The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 2 - Darkness Reigns

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Description: Not only are tensions rising between the Syndicate and Akatsuki, but now darkstalkers are prowling the streets. While the Dragon's Den Casino has an obvious connection, the citizens of Southtown are more likely to associate the monstrosities with the Metro City cataclysm from years back. Jedah Dohma, the darkstalker responsible, is far from ignorant of the connection. He's quietly sent his smooth-talking Romanian emissary to speak with Kira to ensure that both he and the Black Dragon are on the same page.

Kira lets out a long sigh as she sits back in her chair, one of many that has broken the silence of the room over the past couple of hours. The thick cushions welcome her weary body with their soft embrace and she allows her eyes to drift closed for a few moments, shutting out the image of the large laptop resting in front of her and its screen of densely packed information.

Her plan to insert herself into the underworld of Southtown had gone off brilliantly. While she could not have foreseen the circumstances that would come about as a result of the turf war presently gripping the city's major criminal organizations, the fact remains that their focus on each other has made it incredibly easy for her to slide into a position of power. The Dragon's Den casino has been as successful as she could possibly hope, drawing crowds from all corners of the small country thanks to her boldly 'progressive' stance on hiring Darkstalkers. That had been the critical element in her operation and the place where everything could have fallen apart quickly but so far she's been lucky.

That's not to say everything can't go to shit at a moment's notice. If it is ever discovered what she's actually doing here then there's no force in the country that would be able to salvage her reputation. This isn't her base of operations, she doesn't have the resources, connections, or manpower to take on the avalanche of shit that would be flying her way in that scenario. She'd be forced to abandon ship. The money she'd lose would be painful, but the real wound would be to her reputation. A warlord relies on the amount of fear and respect they can demand from those who want to bring them down and word would no doubt find its way back to Africa if she should suffer a crushing defeat here.

Rubbing her temples, the mercenary glances down at the computer screen again. The image of a young girl with short blonde hair stares back at her, her child-like face sporting a cheerful expression that Kira knows is little more than a mask concealing a shrewd and dangerous creature. That the other crime lords would send agents to try and find out more about her operations was an inevitability. She would do the same thing in their places. However, the response had been much faster than she'd hoped and the individual in question was troublesome indeed.

Her co-option into the Hunter's Guild had been the result of several years of tedious work, courting the notoriously enigmatic and mistrustful organization's council of elders with expensive gifts and grandiose displays of her personal achievements. The raid into Jedah's world of monsters had cemented her in history as one of, if not the first, person to ever achieve such a feat and she had boldly used that accolade to bully her way past the objections of the more reluctant members. It was the first step in a long-term plan to solidify herself as the foremost authority on the black-market dealings surrounding these creatures and one she was eager to exploit.

Yet, no sooner than she sets foot in Southtown, she finds herself beset by another prominent member of the Guild. That a Hunter would turn to mercenary work doesn't surprise her; after all, until recently there weren't enough monsters wandering the world to go around. That they would blatantly violate the policy about interfering in each other's work is rather disturbing, even more so because of what she was forced to reveal.

"Fucking little bitch..."

Kira's teeth grind, crushing the butt of a mostly burned-down cigarette between them. She didn't buy for one instant that the little tart would actually honor their agreement. Even without Zhenya's psychic abilities, she could see the spark of hatred and defiance that had been lurking behind the girl's eyes even as she pretended to beg and plead.

Under other circumstances, she'd have been quite impressed by that sort of fortitude from someone so young. She had the eyes of a predator, someone willing to kill to get what they wanted, though her inexperience had made that resolve mostly meaningless. Kira could have killed her without any difficulty and the body would never have been found. No one could ever trace it back to her. That's the downside of being a spy. You're expendable.

But there was a much better use for her little interloper, one worth the risk of allowing her to go back into the wild, and she had served that purpose marvelously. Now all that remains is to confront the person responsible and sort this shit out. She doesn't want a war; not yet, at least. Some sort of deal will have to be made. She's good at making deals. There's very few people in the world who can't be won over by the promise of material wealth and probably no one else on the planet can boast to have the same access to treasures and riches of all sorts as Kira. If she doesn't have what they want, she can get it.

