Kira Volkov - The Black Dragon - Ch. 2: The Dragon's Challenge

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Description: Cutscene two of Chapter 2 of the Black Dragon TP. The NOL sends a strike team to answer the challenge posed by Kira, believing her to be little more than some crazed fanatic or arrogant criminal who believes themselves far more capable than is true. However, the stress of the crisis causes politics to interfere in their judgement, leading the Libarium to launch a hasty attack. Much to their surprise, the Dragon proves herself far more resourceful than they could have imagined.

"Report, soldier."

The captain spoke with a gruff bark of authority as a young man approached her from the edge of her peripheral vision. She spared him a quick glance, her narrow eyes flicking sideways briefly to ensure that it was indeed the scout that she had sent out to do a preliminary surveillance run of their target, but her attention remained mostly focused on the towering eyesore in the distance.

The scout, an old grizzled veteran of a man with a scruff of gray stubble and a scar over one eyes, snapped her a sharp salute in response. The motion came easily to him, as fluid as batting an eye. The commanding tone of her voice did little to intimidate him, judging by the loose posture he assumed afterwards, but she was too distracted to be annoyed at the disrespect. Old soldiers usually fell into two categories, completely rigid robots who lived every waking moment of their lives with strict discipline or those who were so jaded that nothing really fazed them any more. This man was clearly the latter and thus grumbling at him wouldn't do much good.

"We conducted a full sweep of the perimeter, ma'am. There doesn't appear to be any signs of the creatures. However, as you can see, several defensive barricades have been constructed in the parking lot consisting of trenches, tank traps, and what appear to be crude bunkers. We didn't spot any activity within the building or the fortifications either but without getting closer it's impossible to tell for sure."

The captain pursed her lips as she considered this information, frowning slightly. One hand went instinctively to her head, adjusting the azure beret resting atop her neat bob cut as she often did when thinking.

"The probes returned no useful information?"

The scout shook his head and shrugged.

"Generic readings of life signs but nothing usable. This damned miasma in the air is fouling up our ability to distinguish traces of life. There's people in there but as for where and how many? Can't say."

She nodded at that, processing possibilities. If this 'Black Dragon' possessed the means to unleash such a massive horde of monsters on the city without anyone being the wiser then it was safe to assume that she was in command of other assets. Her broadcast had been a blatant challenge, calling out the competence of the Library in particular. Normally, the wild boasts of an upstart criminal with delusions of super villain status wouldn't bother her but the words had cut uncomfortably close to a topic that many of the rank and file had been murmuring about for months.

That damnable Embassy was an eyesore, one that they should have torn down and thrown back into the pits of Hell where it came from the moment it had emerged. That the top brass had ordered them not to strike out against such a blatantly aggressive move by a non-human power rankled much of the army, many of whom had joined specifically to fight demons like Jedah. If the Dragon managed to sow further dissent with her rhetoric the possibility of defections would become rather unpleasant to consider. She had to be put down and quickly. If her demise scattered the monsters clawing at their gates, all the better.

"Return to your post," she said, waving at hand dismissively in the scout's direction. The man gave her another quick salute and turned on his heel to leave. She waited until he was gone before turning to regard the glowing map spread out on the small table in front of her. A three-dimensional representation of the city's southern edge spread out across it at the center of which rose the oddly out of place mountain of the casino. Long thin lines were scored across what had once been a nearly football stadium-sized parking lot representing defensive trenches that could only have been dug out in the past week. Small bulges were dotted throughout the trench line, quickly constructed bunkers that would provide any defenders excellent protection against small arms fire and mortar rounds.

The captain smirked at the display. An impressive set up to be sure, particularly considering how little time it had taken to build them. A shame that they were no longer mired in the age where a few holes in the ground would provide adequate defense against the power that could be brought to bear. Such meager pillboxes would not be able to stand up to the might of the NOL. Today she was going to slay a dragon and earn herself another medal in the process.

"Captain Storm."

A call from one of her aides drew the woman out of her musings. She turned to look at the operator, eyebrow quirking up in response to her request for attention. A young woman with long blonde hair and a cherub's face held up a hand, palm out to signal she needed a moment. The soft glow of a magical spell around her ears indicated that she was receiving a message, most likely Command pestering them for a progress report again. She waited patiently for several moments as the aide took notes, wildly scribbling information down in short hand on a portable tablet.

