Description: Having bested one of the Dragon's stronger minions in personal combat, the self-proclaimed Demon Queen has earned the right to a face-to-face meeting with the likewise self-proclaimed Mercenary Queen in her current palace - the Dragon's Den Casino. Evidence of the failed assault on the shielded facility still litters the ground as she approaches, offering a potent warning about the danger the is walking into. But whether she's looking or a fight or just interested in having a chat, Lyraelle finds herself welcomed into the obsidian fortress to have her audience.
The journey across Southtown had taken nearly two days. While the demon queen's guide had made steady progress, his massive strides devouring distance at a rapid pace, the sheer size of a modern metropolis is often lost on those able to zip across it at breakneck speeds in vehicles. Though he did not complain openly, the brute's injuries also clearly slowed his progress, and he seemed disinclined to push himself past a casual stroll for her sake.
Throughout the journey the rugged dark stalker remains silent and stoic, ignoring any and all attempts at conversation save to offer disinterested grunts or dismissive waves of his hand. It's clear that he is not happy about being forced to act as an escort and the sting to his pride at being defeated by one of the hated nobility yet throbs in his wounds like freshly rubbed salt.
The city appears quite different without the people to give it life, a strange stone monument devoid of purpose. A lingering miasma of rot and blood hangs in the air replacing the familiar bouquet of car exhaust and body odor that permeates any major center of civilization. Countless vehicles lie strewn across the empty streets in haphazard piles or packed together in neat lines, doors still hanging ajar as those trapped within attempted to flee the tidal wave of monsters as it washed over them. Bodies are not an uncommon sight, though most have been picked clean by roving scavengers, dark stalkers and birds alike. It looks like something out of the opening scenes of a cheesy horror movie, only without the comforting thought that nothing being shown is real.
As the sun begins to dip at the end of the second day, the minotaur finally reaches the edge of the concrete jungle. He emerges into the open, pausing to sweep his big bulbous bovine eyes across the open stretch of green that stretches around the southern end of the metropolis, a thin line that divides the city from the bright white sands of the beach and its harbor.
The beast lifts one massive hand and points towards a single large structure. Made of dark black stone, it thrusts upwards out of the sands like a craggy mountain peak, atop which rests a great winged dragon coiled up in repose. The casino is easy enough to recogize to anyone who has seen it before. If she'd watched Kira's broadcast on her portable devices then Lyraelle would surely be familiar with the sight as well.
"Thy opportunity to speak with the Dragon shall soon be upon thee. Come."
Without waiting for her to respond, the dark stalker lumbers into motion again. There seems to be a little more pep in his step now, his gait accelerating into a light jog. Perhaps the prospect of returning to his master has invigorated him or maybe he's just spent the last couple of days conserving his strength. Whatever the reason for his sudden enthusiasm, the minotaur trots forward at a good clip on a direct line towards the Dragon's Den.
The evidence of the battle with the NOL becomes obvious as they draw near to the fortress. Large patches of the road leading up to the casino are scored with deep gouges and stained with dark patches of what can only be dried blood. The ruined burnt-out husk of an armored transport lies tipped over one side, faint wisps of acrid smoke still lazily trailing out of its shattered frame. To the west, the crash site of one of the NOL's magical fighter-bombers draws the eye, a smouldering crater in the side of a towering skyscraper that still gutters with whatever arcane power fueled the sorcerous contraption.
In contrast, the casino seems to be completely unscathed by whatever conflict took place here. Save for the patches of shattered concrete in its parking lot that had been converted into trenches, it looks like any other garishly over-designed entertainment venue, ready to open its brightly colored doors to visitors the moment the danger has passed. The squad of soldiers in full tactical body armor make the place look slightly less inviting, however, particularly when they hoist their weapons in both the minotaur and Lyraelle's direction once they draw close to the edge of the lot.
"Halt! Identify yourself!"
It's difficult to tell whether these people are male or female through the bulk of their gear. Each wears a full-coverage helmet with a tinted face-pane which offers no insight into who might be behind it. One individual steps to the fore, his own weapon held loosely but ready to be snapped up at a moment's notice. The voice that issues forth to challenge them is disorted slightly as it comes out of the speaker mounted on the lower half of the mask but it sounds distinctly male and full of authority.
While her stride may not match the minotaur's, Lyraelle has little trouble keeping pace with her escort. Her legs carry her with long light steps, practically prancing or skipping in a manner that a suspicious guide might think to be a mockery of the situation. In fact, half the time, she seems to be imitating the beastman, but in a fusion with her own happy-go-lucky confidence that makes the whole thing look a bit silly.
At least she's content to remain silent.
At one point during the march, an alert pops up on a mobile device in the Demon Queen's possession, and she takes it out to play a recording of the Dragon's broadcast. And she seems to be one of those types that will happily play a video on their phone loud enough for the world around them to hear, whether they like it or not.
"Ugh, she's totally tech shaming. If everybody ditches social media, then I'll have to conquer everything by force, and /that/ would be a pain in the ass."
She watches the whole thing, green eyes fixed on the screen. She doesn't make any further comment on the video, although her expression is a constantly shifting sea of expressions - mostly dubiousness, consideration, perhaps reluctant agreement or appreciation - and definitely a hint of envy throughout, especially when the video pans out to reveal the lair of the Dragon, dragon atop and all.
"Oh my God, have you seen this? She has totally has a supervillain lair! Look!"
The demoness holds the phone with the screen up toward the minotaur, turning her own eyes ahead as she does so - in time to see the actual edifice looming up ahead, and the man-bull hundreds of feet in advance of her indicating it. Her eyes widen covetously for a long moment before she hops up into the air, her wings beating to carry her forward to catch up to her guide as she tucks away the phone. It takes some doing, now that the minotaur has regained some vigor in his gait.
The signs of battle as they approach the casino draw some interested looks from Lyraelle, but the Demon Queen doesn't seem fazed by the carnage - though she does give an appreciative whistle at the downed fighter-bomber.
"I wonder how much reverse-engineering that thing would be worth. If I had an engineering corps... or somebody to lug it to my base... or a base to lug it to."
A wistful sigh escapes the Demon Queen; she doesn't even have builder units available to harvest minerals, yet.
