The Black Dragon - Black Dragon R2 - Into The Maw Of The Beast

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Description: Bested in personal combat by an unusually intelligent werewolf, Alba finds himself now beholden to a command to present himself before the mysterious person who seems to be responsible for this bizarre attack on Southtown. Though the reasons he was given for being singled out are vague, the price of refusing this summons will be all that he has built and cherished brought to ruin. Begrudingly, he makes his way to the Dragon's Den Casino, to meet with this villain face to face.

As it turns out, The Dragon's Den Casino is incredibly easy to find. Towering overhalf a dozen stories high, the dark black stone of the foreign establishment rises like the finger of a craggy mountain rising out of the pale sands of Sound Beach. The floors are stacked atop each other like some sort of unbalanced wedding cake, each one a little smaller than the one below rising in a zig-zagging pile of obsidian and glass. Lying sprawled indolently on its side, a massive Western-style dragon crowns the highest spire of the facility, its scales as dark and reflective as the rock below it. Though it appears to be sleeping, one eye is cracked slightly open, peering down at the entrance of the casino with a faintly smug grin on its long maw.

Despite the fact that Western casinos tended not to be as popular as the local brand of gambling, pachinko parlours and the like, the establishment had garner a great deal of fame for itself almost immediately upon opening its doors. Not only is it almost a palace in its own right but the Dragon Den's had made the audacious decision to employ primarily dark stalkers as its employees. The owner, a young woman named Kira Volkov, had made the claim that she intended to foster a sense of community and good will by extending her hand to the poor down-trodden monsters who were suffering the ails of being the newest kids on the block.

It's fairly obvious now that she had other motives in mind when she convinced the city to allow a small army of monsters to move in right under their noses. In the panic of the moment, no one has yet managed to piece that particular fact together. They're too busy fighting for their life to have enough time to spare any sort of actual manpower to investigate the cause of the sudden attack. It won't take a great deal of digging to realize that the creatures have been using the sewers as a method of moving undetected around the city and a full scale sweep of those tunnels would reveal some particularly unpleasant truths about the so-called foreign philantropist.

The exterior of the casino is as devoid of activity as the rest of the city. Only a handful of vehicles sit nestled into to the fancy parking lot's protective embrace. Nearly a football field in size entirely on its own, the vast swath of concrete is surrounded by a large wall of wrought iron bars. Each of the thick poles is topped with a carving of a dragon with its tail extended upwards to create a decorative spike. A small gate house serves as the entrance to this fortress of luxury but it too lies dormant and empty, offering only the token resistance of a lowered iron bar meant to prevent vehicles from driving past without first having their credentials verified.

Without the teeming crowds of high-class socialites swarming around in their fancy cars, the building has an almost ominious appearance to it. Neon lights dance merrily above the half dozen glass doors leading inside, bright orange gas flaring to life to spell out "THE DRAGON'S DEN" in blocky English letters. The letters remain lit up for several seconds only for the illumination to bleed out into a blazing gout of fluorescent red, lighting up several tongues of 'fire' that surrounds the doors. The casino mascot looms high above, its lazy yellow gaze reflecting the afternoon sunlight down into the open lot like the Eye of Sauron sweeping across his domain for any signs of would-be heroes seeking to slip unnoticed into his dark lair.

Alba finally arrives.

The Dragon's Den Casino. Kira had "asked" him to come. And here he is, clutching the V.I.P card within his pocket.

The trek was rather long, extended by the deep cuts Fenrir had inflicted on him, and he's still wearing his tattered Red Jacket and red shoes, with black underclothes and pants. His cuts and wounds are now patched up with and sterilized with large, uneven parts of bandage thanks to the Demon Queen's forceful treatment. And his journey had become significantly easier because of it.

The massive black pillar- and dragon curled around it, tower over the gangster, instilling a sense of intimidation and dread. Certainly worthy of being called "The Dragon's Den".

Gnashing his Teeth, Alba starts limping his way too the gatehouse. And steps over the iron bar, walking continuously towards the glass doors. With every step, he feels his stomach weigh down further. Until he finally reaches them, and takes a deep breath. Alba pushes them open, and scouts the interior.

He would show his card to any security that might hold him up.

The trek across the parking lot is rather uneventful. The sign continues to flash its menacing faux flames, the dragon continues to glare, but nothing comes lunging out of the few shadows that are scattered about to accost him with fang and claw. It isn't until he reaches the front entrance that he meets resistance of any sort. The door rattles at his attempts to pull on it, stubbornly refusing to grant him entrance until he swipes the small card in front of a small sensor mounted into the wall. An electronic beep answers his display of credentials in the affirmative and the door clicks as its heavy lock releases to grant him entry into the casino's lobby.

The interior of the facility proves to be a great deal more inviting than the outside, partially due to the fact that he no longer has to worry about roving gangs of wild monsters mistaking him for an afternoon snack. The beach front property had been fairly devoid of dark stalkers as well as humans but there's nothing like wandering through the jungle covered in fresh injuries to promote a healthy sense of paranoia.

The foyer of the Dragon's Den is a well lit room roughly the size of a movie theatre. Long counters crafted from solid obsidian, or made to look that way at least, line either side of the room, rows of cash registers spaced evenly across their surface. Every square inch of the floor is covered in a rich crimson shag carpeting that somehow seems to make even a basic pair of shoes feel noticibly more comfortable to walk in. Thick ropes of black velvet neatly divide the room into long lanes, presumably where the regular customers wait in line to pay their entrance fees. Fortunately for Alba, he's got a VIP pass.

