The Black Dragon - Black Dragon R5 - The Dragon's Heart

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Description: Having set herself up as a villain poised to threaten all of Southtown, Kira has been wildly successful in pissing off just about every single faction in the city. No surprise that when you start destroying civilization for seemingly insane goals people tend to take offense. However, not everyone believes that the Dragon is simply a rabid dog that needs to be put down as quickly as possible. Having seen more than his fair share of people drawn to the allure of death and power, the former head of the Assassin's Guild decides to pay the mercenary queen a visit in the hopes that he might convince her of a better path.

There is an old saying that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Like many ancient adages it indulges in a bit of pointless poetic symbolism but the warning it gives against being overconfident is no less true for the flowery language. However, there is a more modern version of that saying that meshes more easily with Kira's mindset - no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Many people unfamiliar with warfare make the mistake of believing that tactical geniuses are those who possess uncanny powers of foresight that allow them to guess what their opponent will do before they do it. However, if there is anything that the mercenary has learned in the many long years of conflict that have dominated her life it is that no one is ever completely predictable. Chess-like thought processes have little place on a real battlefield as they require the reliance on knowing a limited set of potential moves. Rather it is the ability to understand why one's opponent is doing something and to adapt to thwart or exploit their efforts that marks a genius of warfare apart from their peers.

Few people alive in the modern world have seen as much warfare as Kira. The bulk of humanity has become complacent and lazy, wallowing in the peace and prosperity brought about by modern conveniences and more 'civilized' approaches to conflict resolution between nations. That life might have been a part of her future too until the fires of war washed over her homeland in a wave that reminded the world that violence and power are still the ultimate arbiters of control. For all their cries for peace and co-existence, those countries that hold liberty most dear possess the largest and most advanced militaries. Hypocrites. But then, who isn't these days?

Being exposed to the harshness of reality at a young age defined the woman that Kira would become today. Violence and hatred, bloodshed and greed. The things that those who live fat happy lives walled away from the day to day struggle that defined human existence for millena decry as 'evil'. Of course, evil is little more than a made-up word to categorize the actions taken by the strong against those too cowardly or weak to stop them. A convenient villification of those with the qualities to wield raw power to take what they want.

Such labels are meaningless to the woman known as the Dragon. The Dragon, an ancient creature of destruction and death. Many people have taken it as their moniker for it is an old symbol of power, yet few recall the other qualities associated with the beast when proudly wielding it as their standard - cunning, avarice, and obsession.

For all her seemingly arrogant bluster, Kira is not stupid. Her wits and cautious calculation were the cornerstone upon which she built an empire in the shadows, outmaneuvering her opponents through careful study and preparation. Her success has fostered a great sense of worldly attachment, something that she does nothing to deny. The material comforts afforded by wealth and power give her great pleasure and she revels in displaying the trophies of her conquests to those who would consider themselves her peers. Yet despite the overwhelming success that she has acheived and the legacy she has carved into the world there have always been those who believed themselves beyond her reach. Rival warlords, spies in league with government services, assassins for hire, and lowly punks just looking to make a name for themselves. She lost count of the times people have tried to wipe her out years ago. Each and every time she has returned the favor in spades. No one gets to mess with her and walk away from it. Eventually, somehow and someday, she will seek retribution.

"They're regrouping on the left flank."

A soft feminine voice snaps Kira out of a brief moment of idle thought. Glancing down at the screen in front of her, she takes in the bird's eye image of the battlefield as seen through the military satellite hijacked by her hackers. The assault on the casino is largely spread across the main front at the northern side of the facility. Several small clusters of red dots are scattered about the massive parking lot, squads of her mercenaries bunkered up in fortified pillboxes constructed over the past couple of weeks. In stark contrast, a thick smear of blue dots create a long wavering line just a short distance further to the north - the NOL forces massed against her.

Turning her attention to the area indicated, Kira watches as a small chunk of the azure blips start to coalecse into something a little more coherent. The initial wild charge at her front lines by the enraged mages had resulted in a period of utter chaos. The front ranks had attempted to clear the way with rolling bombardments of fire meant to detonate any hidden mines in their path with only mild success. Several of the buried charges had indeed been demolished before they could do their job but plenty more were not and the Librarium suffered several casualties as a result of their recklessness, precisely as Kira had intended.

Since that initial reality check had snapped them out of their bloodlust the NOL's forces have been attempting to regroup into more useful formations but a steady hail of gunfire and mortar shells has made that all but impossible without a complete withdrawal. Something their commander isn't particularly keen on it would seem. Perhaps their pride refuses to let them show weakness after the first embarassing assault on the casino or maybe they hope to use the anger still gripping their soldiers to press them harder. Regardless of their reasoning, things have been working out in Kira's favor thus far and that always makes her slightly paranoid.

"Direct mortar teams to focus fire on that flank," she says, turning address her second in command with a slight frown. "Don't let them form up into those squads. Our weapons won't be any good if they can get their shields into a proper wall."

"Yes, ma'am."

Zhenya directs her attention to her own console, relaying the orders rapidly as her fingers dance across the keyboard. Kira pauses a moment to admire her lover as she works. Her face with it's pale soft skin unmarred by any visible blemish framed by brown hair so dark that it might as well be black gives the woman an ethereal quality even in the well-lit room. Her soft whisper of a voice, quiet and terse, lends further power to the comparison to a spirit. When she walks there is hardly any sound to accompany her; hell, even the sound of her typing is unusually quiet, as if her very presence is a shadow on reality.

Wheeling her chair around to face the rest of the command center, Kira casts a quick glance around at the other stations where familiar faces are focused upon their own tasks. Only half a dozen of the usual operators are present. The loss of access to her primary work force pool has left her short on both resources and manpower for present. If everything goes as planned today she might have a chance to turn those fortunes around.