"Command reports that the dark stalker forces have renewed their assault on the frontline defensive positions. The attack seems coordinated and our forces are being heavily pressured. They insist that you accelerate the time table of this assault and proceed to eliminate the target as soon as possible. High causalities are acceptable. They have also authorized the deployment of a squadron of Shebalves which are en route to the forward camp. Estimated time of arrival, ten-hundred hours, forty-three minutes."

The captain snarled before she could think to restrain herself, slamming a hand down on the table. The eyes of every solder nearby swung towards her instinctively but she ignored them, gritting her teeth as she glared at the distant spire of their target.

"Those damned old men! If we blast that building to rubble then there will be nothing left for us to capture. We don't have any idea where these filthy creatures even came from yet, much less how they got here without being noticed. We need prisoners, not corpses!"

On top of that, her entire plan had revolved around taking the Dragon captive. Such a victory would no doubt have earned her a promotion, allowing her to rise above the seemingly inescapable ceiling imposed on those born without noble blood. For all their claims about the value of individual merit, there was an obvious element of gatekeeping built into the command structure of the Library, a hold over from the days when only the twelve houses were allowed to command the power of ars. Few outside of that exclusive club ever rose to any position of prominence and her own chances were looking increasingly grim.

Taking a deep breath to calm her fury at this obvious power play, Storm pulled herself up to her full height and turned to give the gaggle of staring comms operators a stern look. She could still salvage this but she would have to be quick. High risk maneuvers had already been authorized granting her at least the knowledge that any excessive losses they might incur in the attempt wouldn't be held against her record. She didn't like sacrificing people under her command for such selfish reasons but this might be the only chance she has and if a few people have to die along the way, well, they signed up for this willingly.

"Send out a broadcast to the strike force. We move immediately. Full advance, leave the heavy weapons behind. This dumb bitch and a few mangy dogs aren't going to stand in the way of the Librarium! Move!"


From atop her perch on the roof of the Dragon's Den, Kira watched as the small blob of azure bodies began to scramble into sudden activity. The Library's forces had established a small camp almost a mile away from the casino, nestled along a stretch of highway circling the city's outskirts. It was impossible to get a completely accurate reading from such a distance but she estimated a force of no more than fifty or sixty of the little blueberries. A formidable task force to be sure but rather than look worried at the magical storm preparing to sweep over her fortress the mercenary seemed pleased, a wide grin on her face as she surveys the scene.

At her side, Zhenya also watched the movements unfolding in the camp, peering through a set of military-grade binoculars. The micro-motors inside of the device whirred softly as she adjusted the zoom every couple of seconds, searching the camp with a practiced eye as the soldiers began to march.

"Three squads: a main force with two flanking supports. They seem to be abandoning their larger mechanized elements."

Kira nodded, observing the movements with her naked eyes. While she couldn't get quite as detailed a view as the binoculars would provide her newly enhanced eyesight was good enough to pick up the broad strokes from this distance.

"They seem to be a hurry. I guess they didn't take kindly to the little surprise I just sent them."

Her girlfriend smiled faintly but kept her gaze on the NOL forces, seeking out potentially useful information. Arrogantly, they had failed to establish any sort of proper camp, leaving their command elements operating out in full view. She had long ago identified the highest ranked officer among the bunch and added her facial pattern to the database, along with all of those in her small command team. Kira's soldiers would be able to recognize any of them through their helmet-mounted HUDs allowing them to pick off or capture any one of them should the opportunity present itself.

"The captain seems agitated. She's been yelling at her operators for the past couple of minutes. It's possible that being rushed into an assault has affected her composure."

Kira nodded again. Having an unbalanced commander could turn any fighting force into a disorganized mess in a hurry. Normally, she would seek to capitalize on that, perhaps send snipers to take pot shots at the command team, drop mortar strikes on critical infrastructure or destroy transports so that they couldn't make an easy escape. Most officers were cowards and quickly started to make bad decisions when their own neck was on the line. But not today; today, she has other plans.

"Every thing ready down there, Mikhail?"

The small radio receiver lodged in her ear crackled for a moment before the voice of a gruff Russian replaced it, grunting noncommittally at her in response.

"Da, commander. The generators are primed and ready to be activated at your command."

"Good. Keep your finger hovering over that button, I want this to be as close as possible."