Stepping into the casino proper is almost an assault on the senses. Everything glitters with the unmistakable sheen of precious metals from the golden filigree inlaid into the walls and columns to the frilly cushions on the chairs and benches. Row upon row of slot machines fill the open space, radiating outwards in concentric circles from the center of the massive arena. There another dragon, this one of more Oriential design, hangs coiled atop a miniature island of polished obsidian, its stubby little arms brandishing claws of sparkly ruby and its mouth hanging open in a silent roar to reveal curved teeth made of diamond.

A circular bar is carved into the base of the tiny mountain. Plush stools ring the exterior of the polished counter, offering seating for customers to rest their weary feet, and just beyond that is another layer of small tables and chairs for thus not lucky enough to snag a prime location directly at the bar. Countless bottles line several shelves of brilliant silver, each one bearing names and logos in languages from around the world.

Two figures await him at the bar, both of them women, one behind the counter and the other sitting on one of the fancy stools. The woman behind the bar has the look of someone completely disinterested in the world around her. No, that's not the right word. Dark brown eyes sweep about the empty space in an almost constant loop, keeping a close vigil on the surroundings as if expecting ninjas to leap out of the balconies at any moment. Unimpressed would be a better description. Long black hair is tied back into a neat braid which she has swept forward to rest on her shoulder. Her skin is pale and her features obviously foreign, a small but prominent nose protruding above the thin line of her lips. She could easily be described as attractive but not incredibly so, her features lacking that little spark of something else that the truly beautiful possess. A well toned physique is quite apparent beneath the tight fit of her smartly cut tuxedo and she moves with the grace of someone dangerous even as she idly polishes an empty glass out of either boredom or fastidiousness.

The other person is a great deal more eye-catching and for a variety of reasons. Long locks of wild hair the color of fresh wheat are tied back into a loose ponytail at the back of her skull, the pale tresses reflecting the spectacular glitter of the casino as if they too were spun from gold. Like her bartender, her skin is pale and her features starkly Caucasian, though the similarity ends there. A sharp nose and even sharper eyes give the woman a striking appearance that is both alluring and somehow distinctly predatory. Her features set her apart in a way that would make it nearly impossible to mistake her in a crowd and something about the way she holds herself causes her to exude an aura of danger. A lionness lounging lazily about in the grass, confident that no one is foolish enough to challenge her in her own domain; the handgun strapped to her thigh and the massive blackened blade resting on the counter make it obvious that she's more than prepared should any foolish young pup decide to try and prove her wrong.

Both women's gazes shifts to the entrance when Alba finally decides to step forward into the open, zeroing in on him with an unsettling intensity. The bartender resumes polishing her glass after a few moments, her expression remaining carefully neutral, but the blonde woman offers him a wide grin of greeting. She lifts a hand in the air to motion him over, hoisting a glass of her own filled with a liquid that reflects the light in a shade of dark amber. Perhaps she hopes the promise of free liquor that's probably more expensive than his entire life savings might take the edge off any trepidation he feels about the whole blackmailing thing.

This place is gaudy. Outrageously so.

After his emberassing fumbling with the door, he finally notices the electronic lock and steps inside, his red shoes sinking into the thick carpenting as he passes the Foyer. Alba's eyes dart around. The casino, slot machines, bar, women. In his head, planning possible escape routes or favorable places to fight. a precaution in his paranoia.

The blonde-haired woman catches his eye rather quickly. As she has a threathening air around her, might she be in charge? Alba feels angry, fearful. But he doesn't show any of it as far as he can manage. And steps towards the pair of women. The gangster sits down on one of the soft stools, three seats away from the blonde. "I don't drink. Dulls the senses." He says, coldly. Resting his arms on the circular bar and staring straight ahead, waiting for any of them to explain what the hell is going on.

The dangerous looking woman - scratch that, they both dangerous, one is simply more obviously so. The armed woman watches Alba's approach, noting his discomfort at the osentatious and unfamiliar surroundings with a smug little smirk on her face. Her eyebrow quirks up when he sits down out of arm's reach, but it isn't until he declines her offer of booze that she lets out a bark of laughter.

"So they say, but 'they' are all a bunch of lightweights."

The contents of her glass slide down the woman's throat as easily as if it were honey. She lets out an appreciative sigh and sets the glass back on the counter, whereupon it is refilled by the bartender from a large bottle that is already half empty. The ice in the glass rattles a little as the fresh liquid causes the cubes to resettle. After that, the woman moves to place the glass she had been cleaning in front of Alba and produces a second bottle from beneath the counter, filling it halfway.

"Non-alcoholic," she says softly, giving him a flat look.

Having now heard them both speak, the voice belonging to the attractive blonde is unmistakably the one that he heard on the phone. Though her already attrocious Japanese was distorted by the call, the thick Slavic accent is impossible to forget. Which can only mean that the woman sitting not ten feet away from him must be the person responsible for all of this chaos - the Black Dragon herself.

