The Black Dragon - Is it Shark Tank or Dragon's Den in Japan?

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Description: The brave comrade (or acceptable sacrifice) of the Podiebrads, one Alba Meira, follows the trail of their missing squad to a rather unusual destination; and an unexpected change in fortunes.

The Triple-E superfreighter /Pacific Yoke/ departed mere minutes after the Egy Squad and Szabolc fell to their solitary but titanic opposition, quite off its schedule. In other scenarios, with other quarry, the soldiers would have been imprisoned below until they could be transferred to a secure facility away from the eyes of the harbour, and the Raven Guard's compatriots. Assuming this enemy did not warrant leaving their broken forms finally sundered for their brothers in arms to retrieve. But no, neither absconding with these operatives nor escalating with their handlers is on the immediate agenda, this time. Those undoubtedly watching the scene post-battle would have seen the squad rushed, most of them on stretchers, into emergency vehicles after the conflict ended. From there, Egy Squad and their commander disappear deeper into the city, that particular harbour post all but abandoned by the time the first of the inevitable search and rescue (or revengeance?) operations arrives.


"They are bound by magic, their dogma etched upon their very souls. Wretches." The rumbling voice is that of the Martyr of Might, the giant who toppled the first seven Raven Guard to follow this thread, to try to hunt -this- aspect of the Syndicate simply because it lay in a web relatively adjacent to Duke... and the Darkstalker puppet. Or was it the other way around? Grant has derision enough for all of them; save the man he speaks to now. "More will come."

"Good." The monosyllable is softer, the intonation a delicately forceful baritone, somehow almost more menacing in melodic relief. A thread of energy binds the Raven Guard. Both deadly masterminds can sense it. Kain traces that paradoxically delicate, inexorable strand between his fingertips, drawing together seven in total as the darkened heart of a distant star burns behind his crimson eyes. They weave about elegant, gloved fingers, and then their flow is forcefully diverted; a massive rockface fallen into the river, a scant trickle passing out beyond, now. A single, tantalizing thread, that leads only to one place. "Then they will come to /me/."


The ritual weaving the Raven Guard together draws them onward, perhaps suddenly -more- precisely, certainly more singularly, than is typical. It leads them not to their missing squad, but to a seemingly abandoned bath house, its tall stone surrounds and vaulted peak looming silently, seemingly abandoned. Indeed, the entire block seems to be quiet, quieter even than the conflict in the city might otherwise demand. The door to the bathhouse is unlocked, indeed on closer inspection, it's already open a crack.

Inside, it is no busier. There is only one inhabitant in the entire structure, the man who's power pulls now at those searching out their fallen comrades. A lithe, powerfully muscled blonde fellow with flowing, golden hair, bound now in a dark blue band mostly off to one side and out of the water he is largely submerged within, breathing deep of the herbs and oils of the allegedly communal waters. The scenario at once //must// be a trap, and yet seems to be an intrusion onto something peaceful, and private.

It also //must// be a surprise, of course, to catch Kain alone and in such a position of relative weakness. Of course, appearances can be deceiving... and Heinlein isn't even on the list of where this trail should have led. The blonde sips dry, red wine at ground zero of this particular gambit, the bottle nearby.


It's not Erika's experience that tipped them off, but Teca's.

"I'm telling you, it's a bath house." She chatters back from their 'safehouse,' an observation point up on a rooftop overlooking it. The Raven Guard prefered to work high. How Alba got there, well, lets just say the twins are stronger than they look, and they hold on very tight. It was Harom Squad; the twins Jazmin and Zsuzi were close to Alba. Luiza was out watching with binoculars with Teca and Erika. Mara had gone ahead, scouting. Teca was leaning back on the parapet, explaining her intuition to Alba as well as her sisters. "We go around here for less than a day. We get a low, low sense of him. And suddenly, a big ping. Now look carefully. You see all that stuff outside? That's for washing. It's a bath house, just like the kind we have back at home. You don't hold prisoners in a thermal bath; you entertain them." Luiza interjects.

"But we can -sense- someone there."

"Mara will confirm. Unless she gets grabbed, the little freak." She snarls. "You remember that vampire we tracked down in Belgrade? She actually figured out how to copy our signature. I'm telling you, its a trap there. There is no way there is just one, unless it's like, robots or something?" "Robots, Teca." Luiza repeats back, drly. Teca smatters something in her alien tongue back. There is a clicking sound, as the trio backs away from the parapet. The sixth member arrives, climbing over the parapet of the building on all fours. And there, on all fours, she remains, bent over as she is on the rooftop. "Mara, what's the report." Erika states. Silence. The masked woman is disturbingly quiet. "Mara?" The tone is worried. And finally, the woman responds.

Mara lets out a deep, dark snicker. %
Teca comes over to Mara, coming down to one knee. She leans in, and Mara mutters something to her very quietly. Now Teca was giggling. Luiza and Erika come over, and Teca and Mara whisper. Giggling. Jazmin and Zsuzi leave Alba's side, and try to hear what is happening.

Now they all were giggling, Alba.

"You should have just informed me about the situation, instead of dragging me up here." Alba says towards the twins, frustrated. The experience of being dragged up the side of a building by a pair of seemingly-weak girls was not one he would like to repeat, he still looks slightly nervous from the experience.