The sound of movement behind her snaps the mercenary's danger sense into full awareness. Almost before the conscious thought has reached her brain, her hand slips underneath the table to grip the handle of the pistol concealed beneath its polished surface. She knows full well who it is, after all there could be no one else in her private quarters in the dead of morning, but she prepares herself for a fight all the same. Only the foolish let their guard down, particularly when they are certain of their safety.

Her gaze shifts ever so slightly upwards, her eyes glancing at the surface of a large mirror mounted on the opposite wall. The darkness of the room makes it impossible to see clearly but the indistinct shape of something humanoid grows darker with each passing second as it draws closer. The figure pauses behind her, just out of reach of the soft glow of the monitor. After a moment, both of its arms reach out, fingers splaying wide as they move to engulf her neck in a strangling grip.

Just before she whirls around to lash out, the familiar touch of soft hands steadies her. With a long sigh, she relaxes again, the tension bleeding out of her with her breath as long agiles fingers deftly begin to squeeze at her sore muscles with practiced motions.

"It's still early."

Zhenya leans in close, peering down at the screen as she works her magic on the knots which have built up in the commander's muscles. It only takes a quick glance at the picture for her to understand what it is that has drawn Kira out of bed, her knowledge of how her childhood friend's mind works even greater than Kira's own at times. Her brow furrows slightly and she pauses her massage long enough to reach forward and push the lid of the computer closed.

"Command: Dim Light."

About half of the wall-mounted lights flicker to life at her word filling the room with a muted illumination to replace the harsh glow of the LCD screen. Kira winces and closes her eyes again but any complaint she might have had is lost in the blissful touch of her girlfriend's talented ministrations.

"That little girl is gonna be trouble..."

Light floods the room, spilling across the chair, spilling across the computer screen, spilling across the desk. But, just for an instant, the light takes a fraction of a second longer to sweep away the darkness from the large mirror's reflection. The difference will come down to no more to a fraction of a second; it'd be easy to miss.

A few moments later, though, there will be a more distinct sign that the two are not alone. Two signs, actually -- the sound of knuckles rapping briskly against a door.

Perhaps the psychic will recognize the signature of the decades-old vampire standing just outside the threshold. Perhaps surveillance systems will be able to catch sight of the well-coiffed vampire in a crisp black suit. Perhaps guards will happen to see Valentin as he stands nonchalantly outside the door, straightening his tie with a shit-eating grin plastered on his face. He doesn't know -- and he doesn't care.

But damn if he isn't going to make a polite entrance, allowing Kira and Zhenya to collect themselves. After all, Kira Volkov is a trusted ally, and announcing his presence is certainly more polite than barging in uninvited.

... Of course, he bypassed the rest of Kira's security forces, and he -was- just spying. So maybe there's some wiggle room on the bounds of his supposed politeness.

The knock at the door causes both women to turn their heads. Zhenya's reaction is first, her placid gaze shifting towards the entrance a full second before the noise comes, as if she knew to expect it, followed shortly by Kira's wary half-lidded stare.

It isn't unusual for someone to come calling on her at all hours of the morning. Her desire to personally oversee the vast majority of operations kept her busy in even the most uneventful of times and the opening of the casino has been hectic, to say the least. She's watched countless hours of security footage ever since the attempted infiltration, becoming personally familiar with the faces, names, and positions of every person of importance that ever set foot through her doors. The schedules of every guard and employee have been the result of her handiwork, ensuring that people who work together well are always paired up and those with personal problems are not. Every single fly that might get into the ointment has been carefully prepared for as best she can, though even with such meticulous attention to detail there's bound to be problems.

Letting out another sigh, Kira fishes a fresh cigarette from the half-crumpled pack on the table next to her and lights it up, inhaling a fresh lungful of the calming nicotine. Her head tilts sideways towards the door in a small gesture but Zhenya is already moving to acquiesce to the request before it is even made, stalking silently over towards a small metal panel next to the entrance.