Kira sits quitely for several seconds, basking in the obvious nervous tension that has her guest coiled up into a veritable ball of nerves. Once her glass has been refilled she sips at the expensive liquor again, taking her time to savor the rich taste of spirits that were brewed long before she was even born. Eventually, she purses her lips as she considers her words, and turns her attention back to the young gangster.

"So. I assume that you are wondering why you have been called here, hmm? Why I sent my messenger to single you out."

Alba leaves the glass on the bar. He can't imagine it being poisoned after they went through the trouble of getting him here. But you can never be too careful in enemy territory. He tilts his head very slightly towards Kira, and looks at her from the corner of his silver eyes, clasping his red-gloved hands together. He says, with a slight german accent

"What do you want, and why didn't you slaughter me like you did my comrades?" His neutral face displays a pained, angry expression for a split-second. Normally he'd wear sunglasses to hide his eyes. Certain induviduals can gather a lot of information from the movement, size of the pupils. Another precaution, but he doesn't have his sunglasses. They got shattered by Kira's so-called 'messenger'. Eyes exposed for any to see, and that unsettles the Young Gangster.

He idly scratches one of his bandaged-up cuts, impatiently waiting for a response from the Mercenary Queen.

Kira's eyes are likewise exposed, though she shows no distress about this fact. If anything, she's seems quite intent on staring into the young man's face as if daring him to meet her gaze. Should he choose to do so, even for an instant, he would find that her eyes are unlike any other human's he has likely ever met. Thin slits rather than pupils run down the center of sky blue circles, contracted into almost vertical lines by the abundance of brilliant illumination and sparkly metals. They resemble the eyes of a great cat; or perhaps, considering her moniker, a reptile might be a more appropriate comparison.

The woman snorts at him in a very unlady-like fashion, chuckling openly at his terse hostility. She sips from her glass again and turns to face him properly, rotating on the stool with a quick pivot. Kira leans forward to rest her elbows on her knees, creating a bridge for her chin with both hands as regards him with an apologetic smile and a shrug of her shoulders.

"Ah, that. It wasn't my intention for there to be any bloodshed, actually. I sent Fenrir to deliver my invitation to you, assuming you would remain indoors during the chaos. From what I understand, you didn't give him much of a chance to explain his reasons for being there before engaging in aggressive negotiations."

Her lips split apart to reveal pearly white teeth in a dazzling smile that would probably be quite attractive if he hadn't been forced to visit under duress.

"Not that I can blame you, I suppose. Things went to shit pretty fast and Fenrir isn't exactly the most charming member of my team. You made a pretty decent accounting of yourself, judging by the fact that you aren't in a bunch of little pieces right now. That at least saves me the trouble of testing you myself."

Reaching into the pocket of her fancy jacket, Kira withdraws a small phone. Unlike everything else in the casino, this possession seems to be fairly mundane, rugged almost, as if it was built for practicality rather than aesthetics. She flips the device open and taps a few buttons, still smiling like a cat in a bird store as she glances up at him.

"As for your 'comrades'..." she says, emphasizing the word with a heavy Slavic lilt as if the idea of a German using the word is somehow amusing. The phone starts to ring and she tosses it to him with an underhand lob. A few seconds later someone picks up on the other end and a voice of a dead man crackles to life in the speaker from the great beyond.

"Boss? Hey, man, is that you?"

Those eyes, those eyes are not natural. Putting one and one together, Alba deducts that Kira is likely one of them. A darkstalker, of some kind. "Fair. I initiated that conflict." He hides his shame, the shame of not being able to do anything after he so recklessly stepped forward "And i only survived because i surrendered." He admits. Fully turning his head to Kira staring daggers with cold expression.

The phone comes arcing his way, and he snatches it out of the air, bringing it to his ear. He instantly recognizes the voice. It's a newer member, Nishida. Rude fellow, kicked out of the police force for attacking a fellow cop. Bit naive and idealistic, but a good man. "Nishida. Are you alright?" He keeps his pupils firmly planted on Kira's own slits. A attempt at convincing her he isn't afraid. While he is good at hiding it, he internally feels uneasy and tense.

If his attempts to wow Kira with his bravado are working, she doesn't show it. The Dragon merely watches him in silence, those unnatural eyes glittering above a smug smile. The man on the phone lets out a sigh of relief, making no attempt to hide his happiness at hearing the gang leader's voice.

"Oh, man! It's so good to hear your voice. We were all really worried that those damn monsters were going to get you. And yeah, I'm fine. Most of the boys made it out, actually."

There's a pause as the other man gathers his thoughts, trying to put the story together in his mind as if it were some distant dream.

"So, we ran off right after you squared up with that big mutt. Tried to help the civvies, just like you said. Didn't go so well. There were monsters all over the damn place. They just... tore right through everything in their way like a bunch of rabid dogs.

The gangster lets out another sigh, this one frustrated.

"We managed to drag a few people inside some buildings, hid a few others in their car, told em to lay low. Couldn't do much more than that though. Had to take shelter in the old liquor store after a couple of wolves jumped us. Got banged up pretty bad on the way."

The ex-cop pauses again and his voice changes to one of mild confusion, as if not sure he believes his own words.

"But that's not the weird part. About five minutes later, the giant wolf man comes marching out of the shadows like he just walked right through the walls or something. Guy was covered in blood, like something right out of the movies. We all figured he'd done you in for and we were goners. But instead of chowing down, he starts handing us guns. Tells us that his boss wanted to see us and he'd help us get out alive."

