Renka - Fox Tale #3 - The Long Night

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Description: One is a inhuman creature of myth that will weave any deception necessary to blend in among the unsuspecting, sustaining her unnatural longevity by stealing from the souls of those around her under the guise of being harmlessly domesticated. The other is a monster, who's night has only just begun when their conversation has ended.

Katarina blearily blinks her eyes as the chirping beep of her digital clock scyths with ruthless efficiency through the light doze that she had drifted off into. She yawns, lifting her head from the makeshift pillow of her folded arms, smoothing down the expensive fabric out of habit so as not to leave her uniform looking rumpled. A small handkerchief is fetched from one of her pockets and she meticiously dabs at the corner of her eyes, wiping away all traces of her impromptu nap.

With her appearance back in order, the young lieutenant turns her attention to the small stacks of paper lying on her desk. Save for the handful of pages that she had been working on when fatigue managed to sneak up on her, each report was organized into a neat pile and enclosed in a sealable black folder. Tiny arcane locks in the shape of golden sigils adorned the straps of each folder allowing them to be sealed to prevent their contents from being viewed by those without the necessary clearance.

Each one contained the cumulative efforts of months of intense work. As head of one of the more prestigious engineering corps, she had been tasked with traveling around the world to oversee construction of various NOL related facilities or ensure that those which already existed met the proper standards. It was tedious and often thankless work. How often did the average soldier stop to praise the armored bulwarks that sheltered him and his fellows from the predations of their enemies? What appreciation could they have for the intricate magics that were worked into the very stone and metal that turned simple edifices of common laborers into veritable unshakable fortresses?

Fortunately, it wasn't for the praise of the low-born riffraff who filled the ranks of the NOL's grunt squads that she levied her efforts. No, her recognition came from a much more important and credible source - namely, herself. It was gratifying to see the results of her labor, to know that there were few alive who could match her mastery of the arcane arts of abjuration which she wielded in the construction of these facilities. And even if no one ever said anything directly, every time someone looked with awe upon the grand designs she had wrought she knew who was responsible for their wonder.

Rising from her comfortable chair, Katarina walked to a small table pressed up against the rear wall and poured some wine into a small ornate crystal goblet from a silver decanter. She wasn't much of a drinker but the wine was sweeter than most and she found herself parched after her little nap. The sharp taint of alcohol burned her throat on the way down but she took that fire into herself and used it as a focus to rouse herself from the lingering lethargy.

She closed her eyes for a few moments while the sweet poison coursed through her veins, savoring the small luxury. She had been without such simple pleasures for several months now. After all, it was hardly a good look for the commander to be guzzling expensive wine while her subordinates grubbed in the mud and dirt. Her approach to command was always more 'hands on' than most, primarily because she didn't trust anyone else to ensure the job got done right. But with her tour of duty completed it was nice to be back in the lap of luxury again where she belonged.

She'd spent a good hour upon returning simply wandering the halls. The facility had come a long way since she last set foot here. No longer a simple fortress, it now had the refined decor befitting the castle of a wealthy council of nobles. Works of art from around the world filled its halls and lavish decorations covered almost every surface. Naturally, the regular soldiers hardly seemed to notice. Uncultured fools.

Katarina's office was no different in regards to its extravagant decor. Her family had seen to it that her facilities were tended to while she was away and she was not disappointed. Even the wine was a brand that she personally favored, something only her father could know, as she almost never drank in public. A gift from him, no doubt, though she would have been more pleased to have it delivered in person. A foolish childish desire, she knew, but she longed for those simpler times when she could just be herself amongst friends and family. Before the unimaginable burden had been placed on her soul.

The young woman's hand went to her chest, clutching at her heart as a sharp pain ran through her body. It wasn't actually a physical malady but her mind approximated the suffering into something akin to a sharp clenching of her chest. The darkness that lurked inside of her was almost ravenous now, railing and scratching at her mental barriers like a crazed beast. She had managed to resist giving in to her twisted urges for months now. If people had started to disappear under her command questions would be raised. Someone would eventually find the bodies, investigations would be launched, magic would be used to trace the injuries back to herself. Too risky.

Almost as if it could read her mind, the artifact had realized that her return to more civilized areas meant she could once again cloak herself in the anonmity of sheer numbers. A violent death here or there would hardly raise an eyebrow in a city this size. The haunting black melody of the Worldsong lilted gently through the back of her mind, its seductive call lacing the deadly rage that threatened to engulf her.

With a sharp hiss, she pushed them both away, grimacing as she realized that the crystal cup had shattered in her clenched fist. Bright red patches slowly spread across the surface of her pristine white glove from the tiny lacerations. A curse escapes her lips and for a moment she thinks about calling for a medic. But then she has a much better idea.