"Me searching around didn't really accomplish anything yet, but it's odd that your 'link' suddenly became so much stronger. I remember you saying that you'd only be able to get a general location, Erika." Alba looks towards them, listening to Luiza and Teca's exchange. "I agree, it seems to convenient. It has to be a trap. I suppose we'll have to wait until Mara- Oh, there she is." He watches Mara's arrival, and the subsequent gathering of the 6 girls.

And then, they start to giggle. And.. are they laughing at him?

"Mind letting me in on this 'conversation'?" he loudly states, with a obviously annoyed tone. "I'm sure it must be hilarious, if even Luiza is laughing."

Luiza immediately stops laughing, as she lowers her head.

The twins can't stop laughing, though Mara eventually goes quiet. Erika finally goes quiet too, as Teca runs off. Erika takes a moment to get her composure. "Mara has confirmed that there is one man inside the facility. He is... bathing." A burst of giggles from the trio. "We believe he is expecting someone. Perhaps the Patriarch himself." Even more giggles. "We... are not the Patriarch, but as he is likely expecting... male... company. You will need to go in alone! And... and you will need to... join... him." Teca returns back, hips swaying as she holds a zippered box.

Alba is handed a full bathing kit.

It is the male's kit, and has all the required materials of a Podiebrad Thermal Bathing set: a body towel, face towel, soap, shampoo, real sponge loofah, safety razor, shaving brush, shaving soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, one set of prophylactics, thong sandals, a 5 oz plastic bottle of Podiebrad aged Brandy, and as standard with every kit, a nine inch stake of lacquered yew. The twins have not stopped giggling. Luiza has not stopped averting her gaze. And Teca? She puffs her chest out. "As Erika is suggesting, you will need to bath with the man, and gather whatever you can learn about where and why rescuing Szabolc and the Egy Squad has been a problem. Don't be afraid to be..." She glances up and down Alba.


Alba stares blankly ahead for a dozen seconds, as he gingerly takes the bathing kit. processing what they are suggesting, his head turning more red with each second.

"You.. you are seriously implying that I seduce him." more silence. "I-I Don't, I'm not- Yes, that's right. I'm sure this is a trap, if I went in there I'd fall right into their trap." He starts pacing back and forth, trying to stumble forth a argument in his defense.

"And, how do you even know he's expecting a man? Come on Mara, help me out here. You've been there, I'm sure you saw some sign that this is a trap?"

Mara snarls a snicker at Alba, as she watches him squirm.

"You don't -have- to seduce him." Teca coos sweetly, as the twins. keep. giggling. "Every soldier of the Raven Guard must always be prepared. If he keeps control of himself, then you are fine. But sometimes you may find someone older, but strong and handsome, who cannot control themselves when it comes to your bathing, and you have to entertain them in a safe manner. It happens all the time in the House of Podiebrad. Especially when Colonel Kagura comes and visits the thermal baths..."

"Colonel Kagura~" They all sigh in unison.

Teca touches on Alba's hip lightly, just a brush. "You have to just lead him along, and make him feel secure. Don't worry about being alone in a trap." All the other girls begin to nod, except Luiza who was definitely not red under her mask. Just under the little exposed skin there was. She pats herself on the chest, with a clawed gauntlet. "We will be watching you securely and safely, ready to swoop in and save you if you... fall right in his trap."

The twins falls over, unable to breath from the giggling.

"Teca, you are insufferable." Alba's head darts to the Laughing twins, and he blurts out. "And you two, shut the hell up. This is no laughing matter." He looks down towards the roof's floor, gnashing his teeth.r
"Fine. I'll do it.".

"If this is the most effective way of furthering our goals, I'll do it. But if you let out a /word/ of this to any of my men, I'll.. I'll.. whatever. Just don't."

He looks towards the direction of the Bathhouse. "I'll expect additional compensation for this." Alba sits on the edge of the rooftop "And I can handle myself, I won't let him lay a finger on me. I'll just get in there, talk, and get out." he directs his attention back to the six, and particularly to Teca and the twins "So don't get any funny ideas."

The young, poor gangster stands up, and peers down the roof. He sighs, looking towards the (still laughing?) twins "Mind getting me back down again?"


Alba is quiet throughout the entire trip. quiet as he enters the lobby holding the bathing, and quiet as the carefully goes left, to the male changing room. He takes off his flashy red clothing, takes a brief shower with the podiebrand soap and shampoo, and wraps the body towel around his waist to cover up. Finally, he enters the actual bath with the kit in hand.

Anyone in the bath would see him come in. A young, slim and well-toned man, with long striking red-white hair and silver eyes.

The venue serves one purpose, at the least: it stalls the squad coming in to support their lost allies. It causes second guessing of the mission parameters, and the nature of the incident. It keeps the Raven Guard from coming in guns raised, combat inevitable; something, admittedly, Kain still considered a very real possibility. Instead, it's... one young man, a fighter who might be easily called Kain's peer. At least, at a glance.

Poise, ambition, magnificent hair-- Alba walks into his own dark mirror in the drifting steam of the serene surrounds. "Ah, Meira-san." The other Germanic transplant's richly melodic baritone manages to sound both like he expected Alba, and the fellow's arrival is an utter surprise, all at once.

In truth, it really is quite the mix of both. "You really do have... surprising taste in bedfellows." Heinlein is polite about it, at least. "I was expecting more... Raven Guard... but I suppose this -is- the safer choice, in their current state." Still so polite, while delicately menacing.