There's another saying, much more modern and honestly a commercial tagline that had wormed its way into popular culture: War never changes. It's hyperbole at best. Of course war changes. There was a time where it was fought with sticks and rocks. Eventually those rocks became pointed and attached to the sticks, and eventually the stone was replaced by steel. If you asked Slayer, only two real things about war thus far hasn't changed: first, naturally, the volume of it. From the world he crafted for him and Sharon, the magic meeting technology was distracting from what should've been in his mind the closest thing to Heaven for he and his wife.

The other thing that hasn't changed is the humanity of it. When people talk about humanity, they make the mistake of it being synonymous with morality. It's inhumane to torture. War is inhumane. -Where's your humanity?- In the eyes of the vampire, most things considered inhumane or inhuman were things only humans were capable of. Well, humans and creatures who once were so and weren't anymore. Creatures like him. Taking a thoughtful pull of his pipe as he watches the ongoing siege from a window of a nearby derelict building, these are the thoughts that distract Slayer from the reason he came here.

'Evil' is a made up word. All words are, really, but 'good' and 'evil' were abstracts that humanity has pondered over for as long as even Slayer has been alive -- and he has been alive for a long time. At one point, Slayer himself would have been considered evil, and in hindsight, the vampire supposed it could be true. In the first moments where he woke up immortal and thirsty for the blood of others, he cursed his existence as he left a trail of blood and death in his wake. It took him a long time to stop being such an uncouth beast, and Slayer has spent centuries trying to make up for it. The formation of the Assassin's Guild was what he thought at the time his gift to civilization -- an organization that would ensure that the world would never again suffer tyrants or conquerors.

Another adage is to err is to be human. Slayer took small comfort in it -- forming the Assassin's Guild ended up in later eras to be one of his enduring mistakes.


"You owe them nothing. Haven't you sacrificed enough for them?" Sharon's head was on his chest when she made that arguement, as he sat in an armchair in front of a fire with her on his lap, one of her arms slung around his neck and the tell-tale pricks on hers being stroked soothingly by the pad of his thumb. "She'll fight you. They always fight you."

"I have to try, my darling," he whispered to her, watching as the marks slowly began to fade from her skin. "I'm not ready to let go yet."

"Soon?" The pleading in her voice wasn't unnoticed by her husband, and it was in her eyes too when she looked up to meet his gaze.

"I love you." He couldn't make a promise he couldn't keep.


The magic NOL employed did little to help them detect Slayer's passage. He became shadow -- that's all NOL saw, a dark shadow briefly passing over them. The technology did a better job -- on one of the screens there was a sudden and strange distortion. Cameras, mirrors and more never did well with actually showing what the image they had captured when it came to the vampire. Throughout the corridors, the Dragoons see a shadow sweep over them, and one might assume that it's some sort of NOL spell that has bypassed their defenses.

They'd be wrong, of course. A 'whooooshing' sound and a brief flutter of stray hair is the final /supernatural/ omen to Slayer's arrival, and he's now outside the door of the Command Center. Gunfire probably erupts, but while Dragoons are in the process of reloading their weapons, Slayer, with a handful of bullets in one hand, uses the other to knock on the door politely.

To many, the very idea that magic and monsters are something more than myth and legends is still something they struggle to come to terms with. One of the fastest people to adapt to this new reality was Kira. It was her swift initiative that saw her storm the beaches, so to speak, of the Majigen itself and carry home the prize of hundreds of dark stalkers. Those very same unfortunate souls now litter the streets above or yet linger in cages, slaves to the whims of the mercenary queen despite their ferocious strength and savagery.

Yet, while Kira and her companions may have accepted the presence of sorcery that doesn't make them anything like experts on it. None but the Librarium and it's Mages Guild can claim to be true masters of that lost art, something that the NOL has done a great deal to ensure remains true. Even with her powerful connections and vast wealth, there has been precious little in the way of information or artifacts available for the Dragon to add to her repository.

So, when the shadowy specter flits its way across her sensors, Kira reacts in much the same way as anyone else might when confronted with a terrifying unknown, though her reflexes are a bit faster than most. The static has barely finished disorting the camera feed before the automated systems throw up a warning. The mercenary jerks her head towards a nearby monitor as a small LED above it flashes a red klaxon drawing her attention to the unusual warping of the image.

"What the..."

Her eyes narrow in a suspicious glare at the strange trail of dark shadow even as it fades out of the camera's view. Rushing over to the panel, she taps a few keys and the next camera down the hall projects its view to the monitor just as the magical shadow rushes forward to brush its haywire touch upon the electronic eye.

"Corridor seven!"

Kira whirls around to face one of the dozen blast doors lining the edge of the command center as she presses a finger against the small bud in her ear, activating the tactical comm. Every head in the room snaps up to look at her in surprise at the insistent tone in her voice but she ignores the unspoken question on their faces.

"Potential enemy incursion! Watch out for that shadow!"

A pair of gruff voices bark assent at her only moments before the muted bark of gunfire drifts into the control room through the sealed door. In a single smooth motion, Kira whirls and slips the tip of her boot under the strap of a tactical shotgun leaning against her station yanking it up into the air and catching it with a deft swipe. Zhenya is next to her within moments, a pair of those deadly combat blades she favors clutched in her gloved hands.

Without being told the rest of the command staff arm themselves producing a variety of small arms meant for use in close quarters combat from hiding places near their stations. One of the soldiers hefts a small box up onto one of the desks and flips it open to reveal a dozen slender black tubes topped with thick white plastic caps - concussion grenades. He starts to pass them out to the others, tossing one Kira's way which she catches and slides into one of the many tactical pockets lining her combat belt.

The gunfire comes in sharp but controlled bursts, a dull rapid series of whumps followed by a brief moment of silence then another burst as the trained soldiers line up their shots with tactical expertise rather than simply spray wildly. They continue to dump hot lead into the bizarre apparition until their clips click empty and everything goes silent for several seconds.