Walking over to the arcane terminal on her wall, Katarina punches in a short code and a few moments later the voice of a young man greets her with a hint of nervousness.

"Ah, this is the dispatch office. What can I do for you, lieutenant Shimotsuke?"

"Find my personal assistant and tell her to report to my office immediately."

Her tone is soft and dignified as she makes the request but an unsubtle emphasis on the word 'immediately' manages to seep into the words.

"Of course, ma'am. I'll send out a call."

Katarina doesn't dignify the man with a reply, merely cutting her connections once its clear her orders were understood. She moves back to her desk and takes a seat and waits for her pet fox to arrive.

Some things change, some things never seem to. Renka Kaneko, the vulpine darkstalker who only graduated basic training a year ago had, by no clever machination on her part, started to make quite a name for herself within the Novus Orbis Lobrarium.

A routine double shift on guard duty put her unwittingly into the path of one of NOL's highest active bounty targets. Many NOL lives were lost that night. But the causality count would have been much higher had Private Kaneko not taken a selfless stand against the arcane knight known as Hakumen. Willing to put her life on the line to protect the lives of her fellow soldiers, she stopped the slayer's advance and somehow lived to be celebrated for it.

Nothing could get in the way of the young hero's fast track to Corporal with the level of fame and recognition she had earned that night.

Only recently, newly promoted Corporal Kaneko found herself dispatched on a targeted strike against one of the notorious Ikari Warriors. Eye witnesses to the violent battle confirmed that she had defeated the target and when another one of the Ikari terrorists intervened, the determined NOL operative almost took her down as well. Unfortunately, she was forced to withdraw and neither Ikari Warrior was captured that day.

Popular among her peers, Renka is known as a loyal NOL soldier who will work relentlessly at the tasks or battles she is pointed at. That her darkstalker physiology seems to leave her without a need to sleep allows her to get twice as much done per day than most, and her can-do attitude has made her a dependable workhorse for other NOL officers to lean on when she isn't occupied with direct orders from her normal assignment under Lieutenant Shimotsuke.

But now the noble young woman has returned to Southtown and Renka's availability for others to command has been drastically reduced.

It is unknown how long it took for the dispatch office to reach her, or how far she had to travel from to answer the order to report to the Duodecim officer's location, but Corporal Kaneko is there within three minutes. There is a brisk knock at the door, a pause for two seconds, and then the door is opened. The creature that enters is close enough in appearance to almost pass for human, but for the large peaked ears that prevent her from ever wearing the standard issue NOL head gear or berets, and the two tails of golden honey orange flowing out from near the base of her spine, each tipped in white.

Rich green eyes, expressive even when she is trying to look serious, survey the room before finding her primary officer. She never quite looks at Katarina, managing instead to look in her direction, focus centered somewhere beyond her, preventing direct eye contact without actually looking away. She snaps to crisp salute, the same she would afford any officer of the NOL, her expression as serious as she can muster. While the Corporal undoubtedly moved swiftly from wherever she was to report in as quickly as possible, there is no evidence of breathlessness, her chest rising and falling with the breathing rate of someone at rest.

Her clothing consists of the combat dress she would wear while on guard duty, suggesting she was pulled from another routine patrol to report back. Given the choice, there is no question she'd rather be stuck on guard duty, but it doesn't show on her features.

"Sir!" she barks out, holding the salute.

Emblazoned on her shoulders and right chest are the badges indicating her recent promotion. There is a sword sheathed at her side, but she seems to have left the spear she is known to fight with elsewhere, likely not wanting to haul the larger weapon into closed quarters.

For an instant, her eyes flick to focusing directly on the noble young woman, but the moment passes as with a blink, she's back to looking at seemingly nothing at all, content to wait.

Only three minutes. Three minutes that should have been filled with silence and calm. Had there been anyone in the room to see them pass they most certainly would have seemed that way. The young lieutenant spoke not a word as she waited nor made any efforts to prepare for her minion's arrival. The shattered remains of her wine glass are still strewn about the small table. The papers she left scattered across her desk, an elegant quill pen and a pot of ink sitting nearby.

In the past, the use of machines like computers and typewriters would have been considered extravagant and reserved only for the powerful and the rich. Now, however, every ten-year-old and their dog seemed to have a phone with enough computing power to make someone thirty years ago willing to kill for such things. In a world dominated by advanced technology it strangely becomes the old and archaic for which the rich and powerful reach when they wish to show their status. The use of solid paper was, in many ways, wasteful and pointless. What better way to display one's status than to engage in something simply because they can, forcing everyone else to bow to the extra work of keeping a physical database up to date simply so their commanders can exchange missives via couriers like it's the bloody middle ages. Katarina found it delightfully spiteful and decadent and made sure that all of her reports were written in ink rather than code.

