Description: Staffed with "tamed" darkstalkers and a plethora of eye-candy, the Dragon's Den Casino is positioned as an upraised middle finger to the laid-low "legitimate business enterprises" of both the Syndicate and the Akatsuki. Dahlia may be tactically withdrawing from the metropolis, but she's not about to refuse Bulleta's offer of help for hire. Dahlia believes Bulleta's ability as a persona-hopping manipulator could prove useful in infiltrating the opulent summer palace of the Black Dragon herself, Kira Volkov. But the arms dealer and nascent face of the Hunter's Guild won't leave her crown jewels undefended. If she doesn't play her cards right, Bulleta might find herself outmatched and outgunned! (WARNING: Please be advised that the following scene was edited to dial back on sensitive/objectionable content involving the capture and detainment of a character.)
Southtown is a busy place at night. While the frantic hustle of the daytime business hours is notably subdued, an entirely new sort of life springs forth as the golden warmth of the sun is replaced by the blinding glow of countless neon billboards and signs. The stuffy professionalism that grips the working class during business hours is cast aside and that energy redirected into less stressfull activities, filling the air with the sounds of merry conversation and the occasional uproar of excessive indulgence.
This goes doubly so for one particular part of town tonight. Rising high into the air like a shimmering piece of enormous obisidian, the Dragon's Den casino is practically buzzing with activity as people from far and wide come to see the spectacle of the brand new attraction. Thick masses of densely packed people line the edge of the massive building stretching nearly an entire mile down the sandy beach as they wait for the chance to get into the fancy club. But, as with all things in life, having enough money seems to be able to make that wait considerably shorter as a small but steady stream of famous celebrities are admitted through a cordened off entrance guarded by a pair of burly men in expensive tuxedoes.
But being poor doesn't mean being entirely left in the lurch at the Dragon's Den. Dozens of scantily-clad waitresses, all of them Darkstalkers, in old-fashioned 'bunny suits' make their way up and down the rows of waiting customers, offering drinks and snacks to help tide them over during the long trip through the line. A small stage has been set up on the beach as well and the sound of buzzing J-rock blares loudly from giant speakers as some local band plays a non-stop assortment of squealing guitar music.
Indoors, the chaos is only slightly less overwhelming. Almost every square inch of the vast building is packed with games of chance or people playing them. The first floor has been dedicated to the traditional forms of modern gambling, namely slot machines. Long rows of identical boothes fill most of the space leaving only a large ring around the outside to allow for traffic to flow between them. At the center of the circle is another bit of open space, this one taken up by a giant rock fountain, its dark black stone constantly spewing thick streams of glowing red 'magma' to add to the atmosphere.
The second floor is much more calm and classy as it is the place for all of the 'high roller' games where people come to lose entire fortunes. Card tables manned by smartly dressed dealers are interspersed with craps troughs and roulette wheels, all of them surrounded by the rich and famous whittling away their time and money for sport and to keep up appearances. When one runs in the upper eschelons of society, it pays to stay abreast of all the most popular events and attractions lest one fall behind.
The one thing common about both floors is that they are densely packed with security personnel. Though they do their best to blend in, it's not hard to spot the dozens of men and women scattered throughout the casino in black suits making their way through the crowds on slow but thorough routes, occassionally stopping to speak into the small microphone and headset dangling discreetly behind their ears. Unlike the rest of the staff, every single one of these guards is a human, and it's clear from how quick they are to intercede when things start to get heated that there will be no tolerance for any sort of trouble here tonight.
Behind the scenes, the Dragon's Den's kitchen is just as packed and full of frantic energy as the casino itself. Dozens of cooks flying around polished steel stovetops in constant motion to tend to various foodstuffs in the midst of preparation. Waiters come and go in a constant line through the wide double doors leading out onto the floor carting trays of beverages and overpriced meals to the waiting arms of the clientelle.
Security is pretty light here, consisting of only a couple of guards watching the back entrance where the staff are supposed to come in when reporting for a shift. A small electronic card reader is mounted to the wall outside providing the first barrier to entry for anyone that might not belong.
SOME TIME AGO
"'Bonnie /Hunter/'," John Smith incredulously reads from a South Carolina ID. The burly, mustachioed hunter's forest green tie hangs loose around his neck, having been abandoned when his trip from a Southtown apartment's bathroom through its living room was interrupted when his keen eyes fell upon a stack of cards and a passport. With the ID near his squinting eyes, he mutters, "Had the bloody Yakuza whip you up some fancy, top've the line papers, and 'Bonnie'-bloody-'Hunter' was--"
"Ah, c'mon," Arthur Wesson gently interjects, rising from a sofa upholstered with vivid scales to start working on that dangling tie. The two towering trackers are dressed similarly: dark blazers, white dress shirts, black slacks, simple ties; Arthur, however, is already ready to leave. "We picked our names, she picked hers; she knows what she's doing, surely-- we /trained/ her. Right?"
"We didn't teach her /this/," John retorts while rolling his eyes.
"Aaaall me," Bonnie 'Bulleta' 'Hood' flatly confirms, coiled up against an arm of the sofa. Her phone's posted up beside her so she can give Cassie Cage's 'gram a flick now and again; neither it nor her uncle and her uncle's partner have anywhere near as much of her attention as the collection of blades and assorted other tools in her lap. Similar to John and Arthur, she's done up for a night at the office: a dark red blazer with gold buttons and shoulderpads, a white blouse, red skirt, and a skinny, yellow tie. /Un/like them, she also spent hours in front of the mirror carefully making herself up to downplay her youthful features while affecting an overall natural look. Smart, sensible shoes with lifts to give her a couple extra inches kick just off the edge of the sofa. "Look:"
Deft fingers bend a bare razor blade until it breaks, then begin gently working the halves into the small bun she's made of her blonde hair.
"When I asked for the papers, I thought they were /hiring/, but they /aren't/. So who's seeing it now? Kira's security? Maybe they know me - or /you/ guys - on sight, maybe they don't; same risk we would've taken if we'd come in for interviews. Doesn't mean anything to 'em if they don't, and if they /do/..."
She lifts her head for exactly as long as she needs to don a simple gold necklace with a slim razor dangling from it and tuck it into her blouse just so.
"Kira? /That/ bitch is gonna know us on sight, and she's /gonna/ have cameras-- if hacking into 'em was an option, guess who we'd have to go through to find the nerd who /could/? So she's gonna see us; we're /gonna/ be made. That's all inevitable. We just need to snag a little proof before it happens." Stretching towards the end table with her paperwork, she digs until she uncovers a clip-on badge with a picture of her made up to look older and smiling uncomfortably. She gives it a little rattle. "Which's why /this/ is a job for..."
"Bonnie Hunter," the petite, stone-faced blonde says to the guards posted up out back, "Health Inspector. These are my associates, Boston Branch," she gestures to the man with the mustache on her left, "and Harrison Grant." The clip-on dangles from her lapel, and she's got another in a distressed black wallet held up for the guards' perusal. The snappily-dressed giants flanking her have their badges held out as well. Bonnie's got a big, tan purse with a clipboard jutting from it dangling from her left shoulder, and despite her having stalked up to an employee entrance in the middle of the night with no appointment, she sounds as if she'd rather be doing /anything/ but deigning to explain herself to security.
"We're here to conduct an inspection of the premises. With such a... ... diverse staff," she says, hiding the sneer from her features but not her voice, "we feel it necessary to take every available precaution to ensure that the Dragon's Den remains up to code. If you'll just step aside, we can begin our tour of the food service areas and you can get back to your evenings."
At the approach of what is clearly not a group of staff members, the two guards posted at the rear door frown and sigh, offering the young woman a weary look. One of them steps forward as they draw close, a large hand extending out to motion for them to stop.
"This is the service entrance, ma'am. Customers have to go around-"
The badge thrust towards him causes him to pause, peering at it suspiciously. He turns to glance at the other guard who merely offers a shrug in response, clearly as confused as his compatriot. Neither of them had been informed that an inspector was due to visit today, all of that was supposed to have been taken care of. Ofcourse, surprise inspections aren't exactly unheard of but their boss isn't the kind of person who usually has to deal with the normal ways of doing business.
Eyeing Bonnie and her two companions for a moment, the guard frowns again and reaches up to put a finger to his ear, pressing it against the transmit button on a discrete earpiece.
"Ey, Jimmy. This is Tom at the service entrance. We got a lady by the name of Bonnie Hunter claiming to be a health inspector back here. Says she wants in." There's a short pause as whoever is on the other end of the line says something inaudible then the guard nods, looking slightly surprised. "You sure? Alright, if you say so. Out."
Tom, no longer invested in the situation as it's been taken out of his hands, turns back to the inspector and motions towards the door with a jerk of his thumb.
"Right this way, inspector."