The sound of polite knocking shatters the tension in the air as everyone in the command room stares apprehensively at the door. That certainly isn't what they were expecting. Kira shares a confused look with her second but Zhenya merely shrugs and shakes her head. Her powers aren't going to be any help on this one. Damnit.

Kira's brow furrows as she ponders possibilities. If it was an assassin sent by the NOL they probably would have just blown the door down with a spell or something. A quick glance at a nearby monitor shows that neither of the guards outside the corridor have ceased transmiting healthy vital signs, so they either aren't dead or whatever has come calling knows some really neat tricks.


Kira touches the ear bead again, opening communication to one of the guards outside. "Talk to me."

"Uh... y-yeah, still here, boss."

"The fuck are we dealing with here? Did it attack you?"

"Uh, no, I don't... I don't think so. Still feels like I got all my bits. It's... it just looks like some old man."

Kira's brow quirks at that.

"An old man?"

"Yeah. He's dressed up like something straight out of the 1800s or something. Can't be human though. The guy just fucking bare handed all those shots like were throwing popcorn at him."

What the hell? Kira's dealt with some weird unexpected visitors popping into her bases out of nowhere but this is new. How the hell is she supposed to handle this?

"Does he have any weapons?"

A pause.

"...I think he has a pipe."

Kira frowns. A pipe? Like a piece of metal? That doesn't seem to mesh up with some fancy old attire.

"Are you saying he has a club?"

"No, like... a pipe, you know? For smoking."

Oh good grief. The mercenary rubs her face, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers. She does not need this bullshit, not today!

"Fuck it," she sighs. "Let him in. Let's get...whatever this is over with."

Pointing at a pair of the soldiers, Kira jerks her thumb towards the blast door. Dutifully they scamper forward, each one taking up position on either side of the door in a position to direct unpleasant amounts of point-blank violence on this 'old man' should it be necessary. A loud buzzer sounds as Kira inputs the command to unseal the door and it slowly starts to grind open granting access to the control room to the thing on the other side.

Even Slayer himself was no master of magic -- though his command over the night and powers of darkness (a sharp contrast to his rigid morality) was immense enough to rival even the most powerful of NOL's mages. The nature of his vampirism made him resistant to a great of their magicks -- including their ability to scan him. It's the only reason why he's managed to get by for so long without the Librarium putting a bounty on his head -- a bounty of which might be well-deserved, in some circles, depending on who you asked.

A small part of him had considered freeing Kira's slaves, but even he wouldn't have had the time to do that before the siege was up, and it'd likely result in a combat right away.

It was an important distinction he had to make, that he had come in peace rather than war, whether an agent of peace like himself was seen as weak by the bloodthirsty (intended) hateful greedy Dragon.

When the door opens, the man in question walks in -- and yes, his suit is pretty classical, a Victorian sort of affair, shoulder-cape included, though it's small enough to give it a slightly more modern edge. As reported, a pipe in the hand he knocked on the door with -- the bowl of it grasped gently in hand while he steps further into the complex, taking a look around with what looks to be an absurd fascination. Slayer has seen command centers in the theater before (he loved cinema, one of mankind's finest achievements), but this was real, and nothing like he saw before. He admired the authenticity of it all, despite the macabre nature of it.

The pipe had went out in his journey into the depths of this place, and he takes it from his mouth to look down at it unhappily, but doesn't bother to light it yet. Instead he approaches one of the tables with a computer on it, depositing the bullets that had nearly ruined his suit onto the surface and then turning towards Kira to face her -- it was evident from the way she stood that she was the leader, or at least it was in Slayer's mind. Still, he didn't want to make too many assumptions, so he glanced between her and Zhenya and offered both an absurdly pleasant smile.

"Hello," he begins with. "One of you must be Kira Volkov, yes? The Dragon?" Slayer enjoyed titles, even if those titles carry with them crimes against humanity. He says dragon with a reverence that might suggest he isn't here to fight, though the possibility of combat, like Sharon had told him in their private paradise world, hadn't escaped him. He enjoyed fighting as much as he enjoyed pleasant conversation, however, even if he had long since stopped putting much effort in the former.

"You don't mind if I smoke, do you?"

It's only then does the vampire realize weapons are still pointed at him, and he while he remains pleasantly smiling, he opens his coat to show them he is unarmed, save for what appears to be some sort of old-fashioned shoulder harness strapped to one side of him, bearing a dagger that the magically sensitive would realize is an artifact of immense power. He reaches inside very slowly to take from an inner pocket a book of matches, but he doesn't bother lighting up just yet.

Humans can be very jumpy at times, after all. He didn't hold it against them. While it had been a long time since he's felt the same sort of caution, he's here to try to help Kira, though certainly not with her goals. He's here to offer her redemption -- even if she doesn't think she needs it. Even if he's unsure either of them deserve it. That doubt never makes it outside his thoughts, however. He has to try. He owes it to humanity.

"You can call me Slayer, though I must stress that it is now only a name and not a profession or at all why I'm here." He can't remember his real name -- it's lost to time. Perhaps that Alucard woman can -- he'll have to track her down one of these days for a cup of tea and ask if she knows it.

"I also hope you wouldn't mind if I sit? It might put all our minds at ease." He never shows teeth with his smile, either.

The vampire's entrance into the dragon's den is met not with fanfare or awe but an array of grim faces and pointed weapons. Only Kira and Zhenya look the slightest bit calm in the face of the absurdity of this situation, the former clearly annoyed and the latter lacking any expression at all.

The command center itself is rather impressive even by modern standards. Towers of powerful computers and rows of server storage trays line the walls, their dull gray metal faces dancing with the lights of dozens of colored LEDs and status displays. Three more rows of machinery create concentric circles that grow ever smaller as they move towards the center of the room where a raised dias roughly fifty feet across serves as the nerve center of the entire operation.