Yet even something as simple as that couldn't keep her distracted as she waited for her personal assistant to answer the call. The Musicbox continued to hound her thoughts, scratching at the surface of her soul with the insistance of a cat trapped in a small room. She closed her eyes again and it wouldn't have been entirely unnatural to assume she had drifted off once more. No signs of the internal war she waged showed on her face for she had learned almost immediately to control her emotions lest she be overwhelmed by the raw power of the artifact once it had revealed its true nature to her. As such, she sits quite peacefully at her desk when Renka finally arrives, no signs of the madness brewing in her tormented mind visible on her delicate features.

As is the prerogative of the powerful, Katarina takes her time before responding to the fox. Several seconds pass in utter silence before her eyes slowly slide open, regarding the dark stalker with no signs of the reluctance to meet her gaze possessed by her subordinate. Her attention is drawn to the new sigils of rank for a moment and she smiles faintly, leaning back in her chair, genuine pleasure on her face.

"I see you have acquitted yourself with distinction in my abscence. Excellent. The servant of a noble house must always comport themselves as examples to their peers."

The words are offered without duplicity. That her personal assisant has served the NOL well not only makes Renka look good but her patron house as well. Despite her disgust for the filthy creature Katarina was not being entirely spiteful when she adopted the girl into her retinue. Monsters they may be, but monsters get things done. History wouldn't be filled with tales of horror and heroism about them if they were all lazy and stupid. Mythology was something that she always took a great deal of interest in and her knowledge of kitsune's, the tales about them anyways, made them out to be rather devious and clever. Precisely the sort of traits she needed in a subordinate, so long as she made sure that the creature's mischeivous urges were directed at someone other than herself.

"At ease... corporal."

Katarina makes a motion with her uninjured hand, beckoning the fox closer.

"It's been several months and I've not yet had time to read the reports on the recent activities in Southtown. You will inform me of anything that is important for me to know about." There is a momentary pause before she adds, almost as if it were an afterthought. "Also, I believe that all soldiers are instructed in the basics of first aid, yes? Fetch that medical kit from the wall. I've injured my hand and I don't feel like filling out an incident report."

Butchers skilled in their craft can look upon a food animal and with a glance establish an accurate understanding of the quality of its flesh. Will the meat be flavorful or dull, gristled or tender, scarce or plentiful. The creature that reports to the young Lieutenant has been known to eat food just like a normal person, but she has never complained about being famished when meal breaks are occasionally skipped. Her true diet, the one that sustains her supernatural strength, stamina, and senses is souls.

One might wonder then, what the soul eater sees when she glances toward Katarina. A decadent feast or a meal spoiled by the taint of corruption? For all the times her self-control has been put to the test by the young woman, has she ever been tempted to feed on her?

The smell of blood has already been detected, and her eyes flick to the broken glass on the desk, glancing over it for a moment, before returning to their unfocused stare, clearly having identified the source of injury, at least. How the glass came to be broken is a bit less obvious.

That same supernatural endurance that has sustained Renka in battle makes it trivial to maintain the salute for as long as required. Mortal soldiers might be forced to salute for a prolonged period of time as a minor punishment, but such would hardly work on the newly promoted Corporal who could stand at attention for far longer than anyone had bothered to test to date if ordered.

There is a blink of quiet surprise as Katarina acknowledges her assistant's new rank. Perhaps she hadn't expected as much.

"Sir, yes sir." There is the slightest hint of uncertainty in her voice, as if she is expecting the praise to be revealed to be the setup for scorn she anticipated in the first place.

She is allowed to drop the salute, her arm snapping down to her side before slipping behind her back to join her other hand in a tight clasp. For as still as she tries to be, she can't seem to keep her pair of tails from swaying behind her back. Beckoned forward, she takes three steps toward the desk, stopping at the other side of it, leaving a couple feet of space still. Once again, her eyes stray down, not seeking Katarina's but rather her injured hand.

Whether the swallow that follows is conscious or not is hard to say, but there seems to be an element of strain to her features and the injured hand most definitely has her attention before she glances to the side, looking somewhere over Katarina's shoulder instead, a soft huff exhaled through her nose.

"Yes sir," she replies at the order to report important events from the last while, brow furrowing slightly. There are probably more efficient means of getting information and reports than grilling the Corporal, but out of the things she's been asked to do as part of her work, it's certainly an easy one to execute on.

Then comes the mention of tending to the injury and Renka blinks, nodding slightly at the nearly rhetorical 'yes?' before turning her head to identify the indicated kit. She breaks off immediately, moving to pull the medical kit from its mounting on the wall. Her manages to her her mouth off from making a smart ass remark about getting injured by a glass. She'll have to thank her brain for that later on.

