster in the face of some object of fear. Fire burns in her soul, every word puncuated with an almost zealous conviction of purpose.
"Everything that I have, I've /earned/. My wealth, my allies, my life. So you can march in here and snap your fingers all you want but the only dogs you'll find here are the ones in /my/ cages. The ones I stole right out from under your imperious nose while you were too busy waving your dick around at the world to notice."
She grins at this and takes a couple steps back, though not out of deferrence or fear but simply to give herself room to gesture more openly. Her arms spread out to either side as she lifts them to indicate the slender darkstalker in a dismissive shrug.
"Pfeh. You want my services? You can pay for it like everyone else. Otherwise, get lost, I've got work to do."
Contray to popular belief, Jedah Dohma has no grand interest in war. He seeks to bring order to the world, to cleanse away its impurities and remake it, anew.
It just happens that war is a vehicle by which he can bring about his pure reality.
War is a battle not just of men, not just of weaponry, but of logisitics. In the late 1700s a world-spanning initiative was won against the British Empire by the upstart United States of America. The victors claimed that their ragtag bunch of defenders was able to beat the vastly superior British army, but the truth goes much deeper than that -- the British Empre was simultaneously battling the forces of the French at the very same time. The distribution of assets is key -- and it is the relatively -tiny- detachment of soldiers that Jedah had targeted, with a very specific goal.
Enabled entirely by one showing on a seemingly inconsequential battlefield.
Kira states that she is not cowed. That she does not owe him. He smiles -- he's heard this before, from countless individuals. The sentences are often interrupted, bloodlessly, as he calmly rips the souls from their chests with the ease of snapping a crab's legs away from its body. He smiles, because -- as she identifies, he -could- end her right here and now.
"Fear and pain are little more than signals to the brain, electrical synapses spread by unworthy flesh. You can deaden the neural pathways if you choose. Failing to acknowledge the signal does not put you in any less danger."
His scythe shudders slightly as it is touched. Jedah does not seem particularly perturbed by such -- it's her own finger that stands to get lost, by her own volition at that.
His smile falls once again. His face turns neutral, his tone deepening. "I will not detail the litany of offenses you have committed upon Majigen, for I'm sure your internal documentation backs it up. All of these are services rendered freely in the course of your business, after all: widespread destruction of property, kidnapping, murder. =Violation=. In the other cases, the aggrieved party was, themselves, eliminated from the vengeance equation. You could not be held accountable, as the only person to speak out against said threats was made a simple cost of doing business."
Dohma narrows his eyes somewhat at the casual indifference, the smugness. She's likely to laugh at him. Again. Damn upstart children.
"Child, I can tell that you have no fear of me. You will be granted a comfortable, pain-free place to watch as I flay the flesh from your loyal soldiers' bones, as the price for your blindly insistent defiance -- when the time comes. But please, we're getting ahead of ourselves."
The Black Messiah raises an eyebrow once again, his expression softening by degrees. "Simply put: You seek profit. I seek trained soldiers. Five soldiers will be sent to a location of your choosing each week. They will be tested for suitability. If they do not pass, you will receive more the next week to replace them. Continue to fail, and you will find yourself overrun."
The darkstalker lord glances behind Kira, acknowledging the arrival of the lone, reconstituted Bloodreaver with a nod. "If you can reach a reasonable price estimate, we will have a deal."
Kira's smug smirk fades and she gets a look that is deathly serious as she responds to the vampire lord's personal assessment of her reaction to his presence. She stares him in the eyes, arms crossing over the bulk of her armored vest. Her fingers dig into the bandolier affixed to its surface and she slides one of the shotgun shells from its nylon sheath. The small red cylinder is held up for Jedah to see.
"Do you know what this is?" The mercenary waits for a few moments giving him time to speak should he so choose but the question is rhetorical and she carries on, talking right over him if necessary. "This is death. This tiny unassuming little package. That's all it takes."
The cartridge is returned to its loop but she keeps talking, tilting her head towards the scythe in his hands as she does so. "That overcompensating toy of yours? Death." She looks at the the Bloodreaver, now fully healed from its grievous wounds and frowns. "Death." The cigarette in her mouth, which has burned down to little more than a nub and filter is presented next before she tosses it to the ground, grinding it under her heel. "Death."
The last of the smoke in her lungs is exhaled in a long slow breath and she shakes her head again. This thing really is a monster. So disconnected from the simple truth.