The sound of other voices speaking in the background filters through as muffled noise. Nishida's voice grows distant for a few seconds as he turns his head away from the microphone to respond.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll tell him. Right, anyways. So we hang out in the store for about fifteen minutes then the Big Bad Wolf leads us on a little adventure through the back streets. Slow going, on account of us having to carry the wounded, but we managed to avoid any more trouble for the most part. Ran across one of those weird snake-ladies but he pulled out that big shotgun of his and blasted her without so much as blinking. She took off like her tail was on fire after that."

The man chuckles at the memory, though he still sounds incredulous.

"So, long story short, he brings us to this big casino and we've been waiting here for a couple hours now. They took the boys that got tore up to the medical ward, said they'd get patched up. Yeah, they have a freaking /hospital/ inside this place. It's crazy how fancy this joint is. Pretty much everyone made it, though some of the unlucky guys might be missing a limb or two. Those freaks of nature were playing for keeps."

"I see. Tell everyone they did well." Alba lets out his own sigh of relief, his neutral expression softening ever-so slightly. "The wolf beat my ass. I got 'invited' to meet the leader behind this entire shitfest. I'm at the Casino too." he puts a heavily sarcastic tone on 'invited', and runs a hand through his red-dyed hair. "I'm glad most of you made it. But be careful, and don't trust this place for a second, we'll meet up soon." And when Nishida has nothing more to say, he'd turn off the phone and toss it back to Kira.

They're alive. They're actually alive. But right into the hands of Kira. This isn't just about Alba anymore. She has leverage, control over him. More then the gangster initially thought.

"Seeing as you left all of them alive, im sure your scheming involves them somehow." he meets her inhuman eyes again "Furthermore, this will help you control me. Since you can start killing them if i don't agree to whatever your proposal might be." Alba gnashes his teeth behind his closed, thin lips. "As much as i hate to admit it, you are clever. So then, out with it. What kind of dirty work do you intend to shovel on us?"

Kira doesn't catch the phone. In fact, she doesn't even move as the small lump of plastic comes flying at her face, her eyes remaining fixed on Alba. The bartender's slender arm shoots out instead, having set down the towel she was using to wipe the shelves clean only moments before Alba finished his call, intercepting the phone mere inches before it smacks the mercenary square between the eyes. She sets it down next to the large knife resting on the counter and returns to her chore, the entire distraction taking place in a single smooth turn from start to finish.

"You see, Z? I told you he was a smart boy. He gets it. Saves me the trouble of having to do my Godfather routine."

The bartender turns to give Kira a look that somehow manages to drip with neutrality, the mask broken only by the slight upturn of one slender eyebrow. The mercenary rolls her eyes and shrugs.

"Don't mind her, I'm sure you'll grow on her."

The crocodile smile returns to Kira's face, clearly pleased at herself. She downs the contents of her glass again and slides off the stool, wandering about in a small circle behind Alba as if too restless to remain sitting.

"Here's the deal, kid. Those monsters running around out there? The ones currently tearing the city to shit? Those are mine. Bagged and tagged every single one of the fuckers. Few hundred all in total, though I imagine a pretty hefty portion of them are worm food by now."

Kira paces back and forth as she talks, hands clasped neatly behind her back like some kind of general giving a debriefing to their troops in preparation for an upcoming mission. It's actually not far from the truth, though the gangers wouldn't realize that yet.

"The idea was that people would pay a pretty penny for their own personal pet monster. And, they did. Problem is, it turns out that these creatures already had some overseers of a sort and one of them took particular exception to the fleecing of his flock. You may have heard the name Jedah before, he's become something of a celebrity of late. Purple prick."

Kira looks like she wants to spit on the carpet to get the taste of the name out of her mouth but thinks better of it when she remembers that it's her carpet she'd be fouling up. Instead, she scowls at the ground for a moment then turns to look up at Alba once more.

"I know he's been going on about some nonsense or other regarding cohabitation but the truth is, kid, that... thing has no intention of living peacefully alongside humanity. He's building up an army - with the full intention to invade and conquer all of Earth."

He briefly eyes the bartender after her impressive display of reactions, before turning his attention to the matter at hand. "Then, what is your goal? Why tear through the city with those monsters of yours?" Alba gives it a moment, trying to catch the subtext of what she's explaining. "It sounds like you despise Jedah. Is this all some scheme to heighten fear of darkstalkers, to turn heads and weaponry in Jedah's direction?"

His eyes follow the woman as she paces around him "Or if I'm to put it more clearly, what is the connection between Jedah, and the horde of darkstalkers you so mercilessly released on Southtown's citizens?" he spins around on his stool, to face Kira directly. "If you're going to force me into helping you achieve your goals, I'm expecting a understanding of the entire situation."

The Gangster stands up to meet Kira eye-to-eye "Truth be told, I'd love to have the luxury of ending your life after what you did to Southtown. But I do not have that luxury, you'd kill me, and everyone else in my group. What you did is irredeemable, but I don't have any other option other then to follow your command. If we want to live, that is."

Kira spreads her arms out to either side of her body as if to embrace the young gangster but restrains herself, instead turning to grin at the bartender again.

"Two for two! Still feeling confident in that bet?"