The other guard pulls a small white card from a pocket on his fancy jacket and slides it through the reader before punching in a short code. The tiny LED on the device shifts from red to green, beeping its acceptance as it clicks open to allow entry. Another figure strides out to greet the small party, a tall young man dressed in the same black suit but with slicked back raven hair and a considerably more pleasant demeanor. He offers an affable smile to Bonnie, holding out a hand for her to shake and then doing the same for the others.
"Ah, welcome Ms. Hunter! This is certainly a surprise. Had we known you were coming we would have prepared a more fitting welcome. As it is, you'll have to make due with a brief tour of the facility. Business is rather booming at the moment and all hands are needed on deck, so to speak. But you know how it goes when a new place opens up, always that madcap rush of people coming to see the shiny new thing, haha! Come in, come in."
Talking with the speed and silver-tongue of someone used to dealing with people, the man ushers them through the door and down a short hall way. A pair of shiny metal doors takes the into the kitchen through one of the less busy entrances, depositing them in a relatively unused corner of the room and out of the way of the whirlwind going on as the cooks and waiters weave in and out.
"This, obviously, is our kitchen - one of them atleast. This one caters to the clients at the bar inside the casino as well as private diners on the third floor. Our restraunt on the beach has its own kitchen. Feel free to look around but, as you can see, it's a bit hectic right now, so try not to get trampled, haha."
Tom gets a soft, derisive sniff for having wasted Bonnie's valuable time as the trio heads inside. They exchange handshakes with the man who comes to greet them, keeping it brisk and firm.
"Jimmy, is it?" she asks when the man finishes his initial spiel. Without waiting for him to answer, she continues, "We appreciate you receiving us, especially given the rush. The Dragon's Den is keeping /us/ awfully busy too, just figuring out how to apply our standards to such a /unique/ venue. Mr. Grant's a whiz when it comes to /this/ stuff," she gives the service dervish a vague gesture, "so he's going to take point in here. Mr. Branch and I intend to give the service areas a once-over too, but Branch and I need to know more about the staff."
Blue eyes pointedly wander until they lock onto the spotted tail gently swishing behind a waitress as she picks up an order. She draws the clipboard free, slips out the pen tucked into it, and clicks into readiness.
"As I was telling your security: the board is having an /interesting/ time figuring out what, if any adjustments might need to be made to its normal food and drink service standards in light of the many variables introduced by the incorporation of non-humans into the Den's staff," Bonnie evenly explains. "So we'd like to get a sense of what, if any additional health and safety precautions you might be taking to guarantee the well-being of your customers." Her eyes return to the affable man's as the waitress draws out of view. "How do you prevent shedding fur? What sorts of facilities does the Den have for them? Have they all been screened for human-contagious conditions? That kind of thing. With any luck, once we've established a clear picture of how the Den handles its demihuman employees, we shouldn't need to make any further visits. Sound good?"
'Jimmy', if that is indeed his name, allows the inspector to ramble on a bit about her reasons for being here, his smile never faltering at her salvo of concerns. This is all pretty basic stuff that any restraunt has to worry about for the most part. Stray hair and potential vectors for spreading disease are equally pressing issues to the operation of any successful venue. A random hair in the food might not make the customer sick but it can do just as much to damage the image of the business if it happens too often.
"Quite understandable, Ms. Hunter. It's a bold new world out there and someone has to be the pioneer that leads the way forward. Our owner, Ms. Volkov, is extremely dedicated to the idea of integrating Darkstalkers into the rest of society as productive members. Naturally, we've taken their unique physiological issues into consideration so as to avoid any incidents that might cast shade on this goal."
Turning to the teaming mass of moving bodies, 'Jimmy' steps out and hooks one of the waitresses by the arm as she attempts to most past him, pulling the young woman aside. She glances at him with a scowl on her face, opening her mouth to say something sharp, only to fall silent as she realizes who it is. Her eyes widen and the soft grey cat ears poking out of the top of her hair flatten a little.
"Um... y-yes, sir? Is there something you need?"
The man smiles at her as he pats her on the shoulder reassuringly, turning to gesture to Bonnie and her cohorts with his other hand.
"Don't worry, you haven't done anything wrong. I was just having a little conversation here with the health inspector, Ms. Bonnie Hunter. She has expressed concerns about shedded fur getting into the food so I'd like to give her a little demonstration. Turn around for me."
The catgirl blinks but does as she's told, putting her back to the group while peering over her shoulder curiously. 'Jimmy' reaches out and grips her tail at the base where it protrudes from her leotard, closing his fingers tightly around it and slowly sliding them all the way down its length. The waitress's face turns a bright red but she doesn't put up a fuss. The white-gloved hand is opened and held out for Bonnie to inspect, showing no signs of stray hair on its silken surface.
"As you can see, we enforce strict grooming standards for our personnel. All of them are required to brush loose hairs away before a work shift and we offer a special spray that helps keep any stray follicles attached to the body until they can be brushed off. You'll find no more hair in this food than you might at any other five-star facility."
A simple shooing gesture is given to the waitress and she hurries off without any complaints, snatching up a plate of food from one of the counters as she gracefully weaves past two others doing the same.
"As for diseases, each worker was given a thorough check up before being cleared for work and we offer excellent health benefits to our staff. Even dental."
He smiles widely, showing off a set of pearly white teeth that almost seem to sparkle. He's clearly been waiting for that moment.
"We also have a small medical team on standby for emergencies and an emergency helicopter for medievac, if necessary."
'Jimmy' pauses, eyeing her sidelong for a moment with pursed lips.
"You know, it's quite strange that you still have these concerns, Ms. Hunter. Our facility has already passed three inspections from different agencies with flying colors. These questions seem like rather basic details that should have already been answered sufficiently. Has something come up to change that?"
All that smiling and affability just washes over the stone-faced woman, leaving her unmoved. Ms. Hunter's dour expression didn't budge for the demonstration or explanation, nor the man's questions - gentle complaints - about being subjected to another inspection. She doesn't even take notes; the end of the pen just lightly taps pressed wood until he's done.
"Maybe one of those inspections was legitimate; let's be honest, here. You're running a very big, very /public/ business, so I'm willing to give you /one/ real inspection, for appearances-- to have something unimpeachable to show off if the government ever came calling. I'd even bet that you run a genuinely tight ship, because it keeps things easy: you /might/ be able to work around the first customer or two who comes up with food poisoning, or lycanthropy, or whatever, but a pattern? Letting it happen /period/ while you're still mid-opening? Problematic. So:"
The petite woman tucks the pen away, fetches her wallet, and pushes it towards his view. Her thumb hovers near her agency-- likely, it's one of the three that already came. /If/ three agencies came.
"Your boss or one of her subordinates found people they could pay or otherwise trade favors with for easy inspections. It happens often enough, with big projects like this; I get it, much as I'm not a fan. The rules exist for a /reason/, and a desire for profit isn't a good enough excuse for ignoring them-- but, I digress. You're wasting our time, Jenner. I get that, /too/: we're not the tame inspectors you had sent over last time, so you're... mm." Ms. Hunter finally pauses her calmly voiced analysis so she can clutch the clipboard to her chest and thoughtfully drum against its back.
"Delaying us while your crew touches things up elsewhere," she considers aloud while stretching one of her tapping fingers. "Hoping you can spin us in circles with a pretty smile and a polite attitude, so we just leave." Two. "Waiting for a little voice in your ear to tell you who we are and what our prices might be..." Three.
"Hell," Boston lowly interjects, "until your boss gets ours on the horn so he can tell 'er whether she's still good and to just play ball, or if whatever arrangement they've got goin' is dead, even."
"Personally, Jamie, /I/ think it's strange that you think much of anything at all about what /we're/ here to do, other than 'thank god: they're going to make absolutely /sure/ that none of these idiot locals-slash-tourists sue us into the ground'," she lowly notes while tucking the wallet away so she can wrap her other arm around the clipboard. Canting her head, she continues, "You've probably done your job very well: we've covered that pretty extensively. So what difference does it make to /you/ if three people with nothing better to do tonight than /their/ jobs - which've already been done /for/ them, at least once over - want to waste a few hours doing you a favor? My questions - the real simple, top-level examples I threw at you instead of feeding you a point-by-point list of everything Branch, Grant, and I need to worry about - seemed basic because they /were/. Both because I don't see much point in boring you when I know you must have /much/ more important things to worry about than the minutiae of your fourth inspection, and because 'basic' isn't the same as unimportant: a cook who wakes up too late to groom properly, a masseuse who forgets a check-up... it doesn't take much at all for a simple, solved problem to become something... /else/."
She finally responds to all of his smiling with one of her own-- a small, thin affair befitting a woman who rarely has cause to bother.
"I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer some of those questions, though, Giovanni; hopefully, I've cleared /yours/ up, too. Like I said, Mr. Grant can handle the kitchen himself; you can go ahead and show Branch and I to whatever demihuman facilities - medical, hygiene... dormitories, if any, and so forth - you have on the premises so we can get on with our business and out of your lovely hair."