Returning to the desk, she places the kit down on an open space on the large surface and pops it open, eyes scanning over the contents. White gloved fingers close over the lengthy roll of gauze, pulling it out and unrolling a foot of it before pausing. She glances at the injured hand, quietly wondering if the best fix for the injury might be a tourniquet. Just to be safe. The moment passes as she tears off the length easily. The severed portion is folded over on itself a few times to make it more of a pad.

Her left hand extends, palm up, inviting her superior officer to offer her hand rather than grabbing it herself. Renka's hold would be steady. If she is nervous about handling a superior officer's injury - specially one known to be as contentious as Katarina, it isn't affecting her hands at least.

Given the woman's hand, she would hold it steady by the wrist, her grip secure but not crushingly so, and begin using the pad of gauze to dab at the blood, inspecting the cuts for any lingering glass fragments that will have to be removed before she can move forward.

"I, ah..." she swallows, nervous about something and it definitely isn't due to being squeamish about blood. "Trust that you are already aware of the, ah..." She swallows again, "Majigen Embassy...?"

Katarina obligingly offers her wounded hand to the corporal, turning it palm up to display the lacerations that have perforated her thin gloves. It might be the first time that the fox had actually ever seen the girl's hands. The noble's workaholic nature rarely sees her out of her own uniquely styled uniform which includes a pair of thick metal dueling gauntlets that encompass most of her forearm. At the moment she is dressed more for relaxation than formal function, her hat and greatcoat neatly situated on a wooden rack near the door. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her svelte build, Katarina's hand is small and delicate and even the fox's slender fingers can easily encompass it.

The lieutenant offers no resistance to the inspection, failing even to flinch as the gauze dabs at her open wounds. The glinting of several shards of crystal in the bright yellow illumination globes is easy enough to spot, the tiny daggers lodged into her fingers and palm quite deeply, almost as if something had crushed them down with force. Apparently pulling them out herself was too much of a bother. The glove is, naturally, quite ruined from the slashes and the blood stains, its entire bottom surface almost completely soaked through by now. Whatever pain she might be suffering at the moment is completely absent from the young woman's face. If anything, she looks bored or distracted by the entire affair.

"Majigen. That is the name of the so-called demon realm, if I recall."

Her gaze turns to the stacks of folders on her desk, eyeing them idly. The magically sealed black leather offers no indication as to what the contents contained within each might be. Had she read something about an embassy? The turmoil in her head makes it difficult to focus, the sheer amount of information that she sorts through on a daily basis helps even less.

"I believe I did spot something in the reports concerning that. Humor me and tell me what you know about it, if you would."

With some of the blood blotted away with careful dabs of the gauze, Renka is better able to see the damage that was done. The glimmering shards evidence of powerful pressure placed on the glass make it clear that the vessel was crushed in the young woman's hand. Setting aside the stained gauze padding, she reaches back into the kit to pull out a pair of sanitized metal scissors.

The removal of the glove is handled deftly, with just a few quick snips of the scissors, the cloth peeled off with extreme caution taken to not aggravate any of the punctures in the process.

The officer asks to hear more about this embassy and Renka glances up toward her, eyes breaking off from the wound for a moment. Her attention flicks to the remnants of glass still on the desk, a flicker of a frown crossing her features. "You seem to be under enough stress as it is without talking about that eyesore." her assistant murmurs before releasing a soft sigh. Her attention goes back to the offending shards of glass buried through cloth and skin.

Maybe talk of the embassy will be a good distraction after all.

The scissors are put down on the open lid of the kit and then a flat plastic package is retrieved. Bringing it up to her mouth with her right hand, never letting go of Katarina's wrist with her left, she bites down on the plastic, tearing it open, producing a pair of disposable tweezers.

Taking them in hand, she leans down closer to Katarina's hand, her own white gloves stained red with the young woman's blood as well. Ah well, all in the line of duty, she thinks to herself.

"Jedah Dohma. That one from the Metro incident years ago. He created a ghastly building downtown he's calling the Majigen Embassy... It's supposed to be a place for, ah, post-humans as he calls us, them, darkstalkers I mean... It's supposed to be a place for them to gather where they'll be left alone. I don't know how he did it, but all the necessary paperwork and zoning as done. The thing is legally sanctioned by the government, so we have no jurisdiction to deal with it."

The visible fragments of glass are plucked out as she speaks. She pauses on occasion to swap to the gauze pad and dab at the blood, making sure to not miss any. "At least, not openly... I've heard rumors in the troops about black ops investigations into it."

Katarina's gaze takes on an almost sinister glint to it for the briefest of moments as her subordinate seems to suggest that she intends to refuse her 'request' for more information. She manages to hide the sudden surge of deadly malice with practiced swiftness, tugging the corners of her mouth up slightly to make the expression seem more bemused than murderous. Fortunately, the fox seems focused on the task she's been given so the look might have gone unnoticed entirely.