This time is the quiet woman's turn to roll her eyes as she turns to refill the mercenary's empty glass from the bottle.

"You all but told him what was going on. It isn't a difficult conclusion to draw. That's cheating."

Kira snorts dismissively, her smirk only growing wider.

"Sore loser."

The bartender deigns not to dignify that accusation with a reply leaving the mercenary to turn her attention back to Alba. His expressed desire to destroy her for the damage she's caused to the city is shrugged off. As he himself put it, there isn't a chance in Hell that he'd manage to strike her down, at least not as he is now.

"Lots of people in line ahead of you, kid, and I'm sure there won't be any shortage of people wanting to punch my ticket after this is all done with. Take a number. Maybe you'll get lucky."

Kira gives her guest a wolfish grin, flashing him her teeth again as she leans in close, practically enticing him to try and strike out at her. Her eyes narrow slightly in a predatory response to the mild threat he poses in such close proximity but her posture show no signs of wariness. If he's foolish enough to try and throw down with her in the middle of her own territory with no backup and covered in fresh wounds - well, maybe she'll lose that bet after all.

"In the mean time, you can quit trying to impress me with the tough guy routine. I've buried warlords and kingpins that had manilier chest hairs than you."

The Dragon leaves her smug expression lingering in Alba's face for several seconds before relocating herself back to the bar, apparently starting to suffer from withdrawal after foregoing alcohol for a couple of minutes. She knocks back yet another glass then fishes around in her pocket, pulling out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. One of the long smokes is withdrawn with her lips and she turns towards the bartender who is already cupping her hand around an expensive silver-plated flip-top lighter.

"Now," she says, puffing out a thin ring of gray smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Back to the subject. You pretty much got it on the first try. That shitbird Jedah has had me over a barrel for the last few years. And, much as I enjoy a good war, the idea of that creepy mother-fucker being in charge of the planet doesn't sit well with me. That and he threatened to kill me so I'm obligated to fuck up whatever plans he's hatching."

Her eyes shift sideways to give the gangster a long look as she says that, making a rather unsubtle hint as to the fate of anyone who ruffles her feathers.

"Problem is, there isn't anyone I think is capable of dealing with him. I certainly don't have the forces to fight off an invasion of fucking monsters, otherwise I'd have already rammed my boot right up his frilly ass. The NOL have some impressive power at their disposal but even if they did believe me about the threat, they're too obsessed with maintaining their public image to go in guns blazing. The Sacred Order are a bunch of idealogical hippies who think love and peace solves everything, they'd probably go try and give him a fucking hug or something. And my 'comrades' in the underworld have serious control issues."

Which about sums up the situation as far as she's concerned. If someone was going to oppose Jedah they'd have done so the moment he decided to do some unsanctioned city renovations. Far too many people in charge are susceptible to being bribed or threatened and getting all of the various factions to work together is going to be a nightmare, if it's possible at all. Fortunately, it just so happens that she had a nightmare in her pocket all along.

"Getting these bozos to do what they should have done months ago requires a common enemy to unite behind. One that isn't pretending to play nice, doing his best to look sympathetic by playing on the good nature of humanity. Someone willing to play the part of the villain and show the rest of the world exactly what's going to happen if the actual monsters suddenly show up and no one is prepared to deal with them."

Kira turns to face him again, flashing her best Vana White smile around the cigarette as she frames her own face between her fingers.

"Maybe i will get lucky"
"Those are strangely good intentions for the heinous crimes you have commited. Got the whole 'villain' thing down wonderfully. You're even monologuing."

He resists the urge to strike down Kira as she looks at him with that smug expression. "But there's a lot of if's in your plan. What if Jedah retreats? What if the different factions refuse to work together? Your plan is build on uncertainty. There's much room for error with how many pieces there are involved. And if one of those uncertainties gets out of hand, well. We'd be left with a ruined city, with Jedah still being a threat." He finally returns to his Stool, twirling a finger over the rim of his untouched glass.

"It's Foolish, and you're insane."

"Then, i'm just /dreadfully/ curious. What do you want *us* to do specifically?" he asks the question with dry, sarcastic tone. But expects a serious answer. "What do you expect from a small group of weaklings like us?"

The Dragon laughs at him again, her voice deep and rich with genuine amusement. She turns to talk to the bartender again, flicking the ash from the butt of her cigarette into a small square tray made of polished gold.

"Get a load of General fucking Suvorov over here. He hears a vague outline of my plans and he's already breaking down the flaws in my strategies. How lucky for me that I managed to capture someone who is an expert not only in urban warfare and military tactics but human psychology and politics as well!"

The enigmatic woman continues to tidy up, her expression remaining mostly blank, but for a moment the mask cracks and the corner of her thin mouth twitches up in a wry smile which she directs at Alba. Kira seems to take this vague gesture as the equivalent of the bartender bursting out laughing alongside her and that only makes her laugh some more. Eventually, she turns back to the young gangster, still chuckling as she wipes at the corner of one eye.

"Fuck me, I should have just come to you with my problems and we could have all saved a lot of trouble."

Taking a deep breath to recenter her composure, Kira puts the cigarette back in her mouth and smirks at the young man, puffing a fresh cloud of smoke in his direction.

"Thanks for the advice but I think I know a little bit more about you do on the subject of how to conduct a war. As for being foolish and insane..."