Even here the presence of fortifications are obvious. A large machine gun is mounted on a pintle over each and every one of the twelve blast doors leading off deeper into the facility. The bright red dots of several laser aiming sights settle with mechanical precision atop Slayer's stylishly clad chest the moment he steps into the room. The upraised platform at the center of the room is surrounded by a thick waist-high wall of tempered titanium offering a defensible position from which the operators might repel invaders. Lockers filled with guns and ammunition can be found scattered throughout the machinery at regular intervals ensuring that the Dragon's soldiers will always have a weapon handy at a moment's notice.

Kira's annoyed glower turns to a confused balk as the strange old man confessed to not even knowing who he's looking for. A claim that she finds rather hard to believe since she's put her face all over the news of pretty much every channel on the planet after delivering her ultimatum to Southtown. But considering this guy looks like he walked out of the pages of a Shakespearean novel maybe he doesn't watch much television.

Resting her shotgun casually on her shoulder, Kira takes a few strides towards the old man. While the detail might have escaped his notice from afar, up close it's impossible to miss the fact that the mercenary's bright blue eyes are slitted like those of a snake rather than possessing the usual dot-shaped pupils shared by humans. Her gaze shifts down to take note of what she might find when he opens his jacket to show that he isn't carrying any weapons. The dagger most definitely does not escape her notice. While she might be utterly ignornant of its magical properties when a strange old man walks into a heavily fortified military base carrying nothing but a pipe and an usual knife it sets of a few alarm bells.

The wariness isn't allowed to show on her face. Instead, the woman comes to a halt only a few feet away and gives Slayer a smug grin, unafraid of showing her own pristine white teeth. Reaching down to rummage around in one of her many pockets, Kira fishes out a half-empty pack of cigarettes, popping one into her mouth.

She takes another step forward, bringing herself into easy striking range should this mysterious visitor wish to take the opportunity to inflict harm upon her. An unlikely possibility, she has decided. If he wanted to harm her, he seems to be more than capable of doing so without going through all the song and dance of proving he's unarmed. Kira leans forward offering the tip of her smoke towards the book full of matches he's holding and looks at him expectantly.

If he wants to play the role of a gentleman why not play along? At least until she figures out why the fuck he's here.

The silence that follows isn't lost on Slayer, but his question regarding Kira's identity is answered quickly enough by her approach. While Slayer has been following humanity's progress throughout the ages, it's true that he considers art more important than other forms of media, and it was to his embarrassment that he didn't know her face when he saw it.

He did hear about her, however. How could he not? He does look down at the laser show on his chest after his gaze takes in the rest of the lights that flicker ominously in the room. He had to admit, he didn't see NOL getting in any time soon by human standards. However, when there's magic involved he's been wrong before -- that incident with Bedman still made a little spot in his back itch sometimes. His gaze meets hers -- and for a creature who was just living shadow, his eyes are much more mundane than her own; despite that, there's a warmth to them that someone like Kira might be unusued to, though stranger things have happened.

Slayer's eyes take her in, and inwardly, he frowns. Curiosity doesn't get the better of him, but he does wonder how this came about. What had happened to her? Well -- there'll be time for that soon. He's come for this very reason. Pipe being lipped, he strikes a match and uses his hand to shield the flame from the outside, holding it towards the Dragon to light her cigarette so that the smoke may curl out of her mouth, just like her namesake. He makes idle, lisped conversation while he does, breaking the silence. "When cigarettes first came into fashion, I had my doubts, you know. Film noire changed that. It was a pity when it was revealed the effects it had on the lungs."

Once her cigarette is lit, he shakes the match out and flicks it away -- it lands right in the pile of bullets, despite the vampire not looking in the direction he threw it. He didn't even try sometimes -- things eventually started just working themselves out for him. A small part of him wished it was that way for the rest of the world. Another adage: if wishes were fishes...

Another match is struck quickly, and he lights his pipe, looking down the length of it to make sure the blend he's prepared is burning properly. He then takes a seat in one of the vacated chairs after moving over towards it, lifting it, and bringing it more towards the center of the room so he can take a seat in plain view of all the weapons that are pointed at him. He gestures towards another chair in invitation.

"I would ask the rest of your names, but I've got a feeling the lot of you wouldn't tell me. I am here to attempt to... sue for peace," he puts it delicately. "Though after all this..." His eyes trail towards one of the screens depicting the siege itself. "...I'll admit I may be too late. This battle doesn't look like it's going to end until NOL withdraws or brings this place down."

He takes a thoughtful draw from his pipe. "More's the pity. It shouldn't have to end like this."

No one speaks as the mercenary commander bravely steps up to face whatever well-dressed monstrosity has come to pay them a call. It's obvious by now to everyone that there isn't going to be a fight, at least not immediately. The pale-skinned woman who had been standing next to Kira when he first arrived turns to the handful of soldiers still huddled up behind the wall of the nerve center giving them a pointed look. They successfully interpret her emotionless stare as 'get back to work' and quickly move to resume their stations leaving Kira and Slayer to converse, though their weapons are deposited nearby in plain view as if to make it clear that they aren't going to be taken by surprise.

Kira puffs on the cigarette as the bright flame sets its tip alight, inhaling deeply the way only a practiced smoker can accomplish without coughing their lungs out. A half inch of the cigarette immolates in a cherry red glow that is reflected in her bright eyes. She smiles at the mention of the health risks involved in smoking, flashing her pearly white teeth again.

"Science has come a long way since then," she replies, her voice gruff with a thick Slavic accent. "Besides, in my line of work there are far more likely ways for me to die young than lung cancer."