When the soldiers demand that Lyraelle identify herself, she flits over to the minotaur, audaciously perching on his shoulder and crossing her legs, if he doesn't make a scene - and with her tail with its tip at the beastman's neck, warning of what may come if he does.
"Please inform them that you are escorting Lady Lyraelle Darkheart, who seeks an audience with your Master, the Dragon, and who did soundly defeat thee in personal combat."
She turns a sugary smile to the soldiers as her wings flutter briefly.
The minotaur seems uncowed - badum tish - by the display of force, both that of the soldiers and the uppity succubus. He glares at Lyraelle as she settles on his shoulder, who seems presumptive that he won't simply crush her flat or order the guards to open fire for her audacity. To his credit, he dismisses the insult with an annoyed snort and remains true to their bargain, turning to address the soldiers.
"This creature speaks true. In honorable combat did she best me and in return for mine life bade me bring her forth to have an audience with the master. Stand aside, guardsman, and let us pass."
That is apparently not what the soldiers expected to hear. The leader cocks his head to the side, clearly contemplating this development. After a moment, he shakes his head and mutters something that turns into unintelligible static in the helmet speaker, clearly annoyed.
"Wait here. Don't move. I'll see what the boss wants to do about this."
Turning to wander off to the side where he can have a private conversation through his radio, the squad leader leaves the remaining four soldiers to keep an eye on the pair of dark stalkers. They shift their attention evenly, one pair training what looks like very dangerous advanced assault rifles on the minotaur while the other directs their aim at devil sitting on his shoulder. They wait in silence, barely moving at all like robotic sentinels. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to get their answer.
"Stand down," the leader barks. The guns lower and the faceless minions step back, remaining watchful and alert. He turns his gaze up towards Lyraelle, or the front of his helmet, at least. "The Dragon has agreed to speak with you." His head swivels towards the minotaur's face. "And you are ordered to escort the guest inside and make sure she behaves herself."
The beast lets out another irritated snort but dips his head once in acknowledgement.
"Very well. We shall go immediately."
The brute starts to take a step forward but a quick gesture from the soldier halts him in his tracks.
"Hold on, we need to lower the shield. That is unless you'd like to be served up as grilled steaks tonight."
The bull's eyes narrow into a furrowed glower but he waits as the mercenary makes another radio call. A faint sense of pressure that wasn't overtly obvious bleeds out of the atmosphere around them a few moments later and an almost invisible shimmer twinkles as the air distorts like a soap bubble.
"Alright, it's safe. Go on through."
Giving the space in front of him a wary look, the minotaur takes a tentative step forward. Upon finding that he does not immediately get disintegrated, he snorts and starts to stride confidently past the guards, making his way across the trench-lined parking lot.
While large, the twin double doors at the front of the casino have no chance of allowing the towering beast to enter through them. Instead, he makes his way around the outside of the structure until they circle around to the rear. Several loading docks line the rear wall, most likely for the food and alcohol served in the establishment. The minotaur walks up to the one furthest to the left and places one of his meaty fingers against a large black panel mounted on the wall. There is a flash of light as a green laser sensor zips up and down a few times to scan the monster's fingerprint. Apparently satisfied, the machine lets out a chirp and the red LED on its top shifts to green. With a dull rumble, the loading bay door lifts upwards allowing them entrance into the Dragon's Den.
A large storage bay greets them upon stepping through the opening. Dozens of palettes lay neatly stacked around the concrete floor, each one sporting labels in various languages. A few of the crates have already been opened revealing such things as bottles of wine, fancy plates and silverware made out of actual precious metals, and bushels of fresh fruit. While it might be a fortress for a blossoming super villain now, this place had clearly not been just putting up a front when it was considered to be just a casino.
The minotaur turns and heads down a long hallway whose unusually high ceiling has obviously been designed to accommodate beings such as the dark stalker. The corridor makes a slow curve around the outer edge of the facility until it comes to an abrupt halt in front of a pair of massive doors. Another fingerprint scan reveals that these doors hide an industrial scale elevator which the minotaur steps into. The trip down takes them far longer than should be necessary if it was meant simply to descend into a basement for storage or something of that nature. Their descent goes on for nearly a full minute before the contraption comes to a rumbling halt, its doors peeling slowly open to reveal the true nature of the Dragon's Den.
What the demon queen finds before her is nothing short of a secret underground military base. Reinforced metal walls expand outwards into a wide domed area nearly the size of a small stadium. Dozens of machines, mostly computers and server stacks, line every wall and divide the space up into smaller subsections which are in turn filled with work benches, desks, computer terminals, and filing cabinets. There's space enough for at least a hundred operators, though the vast majority of the stations seem to be abandoned at the moment, leaving only a small handful of personnel dressed in sharp military fatigues to hold down the fort. Each and every one of them sports a weapon of some kind on their person and racks of fresh assault rifles can be seen scattered at key points throughout the dome.
A dozen sealed bulkheads labeled with large industrial print section numbers ring the exterior of the central room, each one leading off into some unknown branch of the base. Their designations offer no insight into the nature of the secrets they hold, being little more than a combination of numbers and letters that hold meaning only to those loyal to the Dragon. Small bubbles of tinted glass cover every entrance, each one housing what is likely a small security camera, though they could equally be the focusing lenses for a deadly laser defense system for all she knows.
Their arrival is met by another squad of security guards dressed in the same concealing armor as those up top. While they don't immediately point their weapons at Lyraelle, it's clear that she isn't going to be allowed to wander freely on her own. The leader of this group nods at the minotaur and gestures for him to follow and together the small group makes their way around the workspaces towards a small pocket of open space dominated by a single large table and some accompanying chairs.
Kira reclines in one such chair, her feet propped up nonchalantly on the edge of the table. She is dressed in much the same fashion as the video she released, save that the kevlar vest is draped over the back of an empty chair. Instead, she sports a sleeveless black muscle-shirt that drapes loosely across her shoulders and chest leaving her tattoo-laden arms bare.
Next to her stands another woman with dark brown hair tied back into a neat braid. She is dressed in mostly the same fashion as the Dragon, save that her shirt cuts off just below her bust leaving her well-toned abdomen exposed. Instead of guns, a pair of heavy combat knives are strapped to her thighs with tactical belts.