She got another grunt and the feed went dead. Smirking, the mercenary queen turned her slitted eyes towards the invaders again. She lifted one foot to rest it atop the lip of the railing, leaning forward into the morning breeze as she surveyed her tiny kingdom. Below in the parking lot, her remaining soldiers lie in wait, eager and hungry for battle after weeks of pretending to be fancy bodyguards. The makeshift defenses that they had built in the past few days were hardly impressive but they served their purpose well. The NOL was clearly underestimating the threat she posed, arrogantly assured of their own superiority. Soon enough they would learn humility.


The small force made its way forward at a solid march, following the road that offered a relatively straight path to their destination. A lone APC rumbled along at the rear of the formation, Captain Storm's personal command vehicle following their progress at an uncomfortably close distance. She didn't like being this exposed but there wasn't any time to take the proper precautions. Without the necessary augur spells in place it would be impossible for her to monitor the battle from afar, necessitating that she either give up command to her squad leaders or take a more aggressive position.

The first option was out of the question, she needed to be able to claim personal responsibility for this victory at every stage of the operation. That would make it all but impossible for some political maneuver to deny her that which she so rightfully deserved. The second entailed some risk but she was certain that whatever this dirty mercenary could bring to bear would prove laughably inadequate to overcome several squads of Librarium magic soldiers.

Her bravado held strong as the looming slab of obsidian drew ever closer but she couldn't help but feel a faint tingle of nerves running down her spine. She shook it off as nothing more than pre-battle jitters. She had trained long and hard to steel herself against such weakness and a little uncertainty wasn't going to hold her back now.

The soldiers seemed likewise resolved to do their duty. Many of them had seen the carnage wrought by the Dragon's minions first-hand, witnessed comrades and civilians brutally torn apart by wild monsters. Their grief and hate tempered their wills, hardened them against the fear of what might await them at the jagged stronghold ahead. Or so she would have liked to believe. The truth was that she could see the trepidation in the faces of many. Being forced into rushed action had unnerved them. Several cast frequent glances up at the immobile statue looming high on the casino's peak, its smug expression an unpleasant mirror of the woman who had created it.

"Squadron Alpha will reach the first combat zone in two minutes at present pace, captain."

"Good. How long until the air strike?"

"T-minus six minutes until Shebalve squadron is in the operation area. They have confirmed our movements and will maintain a holding pattern until given further notice."

Storm let out a long sigh and relaxed at that news. She had been worried that the air forces would simply ignore her commands and strike regardless of the danger of hitting her own troops. The pilots would simply blame her for making dangerous maneuvers despite knowing of the air strike and she would not only lose her prize but bear full responsibility for any pointless injuries or deaths. Now she could proceed as she wanted which made the decision to leave their heavier elements behind somewhat pointless. Well, nothing to do about it now. She wasn't about to turn her soldiers around to go back and get them. The disgrace of such an embarrassing maneuver would likely overshadow any accomplishment she achieved.

"Priority orders," she barked, rising out of her seat to peer out the forward port. "Alpha is to form ranks at the edge of the trenches and unleash a preliminary bombardment. Beta and Delta will sweep around the sides and create enfilade firing lines."

The APC rumbled to a halt as the combat group drew close to their destination. Storm watched in silence as the troops shifted to match her commands, two smaller groups breaking away from the ends of the line to begin circling around the wide parking lot's array of defensive emplacements. If anyone was taking shelter in those trenches they would find themselves trapped like rats as the two flanking squadrons fired down into them from the ends. It was a standard military tactic but an effective one. The only thing that would keep her soldiers away would be an overwhelming display of resistance and as of yet there hasn't even been any signs that there is anyone to man the ramshackle defenses.

"On my mark. Mark."

Alpha squadron came to a halt at the edge of the casino's lot. The soldiers quickly formed ranks, drawing ensorcelled blades from their scabbards, each one a powerful ars enchanted to unleash magical destruction upon command. The front rank stepped forward a pace, leveling sword and spear at the line of trenches. Even from her position at the rear, Storm could feel the surge of magical energy as they called upon their powers, drawing seithr out of the air to fuel a flurry of fiery projectiles.

A dozen blazing comets erupted from the soldiers' weapons in unison, each carving a brilliant ballistic arc as they rained down on the trenches and into the bunkers, exploding into thunderous crimson blossoms that filled the pathetic defenses with ethereal flame. Or, that was what should have happened. Instead, the streaking fireballs slammed into an invisible wall fifty feet shy of the first line of trenches, erupting prematurely like expensive fireworks in a ripple of harmless detonations.