The woman follows Slayer's example and takes a seat in one of the many empty chairs. They aren't particularly well designed for leisurely relaxation but they are ergonomic and comfortable. Kira makes herself well at home, kicking her combat boots up onto the surface of a small desk. It's an obvious statement about how much of a threat she thinks he is or perhaps even an insult of sorts. How he choses to react to her behavior will let her know something about the personality of the man, or whatever he actually is, who has come to speak with her.

His statement of intention almost makes the mercenary bust out laughing but she manages to restrain herself to only a snort of derision that sends twin puffs of dark gray smoke spewing from her nostrils. A few of the others give him an incredulous look but their attention quickly returns to monitoring the battle. Only Zhenya moves to join them at the center of the room. She quietly takes up a position just behind Kira's chair and relaxes into a military at-ease stance though her ice-cold stare affixes itself to Slayer with predatory intensity.

"Let me get this straight," Kira says, still stiffling a giggle. "You came to... /ask/ me to stop..."

She gestures at the room around them filled with the instruments of war and the men and women dedicated to waging battle for profit.


As the mercenaries get back to work, Slayer leans back in his chair and shifts a little to get comfortable -- it's evidently quite easy for him too -- he has found comfort in the strangest of battlefields and surfaces, his ankle crossing over his knee in a rather relaxed position that matches Kira's own. If he's offended by her own casualness, he doesn't show it on his face, instead taking a few thoughtful pulls from his pipe as he considers the woman. His gaze does briefly flick up towards Zhenya, whom he offers a warm smile to and even addresses. "There's another chair if you'd like to join us."

The vampire's gaze drops to Kira at her reaction to his reason for coming here. He had expected for this reaction, and he takes the moment to look politely chagrined by their laughter, unlipping his pipe and hanging his head slightly, fixating his gaze on the legs of Kira's chair for a moment. A hand comes up and waves a little dismissively, as if it might banish the laughter.

"Yes, yes, I know," the vampire murmurs, looking back up towards her and subsequently Zhenya. "It isn't the only reason I came, however," he murmurs towards the Dragon, another draw from his pipe taken after, while his gaze slides over the screens that depict the battle. "I came for you, Kira Volkov. I came to learn about who you are -- why this is the person you've become. Everyone out there -- and I do not think I am exagerrating, everyone out there wants you dead." His hand flicks to the screen.

"The creatures you've enslaved, the innocents who died because of you, the violence you have let loose on this city," he goes on to list Kira's accomplishments. "You have shown without a doubt that you are worthy of the moniker Dragon, by all means. What I want, Kira," Slayer continues his speech, "is to know why you're doing this. I want to know what drives you -- you're a very intelligent young woman who's talents are wasted on this stage you've chosen. It can't be merely as simple as the strong preying on the weak. If you're being employed by a third party, I understand professional courtesy."

He exhales, the smoke that comes out of his mouth far more cleaner than the smoke that's billowing from the dragon's nostrils. "I just want to understand /you/. I've fought in so many wars that you could say I've spent several lifetimes in battle. And while I love a good round of fisticuffs, the struggle between two people trying to overcome one another, I've sworn to myself and your world not to take any more lives. It isn't my place anymore. But this..." He points to Kira with his pipe. "Speaking to you, trying to appeal to your... empathy, if you have any? This I can do. If I cannot change your mind, I will simply leave. With all that's happening... I think it's unlikely we'll see each other again."

Zhenya's response to the invitation to sit is to continue staring silently and intently down at the former assassin. A being as old and familiar with humanity as he would no doubt be able to recognize the signs of a cold professional killer. The expressionless face that she presents to him is a mask, a barrier between her emotions and the rest of the world. Whether that is simply another tool in her arsenal as a murderer or some sort of coping mechanism to deal with the life that she has chosen is something that can't be gleaned merely from a glance, however.

Kira is far easier to read. Everything about the woman practically screams that she knows exactly what she is and revels in it. She even said as much herself in her address to the citizens of Southtown. She is powerful and skilled and that strength allows her to take whatever she wants. People fear her because she is vicious and cruel. People respect her because she is cunning and brave. People hate her because they know that they will never have the courage to live a life free from the judgement of others.

From the ragged ponytail of wild blonde hair and the cocky grin that she sports to the jagged angry tribal tattoos on her arms and implements of death strapped to her waist, everything about Kira exists to evoke feelings of primal emotion. Fear, awe, lust, jealousy, love, hate. She has spent an entire lifetime learning how people think and how they react and exploiting those desires and expectations. To those under her command she is a charismatic and volatile leader, cheerful and vibrant in her passion but quick to anger and deadly in her wrath. To those who find themselves standing in her way, well, most of them don't feel anything at all any more.

Kira's chuckling peters out as the vampire expresses embarassment at even bringing the topic up. He already knew that she was going to dismiss the idea outright yet he came anyways. It is mildly infuriating that he would knowingly waste her time during a moment of crisis but she restrains her temper for the moment.

Perhaps it is a bit of ego that stays her hand when he expresses interest in her directly. Her station has been going up in the world ever since the dark stalkers decided to reveal themselves and she took the initiative to strike back blindly into their own realm. When before she was merely a powerful warlord in a small forgotten corner of the world she now holds quite a bit of power.

She was approached by Vega directly, apparently enough of a power in her own right that he decided to bring her beneath his banner, however briefly. The venerable and esteemed Hunter's Guild now calls her a proud member of the upper eschelons for her daring raid into the Majigen, going so far as to comission her as the head of the local branch. Many of the city's numerous gangs, once fractured and squabbling amongst each other, now operate at her behest as the power base of the Syndicate slowly erodes out from underneath them.

And then there is, of course, the very reason that she is currently in this situation - Jedah. For all the accolades and wealth that her invasion into dark stalker territory brought her it has returned that investment in full with trouble.