As Kira speaks the bartender moves down the counter towards Alba to collect the untouched drink. She empties it into a sink, washing the elegant glass container out thoroughly for several seconds, seeming to pay little attention to the conversation. However, no sooner than she has set the glass down, Kira comes to the end of her sentence and the true nature of the mysterious woman reveals itself with frightening swiftness.

Whirling around like a miniature tornado, the bartender's leg sweep up from behind the counter as she does a small hop in place. The heel of her expensive shoe clears the surface of the bar by nearly a foot, crashing into the side of Alba's head with surgical precision and viper-like swiftness. He barely even has time to see the blur of motion before the kick strikes him. Whether or not he manages to block the impact, the force of the kick is enough to send the stool rocking backwards. Kira lunges forward, driving her own heel into the side of the stool so hard that it flies out from underneath the gangster in a wild tumble, leaving him with nothing to help break the fall as he tumbles backwards.

Even before his back hits the soft carpeting, the bartender is on top of him, leaping over the counter to pounce on him like a cat. She comes down in a straddle across his waist - a situation that in any other circumstance would probably be rather suggestive. This this case, however, the only thing she seems to be suggesting is that if he moves he's going to be in a world of pain. A pair of slender combat knives are pressed up against his body, one at the throat and one hovering tip-down above his heart. She stares down at him, completely silent and motionless, that blank expression of hers offering all the emotion of a robot preparing to flay a fish.

Kira stalks over to the bar to pick up her drink, deliberately taking her time to savor it while the young man takes stock of his new situation. Eventually, she places her freshly drained glass back down and takes up the long blackened blade next to it. The Dragon moves without hurry as she makes her way over to Alba's side, puffing on her smoke idly as she paces a slow circle around his head. When she completes her circuit, she kneels down next to him, twirling the deadly weapon in her hand with the skill of a practiced wielder.

"Foolish and insane is how I would describe a weakling sitting in a bear's den, naked and unarmed, who insists on taunting the beast over and over as if it isn't going to bite his head off."

The blonde takes a long drag from her cigarette, her reptilian eyes narrowing into menacing slits. The wide grin she gives him does nothing to make her look any more friendly.

"You seem to be operating on the idea that your potential usefulness to me is some sort of shield that allows you to run your mouth. Allow me to rectify that delusion. I don't need you, kid. The only reason I even bothered to spare your miserable life is because it will make it easier to control your men. The moment I think you're going to be more of a problem than an asset to me..."

Kira leans in close, exhaling a thick cloud of smoke strait into his face. She reaches up to pluck the halfway used up cigarette from her mouth with two fingers and flicks the still glowing ashes onto his cheek, sending cherry red dots dancing across the surface of his skin.

"I'll fucking burn you to ash. Got it?"

Alba crashes to the floor, completely unprepared about the bartender's sudden assault. And before he knew it, razor-sharp knives are risking to cut through his skin. Alba does the smart thing, and lays still, waiting for the Dragon to finish talking.

Once again. Powerless, and lesson learned. Don't question the Mercenary Queen's crazy plans. "Yeah- Yeah, i got it." He coughs and stumbles over his words thanks to the smoke entering his lungs. Alba tilts up his head to look towards Kira, the bartender's weight still on his waist. "In all that you said, you still haven't answered my question. What is our role to play?" The singing embers are painfully searing his skin as he repeats his question with a businesslike attitude.

He turns his eyes back on his assailant, the poker-faced lady on top of him. And speaks up again "Mind getting off of me? You have proven your point."

The bartender continues to regard Alba with all of the expressiveness of a statue. His request goes ignored, those deadly weapons perched and ready to strike. All it will take is a single word from the Dragon or an unexpected twitch from the gangster and his life could end. Judging from her reaction, she's more than ready to act on that order too.

"Ah, I suppose I've yet to make introductions. Mr. Meira, this is my second-in-command, Zhenya. Z, meet the newest member of our happy little crew."

The bartender, now revealed to be the mercenary queen's right hand, leans back slightly, taking the pressure of cold steel from his exposed throat. With a flourish of long dexterous fingers, she twirls the blade so fast that it turns into a blur of shimmering light, the overbearing golden illumination of the casino's interior reflecting off the deadly surface. Just as neatly she slides the weapon back into folds of her tuxedo jacket where some hidden sheath awaits it. The second weapon quickly follows suite with an equally deft display of control. Zhenya's eyes remain locked on Alba's face as she puts her skills on display, daring him to try something foolish.

Fortunately, Kira hasn't yet decided that he's more trouble than he's worth. Planting a hand on his chest to steady herself as she pushes to her feet, the silent woman steps back to give him room to rise. It might just be his imagination but her fingernails seem to dig unnecessarily hard into his skin as she does so; that or she just needs to see her manicurist in a hurry.

"There, now we're all properly aquainted."

Kira likewise withdraws from the gangster's personal space, retreating back to the bar. She snuffs out the last inch or so of her cigarette, exhaling the remaining lungful of smoke through her nostrils with a sigh.

"I'll keep this simple, kid. I recruited you for two reasons. First, I need thugs. My soldiers are more than capable of dealing with whatever problem I assign them to but I have limited supply and a hell of a lot of demand creeping up in the near future."

She smirks, chuckling to herself.