Upon the arrival of her guests, Kira puts on a wide smirk, holding her arms out wide in greeting. The other woman remains stoically silent, watching the pair with silent hawk-like intensity.
"Ah, Zander! I see you've brought a guest."
The blonde waves off the soldiers and who offer a salute before wandering back to their posts. Kira makes a sweeping gesture around the room before tucking her hands behind her head.
"Welcome to my little home away from home. It's a bit on the drab side but I never was much of an interior decorator."
The Demon Queen - or simply Lady Lyraelle, it seems, for the moment - takes no issue with the delay, using the time to straighten her attire, then pulling out her phone and using the camera as a mirror - making sure that her pink bangs are in place to give the 'magnificent, yet approachable' look that she goes for. She maintains her perch, her tail idly brushing against the minotaur's neck in a manner that would appear friendly or affectionate to anyone not aware of the appendage's true nature - and at the same time subtly menacing to those who are.
When the leader of the masked soldiers gives the go-ahead to the pair of darkstalkers, Lyraelle slides her phone off and tucks it away, then gives a smile to the squad's commander.
"Don't worry; I'll be on my best behaviour~"
With that, she gives a flip of her hair, instantly undoing all of the meticulous primping she was up to before and yet causing her pink ponytailed mane to adopt a perfectly pleasant arrangement regardless as she gives a scout salute to the soldiers.
When the two receive the warning about the shield, her Infernal Majesty is clearly impressed.
"Ooh... guess that's one way to avoid game over by air strike. I wonder how you keep the lights on."
The succubus' interest seems genuine, her green eyes roving as the pair make their way around the outside of the casino complex and then enter in. They linger especially on both the hand scanner and the crates of luxuries.
"Even the loading area feels fancy. How much do you get paid, anyway?" she idly wonders of her travel companion, though she doesn't hold out much hope of a straight answer.
She's just finished another grooming session when the elevator arrives at the military base, and again, she can't seem to help but coo with envy at the subterranean fortress.
"Do you ever stop and think that your job is, like, really cool?" the succubus leans down to ask the minotaur as the basement welcome wagon greets them.
It's only once they arrive in the conference area that the demoness finally dismounts, sliding down the minotaur's arm like a child down a bannister in an old movie and landing on her feet before sauntering closer.
"Zander? You never told me your name was Zander," she chastises the minotaur, folding her arms under her chest with a look of casual derision on her face. The expression melts mercurially as she turns toward Kira, replaced with an amicable smile.
"I think it's fabulous. Not my personal style, but it definitely fits the whole militant Darwinist aesthetic. I'd hate to hit the big red button on a place like this, if I owned it. Oh!"
She catches herself in the middle of admiring and gesturing at the decor, lowering her arms and folding her hands behind her back.
"Sorry, you're probably expecting an introduction."
She straightens up, clears her throat - and looks expectantly up at the minotaur.
The minotaur glowers back at the tiny dark stalker, his expression full of contempt. He stamps at the ground with one hoof in irritation, kicking up a spray of sparks from the cold steel.
"My promise was to convey thee unto the Dragon. I have fulfilled that bargain. I am no longer beholden unto to thy commands and am no manservant of yours. Use thy own wicked tongue to speak, temptress."
The creature does nothing to hide the venom in his words. Whether or not Kira is aware of the age-old hatreds that lie beneath the surface, it's plain to see that the minotaur has no love for Lyraelle.
Pursing her lips into a thoughtful expression, Kira thinks quietly for a moment then shakes her head a couple of times. A soft tutting sound emenates from the mercenary queen as she fixates her gaze on the minotaur, waggling a finger in his direction.
"Now now, Zander. This is my guest. I expect you to behave yourself as long as she does."
Despite her chastisement of the bull, the unspoken threat behind those words isn't hard to notice. The moment that Lyraelle wears out her welcome the hospitality being extended to her is no longer valid. Even the dull monster manages to recognize this, lowering his head in a placated nod towards her.
"Very well, master. I believe this..." Zander frowns, growling softly in a brief pause before replacing the word he was going to use with a more diplomatic one. "...woman referred to herself as Lyraelle Darkheart."
As a bit of petty insult, he deliberately 'forgets' to use her title. If she wants to posture with such things around the Dragon she can do it herself.
Mollified, Kira nods and turns her attention to the demon, her smirk returning.
"Darwin, huh? Lots of people make the mistake of assuming that he was referring to survival of the strongest. Hitler comes to mind."
She shakes her head, lowering her feet to the floor to rise from her seat. Being compared to the likes of the world's most twisted and insane psychopath isn't something she's fond of. Sure, she's willing to do things most people can't understand and wouldn't have the spine to commit to even if they did. A lot of that happens to involve seemingly pointless death and destruction. But there is method to her madness, a worthy goal that even the most ardent moralizer would be forced to agree is in the interest of humanity.
"The most fit to survive and the most powerful are not always the same thing. The strongest man in the world will still die when pulled under the ocean, even if he can beat every creature that exists in that dark abyss in fight. His inability to survive in that environment renders his strength meaningless."
She waves a hand dismissively at the air.
"I am not worried about who is fit to survive. Mankind has already proven themselves the masters of our world. Through social instinct and advanced cognitive capacity we have overcome almost every challenge that nature has thrown in our way. A tiger may kill a lone man if caught unawares in the jungle but there are a million more where he came from and we have /guns/. Feel free to take a look around my trophy room if you want to see what happens when you bring teeth to a gun fight."
The mercenary flashes a dazzling grin. Despite her rugged nature, Kira radiates a sort of natural charm. She doesn't have the same flashy youthful appeal as the succubus nor dress in nearly so provocative a manner but it would be hard to describe the underworld warlord as anything other than attractive. Her strange slitted eyes narrow slightly, her gaze sharp and intense as she strides towards the dark stalker.
"My concern is who is the most suited to rule that which we have already built."
None of the minotaur's naked contempt for Lyraelle or her kind seems to cause the demoness particular affront. She simply keeps her arms folded behind her back, allowing Kira to chastise her own subject while the succubus herself smiles politely. The failure to mention her title, though, does elicit a brief, terse look from Lyraelle to Zander before she turns her attentions back to her host, her pointed ears perking as she listens to the Dragon.