"Join me, if you like. It's past time we talked; but I was curious whether your little venture would thrive or decimate itself." That Meira is a warrior with will and ambition is plain, but Alba strives to be something a step beyond that; a leader. It's a course Kain has difficulty advising in anyone-- even while toeing the line himself. "Do you know who I am?" The inquiry is spoken as a second glass of wine is poured, and set closer to Alba's angle of approach.

He briefly scans the environment, before locking eyes on Kain, giving him a quick nod as he walks closer to the bath. "Looks like you are familiar with me. I'm afraid I can't say the same." He reaches the water's edge, and goes to sit on the Bath's edge opposite of Kain with just his feet submerged in the comfortably warm water, not taking off his towel. He reaches for the glass of wine, and takes a careful sip. Not being used to the taste, his face bitters up for a brief moment, before returning to it's usual neutrality.r
"The one reason I'm working with the Podiebrads is that our goals line up. I'm not planning on working together with them after this endeavor." He speaks, in his calm, and similarly german-accented voice.

"I suppose introductions are in order. I'm Alba Meira, as you seem to be well aware of. Then, who are you?" he says, gesturing towards Kain with his free hand.

Kain stretches his arms out after setting his wine glass aside, relaxing back into the cleansing warmth, a picture of ease and confidence. It's probable there's momentary satisfaction in Alba's lack of knowledge; an oddity among the general egos of deviant overlords. "Your comrades threaten to unecessarily widen their war." Heinlein informs Meira first of all. "The 'Syndicate' is not some monolithic venture, it is a vast hydra." And like in the popular monster pictures, sometimes one or more of the heads is very, very dumb; and more than a little belligerent.

"My name is Kain Heinlein-- and my assessment of this conflict very much aligns with yours." Kain smiles darkly, with some measure of genuine amusement. "Yet seven of the Guard are broken and effectively lost already, at no cost to me. You and your giddy reinforcements, unaware of the weight of this moment, could readily and easily join them." It's not some hollow boast; there's something about the man any fighter worth their salt can just /sense/. Heinlein is easily the match of the titan that trumped Egy Squad; that broke Szabolc's spine.

"Or--" Kain's tone shifts from the subtle menace back to the calmly polite, "-- I can point you at Duke, and those who really pull his strings. And the Guard's ill-advised attack on /my/ holdings will be forgiven, those who are dead instead treated and released." It's not a very balanced choice, in Heinlein's estimation; but he's far past simply expecting wisdom out of zealots. Alba, however, is a different breed; he makes it simple in turn.

"Kain. I know about you in name alone." Alba says, admitting to his relative lack of information. "And while I do my best to keep tabs on the Syndicate, you don't seem to make yourself as obvious as Duke or Mr. Big, I know very little about you, truth be told."

Alba seems slightly tense, no doubt a result of Heinlein's subtly menacing tone, backed up by the obvious strength he seems to possess. "It is unwise to underestimate potential opponents. But I came here to talk, not fight, so let's not have your threat come to pass." He says, looking into the blonde man's eyes.

He listens, and with the mention of Duke, Alba's neutral face turns to a serious grimace, and a slight bit of fear coming from the fact that this man seems to know about him, and his aspirations. "That certainly sounds convenient. It would solve the Raven Guard's immediate problem, and gets me the information and opportunity I desire."

"I can't imagine you would give up such a important Bargaining chip just like that. What do you hope to gain out of this?" He inquires, curious about Kain's motives. "I'm afraid I won't be so quick to believe someone from the Syndicate, varied as the 'heads' might be."

"That's because I have very little in common with either of those men." Kain observes simply, nodding along with most of what Alba notes rather easily. "No need to be suspicious--" not that it's unwise, "-- it may seem magnanimous, but as you just said, the current objectives and enemies of these dutybound zealots line up with our own. The simple fact that you're here, that the soldiers attacked despite my efforts, evidences that Duke's idiocy is a threat to my own aims and operations; it's only the latest issue with his... approach." It's an understatement, to be certain.

"While I believe I would triumph in this conflict, particularly once even more get involved in it, I would not come out unscathed, nor would either side be in as strong a position to act as we are /now/. Only a fool adds fronts to their war to strengthen their adversaries, and I am no fool." It's simple, logical, spoken frankly-- there's no obvious lie in Heinlein's words.

"Put your faith in the individual, within and without yourself, not the institution." It's a general rule, a useful lesson shared without comment on the deeper reasoning behind it. "Holding their operatives or escalating this based on ego and offense only sabotages me. I would see them freed because I would see everything Duke has built burnt away. His dark allies purged from this arena."

"Neither am I" As Kain finishes talking, Alba looks surprised by Kain's seemingly similair hatred for Duke. He sighs, and loses the towel, lowering himself into the warm water as quickly as he can afterwards. "I have plenty of reason to be suspicious. Though right now your explanation and reasoning makes sense, and I do not get the impression you are deceiving me, Heinlein-san. I will decide to trust you, as a induvidual."

He picks up the glass from the bath's rim, and takes another sip of the dry red wine. Attempting to get used to the still alien taste. I want to see Duke gone, I am surprised that a Syndicate leader shares that want." he leans against the water's edge, relaxing his body in the scented bath. "Then, I have a question for you regarding Duke, I've heard the Podiebrads mention 'Selling his soul to the Devil' and now, you talk about his 'dark allies'. What exactly, are these referring to?"

"As do we all." Kain agrees simply, easing one arm off the lip of the pool to retrieve his own glass, his savoring sip far more practiced and familiar than Alba may be with the finery; it's a place Heinlein was, for a time. It's a struggle he does, deceptively, understand. "Mankind is a treacherous and greedy mass, those driven by anything but avarice and control are a rarity." Society's corruption-- folly at every level-- likely gives a clue as to Kain's dissatisfaction with Duke... and others.

