Description: Eager to dig into the mysterious connections between Duke Burkoff's arm of the Syndicate and Jedah Dohma's Majigen embassy, Bulleta encounters a pair of vampires running a curious, late-night errand at a (formerly) abandoned shopping arcade. She manages to scratch the surface of the dark savior's ambitions, and nearly pays for the privilege with her life.
The peninsula of Southtown juts southward into the Sea of Japan, connected only by the landmasses of its northern and western extents. And while the highways leading north are lined by grand, lush properties owned by the wealthy, the highways heading west are considerably less opulent businesses and storefront. For those in the know, the span west of Business District is firmly cemented as Syndicate territory. Seemingly legitimate businesses are interspersed with less savory industries. Nightclubs and bars cozy up to sprawling office complexes, with warehouses distributed in a seemingly chaotic fashion.
And one such office complex seems to have a new occupant. At one point in the eighties it was a shopping arcade, filled with kitchy souvenir shops, haute couture fashion outlets, and a number of fancy restaurants. Since then, though, it had fallen into disrepair, the asphalt of the parking lot weathered from years of disuse. And, about a week ago, the renovation process had begun here, with one building after another transformed from decrepit hulks into brand new...
Hm. Well, what would you -call- them? Offices? Storefronts? It's hard to say; while the building facades have been gussied up with fresh coats of neutral grey paint, the windows have been sealed with drywall. The signs outside remain a dull off-white shade, sure to attract zero attention in such a fast-paced urban megalopolis.
Odder still -- there are hardly any -construction- vehicles around. There's none of the huge dumpsters that would normally be seen outside construction sites, full of discarded drywall or anything. There's ... really only a few scissor-lifts stationed outside for painting.
The semi-abandoned shopping arcade has remained vacant for most of the day. It isn't until ten o'clock at night that a car shows up at all -- a black luxury sedan that pulls to a stop near one of the larger buildings. And not far behind it, a rental truck.
Out from the driver seat steps a well-dressed Romanian with excessively pale skin and a never-fading grin. His nostrils flare as he takes a look around the parking lot. And then he motions with a large wave to the truck, which rolls to follow him to the building's loading dock.
He holds out his hand abruptly to cease the truck's backward motion. "Whoa, -whoa-, Artur. You tryin' to wreck the place?"
From inside the truck, a larger, burlier Romanian seems... almost undisturbed. As if he's used to the treatment. He stops the truck, and climbs out the side, approaching his companion with a laconic grunt.
"What? Nah. Nah, man! I'm just nervous about the cargo, yeah?"
'Artur' shows barely any sign of acknowledgement as he walks past his shorter companion, striding up the ramp and starting to open the cargo door of his truck.
So /many/ oddities in such an unremarkable space.
One of the walls of Bulleta's living room is dominated by a map with a rainbow of pushpins meant to track not-so-random Darkstalker attacks across Japan. A patch of remaining wall real estate is currently dedicated to headshots of KOF 2017's second place team. He's on top; she's just below with yarn connecting them. It's a guess, but what are the odds of him tolerating a woman at his level, the Huntress figures.
After all: Bulleta might not even /be/ here if he could.
A picture of Jedah Dohma's pinned a few inches to the right of him; more yarn binds them. A shot of the thing they call an embassy's above them all. As maps go, it's a shitty one and she knows it, but everything has to start somewhere. If the best friendship she's ever had could start because some prick decided to flex every muscle he could rather than share, a working map of said prick's organization can certainly be built from shit; it'll just take time.
And a few nights camping out on or near random warehouse and office roofs, rather than spend hours commuting between home and the hunting ground between bouts of recon.
The shopping arcade someone suddenly began to care about, with no windows and not enough construction accessories doesn't stick out, exactly, but seeing it a few times while skulking between the Business District and the forbidden zone west of it is enough to leave an impression.
It's just a bit too strange, even if the strangeness takes a little thought to unlock.
Tonight's her second time staking it and only it out, just to see what - if anything - might happen. Hunched atop what was formerly a boutique, she's got a neutral, grey blanket thrown over most of her body and binoculars carefully sweeping the grounds below. Edamame's intermittently popped into her mouth and the husks disappear somewhere within the blanket. When the two vehicles eventually pull in, then slowly roll out of her field of vision, she has to swallow a surprised, triumphant note. Still, she's grinning a mile wide as she stands and the binoculars /also/ disappear into the blanket so she's free to keep it close to herself as she skulks across the roof.
Of course, it's gone when a girl in a red dress, white apron, and red hooded cloak with blonde grazing her shoulders falls a couple feet from a rusty ladder, scrambles to her feet-- then shudders and buckles and nearly hits her knees, not far from the Romanians' work. There's a new crack where her red camping backpack hit the ground.
"a-- aah--" she utters as eyes widening with fear bounce between the men, "I-- I-- I didn't-- see--"
She swallows hard, raises her hands, and idly glides her tongue over razor steel in case things go sideways in a fun and surprising way.
"I-- I was just-- I needed a place to sleep, I..." she stammers, and indeed: she /does/ look like she's been sleeping in the same dress, apron, and cloak combo for /days/, at least.
Artur raises the cargo door slowly. The reason for his caution is clear -- there are a bunch of heavy -somethings- shifting about with the motion.
"Dammit, Artur, I told you to take it easy on those fuckin' curves! If those things are--"
A rusty ladder creaks. And the very noticeable sound of a young lady hitting the deck follows. The asphalt suffers another grievous wound as the backpack slams into it.
And the lanky Romanian turns his attention away from his partner, leering over to the diminutive girl in her adorable red cloak.
"Well, well... what have we -heeeeere?-" calls out the smaller of the two. He claps a hand on Artur's shoulder as a sign for him to stop opening the door. As with many of Valentin's forms of expression, this one too was unnecessary as he'd already stopped the moment the artifacts inside had started to shift from their transit positions.
"Can't you read the signs, little girl? They say 'No Trespassin' all over the damn place!" ... Despite the assertion, Jedah's fast-talking lackey oversimplifies the issue, as there are only a -few- signs left that read 'no trespassing' and it'd be easy to miss a few. But anyway.
Artur, by this point, rolls his head around in its socket, stretching his neck muscles. And he makes a slow, quiet grunt.
"... Hm, wait up a sec, sweets. You need a place to sleep. What'cha got in the backpack there? Maybe we could make us a deal."
Artur's nostrils flare. He had a thought that he'd wanted to share discreetly with his associate. And 'ask for her backpack' was not it.
After a beat or two, Valentin's leering and taunting drain the color from Bulleta's face.
"I-I-- /no/, I didn't-- I didn't /see/, I--" she tries to explain. Dark red combat boots scuffle and scrape against asphault as she fumbles a few steps back from the pair, then falters and has to catch herself with a quick crouch. "I-it's-- it's so /quiet/ here, most nights--"
The demand stops her cold and draws another shudder.
"Just-- just supplies, just-- just /nothing/, nothing you'd-- nothing you'd /want/...!" she manages. The small one's pretty aggressive; she's seen worse, but it's /there/. How much of it's front? Hm; things to ponder while she squeezes the straps slung over her shoulder for dear life.
"I didn't see anything," she finally gets out in a trembling whisper. "I-- I didn't /hear/ anything, /please/..." The other one seems less into it, or at least less into breaking from whatever it is they're unloading. But is it a two man job, or are there just two men /here/...?
Something else to ponder, while she shrinks from Valentin in the hopes of keeping him engaged. Slooowly, warily, so as not to fall again, she resumes edging from him as she murmurs, "I-- I promise I won't come /back/, just, just, please please /please/..."