The panel consists of a small screen and microphone arranged vertically next to a keypad. The mercenary's fingers dance nimbly across the buttons bringing up the visual feed from the hallway outside. Her eyes narrow slightly at the sight that greets her. The man is clearly not one of their soldiers, not is he being escorted by them. His strange manner of dress immediately singles the visitor out as something out of the ordinary but it is a combination of his out-of-date fashion sense and the aura that he gives off which truly singles him out.

"I believe one of our 'friends' has come calling."

She doesn't need to elaborate for Kira to get the message. The only real friends that Kira has, other than Zhenya herself, are the weapons that she carries. She might court some amicable relationships with her soldiers but none of them have ever been allowed to blossom into anything she can't throw away at a moment's notice. No weaknesses to exploit, no ways to cause her to make irrational decisions. Even Zhenya is expendable, if it came down to it, and she knows it.

"Fucking vampires. He's lucky I'm already awake," she growls, but her frustration turns into another sharp sigh soon after. "Alright, let him in. Not like he can't just pop in here whenever he wants. Might as well respect the 'courtesy' he's shown by knocking, right?"

Zhenya offers no response other than to smile faintly. With one hand, she depresses a large black button at the bottom of speaker while in the other a long wicked knife appears from somewhere beneath her flowing nightgown, held cautiously at the ready but out of sight.

"Please stand by," she says, her voice soft and emotionless as it drifts out into the hallway from a matching panel on the far side. The keypad beeps electronically as she inputs another series of numbers, offering a final chirp of acknowledgment once the proper code has been offered. The sealed door hisses pneumatically as its pressure locks disengage, swinging inwards to admit the well-dressed vampire into the Dragon's inner sanctum.

Unlike the utilitarian nature of the rest of the base, Kira's bedroom is well furnished with expensive furniture and artwork as befitting someone of her title. The only thing missing to make the imagery complete would be a pile of gold for her to sleep upon. Instead, there's a large four-post bed surrounded by dark silk curtains and layered with soft fluffy pillows.

At the center of the room, Kira sits at the head of a large round table of polished marble. Her head is propped up on the bridge of her fingers, her mouth twisted into a faint smile that her narrowed eyes don't mirror. Like Zhenya, she's wearing the clothes she slept in, not having bothered to get dressed up for this sudden visit - or dressed at all. A loose black t-shirt hangs over her torso and her bare legs can be seen underneath the table. Whether that's a gesture of intentional disrespect or simply a result of her disregard for socially acceptable behavior, it left for him to decide.

Valentin -- and his long-time buddy Artur who happens to not be here at the moment -- is well-acquainted with the security precautions Kira might like to take regarding her base complex. And he can certainly appreciate the steps she's taken; many a warlord has been done in by their own subordinates.

Caught in mid-adjustment, he flashes a cheshire smile back at what he assumes to be the state-of-the-art security system's camera. He either doesn't know -- or doesn't care. "No rush, sweetness. Take all the time you need." The latches will take time to withdraw, and he's got at least an hour anyway...

The door swings open, and he steps inside. He makes a show of casting his gaze about the private abode, his chin dimpling as he nods with approval. "Nice place you got here!" His voice is silky-smooth... and perhaps overdone a tad, like a used car salesman desperate to make this month's quota.

His crimson eyes cast over to Zhenya, as he nods with appreciation. "Thank you for helping me..." And Kira, finally, he addresses with a thin smile. And a bow. If he notices her attire or lack thereof, he doesn't draw attention to it.

"And the Black Dragon herself. Please accept my apologies for the early hour. Or late, heck, I don't know your schedule."

Valentin rises, allowing his arms to fall casually by his side. "The boss is plannin' somethin', and he needs to know a thing before he goes much further. He heard somethin' about this... 'Shadow Council.' You know anythin' about it?"

Neither woman responds to the overly energetic introduction with anything more than quiet stares. Zhenya takes a couple of steps backwards to give the vampire space, her hands resting casually at her side, the long blade of her dagger concealed against the back of a forearm. Kira merely watches the man through half-lidded eyes, responding only when he finally gets to the point.

Her serpentine smile twists into a mild grimace and she leans back into her chair, arms crossing over her chest.

"Yeah, I know about it. That was the 'illustrious and mighty' lord Vega's idea."