Storm's eyes widened in shock, her jaw dropping open at the sight. As the searing blasts faded away, she could see a momentary glimpse of distorted air left behind in their wake, marking the tell-tale shimmer of a force field of some kind. From behind, one of the aids choked out an equally incredulous report, her voice filled with sudden panic.

"Negative impact, captain! The bombardment was intercepted by a barrier of unknown origins!"

Stupid! Of course, it was obvious now. The lack of soldiers, the seemingly pointless and outdated defenses, the taunting message. All of it had been bait to lure them into striking at what seemed to be an undefended stronghold. Many of the members of high command had considered the woman to be a lunatic upon reviewing her broadcast, perhaps a fanatic or terrorist who was happy to martyr herself for an unknown cause. Surely no one person had the resources to challenge the entire might of the NOL.

"She doesn't have to when we send our forces piecemeal at her while the rest of the army is tied up fighting a guerrilla war," she growled, her thoughts spilling out into the open. Turning to glare at the aide, Storm lifted a hand in a sweeping gesture of command, silencing the frantic chatter beginning to spread throughout her command staff. "New orders! Fall back and take up defensive positions! Focus fire on one point! It may be possible to overload the-"

Her orders were cut short as a roar of sound rose up from the casino. From within the darkened bunkers, flashes of staccato muzzle-fire erupted as the hidden mercenaries within finally revealed themselves. Chattering gunfire ripped through the front row of Alpha squad, cutting down half a dozen soldiers before anyone had time to react. Storm whirled around to stare out of the viewing point in sudden horror, realizing just how bad things were going to get very quickly.

"S-shields! Form ranks and raise barriers! Fall back! Fall back, damn it!"

Her orders were largely unnecessary. Upon realizing they were under attack, the Librarium troops reacted with stoic discipline, the second rank quickly raising magical barriers to ward off the shots. They moved quickly forward to protect their fallen comrades while others rushed up to drag the wounded to safety. Once their fallen were clear, they resumed the bombardment, sending wave after wave of magical projectiles slamming into the shimmering barrier as they steadily retreated, a scenario repeated by the other two squads.

After a tense couple of minutes, things seemed as if they might not be as terrible as she had feared. The soldiers withdrew in an orderly fashion, their defensive wards preventing any further casualties by the mundane gunfire. The Dragon's soldiers harried them at every step requiring a painfully slow pace to ensure that none of their deadly bullets slipped past but steady progress was being made.

The captain had been about to release the breath she was holding when another hurried cry from behind threatened to shatter her fragile calm.

"Captain! The Shebalve squadron is hailing us. They're requesting orders."

The strike craft! She had almost completely forgotten them in the chaos. A grin crept onto Storm's features as she realized that they still possessed the means to turn this around. She'd have to share the credit with the fly boys but that was better than having to explain a complete route.

"Tell them to target the casino! Let's see if that black market toy can withstand the power of Librarium technology!"


"Radar is picking up new contacts."

Zhenya ran her fingers across the tablet in her lap, drawing up more precise details from the image. A series of glowing concentric circles were overlaid across a bird's eye view of the city, indicating range markers from the central point of the casino. Three glowing red dots moved across the map in a triangular formation, streaking towards the battlefield like angry wasps.

"They'll be here in five minutes."

Kira smiled, rolling her shoulders like a boxer loosening up for a brawl.

"Then I suppose we'd best start rolling out the welcome mat. Wouldn't want our guests to feel unappreciated, would we?"

The mercenary moved to the edge of the roof and gazed down at the scene unfolding below. The NOL soldiers were lining up in neat rows, their weapons brandished as if time had rewound back to the days of pike and shot. Swords wouldn't normally be a particularly imposing sight in the face of modern technology but the revelation that magic existed had changed the game a little. Fortunately, even magical blasts of energy have to respect certain rules.

"Fire it up, Mikhail. Let's see how they like our first surprise."

"Da, pushing button."

A faint tension rippled through the air around her creating a slight increase in the pressure and a faint hum that made her teeth vibrate subtlety. She made a face, working her jaw at the unexpected tickling sensation. Even Zhenya shivered a little at the static sensation.

"Gyaah... that's fucking weird. Is it supposed to do that?"

"When you are standing right next to emitter? Da. But no worries, is not dangerous. Probably."