The red-cloaked girl's stammering draws Valentin's interest even more. Shoulders forward, thumbs crooked by his waist, Valentin steps closer, narrowing the gap that Bulleta keeps attempting to widen.
Artur, though, is a bit more perceptive. He coughs -- one of many subverbal forms of communication to his partner.
"Just -supplies?- Now, now, sweet thing, y'can't just go -sayin'- somethin' like that without piquin' my interest, yeah?" Each pair of Bulleta's steps is matched by one languid stride from Valentin -- possibly enough to allow her to outpace him if she chose to make a show of it.
I didn't see anything, she'd said. Valentin slows his approach as his quarry freezes, pondering with a sideways tilt to his head. "What's that they say? Methinks you doth protest too loudly, or some junk like that?" He chuckles, starting to make another stride forward...
Thunk. The sound of Artur's shoulder, rocking against the side of the truck. He's... -staring- at Bulleta, now. And he whispers one word, maintaining his stoic facade. "Huntress."
Valentin's eyebrows knit together. If the blonde is good at lipreading, she'd be able to read the '--shit, you're right' as reality sinks in.
And his poise changes, as a result. He rolls his head to the left, and then to the right. And then he slowly begins to walk, upright. With purpose, if not -malevolence-.
"Listen, honey. I don't -care- what you saw, or didn't see... or hear, or didn't hear." Charm ratchets up closer to 10, as he extends a pale palm outward to her. "So just relax. Enjoy the moment."
Artur grumbles, but otherwise doesn't budge from his truck. Valentin's mission is clear, but until he can drag the prey back to the truck, well... he's sticking by his post.
The backpack - filled, but not bulging - is drawn towards Bulleta's front. Quaking fingers bat one of the zippers a couple of times before managing to clamp on and pull. A few empty edamame pods immediately tumble to the ground, but she doesn't let that stop her from trying to give him a peek. The handle of a camping pan is visible if he bothers to look, as is a green bottle--
Protesting too loudly...?
Blonde brows reach for the sky and the zipper freezes; /just/ a peek before her eyes snap towards his and she swallows a lump. "H-hey..."
She isn't trying to outpace him, not now; not yet. Rather, as she gets a feel for how he moves, her pace is measured to try and keep the distance tantalizingly narrow. She /could/ bolt... but unless she does, she's perpetually dancing along the edge of his reach, vulnerable to be taken off-guard whenever the Romanian predator feels like it.
And even if she /does/ bolt, who's to say he won't just catch her? Not her sluggish, tottering footwork, that's for sure.
"L-look, I-- I just don't want you to /hurt/ me, I... I don't know what this /is/, but I-- I know where I /am/..." Alone, at a remarkable construction site, with two strangers who were absolutely not expecting company.
... why is the other one staring at...?
Crystal blue fear snaps back to its source in time for a revelation. Without having caught Artur's whisper, it could mean a /few/ things... but Valentin's shifting demeanor makes for easier reading. Bulleta doesn't /dare/ spare another look for Artur afterwards, but-- well.
He's a problem, isn't he?
Pushed it a little too hard, didn't she?
Leather scuffling settles as her half of the dance slows. She gives him a slow, quivering exhale, a release of the tension that must've been building since strange vehicles first pulled into what could've been an urban campground. The charm's all the way up at 8.5, maybe 9, and that deserves a payoff.
"... s-so... so I can just... find somewhere... /else/, a-and..." Her eyes shift from his palm, to Artur, and back again. Clumsy footwork comes to a halt; he's leading, after all, isn't he? This is part where he talks the little deer in red into his trophy collection, so she tentatively reaches...
"... just... s-sleep-- there--"
... only, whether he knows or not, it's a caesura. Her fingers freeze within a couple feet of his hand.
"-- but-- b-but-- god, oh-- o-oh, /god/, I-- I can't just--!"
And now: molto accelerando.
Not only does Bulleta jerk her hand back, she does a sharp pivot and /sprints/ away from him, leaving a choked and frightened sob in her wake. The arcade's layout doesn't give her a lot of twists and turns to work with, so if she wants to make a play for separating Valentin and Artur, sheer distance and an empty storefront seem like her best bet. The backpack's frantically shoved around until it's seated more or less properly behind her, but it's still open; a few more spent pods, as well as camping utensils hit the ground intermittently.
Artur is a problem. But he is also much better at following orders than Valentin, who... well, the smarmy vampire is still strolling forward, keeping pace with the blonde Huntress, idly amused at all the items falling out of her satchel.
"Maybe so, sweetie. It was nice of you to keep gatherin' your trash in one place, but /va rog/, girl, you're makin' a mess 'ere."
The Romanian reaches up, adjusting the cuffs on his jacket as an idle affectation as he continues his stride -- even as the young woman grinds to a halt. There's really no doubt on whether he -could- bolt forward, but -- as much as he prides his personal appearance, there's no way he's going to fall for -that- trap.
And then she turns tail and -books-.
This is enough to make the smarmy Valentin frown.
The vampiric executive was never in danger of -losing- the young woman -- but until she ran, it wasn't even worth bringing up. Now, though... Bulleta's succeeded in putting a building between her and Artur, and she's likely to get away if other actions aren't taken! With a dismissive shake of his head, the vampire snaps his fingers, his body dispersing, with the sound resembling a light tap upon a cymbal, into a cloud of black mist.
One would think mist would just -stay- there, but no -- in this case, the mist stretches forward into an elongated shape, streaking across the parking lot to cover the distance.
The black streak rushes past Bulleta, only compressing back into a humanoid-sized slab about fifteen feet beyond Bulleta. And almost instantaneously, the mist resolved back into the form of Valentin. One finger is upraised in admonition, while his face is -clearly- not showing amusement now.
"I don't think you understand, my dear. You... are going -nowhere- else tonight."
The frown turns into a malicious grin, as his fingernails grow to the length of small daggers.
"It's been a while since I've had a meal delivered straight to my door!"
COMBATSYS: Valentin has started a fight here.
COMBATSYS: Valentin focuses on his next action.
One would think.
Bulleta /did/ expect a running pursuer, for sure; winged, maybe. This is just down to averages: running, loping, shambling, and flapping are common modes of monstrous transportation and she never did get a glimpse of his fangs. Running, even flapping would have been easier: the Huntress is /fast/ when she isn't indulging in tactical clumsiness. There are plenty of things, people faster than her, but they're still burdened with having to catch /up/ to her. Their footfalls are warnings, pacing mechanisms in their own right; fast or slow, straight or syncopated, rhythm is /everything/. Tracking it, weaving with it, /controlling/ it can be the difference between life and death--
-- and Valentin's black rush is a sharp break in the rhythm that'd been building between them. Appearing a fair distance in front of her, coupled with the icy rush of undeath rolling over her face and limbs are thin favors, but by offering them so freely, Valentin leaves her little choice but to accept. Gift vampires and mouths...
... hm. Would Dahlia be impressed or disgusted by hand-pulled vampire fangs?
Another thing for Bulleta to ponder as she gives him suitably terrified eyes-- and keeps on running towards him. Maybe she's banking on being able to slip by safely, small as she is, quick as she is; on him not being able to just do it /again/. A sandwich bag with a few lighters inside falls and spins across the asphault as she begins to veer towards his flank. Artur is a building away, but she'd like a little more than that; he /might/ be willing to give his cocky sadist of a partner a good bit of rope to do what needs doing, but saving Val's ass and/or snagging her /might/ outweigh doing his job if things get too out of hand.