The young attendant once more lapses into smiling silence as the 'inspector' launches into a long spiel about her suspicions regarding the authenticity of their former evaluations. His expression never changes throughout as she hurls accusations at him, offering no insight as to whether she is dead on or has missed the mark completely. Unsurprisingly, the staff members of a casino have very good poker faces.
It's actually a pretty convincing argument, all things considered. It's not entirely unheard of for big businesses to dodge responsibility by handing out wads of cash to the right people and a brand new casino of this size represents a sizable investment of capital. That all but guarantees some palms have been greased along the way to make everything as smooth as possible. Delays can mean death to a fledgeling business and after Justice nearly nuked the city into a smoking crater anyone would be antsy about getting their doors open.
'Jimmy' waits patiently until her laundry list of issues is laid out, his smile growing slightly broader as she offers him an easy way out of the predicament.
"Well... you seem to have a rather firm grasp of the situation, Ms. Hunter. It's quite refreshing to have someone bold enough to just come out and say what they're after."
Turning towards the door, the man holds a hand out towards it, gesturing for them to follow him.
"If you'll all just come this way, we'll get you issued some visitor's passes so the secuity personnel will know that you've been cleared to look around. Then I'll show you everything you want to see."
'Jimmy' stalks out the way they came and heads further down the hallway before turning to swipe his ID card through another of the electronic readers, opening a door that leads them into a downwards stairwell.
"Our security station is just down this way," he explains, moving to take the lead again. "I'll introduce you to the head of security if you like."
"I pride myself on being a straight-shooter, Jim," Ms. Hunter says, giving the man a moment to proceed forward before dropping in behind him. She scribbles as she follows, pen flying while her eyes remain up and focused on not just him, but /everything/. "And I don't want to be here anymore than you /want/ me to be, so I'm glad you see the importance of just cutting through the nonsense." Once that's out, a brisk turn of her body and wrists, both, lets her flash the clipboard towards her co-workers.
'be cool,' is written into a big, empty comment box near the bottom of the page, 'and hope it comes up heads'
"If your head of security has some useful insight into health and safety conditions at the Dragon's Den vis a vis the presence of a large demihuman staff," Ms. Hunter exhales, facing the man while he stops and reaches for the reader, "then, well, I suppose it wouldn't /hurt/." He reveals a downward staircase, prompting Grant and Branch to exchange nervous glances before returning their attention ahead of them.
"What /is/ it you do, here, anyway, J?" Bonnie asks without sparing a look for the large men behind her. "You seem like a management type-- back of house? The dealers? Hu--... ... /Resources/?"
"Oh me? I'm something of a handiman around here. I do all the little tasks that need to be done to keep things running smoothly. It doesn't sound like much but you'd be surprised how busy I keep."
'Jimmy' starts down the stairs, turning to glance behind him after a few steps to make sure the others are following. If he spotted the uncomfortable looks of the two older men there is no sign of it, his expression remaining decidely cheerful as he leads them down into the belly of the Dragon's Den.
The construction in the basement is much less opulent than what they saw above. Simple concrete walls devoid of decoration create a long narrow hallway, its smooth surface broken only by the large frames of metal security doors at irregular intervals. A small card reader guards each of these rooms, the soft red marking each of them as locked to anyone without the proper access. Small brass nameplates adorn each frame at the top but they offer little in the way of insight as to what might be behind them, labeled only with a series of letters and numbers, meaningless without the proper knowledge to interpret them.
"Our security chief does indeed have a great deal of knowledge about the safety conditions of the casino, Ms. Hunter. It's part of their job to make sure everything runs without incident which means they have to keep abreast of all the potential vectors for hazard. It's a rather demanding task, if I do say so myself, but they've done marvelously thus far, considering all the extra work load that comes with a grand opening."
Their journey takes them a few hundred feet down the long narrow corridor. Their guide stops infront of one of the many doors, its name plate displaying the label 'SRT-002' at the top in bold blocky letters. The card reader beeps its acknowledgement at the swipe of his card but rather than simply allowing them to pass, a harsh male voice crackles from a small speaker built into the wall next to it.
"Pardon the interruption, gentlemen, but our guests have expressed a desire to inspect the security of this facility. I thought it would be beneficial for them to meet the chief in person."
There's a short pause before the speaker on the other end of the line gruffly barks out a laugh.
"Yeah, sure. That'll be just fine. Hang on, I'll let ya in."
The sound of pnuematic locks being released hisses noisily in the air followed shortly by a series of clanks as the bolts withdraw. Finally, the light changes from red to green and the door pops open slightly, offering them entry.
'Jimmy' smiles and pulls the large barricade open and gestures for them to step inside where a handful of people sit at large desks laden with dozens of moniters and radio equipment, their attention dutifully on the images that flash across the screens.
"Don't be shy, feel free to introduce yourselves."
The nameplates are studied regardless of encryption; the inspector wouldn't dare leave a detail unexamined.
"I can only imagine," she remarks of the security team's work load. "It'd be hard enough in a /normal/ casino, but this? Kudos to them. You, too, of course: every day must be a surprise for you."
The tour stops so they can be swiped through, explained-- laughed over through electric crackling. The last sends Mr. Branch's hand twitching towards his back, and this in turn brings Mr. Grant's hand up to brush against his elbow, stilling him. If Ms. Hunter's aware of either reflex, she doesn't show it as she stares at the door and tries to estimate how much it might take to bash or blow it down-- it would be nothing less than tragic if an oversight led to some rampaging Darkstalker murdering the fine men and women of the security team, after all.
The handyman's beckoning smile gets a nod from Ms. Hunter, a vaguely polite grunt from Grant, and nothing at all from Branch, who's mostly just doing his best to keep a neutral face as he stares at the man. All three turn their attention towards the roomful of desks in short order as they cross the threshold, though, no matter the state of their nerves. The monitors draw plenty of glances, but Bonnie in particular makes sure to give the people themselves plenty of focus, seeking signs of weapons and general readiness.
"My name," she says after clearing her throat, "is Bonnie Hunter." Blue eyes find moments to flick towards any that turn towards her when they aren't busy monitor-peeking, appraising, and trying to pick out the chief. Gesturing towards her partners, she continues, "I'm here with my associates Boston Branch and Harrison Grant to give the casino a health and safety check-up with an eye towards locking down the standards for handling non-human employees in a hospitality-slash-food service context. Since we're already in need of clearance, it was suggested that we speak with the chief of security before moving on, so. Here we are. Don't worry, though: we don't want to be in your business any longer than we /need/ to be, and we don't bite. Promise."
Every head in the room swivels towards Bonnie as she clears her throat. A plethora of dour male faces meet her gaze with apparent disinterest before shifting their attention back to the monitors mid-spiel, apparently far more concerned with what's on the monitors than her supposedly important presence.
Only one of the inviduals gives her the courtesy of rising from his seat, an older gentleman with a big bushy moustache and long hair pulled back into a slick ponytail, both of them tinged with streaks of gray. A worn cowboy hat sits lightly on his wizened brow decorated with bits of horn and bone. He nods at her, both hands resting on the thick leather belt holding up his dress slacks until she finishes, at which point he offers a faint smile and an extended hand.
"Well, yer lookin' at em, Miss. Dexter Marshall, at yer service. But everyone just calls me Tex. I'm the head of security round here at the casino. Me an the boys keep an eye on all the goings-on from this here command center."
The sound of the heavy door thumps behind them as it slides closed, the thick bolts sliding automatically back into place. Anticipating the question, Tex waves a hand dismissively at the sealed portal.
"Don't ya'll worry bout that, just part of protocol. Gotta keep the door closed when someone ain't goin in or out. We take security here pretty serious. Come have a look."
The chief moves over to the nearest bank of monitors, patting the younger man sitting infront of it on the shoulder to get his attention.
"Show Miss Hunter here how thorough our security system is, Billy."
The guard, clearly an Asian man whose name is very unlikely to actually be anything like 'Billy', glances up at Tex and then at Bonnie before shrugging and punching a few buttons on the console. The row of monitors ripple with fresh imagery as their displays change, producing several images of the exterior of the casino. They cycle through to new angles every couple of seconds, providing dozens of feeds of the chaotic crowds waiting to get in.
"As ya can see, we have every square inch of the grounds covered by multiple cameras, just incase one of the buggers goes on the fritz," Tex says, tilting his head towards the pictures as she smiles at the inspector. "Got the same sort of coverage on the inside too, including all the staff areas, restrooms, kitchens, maintenance tunnels... hell, there ain't a place a cockroach could hide from our sight for very long in here."
A strange sensation starts to wash over the young woman and her two cohorts as the security chief talks. Their heads start to feel light and fuzzy, like someone has sneakily replaced their brains with clumps of wool. Vision becomes unfocused, as if a layer of grease has been smeared over the entire world rendering it blurry and indistinct. A lethargy starts to grip them, a calm creeping sensation that maybe taking a few moments to sit down would be a good idea rather than pay attention to what's being said.