"That and armed mercenaries tend to draw an unfortunate amount of attention in these parts. I need people that blend in a little better, someone that knows the layout of the city. Subordinates that aren't going to raise undue suspicion when I send them out to cause trouble. There's more than enough gang activity in this city that a bunch of punks raising hell aren't going to bring trouble directly to my doorstep."

The weight is lifted off of his body as Zhenya stands up. Giving him room to breath- and stand up. Alba gives 'Z' a quick nod, but doesn't sit back down as he continues the negotiation.

"I understand. wil 'raising hell' have a specific purpose, or is it simply to create more chaos?" The gangster steps towards- and leans against the bar. Putting his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "I can do either, as long as it doesn't involve directly killing civilians." He continues, further elaborating his stance. "You can ask us to do anything from robbery to raiding rival factions, but if you expect us to join the beasts in their senseless bloodshed, you might as well kill me where i stand."

"Perhaps you think that's foolish, naive, and self-righteous, but it's the one rule i'm not going to break." He sighs. Deeply. Hoping that admitting this won't end up being his downfall.

"That's for me to decide, kid."

Kira's grin fades to a muted smile but the glint in her eyes as she locks her gaze onto the young gangter's face is not a friendly one. Even after getting knocked on his ass having it made completely clear that his life is in her hands he has the balls to try and dictate terms? Some people just never learn.

For a moment, she considers drawing her gun and putting a bullet in the little shit. Maybe a distinct lesson in pain will make it clear that she doesn't negotiate with the help. Gut shots aren't fatal these days, so long as you get medical attention, but they still suck. But, considering how he's reacted to the sort of thing that would have any reasonable person in need of fresh underwear, she decides to take a different approach.

Rising from her seat, the mercenary stalks over to stand in front of Alba. She's quite tall for a woman, allowing her to look the teen in the eyes without having to tilt her head back, staring him down without a hint of empathy for his principles.

"Since it seems like you're a little slow," she says, her voice remaining low and calm despite the hint of menace that creeps into her words. "I'll lay this out clear for you. I don't give a fuck what you're comfortable with. I don't care what you like, I don't care what you think, I don't care if you curl up into a ball and cry yourself to sleep every night after the jobs I give you are done. All I care about is that you do /what/ I tell you to, /when/ I tell you to, and /how/ I tell you to."

She reaches out towards his neck with one hand, gently wrapping her fingers around the front of his throat. The scent of alcohol, smoke, and expensive perfume wafts up to tickle his nose as she leans in close.

"I can get you one of my special collars if that helps you grasp the situation."

The woman smirks at him, drawing her fingers up beneath his chin to give it a couple scratches as if he were a dog being praised. Pulling away with a snort, she gives the tip of his nose a dismissive flick and turns to wander back over to her stool.

"I don't answer to you, kid, but I'll tell you this. I don't have any interest in wanton slaughter. I'm certainly no hero but I'm not a monster either. All I care about is profit and it's pretty fucking hard to sell things to corpses."

With Zhenya still hovering near the gangster's side, ready to disabuse him of any foolish ideas of heroics, Kira is left to refill her own glass this time. She digs a couple more ice cubes out of a small bin and drops them into the drink with a pair of tongs, gulping down another mouthful of liquid ambrosia.

"As for being naive, well, you're batting average remains high, kid, because you're right - you are."

Kira shakes her head, letting out an annoyed sigh. How many times has she explained this concept to people who've never experienced actual fighting before? A few brawls now and then with street toughs isn't even close to the sort of experience that comes from modern warfare. If he knew half the decisions she'd had to make in her life, the things she's seen and done in order to survive, he wouldn't be trying to grand stand at her right now.

"I know it's a difficult concept for most people to swallow but people die in war - soldiers /and/ civilians. Sacrifices have to be made in order to achieve victory. It's all about perspective. If I have to burn this city to the ground with every single man, woman, and child still in it in order to save the world from being overrun by monsters?"

She slams the glass down on the counter, glaring at him with an expression of absolute conviction. Her finger stabs at the air in his direction in an accusatory manner, all trace of amusement vanishing from her features to be replaced with barely controlled fury.

"You better fucking believe it'll happen!" she hisses. "So save the whining for someone who gives a fuck because I don't have time to deal with some uppity punk trying to preserve his fucking morals in the face of the goddamned existinction of the human race!"

Zhenya turns her head slightly, casting a glance in Kira's direction. The Dragon lets out a hiss of frustration, as if being chastized by her mother, but after a moment she peels her heated gaze away from the gangster. The rest of her drink vanishes in a swift pull and the cold spirits seem to calm her down slightly, though her fingers remain tightly clenched around the glass.

"When the chips are down and everything is on the line, you're either a survivor or a corpse. I know which one I am, kid. It's up to you if you want to be another corpse I leave behind on the battlefield."

Kira is tearing him apart, argumentally speaking. He doesn't have any arguments, rebuttals against the much more experienced Dragon. He's made the mistake of speaking up against her twice already.

He stares coldy into her eyes as she grips his throat, further establishing her control over him. Alba freezes up, fear crawling further into him. A slight tremble of the lip, involuntary step backwards from Kira. Hints that peel back his otherwise neutral demeanor.

When the Mercenary Queen is finally finished speaking and leaves him be, Alba lets out a soft sigh of relief, hoping she won't hear. The gangster responds with a simple "I understand." and leaves it at that, afraid of being killed or collared, whatever that might mean.