"Please!" Bulleta pleads with vigorous headshakes and pumping arms. "Please, anywhere but /here/--!" In a wide open parking lot, alone with a reinforcement in the picture. /Any/where else. Anywhere at /all/.
Even the neutral-painted husk of what was once a bistro, like the one Valentin's poised a few feet adjacent to.
"I don't wanna die...!"
The sentiment comes with a sharp pivot from the meal who so generously delivered herself to him. A few more steps allow Bulleta to punctuate it with a lunging tackle meant to send them through the bistro's locked doors, in lieu of a picture window.
COMBATSYS: Bulleta has joined the fight here.
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Bulleta 0/-------/-======|=------\-------\0 Valentin
COMBATSYS: Valentin blocks Bulleta's Medium Throw.
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Bulleta 0/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0 Valentin
Outside of orders issued directly from his boss, Valentin doesn't do much research. Sure, he's seen footage of the monster hunter fighting, but if it weren't for Artur whispering under his breath, he might never have pieced it together with the blonde Huntress before him. Combine that with the fact that Bulleta is basically playing a victim -- his favorite kind of dish -- and slather on a liberal heaping of arrogance, and Valentin really isn't expecting much from this meal.
He arches an eyebrow at the outcry, his grin turning into more of a cynical smirk. He even starts to answer her second outburst: "Death isn't--"
But that's when Bulleta surprises him with a lunge. Valentin chokes back his response, backpedaling and raising both arms before himself, cadaver-style -- presenting crossed arms to the blonde monster-slayer's charge. Collision is... surprisingly soft, considering that the vampire is able to float backwards instead of skidding across the ground like a mediocre human.
But he does, in fact, touch ground a few feet in front of that bistro facade that would've otherwise been his impact point. He flicks his arms out to either side, loosing a cloud of dust into the air. "Death isn't so bad, really!" His taloned fingers curl lightly, as his right shoulder rocks backwards. "It's actually rather... liberating!"
Like a shotgun, Valentin explodes forward, raking his talons in a diagonal line upwards across Bulleta's pretty red dress. He'd then seek to shift direction, reaving back downwards with a complementary slice from his left hand, aimed at clawing the Huntress back into the pavement! "GUWOOH! GUWOOOOH!"
COMBATSYS: Bulleta blocks Valentin's Razor's Edge.
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Bulleta 0/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0 Valentin
Bulleta's dress /is/ pretty.
And her cloak, adorable.
But Bulleta was always taught to dress for function as much as form.
A couple of diagonal slashes across Bulleta's chest reveal a dull gold mesh instead of blood. The follow-up falls while she's recovering from her backwards stagger and trying to brace for him, landing upon the lightweight red fabric she clutches and draws into his path. Turning her forearm with the angle of his attack spares her from showing him /more/ armored lining, but Valentin can /feel/ the resistance the moment claw and cloak meet. Afterwards, it's raw, stubborn power that holds him at bay for a beat before she whirls free of him.
Almost as tough as keeping vampiric claws from tasting blood: holding the savage thrill of moonlit combat back from drawing a pearly white crescent across her features. She can't say for sure whether Valentin knows who, exactly, he's dealing with; she's more stubborn prey than he bargained for, sure, but stubborn prey comes in so very many forms.
She's a Huntress, perhaps, but Hunters run a wide gamut: bold and brazen; stoic and calculated; plucky and determined; desperate and amateur...
The quavering, wide-eyed look cast towards the hovering Valentin belongs to a young woman praying that her luck doesn't run out before she drowns in the nightmare lapping at her chin. There's a slight stutter-step on the other end of her spinning evasion, a little fumbling as she yanks the backpack towards her front and speeds the zipper along its track; Death's got her in its sights and wants her to know that it isn't so bad, really. Sweat beads erupt across her brow amidst frantic rummaging; a deck of cards hits the ground. If he's paying attention, Valentin can make out snatches of gunmetal and steel along with camping detritus and green glass.
He could even catch the moment when her fingers end up around a wine bottle's neck and tugs it free, if he's watching closely enough. Maybe she just needs to settle her nerves...? Maybe she just has A Problem; there's still another green bottle tucked in with her belongings, near a bag of soybeans...
Only, it's that /other/ bottle which actually holds the marsala its label claims. The one she's thrusting his way while squeezing her eyes shut and turning her head from him, though...?
... well. There /is/ some grain alcohol in there, but it's cut with seltzer water; tiny bubbles fizzle into being as she gives it all a brisk shake.
"idon'twannadie," tumbles from her lips as she sets her thumb against the little striker wheel poised near the bottle's opening. "idon'twannadie idon'twannadie idon'twannabeamonsterrrrr...!"
It wouldn't - couldn't? - have been sanctified, otherwise.
The cork pops--
-- and agitated spirits kiss the air for a split-second before they're transfigured into a holy flamethrower.
COMBATSYS: Bulleta successfully hits Valentin with Cheer of Fire.
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Bulleta 1/------=/=======|======-\-------\0 Valentin
The armored lining is noted -- Valentin may have sprung the trap out of curiosity, but even in one simple exchange he understands that the diminutive demonslayer's reputation is well-deserved. He draws back a couple steps afterwards, curling his claws before him with a degree of fascination. "Well, ain't -that- curious..." he comments with a wry grin, drinking in the heady cloud of emotions surrounding his quarry. Determination and confidence, mixed in with frantic anxiety.
And then, well... he indirectly gets what he asked for, as Bulleta presents the contents of her backpack for his perusal. He maintains his distance, pacing around Bulleta in a wary semicircle as she searches -- And then a marsala bottle comes out. "Listen, that's nice and all, but that'll take forever to cook..."
He didn't notice the striker. And his eyes go wide as a gout of flame erupts from the popped cork. Flaming alcohol splashes across his face, igniting the greased-up hair -- but more importantly, searing into the vampire's alabaster flesh. "GAAAAAAHWHAHAAAAAOWW...!" he howls, beating furiously at the flames with both hands, staggering backwards as if he's about to fall over.
And then, he remembers he's a vampire. With a cymbal hit, he flickers out of view, leaving wispy, burning cinders in his wake. A moment later, he reappears roughly a foot to his right, a scarred red scowl in place of the smarmy car-dealer look from before. His hair, a disheveled mess.
"Well, warm up to the idea, girl." Valentin rears back his right hand, as blood begins to seep outward from his fingers, forming a long crimson tendril. "'Cause it's gonna hurt like hell!!"
Valentine lashes his hand forward, and the bloody tendril sweeps outward, unfurling into what now appears to be -eight- prehensile tails of crimson vitae. The tendrils will seek to grab hold of one of the Huntress' arms -- and from there, would wrench the limb outward sharply! Just a taste, of course, of what nefarious experimentation might take place later...!
COMBATSYS: Valentin successfully hits Bulleta with Bloodweaving EX.
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Bulleta 1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0 Valentin
There are eight prehensile tails, but it really only takes one.
Bulleta weaves away from the first one, ducks the second, sways back from a third-- and misses the fourth slithering along the edges of her perception while she watches five and six. The clench widens her eyes and her first instinct is to thrash-- to try her damndest to jerk herself free, jerk the tendril from his palm, or both.
Seven, eight, and the rest of their siblings put a violent stop to this when they join four. The tiny Huntress' upper body /twists/ with Valentin's vicious inquisition of her anatomy.
The scream that follows is pure method, laden with agony enough to curdle any blood but his. Immediately afterwards, she buckles towards a knee but winds up trembling with the effort of keeping herself from it. It doesn't take much effort at all to let tears sting the corners of her eyes as she bares her teeth in a grimace.