"I wouldn't be dumb enough to compare you to Hitler. I mean, for one thing, it's done to death, for another, I'm a guest in your heavily-defended super-bunker, and for a third, I feel like he cared more about his public image than you do."
The demoness stands still as Kira approaches, the smile remaining on her face, but her eyes focusing in a subtly analytical manner on the mercenary's visage.
"I find that an interesting question, myself. I can't quite tell if you consider yourself the answer to it, though. I mean, you definitely seem like you're geared up to hole up for the long haul, here - assuming you've got your energy economy sorted out -"
The demoness' eyes flit around to the lights illuminating the place, before returning to Kira's.
"- but I'm not sure how you'd expect to /rule/ from here, when you've just given the world the proverbial bird. Power projection outside of your super-shield seems problematic. I mean, sooner or later, everyone's going to be gunning for you and your people. And they're good, but, well..."
The succubus casts a glance over her shoulder at Zander and lifts her shoulders lightly.
Kira let out an amused snort at the demon's assessment of her situation. Naturally, the question of power was one that could have dire ramifications on her ability to sustain the energy barrier that currently keeps her enemies from bombing her casino into a pile of rubble. She has more than enough self-sufficiency to keep the lights on in the bunker but for that monstrosity another solution would be required. She has one, of course, but she isn't about to go blabbing her secrets to the first person who asks. Especially when she has no idea why this particular person is even here.
"Ah, you are perceptive, I see."
Turning her back on the succubus, Kira wanders back over to her chair and flops lazily into it, offering a shrug in return to the question.
"Well, I suppose I can offer a little honesty. I have no intention of ruling this cesspool of a city. Even if I had access to all of my resources here, the modern world has been conditioned to have rather negative responses to dictators. If I somehow managed to not only defeat the forces arrayed against me but also prevent the rest of the world from chosing to intervene, I would find myself facing constant uprisings and civil unrest."
Behind her, the other woman with the quiet demeanor stoops and opens a small mini-fridge underneath the table. Two cold cans of beer are retreived from inside. One is held out towards Kira just as she turns and opens her mouth to ask. If she is surprised by her companions foresight, she doesn't show it, instead merely taking the beverage and cracking it open with a flick of her thumb.
"Thanks, Z. You want one?"
Kira turns to offer the extra drink to her guest, tilting her head to the side. The woman referred to as 'Z', places the other beer on the table and slides it to the opposite side where it can easily be collected.
"Anyways. There's no profit in trying that nonsense. Most of the world finds democracy to be an easier leash to wear. The weak and inconsequential drones can fool themselves into thinking that their opinion actually matters. No, I have... other goals in mind."
The mercenary tosses back her beer, chugging several long gulps. If her Slavic accent combined with her profession is any indication, she's probably capable of outdrinking a rhinocerus. Half a can of stout hardly seems to even make her blink.
Letting out a soft sigh of appreciation, Kira turns her attention back to the demon. She gives Lyraelle a long look, her expression comtemplative as she muses over something that is bothering her.
"Which brings me to the subject of why /you/ are here."
The mercenary shifts in her seat, leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table. Her fingers steeple together into a small bridge which she rests her chin on, peering at the succubus with the look of a lazy predator who has caught wind of potential prey.
"You've yet to explain your reasons for wanting to meet me. I hope you had better motivations than base curiosity. I tend to get somewhat annoyed when people waste my time."
One gloved hand reaches out to collect the offered beer, lifting it and turning it around between her fingers to examine the label, appraising it as if she were a connoisseur - or as though she'd never seen a canned drink before.
"I'm not sure if I like beer," the succubus admits plainly, before swapping it off to her tail. The prehensile appendage wraps around the can, wordlessly offering it toward the minotaur as the succubus' direct attentions return to Kyra.
"I won't lie; base curiousity was definitely a contributing factor. I was very curious about your base, actually. Even more curious now that I've seen it."
The demoness' tone is so even that one might be hard pressed to determine whether the pun was intentional or the pink-haired hellion doesn't even know the meaning of the phrase.
"What I'm more interested in, though, is these."
She juts a thumb back at Zander, her other hand resting on her hip.
"You've got a whole army of them, and if they're like this one, they're loyal. Zander here was even begging me to kill him because... what was it?"
She taps her lips for a second before snapping her fingers at some fresh recollection.
"Oh, right. 'Weak and unfit for the world she wishes to create,'" the demoness recounts, voice deepening in imitation of the minotaur's. "Which, again, curiousity about that bit - and also about where you get these guys. I mean, I'd kill for a couple of them. You've got tons. And, I mean, at the risk of sounding like a minion dumpster diver, if you're just going to send him to the slaughterhouse for losing to me, I'd take him off of your hands."
Kira leans back in her chair and smiles, nodding as if everything suddenly makes sense. Her lizard gaze flicks up to the minotaur who takes the offered beer with a grimace, only to toss it to one of the passing operators. They seem surprised by the sudden offering but give no complaints, waving the can at Kira as they head off to handle some vital task or other elsewhere. Zander seems to wither under his master's gaze, reminded of his failure as the topic of conversation swings around to the circumstances of Lyraelle's presence.
"Zander is a bit of an extremist, actually. When I captured him and his fellows in the Makai they put up quite the fight. However, upon realizing how I run my business, they seem to have taken to the more... philosophical aspects of operating a criminal empire."
The Dragon grins at that. Big goofy cowmen are not who she expected to become the preachers of her views on strength. It had been more of a personal world view than something meant to be espoused as a creed or devouted adhered to. She'd abandoned her own principles to save her skin on more than one occasion. The true nature of her values is that of survival, plain and simple. Not matter what it takes, no matter how humilating, degrading, revolting, embarassing, or dishonorable - if it keeps you alive then you get to keep on playing the game.
"While I certainly value the contributions of a powerful ally and hold my employees to certain standards, it benefits me little to go throwing away subordinates for a single failure."
Kira chuckles and shakes her head, taking another swig of her beer.