The young noble is about to command Renka to tell her regards of what she thinks about her stress levels when the fox continues on her own, apparently reconsidering. Mollified, Katarina relaxes the tension that had started to build in her shoulders and allows the dark stalker to clean the wound while she listens to the short version of the event.

"So," the lieutenant says, her expression shifting from bemused to annoyed by degrees. Her voice is soft and wispy as usual but there is a sharp edge to it that hints at the hidden blade lying in wait beneath the surface. "What you're telling me is that one of the most powerful monsters that we know about has erected a magical fortress within the borders of the city where all manner of unregistered predatory creatures are free to congregate and the thing keeping us from razing this blatant insult to our pride to charred earth... is a scrap of paper signed by an idiot official who was obviously bribed, coerced, or otherwise manipulated."

Katarina's brows furrow until a tiny wrinkle of skin appears between them, clearly agitated. Her hand remains steady as the shards of glass are removed but a wave of fury practically washes off of her like a palpable aura. The girl seethes in her chair for several seconds then suddenly relaxes, sinking back into the deep cushions. A tired look replaces the tight-lipped mask of barely contained outrage she'd steadily been developing and she rubs at her eyes with a weary sigh.

"Of course you are. Just when I'd started to believe the brass had developed some common sense. First that damned casino and now this. It's like they /want/ to bring us down on them. Thousands of other cities in the world, but no, they have to set up shop here, right under our noses."

The girl chews on her lower lip for a few moments thoughtfully then sits up and pushes the pile of incomplete reports aside until she finds a clean piece of paper. Taking up her quill, she starts to rapidly scratch words onto the surface, her handwriting as elegant and flowing as any calligrapher's art. She makes a note about the tower, a reminder to investigate the situation further. Though her return to Southtown was meant to have been a vacation of sorts from her duties it would seem that foolishness has prevailed in her absence. While she might not have the clout necessary to argue with the people at the top of the command chain she certain could see about preparing to deal with the inevitable fallout of their bad decisions.

"Very well then. I will speak with Captain Hazama and see what he intends to do about this... situation. If nothing else, we can increase patrols on the streets. That building may not be within our jurisdiction but the rest of the city certainly is and there's nothing stopping us from rounding up any of these monsters foolish enough to waltz around in the open."

The scratching of her pen moving across the paper at breakneck speeds fills the silence as she jots these thoughts down then turns to peer at Renka.

"Anything else?"

The Lieutenant's reaction to the news about the embassy is about as pleasant as Corporal Kaneko anticipated. Her opinions about organizations that act in opposition to NOL's interests, individuals who openly taunt the Librarium's authority, or darkstalkers in general are hardly matters of great secret and Jedah Dohma's actions check every one of those boxes. The tension radiating off of her 'patient' doesn't seem to interfere with her ability to pluck the pieces of glass from the puncture wounds on her hand, but the fox-eared soldier is far from unaware of them.

As Katarina's rant reaches a pause point after circling in on the obvious explanation for how this entire thing could have possibly happened in the first place, Renka chirps, "It sounds like you have the gist of it, Lieutenant!" The extracted pieces of glass are placed on top of the emptied plastic tweezers package as to not lose track of them. She continues absently, eyes never leaving their focus on her work. "Human government is a curious thing, where paperwork can hold such sway. In Jedah's world, contracts are only as strong as the blood used to sign them. Something like this would never hold up against the first challenge."

The last of the glass is removed, the wounds cleaned, the bleeding almost entirely abated. Katarina leans back in her chair and Renka starts cleaning up the desk, collecting the fragments of the removed glove, the bloodied gauze padding, the package with the glass shards on it, and moving them into the trash adjacent to the officer's desk. The other glass fragments from the broken wine glass are swept up next, along with any spilled wine, Renka using some of the materials from the medical kit to clean up the desk knowing the whole thing will be restocked after this anyway.

She smiles weakly when the casino is mentioned, the expression obviously forced, "Sure a lot of, ah... pro-darkstalker forces popping up in town." Her tone is cautiously neutral. She is, after all, part of an organization that declares itself in favor of darkstalkers... as long as they register, allow themselves to be tracked, and play by the rules NOL establishes. On the other hand, while the advertising around the casino mentioned promises gainful employment for darkstalkers, there are conflicted rumors among the demihumans about what really goes on within those walls. And now the embassy, promising sanctuary from human oppression for any who wish to embrace their destiny as the next step of evolution...

She falls quiet as Katarina takes to writing, making no effort to read the script from her angle, instead rolling out another stretch of gauze and applying antiseptic to it. She flinches slightly at mention of Captain Hazama. Even the most stalwart loyal NOL soldiers harbor some level of fear for those within the Intelligence Branch.