There's no sleeve so armored that her arm can't be /yanked/ out of it, no matter /how/ pretty; no words she can summon that could break his resolve before he slakes his thirst. This is the fight she picked, on terms she negotiated, if not /set/; the outcome remains uncertain, save that it /will/ end.
Right now, her only advantage in it is that she doesn't have to remember who she is.
"--AAAaaa-- rrgh-- rrrRRAAAAGH--!"
Twisting in his grasp, she tries seizing a handful of tendrils so that when she /leaps/ out of trembling towards the ground and into driving her knee towards his midsection... she can pull him into the strike's angle and let him have another taste of who he's /really/ dealing with.
COMBATSYS: Valentin dodges Bulleta's Surprise & Hop.
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Bulleta 1/-------/=======|=======\-------\0 Valentin
Fear may make for a nice appetizer, but pain is the main delicacy of the evening. Valentin may be feeling a bit of pain himself, but nothing compares to the exhilarating thrill of stretching Bulleta's body to its utmost limitations. Form-fitting armor may be nice -- but how well will it help keep a mangled body together, he wonders?
The bloody tendrils act as extensions of his own arm -- well-muscled and firm, with only a pliable, rubber-like skeleton inside. Their strength is considerable, but Bulleta's not exactly a weakling herself. The tendrils are twisted about, wrenched sideways, and -basically- are still able to follow Valentin's commands -- but Bulleta is much smaller than his usual prey. And she finds a weakness in his plan, affording her the space to slam her knee towards his--"
"You devious little--" His words are clipped by him suddenly -releasing- pressure, not wanting to give the littlest Huntress the opening she needs. The tendrils slither away, their blood-slick surface slipping right through Bulleta's grasp as the vampire leaps backward and free of the attack.
Scowling, Valenti whips his hand to the side, drawing the blood tentacles back into his palm with a sickeningly wet sound. His fingers flex, restored to their previous alabaster tone. "That's a dated dress, really. I'm surprised anyone really -falls- for that shit..."
He strafes sideways for a moment, before thrusting his foot forward in a snap kick at Bulleta's thigh. Should he gain purchase, he'd reverse direction sharply, lunging into a powerful overhand slash at her shoulder with his raking talons, aiming to test his prey even further. "GUWOOOH!"
COMBATSYS: Valentin successfully hits Bulleta with Power Strike.
-*- DEVASTATING HIT! -*-
# Disabling hit! #
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Bulleta 1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1 Valentin
** edit ** i misspelled 'Valentin' as 'Valenti'
Bulleta's arm hangs heavy at her side as she stutter-steps through the space Valentin last occupied. The opposite shoulder's tossed to shift the backpack behind her and the empty bottle's chucked away so she can clutch her brutally tested shoulder. Ragged breaths wisp through the air while she looks up at the vampire with tendrils slithering back into his smooth facade. Stinging moisture trembles in its cage until her eyes grow too fearful to contain it any longer.
A tear -- a fat, salty-sweet amuse-bouche -- buds from that doleful pool, refracting starlight for the heartbeat it lingers before its inevitable fall. Crawling down the Huntress' red-tinged cheek, it cuts a thin but heavy trail into otherwise unmarked skin. It'll take a second, maybe two to hit her jaw and fall to its final resting place against her cloak; the same can't be said of those that follow through the cracked dam.
Does anyone ever /really/ fall for her shit when it matters?
Is he? This wounded deer in-over-her-head shit?
-- is she?
She's a Huntress; she /knows/ she is. Before she knew it, she was it... but Huntress' come in all kinds, and whatever kind /she/ is, she nearly lost her arm to the /last/ monsters she hunted. To the one before them, her reputation.
(at least /someone/ fell for her shit, until it bro)
Bulleta's leg buckles when Valentin helpfully snaps her out of a lost moment. Somewhere beneath layers of ruffles and armor, honed muscle tenses to bear what it can, but pain fires unmitigated through her nerves just the same--
-- only to be forgotten--
-- when blood--
-- carves gushing arcs --
-- through the night sky.
The Hunt has little room for mercy, but there's a meager one here, a lone flicker of silver for those desperate enough to squint for it:
What/ever/ kind of Huntress she is, Bulleta is /gone/ once those wicked talons are locked into her shoulder and shredding towards bone. Big, blue eyes flutter shut amidst the white-hot avalanche burying her nervous system and her body goes limp.
When her eyes flutter open a beat later, there isn't a trace of trepidation or desperation or any of the other complicated emotions meant to keep him on the line;
the infernal labyrinth behind them has collapsed, leaving a single, disturbingly direct route;
and Valentin gets a gift she rarely gives:
A glimpse behind the many masks of Bonnie 'Bulleta' 'Hood'.
Flesh and blood fly from her shoulder with wild abandon when she /rips/ herself free of his torturous test. Rage and pain mingle in the howl that follows, unchecked by any need to keep character, to hit the right emotional cues-- bound by /nothing/ more than her battle-worn lungs' ability to fuel their voice. Thanks to his savagery, her lunge in turn is a matter of vertical rather than horizontal distance, of fulfilling a need for purchase on his slender shoulder. She's down to one good arm, but it's good /enough/, if she can clamp it in place-- if she can secure her legs around his body for full stability.
Bulleta the Actress, Bulleta the Tactical Target is gone, but Bulleta the Huntress is still here... and /she/ knows that a vampire unloading cargo at a mystery construction site is a vampire who can probably be killed by decapitation. Her tongue rolls for half a tick, then her face is darting towards his neck.
In lieu of a sword, the razor her Grandma taught her to /always/ keep close is held in her mouth so she can attempt to slash it across his throat with a quick head-twist is a good start for opening him up... but it isn't enough.
And she knows that, too.
Which is why the razor is /just/ a start. The /real/ work starts /afterwards/, if she manages to break the skin: that's when she'll spit the razor out and bring her head right back in to rip a chunk of his throat out with her /teeth/.
Whether she means to gnaw all the way through his neck and spine or wait for a vulnerable flash of ivory to reach in and crush before he can turn into mist would be for Valentin to ponder, then.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////// ]
Bulleta 1/-----==/=======|=======\====---\1 Valentin
As a soul-sucking vampire, Valentin may not know -exactly- what is going on inside Bulleta's head, but he can tell that his plan to worm into her head had been, at least in some measure, successful. Sure, she -is- a good actress ... but that usually means she has some measure of pride in her performance. And pride, the most deadly of the Seven Sins, is something the Majigen resident knows -all- about.
The scowl lessens a bit once his kick slams into her -- a bit more once his claws dig in deep. His face erupts in glee as Bulleta unleashes her furious howl -- he's almost giddy enough to start clapping like a schoolchild. Almost.
"Aww, did I strike a nerve...?" he teases, taking a sideways step as the little girl breaks free. He seems unconcerned, expecting her to keep running. To stay in character.
And that's when it hits him.
The razor in her mouth, that is.
In the throat, that is.
A crimson furrow tears its way through the alabaster plain, showering blood all over Bulleta in the process. The vampire howls in alarm, baring his dagger-sharp teeth as he attempts to pull away from his not-so-defenseless prey. But he's not successful in that, as Bulleta doubles down on that -- tearing into his throat with her -teeth-.
Yeah, Valentin didn't expect that at -all-. For all of the legends of vampiric fortitude, his skin's actually pretty thin -- as can be seen from the flaps of skin left behind from the vicious assault.
It's easier to see them flap about, when he leaps backward with a renewed scowl -- a leap that carries the supernatural being some twenty feet away. One hand clasps at his throat, stemming the flow of blood. But when his lips part, he lacks the ability to voice the words on his mind -- something which gives him no -end- of irritation.