"I mean, c'mon, I read the Evil Overlord list. I find that it proves to be better for morale if you return the loyalty you ask of your underlings in kind. That and pay them /very/ generously. Most people find it hard to out bid me when trying to bribe my soldiers. One of the perks of being the best at what I do. Now..."
Clearing her throat and putting on a frown that is obviously fake, Kira turns her head up to scowl at the big idiot, looking like an annoyed school teacher.
"Zander. You do not cease to have value to me until /I/ tell you otherwise. Got it? That goes for everyone in my employ. No more seppuku attempts to defend your honor."
The minotaur looks contrite at that, scratching the back of his neck with one big hand.
"Of course, master. But, uh... what is... seppuku?"
Kira rolls her eyes.
"It's a form of suicide. Ancient Japanese warriors used to... ugh, you need to come to movie night more often, big guy. Just don't go killing yourself for no reason, okay?"
Zander lowers his head once again, sounding strangely humble for a monster that was willing to hunt down innocent civilians and kill them in cold blood.
Kira returns her attention to Lyraelle and shrugs, letting out an exhasperated sigh.
"There's always one problem child in every bunch. As for your question, you're actually in luck. Well, assuming you're willing to pay that is. You see, I actually sell these guys on the black market. Have been for a while now. As for where I get my supplies, well, trade secrets and all."
Lyraelle's arms cross casually as she listens to the exchange between servant and mistress, her gaze shifting to each in turn as Kira chides the minotaur. Something behind the demoness' eyes seems to make them all the greener as the bull-man demonstrates such deep deference to the Dragon. It's one thing to have a band of impish misfits grovelling at one's beck and call - quite another for a giant warrior to be so cowed.
"I need to brush up on that list, myself," the demoness muses idly, one hand lifting up to support her jaw as she mulls over the exchange. Her eyes turn back to Kira when the mercenary queen makes known her services.
"I'm interested in buying, depending on the price tag. I mean, ideally I'd prefer minions that weren't associated with mass assaults on civilians - public relations tend to be important for what I do. Which, by the way, this has been good for. Playing the superheroine has been fun."
After smiling briefly, Lyraelle's expression becomes questioning, her elf-like ears lowering and eyes narrowing.
"If we're going to be business associates - which I'd like to pursue, on condition of confidentiality - I want to know what you want out of what you're doing. At least enough to know how I can avoid stepping on your toes while I'm doing my public song and dance."
She makes a vague, sweeping gesture with her upturned palm as she lowers it from her face. "Who knows? Maybe there's some favour I could do for you as part of paying for soldiers."
Kira's smile becomes wry as she shakes her head slowly. How very strange life can be sometimes.
On the one hand, she had approached a dark stalker agent within the NOL in an attempt to convince them to join her cause, only to be rebuffed out of a wish to protect their kind from human retalition. Now she had a dark stalker knocking on /her/ door wanting to acquire some of her product for the very same reason. Two different monsters after the same thing but with very different motivations and methods.
"I doubt it. If you're interested in currying favor with humanity then you won't want to be anywhere near my operations. In fact, you may find that we are at odds in our goals, since mine is to drum up fear and panic in regards to the presence of dark stalkers on Earth."
The Dragon allows that to sink in for a few moments as she reclines in her chair, polishing off the last of her beer. With a sigh of satisfaction, she crumples the can in one hand and tosses it over her shoulder, sending the wadded up ball of aluminum sailing neatly into a wastebin.
"You see, lots of people have been going on and on about cooperation and human-dark stalker relations and blah blah, diplomacy, blah blah, peace and love. Me? All I care about is profit. And when I look at monsters like you, all I see are great... big... bags..."
The mercenary cups her hands underneath her chest, fingers curled inwards as if holding up a pair of heavy objects. She wiggles her eyes at Lyraelle, squeezing her fingers in a suggestive fondling motion.
"...of money. You'd be amazed and how many deviants and perverts out there are just /tripping/ over themselves to throw money at me for the privelage of owning themselves a genuine monster girl."
Rising to her feet, Kira slinks around the edge of the table, trailing her fingertips across its polished surface as she goes. Her eyes remain fixated on Lyraelle every step of the way and the very distinct sensation that there should be Jaws music playing in the background as she draws closer grows stronger by the second.
"Obviously there's the military crowd as well. Lots of people happy to cough up the big bucks to get their hands on their very own bio-weapons. I've sold at least a hundred werewolves to various people: warlords and terrorists looking for a monster to unleash on unsuspecting enemies, medical research teams and government agencies who think the next big breakthrough lies hidden in dark stalker DNA, private firms and rich businessmen who think their security detail needs something a little special, criminal underlords and mafia gangsters who need to intimidate their rivals... the list goes on and on and on."
The Demon Queen's eyes flit to follow Kira's hands before returning to the Mercenary Queen's face. Her wings fold inward as she leans a hip against the table, arms wrapping around her middle and tail flicking in the air behind her. Her head cants slightly to one side as Kira starts to stalk around the table toward her.
"It'd be a shame if we really are at odds. I thought we might make good public rivals."
There's a bit of an amused smirk on her lips for a moment.
"But as for the perverts and deviants? Really, I don't think that I would be surprised. I have a Patreon and a FightTube account. Thousands a week from people who just want to see my smiling face - and, well, 'big bags of money,'" the succubus says, imitating the Dragon's gesture from before. "And they don't even think that I'm a real monster girl - something I prefer to keep them guessing at, since there's so much fear and panic about darkstalkers going around. Obviously, it won't last forever."
Lyraelle looks into Kira's eyes, pursing her lips in thought for a moment before pursuing the line of thought further. "I'm curious which one of them you're thinking of selling me to. I'm pretty sure that whatever offer the highest bidder made, they'd be getting more than they bargained for. I tend to be high maintenance, and a potential fire hazard."
Kira lets out an exaggerated sigh, giving a long suffering look towards the roof.
"You dark stalkers, always a handful! My medical bills have tripled since I started dealing you bastards. So hard to find a good handler with experience in wrangling monsters."
All around the room the rest of the Dragon's minions seem to be picking up on the sudden change in tone that the conversation has taken. Zander's fingers flex around the haft of his weapon, his big dopey cow face twisting into an amused grin. The silent woman standing behind Kira remains motionless but there is a sharper focus to her gaze now. The sounds of work being done around the domed room become muted as slowly several heads start to swivel in their direction, a dozen curious stares zeroing in on the source of the sudden tension.