After her murmur, she's quiet, allowing the archaic sounds of quill scratching fill the room, holding a length of gauze between her hands that she clearly intends to use to wrap the Lieutenant's hand should she pause in her angry writing long enough to cooperate. When prompted, however, Renka audibly 'hms', head leaning to the side, before perking up, "Oh! There is a Marine Day celebration coming up in July. The Southtown Marine Installation has invited us to participate as long as we help with the setup!" She sounds pretty excited about this even if the event may be fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of NOL's ambitions.

"Marine Day... Celebration..."

Katarina's eyes narrow slightly as she speaks in a dull tone, her expression shifting to one thoroughly unimpressed with the words coming out of her own mouth. In the midst of what could arguably be called an invasion by hostile otherwordly forces which has apparently gone unopposed the local military forces are throwing a party celebrating their own soldiers. Soldiers which have in recent tiemes proven utterly ineffective in combating the dangers that threaten the modern world. How... quaint.

The lieutenant drums her fingers on the surface of her desk, staring with an unreadable expression down at her notes for several moments. Regardless of how ineffective they are at combating magic and monsters, the local military could see be a hinderance if they wanted to, particularly with the brass playing politics instead of doing what needs to be done. She could simply ignore them but that would be needlessly antagonistic. And, at the end of the day, they were still human. Having some goodwill built up towards the NOL couldn't hurt with all of the pro-darkstalker activies plaguing the city. It would look good to the public as well. There would obviously be heavy security at any sort of military fuction which would be a good excuse to have her own soldiers perform sweeps and setup check points.

The quill starts moving again, jotting down several more notes as she pours a stream of unsorted thoughts onto the page for later refinement. Politics isn't her favorite arena to battle in but it's one that she has a fair amount of skill and experience in. Being born to the direct bloodline of a Duodecim house placed a great deal of responsibility and danger on her shoulders. Even from a young age she was learning how to navigate the treacherous waters of House intrigue. Who and when to trust, how to dig up secrets and exploit weaknesses, how to find hidden meaning in seemingly innocent statements or events.

"I will explore the possibility of providing NOL support to this event," she says, as the last of her thoughts pour onto the page. "There may be some value to forging stronger bonds with the local military."

Glancing finally back at her suborinate, she notices the length of gauze held ready in the fox's hands. As if only now realizing that her injuries have yet to be bandaged, she glances down at the surface of her shredded palm and frowns then holds it out towards Renka.

The beast lurking in the back of her mind howls at her as she extends her arm, urging her to strike the foul creature down. It would a simple matter to catch the woman off-guard. A flick of her wrist and there would be a magical blade in her hand, its tip already driving towards the monster's black heart. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought of the wonderful music that would result from the kitsune's pain and terror. Just how long had the beast been alive? Would the song of such a creature have a different sound to all of the mortal lives she's snuffed out?

There would be questions certainly but they would be easily dismissed. She was a dark stalker and she had attacked Katarina. Clearly her motives for joining the force had been to get close to someone important and assassinate them, exploiting the NOL's own good will. Her hand was already injured and the evidence had been cleaned away leaving traces of blood on Renka's gloves. Besides, no one in the NOL would put too much effort into investigating the death of a dark stalker, especially when a respected member of the Duodecim was there to explain what happened.

It would be so easy...

Katarina's hand trembles for a brief moment, her fingers flexing instinctively into the arcane gesture that would call forth one of her deadly blades. Pain lances through her hand as she does so, the dozens of cuts in her flesh screaming at her in protest. The sensation fails to earn any more of a reaction from her than before but it does pull her mind back from the brink. The girl inhales sharply, her eyes fluttering in surprise as if startled from a daydream.

Realizing just how close she had come to slipping into the darkness, the officer's jaw clenches and she hurriedly attempts to cover her strange reaction by frowning down at the surface of her hand.

"Must have been numb with shock until now, I suppose," she murmurs, extending the hand again after a moment. "If you please, corporal. And do continue with your report. I'm finding this information quite enlightening."

While it takes a while for her to get there, Katarina's eventual allowance for the mere possibility of participation in the national holiday brings a quick smile to her assistant's face. The thought does cross her mind that it could end up being a day off, a chance to freely enjoy the event, but she also knows well she can't count on that being the case. But the idea of getting to participate in a human established holiday in any form is exciting for the creature making every effort to fit in.

When the Duodecim daughter extends her hand for wrapping, there is that pause, that internal wrestle, a plunge into darkness at stake. Corporal Kaneko makes no effort to preemptively reach for the injured hand, standing across the desk, the treated gauze held between both of her own hands, the scent of antiseptic strong in the air.