Instead, he flashes a fierce look back at Bulleta.
And then he points at himself.
He then raises his index finger.
And then thumbs back in the direction of Artur.
And then raises his -middle- finger, to join the first.
Help -would- be on the way, wouldn't it?
Valentin begins to pull his hand away from his throat. Coagulated blood clings to his fingertips, with a thickness that would be practically impossible for human blood to achieve in such a short timeframe. Is he stalling for time...? Or giving the young woman an opportunity to do what she -claimed- to do: run?
Clouds of black mist begin to blossom into existence around him, starting around his shoulders, and rolling down the length of his arms. Despite his growing power, Valentin makes a clear suggestion to his prey with a 'shoo!' gesture with his hands.
He makes this one -super- easy to lipread.
COMBATSYS: Valentin takes no action.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////////// ]
Bulleta 1/-----==/=======|=======\====---\1 Valentin
Bulleta's got good eyes. Alabaster flapping cuts a lethal smile across her features the whole way.
Left arm limp and useless at her side, she takes a deliberate step forward, and then he signs.
And she stops to 'listen'. Presumably, anyway-- she watches him /intently/ throughout, but the gleam in her eyes as her head cants is most definitely /not/ an understanding one.
She lingers. He has a point, and it's a good one: what /about/ Artur? Perceptive, steadfast Artur, waiting by the truck while his more chaotic partner ties up loose ends? He still has to be accounted for. As she fixes her eyes to his, the Hunter agrees,
and her smile collapses, as evidence.
Boiling blue blades widen; not even a beat later, they moisten.
Messy red lips part around a shuddering gasp which rapidly spikes into whimpering...
"O-oh god, oh goddddddd..."
Another step as helpless mewling echoes in the night.
"... n-no, no, nononononooooo-ho-hooooohhh godddddd...! i-it hurts, it hurts, it huuuuuurts, whyyyyy...!"
"stop, please, pleaaaaase stop pleaaaaase i can't i can't i CAN'T...!"
He gave her a choice. He /is/ seething with deadly promise, a nightmare dangerously close to breaching reality.
That wicked scythe of a smile returns, showing off lurid stains. At the same time, her head tilts just a little bit farther while she brushes her hair aside, baring the pale expanse of her neck.
"i NEED my arm...!"
The volume falls after that one. Now that it's just for Valentin, she lets her voice fall into its natural register:
"Whassamatter...?" she lowly wonders. "Is this not /fun/ for you, anymore~?"
The cloak flutters,
and as it settles over her good hand,
she /leaps/ the rest of the distance between them.
The /power/ coagulating around him is worth a thought and then some; the fire raging through her thoroughly savaged shoulder is all the reminder she needs, there. She can/not/ risk another brush with those claws or tendrils, so her eyes are fixed on his chest and narrowed on the piece of him that matters most. Despite - or perhaps because of - this fixation, she'll wait for the last moment to flick damaged red fabric aside, revealing meticulously sharpened wood just before attempting to drive it through his cruel, dead heart.
COMBATSYS: Valentin interrupts Power Strike from Bulleta with Stake Out EX.
# Disabling hit! #
[ \\\\\\\\\\\ < > ////////// ]
Bulleta 1/----===/=======|=======\======-\1 Valentin
Black mist swirls around Valentin, his throat growing more whole by the instant. At any moment, the fiend could be up and about again, ready to strike -- and his murderous threat can be placed back on the table.
But then Valentin's bold act of mercy is thrown right back into his face -- for instead of crying while fleeing, she's crying while -advancing-. Sure, the Romanian is more talk than action, more bluster than substance. But Bulleta is something else entirely -- a creature full of anomalies and discontinuities, tough to predict and even more difficult to make plans around.
His magnanimous gift rejected, Valentin offers only a sneer, as the mist grows dark around his throat, weaving dense matrix over the aggrieved tissue. He takes a step back -- wagging his finger in chiding fashion. The silent message: No, no, stay back. You -don't- want to tempt fate, girl.
And yet, she does. Improbably, and against common sense, she leaps back into the fray with a taunt and a prayer.
And he manages the breath to cluck his tongue against his teeth, with his attacker in mid-leap. For her gaze tells him her target -- even with her weapon concealed. He knows exactly where she seeks to strike, to place her final strike on this most dangerous game.
The stake plunges into flesh, past bones, and protrudes out the side -- but not for the target Bulleta had intended. The stake instead sank into Valentin's outstretched palm, as he rasps, "On... the contrary."
Blood gushes out -- but he's not finished yet. He draws his impaled palm backward, wielding Bulleta's momentum against her as his knee rises to slam into her stomach. With a splash of crimson, he rips his hand free of the stake -- and whirls his entire body around so that he can slam her, back-first, into the pavement. Blood trails from his knee as he drags it away -- as it becomes patently obvious that the vampire's shinbone has become a lethal, jagged weapon of its own -- biting into the petite assasin's body on the withdrawal.
The vampire's less-bloodied hand clasps at his throat, as he staggers backward from the fallen Bulleta. "It's the greatest thrill imaginable -- being so close to a final death, and yet so very, -very- far away..."
He looks at his mangled hand -- the bones cracked and out of position, the flesh tattered and dripping red.
And he laughs, cupping his good hand over his mouth. Wincing in pain, he calls out, "EY, ARTUR! 'OW 'BOUT AN ASSIST OVER HERE!?"
SOME TIME AGO
"... told me to wear a swimsuit," Bulleta mutters to the well-dressed young woman in black and red who's gingerly drawing a thin gold strand around her neck. "Like I get it, it's a beach rendezvous thing, but /Christ/ is it a pain in my ass..." Her eyes fall and she gently plucks the necklace - a flat weave of precious metal and circuitry - between two fingers for light, rolling, squinting inspection. "This'll... hm. I don't think she'll /notice/ it, if I tuck it right, but... hf. The dress'd make this so much /easier/, but nooooo..."
*klik!* goes the clasp.
*beep!* goes the monitor a few feet a way. *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*...
"... okay," she murmurs through a brief chuckle, "so the biometrics /work/, but /still/-- I mean, I'm not /questioning/ Dahlia's resources," she lowly but firmly assures. "I trust her with my /life/, just..."
... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*...
"... if this Faiblesse bitch tries to drug me, attack me, /whatever/, and I'm out there with a quarter arsenal at /best/..."
... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*... *beep!*.. *beep!*.. *beep!*.. *beep!*.. *beep!* *beep!* *beep!*...
"... then at least you guys'll know where to pick up the body, right?" The woman who's moved on to, well, monitoring gets a morbidly playful grin... then she notices the screens and the lines dancing along them.
... *beep!* *beep!* *beep!* *beep!* *beep!* *beep!* *beep!**beep!**beep!**beep!**beep!**beep!*...
"... fuck," Bulleta whispers with a brief grimace and a hand clutched over her heart. Once it passes, she pushes a smile onto her face and a playful lilt into her voice as she adds, "Just, please, one favor: at /least/ tell Dahlia I went out doing something impressive if it comes to that, would you? I can't have her thinking her Huntress was some kinda /punk/, right~?"
He really shouldn't be able to talk yet. Nevermind the stake in the palm; those five raspy syllables are what tell Bulleta she has a problem.
And there's really nowhere for her to go but /down/. That's a problem, too; not /the/ problem, but /a/ problem, one that drives the air from her body and fills the air with a chorus of horrible cracks. She doesn't know where the stake is; in his hand? Spinning across the pavement after his knee forced her grip to fail? Somewhere. His knee's /right here/--
-- then blood's burbling up in the wake of its exit
(don't fucking. look.)
while a scream's wrenched from embattled lungs.