Kira snorts at that, shaking her head.

"I doubt it. But I'm done arguing with you. Do what you're told and you'll find that working for me is a surprisingly more enjoyable experience that scraping a pitiful living together out of shaking down tourists and brawling in the streets."

The mercenary digs into her pocket again and withdraws a small plastic card which she slides across the counter with a flick of her wrist. It spins lazily over the polished surface, coming to rest near Alba's hand. It's enough enough to recognize as a credit card.

"I've already set up an account in your name. There's more than enough in there to prove that being my employee is well worth the effort. Do your job and you and your boys will be living the high life in no time."

She gestures at the casino with a sweep of her hand, as if he could forget that they're surrounded by more wealth than most people would see in their entire life. The promise of being rich usually goes a long way towards making people loyal or at least cooperative.

"For now, head down to the infirmary. I'm sure you're eager to check on them. There's plenty of space for you all to hang out and have a good time. Just try not to go pushing any red buttons that are marked with big skulls on them. I'll be annoyed if you ruin my evil master plans by self destructing my villainous lair ahead of schedule."

"That is correct, I do not understand, and I don't want to."

The gangster slides the credit-card off of the counter, putting it safely in his breast pocket, and sighs. "Money does sweeten the so-called deal." He takes one last look at Kira and- despite the dire circumstances, gives her a slight smirk in response to the joke. The gangster turns around, wordlessly walking towards this infirmary, unless Kira still has something to say.

A middle-aged man wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses emerges from behind a row of slot machines as Alba turns to wander off. Another foreigner. He looks vaguely European - tall, pale skin, and a sharp jawline sporting a neatly trimmed black beard. The small wire protruding from his ear and the gun holstered at his hip complete the image. Definitely a bodyguard of some sort or perhaps building security. The guard steps out into the gangster's path and waves him over.

"This way, kid."

Kira watches the two of them make their way towards a side door to the maintenance halls where the elevator would be waiting to reunite the young man and his crew. Once they leave sight and earshot, she lets out an irritable sigh and shakes her head.

"Fucking street punks. This is why I prefer to work with professionals. No intimidation, no philosophy lessons - just 'here's a shitload of money' and we're in business."

In a perfect scenario, she wouldn't have ever been reduced to needing to outsource like this. She's spent far too long building up her own personal army to have to deal with acting like a mafia boss. While it might be fun to bust a kneecap or two every now and then, in reality it's just a ton of extra work, and she doesn't have the time to put up with a bunch of young idiots who think they're the hottest shit on the block.

"Godamn you, Jayde," she snarls, slapping her empty glass off the counter, sending it crashing into a nearby table with a sharp thud. The craftsmanship of the expensive cup proves to be too solid for the thing to shatter which only makes the mercenary more irritated. Breaking things was usually how she vented her anger.

%gBefore she can allow her rage to fully manifest into a tantrum, Zhenya's hand comes to rest on her shoulder. The touch of her girlfriend's slender fingers seems to bleed all of the fury out of the woman. Her grimace deflates into a weary scowl and she slumps forward onto the bar, thumping her forehead on its cool surface a couple of times. After several seconds of silence, she looks up at the other woman.

"How's it coming with the others?"

Zhenya's hand remains resting on her companion's shoulder as she calms down. Ever since their leader's transformation her already short temper has become increasingly difficult to deal with. Seemingly insignificant things can trigger her into fits of violent rage that quickly spiral out of control if she isn't placated quickly. Alba's blatant disrespect had been on the verge of earning him a summary execution and only her subtle mental nudges had diverted Kira's murderous thoughts before they could manifest.

The woman's gaze shifts towards the maintenance door, her unreadable expression softening into a faint smile now that they're alone. It's much easier to keep things under control when there's no one to focus on but her.

"We've had a few set backs," she says, her voice soft and soothing. She shifts her position to stand behind Kira, a dangerous place that only a handful of people are allowed to occupy. Her fingers squeeze into the surface of the mercenary queen's shoulders, kneeding out the tension with the skill of a practiced masseuse. "But a significant portion of the local gangs have either taken our offer or suffered a change in management."

Kira let out a grunt of amusement at the coy language. By which Zhenya meant their leaders had been killed or driven out and their members forcibly conscripted. She isn't a fan of having to rely on such untrustworthy sources of labor but the fact of the matter is that she doesn't have much of a choice. Her own men are too valuable to risk and it'd be pretty hard for most of them to pass as locals. And, in the long run, any attempt to hold power within Southtown will require her to delegate supervision of territory to underlings. Gangsters make the most logical choice for that precisely because they are expendable and don't draw attention. Fortunately, greed and fear are pretty reliable motivators, and she's got a great deal of practice in employing both to get what she wants.

"Good," she says, relaxing into the massage with a groan of pleasure.

Right now, this is precisely what she needs. Anything to distract her from the coming storm. Her plan relies on a dozen little details, each of which needs to come together in just the right way. The kid wasn't completely full of shit when he called her plan insane but knowing when to take a risk is what has gotten her through life and put her at the top of the food chain. So far, everything has been going exactly according to plan - but that usually means something is about to go horribly wrong.

Log created on 08:26:01 04/15/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 21:14:55 04/20/2020.