Earlier, when there was most distance between the two, she had been making regular efforts to avoid looking at Katarina directly, and especially not making eye contact. But that deference has shifted now that she's close. A glance up the moment the violent temptation is suppressed would show the creature's eyes are focused squarely on her superior officer's face. Her mouth still has that cheerful grin from when she was talking about the potential of Marine Day, but her eyes hint at thoughts far more wary than her posture lets on.

"It's not my place to say, of course, but your last tour of duty must have required a lot of focus, sir. I hope you have a chance to get some rest now that you're back in Southtown." The words are delivered with a ton of voice that seems every bit on the level. While the fox eared NOL recruit was not entirely afraid of speaking passive aggressively to her superior officer, there also was no evidence that she was ever deceptive to her either. Of course, given the reputation of kitsune...

With the hand extended, she quickly takes to wrapping it with the gauze, rolling it over the palm and wrist to deliver the perfect balance of secure protection for the wound without restricting movement of the fingers in any meaningful way.

Three strips of tape are used to fasten the wrapping before Renka releases, finished with her handiwork. The request was made to continue delivering updates, however, and she doesn't conduct her work in silence.

"Well, Lieutenant Barker down the hall? His birthday is coming up in two days. His men are planning a surprise party for him." Crucial information there. She holds up her right hand, finger raised, "Word on the base is that the cantine's new cook is cooking up something special tonight. Private Carter in operations said he saw a lot of meat being unloaded this morning and," she breathes in, eyes closed then, a happy look on her face, "The smell around the building makes me think perhaps roasts are being prepared."

She blinks her eyes then, pausing in her delivery of news that can hardly be that important in the scheme of things yet seems to hold weight to the NOL soldier. "Oh, ah, um, there is a new recruit that's been causing kind of a scene as of late, ah... maybe you've heard of him. Private Marduk?" She looks a little uneasy, "He's something of a... laughing stock on this one TV show I've heard about. Always bursting in on it, making a mess, scaring the host. I don't know any of the details about who he reports up to. I think he got looped in somehow during the campaign in Europe last year...?" She shrugs slightly, some of the uneasiness slip away now that she's gotten through most of the subject, "Anyway, there was another incident with him on TV not long ago. I think it was the same time Jedah Dohma was on to make his announcement about that embassy of his..."

Katarina's attitude continues to be subdued and strangely non-hostile towards the fox as she diligently does as ordered. The bandages are wrapped neatly enough that she can't complain. A proper treatment of healing magic would be required to ensure that no scars are left behind on her delicate skin but the immediate danger of infection has likely been tended to well enough that she can deal with that when she's had some rest. Even the barrage of completely inconsequential nonsense that accompanies the treatment fails to raise her ire.

"Indeed," the officer says, letting a trace of entirely genuine exhaustion slip into her voice. "Shoring up the construction of our overseas bases was a rather monumental task, one made no less tedious by the incompetance of those who laid the initial groundwork. I've half a mind to commandeer the instruction of the newest batch of engineers. It'd likely save me more work in the long run."

She says nothing more as the kitsune finishes up her bandaging, absorbing the report of local happenings with a vague smile on her face. She isn't quite sure if the damned beast is toying with her for failing to be specific or if she actually has a genuine interest in such trivialities. Either way, the fault is her own, so she suffers through the mundane exposition in silence.

The last bit of information proves to be potentially use, however. Her eyes dart over to glance at Renka, signaling her interest in the topic, and she listens as the troublesome nature of this new recruit is laid out in a rather haphazard and unspecific fashion. From what she can tell, this 'Marduk' seems to be something of a trouble-maker and one who uses their brawn rather than their brains. That he also encountered Jedah and survived to tell about it piques her interest.

Pulling her freshly tended hand away, Katarina flexes her fingers, noting her current range of movement. Somewhat stiff but still useable in a fight. Nothing that should hinder her for more than a few days. She'd been fortunate that none of her tendons had been damaged by her lack of focus, particularly in the face of these reports. Her need for both sword arms working at full capacity would likely be great in the coming days.

"Indeed? Perhaps I shall speak with this private myself. We cannot have the pride of the NOL dragged through the mud by some fool-hardy thug."

'And', she muses mentally, 'I could certainly find uses for a knuckle-dragging goon.'

Pursing her lips in thought, Katarina leans back in her chair and steeples her fingers together. Denied its chance to lash out at the dark stalker, the corruption in her soul seethes in silent anger, bubbling away like a boiling swamp. Twisted black notes of a terrible haunting dirge drift through her thoughts, leaving tiny scratches on the surface of her psyche like nails on a chalkboard. She had pulled herself back from the brink twice now but it is getting harder to concentrate. Tonight. She will have to deal with this tonight.