She makes no efforts to hide her disdain for the commander of Shadaloo. Her grudge against Vega hasn't been forgotten, merely put on the back burner until she can effectively find some way to hurt him in the same way he'd hurt her. But that isn't relevant to the topic, at least not so far as the vampire probably cares.

"He tried to assemble a small group consisting of several of the big hitters in the underworld. Him, me, that psychic zealot Dahlia, Lee, and the head of the Syndicate, Duke. And... some other guy I'd never heard of." She scrubs a hand through her hair with a sigh, mussing up her already wild and unbound blonde locks. "It was about as big of a shitshow as you could imagine. Every one of us kings of our own domain and suddenly expected to play nice just because big daddy Vega told us to. I'm surprised it lasted long enough for us all to leave the building without killing each other, honestly."

Valentin has no particular reason to step any further into the room. If he noticed the little vixen's blade, he certainly wasn't bothered by it -- cutting into a supposed ally would definitely not be a good look for the Dragoons.

He is rather amused at the way in which Kira seems to be nonchalantly dismissive of 'Lord Vega.' His jaw hangs open as if he might have a smartaleck comment of his own to add, but decides against it as Kira begins to explain.

"This was -well- before the Dark Messiah graced your doorstep though. -Far- before your military would have been able to challenge him in his own domain, mm?" Valentin chuckles softly, bowing both his hands behind his back, and rocking back on his heels. He reminds himself quietly that he's not here to provoke -- but rather, to provide a caution.

"And yet, whatever could have been so dire as to require Vega to -humble- himself by deigning to ask so many others for help? And ... more importantly, has the Council been disbanded?" His head rolls sideways, one side to the other, before he levels out. "Any conflicts of interest that might pose a problem for you working with us? We're only trying to help, you understand..."

Kira's jaw clenches a little but she smiles again, inclining her head at the vampire.

"Yes, it was before Lord Dohma decided to take me into his employ."

In reality, Jedah's methods were no different than Vega's. He'd shown up without warning, flexed his muscles, and demanded fealty on threat of death. The major difference between them is that Jedah had confronted her in the open, challenging her soldiers and military might, whereas Vega had simply invaded the sanctity of her inner fortress and threatened her one on one, confident in his personal power. Both had been humiliating experiences but only Vega had earned her true hatred as a result. He'd violated her domain and callously shattered the wall of confidence she had spent a decade building up brick by brick.

In some ways, it was a positive experience. She had started to grow lazy and complacent, convinced that nothing could unseat her from the power base she'd established. Being confronted with someone who so vastly outclassed her that she could feel it in the air had humbled her - and she fucking hates having to be humble. The fire of revenge that was ignited inside of her had lead her to where she is today, pushing her boundaries, fueled with fresh ambition. She'll crush every single one of those maggots who dared to laugh at her one day, no matter what it takes; even if that means working with monsters.

"Couldn't tell you, for sure. I think he just got tired of hiding in the shadows and wanted to make a grab for more power. Judging by how openly he seems to be waging war in certain parts of the world now, that seems to be the direction he's heading."

Her shoulders lift in a shrug at the second question.

"Like I said, it was basically a farce from day one. There was never any official disbandment that I heard of... but considering Dahlia and Duke are at each other's throats at the moment and Vega hasn't come calling in years, I think it's fair to say that everyone gave up on the idea a long time ago."

Sometimes, questions are asked when the answers are known. And the vampire has his own ways of finding out things that aren't meant to be public knowledge -- if one target is overly protective of their information, then there's sure to be another considerably less so. And yet, there is a notable credibility gap preventing information handed down by murderers and thieves from being taken at full face value. Accordingly... Valentin suspects the truth to be concealed from him, and not -only- because the woman is smiling with a tensed jaw.

"Fair enough!" he concedes, with an excceedingly smarmy grin, shrugging his own shoulders in a reflection of Kira's expression. "Boss-man wants me to ask, what can I say?"

He glances over towards Zhenya. His smirk opens up in the start of what could be considered 'ogling,' though -- really, it's just so that the young lady is aware that he hasn't forgotten about her. Lazily, he turns back to Kira with a softened expression. "Anyway. I won't take too much more of yer time. I know you got contracts goin' -- been seein' some of our dear friends stalkin' about on the streets. Just wanted to give you a heads-up that the boss-man might be rearranging some deck chairs in the center of Southtown. Ain't gotta worry none about your property, it's covered. But don't, er."