"Duke is an ambitious and powerful creature, but not a wise or careful one. He reached beyond himself long ago, and made deals that led to this chaos, and several catastrophes before it. One of his partners-- or perhaps mutual puppets-- is Kira Volkov, breeding a horde beneath her casino." It's bad, perhaps-- but it gets worse. Potentially far worse.

"Beyond the local scope, the organization of interest is Shadaloo... many have made arrangements with the madman called Vega. Then there are the more powerful, and cunning, Darkstalkers inevitably beyond this one. Should you assault the obvious fortress, I suspect you will find no crucible-- it is an obvious sacrifice for this endeavour. She is simply waiting for it to happen."

"Then, do you believe you are one of those rarities?" Alba asks, a genuine question, trying to learn more about Kain's aspirations and ideals.

"I am well familiar with Kira, and the fact that you confirm Duke to have similair connections gives me- or us even more reason to end him." he looks frustrated-angry as he says this, reminded of the short, but humiliating time he was 'employed' by Kira. "The Podiebrads have speculated about Duke's potential involvement with Jedah- amongst many other factions. It looks like they were right."

"And, Shadaloo too, huh? Similairly worrying. Dealing with these all threats will require many, many people."

He briefly looks towards the immaculately clean ceiling, before his eyes steer back down to the Syndicate Leader. "Though, I believe our concern right now is and should be Duke. Don't you agree?"

"I am." Kain intones without hesitation, smoothly and surely. Belief has little to do it; at least by Kain's own belief. "The history of civilization is a story of misguided methodology and distraction; worshipping false gods of our own creation. We must find a better way; stoke potential, rather than stifling it in mediocrity and mundanity." Heinlein willingly appeases Alba's curiosity-- at least in brief.

"I suspect this is all a sacrifice play towards something greater, and Duke's own little empire an acceptable loss, along with the casino." There's warning and potentially useful intel in that statement; doubt as to how much support will actually come from the larger players in the current struggle. "Nonetheless, castrating Duke serves us all; eliminating him would be even better.

"Your own organization's purge of those weak-willed enough to believe the lies of a maniac may seem a frustrating setback now, but it will strengthen all of you in the long term." Assuming they survive. The statuesque blonde reads Meira's emotions all too clearly, and easily connects them to his own substantial knowledge of Duke's operations, and the recent addition to Volkov's forces. "I anticipate we will be well served by destroying them both, and better served by exposing the darkness and mania driving them; such creatures are difficult to assassinate, but simple to ostracize."

"Seems like I can't surprise you." A response to Kain's apparent knowledge of his relation to Kira. "I agree. It gave me insight on who-- and what kind of people I can trust. Can't say it didn't feel like a blow in the stomach, however."

"Preferably, elimination. Before he can make whatever moves those creatures are whispering in his ear. Kira's attacks have created enough destruction and Death already. If he's involved with the same forces I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar attack from him."

"Kira has already exposed herself, her behavior is contradictory. Unless she was lying, what she told to me doesn't match up with this conspiracy. Volkov claims that she instigated the attacks to increase suspicion towards the darkstalkers. Give everyone a common enemy, Jedah." He speaks, to share his personal knowledge about Kira. "And you are correct, she is a lying maniac and I should not believe her. But I can't shake the feeling that she meant parts of those words. In that situation, the theory that she's a pawn of Jedah does not make sense."

"What do you think?" the young Gangster asks Heinlein.

"I wouldn't sell yourself short." Kain dismisses, just because Meira's cause and operation is on his radar hardly means he has the youth fully sussed; at least in theory. The young crimeboss -is- remarkably resourceful... and somewhat preternaturally observant.

"There are only people. Even these "outsiders" have much the same behavior and weaknesses. There is no group, no type that is "trustworthy". Only the will of the individual, the drive, power, and actualization-- whether fully realized or subsumed into another's crusade, each actor must be considered carefully."

Kain considers Alba's firsthand information pensively, a slow smile spreading across his face. "If she's not the herald of another, greater invasion, with the hand of a more deadly actor in these events, all the better. I would wager it is equally possible she is an ambitious rogue element with delusions of grandeur; an upstart who risks overstepping herself, if she has not already."

It's a derogatory analysis some would apply to Kain himself, from a rather different angle. It's unlikely this is lost on him-- but the devil's in the details. "I imagine, regardless of the true motivations either of them hold, our ideal course is to decimate them. As utterly as possible."

"And not give them a chance to rebuild."

"The individual over the group. A logical conclusion." He admits "And, as a induvidual, I can safely judge that Kira is borderline insane. Leads me to lean towards the the latter assessment you proposed- A delusional Rogue." Alba says, before continuing. "Although it's safest to assume the worst case- This being a broadly connected conspiracy." Alba closes his eyes, running through his head the possibilites.

"Then, I think it is important to discuss the specifics of *how* we want to remove them from power. Brute force will not work, the NOL miserably failed even stopping just Kira. We'll need a dang good plan if we wish to topple down Burkoff and Volkov." Looking at Kain, Alba has a questioning look "Lets start with Duke, with the information I have now, he seems like a more accessible target then Kira. From my perspective, the two broad options are to either to Defeat him personally, or Insentivice others to fight him. That seems equally difficult, since everyone's eyes are still on Kira."