No one else in the room seems to notice or suffer the same issue, save for 'Jimmy', who slumps against the wall with a yawn. Tex gives him a stern look but shrugs it off, snapping his fingers in the air, as if suddenly hit by inspiration.
"Oh hey, I know. Lemme show you somethin really neat. Billy, bring up that face-matching program." He grins at Bonnie, amusement written all over his features as the guard goes to work. "Ya'll are really gonna love this. State-of-the art technology. Real impressive stuff."
Several of the monitors change focus again, this time zooming in seemingly at random on the faces of people inside of the casino. The image freezes and several neon green dots start to appear on the picture as the program quickly compares the image to a scrolling index that flashes by so fast it's hard to tell much more than that the pictures are also those of human faces.
After only a couple of seconds the scrolling feed stops, beeping triumphantly as it enlarges the smaller image up beside the one taken from the casino. Both of them belong to the same person, a fat balding man in an expensive suit with an unpleasant grin. A third monitor brings up a scrolling list of text, rattling off the man's name, occupation, date of birth, and other such relevant information that typically goes into police record.
"Hrm. As you can see, this is a Mr. Takamoto. Not much of a looker, is he? Lives several prefectures away, owns atleast three houses, and runs himself a pretty profitable textile company. Few complaints of sexual harassment and some other stuff that his sort usually get up to but nothin particularly worrying."
Tex taps the screen, letting out a soft chuckle.
"We have databases compiled from every major criminal and domestic source in the world. Even got access to some of Interpol's records on some of the more nasty types. The computers here run checks on every person that comes through our doors so we know exactly who is wandering around on the premises."
By now the faint sensations of weariness have started to become much more pronounced. 'Jimmy' is slumped against the wall, his eyes closed and his chest rising and falling in measured peaceful rhythms. Keeping their focus would be all but impossible now as the world degenerates into a pasty smear of pastel colors.
As before, Tex and the rest of the security crew seem unaffected by whatever is causing this strange phenomenon. The chief glances over to Billy and nods, giving him a wink. The images on the screen shift one last time, replacing the mugshot of Mr. Takamoto with the faces of Bonnie and her two cohorts. The whirling roulette of images flickers to life again but within only a couple of seconds it announces the results with another soft beep. Matching pictures of Bulleta and her old friends slide up to nestle against their current images as 'inspectors', each of them sporting much less friendly looks.
Tex doesn't even bother to glance at the bios, already fully aware of what information he'll find there. His smile turns into a broad grin as the toxins flooding the room start to take noticable effect, shaking his head at the prone form of their guide.
"Outlasted by a little girl. Damn, son, we gotta toughen you up."
Shifting his gaze back to Bulleta, the old man crosses his arms and leans back against the desk, showing no outwards signs of hositility. He doesn't need to bother, the potent sleep gas will do its job in just a few more seconds.
"Ya know, Ms. Volkov is a pretty understadin lady when ya get to know her. All she asks is that ya make an appointment before ya drop in. But since ya'll went through all this trouble to get yerself a good look at the facilities, well, it'd just be rude for us not to oblige."
There is an ominous tone to that statement, perhaps brought on by the predatory glint in his eyes or the way that everyone else in the room turns to grin at them in tandem. Dark muffled chuckles fill the room like the chortling of a pack of hyenas that have encircled a dying animal and are waiting for it to take its last gasping breath.
"Enjoy yer stay."
Ms. Hunter's eyes lid as Tex lays out the basics of the Den's surveillance system, only to snap wide open before they can shut entirely.
Biting down on her tongue, she manages to hold the dour impatience in her expression even as warnings blare in her head and give her something concrete to hang onto. The toxin is potent; having made a point of familiarizing herself with a range of sedative options, she can tell in a matter of moments. As Tex continues his demonstration, however, it becomes clear that the toxin isn't /quite/ potent enough to outpace her brain as she considers her options:
A.) Incapping unannounced strangers making unwanted noise is SOP; this would make sense, given that Kira is a vicious criminal and has all the resources she could want to make interlopers disappear.
. . . . . .
-- oh, yeah: Kira and/or her team have already made them.
'Billy, bring up that face-matching program.'
Okay, so it's probably 'B'. Like Bulleta. Or B.B., which stands for 'Bonnie 'Bulleta'', ''Baby' Bonnie'...
The inspectors almost seem to be melting with the way their bodies are drawn inexorably down throughout the demonstration. Big as they are, Branch and Grant seem to be weathering the gas a little better than Hunter is, in that the former manages a lethargic reach for the pistol holstered at his back and the latter, a grab for the knife hidden in his jacket-- but even when their fingers find grips and hilts, they fumble uselessly against them, wasting precious moments of lucidity.
Hunter's just staring at herself in the monitor, glassy-eyed, tight-jawed, and faintly trembling with the effort of remaining on her feet.
SOME TIME AGO
"Alright, my little Bonbon~," a gray-haired woman with a sweet, wrinkled face and a strong, stocky build chirps to the little blonde girl on her knee. "You remember the song, don't you? Come on, sweetie-- sing along with Granny~!"
Bonnie bounces, claps excitedly, then settles into a steadier rhythm as her little voice rises to join her grandmother's:
o/~ If I'm ever lost and I ne~ed a fri~end,
I've got a little bu~ddy with me 'tii~iil the end!
Just between the cheee~eeeeks and the guuuu~uuums I goooo~;
If a meanie thinks I'm lonely I'll just let them knoo~ooow--! o/~
Granny and Bonnie's hands flash past their mouths as they sing that last line. After their simultaneous coughs, they hold their fists towards one another so each can see the razor blade jutting from between the other's fingers.
o/~ Snicker-snack! My little buddy's goo~oot my baa~aack! o/~
"Very good, Bonnie! Now, just watch Granny..." The older woman begins deftly flicking the razor into the air and snatching it down, sweeping her arms around and between herself and her granddaughter to keep the blade dancing around them. "... and do your best, honey? We're just /dancing/ with the blade, you see~? That's all! Dancing with it because it's our little buddy and we love it-- isn't that right~?"
"Uh-huh!" Bonnie enthusiastically chirps before furrowing her brow in deep concentration. Little fingers - one of which already sports a bandage - work to try and mimic her grandmother. Her movements much slower and aren't nearly as fluid, but this is definitely not their first time singing the Little Buddy song or doing its accompanying dance: she doesn't flinch at /all/, even after joining in. "Princess Gemstar ALWAYS has me covered, as long as I'm extra-special careful when she's visiting me~!"
Scavengers begin to circle and John Smith only /just/ gets his hand cinched around the pistol; Arthur's got the knife out, but he can't quite find the strength to hold it up. Or stand, rather than kneel. Bulleta...
Bulleta manages to rebutt, "Princess... got me..." after wobbling through to the end of the presentation. Predatory anticipation meets her gaze--
-- she goes statue-still--
-- then Tex gets his first real look at the young woman sneering from his monitor, albeit a muted one. The world's going black around her - unwanted, but anticipated violence is encroaching - and as she carefully works her tongue, the young Hunter figures that she's got roughly enough time to share a cherished childhood memory with at least /one/ of them before things go completely pear-shaped.
So she lunges, limbs extending for Tex's shoulders and waist in an effort to secure herself around him-- or, at least, sloppily shove him to the ground with her frame-belying strength. Either way, the first thing she'll do if she gets close enough is dart her head towards his neck so she can try opening his throat with a savage slash of the razor poised between her teeth.
If she manages it, the second - possibly last - thing she'll do is lift her head to show the other employees a boozy, blood-slicked smile.
For all the nonchalance that the old man displays, he's not a fool. He's got three hunters in close quarters, all of whom are probably dangerous enough to take out every man in this room on a good day. If it weren't for the gas dipensors in the vents installed to ensure that any successful infiltration would be a very brief one he would be far less confident about their odds of detaining the little girl and her buddies.
Bulleta's desperate lunge manages to catch the old mercenary slightly off-guard, her strength even more surprising than anticipated. The pair of them struggle for a moment as every guard in the room pushes to their feet, guns and knives appearing in they had always been there. The wild slash at Tex's throat very nearly does him in; only quick reflexes and the girl's half-conscious state saves him.
Pushing up at her chest as she whips her head to the side, the blade's aim is diverted away from the vital strike at his neck and instead fings purchase in the soft flesh of his cheek. The sharp edge carves a wicked red line through flesh and moustache, splattering both their faces with fresh blood. Tex lets out a pained roar, finding new strength in the face of this near fatal experience as he hurls the hunter away from him even while she smirks like some ghastly vampire drunk on the pleasure of a feeding.
The old war dog pushes to his feet, cursing up a storm as blood pours down his face onto the front of his expensive suit. He turns and plants the heel of his cowboy boot in the chest of Grant and Branch one after the other, kicking them prone before using his toe to knock their weapons out of their hands.