"Fortunately, I've created a way to deal with uppity monsters," the merc says, continuing to wander towards Lyraelle. She stalks right past the demoness, showing no signs of fear that her vaguely concealed threats might prompt the dark stalker into hasty action nor wariness around that swishing tail of hers; an oversight, perhaps? "If you've been tangling with my fuzzy trouble makers then you've no doubt seen the adorable little collars I gave them."
Kira digs into one of the plethora of small tactical pouches that litter her military-grade belt and fishes out a slender strip of black metal attached to a pair of equally dark nylon straps. She hold it up for Lyraelle to see, twirling the loop around the tip of one finger deftly. Strange that she would have one of those on hand. Is she paranoid enough to simply keep them around or was this a trap all along? The answer is hard to discern through the mercenary's smug smirk.
"Not just fashionable, you see. It comes with my own brand of obedience reinforcement. Just a push of a button and all those annoying thoughts of rebellion and mischief just get scrambled right up."
She pauses, letting her hand fall still, and the collar droops down into a motionless loop on her finger as well. Kira makes a contemplative expression, tapping the bottom of her chin with the other hand as she scrunches up her nose.
"Of course, there is the tiny little problem that it usually drives the wearer insane but... eh, I'm sure I'll work the kinks out sooner or later. What's a few broken eggs on the path to progress, mm?"
She shrugs, tucking the collar back into the pouch. Either she's just toying with the foolish creature who wandered willingly into the lair of a woman who clearly has no issues enslaving dark stalkers for her own personal gain or she's not worried about getting that collar on Lyraelle in the immediate future. Surrounded on all sides by nigh-impenetrable armored bulkheads riddled with state-of-the-art security, a miniature army of highly-trained and well-armed mercenaries, not to mention the disgruntled minotaur who'd be more than happy to step in should she try to get rowdy, Kira's confidence levels in being able to handle a single demon noble is quite high and she doesn't bother trying to hide it.
"As for who I might sell /you/ to... there are just so many options."
The Dragon holds up a hand, ticking off each finger as she rattles through a quick list.
"Let's see. There's the obvious black market channels. I could just auction you off to the highest bidder." She lets her gaze slide over Lyraelle's skimpy outfit with undisguised interest, oogling her from head to toe. "I'm sure someone with your looks would fetch me a high price."
Kira purses her lips thoughtfully as she folds the first finger into her palm.
"Next up would be the NOL. They have a pretty big hate-boner for your kind and I'm betting the last week hasn't done their mood any favors. I doubt you have a bounty but then they aren't the most upright bunch when it comes to respecting that sort of thing. Might just lock you up until they need a scapegoat to cover up their dirty business."
She folds another finger down.
"After that there's all my private customers. Quite a few of them pay me a premium to keep an eye out for... special merchandise. Some of them have quite a collection. Even sold a mermaid to one. He keeps it in a giant fish tank in his bedroom, I hear."
Her grin widens again, flashing her teeth.
"Oh and then there's the Hunter's Guild. Heard of them? It's an entire group of people who make their living hunting and killing monsters. You'd end up mounted and stuffed all the same, just with a slightly different context in that case."
Kira wiggles her eyebrows again playfully, resting her hands on her hips.
"Hell, maybe I'll do it myself. You'd make a fantastic conversation piece next time I invite the head masters over for tea. Might help smooth things over when they eventually come around wondering if I've lost my damn mind."
The demoness doesn't take hasty action in light of the Dragon's threats, keeping her cool though they're as thinly-concealed as the monstrous monarch's own modesty in her attire. When the collar comes out for show, the pink-haired hell-maiden's horn-crowned head tilts curiously - examining the device not as if it were a weapon being brandished under her nose, but rather as an interested buyer, despite the fact that no such offer has been placed on the table thus far. When it goes away again, her eyes blink a couple of times and ears prick up, attention returning to Kira as she dictates her list of potential buyers.
"I guess that I can't really blame you for seeing me as cattle, what with the family resemblance between Zander over there and me," Lyraelle finally remarks aloud, tipping her head toward the beastman as she raises both hands with a finger on each to imitate the horns at either side of her pink mane, tail swinging behind her as she does.
"I don't think that slaughtering me is the most pragmatic option, though. I'm already profitable as a freelance worker, and my stock's rising. If you're going to think of me as cattle, I'd invite you to think of me as a dairy animal, rather than meat."
It's a fairly degrading metaphor, especially for self-styled royalty. Though her nature rails inwardly against it, Lyraelle remains composed on the surface.
"Whether I get my army from you or somewhere else, I'm still a potential customer, who'll bring her own money to the table - I could certainly find a use for those collars, for instance, if they were for sale."
She indicates the pouch that the collar was previously returned to with a gloved hand.
Kira struggles not to laugh at the tortured metaphor. It's always a good sign when her prey starts to debase themselves in an attempt to play down their own value as captives. It shows that she's getting to them, that they know their chances of walking away from the encounter are largely dependant on stroking the mercenary's ego or appealing to her vices; the 'demon queen' goes for the latter.
Stepping up to stand in front of the succubus, Kira stares her in the eyes from only inches away, her wild and piercing gaze attempting to bore holes through the mask of confidence being used as a shield against the slowly encroaching fear. Like a hungry predator, she can smell it in the air, taste the sweat and anxiety on the tip of her tongue. It's like a drug to her. The power that she wields over the fates of those snared in her grasp fills her with a rush of giddy pleasure like nothing else. She could just sit here and bask in this feeling for hours and never get tired of it.
"Here's what's going to happen," she says, breaking the silence after several long uncomfortable moments.
The mercenary's hands snake out to towards Lyraelle's body, taking hold of her shapely hips with a firm grip. Should the demonette fail to push her away, those hands start to wander to more interesting places, drifting up over the curve of the dark stalker's ample chest and down towards her bubbly exposed backside. Her touch is confident and experienced as she gropes the other woman, made bold by the fresh power flowing through her veins and the back-up she has at her call.
