Description: The final battle to drive the Dragon out of Southtown has arrived. Neither side seems willing to strike the first blow and it appears that the new commander of the NOL's forces won't be arrogant enough to underestimate the Dragon again. However, Kira isn't of a mind to let her opponents dictate the pace of this battle and thus decides to force their hand by tapping into something greater than caution - rage.
"There are fewer of them than you expected?"
Zhenya turned to glance at her commander, her expression neutral. She extended a hand to offer a pair of hi-tech binoculars back to the woman. Like most of the technology employed by the Dragoon's, the device was state-of-art with a built-in range-finder, thermal and night-vision lenses, several magnification settings, and even an automatic tinting that adjusted based on light exposure. A wildly over-engineered tool that had more features than would ever truly be necessary at any one time but the incredible success of their business in Africa had made such luxuries commonplace among their ranks.
Kira accepted the binoculars and turned them towards the assembled host of soldiers milling about on her doorstep, gazing down at the forces arrayed against her from their lofty perch atop the casino.
While it was impossible to get an exact count, she guessed that there had to be at least three hundred or so men and women in the small army. The crisp azure of their uniforms painted a vibrant swath across the wide highway leading up to her domain, backed by the warm glow of the rising sun only just cresting over the top of the city's skyline. Sunlight glittered from dozens of archaic weapons, swords and spears held at the ready as if some ancient knighthood had marched out of the pages of history to do battle. A rather impressive sight, she thought.
"No," Kira retorted after a few moments, shaking her head. "It's about the right number for someone who isn't an idiot."
She gestures at the Librarium army with a casual sweep of her hand.
"Take a look at their formation. They've deployed well outside of our ability to launch a surprise attack. We could bombard them with mortar fire but it would be highly inaccurate at this range and their magic would make it easy for them to throw up defensive shields to protect against such indirect assaults."
Zhenya nodded her head in agreement. That much was obvious. While she didn't possess the tactical genius of her lover, Kira had done much to impart her wisdom to the assassin over their long years of fighting. It rarely came in the form of direct teaching, though she was always willing to answer questions even if those answers were in the form of more questions. Kira believed in making people self-sufficient and the most dangerous foe was one who knew how to learn from their experiences and adapt. So Zhenya learned by watching and experiencing, by making mistakes and overcoming the hardships that resulted from them, just as Kira had.
The mercenary smiled at Zhenya as she waited for her second to try and connect the dots that so obviously linked together into a proper picture in her own mind. Her friend's face remained impassive as she surveyed their foe once again for a minute or so.
"They are broken up into small formations," she said, eventually seeming to come to a conclusion. "Perhaps to make themselves less appealing targets for area-of-effect weaponry."
"That's one reason," Kira confirmed. "But think back to how they've fought so far. Their soldiers are broken up into specialists. It seems like most of them can only do one thing. When they attacked us at the power plant they sent in shock troops with shields to ward off their rear formations in order to let them close to attack range. Back then they were arranged in neat rows that made it obvious who was doing what and we punished them for that every time they came at us."
Zhenya nodded again, tilting her head at the distant blue soldiers.
"Obvious rows to small clusters. Tactical squads?"
Kira snapped her fingers and leaned forward to tap the other woman on the nose playfully.
"Precisely! By scattering their specialists into mixed groups we won't be able to pick off specific elements of their army as easily. More importantly..."
"Flexibility," Zhenya said, cutting her off. "They can move fully functional units to any point on the battlefield without exposing themselves."
Kira beamed at her, flashing a toothy grin as she turned her own gaze back to the NOL.
"Which is also why there isn't a giant horde of them. Too many bodies would make the advantage of mobility difficult to wield. There is also the threat of hidden traps, weapons we may not yet have revealed, allies who may come to our aid, and any other number of unknown factors."
Kira moved over to slide an arm around Zhenya's waist, pulling her close against her side.
"It would seem, my dear, that whoever is in command is a great deal less stupid than our last visitor. They are being cautious."
Zhenya returned the affectionate gesture, intertwining herself with the other woman. It was rare that she got time alone with Kira in these past few weeks. The commander was accompanied by a bodyguard almost everywhere she went in order to avoid a repeat of the assassination attempt at the start of this whole debacle. While Kira's new augmented strength made her a far more dangerous opponent, she wasn't bullet-proof and a well-placed blade in the dark would do her in like anyone else.
"And that is a problem."
"Yes," Kira said, with a sigh. "Yes it is."
She had been counting on the same sort of eager bravado that had compelled the Librarium's forces thus far. She knew enough about their internal organization to understand that it was run by a noble caste. And if she knows anything about incredibly rich people it is that they are without exception arrogant assholes. Add on top of that the staggering ego that comes with being in charge of a military force and you get a recipe for reckless action.
With their quarry in sight, surely they would be overconfident enough or callous enough to simply send waves of soldiers crashing down upon her. Yet there they stood, patiently waiting for a well-devised plan. Perhaps she had done more damage to their numbers than she had expected, inflicted enough causalities that they were reticent to simply hurl themselves at her walls.
Kira couldn't afford to let them be smart about this. And, as always, she had been prepared for this possibility. A devilish smile spread across her face as she peeled out of Zhenya's grip, striding forward to plant one foot on the edge of the roof. She knew that her foes would be watching their every movement. The hated leader herself making herself obvious atop the battlements would most certainly get their notice. Now she was going to get their attention.