(it's bad bonnie. it's really bad. it feels bad but you don't have to look. be cool bonnie. be cool you still have time. be cool and do not look.)
The agonized note's clipped off with a snap of her teeth in short order, leaving her with a bloody scowl. Big, blue eyes struggle to remain locked upon the vampire as he mocks--
(you are going to finish what you fucking started you WILL rip his spine out with your teeth if you have to you WILL.)
Is that mist rolling from him, or-- no, it's-- it's her; it's the world trying to pull lights, it's--
-- a laugh, and a /scream/ for help--
Bonnie's muscles seize for a tick because it /is/ bad: the hole isn't so big, but the stain spreading over her apron /is/. He must've nicked something /vital/; on its own, earlier in the fight, it's a wound she could've managed: a few dramatic seconds of bleeding and stabbing pain, but nothing that adrenaline couldn't have seen her through for a while yet.
/Now/, however, a surge of adrenaline gets her little more than a few dregs of fuel as primal instinct fires in reverse. Bulleta rolls to her stomach, scrambles to her feet, then takes off in an awkward, loping sprint that sends her weaving erratically across the parking lot in short order. She's fast, /still/, but there's nothing constructed about her clumsy gait, now.
Rather than camping gear, it's tantalizing splotches of varying sizes that paint her trail across the asphault.
COMBATSYS: Bulleta has left the fight here.
[ \\\\\\\\\\ <
Nothing comes without a price. And in Valentin's case, that means the sudden whirl of exertion, combined with the exertion on vocal chords that hadn't -fully- healed yet, result in a brand new burst of crimson from the vampire's neck. After a half-second of panic he's able to clamp his hand down to stem the arterial flow -- and yet, the pain is still enough to bring the aged vampire to his knees.
He'd -rather- not show weakness to the girl, of course -- putting himself any lower to her level, in either a physical or a metaphorical sense, could be a fatal mistake. And yet, the world is spinning, disappearing into that black misty haze...
And his eyes snap wide open.
Valentin glares back at Bonnie as she begins loping off across the pavement. There is an urge to give chase. The black mist flares with a burst of purple light. And he -starts- to lift to his feet, emboldened by vampiric fortitude.
Because Artur was -waiting- for that moment to take action. That one, singular admission that the tall, stoic bastard was -right-. The powerful diesel engine roars. Twin cones of blinding light sweep across the parking lot as it rounds the bend, scraping across every rock and pebble. Bulleta's fleeing form is cast into stark relief -- ghastly shadows of herself thrown onto the vacant building facades.
Artur's at the helm of a 16-foot-long box-body truck. And he's not going to be as -forgiving- as the fast-talking associate -- the one who hears the roar of the truck, and decides to leave it to his big buddy for a few more moments.
COMBATSYS: Valentin has ended the fight here.
The sudden spray of crimson's cold comfort while the life gushes from Bulleta's body.
She meets his panic and rage halfway; there's no use in crying on the razor's edge, but the other thing'll keep her striding along it 'til another day comes. Or so she hopes, anyway, in the dubious way that Hunters tend to.
"Next time," a hoarse groan promises before she hits her belly and--
-- headlamps pierce the night;
gold lances the brutal Bambi.
Rubber screams for blood.
She has a building and a corner on the diesel-fed beast roaring into-- well. 'View', if she were to look;
proximity, anyway. She has a building and a corner, but it's becoming 'had' at an alarming rate. The corner is important, here. It may not /seem/ like much, but it is: Artur and his cargo-laden chariot are big and bearing right down on her, but 'big' still means 'clumsy' for chariots, in ways that it probably doesn't for Arturs. 'Clumsy' means wide, awkward turns; it means that a little warning is probably appreciated before quick maneuvers are needed. Awkward turning and sluggish precision maneuvering mean hidden muscles flexing just so while Bulleta clenches her teeth and /forces/ both hands to the hem of her dress.
"Hnngh-- ggrrah!" means a twirling leap and one leg kicking across the other at its apex.
Fluttering red fabric and white ruffles: a silver disc with a blinking red light embedded dead center sliding across asphault, into the truck's path.
And /that/ means that Bulleta'll only have to deal with running from a big, probably not clumsy, probably pissed off Darkstalker who seemed to feel that he needed a truck to catch her.
Or so she hopes, whatever that means for a Huntress like her in a moment like this.
Then she just--
-- needs to call--
-- there are-- there's a Hunter taking advantage of the city's increased activity--
The truck roars ever closer. Red and white reflections flicker across the truck's chrome bumper, against the intake grille. The boxy behemoth threatens to steamroll right over Bulleta, churning her into so much red pulp...
And yet, as Artur bears down from the cab high above, something changes. The prey flutters out of the way. Artur starts to turn the wheel, before realizing it's a moot point -- the truck will miss its target. And all he'd accomplish with a quick turn is demolishing the truck, and possibly the buildings. The Romanian's forehead creases in consternation as he slams his foot onto the brake...
The driver's side tire shreds into pieces, ruptured from the detonation of a mine underneath. Elsewhere, there are the sounds of shrapnel tearing its way through the axle, through the steering column, through the air brake lines. The entire truck surges, as the cab is lifted up -- forcing it to behave in ways it doesn't want to.
And then the cab -falls-, torquing hard to the left, as the shredded front tire is no longer able to support the vehicle's weight. A shower of sparks rains out, cascading across the pavement, as the wheel brake takes on a new role as an angle grinder, burning a red-hot chasm through the aged pavement. The truck buckles forward, compressing...
And Artur holds on tight, baring his teeth as he wrestles with the machinery, steadfastly determined to keep the wreck from getting -worse-. And after an agonizing eight seconds, it -does-.
For as soon as the truck pulls to a halt, the beleaguered cargo doors buckle from the weight inside, exploding open with a clang. Hard, round, metallic objects begin to roll out from the truck's interior -- each hitting the ground with large, viscous *CLONG!*. Each one leaves behind a small impact crater in the pavement. Dim lighting shows the surface of the round objects to be smooth, like obsidian, with some sort of organic matter cracking and splitting on the outside. The objects resemble eggs, to be sure -- but they are heavy, not rolling very far once they thud down.
With the vehicle stopped, Artur slams through the gear shifter, shutting off the engine. And an instant later, a jet-black cloud of mist surges through the driver side door of the vehicle.
An instant after that, the form of the six-foot tall thunderclaps into existence. And a moment after -that-, the burly Romanian vampire's boots hit the pavement. Veins are visible, pulsing in his forehead, as he stalks across the pavement towards Bonnie.
"Nowhere to run," he states with the gravitas of a freight train, his hands curled into fists at his side as he strides ever closer with a deliberately -menacing- pace.
There's nowhere to run.
How does one hide without sanctuary?
The ascendant Burkoff's unrelenting arrogance and undeniable /power/ scoured the Akatsuki-gumi from Southtown months ago. A ruined leg was all he needed to seal the decree: Southtown is the Syndicate's; the Syndicate is Duke's.
... but Southtown is a big city; Duke, a man who conquered death with ambitions big enough to suit. How might a woman too clever to /ever/ show an opponent her full hand go about hiding assets in the killing glare of the man who Hell spat out?r
Why, the same way a monster too evolved to bother with putting a human face on his aims might:
Several blocks away, there is an auto mechanic. The mechanic is a mechanic, neither a front nor a laundering node; he's been in business for about thirteen years now, having built it up from nothing with his own two hands and a dream.