Allowing her eyes to drift closed, the girl sinks into her waterfall of snowy hair with a soft sigh. "I think that will be all for tonight, corporal. The jet lag has yet to take its course and I find myself unable to properly concentrate. I will consider what you have told me when I more rested. You are relieved of your duties until I call for you tomorrow. I suggest getting some rest as well. There is much to do and I intend to start sooner rather than later."

The Liutenant's account of her burdens oversea are answered with a quiet nod of acknowledgment. Whether the fox-tailed soldier truly dismissed whatever mixed signals she picked up as simply exhaustion from a hard tour of duty or not is difficult to say, but her expression does look briefly sympathetic all the same.

The first aid job would pass inspection in basic training with flying colors though a dedicated medic could undoubtedly do an even better job. Renka watches the young woman work her fingers to test their range and stiffness and then reaches over to snap the medical kit closed, nodding her head. "I'm quite certain that recruit could benefit from your guidance, sir." Again, the line is delivered with any hint of tongue in cheek even if it is accompanied by a bit of a grin.

She takes a step back from the desk as it becomes clear her services in first aid or news of anything she finds interesting to share are no longer needed for tonight. "I'll see to it that this kit is fully restocked." She glances down to the kit in her hand, head leaning a little, "After noting that it was found missing some of its contents during a routine inventory check, of course." she adds a moment later. That means there will be no incident report to explain why it needs to be restocked. She hasn't forgotten her officer's intent to avoid paperwork over the cuts, it seems.

Looking back up, she snaps a salute to the young noblewoman. "I appreciate the chance to rest, sir. I will be ready for whatever you have need of me for."

The salute finished even if the Lieutenant is no longer watching her, Corporal Kaneko returns the medical kit to the fasteners on the wall. Her journey from there to opening the door, slipping out, then pulling the door closed behind her is conducted with a remarkable degree of silence. The weary officer would possibly only be certain that her assistant is gone by listening to the shift in melody of the Worldsong as she is left to continue her struggle against its influence in solitude.

Katarina doesn't open her eyes as the corporal leaves, offering only a tired dismissive wave at the air in response. The little details of what is said as she goes filter dimly through the haze of black encompassing her thoughts, tiny bits of floatsam on an ocean of pollution. She pays them no no mind. The music in her mind slowly changes tone as the creature escapes into the hallway, its forlorn notes taking on a hint of longing to them, calling for the powerful soul as if to lure it back like a siren. Alas, its 'music' goes unheard by any but the young noble.

Several hours pass before the door to Katarina's office swings open again. Dressed in her full regalia, the girl glances back and forth down the hallway, noting a lack of all but a few guards left behind in the dark hours. Those she easily slips past with a bit of illusion magic, cloaking herself in an aura of disinterest that makes her no more noticable to the stationed soldiers than some shadows playing on the wall. The magical wards placed at various checkpoints throughout the base are likewise circumvented with ease. After all, it was she who placed them there.

It isn't until she has wandered several blocks away from the towering edifice of NOL authority that Katarina finally allows her cloak to slip away. Smiling to herself, the mage casually runs a hand through her hair with a dismissive flip that tosses it over her shoulder. Slipping out unnoticed was childsplay, as always. Now she was free to attend to the matter of her sanity.

Unfastening one of the buttons on the front of her greatcoat, she reaches into its heavy folds and withdraws a small object - the mask that Terumi had given her as a show of his terrible powers. She stares at its dark surface for several seconds, hesistating at the last moment. There isn't any choice but for her to kill, that much she has already come to terms with. An unsavory but necessary act to ensure that the NOL is not deprived of her genius and power.

But the mask... the mask turned her into something else entirely. It concealed her identity but in doing so it also unleashed something terrible from inside of her, some twisted part of her that enjoyed the killing. In the past she had always been careful, always picked her targets with meticulous scrutiny to ensure that no one would miss her victims. They were always criminals and ragamuffins, filthy homeless parasites that served no purpose other than to dirty the streets and sully the city with their presence. She had always told herself that restricting her evil to these undesirables made it less villainous. The mask, ironically, tore away that veil and simply embraced what she was, turning her into a being without judgement or compunctions to weigh her down.

Like the Worldsong, the mask was alive with a magic of its own, and it too called to her with a sickly-sweet voice. Closing her eyes, Katarina unfastens the remaining buttons on her greatcoat and shrugs it onto the ground leaving her clad in nothing but a tight black bodysuit. A chill runs down her spine as she clutchs the mask tightly in her hands, one that has nothing to do with the sudden surge of chill summer wind.

Slowly, with an almost loving care, she puts on the mask and drifts into the city to hunt.

Log created on 21:19:29 05/25/2019 by Renka, and last modified on 03:34:32 05/27/2019.