The vampire reaches up, adjusting the fit of his tie, steeling himself for the wording. It was very precise, and he doesn't want to screw it up.

"Well. Lord Dohma's gonna have claws on the ground, y'see? And he might be starting trouble with some of your clients, potential or current. It ain't nothin' that's gotta involve you or yours. We'll try to keep outta yer hair. But if you do get involved, well, he ain't gonna be happy about it."

His hands swing forward. Long fingers interlace, his thumbs press together. "Sounds dangerous, ain't meant to be. We're just takin' opportunity here, same's you."

The Dragon's assistant remains unfazed by the open staring, her expression a mask of blank neutrality that no poker face could ever hope to match, as if all emotion has been carefully scrubbed from her outwards appearance and hidden away. Even her eyes, normally the gateway to someone's inner thoughts, are placid and devoid of any trace that might betray something. She is in many ways the polar opposite of her commander - calm, collected, and cold.

Kira's brows rise slightly at the news that the elder vampire himself would be making a move in Southtown. That had most certainly not factored into her plans. For the last couple of years she's been training his soldiers as per their bargain but there have been no hints that he was preparing to mobilize. That sort of chaos could either be a help or a hinderance depending on how things play out.

With an invasion of dark stalkers roaming the streets, her own product could be more easily pushed without raising suspicion. On the other hand, people might turn on her entirely dark stalker staffed establishment in fits of prejudicial panic, no matter how much PR she tries to spin. It's a complication and one that comes at a time when she's already swamped with problems.

The mercenary resists the urge to plant her face into her hands, instead closing her eyes and taking a long drag from her cigarette. A billowing cloud of smoke is exhaled, all the venom and curses she wants to shout escaping into its dark swirling mass. After a long moment of silence she nods and meets Valentin's gaze again.

"You can tell him I won't interfere unless my hand is forced."

Valentin can see the hesitation on Kira's face, obscured though it may eventually be by the haze of cigarette smoke. The scent shouldn't bother him much -- smell isn't one of the vampire's sharpest senses. He's paying much closer attention to Kira's body language, in lieu of the words she's opting to keep to herself. Like the way she closes her eyes, biting her tongue instead of biting the messenger's head off. He -does- like to start shit from time to time, but usually he can rely on Artur having his back.

Which is probably why Jedah insisted that Valentin run this one solo. That sadistic bastard.

"Brilliant," he says, with a mock British accent. "If you find yourself in a jam, I'm sure we can help renegotiate. You got coverage in your contracts for Acts of God, and all that, yeah?"

Perhaps Kira is concerned. Maybe even Zhenya is! But Valentin, well... he's just the messenger. And he laces his hands behind his head, as if it were a pillow. His open body language doesn't show any fear whatsoever -- as casual as if these two lovely ladies -weren't- armed to the teeth. He cracks a broad smile.

"Great! So we'z pretty much done here. You got anythin' special to tell the big boss before I get outta yer face?"

Kira attempts to keep her expression neutral but unlike the other woman in the room controlling her emotions has never been something she was good at. The annoyance in her face is obvious as are the small bits of body language that she shows, but she seems to have enough control over herself to keep from lashing out at the obvious provocation.

"I paid enough for the insurance on this place I expect to be reimbursed if the fucking moon crashes directly into Southtown," she says, snorting.

She pauses at his final comment, pondering something. There is one bit of information that Jedah likely doesn't have, one which could be rather interesting to him. The question is - how doe she want to use that tidbit? Possible scenarios play out in her mind in rapid succession, logistics and available data churning together in a whirlwind. She doesn't have time to think it through entirely but the beginnings of a plan start to form.

Leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table, the Dragon's mouth curves up into a devious smirk, her eyes glittering with amusement. Hahaha, yes they could work out /very/ nicely.

"Actually... there is /one/ thing that I think he will be very interested to learn."

Log created on 00:51:03 08/22/2018 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 11:16:49 08/23/2018.