Kira eyes Slayer with an amused smirk as he pours compliments upon her. Oh, he probably doesn't think that recounting her deeds over the past few weeks is meant to be something praiseworthy but to the mercenary's mind she can't see it as anything but. Whatever the old man might be, he's obviously got power and experience. It be compared to a mythological force of nature by a being such as he is almost enough to make her blush.

"Interview with a vampire, huh..."

Kira flicks the ashes from her cigarette onto the table idly, exhaling another large cloud of smoke. After a moment she grins and shakes her head at him offering a slight shrug.

"Sorry, you probably never saw that one."

Lowering her feet to the floor, the woman leans forward to rest her elbows on her thighs and peers at Slayer in silence. After a few awkward seconds she pops the cigarette back between her lips and inhales again.

"Well, Slayer, you picked a pretty fucking awkward time to take dictation for a biography. As you yourself have noted, it's a bit late for me to mollify the literal army at my doorstep seeing as I've pissed off everyone from here to the Congo."

She can't deny that the idea of having a nice casual chat with a creature that is probably several centuries old and literally calls itself 'Slayer' interests her, though she doubts he plans to indulge her curiosity regarding the wealth of knowledge he most likely possesses when it comes to the art of killing. Even if he did, she just doesn't have the fucking time right now. All of her plans require an absolute commitment to following the order of events she worked out and this sort of distraction isn't something she can afford.

"Tell you what," she says, tamping out the mostly exhausted cigarette on her boot. "You answer me one question honestly and I promise to give you that interview."

Slayer watches Zhenya for a moment longer, but he knows his fascination with her is a byproduct of working with other professional killers for so long. She reminds him of those days, and after a puff of his pipe, the smoke cloud that comes from his mouth works a little to provide a bit of a smokescreen so that he isn't distracted by her face anymore. Instead his gaze fixates on the dragon before him, she too clouded in smoke, both literal and metaphorical, despite how much easier she is to read than the woman standing behind her.

The vampire wasn't sure which he related to more. He was a professional killer just like Zhenya in eras long past. He would wear the same sort of expressionless mask she wore, even when he was covered in blood.

Ugh. He couldn't imagine being covered in blood these days. Not all over the nice clothes Sharon makes for him in their slice of what can only be the closest thing to Heaven. Kira's cocky grin spoke of an arrogance that Slayer himself still possessed -- even against Bedman Slayer hasn't given a fight his full power in a very long time, and he doesn't see it happening any time soon either. He too once was feared and hated and regarded with awe, and well, he still gets a few jealous looks with the beautiful Sharon on his arm. Lust was an earlier vice that had long since petered out since he and she spoke their vows, but that was a story for another time.

Ultimately, Slayer decided that trying to decide which of the pair he'd relate to was a waste of time. When she brings up 'Interview with a Vampire', it might surprise her when he points his pipe to her, his eyes alighting in what's almost boyish glee at the title of the film.

"I /have/ seen Interview with a Vampire," he reveals. "I took Sharon to it when it first came out. While I don't approve of all of Anne Rice's writings..." He clicks his tongue briefly, shaking his head. "I have to say, what incredible performances from all the main cast. Tom Cruise should have stuck with the role -- his talents were wasted elsewhere. The same for Antonio Banderas, Brad Pitt and certainly last but not least, Kirsten Dunst. They got a few of the facts wrong, but I must say, it was highly entertaining. I almost started my own Theatre Des Vampires, but Sharon said it would be tacky."

Tacky, the dandiest man in all the realm says, without irony or sense of shame. Still, discussing cinema wasn't why he was here, and besides, Kira had made a very good bargain that the vampire couldn't pass up. Were he to refuse her, he would be a hypocrite, and while Slayer was of the mind he was a /bit/ of one anyway (being a former killer and pseudo-warlord himself), progress never ends, and so after a pull of his pipe, when Kira leans forward to address him Slayer's ankle slides off his knee and both feet hit the floor as he, too, leans forward.

"Ask and I'll try to provide a satisfactory answer," he swears, placing his hand on his chest, over a heart that stopped beating long before he could remember.

Slayer's enthusiasm for a relatively modern movie catches her by surprise. Mixed signals abound it seems. Now why would someone such as he be so interested in vampires? The answer is fairly obvious but she doesn't make a big deal out of it. Regardless, his strangely intimate knowledge of the film in question makes her smile briefly as he agrees to her terms.

Many an aspiring warrior would give one of their arms to be in the position she now finds herself she suspects. A wellspring of experience and knowledge in the art of killing at her fingertips and willing to answer any question she might desire. There are endless categories of information that she might delve into regarding the particulars of martial combat. Perhaps she could ask for him to reveal some long lost technique of particular potence or a secret of human anatomy that would grant her an unique advantage.

The question she asks has nothing to do with any of those things.

"Has this /ever/ actually worked?"

Kira quirks at brow at the former killer, propping her chin up on one palm. She regards him with a genuinely curious stare though the faint hint of a smirk at the corner of her mouth can't be entirely hidden.

"I mean you're basically here to appeal to the empathy and remorse of someone who literally kidnaps people to sell them into slavery. Someone who murders for payment. Someone who enslaved hundreds of sentient beings and melted their brains into mindless killing machines. Someone who then unleashed those murderous beasts on helpless and innocent civilians seemingly for no other reason than to cause chaos and destruction."

She leans back in the chair and holds her arms out to either side, genuinely sporting a look of confusion.

"Precisely what about me or my actions makes you look at me and think 'that is a person I can redeem'?"

The question has not been asked entirely in good faith. She intends to mock him a little by posing what should be a blindingly obvious contradiction in logic. Maybe there are genuine redemption arcs to be had for vile and despicable people. But surely not her. She isn't the slightest bit contrite over her actions. If anything, the past few weeks have proven that she possesses the power to challenge some of the greatest forces on the planet, even if only for a little while.