"You claim to be a golden goose. And I'm patient enough to let long-term profits play out over quick gains. But, as far as I know, you're completely full of shit. I mean, seriously? A patreon?"
Kira grins, peeling her lips back from pearly white teeth. The slits of her eyes narrow into almost vertical lines which somehow makes staring her in the face at point blank even more unsettling. She looks like a snake ready to strike out at the first thing that moves or pisses her off, fangs bared and dripping with hot venom.
"If you want me to have any confidence in the fact that you're going to be a worthwhile investment, you're going to have to prove that you have the /assets/..."
She slaps her hand down hard on the succubuss's toosh as she says the word, emphasizing it with a suggestive tone.
"To make letting you go worth my while. I think my proposal will be in both our interests because it's clear to me that you enjoy your freedom, while I enjoy getting paid. So, your first purchase from Crazy Kira's House of Insane Deals (tm)..."
She actually says the trade mark, phonetically sounding out each letter.
"Is going to be your freedom."
It's difficult to detect distress at the situation in the Demon Queen's demeanour. Somewhere deep inside, though, is the soul of a young woman out of her comfort zone - and out of the comfort zone of the persona she inhabits. Not once since she arrived has she even referred to herself by title. At the same time that the Dragon can sense what lies beneath her mask, though, there is something within the demoness that can sense the predator's hunger. On cue, the scent of perspiration can be detected from the darkstalker.
The demoness' response isn't immediately what one might expect from such a salacious creature of the night as a succubus - rather than responding with enticement, trying to lure in prey for a soul-devouring liaison, Lyraelle lifts her hands and crosses them above her head, submissively allowing the warlord's hands to traverse her form. Her expression is passive, though not unpleasant, her green eyes wandering past Kira to the minotaur standing by behind, then the other soldiers, before returning to the Dragon. Her bottom shifts against the mercenary's hand, not clearly seductive nor resistant, but perhaps either or both - though the serpentine tail's subtle slithering to coil loosely around the wrist of the hand groping her backside lends some sense of playful friendliness to the response.
When the Mercenary Queen gives her ass a smack, the fair-skinned fiend flinches reflexively - the tail naturally tightening in response.
"And what's the cost of my freedom going to be?" the demoness wonders, green eyes remaining on Kira's except to shift for a moment again toward Zander - watching the minotaur for a reaction to the snare that likely only the beastman might recognize for its true nature - a glint in her eye practically daring him to say something.
The minotaur dares not speak, though not for any fear of the threat the succubus poses. Quite the opposite, he does not wish to interrupt his master's entertainment, trusting fully in her ability to handle the situation. That doesn't stop him from giving Lyraelle a dark glower in return at the memory of her wicked tail's harmful sting.
Kira continues to act as she pleases, seemingly dismissive of the danger that her guest might pose. Given free reign to enjoy the experience by Lyraelle's acquiescent reaction, she leans into the position of the dominant captor with ease, squeezing and prodding the creature's indecent body aggressively. While the demon might be playing a role meant to convince others that she is something more, the Dragon is very much the embodiment of greed and vice that she portrays, suffering no discomfort at all as she molests her prey.
"Tell you what," Kira muses, stepping away just as abruptly as she had moved in.
She reaches down to grab the spaded tip of the dark stalker's tail, squeezing the heart-shaped fleshy bulge hard enough to hurt as she casually unwinds the slender appendage from her wrist. Her serpentine gaze remains locked with the temptress's own, offering her own dare to the little devil to take offense at the abuse. Of course, Lyraelle can choose that moment to strike if she was preparing to launch a counter-attack rather than submit to the demands being laid upon her. Otherwise, the mercenary queen moves over to the far side of the table again and holds out her hand, into which the silent Z places a small business card.
"This is a throw away bank account that I use to hold temporary funds before funneling them wherever they need to go."
She tosses the card onto the table and gives it a flick, sending it spiraling across the polished surface towards the succubus. The card is completely blank save for a small string of numbers printed on one side. Kira leans back in her seat and kicks her feet up on the table again, folding her hands behind her head in a posture of confident relaxation.
"You wire an amount that you think your freedom is worth into that account. If I don't immediately bust out laughing at how small it is, I'll consider it an acceptable down payment on our future enterprises."
A faint smile plays on the corners of Lyraelle's lips as the minotaur remains silent. She seems to relax into the contact, relenting to the Dragon's aggressive contact and drawing in a slow breath as her eyes close. The feeding process, restrained as the insidious succubus forces it to be, is incredibly subtle - capable of inducing a slight sensation of relaxation that could just be the beer. It's of little nourishment to the demoness, either, but it grants a taste of the deadly sin embodied by the Dragon in the moment.
It's interrupted harshly as Kira grabs the spaded head of the demoness' tail, causing it to try and recoil like an alarmed serpent. The sensation of the appendage attempting to feed would become evident at that point - a reflexive retaliation to the abuse, akin to a wasp being grabbed by the stinger, though less sharp in its retribution. The demoness herself seems taken aback by the tail's vengefulness, and she glares at it as it's being uncoiled from Kira's arm.
"Down, boy," she chastises the prehensile appendage, reaching behind herself to tug at the base of her own tail and causing it to submit to Kira's attempts at removal.
Lyraelle leans down to take the card off of the table, her head tilting to one side as she remains stooped to turn the card over between her purple-clad thumb and fingers and scans the number casually with her green eyes.
"Do I need a password for your wifi? I have a feeling my coverage won't reach down here," she says as she rests her elbows on the table, fishing her phone out and pulling up some application or other - presumably to access her bank account. Her tail wags behind her as she does so - either a nervous tic, or some strange thrill; perhaps both.
Kira smirks at that but shakes her head.
"Nah. The firewall will catch your signal and route it through the proper channels. Untraceable, so don't worry about security. Oh and don't try to leave any 'gifts' lurking in my system. The computer techs get quite blood thirsty when they have to do a full restore of the database."
The mercenary relaxes in her comfortable chair while the transaction takes place, leaving Lyraelle to focus on the task. Her gaze remains lazily fixated on the volumputous dark stalker throughout the process, feeling her up with those freaky eyes instead of her hands from across the table and out of range of the strange stinging touch of her wagging tail. Whatever that sensation had been when she grabbed hold of the tip it had been much less pleasant to touch than the rest of her.