Kira eyed the massive dragon statue warily at that. The shield generator had been concealed inside of it when it was constructed, allowing her to install the defensive failsafe without drawing undue attention. The technology was proven but expensive and she had never been this close to the thing before while it was operating.

"If I grow a tail, I'm blaming you, Mikhail."

The flash of blazing explosions below drew her attention back to the action. A wave of fireballs detonated across the surface of the shield in a beautiful display of light resulting in an equally satisfying look of confusion and shock spreading across the Library's cronies. Kira grinned and pumped her fist in triumph, quoting a passage from one of her favorite books, adding her own little flare to the end.

"My armor is like tenfold shields, bitches!"

Turning to Zhenya, she gave a nod and twirled her finger in a quick circle in the air, using their old military call signs to signal her to give the order to attack. The woman nodded back and her fingers danced across the surface of the pad, sending electronic commands to the hidden mercenaries scattered throughout the bunkers. As one they rose from within the shadows of the pillboxes and unleashed a controlled burst of fire into the NOL ranks, catching them by complete surprise.

It was like shooting ducks at a carnival game. The first row of soldiers dropped instantly, felled by the deadly hail of gunfire. The others quickly rallied in an impressive display of discipline, forming shields to protect their allies as they retrieved the unlucky wounded. Kira whistled softly in appreciation at their training but didn't lose her smug grin.

"My teeth are swords, my claws spears."

Swords and spears, as it turned out, didn't do much to harm these soldiers. After the initial surprise attack, no more of then fell to the steady bursts of gunfire that hammered them. Despite that, they began to fall back, perhaps spooked by the unexpected presence of a proper defense. Kira chuckled and clucked her tongue at them.

"What, leaving already? But I haven't even started passing out the party favors yet!"


"Captain! Behind us!"

She didn't bother turning around. There were no viewing ports on the rear of the vehicle, it's heavily armored ramp a solid slab of reinforced titanium. Instead, she swiped a hurried hand at the air, summoning forth a window in the air that showed her a view from the perspective of the small magical wisp hovering around the APC's tail. It didn't take long to spot the source of the aide's fear.

A massive werewolf with a body like a brick house stood brazenly in the open a few hundred feet away. How it had managed to sneak up so close through their magical network of augur spells was a mystery but that information was largely irrelevant now. Far more worrying was the huge weapon the beast held hoisted over its brawny shoulder. The dark stalker took aim at the APC, leveling a rectangular metal box with four circular holes arranged on its front in two symmetrical rows. Any child who had ever seen an action movie would recognize a rocket launcher on sight and she was no exception. The beast smiled broadly, wicked rows of dagger-like teeth flashing as he pulled the trigger and unleashed the first of his deadly payload.

"All shields to the rear! Brace for impa-!"

Storm didn't have time to follow her own advice as she shouted a terrified order to the crew. The rocket ripped across the scant space in only a few moments, slamming into the APC's back panel like a sledgehammer hitting a brick. The vehicle rocked hard with the impact, skidding wildly in a spin that threw everyone inside to the floor or up against the walls. Something inside exploded in a wild flurry of painful sparks that rained down on her exposed face.

The captain hissed and rolled away, pushing herself woozily to her feet before any of the others had recovered. They had survived a direct hit from the missile but only because of their wards. She stumbled over to a nearby panel, pushing the dazed aide slumped across it out of the way. She had to realign the shields, focus their defensive power towards the wolf. Another hit like that might not be survivable otherwise.

As she worked, she summoned up her own magical radio and began to bark fresh orders at the soldiers outside. She no longer cared about a promotion. All she wanted now was to survive this hellish trap.

"Keep falling back! Rear ranks, turn and address the threat to our escape route! If we get cut off none of us are getting out of here alive! Where are those damn aircraft?!"

A second rocket slammed into the APC, once more threatening to throw her to the floor as the armored car rocked wildly. Moments later a third followed it and the command truck momentarily left the road, hopping several feet into the air as it tumbled roughly onto its side.

Warning indicators flashed across her terminal, wailing a chirping alarm that the shields were all but depleted. Storm groaned as she extricated herself from beneath the body of a former subordinate, pushing the bloody corpse aside callously. She had to get out of here, had to escape. There were four rockets in that weapon and the damned metal box she was trapped in wouldn't survive another hit.