Yet, even as she asks him there is a hint of something genuine in her tone. Could she have been someone different? It's not the first time that question has come to her mind. Certainly there have been moments when she suffered from an excess of self awareness, wondered if there was the possibility of turning away and becoming something else. Maybe if he had come to her when she was still a teenager, still wavering on the brink of the precipe of darkness. But that wasn't the fate that this turn of the wheel had in mind for poor little her.

Now? Now such questions just made her laugh. There is no turning back any more. You don't get to do the things that she has done to survive and simply walk away. All the water in the oceans wouldn't wash the blood off of the trail she's carved through life.

Kira's question isn't a bad one. Slayer even expected her to ask -- though he didn't expect it to be the question she'd use for him to get the interview. Slayer's pipe -- which doesn't seem to be in danger of burning out any time soon, is lipped thoughtfully while his eyes rise ceilingward to mull the question over. It's a very, very good question, really.

"The only way for me to answer is to give a bit of history about myself," Slayer supposes. "I was once an assassin -- I daresay it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I was /the/ Assassin back in my day. I've also fought in so many wars that you'd need to live a few more lifetimes -- though I admit, war wasn't so loud back in those days, and possibly far less traumatic." It's sympathy for Kira, even despite the things Slayer himself has seen. He leans back in his chair thoughtfully and crosses his ankle over his knee again.

"There were a few others I've tried to save throughout the centuries," the vampire confesses. "Some I managed -- others, I perhaps drove further into the well of greed, wrath or depravity. Regardless, I'll confess that not a single one of them has made the waves you have." His eyes flick over to the computer monitors to watch. "At least not so obviously. Before I continue, I should say that many of those times, these people were victims themselves, victims of crimes that some of them didn't even realize were against them."

"There is an organization out there that controls this planet through assassination and manipulation -- one that defies logic and has profitted off the actions of people like you and even people like I without those same people never being the wiser. You yourself may be playing right into their hand without even knowing it. I once dedicated my life to destroying organizations like this one, only for them to rear their heads and strike again." More smoke crawls from his lips as he pulls from that damnable pipe again.

"I think all people are capable of great evil, Kira. And if that is true, than I believe all people are capable of goodness as well. I have no doubt I will be devastated if I came here and no change was made at all -- that you will continue down this path until it ends, and we know it'll end bloody, as bloodsoaked paths often do." His warm eyes fixate on Kira's far colder ones. "I would be even more devastated if I don't try. Perhaps it's... selfish of me, an attempt to spare my own feelings by trying to 'redeem' you. Despite that, I would be unable to forgive myself."

He studies his pipe briefly to make sure it's not close to burning out, and the tell-tale trail of smoke that emerges from it reveals that it isn't.

"I hope that answer satisfies."

The answer is thorough and a little surprising. Five years ago if someone had tried to convince Kira that the world was being controlled from the shadows by some grand conspiracy out to direct the path of history she would have rolled her eyes and told them they watch too many movies. Sure, there's tons of people with their fingers in the pie trying to take whatever crumbs they can. But that's precisely the problem. Humans are selfish creatures. The amount of loyalty and discipline it would require to run an operation of that scale is just beyond what she could reasonably expect to be true. There would be traitors and leaks. Someone would be greedy enough to take that information public and expose their allies for fame and fortune.

Now? Now, she's not so sure. She's had her perceptions of reality challenged a great deal in the past few years. She very much doubts she is the victim of the sort of intricate manipulation the Slayer alludes to. The circumstances of her misfortune were the result of random chance born from the fires of war. No, her tragic tale is not unique. Just another poor victim of the ravages of war. And everything after that was the result of no one's actions but her own. She made the choices that brought her here every step of the way. All the mistakes and all the strokes of genius are hers and hers alone.

Kira falls silent for several seconds as she contemplates this revelation. Such an organization would no doubt be dangerous particularly to someone such as herself who puts so much value on making her own decisions. On the other hand, the resources at their disposal would have to be staggeringly vast. Yet, she has seen very little in the way of resistance offered by anyone other than herself and the bigots of the Librarium against the rapid spread and integration of dark stalkers ever since their unexpected return to the Earthrealm. Despite only making her move recently, she has been the primary bulwark against the plans of the mastermind behind the coming storm.

A truly chilling thought comes to her in that moment. What if this nameless organization was responsible for Jedah finding her. Surely she had left no identifiable traces of her passing when she had invaded the Majigen. What would some otherworldly vampire from a land of medieval technology know about shell casings and helicopter tires anyways. And he had not only located her within weeks but rooted out her most secret paths through the Congo to intercept her away from the support of her base. At the time she had simply assumed he possessed some strange magical powers and given it little thought. Had this conspiracy directed him to her knowing how she would respond to being forced beneath his yoke? Is she even now doing the bidding of some unseen puppetmaster?

"That is... not the answer I expected," she admits.

Leaning back in her chair, the mercenary kicks her feet up on the table again and hides her mouth behind steepled fingers as she contemplates in silence for a while longer.

"I doubt that I am a victim of this... organization that you speak of. The circumstances of the path that I chose to lead me here to this moment were beyond anyone's control. At least, the initial spark that started the fire was nothing more than a bolt of lightning striking randomly. After that... well, I suppose it's not impossible that someone looking for young orphans filled with a desire for revenge could have found me and given me a push in the wrong direction. But I think it would have changed little. Accelerated the process maybe."

For the first time since making her way over to stand with them Zhenya moves. A slender hand comes to rest on Kira's shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze of affection. The mercenary tilts her head up to smile at her the two of them sharing a brief but intimate look before the silent assassin returns to her blank-faced vigil.

"Zhenya was the same as me. If one good thing came from that tragedy it was finding her."

Kira suddenly shifts her posture again, rising to her feet. She offers Slayer a coy smirk as she rests her hands on her hips, eyes sparkling with mischief.

"But that will have to wait for later. I've no more time to waste with pleasant conversation. In case you've forgotten, I've a small matter of an angry horde of mages to deal with."