"Only idiots and madmen have no fear. Fear is a part of being human. Pain is a part of being alive. Only the dead know true peace. But only a coward lets their fear rule them."
The resolve in her eyes grows sharper still but the grin returns to her face, teeth bared in a defiant sneer. Her fear of this monster is real. Some small voice deep inside screams with every word she speaks, a tiny pathetic thing scratching at the inside of her skull, demanding release. It claws at her nerves and her muscles in a doomed attempt to wrest control of them away from her conscious mind, to shriek at the inhuman horror of the things she has seen and done, wanting only to dedicate all available strength to fleeing from the gaze of the vampire and never looking back. She crushes that voice as easily as the cigarette. It is a pitiful and atrophied thing from which she took all power those many years ago while those who gave in to the voices inside of them died all around her. Cowardice might preserve her flesh, protect her body from harm, but it is a path that would destroy her soul and everything that she has achieved in a manner so complete and final that the very idea is impossible to entertain.
"I... am no coward. And neither are those with whom I choose to entrust my faith. Keep that in mind as you pile threats upon me. You may hold the upper hand now, in this moment, but if you choose to underestimate me..."
The grins grows wider and the glint in her eye takes on the slight twinge of madness found only in those so undeniably certain in something that reality itself has little choice but to give way to their ambition. Her will is the sort that shapes fate, not succumbs to it.
"Well, let's just say you wouldn't be the first person who believed themselves to be beyond my reach."
There is a pause as Kira holds her ground and stares defiantly once more in the face of the thing that would present itself as death, giving not even the slightest inch. No doubt she would look like a foolish bug to the darkstalker lord but even if that should be the case she'll be a goddamn annoying mosquito stabbing at him for all she's worth until the swat comes down.
However, there won't be a need for that at the moment. These things, these monsters, are exactly the sort of threat that she agreed to join that other pompous windbag to help fight. Jedah's request that she train his soldiers puts her in a rather akward position which could be construed rather unfavorably by her current allies, and she uses the term lightly, should they get wind of it. She can't do shit to help fight against anything if she's dead though, which would almost certainly be the outcome should she flat-out refuse the offer.
Kira's posture relaxes and she shrugs, brushing the tense atmosphere aside as if it were a curtain. "So long as we understand each other, I think we can do business."
She rubs at the back of her neck thoughtfully and sighs, pondering out the logistical details in her head. There are plenty of outposts and training camps that she could send these critters off to but none that are secure enough that she'd feel comfortable doing so. Word of a monster army being trained leaking out to her enemies might be enough to get them to rally against her. The last thing she needs is a war arriving on her doorstep forcing her to dedicate most of her assets to dealing with a bunch of fear-driven warlords. Bad for business.
On the other hand, she has very little desire to bring them into her base. It would be an intense hassle to keep them isolated and away from anything of critical importance while also keeping them happy. If the creatures she captured are any indication of what she can expect they're just as susceptible to emotional influences and morale as humans. Unhappy soldiers are bad soldiers.
Kira rubs her face and blows out an exasperated breath. "I'm gonna need some time. A facility will have to be built to accomodate this request. Atleast two weeks. Also, I need to know what kind of... things you plan to have me train. What their needs are, what they eat, shit like that."
Speaking to a demon about death. Jedah recognizes the tangent as a rhetorical device, and humors it with a sardonic expression, balancing the scythe precariously on his back.
Only idiots and madmen have no fear -- he nods quietly with that assertion. Fear, pain: he nods to the apt descriptions of those as well.
Only the dead know peace though? The vast majority of his unsleeping army consists of the dead -- those who have had their souls severed from their bodies. Who know anything in the world -except- peace, serving as agents of his well.
A blonde eyebrow arches, his smirk growing into one that, offered by a human, might precede the phrase 'well, actually...' .
No such clarification is offered.
Instead, he does the unthinkable.
He listens. And he observes.
Lord Dohma takes note of the hesitation in Kira's response. He notes her fiery and smoldering gaze, screaming back at him while her voice remains calm and controlled -- perfectly poised upon the brink of madness without ever toppling completely over the edge. She is a fierce and cutthroat negotiator.
He's sure that the act works well upon people with a much less tenable position than his own.
She agrees to do business. "You have trained your soldiers, to be able to march them blindly over the cliffs of despair, into the gaping jaws of hell, without complaint or dissent. That they obey your orders without question is, of course, the crux of my -interest- in your services."