While Lyraelle works, Kira's quiet companion withdraws a small laptop from a shelf underneath the table and sets it up in front of her. Her fingers glide across the keyboard with soft grace, making almost no sound at all despite their rapid movements. A few moments after the transfer goes through she turns to Kira and nods, tilting the screen to show the mercenary the number now credited to the account.
The woman taps her chin thoughtfully, head canted to the side as she regards the deposit.
"Well, it's not the most impressive offer I've ever gotten..."
Her eyes narrow as the words trail off, leaving the outcome of her decision hanging uncertainly in the air. She shifts from one foot to the other, leaning on the table to drum her fingers across its surface in a noisy patter of repeating thumps. Her expression starts to shift toward a dubious frown which she allows to linger on her face for several seconds giving the demonette time to sweat. It's all an act, of course. The amount is more than enough to satisfy her curiosity about the dark stalker's finances. Now she's just being mean, driving home the point that her 'guest's' fate is entirely up to her whim.
"Ah, what the hell," she says, finally offering a quick shrug. Her smirk returns as she shifts her gaze back to Lyraelle, those snakey eyes sparkling with devilish mischief. "I guess I'm feeling generous today, so it'll do."
The subtle tension that had been building as the onlookers waited to see what the outcome of their commander's ruling would be bleeds away like air let out of a balloon. Zander growls softly under his breath but his posture shifts back to a more relaxed stance, the butt of his massive axe dipping down to rest on the metal floor once again. A faint din of noise picks back up again to fill the silence as the operators return to their work, chattering amongst themselves while 'Z' resumes her silent vigil, skewering the dark stalker with her placid stare.
"A shame, almost. It would have been fun to see you try to resist. I think some of my boys were already starting to take bets."
It's certainly not an offer that will change the life of a mercenary commander accustomed to dealing with the wealth of gang lords and governments - but it's enough to make a downpayment on a small house or buy a nice car outright. More than one might expect from someone whose primary service is of the fan variety, aside from being apparently skilled at demonic costume creation.
Lyraelle's expression flattens as she awaits the response - her poker face is fairly remarkable, considering her normally ostentatious behaviour. When the amount is finally magnanimously accepted, the corners of her lips turn gratefully upwards, and she straightens her posture, stretching her back and limbs before relaxing.
"It would be rude of me to attack my host, and stupid of me to do it while surrounded by her armed guards, hundreds of feet underground, and trapped inside a deadly forcefield. Besides, this hardly seems like the best place for a sparring match," Lyraelle says as her eyes sweep the conference area and the data center. In passing, they catch on Zander and his disappointment at the success of diplomacy. She returns her eyes to the Dragon, and she deigns to approach the warlord.
"Can I request that Zander be the one to escort me back to the surface? I think that he and I have an affinity," she says, fondly. "And on a related note, I'd like to suggest an idea regarding that downpayment..."
Lyraelle leans in a bit, lowering her voice to not be heard by anyone save Kira and 'Z.' Particularly not a certain minotaur.
Kira grins at the pragmatic breakdown, nodding her approval.
"True! But I've found that many people start to lose their cool at the prospect of being enslaved. Little details like the impossibility of success rarely stand in the way of animal desperation. It's interesting to see someone who is able to control themselves, even if all you're doing is putting on a brave face."
No one makes an effort to get in the succubus's way when she starts to approach the lord of the manor unbiden. Whatever hostility she might hold towards the Dragon at being so thoroughly blackmailed, she herself has just lain out the reasons why attacking Kira now would be tantamount to suicide. That doesn't stop the ice-cold gaze of the mercenary's companion from following her every movement with almost robotic intensity, though.
Lyraelle's request sparks the response she likely expected from the minotaur. He lets out a harsh snort of anger, stamping his hoof on the ground in unrestrained outrage.
"Vile wench! Were it not my master's will that you go free, I would take great pleasure in tearing out thy lying tongue!"
Kira quirks an eyebrow up at the hostile reponse, shifting her gaze from Zander to the demonette in a slow questioning manner. Her dubious expression only grows more so at the whispered request but she doesn't outright deny it immediately, instead leaning back to tap her fingertips together thoughtfully.
"Far be it from me to dissuade a potential sale but..."
There are lots of reason for her to say no to this idea. The first is that Zander clearly would not be happy with the outcome and having a pissed off minotaur looming in the future as a potential threat isn't terribly appealing. Next is the possibility that the fame-hungry temptress would use her own muscle against her in the coming days. While winning the war was never in the cards, having a crucial battle swing against her at the wrong moment thanks to her greed could be rather aggravating. And third, she doesn't have many of the big lugs left. After the disastrous attack on Duke's private holding and the unexpected arrival of Illyrian soldiers at the border, she was down two of their number, leaving only a single digit remainder.
Considering all of these factors, Kira purses her lips and eyes the succubus. There is another angle here, however, one which might play out in her favor. With the demon's obsession for attention, she would probably be broadcasting her fights on a regular basis. Having Zander involved in recorded footage could potentially be useful promotional material for other clients who have much deeper pockets.
"I'm willing to consider it," she says, her tone cautious. "But only on a temporary basis. Prove to me that you are going to be an asset to my business and I may be willing to renegotiate a more permanent contract."
Lyraelle's expression brightens as Kira finally concedes the offer, a grateful smile presented to the Dragon for her graciousness.
"I'll be sure to take good care of him~" the succubus assures her host, before turning the same smile sweetly toward the minotaur. "I'm sure that it'll be much nicer to spend time together, now that we're on a first-name basis." She pauses, tilting her head a little, ears flitting to a cant as she considers. "Or at least, one of us will be, anyway. Personally, I'd prefer to be addressed as 'Your Majesty.' It's better practice for in front of the cameras."
She turns back to Kira before she starts to depart.
"As far as being useful goes, I'll take any requests under advisement, if you have something in particular in mind. Otherwise, I'll be taking my leave... until we have more business to discuss."
+ooc Every villain thinks they're at the top until someone slaps em down.
Log created on 19:27:11 05/03/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 21:01:54 05/04/2020.