She tilts her head to the side as she regards him with a look of curiosity.

"I don't know if you're telling me the truth or just some weirdo who gets their kicks trying to dig up people's pasts. But I made a promise and I always keep my word. You'll get your sob story, old man, after I finish dealing with this mess. Until then you'll just have to settle for this."

The Dragon's eyes widen slightly as she leans forward and the sudden influx of light forces her slitted pupils to narrow until they are nearly vertical black lines. The effect is clearly intential and meant to be unsettling. Her lips peel back as she gives him a wide knowing smile that flashes her strangely perfect teeth. The tone of her voice drops to a low whisper, almost conspiratorial in nature.

"Sometimes it takes a monster to do what must be done."

Slayer's a strange creature, to be sure. Maybe it's part of his ploy to try to redeem Kira, but the display of affection between her and Zhenya isn't unnoticed, and he gives them both a warm smile. If Slayer loved anything more than art, more than a good fight and more than his pipe, it was romance. Some part of him wondered if Sharon was what turned him away from the darkness, though Zhenya clearly had no plans to rescue Kira from her descent -- or at least that's what it appeared to the vampire on the surface. He almost forgot what it was like, not knowing, being surprised, and even as Kira leans forward to stare at him with those slitted eyes, his gaze flicks between both women, eyes twinkling. Someone standing in the middle of a meeting often means dismissal, and so Slayer rises to his feet as well swiftly -- the chair he was seated on flung backwards.

It lands on the ground and slides approximately where it was when he retrieved it -- it even had spun around a few times until it's back to facing the computer it was, albeit beside the soldier who's manning it at the moment, his hands tucking into his pockets with the pipe lipped still between his lips. Whether he's lying or telling the truth about this organization, it's impossible to tell due to his perpeutally calm expression. Even when he's smiling there's a level of composure to him that is rare to find in a living being.

"Perhaps you are not a victim of this organization," Slayer concedes to Kira. "It's power lies in its visibility, or lack thereof, and so it's virtually impossible to detect where its fingers are and which pies exist they've baked or butchered." One hand lifts to take the pipe from his mouth while he takes a look around, and then the vampire's gaze returns to the Dragon, while smoke drifts from his nostrils -- as if he too was the same beast she was, despite him being of an entirely different species altogether.

That last statement of hers raises more questions than it answers, but it does have the vampire taking a moment to reconsider what her motives might be. Her dragooons are in an incredibly dangerous position, but the same can be said of NOL as well -- the fact that it has gotten this far at all shows Kira's tactical genius, but it also weakens the public's perception of NOL in and of itself. Slayer was once someone who manipulated events behind the scenes -- both a kingmaker and someone who can take the thrones he's built away. A stream of silent questions plays out in his mind's eye.

What if she did this in an effort to show NOL's true colors? As far as Slayer was concerned the organization was corrupt. While Slayer couldn't see this as a way for her to prepare the world for another mass Darkstalker invasion like what happened in Metro City, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility. One part of him cursed himself for not attempting to learn more magic than the not insignificant supernatural abilities he himself possessed -- Kira's mind was clearly a gifted one, and he'd love a look under the hood.

"Sometimes it takes a monster to do what must be done," the vampire eventually echoes. The statement resonated with him -- he felt himself that monster once. No, even now, he felt he was that creature. Regardless, his pipe goes out finally and he looks down his nose at it, removing it from his mouth and grasping it firmly in a fist.

"I won't let you die until we can have that conversation," Slayer promises, even as he turns for the door. "Could you ask your men to not shoot at me on my way out? I'd like to watch the battle with my own eyes, rather than on your screens. Whatever the results of it is, I shall come to you afterwards and hold you to your promise." He looks over his shoulder towards her and Zhenya.

What comes next is likely nothing short of exasperating and as absurd as his arrival.

"Bound by blood and love;
A dragon and her princess;
they deserve peace, no?"

And then he's shadow again, swiftly flowing through the corridors on his way out of the complex.

The Dragon is content to let the old killer have his say. She's given him the final words she has time to spare though she manages to scrounge up a few more seconds to pay attention to his parting comments. As uncouth as she may be, there is the distinct possibility that this strange old man might become an ally of sorts in the future. No reason to piss him off by being needlessly rude.

The idea that she requires his aid to survive the coming battle earns another dismissive snort but the charismatic grin never fades from her face. No doubt his age puts him from a time when chivalry was considered a universal virtue. She tries not to take too much offense. Kira inclines her head at him in response to the request to be an unmolested spectator. There isn't much she can do if the enraged Librarium soldiers happen to catch wind of the vampire's presence but at the very least he can have free passage back to the surface. She'd rather save those bullets for something they actually work on anyways.

It isn't until he spouts off his odd bit of prose that she actually breaks her silence to laugh but by then the vampire is little more than a shadow creeping its way back through the drab gray corridors. Whirling around on her heel, Kira stalks back over to her console and makes a quick assessment of how things have progressed during the unexpected diversion, firing off the necessary orders into her headset to ensure Slayer isn't attacked any further.

The colorful spread of red and blue dots tells the story of the past few minutes in great detail. Her command staff seems to have done an admirable job of ensuring nothing catastrophic went wrong but the NOL has gained more ground than she anticipated. A few pockets of the Librarium forces have managed to regroup into more cohesive units and have started making progress but quick response from her defenses have kept them largely in check, though it's only a matter of time now. The time table will have to be accelerated.

"Well, princess," the mercenary says, turning to smirk at Zhenya. The stoic woman's cheeks color slightly at the title but she remains stone-faced as she moves to resume her own station. It's cute how easy she is to embarass sometimes.

"I hope your things are packed because it's about time to find ourselves another castle."

Log created on 08:47:27 07/15/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 13:16:34 07/16/2020.