The Majigen noble raises his hand to his chin, cradling it between thumb and forefinger as he judges the expressions flitting across Kira's face. It could be indecision, or the calculation of logistics -- he's no mindreader. But he does know that someone -- =someone= -- gave the call for her to stand down in the fight upon the waterfall. The mercenary queen answers to someone else -- a customer, perhaps? It's for her to know. If there any complications...
Well, that's why he's paying, right?
"Time is acceptable. The soldiers will be similar to the ones you have already become accustomed to training. For the time being, their build, temperament, and food requirements will be similar, but in later waves..." Jedah offers a placid smile -- he's likely got people to deal with details like this. "We will be certain to apprise you of any future changes in requirements."
But before Kira can question the details he raises one finger. "I do have one element to offer you. I understand that real estate may be limited. If it would help, I would be more than happy to have the requisite facilities constructed -for- you, in Majigen. I assure you -- the travel requirements would be much less onerous for a business partner than an armed invader."
Kira nods at the description of the task assigned to her. She's been employing a rather different method of training to the beasts captured during her invasion but if they're able to understand words then they can be taught. Or, if he just wants brutal attack dogs, that's even easier. In either case, the facilities would be roughly the same size. Two weeks should be more than enough time to divert some of the slaves from a few of her mines to handle the task.
Jedah, however, seems to have a different idea. The mercenary actually stops and stares at him in surprise for a few seconds at the suggestion. That was something she had never considered. Whatever force had opened that gate to the demon realm had sealed it shut just as tightly. It never occured to her that it could be used at will like a revolving door.
"That would... certainly make matters a great deal easier for me."
While she has to worry about prying eyes in this world, particularly with Vega already demonstrating an unnerving ability to simply show up wherever he wants, shifting her operation to the other side would likely make it nearly impossible for her to be found out. Unless he or one of the others had some means of traveling into the Majigen. That's a risk she's willing to take over the alternative, however, which is far more likely.
Pursing her lips thoughtfully, Kira peers at the vampire. "What would be involved in making this trip? I have things that must be taken care of here as well. If it's time intensive then that could prove problematic."
Jedah Dohma's largest problem to date has not been the acquisition of raw manpower -- beast power, really -- but rather, acquisition of -quality-. The issue is diminishing returns -- in an enclosed space, one can only send so many shock troops, and if said shock troops don't know the proper way to absolutely destroy a foe, then what good are they? Why not just... chuck a bomb or rocket-propelled grenade, as Kira has so aptly demonstrated?
No, Jedah needs an army of thralls that can actually -fight-. It's assured that the man knows how to train them, but the work of architecting an entirely new -realm- is tedious and time-consuming -- he'd rather not. The Bloodreavers -- those were crafted by his loving hand, twisted and manipulated to follow thoughts and intentions in a manner -he- feels best. Which -- judging from his manner of dealing with Kira -- can use some work.
The Black Messiah has a number of tools at his disposal. One of which is the issue of spatial manipulation -- a technique he appears to be quite proud of.
"Wonderful." His voice smooths out -- apparently he does have a third setting beyond 'incorrigible ass' and 'judgmental ass'. The scythe balances precariously upon the demon lord's shoulder, unbeholden to gravity of any sort, as the man born an Italian requires both hands to fully describe the mechanics of the portal. "A personal two-way conduit between Earthrealm and Majigen can be established. Access would be tightly controlled by one key, and if there is any particular need to restrict access to said key, it is fairly simple to create another."
"I would simply create an entrance to the conduit in a location secured by your forces. Under your control, you could transfer between the two realms, day or night."
He pauses somewhat.
"I am told that the first few transits may be uncomfortable."
As for the time intensiveness, Jedah shrugs mildly. "For a human-sized conduit, each trip would take seconds. For a larger conduit... it would take slightly longer."
Jedah folds his hands behind his back, tipping his head to one side. "I do not wish to delay your journey further. Will two hours be sufficient time to piece together an estimate, or more details?"
"I can work with that."
Thoughts whirl through Kira's head, her mind awash with an array of new scenarios and possibilities. This represents an opportunity, that much is abundantly clear, but what exactly she can make of that opportunity remains to be seen. She has no dobuts about her ability to produce the results that the vampire lord wants from her. The training of soldiers is not a difficult task once one understands a few basic concepts about psychology and how to instill discpline. Killing and fighting is a skill and like all skills they can be honed with practice. The artistry of warfare, however, that takes a special kind of person to fully grasp. It remains to be seen how many of these monsters she will meet that can make the hard decisions under pressure. That will be the true deciding factor on wether or not this army that Jedah desires can come together.