Ignoring the moans of pain from her injured aides, she crawled awkwardly along the rows of machinery towards the side door, praying that it hadn't been damaged beyond function by the impacts. To her relief, the panel slide open grudgingly as she yanked on the emergency release. Scrambling with panicked haste, she rolled out into the street, kicking her feet wildly at the pavement to as she half crawled and half ran to escape the danger.

A deafening explosion hit her in the back like a tidal wave before she made it thirty feet. The concussive shock lifted her straight off her feet, throwing her tail over teakettle in a headlong tumble. Storm landed in a sprawl, her head swimming and her ears ringing. She tried to rise but the effort nearly made her puke.

Eventually, she managed to roll over onto her stomach and lift her head enough to the trio of Shebalves streak overhead on their approach to the casino. She grinned, her teeth bloody from a cut lip, and coughed out a harsh laugh.

"Let's see you deal with this, bitch."

"The shock of my tail is a thunderbolt!"

Kira laughed out loud as the ruined APC detonated into a miniature mushroom cloud of black smoke and roaring orange flame. Fenrir had done his job masterfully, utilizing his mastery of camouflage and stealth to sneak through the watchful magic that she suspected the NOL would have in place. She had no idea how he managed it but the results speak for themselves. The Library's command and control assets had been neutralized in one swift strike. Now they would be isolated and left to fend for themselves. There was just one more problem to take care of before she could move in for the kill.

"Hostile aircraft making their approach," Zhenya warned.

There wasn't any need for the radar this time. A trio of bright blue jets screamed across the sky on a direct course for the casino, their exhaust leaving white tears across the sky in their haste to aid the beleaguered soldiers below. Kira shook her head and let out a disappointed sigh. They were making the same mistake that the foolish soldiers had, rushing blindly into an unknown situation on the assumption that their magic would prove unbeatable.

"Be a dear and hand me the fly swatter, if you would, Z?"

Zhenya tossed the pad in her direction which she caught, blowing a kiss back at the other woman.

"Thanks, cupcake."

The brunette rolled her eyes but couldn't hide a faint smile. Kira's grin was far less restrained as she turned her attention to the tablet, casually flicking her fingers across an array of virtual buttons that would give her access to another of the casino's hidden little gems. Two of the massive air conditioner units mounted near the back of the roof let out a groan as they slid to the side, revealing a concealed metal panel beneath each. The protective sheathes retracted a moment later allowing a pair of full-sized anti-air missile batteries to emerge from their silos.

The turrets swiveled around rapidly, their onboard tracking software zeroing in on the lead vessel. Too late the aircraft realized the danger they were in, swooping in low to unleash shimmering balls of coruscating emerald energy at the casino's exterior. All three bombs detonated in rapid succession, sending rippling waves out from their impact points that briefly illuminated the normally invisible shield with dancing verdant light. Like the magical assaults from the soldiers, however, the blasts failed to penetrate the defensive screen leaving the jets exposed as they tried to wheel away.

A pair of missiles screamed out from their housing as the jets flew past. The unusually low altitude of the magical skimmers gave them little opportunity to try and evade. Puffs of rapidly flashing light spewed out from the lead craft's wings in an attempt to spoof the lock-on but there simply wasn't enough time for it to matter. Both missiles slammed into it from below and the jet simply vanished in a fireball that tumbled wildly into the sea.

Reorienting on a fresh target, the AA batteries unleashed a second salvo. With slightly more distance between itself and the turret, the next Shebalve had a little more luck in defending itself. Fresh streamers of pulsing light flew out in a flurry as it weaved and juked, successfully intercepting one of the missiles well out of range. The second projectile detonated a moment later, failing to score a direct hit but still catching the craft in the edge of its blast.

One of the jet's wings tumbled away, sheared completely off by the expanding ring of deadly shrapnel. The strike bomber wobbled drunkenly in the air as its pilot attempted to regain control but it quickly became apparent that there was no saving it. A parachute blossomed in the sky moments before the crippled plane flew headlong into one of the taller buildings in its path, detonating with a spectacular spray of fire and glass.

Not wanting to suffer the same fate, the remaining Shebalve gained a fresh burst of speed, spiraling wildly as it sprayed countermeasure in the air on a corkscrewing path back towards the NOL base. Kira launched a couple missiles after it anyway but as expected they failed to find purchase, harmlessly adding more flashes of light and sound to the fireworks display left in the jet's wake.