"But I'm sure you came here with possiblites in mind." He opening his hand, he gestures towards Kain with a upturned palm, a invitation for him to share his insight.

"Borderline is markedly generous of you." Kain observes, dry as the finely aged wine they drink. "Kira is a secondary concern--" Kain concurs, "... One more Darkstalker to crush." This doesn't seem to incite the trepidation most might espouse at such a situation. "I doubt both the manpower and the greater purpose to prolonged conflict, here-- for reasons we have yet to discern, we must assume she expects to be crushed by the reprisals, and exploit the chaos in the aftermath."

As mentioned, really, the motivations are irrelevent save discerning where hidden purpose might snap out and bite them all. The solution is unavoidable, an occam's razor of simple causality: the invaders must be destroyed, the tide of that chaotic inception halted and ebbed. "It's really a question of just //how much// brute force one has." Kain rebutts softly, and slightly-- overall, Alba is quite correct. "I can direct you to key operations Duke controls, perhaps even pinpoint the man himself." Heinlein ponders this, another plan clearly already in place behind this one.

Really, with the statuesque German, speaking fluent, nearly accent-less Japanese, there may already be several behind it. "We gather our forces, we stage a multi-pronged shock and awe operation, denying them the ability to clear out or fortify any target before it's struck. These zealots use the evidence within to destroy Burkoff from every conceivable angle within "righteous" authority, and we occupy everything Duke controlled, turning it to our own purposes."

It's a grand assumption Kain makes there, but let's be real-- it's clearly plain to both of them that the suave crimelord anarchists relate far better to one another than the other operators in this little endeavour. Some paths may not have to diverge at all.

"The question is-- how much power //do// you have?" The challenge is obvious, with genuine curiosity behind it.

There is the sound of a smothered squeak, when the invitation is made.

For the briefest of moments, there is the faintest, hushed murmurs. But it was too late. A building chatter of panic comes. Claw scratches boil around, an ambush. A creak comes.

And then, a crack, followed by a splash, as a masked figure drops from the ceiling several pools over.

Flailing in the water, she scrambles out, and shouts In a foreign tongue. There is the sound of scattering and crawling all around, above and outside. Their language might not be too alien to someone as cultured and worldly as Kain, but even those not versed in Hungarian would understand as the sopping wet woman in the Raven-masked bodysuit leaps from the pool and runs, sopping wet. It is clear that now the Harom Squad scrambling to escape- to give Kain and Alba their privacy.

Unless they invited them, of course.

"Understood. Your information will grant us better opportunites to strike."

"And that is correct. But in our case, brute force won't work. The strategies we'll hatch together are undoubtably paramount to our eventual success." Alba knowingly states the obvious "So let's drink to that." He states, before bringing the glass to his lips once again, taking another, decently larger swig.

"Powerful enough." A clear response "Much like yourself, I imagine." Alba stands up straight, preparing to leave the bath. "If you wish, we can take eachother for a test. Where do you--"

And then, a Hungarian air-drop.

Alba's head darts over to were she landed, he calls towards her, his calm voice replaced equal parts surprise and frustration. "You complete morons. How do you even manage to- Teca, is that you?" A wild guess, but one supported by the fact that she comes across as the most reckless out of the six. Alba quickly sinks back down to sit in the water, for the purposes of covering himself.

"Cancerous tissue is best handled surgically, not recklessly." Kain agrees-- almost on cue for the lesson to apply to the insanity that is the Raven Guard, at that. There is absolutely no registered surprise on Heinlein's features, however, no shift or defense in his stance despite the unusual turn. The threads he's traced -do- have interconnected endpoints, after all.

This would mean every word he spoke was as much for the Podiebrads as for Meira; or at least, many of them. Or perhaps the young crimeboss is exceedingly sensitive; or a very good actor.

Kain's attention shifts back to Alba after the initial consideration, one eyebrow arched analytically. "Like myself, are you?" Kain seems equal parts amused and intrigued, "Now //that// would be a welcome surprise." Where Alba wilts to self-consciousness, Kain drinks to the offered toast, and rises gracefully, stepping from the pool and toweling himself halfway dry with the indigo hand towel at hand.

The statuesque german's austere features remain largely unreadable as he wordlessly draws a sweeping gesture from Alba to the empty sumo ring central to the bathchambers, the dividers between genders currently down on both sides, the fighting stage laid clear. Soft, modest-ish mawashi are available ringside, because nothing says coverage like a band of cloth for one's lower cheeks.

Heinlein pauses in his unhurried pace, turning his head to glance back in profile towards their interloper, "I'm sure this is... intelligence you're interested in gathering."

She made the mistake of pausing, when the sound of water splashing reached her.

The poor Squard halts, and then, turns around slowly. Through tinted eyes, she could see the full form of the man, Heinleins form well rivaling even the most handsome of the Guardsmen. And Alba would be... Alba would be... She jerks, rushing to the back door, the emergency exit.

The door was locked.

She claws at the back door, rending at it. There is chattering from her, to a whispering voice on the other side of the door The abandoned wet guards voice soundes familiar to Alba; it wasn't a twin, and it wasn't Teca. Erika? But why would they trap her in. It could be Mara... Or... The girl moves swiftly when her fate is revealed.l, leaping and twisting like a bird trapped in a bathhouse, until she reaches the edge of the ring. She was trying to find a way out. And with both men approaching, she finally makes her choice.

And she suddenly goes into parade rest.