However, it's not the army that concerns her but the application to which it will be put. She knows only a little about the strange decree issued forth by Jedah upon his failed invasion attempt. Most of the details are likely sitting somewhere in a folder in her office, unread and forgotten. It's a a rare thing for Kira to fail to take in every scrap of information that comes her way but she'd been in such a rush to launch her bold counter-offensive that she'd not bothered to worry too much about the insane ramblings. She knows enough to be sure that his intentions are nothing but trouble for the human world, a world that she happens to be a part of, so it'll be a cold day in Hell before she's dumb enough to be personally responsible for crafting the army that sees it destroyed.
Having access directly to the Majigen would present her with some unique opportunities. A chance to scout the area, learn about the local terrain, what kind of forces were arrayed against her, where best to strike. A plan starts to form in the swirling maelstrom of thought and she almost laughs out loud at the sheer audacity of it. She must be mad to even consider such a thing. But if it worked...
Kira's pensive expression shifts to a faint smile which she does absolutely nothing to hide. A pocket on her jacket is opened and she pulls out a small PDA. Tapping the screen a few times nets her the information she needs. The mercenary looks back to Jedah and nods.
"Yes. In two hours, everything will be in motion."
The weapons of war change. When Jedah first mastered the occult rituals that uplifted him to his current grandeur, gunpowder was first beginning to see use in the Western world. By the time he returned to the world, it had already begun to change beyond recognition; borderlines were drastically redrawn the world over, with new land and new kingdoms ripe for the taking. Gunpowder, the tank, the airplane -- all of these have undergone rapid evolution in the past hundred years, and each technological improvement demands vigilant attention. His Bloodreavers are not immune to the weaponry of merely seventy years ago -- and this cannot stand. Already the demon lord is contemplating ways to improve their durability and regenerative capabilities.
The tactics of warfare change as well. The battle tactics of his vampiric advisors are forever moored in the time of their unbirthing. Their minds are like steel traps and just as impenetrable to change. The vocabulary of battle tactics is in need of a drastic overhaul, and it's precisely for that reason that Kira Volkov's training will prove invaluable to Dohma in the coming years. It might seem like a losing proposition for Kira, but on the Black Messiah's timeline, the mercenary queen's diligence will be rewarded with a prized position to take advantage of the world's instability in the coming years. She will profit handsomely in life. And when she fails to impress him -- an inevitability, in the Blood Weaver's mind -- she will profit handsomely in her unlife as well.
The woman stabbed Jedah in the side before, leaving a wake of destruction and absconding with a wealth of materials and a not-insignificant portion of the Majigen population in her path. And yet, Jedah stands ready to provide her with real estate in Majigen. He is extending her even more of the Majigen population. And on top of that, he is willing to provide substantial monetary compensation for her services.
It stands to reason that he is expecting results.
He also expects betrayal. The invisible hand of another power is clear to him -- but who said hand belongs to is a mystery he hopes to solve for himself.
Jedah Dohma matches Kira's smile with one of his own. "Excellent. I shall return then to close this deal. It has been a pleasure, milady."
The dark noble's scythe is balanced precariously to one side as he tips forward into a bow, though the reason becomes clear as the sinuous weapon melts into his back. A moment later, when the noble rises, the bladed weapon has been completely transformed into a pair of curled, razor-sharp wings.
He raises fingers to his lips, and turns his head away from Kira. A shrill note is blasted from his lips, stirring the Bloodreavers into motion. The juggernauts hop backwards, so as not to alarm the Dragoons. Blades furl outwards, shifting first in color to scarlet, then in shape to a larger, flatter variant of the wings deployed in their earlier descent, and then back to the shade of aluminum.
"Until then... arrivederci." Jedah rises to his full seven feet in height. And then, the Black Messiah vaults into the sky, joined by his four Bloodweavers. The bladed wings seem woefully inadequate for such a task, but such is the way of the supernatural.
Even though each benefit had been offered without hesitation, it was due to substantial forethought and planning rather than capricious whim. There will be catches and drawbacks. There will be insurance policies in place. It will be interesting to see the lengths to which the Mercenary Queen will go to test them.
Log created on 23:05:22 07/07/2016 by Jedah, and last modified on 11:25:50 07/13/2016.