"Let's roll out the red carpet for our customers and let them know we're open for business."
"There's movement on the roof, lieutenant."
Katarina turned away from the magical map shimmering across her war table to quirk an eyebrow at the aide.
The man offered her a small data slate. A quick glance at the screen showed that it had been keyed into the long-range augury spells keeping watch over the casino. A wide angle view showed the entirety of the massive building. Dozens of concrete barricades had been strewn out in front of the make-shift fortress creating a patchwork of obstacles meant to slow down the progress of any frontal assault. Trenches and pillboxes filled what had once been a massive parking lot offering defensible angles of deadly crossfire to the mercenaries garrisoned within. A dozen small turrets equipped with twin auto-cannons and heavy machine guns were scattered throughout the killing field, automated defenses that would lay down withering fields of fire on anything foolish enough to blunder into their view.
Formiddible defenses, to be sure, but none of that interested the young commander at the moment. Instead, her attention was drawn to the rooftop where several figures were moving about carrying heavy objects covered in thick tarp. Katarina's brows furrowed as she noticed that one person in particular was quite familiar. Running her finger over the surface of the tablet, she zoomed in to find the face of the Dragon herself staring back at her.
"We can't identify what it is they're doing at the moment, ma'am. Tactical suggests they may be preparing some new weapon."
Katarina wrinkled her nose at that suggestion. It didn't make any sense. If they wanted to surprise her with some hidden attack why would they go out of their way to make it obvious what they were doing? No, this was something else.
Waving the aide off with a dismissive gesture, the noble stalked over to the large cushy chair at the back of the war table and plopped down into it. Setting the tablet on her lap, she watched with idle curiosity as several more lumpy tarp-covered objects were hauled onto the roof over the course of the next minute. Someone broke out a bunch of ropes and the figures knelt down, presumably to wind them into the objects hidden below the lip of the roof. Once that was done each object was hoisted up over the lip and lowered down on the ropes leaving them hanging like Christmas ornaments in a long row across the upper story of the casino.
"What could you possibly be doing...?"
The answer to that question became horrifically clear within a few moments. In unison, each of the soldiers tugged up on a small line attached to the tarps, yanking them away from the objects that had previously been hidden beneath. Katarina's eyes widened in shock as she took in the twisted sight displayed on the screen.
Almost a dozen human bodies dangled in the open, suspended like macabre puppets from the ropes tied to their wrists and waists. All of them were naked, save for the unmistakable blue beret of the NOL's army uniform affixed to their heads. A small piece of metal gleamed upon each person's chest, reflecting the morning sunlight from a rank insignia fastened directly into the skin. Obvious signs of abuse marred every individual's skin, whip marks and bruises covering them from head to toe.
But the most disturbing aspect of the grim display was the message. Carved into the stomach of each captured soldier was a single large letter. The cuts were not deep enough to be life-threatening but ugly scabbing still weeped faint trickles of pale red down to drip from their dangling legs. Together they all spelled out two simple words.
W E L C O M E N O L
"By... by the Imperator! That's Captain Storm up there!"
A strangled gasp erupted from somewhere nearby, jarring Katarina out of her shock as others took notice. The scion blinked as she tried to think of a response to something as absurd as this but she had never dealt with anything quite so blatantly vile. Angry shouts and cries of disbelief rose up in a vast chorus outside of the tent as the soldiers roared in outrage. Calls for vengeance and retribution filled the air in a wild cacophony of hate that hammered at the edges of her control.
The World-Song had no such reservations to the surge of rampant emotion. Bellowing against the walls of her mind like the blast of a war horn, the ancient twisted magic siphoned power from that maelstrom of loathing and rage. As powerful and disciplined as she was, Katarina could not stop it from overwhelming her. Caught completely off guard, she sank into the whirlpool of malice and hunger and the darkness rose up to take her place.
"Lieutenant?! W-what... what do we...?!"
Katarina smiled as she rose to her feet, her eyes narrowing with dark glee. A gesture of her hand brought forth a silvery steel sword as she marched towards the exit of the tent, the blade humming softly with eagerness. Her aides parted before her as she strode into the open. It was like walking into a solid wall of noise. Hundreds of soldiers turned to shout at her, screaming for her to unleash them upon the Dragon, to let them tear down that vile fortress with their bare hands if they had to.
The young woman closed her eyes as she allowed the raw ragged fury to wrap her up in its embrace and soak into her soul. Such beautiful music this Dragon composed. She had expected there to be the usual pain and suffering that accompanied any large conflict but this was something else entirely, nothing less than a master-stroke of despair and wrath that strummed out the most hauntingly enrapturing melody she had ever experienced.
Slowly, Katarina lifted her hand, pointing the shimmering song-blade towards the sky. All around her the shouting began to die down, raging voices falling silent as she masterfully tapped into the churning emotions with her magic and quelled them until only a soft muted chord of anticipation was held thrall by her aura of power.
"Destroy them," she whispered, her voice as quiet and serene as an angel of death. A strangely beatific smile played across her pale features as she slowly opened her eyes, baleful crimson light shimmering vibrantly behind her pupils.
"Destroy them all."
Log created on 16:47:31 07/03/2020 by Kira Volkov, and last modified on 16:49:39 07/03/2020.