Bath water dripping from her brigandine bodysuit, trembling from an impossible cold, the poor Podiebrad finds herself forced to be exposed, unable to make her escape yet, unable to leave. And thus, is forced to endure the test of masculine mettle that was to unfold before her.

With the stoic dignity of a Podiebrad on duty.

Alba wasn't acting, and can't quite yet stay as calm as Kain, no. Not in every situation. A clear indicator of the compared experience between the two men.

The young gangster takes a second to narrow down the options. Erika.. Mara..

But then, it clicks. The voice, and mannerisms.

"Of all people, I didn't expect you to be the pervert, Luiza. Shame on you." He taunts her- perhaps a bit spitefully. He then gestures towards her, a frustrated horizontal arm motion indicating 'look away'. He then follows in Kain's footsteps, and briefly pats himself down with the Podiebrad certified hand towel before going to the sumo ring, trying to ignore the 'observing' Podiebrad operative.

The well-toned but scarcely-clothed gangster wordlessly takes a Mawashi, investigating the cloth for a few seconds- figuring out how it's supposed to be worn. Struggling with the traditional undergarment, he finally manages to put it on correctly. After the mildy embarassing display, he glances over to Kain and asks "Any rules, or limitations?" A short pause, before he jokingly adds. "Since I'm assuming this won't be a Sumo competition. Inflicting collateral to the place would be a shame." Alba steps into the ring, starting to loosen up his body through a brief session of stretches- unknowingly giving potential onlookers plenty to look at.

"Now, now. Let's be fair." Kain intones as Alba incriminates their interloper. The lithely muscled crimeboss lifts one deft hand to unbind his hair, the golden mane falling free in a flowing wave with a toss of his head, weighted subtly by moistened tips. "The important element here is overhearing everything we said, knowing what was agreed, knowing what is planned. They've been obsessively watching everything they can, overhearing everything they can, for some time now." Rather than being offended, Heinlein seems to feel this is rather respectable of the Raven Guard; indeed, there are plenty of hints here that Heinlein is doing much the same.

Stepping more practicedly into the scant fighter's garment, a wry half-smile spreads on the Germanic fellow's austere face, "Satisfaction of one's perversion is merely a side benefit adding embarassment to the endeavor." At least, for everyone except Kain. The pyromancer seems amused alternative to the addled effecting everyone else.

Amid the hazy, fragrant steam, Kain steps to one side of the circle, opposite of Alba. "Damaging this lovely place would be unfortunate, but stone can be repaired. You seek Burkoff, have every reason and impulse to do him harm, and tell me you imagine your power is quite like mine." Which, in Heinlein's own estimation, rather outstrips Duke's for a number of factors.

"Our success rides on knowledge and strategy, not on ego or ambition. Do not deal in half measures here; I must know what tasks are suited for our available strength." And just where Meira stands along the familiar, difficult path he's chosen. In a deceptively leisurely stance, Kain steps into the circle, and beckons Alba onward.

COMBATSYS: Kain has started a fight here on the right meter side.

                                  >  //////////////////////////////]
                                  |-------\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Kain takes no action.

                                  >  //////////////////////////////]
                                  |-------\-------\0             Kain

"Gathering information was part of the plan. But I'd have expected they would've been more competent, however. I did not get the impression that fall was intended." Alba finishes his stretching, taking a glance over to the leather-clad girl in the corner of the room. "Suppose I'll have to pretend she doesn't exist.."

Alba takes his own, loose fighting stance. "Understood. Then I'll fight to the best of my abilities."

He surges chi throughout his body, a whirling sheen of light-indigo covering the surface of his skin. He starts out explosively-- And ducks in, peforming a sweeping chi-laced backhand aimed at the pyromancer's shins. immediately afterwards, he uses his other hand to channel a explosive spark of lightning with the intent of knocking his opponent to their feet.

COMBATSYS: Alba has joined the fight here on the left meter side.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Alba             0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Kain blocks Alba's Thunderbolt Thrash ES.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Alba             0/-------/=======|-------\-------\0             Kain

"Seven of them are convalescent, their elite leader's spine broken." Kain reveals in rebuttal. "Fighting a foe who explicitly told them they had a common enemy and no cause for conflict, because their orders were their orders." There's a meaningful beat; Heinlein shakes his head. "The level of competence on display remains arguable, to my mind." The fact that the thirsty, shaken member of their Third squad is still //right there// doesn't seem to matter much to the young crimeboss.

While Alba's gathering power is immediately expressed, Kain's spikes from somewhere deep within; or a chasmic connection somewhere far, far away.

It's energy that's expressed plainly when the pair collide, Heinlein drops to one knee in the same beat that Meira strikes in, willfully intersecting the assault on his own terms. The first blow snaps into a braced forearm, sweeping it aside in a moment of bruised grace, a tumult of brilliant blue coalescent in the shockwave as first one spike of chi, and then the other, is shattered omnidirectionally, sparing Kain the brunt of the force.

Crimson eyes /lock/ on Alba as the man with the gold-and-platinum mane rises into that follow-up, defending in a self-contained cyclone of whirling, unseen power that sets that long hair fluttering skyward in a wild plume, instants before Kain launches from his sidelong stance in a swift twist, executing a flying straight kick aligned with Alba's solar plexus that could be called simple, classic, or timeless; save for the twist that Kain's foot is all but consumed by a torrent of ragged-edged, midnight flame.