All for Kanon, his flower that bloomed when the doctors claimed she'd wilt. All for /her/, her future, however long it may be. Whatever dreams /she/ might grow to chase, /his/ is to ensure she'll never want for anything more. And for a spell - once the taut, early years of treatment and uncertainty gave way to remission, stabler rhythms, and /saving/ - it was a dream so strong, so pure that Mr. Higuchi kept a calendar with his last day as a full-time mechanic hung in the shop. Sure, he had to keep another beside it to track the /current/ year's dates, but what's a little indulgence in pursuit of a dream?
Bittersweet, as it turned out-- at least after verdicts like last year's, it was:
Three simple syllables to swallow; two consequences to choke on:
Giving her another shot at life would cost him all he'd saved and then some; it would cost her the promise of a future simpler, less fraught than her uncertain childhood.
One dream deferred...
... if not for /Her/.
Because there are always ways to get what you need - /really/ need - in Southtown, especially when it's something as simple as money. It's just a matter of what you're willing to /pay/. Kanon's future for a van in his garage? For an extra hand or two around the shop now and then?
It was a /steal/.
Several blocks away, there is an auto mechanic where gas fumes and burned rubber hang in the air. A silver van fit for a family of /some/ kind screams down the streets connecting it to an abandoned arcade where fresh coats of paint and sedate construction belie the machinations of a mad... thing, for Jedah Dohma is much, much more than a man.
AN ABANDONED ARCADE
"Fuck you!" Bulleta gasps in abrupt reply. Of /course/ her body betrays her just afterwards, driving her good hand to the hole in her gut as a fresh wave of agony sears frayed nerves. She loses a couple steps to stumbling, weaves sharply left after recovering, and needs about half a dozen more to even begin to approach full speed again. He would see a mine /now/; she couldn't look, so she missed him going misty, but she knows he's /perceptive/. And taking his sweet fucking time coming after her, to boot. A rocket...
... maybe he wouldn't see a rocket, but it wouldn't /stop/ him, either, and meanwhile... what would it do to /her/? Kickback's a /bitch/, especially with these backpack models; the basket's got more room for vents.
There's nowhere to run, but she runs. She /must/ run, because the alternative is death; as Val and Artur may have both learned tonight, doing what she /must/ tends to come more naturally than doing what she's told.
An engine cries in the distance, mingling with squealing tires. A little red combat boot snags a hole in the asphault; after irresponsible levels of blood loss and exertion, the best she can manage is rolling through it after she pitches onto her hands and knees.
Closer... Artur, the engine, the squealing, all of it.
The cloak flutters wildly around her as she fumbles for a knife. /Any/ knife. She's /not/ a punk. She's /not/ a helpless little girl, a victim to get monstrous blood pumping.
She's Bonnie-fucking-'Bulleta'-fucking-'Hood', and if tonight's her last Hunt? Then so
A door slides open at 40 mph.
"Fuck!" The knife clatters to the ground so Bulleta can clutch her ear, for all the good it does /after/ a young man in black coveralls unleashes a shotgun shell just a few feet behind her. Whether it hits or /doesn't/, it could only ever hope to keep Artur at bay-- at /best/. Bulleta likely knows this better than the gunman, so she doesn't waste a lick of time in snatching her fallen weapon, then pivoting to chase the van rolling through the lot. Several monitors light an otherwise dim space for a crew of three men and a woman; Bulleta recognizes the sound and the dancing lines immediately.
Poco accelerando; the biometrics catch it, of course.
The driver doesn't keep her running for long: the wheelwoman taps the brake until the van and Bulleta are close enough for the latter to /throw/ herself into that inviting dimness. A couple hands reach for her at first, but she actually bats them away; there's /no/ chance of her letting them pull and manipulate that arm of hers, even at reduced speeds.
Rolling over metal and smacking into a surveillance console will be just fine, thank you. Notionally, theoretically, 'thank you'... because whatever gratitude she might or might not feel winds up voiced in faltering groans as her head lolls and the door's slammed shut behind her.
But maybe she'll remember them when she wakes up later. The more important hypothetical is 'will Artur tear the van apart with his bare hands', and as the vehicle does a wide-angled drift meant to reorient it for an exit, the Akatsuki shotgunner racks another shell and heads to the back doors so he can discourage the vampire from testing it.
The relationship between Artur and Valentin is simple. The shorter, lanky one runs his mouth, occasionally tripping over his own mistaken words, relying on his charisma to unveil the hidden agendas of whatever the current target is. And the taller, stoic one just listens to -everything-, keeping track of each and every variable, maintaining an even keel, and executing the grand overarching mission with brutal efficiency.
The working arrangement has achieved a nearly perfect record of success.
An unaccounted-for factor entered the equation at an unusual tangent.
The shopping arcade was on the main western thoroughfare, and yet it had been abandoned for so long that no one in their right mind would have reason to visit. There were no stores here, no restaurants, nothing of interest to anyone. Not until tonight, when the precious cargo carried by Artur in the truck found itself partially spilled across the asphalt -- a series of shiny, glassy eggs in the leftward reaches of the tall Romanian's periphery, their fragile shrouds fractured from impact. Failure is imminent -- kept at bay with each thundering footfall.
Fuck you, she says.
And a smaller copy of the Huntress shouts back at her, reflected through cold, dead eyes.
Artur hears the squeal, but it too is an anomalous variable to the cold calculation. What good can -it- do, when the objective is at hand? Laser-focused on his goal, he shuts out the noise -- the muted din of the metropolis of Southtown, the squealing tires, the warning cries of -- -- --
"Dammit, Artur! Just -ice- the bitch! She's no good to us =dead!="
Valentin wasn't out yet. His hoarse cries strain vocal chords that were already struggling to stitch themselves back together. He's pushed himself back to his feet by this point, though that may only be a temporary status as he lists unsteadily from one side to the other.
And when he hears the squeal of tires, his eyes go wide. Like Artur, he recognizes the danger as an external, unmitigated factor, threatening to cast the entire mission into the abyss of failure. But unlike Artur, he's had time to broaden his scope. To see the wider picture for what it is. To see the -escape vehicle- for what it is.
"DIVE FOR HER, YOU ASSHOLE!"
-- -- -- the warning cries of Valentin, the impotent rage of his target as she drops a knife. Artur -has- to shut it all out, for otherwise, his silent fury will take control, and the stoic giant =will= compromise his mission.
He reaches forward, aiming to sweep the girl right up into his expansive grasp.
And his prey leaps forward into her salvation, the passenger compartment of a passing van.
The very same van that Artur's face slams into a moment later. The van's door shudders as the towering hulk rebounds off of it, the differential in momentum sufficient enough to bounce him a good twenty feet away. His body ragdolls, flipping end-over-end until he's just about to hit the ground -- at which point the entire mess dissolves into black mist. Reforming with a small thunderclap, Artur lands in a three-point stance.
And when he looks up at the intervening vehicle -- one he has now expanded his focus to include? His face is a mask of sheer, unabiding =rage=
He rises to his feet. Elbows close to his hips, he balls his hands into fists. It's not just a signal of outrage -- it's a channeling of his focus. For as his elbows unhinge downward, massive wings erupt outward from his shoulderblades, beginning as ruddy red blood, but solidifying into leathery black in just two seconds.
The leathery wings beat once, tentatively.
And then they beat a second time, propelling Artur into the air.
Shotguns be damned. This project demands the utmost of secrecy. The interlopers must be destroyed, utterly.
How good of a -flier- is Artur, anyway? One would hope that however good he is, the van passengers' aim is -better-.