"My wings a hurricane, hahaha!"

Kira's lips peeled back from her teeth as she smiled, wild and fierce. The wind whipped up around her in a sudden gust that sent her long ponytail and jagged bangs fluttering frantically around her face. The Dragon inhaled deeply of the miasma that it brought to her nose, a pungent mixture of rotten meat, fresh blood, and acrid smoke. She found it an oddly exhilarating scent, stirring some primal urge within her to hurl herself into pathetic creatures below that thought to challenge her might and tear them apart with her bare hands!

Resisting the strangely suicidal notion, the mercenary instead tossed the digital pad back to her companion and turned to hold her arms up towards the scene in front of her, framing the carnage and the panicking soldiers between her hands as if she might crush them by clapping her palms together. While she lacked such god-like powers, there was yet one more final card left to play and she summoned it forth with a single phrase broadcast on a wide band to everything within range.

"And my breath... death!"


Storm was silent as she watched the Shebalves die, her hopes crashing and burning alongside their ruined corpses. There wasn't anything left for her to say. She had been completely crushed, her every move predicted and countered before she had ever even set foot on the battlefield. It was a joke, a great big joke at her expense.

She laughed. She couldn't help it. All of that time dedicated to rising above her roots, all those years spent clawing her way through the ranks, gritting her teeth and bearing the humiliation that the nobles put her through, taking what meager scraps of praise and recognition weren't claimed by the superiors who hardly ever left their office. All of that hard work and effort gone, shredded up like confetti by some two-bit mercenary company.

All around her the battle continued to rage. The mercenaries relentlessly harried her soldiers as they tried to fall back, offering no opportunity to simply cut and run without being mowed down. She wondered why they even bothered at this point. Their guns were never going to pierce those shields. All they managed to do was to delay the retreat of an already broken enemy. It was a pointless and barbaric display of force and dominance.

A distant sound drifted to her as her hearing slowly started to return, one which she did not immediately recognize. It was a strangely high-pitched roaring noise, clearly mechanical in nature for no biological creature could make such a call. The officer squinted as she pushed herself up to a sitting position, scanning the horizon in search of the source of the bizarre racket. In the distance a strange shimmer of movement drew her attention, a faint ripple of heat-distorted air shining off gleaming metal.

" can't be serious."

The mirage-like distortion around the distant figures quickly faded away as they drew closer, the rumbling roar that had so baffled her senses likewise resolving into something easily distinguishable. Dozens of motorcycles bellowed in thunderous unison as a Mongolian-style horde of street thugs and ruffians descended on the NOL in wild and disorderly columns. They cheered as they came, hooting and laughing in delinquent glee at the prospect of getting to deliver unchecked mayhem onto an unsuspecting foe.

The gangsters sported makeshift weapons of every sort and size. Some swung chains wildly over their heads, utilizing them like flails to rake at the magic soldiers as they swept past in a frenzied charge. Others held long lengths of pipe that they used like medieval lances, bracing the pole arms against modified seats that allowed them to absorb the impact without being dismounted. Baseball bats adorned with nails and barbed wire were another favorite while some even sported honest-to-god katanas. Whatever their chosen implement of destruction, each member of the barbarian cavalry took great glee in using it to strike down the pinned soldiers.

Storm wasn't laughing any more. Eyes wide with panic at the thought of being run down by some hoodlum with an axe to grind, hopefully not literally, she pushed to her feet and started to stagger towards the beach. Perhaps if she could get to one of the shopping malls or hide behind an abandoned car she might escape notice while the goons butchered her men. Whatever thought for their well-being she might have entertained before, it had been completely abandoned in favor of her own survival.

Gritting her teeth against a fresh wave of nausea, she broke out into a dead sprint, trying not to think too hard about what such fiends might do if they caught up to her. She'd heard more than enough stories about the kinds of monsters these low-life savages were. Not to mention that the report she had read about the Dragon indicated she was a slave trader, a peddler of flesh for those with the means to pay. That would not be the way Storm ended her life, as some doll to be used up at the leisure of the rich.

That thought made her laugh again despite the burst of pain that it sent through her lungs. Wasn't that what she already was? Despite her accomplishments, she was the one out here about to be torn apart instead of one of those stuck-up nobles! She was the one suffering through no fault of her own, pushed into tackling a foe they knew little to nothing about without proper preparations or planning!