It's a massive, singularly focused mass of power, conjured on demand, seemingly all but effortlessly, a blazing warhead that seems to consume body and spirit, burning impossibly hot for its transient glory; yet chilling with otherworldly intensity, a taste of the endless void beyond this blue marble. It is suddenly Alba threatened to be sent flying back from whence he came, and beyond-- a clear but unspoken discussion to the initial exchange.

An understanding of terms... and realities.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Alba with Schwarzer Stob.
- Power hit! -

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Alba             1/----===/=======|=======\-------\0             Kain

His attack rendered ineffective, Alba attempts to dip back into a more defense-ready position. Kain doesn't waste time initating a counterattack, leaving Alba with little time to respond. He barely just registers the kick, but could only make it out it was aimed at his upper body. Chest, or stomach?

Chest. It had to be his chest.

The actual answer? Somewhere in between the two. He fire-clad foot slinks right under his high guard, nailing him straight in the solar plexus. The first thing Alba feels is the searing heat, the second thing? Being blasted backwards out of the ring- and into the tile wall. The midnight flame briefly lingers on his body, before fading. Leaving Alba slumped over against the now-cracked wall, a handful of tiles falling loose and around him.

Alba quickly gets back on his feet, and spreads out his arms vertically, building up energy in them, a brief moment later, he swings them back towards eachother to make them cross, combining the chi into a large, crescent wave of light blue wind. He swiftly transitions into a the exact same motion and fires off a second wave, all straight towards Kain, of course.

He keeps his distance and stays quiet. Preparing to defend against the inevitable further attacks.

COMBATSYS: Kain overcomes Penitent Flash from Alba with Schwarze Flamme.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Alba             1/----===/=======|======-\-------\0             Kain

Alba keeps his distance, and Kain smiles. It's not a malicious thing, but there's a certain shadowed lilt to the blonde's bemusement. His left foot slides forward, and again he takes up a deceptively casual, sidelong stance in his face-off with the recovering Meira. To the other Southtown rogue's credit, Heinlein is hardly kept waiting.

It's an impressive display-- firepower enough to bisect most men, and then a second wave to split their companion. Many expert fighters would be limited to two courses: hunker down or pray to get out of the way in time. Kain's smile doesn't even twitch.

When Meira's arms swept to their sides, Heinlein's left hand flexed, his fingertips turning to torches of midnight flame, casting shadow without light. As the first wave hurtles towards him, the enigmatic pyromancer sweeps the corresponding arm in a long, smoothe arc, its path traced by a trailing tendril of voidborne power.

At the apex of that arc, twin plumes of dark fire swirl about one another in inexorable orbit, swirling forward, an inferno-edged lance that cleaves through the midpoint of that incoming blade, its energy sundered to luminescent firework in the space seperating the scantily clad combatants. Dark edges burn on the remnants of the attack, as if they were combustible to the chi they meet.

Largely unimpeded, that twin burst cleaves through the second arc in much the same way, its power fodder for the senses as it too forcibly dissipates in a combusting blast, the heatless, empty force bursting outwards across the room as the visible energy scatters, sundered. Still that flame endures, coursing around itself with angry, defiant fury, only building speed as it burns through the opposing force, its own intensity lessened... but far from negligible.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Alba with Schwarze Flamme.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Alba             1/-======/=======|=======\-------\1             Kain

Alba is briefly distracted by the spectacle of their energy clashing- before Kain's burst of flame breaks through with staggering speed, hitting him square in the torso. Alba is forced backwards, grunting out in pain as the inferno licks at his skin. The flames finally disperse, but Alba is left no closer to his opponent then he was.

In the moment, Alba decides on a perhaps foolish decision- initiating the man at close range, relying on hand-to-hand combat to save his energy. He is already breathing heavily and moving with less precision, due to the the quickly accumulated fatigue and damage. He dashes towards Kain, holding his right arm by his side Upon reaching the man, he would fiercely thrust out his pulled-back arm attempting to strike the man's chest with a open palm.

COMBATSYS: Alba successfully hits Kain with Aggressive Strike.
- Power hit! -

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Alba             1/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Kain

There's a beauty to the interplay of violence that goes beyond the obvious fanservice on display, and as Alba decides to go on the offense anew, battered but unbroken by the blast, Heinlein once more squares himself to offer an oppositional defense, bracing his left arm to intercept the coming strike.

Timing, positioning are not on Kain's side this time, however-- instead of deflecting the blow or dissipating its energy early, the strike lashes squarely into the blonde's chest, a bone-shaking impact visibly hammering his torso momentarily out of position, a half-step ahead of the rest of him as he's driven backwards several strides. Kain maintains his footing, however. Even draws in a deep, steadying breath as he slides to a stop, unfazed by the substantial punishment. Unslowed despite his own impressive displays of might.

"You are strong--" Heinlein observes with a measure of respect even as a blur of motion announces the snap of hands from rest to strike, seeking Meira's throat. Should that grip be found, Kain would clench a mighty vise around his opponent of the moment's neck and loft him violently from the ground, coiling close and then launching outwards, intent on blasting Meira to the ground amidst a surging wave of ragged-edged, brilliant blue chi, its forceful conjuration threatening to rip through him even as it would launch him amid its eruption. "-- but Duke would //break/ you."

COMBATSYS: Alba blocks Kain's Medium Throw.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Alba             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Kain

Finally, a clean hit.

But Kain recovers fast, his hands jolting out to grab Alba by the Neck- and they find grip. Alba responds by clenching his own hands around Kain's wrists, wrenching the arms free from his neck and to his sides. Kain's Wave of energy still manages to blast both of Alba's forearms, leaving them with a intense, numbing pain. Significantly limiting Alba's ability to block.