"Tell the boss we've dealt with her pest problem. And someone get me a fucking bandage!"
The sharp sting of ice-cold water hits the young girl's skin, snapping her out of the unnatural slumber she's wallowed in for the past several hours. The first reaction of anyone in such a situation would likely to be to shout in surprise followed quickly by enacting violence upon the person responsible. In Bulleta's case she would find that neither of these options are possible.
Her mouth is unable to move, obstructed *CENSORED*. Attempts to move her arms or legs are met by immediate resistance and tell-tale clank of metal, thick manacles binding her wrists and ankles together with short lengths of chain. She can wiggle around a bit, perhaps enough to sit up right with some effort, but little else.
Other things will come into focus as the sleep washes away in the frigid cold. The room she's in is somewhat large and dark, lit only by the soft glow of the occassional overhead light. Thick iron bars surround her on all sides, enclosing the small space where she has been tossed in dark unyielding metal. The cage is quite small, perhaps five feet to a side, with nothing more than a small metal bowl and a circular grate in the floor to offer in the way of decoration.
*CENSORED* as the intial shock of the water wears off. The cold concrete of the floor might as well be a solid layer of ice for all the comfort it offers *CENSORED*. The air itself is filled with the sort of omnipresent cold that comes from being deep underground, thick and cloying and smelling faintly of must despite the vents mounted in the walls. There's another stench in the air as well, a rank and foul odour like rotten meat and one that would be all too familiar to the young hunter - the scent of predatory animals.
A figure moves just outside of the door to her little cell, drawing her attention after giving her a few moments to take stock of her situation. The sharp clang of a bucket hitting the ground rings out through the air as a young woman sets it down and then plops onto the upturned surface, using it like a stool as she lowers herself down to stare the captive hunter in the eyes.
Unlike everyone else that Bulleta has encountered during her short visit to the casino, her captor is not dressed up in expensive finery, nor does she give off the somewhat grating scent of overpriced cologne that seems to permeate the air in the fancy club. She looks like the spitting image of what someone would call to mind when the word 'mercenary' is used. A thin military-issue tank top of simple brown fabric clings tightly to her rugged torso leaving a pair of well-toned and heavily tattooed arms exposed. Loose fatigue-pattern cargo pants billow out around her legs until they are swallowed by the tall necks of well-worn combat boots. A thick belt encirles her waist, laden with several pouches and no less than three weapons, a pair of pistols hanging on either hip while the hilt of a massive combat knife protrudes from near the back.
The woman's face could easily be described as attractive, if not beautiful, in that angular European way. Dirty blonde hair is pulled back in a simple ponytail at the back of her head leaving a wild mop of bangs hanging hapzardly across her brow and around her cheeks, framing it in a fashion that seems stylish by accident. Twin chips of cold sapphire peer out at Bulleta curiously, her eyes half-lidded like a predator that has just fed but has found something amusing to toy with. Her thin lips twist into a smirk around the length of a fresh cigarette, its tip glowing brightly as the strongest point of illumination in the dim light.
"Had a nice nap, did you? Well then - allow me to welcome you personally to my humble little game parlour. I'll admit, I had other things penciled in for my schedule tonight but when I heard that I had such distinguished guests, well, I just had to drop everything and come see for myself."
Kira's grin widens to near shark-like proportions, her teeth flashing red in the glow of the cinders.
"I do hope you find the accomodations to your liking. I understand you had a keen interest in how well I cared for my non-human employees. As you can see, they're given all due consideration. Why don't you just ask them yourself?"
The grinning mercenary sweeps a hand towards Bulleta's left, indicating that she should look over that way. Doing so would make it obvious that her cage is but one of many, each butted up right against the other like the cells in an old-fashioned jail. A low rumbling growl fills the air as something moves in the cage next to her, almost as if on cue. Bright red points of wicked light glimmer in the darkness for a moment before a massive hairy figure hurls itself at the bars.
The flash of bloody pointed teeth filling a long muzzle fills her vision for a few terrible moments, the hot stench of fetid breath hitting her square in the face. The werewolf bites and claws at the air in a mad frenzy as it attempts to simply try to smash its way through the cage like an infuriated rhinocerus but the bars hold fast and it eventually slinks again with an annoyed huff, coiling up in the darkened corner of its own cage once again.
"Hahaha, I think he likes you!"
Bulleta flies until she hits the door, bounces off, and rolls onto her stomach, held back from further revolutions by the functional, brown counterweight dangling from her shoulder.
Adrenaline surges; the savage smile remains, albeit free of the narrow glint of honed metal.
"Face sssslashed... by a little girl," she slurs while pushing up onto trembling limbs. Surrounded by weapons, instincts send her clenched right hand snapping towards a gun-toting guard so Princess Gemstar can fly towards a new home in the depths of his eyesocket. The extremity falls into the purse and emerges clutching black pellets and a couple of loose magazines. It all tumbles free as she lifts her arm, exploding into thick plumes of smoke-- or clattering to the ground uselessly, as the case may be.
"Gotta toughen y'up~!"
Today is not one of Bulleta's better days, but as poison and adrenaline race through her system, she fully intends to share as much of her misfortune as she can with the guards before she collapses. Careening woozily through the smoke, she aims to let her hair down so she can use fleeting confusion and blades tucked between her fingers to slice calves, achilles tendons, knees, groins-- whatever her wildly slashing arms happen to reach. The sickening crack of bone beneath heels is barely registered, dangling as she is between conscious and otherwise.
One of the guards managed to put a boot to the bloody bellibone's back and hold her down while the fight bled out of her-- eventually, after another guard caught her across the skull with a widely arcing pistol-whip. Desperation and the thrill of bloody spite kept her going /well/ past the point where she should have succumbed to the gas, but some things are inevitable.
Like being captured after sneaking into a paranoid criminal's latest venture, or savaged after interrupting a predator's nap.
The inevitable can be planned for, mitigated-- but it's inevitable. So Bulleta starts, muffles profanity, rattles chains, then pushes herself upright so she can stare at her captor. After briskly counting to three, she fixes calculating eyes on Kira's and listens.
And pointedly rolls those frigid blue spheres as the woman gives her more of the faux-hospitality that's been drilled into her staff. A noisy sigh gusts from her nose after Kira's gesture, as if she'd rather be anywhere else-- and it has nothing to do with having been captured and disarmed. The cage's decor and the stench were solid clues for the girl who's spent her life around monsters and those who hunt them, so when the air begins to vibrate with malice - finally drawing her attention to the left - it's with the look of someone confirming a hunch-- and then studying said hunch in its snarling entirety. She tenses up in readiness the first time it crashes into its cage and remains so.
Kira has her weapons and her freedom, but the Hunter isn't about to let the Mercenary have the satisfaction of seeing her sweat.
After Kira's declaration, Bulleta brings her eyes back to the woman's and slowly arches a brow. Metal softly rattles behind her.
If Kira checks, she'll see a hand tracing quick, impatient circles through musty air.
The mercenary queen's eyebrows raise slightly at this and she smiles, nodding in that way one does when they are suitably impressed by something enough to offer a mild gesture. Even grown men hardened by years of grueling military service usually flinched in the face of an honest-to-god monster. Most of them did significantly more than that, typically of the screaming and pissing themselves variety.
"I suppose there is a reason you were given the title of Special S-class Hunter despite your age."
Kira's eyes glimmer sharply as she narrows them on the young girl, gazing at her with scrutiny. She had been a little younger than Bulleta when she'd made her first kill, forced into ranks of a rebel resistance by the horrors of war visited upon her quiet little country. It had taken several years of practice but eventually she had become quite good at it and with that expertise came the ability to recognize other people who possessed similar skill sets.
Judging by the mess she had made of her security team, Bulleta was quite the talented little killer in her own right. Curiosity fills Kira as she wonders what had driven the girl to become so adept at murder at such a young age. War? Tragedy? Mental illness? The girl's bio certainly seemed to indicate that she was rather adept at deception and showed little hesistation in taking a life. Those could be the signs of a particularly talented sociopath or a trained assassin.
The 'get on with it' gesture makes Kira snort noisily, thick blasts of grey smoke shooting from her nose.
"You're pretty ballsy for someone two inches away from being a chew toy."
She pauses, taking a long slow drag from the cigarette, eyeing her captive like a cat trying to decide what to do with a mouse it has cornered.
"Lucky for you, I like that."
Rising to her feet, Kira presses her thumb against the electronic keypad on the cage's door, prompting it to swing outwards with a soft click. She steps into the cage *CENSORED*.
"So. As a reward for amusing me, I'll give you the chance to explain to me why I shouldn't treat you like every other idiot that tries to meddle in my affairs."