Damn those cowardly bastards, damn them all! If she survived this, she was going to get her revenge, oh yes.

"How," she wheezed, asking her foolish mind a very basic question. "How... the hell... would you even... try?"

It was a pointless thought. There was no way she would ever be able to challenge the might of the Librarium's elite. Even the most junior of their number would best her handily in a straight fight. If she even returned after a failure like this they'd probably just execute her for incompetence. At the very least she'd lose her rank, get demoted so far that no one would ever respect her in the slightest again. Maybe it would be better to just disappear, let command assume that she perished with the others. She had a bit of cash saved up, surely it would be enough to buy her passage out of the country, smuggle herself to some quiet second-world country where she could start over with something more simple.

Lost in her own little daydream, Storm only then realized that the sounds of the fighting had died down. This return to self-awareness brought with it a painful reminder that she had been running for her life for a couple of minutes now. With a gasp, she fell to her knees, chest heaving uncontrollably as her burning throat attempted to suck in fresh air.

Warily, she turned her head to peer around, finding that she was alone some half a mile away from the casino. The gaggle of bikers were still at their fun, whooping and cheering as they zipped back and forth or rode in circles are small pockets of resistance, taunting the remaining survivors openly. Her own flight had apparently gone unnoticed in the chaos. At least, no one she could see appeared to be paying her any attention and she doubted that a motorcycle would be able to sneak up on her.

Closing her eyes in relief, she crawled quietly behind a parked car and slumped up against the bumper, breathing heavily for several long moments. She took a moment to wipe the sweat from her eyes, blinking in surprise when she found fresh blood on her fingers afterwards. Gingerly, she poked around at her forehead, wincing as she discovered a long gash over one eyebrow.

She must have gotten that while being knocked around in the APC. Luckily it didn't seem too bad. A little disinfectant and some bandages and it'd heal right up. Suddenly, she found herself wishing she'd put a little more effort into expanding her magical talents towards healing. She had taken for granted that there would always be a medic on hand for wounds such as this.

Well, nothing to do about that now. She needs to focus on getting out of here before someone notices her presence. Rising slowly to her feet, Storm glanced over the hood of the car towards the battlefield. Still no signs of detection. Good. All she needs now is a little more luck and she'll be free get away from this god-forsaken city.

She was about to turn around and start running again when something small and fast hit her in the chest. The woman yelped, swatting at the front of her uniform in instinctive reaction. Something had stung her! After all of her suffering, some fucking /bee/ was going to add insult to injury? She growled and regained her composure, peering down at the impact site to inspect the wound.

To her surprise, there wasn't a squashed bug smeared all over the front of her blouse. Instead, she found a small metal cylinder about the size of a fingernail protruding from her breast. Blinking, she reached down and plucked it out, revealing a tiny needle covered in a faint smear of her own blood.

'That's odd', she thought, wobbling on legs that seemed suddenly unable to keep her steady. 'When did I get so tired?'


"Got the bitch!"

Kira grinned at her own accomplishment, watching through a high-powered scope as the ragged officer collapsed to the street in a tranquilizer-induced coma. It had been a hell of a shot. With the wind blowing like crazy and the dart being relatively light-weight compared to a solid slug it had taken her three attempts to land the hit. Fortunately, the wind had carried her first couple of misses well wide of the woman instead of bouncing them off the hood of the car in a very obvious and noisy fashion.

Digging into her pocket, the mercenary pulled out her phone and dialed a number on her quick reference. The recipient of the call picked up after only a couple of rings, Fenrir's gruff voice tinged with a rare hint of respect.


"Collect that bit of trash for me. It'd be bad manners not to clean up after our party. And when you're done, go make sure those knuckleheads don't kill /all/ of the guests."

Her gaze drifted down towards the remaining few pockets of resistance, a handful of terrified but resolved soldiers standing back to back as her new recruits circled them like hungry sharks. All around front of the casino bodies lay stretched out on the ground. Some were completely motionless, riddled with bullet holes or viscous injuries inflicted by less gentle means, but plenty more were moaning weakly, their limbs shifting about in the manner of wounded beasts unable to defend themselves any more. Plenty of fresh stock ripe for the picking that had been hand delivered to her door. You can't beat service like that.

"I have a feeling that after today more than a few of them are going to be keen to reassess their loyalties."

Log created on 14:39:08 04/29/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 14:47:58 04/29/2020.