The young gangster goes in for another strike. He lifts up his back leg- turns it sideways, and spins his body to the right to increase the force of the kick, aiming to hit Kain's midsection

"Then I won't fight him alone." He replies, acknowledging his lack of raw power in comparison to the syndicate leader.

COMBATSYS: Kain blocks Alba's Medium Kick.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Alba             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Kain

"Smart." Kain acknowledges, twisting into a half crouch to orient himself at intersecting vectors with the snapping kick, a braced forearm colliding with Alba's shin with another resounding, if largely dissipated impact. He told Meira not to hold back, and at least for the most part-- that seems to be the demonstration Heinlein receives. It'll help them all moving forward, in the blonde's own estimations.

The twisting coil into defense is at once a preparation of a followup offense, and as he executes it, Kain muses that he may have the wrong word, "Perhaps wise.". It's easy to mistake the exchange for heaping on perhaps insincere flattery, but Kain is offering Meira one, or the other. Maybe. Depends how smart he is about that reasoning; or how wise.

That, and with regard to the head-cleaving uppercut that Kain launches as he surges back to proper footing, his right fist consumed in a brilliantly trailed, chaotic spheroid of raw, flaring might. The sheer impact, the depth of the punishing, voidborne chi-- indeed for a moment, one suffering the impact might fear decapitation. A lesser warrior might not even have a head composed of discernible matter, anymore. "As providence would have it, I //owe him// deeply."

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Alba with Fierce Punch.
- Power hit! -

[                          \\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Alba             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\===----\1             Kain

Alba might have responded, but he does not get a opportunity to.

The uppercut crashes into his chin perfectly, the sparks of chi dancing across his face. His head and neck are forcefully /jolted/ backwards, launched upwards a solid few feet- before he arcs back down and lands on the Sumo ring's hard floor with his back, coughing out a spurt of blood. For a few seconds, it seems as if he's going to stay down- But, he manages to jolt up to his feet. One last time. He can't go out without showing more of his raw power.

He needs to prove himself.

He leaps towards Kain, single-mindedly- and recklessly attempting to hit him with one last, straight punch- imbued with every ounce of energy he has left. A swirling mass of Chi erupts from his arm, creating a fierce breeze around it. All the gathered Chi seems to surge back into his arm as he starts to stretch it out towards Kain- and moments later, it erupts. Creating a massive vertically-tilted disk of whirling wind and lightning and the point of impact- His fist.

Afterwards, he limply falls over forwards. Still conscious, but panting heavily from the damage and fatigue.

COMBATSYS: Alba can no longer fight.

                                  >  ///////////////////////       ]
                                  |=======\===----\1             Kain

COMBATSYS: Alba successfully hits Kain with Secret Punch of the Thundergod EX.
- Power hit! -

                                  >  //////////////////            ]
                                  |=======\======-\1             Kain

Alba takes the formidable strike right on the chin-- and certainly suffers for it. Meira is defiant to the end, to his arguable credit, and again Heinlein finds himself willfully in the path of that answering technique, steeling his own guard.

Alba slips that defense keenly once more, delivering the powerful straight to Kain's midsection, momentarily bisecting the man with brilliant windshear even as Meira falls. The blonde crimeboss is staggered, sent reeling back several overzealous strides-- but he is not toppled. Skidding to a stop, Kain balances himself with his own ample grace and strength, and strides the span that now seperates him from the fallen renegade.

"Rise." The single syllable is perhaps the first with the intensity of commandment since Meira met Heinlein. "Stand and face the struggle ahead of you, to seize back your own destiny from a foolish, destructive creature." In this instance, standing over Alba, Kain offers his potential ally a hand up. It doesn't take a Morgan Freeman narration to recognize this as highly symbolic; and perhaps unusual.

COMBATSYS: Kain has ended the fight here.

Alba lays with his head on the Dohyo's hard floor, finding himself unable to get up alone. His ears ringing and head spinning now that the adrenaline is fading. Kain's suddenly intense voice cuts through the noise in his ears, and he tilts up his head to see the Pyromancer's arm literally, as well as figuratively stretched out to him, and gratefully grabs Kain's hand with his own.

The crimson-haired gangster lets himself be pulled up, and rises to his feet, though with a unbalanced posture, looking as if he might fall down again. Between the heavy breaths, Alba responds. "I.. Plan on accomplishing that. With your.. aid."

He raises his heavy, heavy head to look at Kain, and says. "Good fight."

Luiza wasn't only being embarrassed.

Forced to stay and watch the handsome men wrestle... and tussle... and the thunder-thunder-thunder fist... Luiza was almost being punished. Almost. Of course, there was a front door. But the Harom Squad had a secret weapon, which Erika leveraged to the fullest. It's very easy to look at the flock of girls, and think of them as a bunch of sorority girls in masks. But as Luiza stands there, she listens. She learns. And she confirms several very, very important facts. The nature of Duke, of Kain, and more importantly, of Alba. The fighting ability, the goal. Kain... Kain wouldn't be targeted any more. There was still the issue of Szabolc, but now it was a matter of diplomacy than a war. She knew it now. So when the heavy breathes are made, and the moment of battle passion reaches its climax? She's gone, with the sound of flapping, out the front door.

Must have been too embarrassed.

Log created on 16:36:30 05/21/2020 by Kain, and last modified on 17:01:47 05/28/2020.