Bulleta made her first kill when she was nine and came home to a blood-crazed werewolf hunched over what was left of her grandmother, draped in the tatters of her clothes-- struck down in the twilight of a career dedicated to protecting humanity from what lurks in the darkness and beyond. Tragedy opened the door to the young Hunter's own violent path, but after learning who her grandmother really was-- what the world the woman had started preparing her for over years of songs and games really looked like-- she took her first steps because she /needed/ to. Nobody in the world was as warm, as loving, as strong, as /practical/ as Granny; what little girl wouldn't jump at the chance to follow in her hero's footsteps?
Then her uncle Arthur and his partner let her get a taste of the /other/ side of their noble profession, the one where the gaps between things that /needed/ hunting were filled with tracking prey that people simply /wanted/ captured or dead-- and if following in Granny's footsteps was the perfect lure for a girl with iron in her veins, doing so and getting rich from it proved to be a perfect snare. She couldn't have gone a different way if she'd wanted to-- and whyever would she /want/ to?
She would be a fool to be unafraid of something the likes of which could snuff out a Hunter far more talented than she, on the wrong day-- and a bigger one to let it or Kira /see/ her wariness. Kira makes the implicit threat of its presence plain, and while Bulleta gets noticeably tenser, she otherwise just wrinkles her nose at the smoke jetting into her cage. Her eyes don't leave the mercenary queen's until they're forced to by the need to turn.
"Probably," she flatly suggests while shimmying around so she's looking up at Kira again, "because it'd be a little disruptive to your grand opening to have a bunch of pissed off Hunters poking around your shit. You think I'm here on a /lark/, Kira? We voted to give you an aaaawful lotta latitude when you wanted to come and link up with the Guild, on the strength of your name, your reputation. You've helped us make a lotta money... but this?"
She tosses her head towards the creature rumbling to her left.
"This makes people /nervous/. Metro City was a goddamn /catastrophe/ - /you should know/ - and you're actually /importing/ monsters into a major city, en masse. There're Double 'S'es who've lost limbs, family, pieces of their minds and souls - you name it - to the Hunt-- if you /weren't/ you, if our arrangement /wasn't/ as beneficial as it is... this'd be a done deal. But!"
As indignant as she's beginning to sound, the Hunter's lips curl into a smile far kinder than the cruel line stamped onto her face when she was finally picked up in the control room.
"You are, and it is, so in/stead/, everyone's arguing with everyone else," she continues as her tone settles. "The best they can do is have someone look into the matter while they 'continue to deliberate'," the chains gently rattle as air quotes are made, "and hope something happens to tilt a vote one way or the other. Lucky for you, /I/ volunteered."
Muted red lips part until muted red teeth show.
"And I don't give a fuuuuuck about the Tragically Broken demo. You disappear me, you get attention you don't want or need-- the kind you can't just buy your way out of. The kind that'll probably be way less interested in playing around with your security. You play ball with me, though... and I tell the other S-Classes all about how you're taking every imaginable precaution to keep these things docile, sterile, and properly accommodated, rather than, I dunno, keeping some of 'em kenneled and vicious and hungry, and we both get rich."
Indeed, Bulleta was given her title for a number of reasons: her comfort with and proficiency in dealing violence; her grandmother's sterling reputation within the Guild; and her ability to stare down wolves and Dragons alike without shrinking away.
Kira proves to be a great deal less accomodating of a listener than her representatives. Almost immediately her expression changes from mildly amused to the sort of look a stern principle gets when a troublesome student is attempting to explain their way out of a particularly bad mess. The faint traces of rising anger manifest in her face, growing steadily more pronounced as the girl goes on. By the time she's finishing making threats and demands, the corner of the mercenary's eye is twitching sporadically and her lips have pulled back into an unpleasant toothy snarl.
The hard wedge of the mercenary's combat boot heel slams into Bulleta's chest and sends her flying into the back wall of the cage, offering her a friendly reminder of the compromising situation that she finds herself in, followed by an extra one for good measure as the wind is blasted from her lungs by a swift kick to the gut.
Kira kneels down and grabs a fistfull of the girl's short hair, yanking her face up so that she can put her own right up next to it. She shows no fear of finding herself on the receiving end of any hidden weapons. The attack on her security team had revealed their presence *CENSORED*.
Reason Number 72 for having a bunch of expendable mooks be the ones to make first contact with the enemy. Despite the losses, only Tex was someone she particularly cared about and only because he was an old veteran with useful skills. He'd managed to avoid being killed but he'd have more than a few new scars from the encounter. Perhaps they'd remind him to be more careful in the future.
"Listen up, you uppity little bitch."
Kira's piercing glare is far worse up close, her beady predatory eyes stabbing into the helpless hunter like a pair of hot daggers. Smoke spills from her nose and mouth as she hisses in barely restrained fury, the hot fumes wafting over Bulleta's face like the tell-tale signs of a dragon about to unleash its terrible flames.
"If you think I give half a shit what you or those worthless busybodies at the Guild think, you're sorely mistaken. You think I'm afraid of a bunch of crusty old men sitting around a campfire telling stories about their glory days?"
She spits on the floor, scattering bits of saliva and cigarette ash at her captive.
"Those spineless old maggots came to me! To /me/! And do you know why? Because I'm the only fucking person getting shit done around here! Where was the Guild when that shit at Metro City went down? Where were the vaunted 'dark hunters' when Hell was literally breaking loose on their doorstep?!"
Kira glares at her in silence for several seconds before dismisisvely tossing the girl back to the floor. She stands up and walks back to the entrance of the cage, placing her hands on the bars on opposite sides and takes a long slow breath. Calmness returns to her by increments but it doesn't fully settle in before she turns back around, directing an annoyed glare down at the hunter.
"The Guild has no authority over what I do. And they couldn't do shit about it even if they convince themselves otherwise. How many members does the Guild have? Fifty? A hundred? I've got five times that much manpower stationed at this base alone, not to mention all of your lovely fuzzy friends."
She gestures at the werewolf again who growls at her menacingly from the shadows, joined by another one from the cage on the opposite side now. Several more rumbling snarls rise up in chorus with the others, coming at her from all directions now as dozens of disgruntled monsters make their presence known.
"And they'd all be delighted to get their teeth on a Hunter or two."
The snarl erupt into yapping barks as Bulleta's two adjacent cell-mates lunge and tear at the bars of their cages once again, snapping and clawing through the gaps as if to drive the point home. Kira merely watches for a few moments before lifting a hand to make a slicing gesture in the air and both of the feral beasts simply stop dead mid-swipe to retreat back to the center of their cells and plop down onto their haunches like a pair of well-trained dogs.
Pursing her lips thoughtfully, the underworld matriarch nudges the upside-down bucket into the cell and takes a seat again. A fresh cigarette is pulled from one of the many pockets in her pants and set alight by a simple brass flip-top. Her fingers steeple together as she props her elbows up on her thighs, offering a resting place for her chin while she stares intently at the hunter.
"Tell you what. I've got a counter-offer for you. You want to make money? Then you stick with me. Tell the Guild or whoever the fuck it was that convinced you to stick your neck out in their place that you didn't find anything worth bothering about. You do that and I'll show you what it takes to get rich in this world."
The woman shrugs dismissively, puffing on her smoke.
"Or get lost. Stay out of my business. Your choice."
Kira scoots forward suddenly, closing her fingers around the girl's face with strength not unlike the iron bars that currently surround her. A wild manic expression blossoms to life on her face, her eyes wide and wild with the promise of rage-born violence. She takes the newly lit cigarette from her mouth, blowing a cloud of smoke into Bulleta's face, then slowly lowers the glowing tip towards the hunter's right eye.
"But if you fuck with me in even the slightest way again, I will take you apart... one... piece... at a time... and send what's left of you back to the Guild in a fucking doggy bag!"
Built on a mixture of legacy and the slow trickle of 'outsiders' who find themselves drawn inexorably into the world of hunting dark things, the Guild's membership tends to fluctuate pretty wildly in age and numbers: a larger number of hungry C, B, and the odd, probationary D-Class Hunters tend to orbit a more static core of higher ranked lifers. Some linger long enough to prove themselves worthy of A, even S-Class certification, but they risk attrition via death, maiming, loss of morale, poor conduct, among other obstacles along the way. It could readily outstrip Kira's estimate in a pinch, but not by much-- and her figures readily encompass the sum total of its truly dangerous members; the rest likely wouldn't count for much, anyway, to someone like her. Its core members are largely on the older side, and all of them have their favorite stories about facing down monsters far greater than themselves-- as well as the hard-earned scars and trophies to go with them.
Bulleta never gets a chance to explain any of this because she's sucking wind while Kira fumes. The Hunter manages to keep a glare leveled on Kira, but she's sagging in the mercenary's grip and those shallow breaths pass through teeth clenched in obvious pain. This close to the Dragon's fury, her glare gradually withers, the longer Kira goes-- as it must, surely.