Bulleta has an appointment with the shorter, lanky one for another place, another night, another 'doble with death. Another chance to seize twisted ambition by the horns and wrench it into submission.
The taller, stoic one can/not/ be allowed into the audience a second time.
But that's something to consider later, when he isn't /chasing/ her towards an unwanted curtain call. When she's not sore and scrambling for footing-- for a last line of protection--
-- when there aren't strange, black metal eggs cracked and leaking across the asphalt, demanding a measure of her precious, dwindling focus--
-- when she knows there /is/ a later because she's living in it.
For /now/, she just lets Artur see her eyes fixing on his throat while, "'m still hungry," falls from blood-painted lips in a snarl. "C'mon, you fucking--"
Until 'now' cedes to rapidly shifting variables and an asshole diving into a van door.
And a Huntress whose adrenaline's ebbing rapidly as she bounces around a metal floor.
To leathery wings /beating/ the air, /driving/ silent fury skywards.
Naturally, this begs a question: just how good /is/ the Akatsuki gunman's aim? The answer may be obvious, if still a little nuanced:
The Scarlet Dahlia doesn't have time for amateurs, but an intelligent, pissed off vampire with a mission beneath his wings is a /very/ different beast from stationary targets and Syndicate thugs, both. The first couple shots are perilously wide, but he's watching the Darkstalker intently, trying to get a bead on his movements; leading, lining up the shot, best as he can.
While the gunman works, so does Bulleta, heedless of the hands trying to administer first aid: her good shoulder twists towards discomfort to guide her hand into the backpack for fumbling rummaging. She doesn't /stop/ one of them from carefully cutting blood-soaked material away to staunch her stomach and shoulder, but when the other tries to grab her forearm to stop /her/... he gets a raspy, "fuzakeru na," for his troubles.
A few beats - and one sharp, improbable *thump!* against the van floor - later, he also gets-- an apple.
miraculously unbruised after its bottom was *thump!*ed against metal
"armed," she groans in Japanese. A trembling index finger thrusts towards the rear door. "/throw it/."
To his credit, he manages to take all of this in stride pretty readily. Maybe it's because he's >..< close to being supper or slurry; maybe there was a memo warning the Akatsuki's soldiers that this kind of thing might happen to them with a Huntress in the organization. With a firm, if wide-eyed nod, he quickly crouch-walks to take up a spot beside the shotgunner.
(Artur's furious glare's getting closer by the second, but so are those sights...)
He is not, as it turns out, an apple-throwing prodigy of some kind. Try as he might, Bulleta's gift goes a few feet to Artur's right, easy...
... but to /it's/ credit, the blast radius is such that the vampire still has rolling thunder and blooming flames to maneuver around, all of a sudden-- to be thrown off-route by, potentially. Either way, it'll serve an important purpose by limiting Artur's options, just a bit; making his movements more predictable for just a second.
Just long enough for honed reflexes and a well-trained eye to lock on so the gunman can send a slug hurtling towards Artur's center mass.
Valentin stares back as Artur faceplants into the side of a van, and rebounds off it like a playground ball. To say he "pales" would be criminally inaccurate, but he definitely bears an aghast expression at the sight. So much for his raspy, shouted warnings, he figures -- only fair, with how much priority he gives Artur's advice.
Still. There are mission priorities. And there are procedures to follow. The lanky Romanian pulls out a cellphone, and starts jabbing away at the display. Holding it up to a blood-spattered cheek ear, he starts to bark out orders to the person on the other side.
"It's Val. ... Yeah. ... Gonna need a cleanup crew. I'll need twenty spooks out here pronto. Formal dress. -Very- wide open. ... Yeah. Well, if Lord High and Mighty wants to take care of it himself, we could use the help."
Artur weaves left, weaves right. An ace enforcer, an ace driver, and now an ace pilot, he's made quick work of nearly everything the Huntress had thrown at him thus far. The burly Romanian is determined to get his hands on the troublesome girl one time. And, given the opportunity, he'd wring most of the life from her neck. Red-hot slugs are brushed aside with mighty wingbeats, landing with depleted momentum some distance from their intended targets. Someone else's mess to deal with, really. His flight path is erratic, with the only real constant being that he's able to keep pace with the vehicle -- he'd be going considerably faster in straight-line distance, all things considered.
But that has a lot to do with the gruff enforcer's focusing on one lone gunman.
The introduction of yet another variable, though?
That causes him a bit -more- consternation.
While swerving to avoid one shotgun blast, he catches sight of a shiny red object in the reaches of his periphery. He thinks little of it -- rapidly identifying it as an apple, and just as rapidly writing it off as a move born of desperation, not strategy. After all, there are no varieties of apple known to be a threat to aerial dogfighting vampires.
Until now, of course. When the bloody thing explodes. Artur sucks in his breath -- more as an undying concession to his former self -- and draws in tight, beating his wings fiercely to skew him away from the deadly radius of the blast. Fire, after all, isn't a great supplement to vampiric constitutions.
But for the one moment he was watching the blast, another hits its mark. Deforming on impact with undead muscle, the fiery impact spreads heat all throughout Artur's flesh. An agonized grunt is forced from cold lips as his wings struggle to maintain flight. And yet -- the sudden displacement forces him to lose his equilibrium, his orientation.
Artur's back impacts hard into the side of a metal power pole, his leathery wings wrapping around it from the sheer momentum. Another pained grunt is loosed as the vampire rebounds forward in a jackknifed pose. He recovers some sense of his orientation as he plummets to the ground -- barely able to catch himself on the ground with both hands, knees and legs bent in an awkward position, with the wings righting themselves only a moment later.
And by the time he looks up...
The vehicle is speeding off. Even discounting his considerable injuries, it'd prove difficult for him to close the gap with the shotgun defense. He grunts, clasping one hand to the weeping wound on his cracked ribcage, huffing a rasped breath through tightly clenched teeth. Bulleta -- must become a second priority now.
He watches the vehicle speed off into the distance, remorsefully.
And then he turns back to look at Valentin.
The shorter vampire holds a thumbs-up to his partner. And then holds up his phone as further suggestion of what he meant by that.
Artur kneads his forehead with a hand. This will be... difficult to explain to the boss, Lord High and Mighty himself. The only mark in his favor is that, yes, the precious payload -- while revealed momentarily -- is safe for now.
The gunman gives it a few vampire-free seconds before slamming the van doors shut. "Hostile's down," he then grunts, pivoting towards the crumpled young woman whose blood's creeping against the surveillance console. The smoking gun dangles in his grip while he massages his chest and brings his breathing back to tempo.
Just takes a moment to be grateful that it's /her/ heart scoring their trip and not his.
Then, he tips his chin, clinically curious: "Is she...?"
"She's tough," says the First Aid Akatsuki. After running and rummaging and rude gift-giving, Bulleta doesn't have it left in her to be a pain in the ass while she's treated. No more attempts at moving or feigning a measure of wellness to save face; she's limp on her back, having been rolled to it again after she fetched the apple. Her shallow, staccato breaths and the vivid splashes on his hands and wrists paint a dire picture, but of course the biometrics know the full story:
"She's probably going to make it. I'm getting the bleeding under control, but there's no telling how much internal damage..."
"... gotta..." the Huntress sighs beneath his assessment as her eyes slide shut.
"... she might have suffered. Her shoulder, especially..."
"... eggs..." she breathes into the darkness.
"The sooner she gets to Kimura, the better her odds will be. I know some fundamentals, but..."
Log created on 20:46:34 01/04/2019 by Bulleta, and last modified on 15:49:00 01/09/2019.