It's half-hearted at best by the time Kira pauses-- and gone once she hits the ground. As the last dregs of defiance drain from the crumpled girl, a soft whimper escapes her throat, only to be choked short with a bitten lip. The Hunter trembles as her eyes fall and she continues to weather the tempest of Kira's rage, allowing her every word to sink in deep. The werewolf growls, and - finally - she gives a start; this, more than anything, brings a flicker of that defiant glare back as she rushes to wipe fear from her features, but the lunging and tearing stop her cold.
When the spectacle ends and Kira sets up to stare, she pushes out a sharp breath, freezes in a wince, then lifts her chin towards Kira. As her lips part--
-- Kira makes her a familiar offer--
-- and she has to drop her chin, biting down on her bottom lip again to make /sure/ a smile doesn't show.
A shuddering beat later, she begins to give meek nods as her options are laid out, followed closely by vigorous shaking against an iron grip; she forgets to suffer through breathing for a couple seconds when Kira gives her a single burning point to consider. "I-I-- I told you," she softly stammers, "I /want/ to work with you, I-- I wouldn't have /volunteered/ if I didn't...! I-- I-I'm gonna tell them /everything/ they wanna hear, and they'll leave you alone, just-- just gimme a chance, okay?"
For a long torturous couple of seconds that searing red pencil-tip of pain hovers ominously close to the girl's eye, threatening to spill red-hot ash down into it even if Kira doesn't jam it into that big baby blue orb. The mercenary's wide-eyed stare, which looks more than a little unhinged, remains defiantly resistant to her whimpering pleas. Either she's not buying the sudden meek act or she simply doesn't care how pathetic her victim tries to look.
Seeming to come to a decision, the glowing brand is pulled away with a sharp flick of Kira's wrist. A dusting of hot cinders scatter on the girl's face but it's not enough to cause more than momentary singeing and the damp air makes even that mostly ignorable. The cigarette returns to its place between the mercenary's lips and she takes another long drawn out drag before blowing the smoke idly from the corner of her mouth.
"You're full of shit, kid."
Kira pushes to her feet and wanders back to the cage's entrance, swinging the heavy iron gate closed behind her. It locked with a sharp click, the electronic safety engaging with a digital beeping noise.
Too many things don't add up. If there was some genuine interest in working together, why hadn't the girl just come to her directly? It's not like there's some sort of taboo for hunters to meet and discuss business. And if getting an audience was her goal why did she fight like her life was on the line when the security forces tried to detain her?
No, there's something else going on here, she's sure of it. Until she knows what, trusting this little snake would be foolish. That doesn't mean she can't make use of her though.
Kira crosses her arms and leans on the bars, scowling down at Bulleta in thought. She could use torture to get the information out of the kid. Messy and likely to leave her in a sorry state but everyone breaks eventually. The problem is figuring out which parts are true and which parts are just shit she might say to make the pain stop. What little she knows about Bulleta indicates that she's quite good at acting; that or she has a rather convenient case of schizophrenia.
Zhenya might be able to fish the information out of her head; another messy option. Her girlfriend's talents in the psychic realm lie more in the area of prediction and clairvoyance than mind reading. The last few tries damn near lobotomized the victims. No, too unreliable.
That leaves her but one obvious option - the old catch and release. It shouldn't be a difficult matter to slip some sort of tracker onto the girl through one means or another. Then she needs only to wait and see under who's skirt the little gremlin scampers.
"I need to think on this some more," she says, finally breaking the silence. "Maybe I'll give you a chance, maybe not. *CENSORED*."
She smirks *CENSORED*.
"Until then, you can enjoy the hospitality of my dungeon. I'll let you know in the morning what I've decided... assuming I don't just leave you down here to rot."
A mostly-used up cigarette butt is flicked at Bulleta, the hot tip pinwheeling through the air on a collision course *CENSORED*. The Dragon puffs one last cloud of smoke into the air before turning away and stalking off into the darkness, the sound of her combat boots clicking on the cold stone as she steadily vanishes from sight and then hearing, leaving the young hunter alone with her thoughts.
This close to Kira, Bulleta can practically /see/ the mercenary tripping over the holes in her story. It helps that the Hunter's running it back in her head while she works to give the Dragon her tribute in fear-- that she's /already/ had time to think about why it might make more sense to infiltrate over seeking a sit-down. The cinders make her wince, then Kira lets her go so she can resume shrinking before the might of a superior predator.
"You-- you don't respect the Guild at /all/, Kira," she whispers into the contemplative void while lowering her eyes. "You just said as much, and-- a-and-- I was /sure/ that even if you /did/ agree to meet me, you wouldn't take me /seriously/-- that you'd just threaten me so I'd leave you alone, o-or show me something sanitized to keep the old men at bay... I knew I could make money with you - if you'd /let/ me - but I had to see your operation for my/self/ before I could just..."
Swallowing and shivering, the girl whose bravado has all but evaporated before the Dragon's fire looks up without meeting Kira's eyes, clearly contrite.
"I do this because I lost someone I /loved/, a-and-- as good as the money /is/, I couldn't... I /couldn't/, with all my training, just /watch/, if you were s-setting up a situation that could lead to /others/ losing the most important people to /them/ because something got l-loose, and..." Her bottom lip is drawn in for a lingering moment before she just says, "I-I was /wrong/ to worry, though: you clearly have them under control, and-- a-and that's all I needed to /know/. Your men..." She dares a fleeting glance at the Dragon's eyes.
"I-I was cornered, drugged, locked up with a bunch of soldiers, I-- I was running on /instinct/-- and I'm s-sorry..." The shivers trickle into her voice as her chin tips down. "For not trusting you enough to just be honest-- for not respecting /you/ the way you deserve."
The cigarette summons a twitch and a jump; a pained yelp pops out of her mouth, prompting her to clench her jaw shut for a beat before she just relents and shudders. The girl hasn't collapsed /entirely/ - is still trying gamely to hang onto the pride and will that earned her a chance to explain herself - but there's only so much steel a disarmed Hunter can show an apex predator.
"Please..." she whispers as Kira turns away. "... give me a chance to make it right."
It's only after those boots have clicked away that she lets herself sink into her dire straits, tilting over onto her side and drawing her knees to her chest in a vain search for warmth and comfort. She /refuses/ to look left or right; there are no monsters lurking in the concrete, so she keeps her eyes down, shivering-- banking on solid construction to keep fangs and claws away. It takes a while, but eventually - inevitably - sobs begin to twist ragged breaths as a young Hunter driven by legacy and lucre finally, fully lets go.
An hour - maybe two - of crescendoing sobs later, she manages to rein herself in with great, big gasps that make her shudder and grimace thanks to her sore chest; the odd sob still sneaks out, but she tries - /tries/ - to hold it together, otherwise. She doesn't have it in her to do much more than lie there wallowing in her best approximation of a fetal position; 'sleep' is a generous word for it, but after a few hours alone, her eyes shut and she stills, save for the shivers.
The unpleasantly familiar sensation of a bucket's worth of cold water being up-ended on top of her once more urges the girl from her fitful slumber, splashing into her *CENSORED* like an icy slap on the face. The door to her cell swings open with a click and a figure strides forward into the light, frowning down at her with a dour expression.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is not Kira. The mercenary is dressed similar to her though, a tight-brown t-shirt, loose cargo pants, and well-shined boots all marking him as either a soldier or some sort of military fashion enthusiast. Half a dozen more just like him loiter outside the cage, all of them sporting short bull-pup carbines designed for close-quarters combat and equally unpleasant scowls.
"Get up," orders the man standing next to her, his voice carrying the tone of a jailer to an inmate. She gets about five seconds to comply before he reaches down to drag her up by the scruff of the neck with a hand big enough to encircle her slender throat almost completely and all the tenderness of a grumpy crocodile.
After checking to make sure she hasn't somehow slipped out of her manacles during the night, Bulleta is shoved out of the cage into the waiting gaggle of grizzled killers for hire. *CENSORED* none of them make a move on her. The first soldier moves up behind her again and puts a hand on her shoulder, guiding her away from the cage with a firm grip towards some unknown destination as the rest of her escort falls in behind him.
The jail or kennel or dungeon or whatever it is proves to be much larger than she could have guessed from her dark little corner. Dozens of cages fill the otherwise empty space, each of them containing a very angry and dangerous looking monster. Most of the occupants are of the sort she is quite familiar with now but a few snarling cat-girls and even some sort of snake-monster are seen in passing. All of them watch her pass with predatory stares, hungrily pressed up against the bars of their cages as she's marched along the narrow strip of light provided by the overhead illumination.
They come to a large pair of heavy steel doors at the far side of the room. As seems to be the norm around here, the exit is protected a key pad and card reader. A squat rectangular pre-fab structure is butted up against the wall next to the security gate, its hard concrete surface broken only by a thick sheet of glass that's almost certainly hardened against gunfire. A pair of guards sit on the far side of it, rifles slung on their shoulders, chatting amicably with each other as the little group approaches.
"Escorting the guest as ordered," says the man holding onto Bulleta, apparently the leader of this particular squad. The soldier behind the glass nods and punches something into a console infront of him then gestures at the doors. "Primed for access verification."
One of the other soldiers dutifully goes through the motions, swiping his card and punching in a lengthy keycode into the pad. There's a long pause as he steps quickly away and then the loud hiss of pneumatic pistons pulling pressure bolts and magnetic locks releasing their tight grips fills the air. With a loud crack, the heavy doors pull apart and the group moves on through in silence.
The corridors beyond her prison offer little in the way of landmarks or obvious decoration, spreading out into a twisting maze of bland grey concrete hallways broken up by nondescript security doors. It's a similar lay out to what the hunters had seen when taken down to the security room at the casino except these doors don't even offer the curtesy of cryptic number designations to offer any sort of guidance or clues as to what might be behind them.
The convoy spends a good half an hour walking through those confusing hallways. Apparently the mercenary's base is absolutely massive or she's being lead around in circles to make sure she can't remember the way - either of those could be reasonable conclusions based on the rumors of Kira's wealth and influence and the levels of paranoia that have been put on display thus far. Rather frequently the group runs across other members of the Dragon's troops, an assorted lot of men and women all dressed like they just came from a military barracks. Quite a few of them stop to watch her get paraded past, offering crude remarks and humilating catcalls at the young hunter in passing.
When the unpleasant journey finally ends it is without fanfare or notice. One of the large featureless grey doors looms infront of them, complete with its own blinking keypad and speaker. The leader of the group pushes Bulleta into the hands of another soldier and walks up to the door, knocking on it roughly three times with loud bangs. A few moments later the speaker clicks to life with a noisy crackle and a soft almost monotone female voice drifts out of it.
"State your business."
"Prisoner escort, ma'am. We're expected."
"Ofcourse. You may enter."
With the invitation granted and the proper identification entered into the security lock, the door swings open to admit them access to the room beyond. The interior of the room is the polar opposite of the rest of the base, practically palatial in its luxurious design. Opulent furniture made from polished marble and dark wood fill the space in a neatly arranged layout atop soft vibrant red carpeting. Off to the side is a small living area, complete with a pair of comfy looking sofas and a large television mounted to the wall and beyond that a small kitchen dominates the far corner, its otherwise pristine appearance cluttered up by some recently used pots and pans.
The majority of the space is taken up by a grand bedroom. Thick black silk curtains hang from the ceiling on rails allowing them to be pulled closed to offer a bit of privacy. At the moment, they are completely open, offering a clear view of an utterly massive four-post bed flanked on both sides by towering wardrobes and and a vanity closet. Everything in the room appears to be made of the most expensive material one could imagine. If it doesn't glitter or sparkle with gold and gems then its covered with lush cushions and elaborate fabrics and /those/ have gold and gems embedded into them. A room fit for a dragon, indeed.
The Dragon in question sits at a large circular marble table in the last remaining corner of the room, busily chowing down on a plate full of breakfast. Another woman sits beside her, her expression neutral and disinterested as she quietly picks at her own food. Long black hair pulled back into a neat braid dangles over her shoulder and she sports a body as thoroughly well-trained and toned as Kira's. Her own choice of attire is pretty similar to the others, though she apparently prefers to wear black, her cut-off tanktop and fatigues both as dark as her hair.
Kira and her mysterious companion both glance up at the arrival of the entourage, the former still chewing on a piece of sausage skewered to her fork. She motions them in with a wave of her hand and points at the chair on the opposite side of the table from her, staring meaningfully at Bulleta.
"Please, have a seat."
The raven-haired woman speaks up instead, her voice gentle but firm, indicating that the offer isn't really anything but a nicely worded command. Once the hunter has been seated, either by choice or by force, the mercenary squad leader moves up behind her to undo the cuffs. He deposits them on the table next to her, giving her a meaningful look that says they can go right back on any time she steps out of line. He offers a quick salute to Kira then turns on his heels and leaves the way he came in, taking the rest of the mercenaries with him.
"So," Kira says, scooping some eggs into her mouth and chewing noisly as she talks. "I trust you slept well? Had a nice bit of quiet time to think about things, hmm?"
There's an obvious edge of antagonism in her choice of words but her tone is fairly neutral, almost conversational. Her companion remains quiet but her gaze settles on Bulleta with a soft intensity behind it, almost like she can see right through the girl and into whatever thoughts might be dancing on the surface of her mind.
"Here, you're probably hungry by now."
Kira turns and snaps her fingers, looking over her shoulder at the bedroom behind her.
"Hey, you two lazy little punks get up and fix the girl a plate."
At her command, the sheets on the bed suddenly stir. A pair of fuzzy shapes, which had before seemed to be part of the fancy upholstry, dislodge themselves from the surface and slink over to the table revealing themselves to be Darkstalkers of the cat-girl persuasion. *CENSORED*.
The cat-girl sporting a slender white tail and ears fetches a plate from the kitchen and plops it down infront of Bulleta, along with some silverware, and the other with a puffy black tail and fuzzy ears immediately starts to dole portions of food out, heaping healthy piles of eggs, sausage, fruits, and cheeses onto it.
Bulleta's thoughts move like a raft of ducks, languid on the surface despite violent churning below. She slept relatively well, given the circumstances - spending the night on hard, unyielding ground is nothing /new/ to the girl with hunting in her blood - but 'relatively well, given the circumstances' still means heavy lids and a mind that's only just gotten up to pace, some thirty minutes of walking later. Her thoughts have a sad, penitent bent - memories of her grandmother's corpse, regrets over having made such a violent splash in the security room; the lurking possibility that Kira might just decide to keep her swims throughout.
Similarly, she /looks/ sad, penitent, afraid: those heavy eyes are puffy from tears that Kira or her team no doubt heard trickling through security monitors, and it's only when she takes her seat that she lifts them. The tension in her body language is borne of fearful necessity more than tactical readiness, by this point.
"I've had a /lot/ of time to think," she agrees in a soft, small voice. Kira's finger-snap draws a lazy look towards the bed; its occupants receive brief glances before her focus returns to Kira and her associate. "The Guild agreed to your terms for a reason-- for /lots/ of reasons-- and the most important is that you work on a level that it /can't/. I don't want to fight you." Food hits her plate, drawing her gaze down. Her fingers touch a fork--
-- Zhenya feels the sudden, but brief cessation of even sluggish, defeated thoughts--
-- and then she starts nudging things around her plate. Coloring her thoughts bright yellow, deep brown, orange, and so forth as she ponders her options and which might be the least likely to be poisoned. She eventually settles on grapes - scooped a bunch hanging from one of those platters rather than dished out to her - and pops one in her mouth.
"I want to make money, just like you-- I just wanna put all this aside and move forward. Together; can we do that?"
Kira watches the girl with the lazy gaze of a resting predator, occassionally skewering some fresh morsel of food and tucking it into her mouth with swift thrusts of her fork. Her companion likewise continues to eat though her motions are much more refined and elegant, carving off pieces of meat or cheese with a knife before nibbling on them bit by bit, her own gaze likewise centered on their guest.
The cat-girls return to blending in with the pillows on the bed once the task of providing Bulleta with food is done. The fact that she spurns what's offered in lieu of grabbing her own fare matters little; they did the task assigned to them and that's all they need to worry about. Kira snorts as the hunter goes for the grapes on the platter instead of her plate. What, she thinks those wouldn't be poisoned too if that's what she had in mind? Naive little girl.
"A wise choice", she says, though it's unclear if she is referring to the food or Bulleta's words.
"So, here's how this is going to work. I'm going to let you and your friends walk away. You're going to go back to the Guild and tell them whatever you need to in order to keep them off my back. And any time you bag a mark, you bring it here to me and I'll make sure you get paid well in excess of what those stingy old men would ever give you. I make money, you make money."
Zhenya says nothing, content to merely observe the conversation in silence. Her eyes narrow ever so slightly as Bulleta's thoughts change 'color', for a lack of a better term, but she continues to go through her eating routine uninterrupted until Kira turns to look at her and nods.
The mercenary rises from her seat and stalks over to one of the large wardrobes, tossing the doors wide. She gathers up several pieces of clothing and drapes them over her arm then walks back over to present them to Bulleta.
The dress that she had worn as her cover as a health inspector looks as good as new, clearly having been cleaned and pressed. Even the blood stains are gone. Zhenya stands there as long as is necessary, *CENSORED*, then resumes her hawk-like vigil at the Dragon's side.
"Just follow the men outside and they'll see that you get back to the casino with your companions." Kira narrows her eyes and jabs the fork in the Hunter's direction as she turns to leave. "Don't make me regret giving you a second chance, girl."
Log created on 19:38:06 07/05/2018 by Bulleta, and last modified on 01:34:00 07/09/2018.